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Breaking Point

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If Adrien Agreste had been told that he'd be in this position 24 hours ago, he might have called that person crazy, maybe even demented. Because the implications of something so farfetched actually coming to pass would have terrified him. 

Of course, as usual, hindsight was always 20/20, wasn't it?

After everything that had happened, though, he really should have expected this. He should have anticipated that the last 24 hours were leading to something like this; showing up to a photoshoot and finding her there. And of course, she had the audacity to turn in her chair and smile at him like nothing was wrong. Like nothing had happened. Like she hadn't nearly been the root cause of the largest akumatization event since Hero's Day. 

Nope. Here she was, drinking in the attention of the photographer and stylists like she'd invented the art of modeling despite her own confirmation of inexperience. 

But frankly, that was probably for the best. It saved him the trouble of tracking her down later and telling her what he needed to say.

Dropping into his own seat after asking for a moment alone with the woman, he found himself struggling to maintain the cool aloofness he'd perfected over the years. Not this time.

She'd done far too much damage, and there was no way he was going to pretend she hadn't.

“I warned you once already Lila, but you didn’t listen.” Adrien glared straight ahead at the water of the Seine, his voice dropping in a warning tone, refusing to look at his female companion as his anger seethed and boiled just under his skin. 

He was pissed.

No, pissed was too pedestrian to even come close to describing how truly livid he was with Lila Rossi.

The girl he’d given far too many chances to turn her sorry attitude around.

It wasn’t even fair to say that he was angry at just her, either. Though, he did direct ninety percent of his current wrath towards her in his current goals of vengeance and retribution. There would be plenty of time for self-loathing later.

Out of the corner of his eye, he’d seen her shift to look at him, an expression of surprise at his overall demeanor. It was rare for anyone to see him this angry, afterall.

But before she had a chance to speak, he continued, “You hurt Marinette, and that’s not okay,” He all but hissed, remembering in vivid detail the events of the previous twenty-four hours.

Marinette had been expelled from school, reputation smeared by accusations set forth by the very person he was now sitting next to. 

The worst part was, even when he had stepped up to vouch for his friend, he’d been ignored. The ‘evidence’ having been too damning in the principals’ eyes. And while he was beyond certain Lila was responsible, there was no evidence to prove it. She’d covered her tracks well. And with everything stacking up against Marinette, it was their word against Lila’s.

“Me?” She put an indignant hand on her chest, her voice rising an octave as defensiveness entered her pitch at his accusation, “Hurting Marinette? But she’s the one-!”

A soft growl escaped him, his lips twitching up as he forced the need to snarl at her back as he finally faced her, cutting her off before she could lie to him again, “I don’t know how to prove you lied, Lila, because you’re good at it ,” He added a little extra bite to the words, furious that he was forced to acknowledge that she’d won this round, “So you’ll have to come up with another lie. Just as convincing. Only this time, it’s going to prove Marinette’s innocent.”

There was a caustic silence that stretched between them as she stared at him, still feigning her shock at being called out. But he wasn’t having it. He wouldn’t fall prey to her lies any longer. And no amount of crocodile tears could dissuade him.

Something she seemed to catch on to rather quickly as her facade melted from her features as she narrowed her eyes on him dangerously before turning to face forward, mimicking his stance earlier. Her mask had completely slipped now that she’d been exposed.

A regular she-wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The tiniest hint of a grin pulled at the corner of her lips as she glared ahead, her voice dropping as his had, “Why would I do that Adrien?” 

What’s in it for me?

He could read between the lines. 

She’d already won. She’d driven one of the kindest most reliable and trustworthy people he’d ever met out of their school in the blink of an eye. And it wasn’t wasted on him that she could do so much more.

Even if they did prove Marinette’s innocence, there was no telling when Lila would strike next. 

She was more than just a threat. And she would destroy anyone in her way. She’d proven that she was more than capable in a ridiculously short amount of time.

She had all the cards. All the pawns lined up begging for her favor.

All, except the one she really wanted. 

He’d admit to being a little socially slow, but he wasn’t so oblivious to the signs to not know she was still trying to win his favor despite the fact that he’d called her out before. She was sitting next to him at a closed photoshoot for fucks sake. He wasn’t stupid to the fact that she quite literally threw herself on him every chance she got - whether to make herself look better or try and win his affections, he wasn’t sure (nor did he really care to know).

She wanted him

And he knew this was his only chance. His only leverage.

He had to give her exactly what she wanted.

He turned back to stare at the water, frown never leaving his lips, “Because we’re friends , aren’t we?” He voiced back, matching her tone.

The offer was on the table. An unspoken arrangement between opposing forces.

The seconds ticked by as she considered his offer. And he tried so hard to ignore the shift when Lila’s grin pulled up further as she claimed complete and utter victory.

He hated it. He hated how much power she had. He hated how much he’d allowed her to get away with in the name of pacifism. He hated how much Marinette had been made to suffer because of this power-crazed viper. He hated that he had to lose to her.

But in this twisted game she was playing, in order to win, he had no choice but to lose.

He could practically feel the triumphant smile in her voice as she spoke up, solidifying his fate.


Chapter Text

Adrien just wanted a few minutes of silence.
Was that really so much to ask?
Just a small respite. A short period of peace so that he didn't lose his goddamn mind.
"God, I just can't get over how cool you guys look!"
Fucking hell - if he had to hear that one more time...
"I know, right? Adrien is just such a great teacher." The compliment was sugar sweet slipping from Lila's mouth as she managed to squeeze in closer to him on his bench despite him having purposely sat on the edge so she couldn't, so now she was practically pushing her way into his lap and that knowledge made him physically ill, "And with the fall lines nearly finished, I've been asked to sign on full time! Adrien and I will be representing Gabriel at Paris Fashion Week. We really do look great together don't we?"
Adrien clamped his teeth down on his tongue tightly to keep from growling under his breath.

There it was.

Hawkmoth send an akuma now. He'd gladly accept it at this point because he was fucking miserable

Not that he should really complain - or had any right to. Not when he'd willingly put himself in the line of fire. And there wasn't a doubt in his mind that he would do it all again if necessary.
That didn't mean he had to enjoy it though. 

It had been a long month dealing with Lila Rossi on a near-daily basis - at school where she clung to him and dragged him around the moment she got her claws on him, at photoshoots where he was forced to pose with her and smile and act like his universe revolved around her. And more recently, at home, where he found that she'd somehow managed a rare invitation from his father on select evenings where she was supposed to be tutoring him in math but found herself trying to get him into compromising positions that made his stomach turn. 

And all of it was really starting to get to him.
He felt trapped in ways that made his previous house arrest seem like total and complete freedom in comparison.
He felt like he never got to spend time with his friends anymore. Nino often invited him out only for Lila to show up with some excuse for why she needed him. The upcoming fashion week, the shoots, the tutoring. And while Nino and Alya and the rest of the class seemed totally fine with accepting this, he wasn't. Not by a long shot. He was never alone for more than a few minutes or after dark, and even then, his nights were used for catching up on schoolwork or patrolling.
Not that the patrols weren't a welcome distraction. He'd always loved spending time with his Lady just wandering the Parisian city skyline, but more recently than not, he just wasn't in the game. His focus was almost entirely devoted to keeping his emotions in check so that they didn't have to worry about an akumatized chat noir. And even that was a full-time job.

It didn’t help that Ladybug had taken notice too.

She was very observant like that. And of course, she was worried. 

And didn't that just make everything so much worse? He was supposed to be protecting her, and yet, here he was making her worry.

She’d ask, but the whole ‘secret identities must be kept secret’ rule often made him hold back. She’d encouraged him to talk to her, tell her as much as he could without giving too much away, but it was impossible. Not just because any detail would be too much, but because of the guilt he felt for letting it get as bad as it had. How would his lady feel after finding out his involvement in something like this? Would she think him a complete disappointment? Would she demand he return his miraculous? 

So he’d taken to lying - even more than usual. Telling her it was stress and that he’d be fine and she had nothing to worry about. 

Something deep down told him someone should worry though. Because suffice it to say, Adrien was floundering. And it was starting to show both in and out of the mask. Lack of sleep, agitation, lack of appetite, anxiety. 

And he couldn't say anything to anyone.
He'd done this to himself to protect one of his best friends. And it angered him that he couldn't just swallow his own pride to deal with it until something could be done about it.
All he wanted was a few minutes of silence.
So when Lila was being distracted by a couple of girls from another class who'd come to gush over their most recent shoot, Adrien saw an opportunity and took it. Slipping out of his bench without a word and heading straight for the door. Freedom beckoning him like a siren’s song.
"Adrien? Where are you going?" Lila asked sweetly making him freeze, but he could hear the venom in her tone. How anyone else was so taken with her, he had no idea. All he ever heard now was the poison-laced through her words. Subtle, sweet, but deadly when used on her unsuspecting victims.
Damn... he'd hoped she hadn't noticed, but of course, she had. It was like she had a radar for him.
Managing an easy painted-on smile, he pointed over his shoulder to the door, inching toward it, "bathroom." He remarked quickly, turning on his heel without waiting for a reply and bolting out of the classroom and down the stairs, ignoring the strange looks he received from students finding their way to their classrooms before the final bell could ring.

Once his feet hit the main floor, though, he found himself at a crossroads.

He could have done exactly what he said he was going to do. He could have found the nearest restroom, splashed his face, gave himself the pep talk of the century, and returned to the class and pretended he was okay. He could have swallowed his pride and done exactly what he promised himself he was going to do - protect Marinette from the viper that was Lila Rossi by allowing the witch to slither all over him and think she'd won him over.
But he didn't.
He couldn't.
He couldn't take it anymore. He needed to be free for a little while and get ahold of himself. He needed to feel like he had some semblance of control, even if just for a little while. 
So he ran.
He bolted towards the front doors of the school in a full-on sprint with every intention of skipping the day on some roof somewhere. Taking his mantle of Chat Noir to bring peace to more than just the city of Paris. But to himself as well. Remind himself why he was doing this in the first place, school be damned.

All he had to do was get through the front door.
What he hadn't planned on was the collision - running full speed into another body running full speed at him. They collided hard, knocking heads before falling to the ground just outside the doors to the school with a loud thunk.
"Ouch..." came a soft grumble and Adrien rubbed his forehead as the stars cleared from his vision.
"S-sorry... I wasn't looking where I was going," he heard again, and this time he managed to blink past the pain of the growing headache to see Marinette Dupain-Cheng absently rubbing her head too, looking up at him in surprise and gasping as she took him in.
"Ah! A-Adrien! I-I'm so sorry!" She squeaked moving impossibly quick to recover and roll up on to her feet to offer him a hand to help him to his.
In the time she'd been juggling some strange reactions to having collided with him, he had just started at her and her offered palm like it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
This was perfect. An answered prayer. A godsend if he'd ever seen one.
"Marinette..." he whispered in reverence, finding that just saying her name did wonders for the turbulent cacophony of emotions raging under his skin.
There was a soft squeak at his use of her name, "y-yeah?"
Adrien took her offered hand and stood, never taking his eyes off her. He knew out of anyone, she would understand. Even if he couldn’t tell her… She’d never turned him away before.
"Marinette can I please hide out at your place for a little while?" He asked suddenly, receiving a very confused stare back. "Please?"
Deja vu suddenly washed over him as he recalled asking her this same question before for almost entirely similar reasons. And he stored that information away to examine later - why he felt out of anywhere and anyone, Marinette and her home felt like a safe place for him, he wasn’t sure. Like a stray seeking refuge from the rain. 

And right now it was pouring.
She watched him, brows pulling together in her confusion as she glanced up at the school just beyond him, "but-but class is about to begin."
"I-I know that... but please. I can't go back there right now."
There was a momentary silence between them that made a knot form in the model's core. 

Maybe she'd say no. That this was too much for him to ask for. He hadn't exactly had a chance to spend much time with her since the whole expulsion ordeal, no thanks to Lila. Maybe she thought he'd betrayed her. Maybe she thought he wasn't actually on her side. Maybe by trying to step in, he'd only destroyed his friendship with her.

And wasn’t that just the worst thing to pass over his thoughts while he was on the precipice of a mental breakdown.

Losing the friendship of the sweetest girl he’d ever met would be like losing one of his senses - the world would be so much duller and dark without it. 
Maybe it was the pleading tone or the absolute desperation in his eyes, but confusion shifted to a softened determination as Marinette glanced up again at the school building, and then grabbed his hand and started pulling him in the opposite direction of the school, towards her family’s bakery. And Adrien couldn't even begin to express the pure elation that flooded him when she did all of this without so much of an explanation.
They practically ran the whole way there, only stopping once they'd reached the bakery door and Marinette pushed it open to give her parents a tempered smile and timid wave.
"Marinette? What are you doing back here? Why aren't you in class?"
Fuck. He'd almost forgotten about her parents.
He couldn't do anything right, could he?
Before she had to make an excuse for him, he stepped up, "Please, don't be angry with her, I asked if I could hang out here for a bit."

He was being selfish again. Of course, his actions were causing her trouble. Why couldn't he just follow through? Why was he such a fucking coward? "We shouldn't have come. I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking straight." He grumbled softly and went to turn back to the door before a heavy hand clasped his shoulder, keeping him in place.
Adrien glanced back to see Tom Dupain giving him a careful look, having moved very quickly from where he'd been working near the bakery's counter. 
The blonde model had done a lot of growing in the last couple years (a fact that deeply aggravated his father), but no matter how tall he grew, Tom Dupain remained ever the imposing giant. He was a beast of a man, and Adrien briefly wondered if Marinette's unusual strength came from him. Or if he'd have to worry about said hulking strength at present as he was held to the spot.
They continued staring at each other before a soft smile spread over Tom's face, "Adrien, right?"
He couldn't speak as he was afraid that the man would pulverize him for taking advantage of his daughter's kindness, so he just nodded quickly.
What he hadn't expected was the quick wink the man shot him, "Thanks for bringing Marinette home since she's obviously too sick to go to class."
Adrien merely gaped at the man as Marinette groaned a quick ‘Papa’ at his side but chuckled nonetheless.
What's happening here?
Marinette was sick? Adrien glanced back at his friend who rolled her eyes. From where he was standing, she didn't look very sick. Why did he feel left out of some inside joke?

"You know, though," Tom put a thoughtful hand to his chin, looking between Adrien and his daughter, "Unfortunately, neither Sabine or myself can keep an eye on her until the doctor can come." He sighed heavily before his gaze came back to the blonde and his eyes lit up like he'd just had the best idea since sliced bread, "Would you mind keeping an eye on her, Adrien? I know you'd miss some of your classes but Sabine and I will vouch for you."

There was a musical chuckle from the small woman behind the bakery’s counter, but Sabine didn’t say anything, just merely nodded in agreement with her husband.
Oh. Now he understood. And the realization hit him two-fold. He was not only allowed to stay and hide out for a while, but should it get back to anyone at the school or, god forbid, his father, the Dupain-Chengs would cover for him.
It brought tears to his eyes as he gave a soft smile and nodded quickly, “Y-yes sir.”
A new hand grasped his other shoulder, and he turned to see Marinette grin softly at him with a tilt of her head that said they should take this upstairs. "Go make yourself comfy in my room. I'll bring us some snacks," She said with that grin still firmly in place once they'd made it to the apartment, pushing him towards the stairs to her room before turning to the kitchen.

That sounded like the best idea anyone's had all day.

Chapter Text

It had been some time since Adrien had found himself in the comfort of Marinette’s bedroom. He couldn’t actually remember the last time he’d been over, or why, but he clearly recalled the warmth the Dupain-Cheng home had always brought to him. 

There was always so much love here. You could feel it practically radiate from every surface. Like the place was somehow imbued with the kind of homeyness you'd only find on the Hallmark channel. 

And it felt lived-in, compared to the nearly clinical cleanliness the Agreste mansion always seemed to have. Even his own bedroom felt more like a sterilized lab than a teen-aged boy’s living quarters.

Those who got a chance to see his room joked and swooned over all the things he had.

But none of that mattered to him. Those possessions meant nothing when he had no one to share them with. He’d gladly trade everything he had for a single night in a room like the one he was about to enter.

Climbing up through the trap door, he glanced around and smiled at how much it screamed Marinette. The bright pink walls, the half-finished designs cluttering the floor and the multitude of sketches still in progress and design aesthetics pinned to the walls around her desk. The room was, in a word; organized chaos. Okay, two words. Everything having a proper home in piles and stuffed in overflowing organizational bins and drawers. Things that could not fit or had no propper place found refuge on hooks or dangling from the support beam that stretched from floor to high-vaulted ceiling. 

This was a place of creativity and unabashed pride and passion, and Adrien couldn’t help but allow himself a moment to breathe it in, noting the undercurrent of vanilla and sugar that always seemed to make up Marinette’s natural smell. 

One of the perks of being the baker’s daughter, he supposed. 

“This place smells like the inside of a sugar cookie,” a small voice complained, interrupting Adrien’s thoughts, quickly reminding him of the ever-present being resting in his pocket.

Plagg hadn’t said anything the entire morning, so he’d nearly forgotten he was in his shirt until then, “Some of us might actually prefer that over smelling like cheese all the time,” Adrien mumbled, keeping his voice low to keep from alerting Marinette to the extra presence she’d unknowingly invited into her home.

The little black kwami peaked out, looking around sleepily like he’d just woken from a long nap. Probably had, with how unusually quiet he'd been. “Too sweet for me,” He groaned, but the scenery change must have finally caught his attention as he turned a curious look on his chosen, “My, my, Casanova, finding yourself in a young lady’s bedroom in the middle of a school day?”

Okay, sure, to anyone who wasn’t in the know, this definitely looked bad. But it wasn’t like that. Not that it kept the heat from his face at the insinuations Plagg was making to the contrary. “Sh-shut-up Plagg. It’s not like - I-I didn’t know where else to go.” He sputtering, before meandering to the chaise, allowing himself to drop into its plush cushion and take in not only the room but his thoughts.

Because, again, he was reminded of the lingering question: why was this the place he'd run to in a moment of crisis? But he just didn't have the mental capacity to explore those thoughts in full right now.

Especially not under the watchful gaze of Plagg. No way in hell he’d give him any more ammunition to tease him with. 

His shirt shifted slightly as the black cat Kwami released himself from the model's pocket and came flying up to hover in his face, and for a moment it almost looked like he was concerned as he took in the blonde’s features. “You know I’m only kidding, Adrien. Frankly, I’d hide from that liar too. Maybe even much more,” he muttered that last part, and Adrien would have missed it if the room wasn’t so quiet.

It brought a small grin to his face, despite the implications of such a statement, “Thanks Plagg, but I don’t think Ladybug would take too kindly to us using cataclysm on another living being.”

No matter how much said living being might deserve it. 

And yes, the thought had occurred to him. Not that he’d ever admit it out loud.

“Offer’s still on the table.” There was a slight shift in his tone that honestly made Adrien believe he was serious.

A scary prospect.

But duly noted.

Adrien chuckled, rolling his eyes, trying not to linger on the idea too long lest he gives in to temptation, “Yeah, yeah. Make yourself scarce. Marinette will be back any second.”

Plagg hesitated only a moment, zooming up to head but him softly on the cheek in a rare show of affection before whizzing off somewhere Adrien hadn’t been able to track.

Despite his insistence otherwise, the Kwami of destruction had been rather soft on him the last couple of weeks. The teasing lacked its usual dig. He'd complain less when Adrien needed to transform - hell, he practically encouraged it. And regardless of Plagg's distaste for getting too emotional, he'd been rather talkative as of late. Coaxing Adrien into talking to him; even if Plagg could only handle 'talking' about that sort of thing for a short period of time. Honestly, his Kwami was probably keeping him saner than he'd given the creature credit for. Left to his own devices and thoughts, there was no telling where Adrien would be right now.

Mentally, the model made a note to himself to pick up some extra cheese for the little glutton. He just hoped the little ball of mischief would stay out of trouble while they were here.

It was quiet again, then. Leaving the blonde to look around the room once more and all the things and feelings it represented that he longed for on a constant basis. The ability to be messy and creative. To be able to stretch out and just be himself. Not having to worry about who would see or judge him or his Father’s business if he messed up or stepped out of line.

No strict rules or diet.

No fashion shows or photoshoots.

No handsy stalker admirers to ward off.

In the process of getting cozy, he found he’d snagged a small decorative pillow that he cradled close to his chest as that last thought hit him.

Everyone just assumed that because he was a model, it was fine to hang all over him. Like he was just another piece of his father’s fashion line someone could try on.

Like he wasn’t even a person.

And of course, he was a guy. What guy wouldn’t want every eligible lady fawning all over him, right? Wrong . Sure, over the years, he’d grown almost numb to it, but that didn’t mean it didn’t bother him. Just cause he was a guy didn’t mean he wanted everyone's hands on him all the time. 

It felt like no part of him was sacred. He belonged to his father, and the masses, and more recently; Lila - and the memory of her trying to worm her way into his lap that morning had his stomach twisting uncomfortably. 


T he blonde startled as he realized his host had appeared while he was lost in thought, tray in hand with a number of croissants and a couple of glasses of juice, sitting it carefully between them on the chaise as she joined him. She didn't look right at him, preferring to stare at the floor as her eyes darted slightly, seemingly trying to find the right words.

Adrien squeezed the pillow he'd been holding a bit tighter, clearing his throat of a lump he hadn't realized had formed, "So..." he mimicked awkwardly, not quite able to look at her either, except in quick glances.

One said glance made him pause as he watched her wrestle with something internally before taking a deep breath and looking back at him with resolution. A kind of steely look that reminded him of a certain spotted heroine and the thought made him pink a bit.

"Adrien... you asked if you could hide here for a bit, and I want you to be able to work through whatever is bothering you. But..." she swallowed, having to reaffirm something in her own head before continuing. 

"We're friends... right?" She asked suddenly, changing the direction of the conversation and making Adrien's brow shoot up questioningly. It was such a soft inquiry and he was suddenly frantic trying to recall if he'd given her any indication that she wasn't one of the most important people in his life.

Maybe he was right that he'd done more damage than good stepping up to Lila. Or not stepping up sooner. Those photoshoots and the attention Lila demanded of him didn't exactly make him out in the best light.

"Of course, Mari! Why would you even ask that? You're one of my best friends!"

That earned him wide bluebell eyes, softly accentuated by a rosy tint warming her cheeks before Marinette smiled at him again. The same smile she'd given before she'd shooed him up the stairs, "Then, as one of your best friends, I'm not going to just let you hide."

The confusion was more than evident on his face as Adrien regarded her now.

Did this mean she was going to make him leave?

She must have read his thoughts because she backtracked quickly, "W-what I mean is - over the last month... I've been really worried about you. I see the looks you give when you think no one is watching." That steely soft expression dissolved slightly as she bit her lip at that last part, "no offense... but you look like a caged animal some days."

He had to sputter a chuckle at that. She wasn't wrong.

And the fact that he moonlighted as a cat-themed superhero made it comical if not a bit ironic.

But it wasn't a moment after those first chuckles left him that he felt his vision blur on him and something slipping down his cheeks without his permission.

Tears? Seriously?

He was crying! Like a goddamn child.

"Sorry-" Adrien mumbled, quickly wiping away the offending moisture from his face.

Because of course, he'd choose now of all times to breakdown. In front of the one person who managed to see right through him and see him for what he was. The only person who seemed to look past the fake smiles and the carefully crafted emotions to the guy drowning beneath.

And of course, it would be the very same person he was trying so hard to protect.

At seeing those wayward tears, Marinette's soft features turned concerned, and she brought a tender hand up to wipe the remaining streaks from his skin, "Please don't apologize. You need to talk to someone, Adrien. Even if there wasn't a psycho maniac out there who can take advantage of your emotions, holding things in like this... it's not healthy.” She gave a wry smile that was anything if not a little self-deprecating, “Trust me on this."

God, how did she do that? 

How could she be so right all the time? 

How could she see right through him and cut straight to the point like that? Like he hadn't spent the last month trying to convince himself of that very same thing. Knowing he was a liability at best and a ticking time bomb at worst. 

How was one person allowed to be so amazing?

They sat there a moment in silence, both staring. He stunned and captivated, she searching and careful.

"Do you trust me?"

He wanted to reply so badly. He wanted to confirm for her in the same resolve she seemed to radiate when she got that look of determination in her eyes, but could only find himself nodding in her presence.

"Then, talk to me.” She encouraged softly, tentatively. As if she were afraid the very notion was going to be taken as an insult on his person. She reached out, placing a hesitant hand on his as it perched on his own knee. “Nothing you say leaves this room. I promise. Not even to Nino and Alya. Not even to my parents."

His lips parted, his mouth dry as he was suddenly forced to come to a decision, all while trying to ignore the sudden warmth that blossomed under his skin where her hand met his. 

He'd done all of this with the intention of making Lila leave Marinette alone.

Though, if he were being honest, he was also paying penance for his involvement. For basically having told Marinette to leave well enough alone until Lila walked herself into a corner she couldn't lie herself out of.

Was he really protecting her if he told her the truth? 

Was it really a punishment?

And if he did tell her- 

Adrien's heart plummeted to his stomach as he was bombarded with the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.

How would she react? Would she hate him? Would she see it for what it was? His attempts to help her in the only way he knew how?

He found himself too afraid to speak. What if he messed this up too? What if by telling her the truth it only made things worse? Marinette was such a strong person. Would she hate that he'd imposed like this? Assuming she couldn't handle all of this on her own? Was that what he'd assumed?

Wouldn't it be better to just keep his mouth shut?

All of that fear came to a startling halt when Marinette wound her fingers with his and grasped them tightly like a lifeline. Gentle. Encouraging. Like she could sense his quick and violent spiral - and for all he knew, she could. She'd proven herself to be extremely observant in the last couple of minutes. Scary observant. Almost Ludybug level observant, which was an even scarier prospect.

Frankly, if she told him right then that she knew he was Chat Noir, he'd be less than surprised.

"I have... a confession..." he muttered before he could stop the words from falling from his mouth. And given his last train of thought, he mentally sorted which confession he meant.

You know, preferably not the one that meant he’d have to give up his miraculous.

Her expression never changed as she willed him to continue.

"The-the reason you were able to come back to school after being expelled. The reason Lila changed her story. I was the one who told her to do that." He chanced, watching her the entire time.

The shift was so subtle. Starting with a couple of fluttering blinks that cued her shock and surprise at this news, like maybe she hadn't heard him correctly and needed a moment to process what he'd said. Then she seemed more confused and concerned with every passing second in the silence that stretched after his confession.

"W-what?" She muttered finally, her voice softer than he'd heard all morning.

He swallowed hard. He'd come this far already. He couldn’t back out now even if he wanted to - and he definitely wanted to. "I told Lila to come up with something to prove your innocence. I made a deal with her so that you could come back."

With each word, there entered a bit of panic in Marinette's eyes and face as she suddenly brought a hand to her mouth.

Here it was. She was upset.

Of course she was upset.

He'd spoken up for her without asking what she wanted. Again. He'd stepped in her way, and now he was going to lose the only person who could see him.

And that knowledge ached painfully deep in his chest.

But that didn't matter right now. He'd take anything Marinette threw at him. It was the least he deserved.

"Adrien... why? Why would you do that?"

His mouth dried as he watched the glistening of tears well up in her bluebell eyes, trying to find the right words, "she was going to destroy you. I-I couldn't just stand by and let that happen. Not again."

He expected a lot of things to happen after that. A slap. A stern glare and talking to. Maybe even a swift banishment from her room before being permanently banned from the bakery for life for his assumptions and actions.

He hadn't expected for the girl who was oddly strong for her size to practically tackle him as she lunged across the chaise and wrapped her arms around him in a crushing hug.

His eyes blew wide at the sudden contact, taking a sharp breath through his nose and finding his mind fogging slightly and warmth flooding his chest and face as he was enveloped with her scent and a sense of... safety. That's the only thing he could call it. Safe. 

It was nothing like what he felt when Chloe or Lila or any of his other fans touched him.

He shouldn't have enjoyed it as much as he did. But if this were his punishment, he'd gladly take it. 

It was an oddly satisfying sensation that seeped through him; made him relax into her without much thought or effort. His eyes fluttering closed as any semblance of will melted like putty in the girl’s embrace. Tentatively, almost shyly, he wrapped his arms around her smaller frame. Enjoying the feeling of someone he cared for neatly tucked against him.

He’d always known Marinette gave some of the best hugs. But this - this was something else. Something meant only for him.

It was a feeling someone could get addicted to. This feeling of completeness.

So of course, it jarred him when it ended too soon and felt too cold when the girl squeaked before pushing herself back. Staring wide-eyed at him like he'd grown horns or something.

He was suddenly wondering if hugging her back had been a bad idea.

Maybe he’d overstepped his bounds.

Why was this whole situation so confusing?

He was opening his mouth to start apologizing when Marinette scrambled back to where she’d sat previously and began smacking her own cheeks, “Stupid! Stupid!”

No, not just the situation. Why were girls so confusing?

Confusing or not, if there was one thing Marinette Dupain-Cheng was not , it was stupid. And he wouldn't stand to hear her talk about herself that way. “Hey! Stop that!” He grabbed her wrists to keep her from smacking her cheeks again, “Why are you hitting yourself?”

“B-because… you came here looking for someone to help and I wanted to be there for you and then I just throw myself at you!” She groaned loudly, throwing her head back dramatically. Like this was the worst thing she could have possibly done.

And Adrien could only stare.

And then he had to purse his lips together tightly.

Because it was downright comical.

He wanted to laugh out loud in relief and elation. 

After everything...   

He shook his head at the girl still in his grasp, “You don’t have to worry about that Mari!” He chuckled despite himself, unable to keep it back anymore. Because he couldn’t help but find her antics endearing in the best of ways; even when she assaulted herself. Though, he kept a gentle hold of her writs in case she decided to start slapping again. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ve always really enjoyed your hugs.”

She peeked at him from under her lashes and a pout on her lips as she slowly righted herself. Unsure of something. And for the life of him, he couldn’t make heads or tails of what could possibly be going through her mind to make her look at him like that. But he couldn't deny how adorable she made it look.

But he had another more pressing question on his mind.

“Not to embarrass you or anything, but why - why did you hug me? I thought you’d be angry.” He asked, finally releasing her wrists when he was sure her face was safe from their wrath.

“Angry?” She sputtered, then thinking for a moment she continued, “I mean… I might be a little angry, but not because you did it.” She paused after emphasizing the words, rolling her eyes at her own train of thought, her brain working just as quickly as the words forming on her lips, “Okay, yes, fine, maybe I am a little mad because you did. But mostly I’m just upset you did it alone . If you’d told me from the start, you wouldn’t have had to suffer that witch by yourself this last month. I could have been there to back you up.” She sighed, glancing back at him with a darker shade of pink splashing her cheeks, “But… I could never be angry at you, Adrien. Not for long, anyway. Not when you did it to protect me.”

He noted that she’d managed to sid-step his first question, not really answering him. But given the way her body seemed to buzz with anxiety, he left it alone. “Well, I’m glad for that, at least. The last thing I would ever want is for you to be mad at me,” he mumbled, finding more truth in those words than he expected as he rubbed the back of his neck in nervous habit. “As long as you’re not disappointed too. Because every teenager knows that’s much worse.”

There was a second before Marinette all but fell off the chaise in a fit of giggles that sounded like music and Adrien couldn’t help but chuckle with her.

“God, you’re such a dork!”

At least she wasn’t a ball of anxiety anymore. He liked being able to talk to her like this - openly, honestly, or at least as honest as possible given the number of secrets he had to keep. It made him hopeful that nothing would change between them. Or, at least, if things did change, they’d change for the better. It made him hopeful that they’d be able to grow closer as friends.

"You mean it though?" even with the joking, he couldn't help but try and confirm. He wanted no room for misinterpretation. "You're really not angry?

Marinette’s giggles slowly died and she was left side glancing him with a decisive nod from where she sat, “Of course, I mean it. Adrien, you're one of my best friends too. I wouldn't lie about something like that."

And it was like she'd given him his birthday and Christmas all on the same day.

He knew - or at least, he'd always hoped. But hearing it out loud like that was probably the best thing he'd experienced in a very long time. And it was not wasted on him how sad that was as a concept, but he'd address that another time.

Marinette giggled at what must have been the dopiest grin he'd ever given her, "But seriously. I just… I can’t believe you’d do something like that for me. I mean, it all makes sense now - why she’s been so attached to you the last couple weeks.”

Adrien blanched at the reminder, swapping grins for grimaces at Lila’s advances. She sure as hell wasn’t being subtle about it. He’d actually questioned whether the definition of ‘friends’ had changed without his knowledge as she’d taken the concept as an invitation to invade nearly every aspect of his life and personal space. But he shook that thought away. He’d put up with it for a reason. “I just couldn’t believe she actually got you expelled. And after I basically told you to leave it alone, I just couldn’t bear not doing something.”

Marinette’s eyes widened slightly before glancing away, a strange mixture of emotions entering her gaze, almost making her look... guilty, “A-actually… I-I have a confession too.”

A blonde brow rose curiously at her sudden shift, at the nervous tension that overwhelmed her posture again.

“I-I actually,” she cleared her throat, “That is to say, I feared she’d do something like that eventually. I just… hadn’t expected the lengths she’d go to.”

“What do you mean? Why would you assume she’d try something like that?”

The girl bit her lip nervously, watching him, gauging how much she wanted to share. He could see her mentally weighing her words before coming to a decision with a heavy relenting sigh.

“Adrien, Lila threatened me.”

Chapter Text

Now it was Adrien’s turn to blink at the girl in shock. 

No. There was no way he’d heard that correctly.

But the trepidation reflected in those usually clear blue eyes quickly confirmed that he had in fact heard every word exactly as she’d said them.

So that shock was very quickly being replaced by the same burning fury he’d felt when confronting Lila at their first shoot together. It was festering low in his gut, like a pulsing smoldering ember. Reluctant to flare into an inferno because he was still hesitant to believe he’d heard what he thought he had.

“What do you mean ‘threatened’ ?” He asked, momentarily regretting the dark turn of his tone after watching Marinette flinch slightly. But he couldn’t stop it.  

Marinette fidgeted under what he could only assume had morphed into an intense gaze. 

Because he was watching her. 

All of her.  

Studying the little ticks and movements her body made that advertised her discomfort. The way her lips parted and she’d begun to breathe unsteadily through her mouth - fuck , he could practically hear the pounding of her heart in those breaths. The way her eyes darted away from him, like she couldn’t keep in contact with him, but not out of shyness.

This was not the timidness that made up Marinette’s usual interactions with him. 

As much as he’d been disappointed at the beginning of their friendship that that shyness kept her from being able to talk to him, he’d grown to embrace it. Accept it. Communicate around it. Eventually, they’d fallen into their own sort of language because of that and that eventually developed into the friendship they had now.

But that meant he knew what it looked like. 

And this was not it.

“Marinette?” He pushed and he recognized the look in her eye instantly. There was a desire to run. To walk away from the conversation. Hide from it. Pretend it didn’t happen.

He recognized it because he’d had that same look not ten minutes ago.

But she seemed to come to the same conclusions he had. 

Silence wasn’t going to fix anything. 

Which was even truer since she’d already mentioned something to him. Even if she did run away from him now, it wouldn’t stop him from pursuing the truth later. 

Eventually, she groaned loudly, body releasing the tension it had been hoarding in her shoulders over the last couple of minutes so now she looked like she was nearly limbless as she relented to her fate. 

“Look, you’re not the only one who’s been doing things on their own.”

He wanted to fire back a snarky ‘I see that’ , but knew it would do him no favors. She didn’t deserve that. She’d been so patient with him when the tables were turned. So he kept his mouth shut, waiting for her to gather her thoughts and continue.

“The day Lila came back after… wherever the hell she went, and the class seating got moved around?” She glanced at him, her mouth forming something else, but looked away, choosing to leave it at that.

His eyes narrowed on her. 

Of course, he remembered. 

And he knew exactly what she’d omitted.

“You mean the day I told you to leave Lila’s lies alone?” His brow rose, unimpressed, making her scowl at him, “ Yeah , I think I recall something about that.” The sarcasm was an unintended side effect, but they were talking about the thing that had driven him to do all of this in the first place. 

So as kind as it was that she was trying to spare his feelings, he needed to hear the truth. All of it.

She pouted again, her mouth pulling to the side in another scowl, unhappy that he’d called attention to it, but continued anyway, clearing her throat, “Yes. That day. Right before the Akuma attack, Lila cornered me in the bathroom and threatened me.”

“Threatened how ?”

“Why does it matter?”

He stared at her incredulously for a moment, “Are you serious right now?”

They stared again, but Adrien wasn’t backing down. This was important. And frankly, he couldn’t understand why she was suddenly being so stingy with the details.

They stared a bit longer. Their gazes stuck on the other in a battle of wills. 

One the blonde was determined to win. 

A frustrated groan erupted from her finally, accompanied by a heavy roll of her eyes that seemed to drag her head along with it, “It’s stupid, alright?” She spat, her tone matching his as they fed off of each other’s shifting moods.

It wasn’t what he’d wanted, but if it got her talking, he’d take it and would deal with the repercussions of her temper later.

“I-I thought she was being petty and trying to psych me out because I wasn’t falling in line like everyone else. She said that she’d make everyone hate me, okay? And yeah, I was definitely upset - but come on! I’ve known some of our classmates since we were in diapers. I had more faith in everyone than to just believe she’d turn them on me. And then after school, she managed to catch me before I left and said I’d made my choice and that we were at war.”

She breathed heavily after finishing, trying but failing to maintain a hard look back at him, quickly losing steam as her face softened once more.

She really couldn’t stay mad at him for long, could she?

Interesting Info for another time.

It was a lot to process. A lot to unpack. But Adrien was starting to understand why she’d seemed so hesitant to share at first. 

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Why didn’t you?” She countered without missing a beat, arms crossing defensively over her chest.

He’d inhaled for his next round of comments and that breath caught in his throat like he’d been sucker-punched below the belt. But he wouldn’t concede to that. “It’s not the same.” His head tilted with the pointed look he gave her. 

Because there was no way she actually believed-

“Isn’t it?”

She did. She actually thought they were the same thing. 

“No! Marinette, she threatened to take away your friends!”

Her eyes were wide, shoulders hunching in an exaggerated shrug - her entire body conveying her indifference, “But it was a stupid threat!”

And they called him the sunshine child. 

He nodded at her point because it wasn’t like she was wrong. It was stupid in that, in a perfect world, it would have been impossible. Lila could have threatened something much worse. But that wasn’t the problem, was it? “Fine, but it was a threat she was making good on.”

That had her hesitating, opening her mouth to argue but closing it again. There wasn’t anything to argue. They weren’t talking in theoretics here. This wasn’t a perfect world.  

“Even before she managed to convince the school to expel you - I’ll come back to that in a moment - she was making you out to be a bully. Every time you argued against her, she managed to turn it on you. I wasn’t there for everything, but I heard about some of it from Nino later on.” 

He took a breath, watching her take in and consider his words.

But he wasn’t done.

“But let’s go back to what brought us here today in the first place. Marinette, she actually convinced the school administration that you, a.) cheated on a test where you have perfect scores in the subject, b.) pushed her down a flight of stairs in a jealous rage, and c.) stole her personal property. Even some of our class was convinced.”

None of that was conjecture. Every single point he made, which he’d ticked off on his fingers to further enunciate was unexaggerated fact. It hadn’t just been a lie or a story that was turned around to make her look unpleasant. There had been evidence .   

Lila hadn’t just threatened to turn people against Marinette, she’d struck a masterful blow to Marinette’s reputation with little hope of recovery. It could be done, but it would be like clawing her way out of hell. 

A frown had made its home on her lips, hands balling into fists in her lap, “As I said, I figured she’d try something. I just didn’t expect the lengths she’d go to.”

Her blue eyes were clear as she met his searching gaze then and he understood. It hadn’t been indifference he’d seen in her before. It was acceptance. She’d already come to these conclusions on her own. She was smart like that.

And that at least granted him a small bit of comfort. 

But it still bothered him. Because she didn’t have to do it alone. Just like him, she wasn’t alone in this fight - she didn’t have to suffer all of this by herself. 

The high road only went so far. 

He swallowed, willing that heat that radiated from his anger to ease from his words, allowing them to get softer, “I get why you didn’t say anything to the class, especially after they’d sided with Lila as much as they had. But why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know? Because I thought I could handle it? Because, you were right?” she shrugged, having retreated within herself a bit more at this inquisition.

“No, I wasn’t! Lying about who you know or where you’ve been, that’s one thing. But she attacked you. If - if I had known, I wouldn’t have said those things. I wouldn’t have told you-”

“Adrien, stop. Your advice is not the root cause of all my problems, okay? And it’s not like you were wrong! I mean, that entire day just proves it. You said it yourself, trying to out her did nothing but paint me to be the bad guy.”

“Okay, sure, but-”

She put a hand up, effectively silencing him, some of that confidence and resolve he knew so well coming back to her features, “But nothing. At the time, it had been nothing more than a stupid threat. And while, yeah, okay, your advice was a little ill-timed and I took it a little too much to heart, you had the best intentions with the limited information you had.” She allowed for her lips to pull up, “If anything, you confirmed for me what I’d already known at the time. No matter what Lila did, she couldn’t turn everyone on me. I had you on my side and I had faith that I’d have the others as well. That’s why I didn’t say anything.”

She’d had faith that even if Lila made good on her threat, that her friends would stand by her. That he would stand by her. And that kind of trust was something he didn’t feel like he deserved. But she’d been right. In the end, he had been there - no matter how little he’d been able to do at the time. 

And the way she was looking at him now told him that no matter what he had to argue back at her next, it was a moot point. She didn’t blame him, no matter how much he blamed himself. And she wouldn’t hear anything else on the matter.

This was… a lot. But he’d needed to hear it. All of it. Which, despite how determined she was to end the conversation at that, he pushed with one last question.

“Is that everything?”

It was clear she hadn’t expected him to ask the follow-up. And while it was also clear she wanted very much to say that it was, to put this all the bed, Marinette hesitated, biting her lip after a moment of prolonged silence.

Oh no. “What?” he asked and was surprised at the pleading in his voice. 

“I’m… pretty sure that the Akuma that infected Lila that afternoon is the one that had been meant for me.”

And wasn’t that the icing on the goddamned cake?


Lila had nearly caused Marinette to be Akumatized twice. And the second time, she’d nearly succeeded.

All that fury and rage he'd been denying himself came back full force, mounting and building on itself. It was an anger that surprised even himself. What surprised him the most in all of the tumultuous emotions ringing through his head was the growing desire to-  

“I’m going to kill her,” he muttered decisively. 

Wide bluebell eyes met him and she nearly squeaked, “W-what?! Y-You can’t do that!”

Oh, he begged to differ. The overly possessive need to protect his friend was telling him otherwise.

“Can’t or shouldn’t? Because I think I’m more than capable of committing murder.” And he knew Plagg was more than happy to comply at this point. Hadn’t he offered his help just a bit ago? Why had he turned him down again?

“No! I’m not going to condone the murder of another person - no matter how much I might hate them.”

“No one said you had to condone it.”

She pursed her lips for a moment, gaze darting over his features, “You can’t be serious, right now.”

“On the contrary, I'm quite serious. In fact, I’d be doing you and everyone else in Paris a service." He'd be doing himself a service. Both sides of himself. "You know who’d back me up? Ladybug and Chat Noir. Lila’s as bad if not worse than Chloe when it comes to being an Akuma or causing them. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to know they have one less psycho they have to worry about.” He’d crossed his arms over his chest during his rant, taking a breath to watch her before something sprang to mind, making his eyes narrow on Marinette conspiratorially as a devious grin took form, “Aren’t you friends with Chat Noir? You should ask him to help and see what he says. I’m paw-sitive he’d agree with me.”

The pun was a little much, but it had the desired effect as the Baker’s daughter sputtered with a roll of her eyes.

“I’m not asking Chat Noir to murder someone for me! He’s a hero! Murder is a crime!”

“What is it they say in the US? No body, no crime? Cataclysm is such an uncontrollably destructive power. What if he 'accidentally' called for it while giving her a handshake or high five?” God, now he was sounding just like Plagg. The little kwami was rubbing off on him, but he couldn't find it in himself to care.

Not with the way Marinette seemed to struggle with keeping that growing amused grin off her face. “Stop it. You’re being terrible.” she tried admonishing him, but her words held no actual heat. She was enjoying this as much as he was it seemed. And that helped soothe him a bit from his murderous intentions.

Not that he wasn’t completely serious. No one messed with his friends. Especially someone as kind and caring as Marinette.

But for now, he could leave the premeditation for later. “I’m just saying, Marinette. Wasted opportunity.”

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

She chuckled then with a shake of her head, eyes finding him. The sound was humored and her gaze danced with mirth despite the darker turn their jokes had taken. “I didn’t take you for the vindictive type, Agreste.” her stare swept over him as if taking him in for the first time. Reevaluating long drawn conclusions of his character, but the sly upturn of her lips told him she was not disappointed to find a bit of darkness to the so-called sunshine child. 

“It’s pretty hot, actually.”

No, apparently not disappointed in the least .

Adrien's brows shot up to his hairline, green eyes wide before he had to suck his lips in and clench them shut with his teeth in shock and utter amusement.

So shocked in fact, that he couldn't actually process the fact that she'd been talking about him. Because that was a whole other can of worms he was definitely not prepared to address at the moment. Because HOLY SHIT Marinette had just essentially checked him out and called him hot. Not like he hadn't been called that before, but this was Marinette Dupain-Cheng. And if anyone was as innocent as him, it was her.

And poor, sweet, (maybe not-so) innocent Marinette looked like she might die of heat stroke the way her face flushed the loveliest shade of crimson as her own words finally dawned on her.

Scientifically speaking, it really shouldn't be possible to turn that color naturally. But she did.

“Forget I said that.” he was surprised when she managed to speak clearly, normally when she got even a fraction as flustered as she looked right then, her words turned to riddles. “Oh my god, please, please forget I said that. I-I didn’t-”

He could have consoled her. He should have consoled her. Told her she was fine and it was okay, he wasn't offended. In fact, the part of him quickly coming to terms with the fact that he too had misjudged the girl sitting front of him and, fuck, she'd called him hot , was more than a little flattered. But all this rebellious talk and spite had his Chat Noir showing and he couldn't help but scrutinize her as that signature teasing grin took over his face.

“So you do have a type. Good to know. I never would have guessed you preferred the bad boy genre.” his grin deepened dangerously as she sputtered uselessly in response, egging him on further. It was just too much fun messing with her like this. “Though I am starting to understand the friendship with Chat Noir.” his finger came to tap his chin before turning the Chat Charm up to 11. “It’s the leather, isn’t it?”


Huh, interestingly enough, it was possible to get even more flushed as Marinette seemed to go at least another three shades darker. If he wasn't so busy laughing at her expense, he might have been worried for her health. Or, at the very least, morbidly fascinated at such a scientific discovery.

There was a rustle of movement as Marinette snatched the pillow he'd maintained his grasp on and began pummeling him with it, but all that served to do was make him laugh harder as his arms came up to help block the onslaught.

“You’re. The. Worst!” She yelled with every hit.

“You’re not denying it!” He laughed out in response, finally managing to catch the makeshift weapon and throw in a soft hit of his own for good measure, keeping the pillow out of her reach when she dove for it again.

The look of complete and utter embarrassment mixed with the determined fire in her eyes made it so much more enjoyable. Any other time, he would have apologized, but this back and forth was everything he’d ever wanted out of a friendship with Marinette. And it was like breathing fresh air. Both of them goofing off and just being themselves .

It made him appreciate her in a whole new way. Made him give her a quick (maybe not-so-quick) once-over as well as he memorized the look she was giving him. Memorize the constellation of freckles over her nose and cheeks. Memorize the specks of dark blue in her otherwise sky blue gaze.

But all good things had to come to an end eventually.

The end of their little pillow fight came with multiple chimes from both of their cell phones that had gone largely forgotten in their time talking together.

It broke them out of their stare-off, scrambling away from each other to find their devices. 

A peek at the screen was enough to ground Adrien back to reality as he saw nearly a dozen missed texts from Nino, Alya and a couple from Lila all asking where he’d disappeared to.

He peered up to find a frown on Marinette’s face as she too examined her phone, “Looks like our absences have been noticed.”

He nodded, pulling up the messages from Nino:

Nino 7:55 am

Hey man, where’d ya go? Lila said you ran to the bathroom but that was like 10 min ago.


Nino 7:58 am

You feeling alright? Need me to cover for you? Get some meds from the infirmary? 


Nino 8:00 am

Dude, I’m gettin a lil worried. Give me a sign or somethin?


Nino 8:02 am

The bell rang like 2 mins ago and you still haven’t even read these. Where the hell are you? Mari isn’t here either.  


Nino 8:09 am

Alya can’t reach Mari and we’re both pretty worried, so please once you see this, give us a sign you’re ok?


Nino 8:30 am

Okay seriously. Imma call the cops cause this isn’t like you, Bro. You haven’t been like kidnapped right? I don’t even know what to do in this kind of situation!


Nino 8:32 am

PLEASE BRO. I’M LOSING MY SHIT RIGHT NOW. PLEASE. Just tell me you’re bein’ rebellious and not like kidnapped. Or dead. Please don’t be dead.


Nino 8:45 am

Dude. I… don’t think I’d be able to handle finding out you were dead all this time.


Nino 8:48 am

Like I don’t knw that my heart could take it


Nino 8:50 am

I’d have to write a eulogy and talk at your funeral.


Nino 8:55 am



Nino 9:00 am

Okay… like all jokes aside, I’m really freaked out. No one can get in contact with you or Mari and if I don’t hear anything in the next 10 minutes I will call the cops.


Nino 9:08 am

Don’t think I won’t! I’m dead serious, Agreste. If you are pranking me right now I’mma kick your ass.


Adrien chuckled all the way through his messages from Nino. The guy was usually so chill. It was funny - if not totally heartwarming - to see him freak out over his sudden absence.

As he re-read over the last messages another came through:

Nino 9:09 am

Last chance.


With a loving roll of his eyes, Adrien set out to relieve his friend of his overactive imagination.

Adrien 9:09 am

Don’t call the cops Nino! I’m fine! I just didn’t see the messages until just now. Sorry Bro, didn’t mean to freak you out.


The response was immediate.

Nino 9:09 am



Adrien 9:10 am

I did go to the bathroom. On my way back to class, I ran into Mari who looked really sick. I was worried, so I helped get her back home.


He frowned as he hit send on his last message to his best friend, but tried to not let it get to him. He hated lying to Nino like this, but it had to be done. At least for now.

He peaked back up to find that Marinette had swapped out her phone for one of the nearly forgotten snacks she’d brought up for them as she sat patiently waiting for him to finish, nibbling slowly at the end of a croissant. 

“Is Alya freaking out as much as Nino?”

She chuckled with a nod, “Yeah. Threatened to post about me being missing on the Ladyblog.” 

Another chime caught his attention, bringing his eyes back down to the device in his hands.

Nino 9:11 am

Oh geez - I hope Mari’s okay. Looks like she just messaged Alya and said she almost fainted? Scary. So did you just decide to be her nurse for the day or something?


Adrien had been in the process of reaching for a snack as well when he nearly choked. 

Adrien 9:12 am

WHAT?! NO! Her parents asked me to sit with her until the doctor got here. You can ask them!


Nino 9:12 am

XD Dude, I’m just messin. Seriously, tho - way to be a hero man! I’m sure she super appreciates it.


Nino 9:13 am

But, you do plan on coming back to school right? Like if she’s really that sick, it’s prob not best to hang around too long.


He had a point. Even if the illness was fake, hanging around more than necessary would be just as suspicious. No matter how much Adrien wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of the day in this newfound safe haven. 

“It’s probably about time you headed back to class, huh?” Marinette brought his attention back to her while also somehow reading his mind.

She’d slipped back into that soft smile she seemed to have for him today, all jokes and embarrassment forgotten. 

He nodded, standing up slowly and stretching to bring his body back to alertness, “I suppose so. Thanks again for all of this. I - I really needed it. The escape and the talk.” His arm snaked back to rub nervously at the back of his neck as she too stood and stretched.

“You and me both needed this, so please don’t worry about it. We should do it again sometime.”

There was a moment of hesitation and thickness in the air between them. Something unresolved. Something neither of them wanted to leave hanging there, but neither knowing what to do with the beast of burden.

Well, he didn’t know what to do. But leave it to Marinette Dupain-Cheng to know exactly what to say as she reached out and squeezed his arm, “We’ll figure all of this out, Adrien. Not right now, but soon. I promise.”

He nodded, because how did someone follow-up after such encouraging words? He couldn’t. She said it all and so much more and it helped him quell any lingering dread having to go back to class without her. 

But that still meant he’d have to say goodbye and leave. Which he was finding hard to convince himself to do. But he knew he had to. He just didn't want them slipping back into those old tense habits. He wanted the fun fiery Marinette all the time. He wanted to be able to keep talking with her. He wanted to have contact with her. 

He wanted to hug her. Like she'd hugged him earlier. But pouncing on her was probably a bad idea. They'd made so much ground in such a short time. He didn't want to scare her away.

“Can-can I hug you again?” He asked instead, opened his arms in invitation, a shy bubbling hope filling his chest and making him anxious as he watched her eyes go wide and her cheeks flush again.

But she didn’t leave him hanging. 

Marinette smiled softly before stepping into the space, wrapping her arms around him and almost burying herself in his frame like he was one of the pillows on her bed.

Who was he to deny her the same?

Adrien wrapped her snuggly in his own embrace, resting his chin happily on top of her head and closing his eyes. Resisting the urge to purr in delight.

Oh yeah. He was quickly developing a need for hugs like this from now on.

“Hey,” her voice came out muffled from his shirt. Quiet and timid once more.

He hummed in response, feeling all that boiling rage from their earlier confessions cooled and tamed while she was wrapped safely in his arms. Not just their conversation. He felt the tension of the last month had been soothed from his body and he felt stronger, calmer, in control of himself. 

Imagine that. Talking about your problems actually helps.

“Are you mad?”

He found that while all those emotions had been tamed, yes, he was still angry . But not at her. Never at her. They’d both done something stupid, but that was the essence of what it meant to be teenagers, right? Being stupid and making stupid mistakes. But this could be fixed. He knew it could. He just wasn’t sure how yet. But that was a problem for future him.

For now, he was content to chuckle softly through his nose at her question, “No.” The corner of his mouth pulled up slightly, “I am disappointed though.”

Her arms tightened around his middle and he could almost feel her cringing against his chest before she peaked up at him with her nose scrunched up and a small grin of her own, “You’re right. That is worse.”

Chapter Text

It had taken more convincing (mostly to himself) than probably should have been necessary for Adrien to leave the warmth of the bakery behind and make his way back to class. 

Not that the Dupain-Chengs seemed to be in any real rush to be rid of him either. 

He and Marinette had spent at least another few minutes just hugging quietly in her room. He’d found himself resisting the concept of letting her go, and by the way she’d interlocked her fingers behind his back, he let himself believe that maybe she was just as opposed to the idea of separating as he was.

Just one more thing to add to the ‘need to think about this in more depth later’ pile.

When they eventually did separate - with shy smiles and pink tinted cheeks - and made their reappearance in the bakery (with Plagg having snuck back into his pocket somewhere along the way), Sabine and Tom had chatted him up for a bit longer. Nothing but soft smiles and promises of open doors and a bag full of treats to send with him on his way.

And before he could manage to leave the store, Sabine had chased after him with a note and a reminder to call if anyone gave him grief over his absence.

He’d wanted to burst into tears at the overwhelming generosity of these people. Because who did that? Who opened their arms and homes to someone they barely knew with unconditional sincerity like that? 

Honestly, he felt guilty for accepting it - for needing it as much as he did. Because all of this had started with a selfish need to run away from a problem he’d helped create.

But accept it he did. 

Because, frankly, denying it at this point would be rude. And if his father had raised him to be anything, it was polite. And there were absolutely no ulterior motives or sudden realizations of how absolutely affection-starved he was. Nope. Not at all.

All totaled, the reluctance had cost him an additional half-hour before he finally found himself walking through the doors to the school again with a bit more pep to his step and his back straighter after having opened up and so much weight taken off his shoulders.

Well, maybe not taken off. It was still there. He could acknowledge that it still loomed over him - waiting for the right moment to settle back on his frame. But it didn’t feel like he was hefting that load alone anymore. He wasn’t afraid that it would crush him when it inevitably fell.

By the time Adrien reached the door to the classroom, he felt more even-tempered than he felt like he had been in weeks. 

Even still, he took a deep calming breath just for good measure. A gesture that earned him a soft pat on the chest and a “You’re doing great kid,” from the Kwami tucked away in his shirt pocket.

Scratch extra . Adrien was going to double Plagg's camembert intake for the foreseeable future. 

With that last thought, he opened the door to his classroom.

“M. Agreste, nice of you to join us today.” Madame Bustier commented with a humored smile in his direction the moment he revealed himself and walked in. 

The comment was not heated and held no actual chastising, but he still found himself a little anxious under her watchful gaze. Like any moment, she would call his father and have them remove him from the school entirely. As silly as he subconsciously knew that sounded - that didn't make the anxiety go away. Swallowing, he offered her a smile back and held out the note to her.

“Sorry about that, Mme. Bustier, I was helping-”

Before he even managed to spin the tale, she took the offered note and cut him off with a gentle grin, “Not to worry, Adrien, I’m aware of where you’ve been, but thank you for bringing the note. Now, then, please find your seat. Nino will catch you up on what we’re working on for the remainder of the class.” She nodded towards Adrien’s seat, making him turn towards it to look at the student in question.

The small smile Adrien had kept for Madame Bustier and then for his friend Nino suddenly faltered as he took in the seating arrangement. Nino and Alya were in their usual spots, Nino looking back at him expectantly, waiting for him to sit. But the seat that should have been empty behind him because of the occupants’ faked absence, was decidedly not empty.

All that fury and frustration and anxiety he’d carefully managed to pack away for later all flooded him once more at the little wave Lila gave as they made eye contact. He had to bite hard into his tongue just to keep the rest of his body from responding to the renewed toxic turbulence that was his boiling emotions as his and Marinette's confessions remained fresh at the forefront of his mind.

This was the girl who threatened one of his best friends and nearly gotten her Akumatized twice. 

This was the girl who single-handedly had the staff so convinced, they expelled a star student with little more than hearsay.

This was the girl who was intruding on every facet of his life and isolating him from the people who could keep him sane.

And of course, Lila would take advantage of the current situation to work her way closer to him.

Never a missed opportunity .

"Adrien? Something wrong?"

He started, but kept his face neutral, blinking a couple of times to get a grip as he shook his head, "sorry, no, nothing's wrong. I just got caught up in my own thoughts," he said, finding his way to his seat and sliding on to the bench, wary of the presence behind him. It made his skin crawl knowing she was there. Like every nerve in his body was expecting the lying fox to spring and bury her canines in his throat.

“Hey man, glad you made it back.”

Adrien flashed Nino a practiced smile as he went to grab his notebook from the bag he’d left in the classroom when he’d run out earlier.

“How’s Marinette?” A voice asked softly behind him, sounding sweet as sugar and curious, but he shivered as he registered the hidden disdain he’d grown quite good at detecting. The model kept the small smile on his face as he turned around to look behind himself. Alya was giving him an all-too-eager look he wasn’t sure how to process as she leaned closer and Lila, who'd spoken, looked down at him from her raised seat, one brow raised in question.

He wanted nothing more than to wipe that superior expression off her face. Let loose all the things he’d learned, all the frustration and anger he had towards the conniving fox for both himself and Marinette, but he didn’t. 


Marinette had made him promise he wouldn’t do anything yet.

It was one of the last things she’d said to him before he left the Bakery. 

'We’ll figure this out together, I promise. But for now, we have to keep pretending. Don’t say anything about this to anyone yet, alright? Please?’

It had been such a striking juxtaposition to what felt like had been a pretty clear conclusion to their conversation in her room.

‘Isn’t that how we got in this mess in the first place?’ He had asked, dropping his voice to match hers, so her parents couldn’t hear their conversation.

She gave him a half-smile, fitting, as it only half reached her eyes, ‘This is different. I know it doesn’t make sense to stay quiet, but we need to choose the right time. Lila’s done some crazy creative things to get me in trouble in the past for trying to expose her. I just don’t want to give her a heads up, you know? And I don’t want you to take her on by yourself.’

It was sound reasoning. He wasn’t sure how long Lila had spent planning Marinette’s expulsion, but he’d definitely seen the liar improvise well enough on the spot to see why Marinette would be wary.


Adrien had nodded and agreed at the time. 

Now that he was face to face with the liar, though, he was genuinely surprised by the effort it took not to lash out. 

And boy did he want to. Like every single one of his protective, rational and irrational instincts were just begging for him to drop all pretenses and just let the damn girl have it.

Was hoping he would get Akumatized just so he could rip the girl apart with no repercussions violent and messed up? Yes, yes it was. 

Did he give a single flying fuck? Nope. Not in the slightest.

But he wouldn’t do something like that. 

Not when he’d promised Marinette. Not when the prospect meant he’d have to fight Ladybug. And disappointing either of them was enough to keep him on the straight and narrow.

For now, to quell the immense anger boiling in his core, he imagined what it would be like to set her hair on fire instead. Better yet, test what would happen if he cataclysmed the strands - would all of her hair just fall out, or would the destructive magic travel all the way to the skin?

Another soft pat to his chest and Adrien cleared his throat, filing away those darker thoughts, and mentally thanking Plagg for bringing him back to the present, “Marinette’s really sick, but her parents are hopeful that she’ll be feeling much better soon.”

“It’s crazy that she fainted! That girl works way too hard. She shouldn’t have tried coming to school if she were feeling that bad,” Alya shook her head, but the loving yet concerned grin on her face made the model soften a bit himself.

Even not being around all the time, Adrien wasn’t blind to the subtle shifts in the class. He just didn't understand it - still didn't understand it. 

After Marinette had been expelled, a number of their classmates had begun to distance themselves from the class rep. Even when she’d been proven innocent (or at least allowed back into school), there were a couple of people who retained their skepticism of her. 

Skepticism that was wholly and irrefutably misplaced.

But the person he’d worried about the most had been Alya. 

The self-proclaimed reporter could be so short-sighted sometimes, it was criminal. And despite her proclivity for journalism, and seeking of the truth, she was just as smitten with the tales Lila weaved as the rest of the class. He’d overheard Alya chastising Marinette for her dislike of the Italian girl a couple of times - something else he didn't fully understand.

But, after the expulsion, he feared that Alya would be one of those who would distance herself, in favor of the shiny exchange student with the forked silver tongue. 

But if anything, and much to Adrien's relief, their friendship had continued, strong as ever. 

"Well, I hope it wasn't anything too serious. Wouldn't want you catching it too. Fainting spells and serious illnesses could be detrimental to a model." Lila's mock concern made his smile falter as both Nino and Alya shared a concerned look and unconsciously shifted back like they might catch whatever germs might be present.

Which, there were none, but he couldn’t tell them that. That didn’t mean he’d give Lila the opportunity to seclude him from his friends more than she already did.

"I'll be fine. I mostly just stayed to keep watch until the doctor came. I don’t think it was something contagious anyways," He shot back with as much sincerity as he could. 

Nino recovered quickly and leaned over to pat Adrien's shoulder, "still, man, you did good. You saved the everyday ladybug. Guess that means you're the everyday chat noir, huh?" His friend winked at him and he sputtered not liking how close to the truth his friend really was.

"I-its not like - I just -"

Alya leaned over her desk and ruffled his head, earning her a gasped 'hey' from him as she gave him the warmest of smiles, something tender yet mischievous in her eyes. "We know, Sunshine. But seriously. You took really good care of her. I know she appreciates it. Just don't be surprised if she brings you baked goods for the rest of the month."

Adrien's face pinked but he quickly schooled his reaction, knowing exactly who was audience to the conversation. Not to mention that he hadn't really done the things they praised him for. In fact, if anything, he owed her baked goods for the rest of the month.

But because he was painfully aware of the venomous presence sitting behind him, he thought it best to move the conversation away from Marinette.

"So what did I miss? Madame Bustier mentioned we were working on something?"

"Right! So the big project this year that's worth like 60% of our grade? They finally announced it."

Adrien nodded along, remembering mention of the project in his syllabus for the year. It was normally a research topic and presentation, but the context usually changed yearly, depending on the school board. 

"They've really changed things up this year and the school is doing a competition across our classes. We have to research and develop and propose a charity event for a cause we agree on. Then we'll present it to the class and based on the votes of the students, the plausibility of the event, and the preparation, the winning group will get money from the school board to put on their charity event. Then, each charity event from the different classes goes head to head. Whoever earns the most money for their charity wins."

Wow, that really was quite the project. There were a lot of pieces to take into consideration and that didn’t even cover the actual school-wide competition. It wasn't like winning actually played a part in the grade, he knew that, but by the way Nino explained, it was clear that was what everyone was focusing on.

More likely, they were being graded on the plan proposal and presentation of cause and charity events. 

"There was an extended lecture and some exercises around the project earlier that you missed, but nothing you can't catch up on, dude." Nino continued.

"Who's group am I in?"

Nino grinned at him motioning with his head back towards the two sitting behind them, “You’re looking at it.”

Normally, this news would have made Adrien ecstatic. But the thought of having to deal with Lila in one more way made it hard to be happy. Somehow he knew she’d find a way to make this all about her - and try to get him alone even more than she already did.

With a noncommittal hum and nod, Adrien looked around the rest of the room noting the other groups. Most of them were grouped up as pairs - and not the usual pairs either. But that made Adrien turn back to his group members with a confused look.

Wait, how were the teams decided? Because this didn’t look like a fair division of the class at all. But instead of voicing that to his friends (god love them, but he had a feeling he knew exactly how this had happened), he turned, raising his hand and catching their teacher’s attention.

“Question about the project?”

“Actually, a question about the teams.” This seemed to surprise her (as well as his teammates) but he couldn’t let this go, “I was just curious how everyone was divided up?” 

Understanding lit Madame Bustier’s expression, “Ah, right, everyone present in the class filled out a slip of paper and placed their names into a bowl, then drew names randomly.”

The operative words there being ‘present’ and ‘randomly’. So how did he end up in a group of four when he’d been decidedly absent from the class at the time?

“But I wasn’t here for the drawing. How did my name get drawn?” It was an innocent enough question.

And as he predicted, there was a less-than innocent answer, “Actually that was my fault,” Lila spoke up quickly, sounding as angelic as possible for a lying snake, “You’d been here earlier and I thought you’d be coming back quickly, so I added your name for you.”

How very kind of you , he resisted saying out loud as he glanced back at the girl who’d taken up a pout - as if to apologize for doing something nice for him.

But that still didn’t make sense. The math didn’t add up. Which meant either she’d withheld their names in order to make sure they worked together, or something else was amiss. If most groups were meant to be no more than 2, there would be at least one group of three. But that would leave two names unaccounted for. Which still left one last glaring issue with the team assignments.

“What about Marinette?”

Because she hadn’t been there either, but no one added her name to the bowl.

“No need to worry. She’ll just be added to another group when she gets back.”

“But that’s not fair.” He turned a look to Madame Bustier who seemed to be thinking over his words a little taken back, “That would make us the only group of four. Any group with more than two members would already have an unfair advantage.”

Lila looked like she was about to say something but Madame Bustier nodded, “No, M. Agreste has a point. It would be unfair to keep you four together.” she agreed, her brow creasing as she evaluated the student breakdown. The look on her face made it clear that she wasn’t entirely sure where the division had gone wrong.

“Well then Adrien and-”

“Actually, I think I should work with Marinette.” He interjected before the fox had a chance to rig anything else. Though this quick outburst had more than a couple of people looking at him a little surprised. He wasn’t usually one for speaking up and while he wasn’t exactly being mean about it, he was being more forceful than usual.

And he didn't like the sudden attention focused on him. 

“W-what I mean is - Marinette and I both missed the lecture and the exercises. Anyone we’re paired with would be carrying our weight. If Marinette and I are paired together, we’d be on even ground. We’d have to put in the same amount of work.”

Lila scoffed, but quickly masked it as clearing her throat, “Wouldn’t that actually be a hindrance to the project?”

He was so used to people just blindly accepting Lila’s point of view that it honestly surprised him when Alya suddenly came to his defense, “Not necessarily! I think Adrien has a point too, actually. Besides, we’ve already had a chance to discuss charity drives. It wouldn’t be fair to You or Adrien to have to start from scratch when we’ve already pretty much come to an agreement.”

Alya had turned a bright smile on Lila before shooting him a sideways wink that no one else seemed to catch but him.

What was that about? 

No, it didn't matter. He mentally shook himself and was thankful for her support.

“Then it’s settled. Adrien, you’ll work with Marinette when she returns. Please be sure she gets the project rubric and find time to discuss and send me the cause you both would like to help support.” 

Adrien tried and mostly succeeded at hiding the excitement of having won his argument behind his usual model smile as he nodded, taking the extra papers from Madame Bustier and slipping them in his bag where they'd be safe until he could deliver them to his project partner. All the while, taking extra care to purposely ignore the blazing heat he felt on the back of his neck, no doubt coming from the heated glare Lila was sending him.

But he didn't need to avoid it long as the bell rang and they were dismissed to their next classes. 

Normally, Adrien would take his time packing up and trying his best to make himself seem busy - most of the time that still didn't work as Lila would pull him to walk her to her next class. But since he hadn't had any reason to linger to pack his bag, she was on him in a heartbeat, locking her arm around his and pulling expectantly.

A quick glance and the model swallowed back a combination of bike and anger at the won't-take-no-for-an-answer look in her eye. 

So, with an apologetic wave to Nino, and a confirmation that he'd catch up with him later, Adrien walked Lila out of the class and down the hall.

"How was your little romp with Marinette this morning? Hmm? Have a good time bonding?"

Don't play into her games. Don't give her a heads up. She's dangerous. He repeated in his head as he continued to school his reactions as best as possible.

Adrien gave her the most convincing look of confusion he possibly could, "I don't know what you mean about bonding, but it was nice to help her since she was sick."

"Don't play games with me, Agreste." She spat, keeping her voice low to avoid alerting any of the students passing them, "You didn't tell her about our little agreement, now, did you?"

Yes. He wanted to hiss back at her with as much righteous fury as he could.

"No." He answered back softly instead, keeping all emotion from his tone in fear of letting her on too soon.

The downright savage gleam in her olive irises sang of her glee as she looked up at him, "Good. You know our little deal is off if you say anything to her." Her smirk dipped then as a thought occurred to her, "It does make me wonder why you were so adamant about wanting to work with her on the project."

A flash of panic zipped down his spine at the implications she threw at him, but hid it quickly under his usual stoic facade, "She's a friend, Lila. And I was just concerned about the division being fair."

She rolled her eyes with a scoff, "fair - shmair. You just couldn't leave it alone, could you?" 

They reached her next class and Lila quickly turned to face him, taking him in with the same cold scrutinizing gaze his father often had before her hand came up to drag over his cheek, "You're just too good for your own good, you know that?"

He supposed the act was meant to be sensual or something but it only made him go stiff and his stomach to start twisting painfully.

It took everything he had not to retch right there.

She waved, effectively dismissing him and he quickly turned on his heels and made his way to his next class.

Subconsciously trying to burn the image of her grazing his skin out of his head while the only thing on his mind was how badly he wanted to just be rid of the massive pain in the ass that was Lila Rossi and every dreadful emotion she instilled in him.

Soon. We'll get this all figured out and resolved soon.

One way or another.

He and Marinette would come up with a plan. Together they'd expose the liar for what she was and everything could go back to normal.

That was the thoughts that brought him through the halls and robotically to his assigned seat in his advanced calculus class he was taking in addition to his other classes. Unfortunately, none of his usual friends were in this class, but since he was fairly decent at math, it wasn't a difficult one to zone out in. 

Which he planned to do to catch his brain up on everything that had happened since he'd woken up that morning.

Or, at least he had planned on, if not for the sudden buzzing notification from his phone resting in his pocket catching his attention first.

The model was seated near the back of the class, and the instructor was working on getting the projector working, which meant he'd have no trouble using his phone. This was normally the period he and Nino sent memes back and forth anyway, but it seemed a bit early for his best friend to be messaging him.

As expected, when Adrien hid the device in his lap and examined the notification, he found it was a text, but from an unknown number.



Unknown 10:10 am

Hey! Figured I give this whole communication thing a try. 


Adrien's brow rose questioningly at the number and the message. He had a pretty decent feeling he knew who was on the other end, but there was no guarantee. It wouldn't have been the first time one of his fans had managed to get his number. 

So there was only one way to find out which it was.



Adrien 10:10 am

New phone who dis?


Unknown 10:11 am

Oh god. Don't start pulling memes on me now. I can't handle any more surprises today. x.x


Green eyes darted up to see that the instructor had fixed the projector and had turned back to the board to begin the lecture as a grin pulled at Adrien's lips.



Adrien 10:11 am

I am offended, stranger. Around these parts, I am hailed as a meme lord. How dare you assume otherwise.


Unknown 10:12 am

You're killin me smalls.


He had to fight the grin from growing any bigger and bite back a chuckle as he backed out of the conversation and saved the number to his contacts. 

Which struck him as odd - that in all the time he'd known her, not once had he managed to get her number. 

But that thought brought another. One that was much more interesting as he stared at her new contact entry with furrowed brows and growing grin.

How had she gotten his?

He quickly swiped back to the chat with another glance up to assure he was still in the clear.



Adrien 10:13 am

I'm saving your name as 'kill joy'


Marinette 10:13 am



Adrien 10:14 am

That's a funny way to spell 'truth'.


Where the heck was this all his life? Banter over text? With Marinette? This was like a dream come true! He’d always wanted the kind of friendship she’d always seemed to share with everyone else in their class but him. Quirky, fun, quick-witted, confident.

And while he hated the circumstances that brought them to this glorious new chapter in their friendship, he couldn’t find it in himself to regret any of it, either. Okay, maybe he did regret some of it (case in point - trying not to lose his breakfast on the way to calculus after walking with Lila), but none of the parts with Marinette.

Another soft vibration brought his attention back to the device in his lap.



Marinette 10:15 am

Did you make it back to class okay? 


Adrien 10:15 am

You live like 2 minutes from the school mari. 


Marinette 10:16 am

:P not what I meant smartass, and u kno it.


Adrien 10:16 am

Just admit you were worried I'd been kidnapped. 🤣


Marinette 10:17 am

Not my fault you have crazy fans. 2 minutes is more than enough time for one of them to wisk you away.


Adrien 10:18 am

  1. Point taken 2. Dude. Too real. 3. Yes, made it back no issues. Mostly. 


Marinette 10:18 am

Oof. I bet I don't have to guess why just 'mostly'


Adrien 10:18 am

Prob not. 😕


There was a break in the messages as Adrien peered up to make it seem like he was paying attention to the lecture while the three text bubbles popped up and disappeared a couple of times before she finally sent something back. 



Marinette 10:23 am

Actually, speaking of which, is it safe to keep talking like this?


Safe? Wow . And he thought he was cautious.



Adrien 10:24 am

Definitely. The messages are locked with a diff pw than my phone. So even if someone could get in my phone, they can’t see the messages.


Marinette 10:24 am



Marinette 10:25 am

Actually… that’s a scary amount of security for some text messages, isn’t it? 🤔


Adrien grimaced reading her message. He hadn’t meant to make her suspicious, just put her at ease that their conversation would stay private. It wasn’t like he could tell her the real reason he kept it locked. Because it would be a little difficult to explain to someone why he was receiving forwarded messages from Chat Noir’s baton. So he settled for the best excuse he had.



Adrien 10:26 am

Father is super paranoid 🤫


Marinette 10:27 am 

Fair. I forget about that sometimes.


He breathed a small sigh of relief that she’d believed the explanation as easily as she did. Not that it didn’t bother him to lie to her, but it wasn’t like he was totally lying. His father was paranoid. About everything it seemed. But frankly, the extra security was more than a little useful for both protecting his secret identity, but also his civilian life from everyone else.



Marinette 10:30 am

Hey, so, on that topic, you said something before that keeps bothering me.


The blonde peered back up quickly at the professor before glancing back down to the screen, noting the shift in seriousness in her written tone and the very abrupt change in subject. It was contemplative like she was piecing together a puzzle with a few missing pieces.

Suddenly he was reminded again how incredibly perceptive she was. And since he frequently visited with her as both Adrien and Chat noir, he’d have to be extra careful about the things he said around her. But, for now, he hoped he was in the clear.



Adrien 10:31 am

I said a lot of things before. You're going to have to be more specific.


He could just imagine her giving him an unamused look and the mental image made him grin, waiting for her to continue.



Marinette 10:31 am

Haha you’re sooo funny. 😑


Marinette 10:33 am

You said earlier that Lila was worse than Chloe when it comes to Akumas. What did you mean by that?


Adrien paused after reading the text to look back up, but not really seeing the class around him, instead recollecting his thought process when he’d made the comment. 



Adrien 10:34 am

Well… We both know Chloe’s not… the nicest person all the time


He paused a moment, again, imagining her giving him a dead-panned expression but he continued before she could reply back.



Adrien 10:34 am

Hey, you have to admit, she’s getting better.


There was a moment where he watched as her icon popped up several times and he could tell she was having a hard time coming up with something nice to say, so instead, she sent an emoji rolling its eyes. And as much as he wanted to stand up for Chloe, he could only give a half-hearted attempt. 

The Mayor's daughter had been his only friend for so long. It was nearly hard-wired in his brain to try and defend that.

But then again, she’d also become Miracle Queen and shown him that maybe he didn’t know her as well as he had thought. 

She had been getting better. So what the heck changed?

But they weren’t talking about Chloe. Not really. He shook his head, remembering the point he was trying to make.



Adrien 10:37 am

Chloe doesn’t have the best track record. I get that. She’s caused a lot of Akumas (been a lot of them too). But she’s never done anything to cause something like Heroes Day.


No, just outed most of the backup heroes in a single battle , he reminded himself. While they lucked out with the general public having been affected by Miracle Queen's bees - which meant that the general public was not privy to them being outed, that still left Hawkmoth and Mayura aware of the hero's identities. 

Still not the point. But something he mentally noted as being something he and Ladybug needed to discuss.



Marinette 10:37 am

But Lila has?


Adrien 10:39 am

Yeah. The day you were expelled. Enough people were upset that multiple had nearly been Akumatized. Including you.


Marinette 10:40 am

Right… there was the swarm of scarlet butterflies. I almost forgot about that.


He hadn’t. Not by a long shot. It had been right before he’d been nearly tricked by Mayura and the Sentibug she’d created.

Which was a whole over thing he and Ladybug hadn’t had a chance to sit down and revisit, but probably should? They really hadn't had a chance to just debrief in a while, had they?



Marinette 10:45 am

Wait… but thats…

You don’t think - that she planned it, do you?


Adrien 10:46 am

Having you expelled? I thought we were positive that she did.


Marinette 10:47 am

No, well yes, but what I mean is, do you think she knew it would have caused so many people being Akumatized?


Adrien 10:50 am

Wait… like… 

Are you insinuating that Lila is actively aiding Hawkmoth?


Marinette 10:52 am



Marinette 10:53 am 

I think I am. I mean think about it, she was volpina, right? And the whole reason heroes day happened is because of an illusion of ladybug and chat noir fighting on the parade balloons and scarlet hawkass using it to his advantage.


As serious as the conversation was, he nearly dropped his phone as he quickly covered his mouth from laughing out loud.



Adrien 10:56 am

Lol scarlet hawkass????

Sorry. Was not prepared for that.

But… I guess you're right. The only way that illusion would have happened was with rena rouge or volpina. And rena is one of the heroes. She wouldn't have done something like that.


There was the chance it was a totally new Akuma. But thinking back on the incident, all of the villains they'd faced that day had been faces they'd seen before. The only exception being Rena Rage and Shell Shock, but even then, they weren't new. Just Akumatized versions of their hero forms.

So realistically, Volpina was the only logical conclusion.



Marinette 10:59 am

Whoops lol yeah. I must have typed it enough to Als that it just autocorrects now.


Marinette 11:05 am

But what I'm getting at is the only time Hawkass ever akumatized more than 1 person at a time, is while he's scarlet hawkass. So… unless he could feel everything building that day and tried to make it work for him, wouldn't this be like a heroes day pt 2? Like everything was planned?


Marinette 11:06 am

I don't know if there's enough evidence to prove it but I don't have a great feeling about this.


He would have to agree. Given the evidence, circumstantial as it may be, they weren't just dealing with a manipulative liar, but one who may or may not have contact with a magical terrorist who created supervillains to fight teenage superheroes on a weekly if not daily basis. More importantly, it meant that Lila's plans to get Marinette expelled from school potentially had an ulterior motive of getting her and everyone who put their faith in her Akumatized.



Adrien 11:06 am

That's - wow... I have to agree. We should get this info to Ladybug somehow.


Marinette 11:07 am

Well as you so helpfully pointed out earlier, I am pretty good friends with a cat-themed superhero who happens to be her partner.


He knew he could count on her to pick up what he was hinting at. He could just tell ladybug himself, but knowing his spotted partner, she'd want to know who this observation came from and he needed Marinette to back him up when they eventually had to explain it. 



Marinette 11:08 am

Well its settled then. Lets try and flag the heroes down and give them this info.


Adrien 11:08 am

Aye aye, captain!


Marinette 11:08 am


Oops, gotta go. Mom says that if I'm staying home, the least i can do is get a head start on my homework.


Adrien 11:09 am

Oh! Speaking of, I have some good news and some bad news.


Marinette 11:10 am

Ugh… alright. Hit me with the bad news first.


Adrien 11:11 am

We have a major project for class that is nearly 60% of our semester grade and it turned into a school-wide competition.


Marinette 11:12 am

Of course it is. Because I don't have enough to do as it is. Alright, what's the good news?


Adrien 11:13 am

You're stuck with me as your partner. 😉

Chapter Text

With how crazy the rest of the day was with classes and extracurriculars, it’s no wonder that the next time Adrien is really aware of what’s happening around him, he’s in his room and the darkening skies outside his window are casting long shadows across his bed where he lay staring at the ceiling.

He’s been a mess of thoughts the entire day. Even classes where he excels and he is usually the first to participate are no match for the nonstop noise in his own head.

He’s sure he’d eaten dinner because of the time, but he doesn’t really remember it. 

Or the fencing lesson.

Or the Chinese lesson.

Or the lectures he’s sure he’d received at some point in the evening.

His silence and complete lack of awareness are enough to worry his Kwami as the little black cat-like creature flew up to hover over his face so that he could catch his gaze. Probably in case his ears were still blocked to outside noise, “You good kid? I don’t think I’ve seen you so thoughtful, well, ever.”

Adrien frowned, glaring for a moment, before rolling his eyes. Plagg was just being Plagg. And he couldn’t fault him for relying on the one thing that usually managed to work to get his attention, “Really funny, hardy har har.”

It had his wondering, though. How many other people had he accidentally ignored throughout the day?

"Look at that. He lives! I was starting to wonder if you'd been replaced with a lifesize mannequin. Just so you know, no take-backs. While you were playing space cadet I asked for four wheels of cheese and you agreed."

Adrien snorted despite himself, a sarcastic gleam to his now fully focused gaze, "Bull. Pics or it didn't happen." He countered, unimpressed with his Kwami's shenanigans.

And like the sage millennia-old creature he was, Plagg stuck his tongue out and pouted like a toddler. The temper tantrum was short-lived though as a much more serious expression crossed the Kwami’s face a moment later at not receiving the reaction he'd probably expected, "Seriously though, kid, what's going on in that head of yours? You've been awful quiet since this morning."

The corner of Adrien's lips pulled up at the obvious concern from his friend. At the same time, seeing him worry only made the guilt worse. He hadn’t meant to space out all day, but it was hard not getting lost to the stream of consciousness. "Just had a lot on my mind is all," he tried to brush it off, but the narrowed look Plagg gave him said he wasn't having it.

In fact, it was a look that clearly said ‘Fine, you want to play that game, I can play that game.’

And suddenly, narrowed catlike eyes turned curious, "like what?" 

He couldn't help the little chuckle that escaped him. Leave it to Plagg to turn communication into a competition, "just - you know." He shrugged as if that indicated everything on his mind; not really wanting to burden anyone else with his thoughts. Not really wanting to put credence to the idea that he was in way over his head. Because he definitely was.

"I don't know. That's why I asked."

"Seriously Plagg?" the sigh that escaped him, as a hand came up to card through his blonde hair while regarding the little creature of destruction was more exasperated than he had meant for it to be, "I'm giving you an out here."

"And I'm giving you a rare opportunity to actually do the whole talking thing with me. So talk." Plagg crossed his arms over his body and Adrien has to blink at the authoritative presence he gave off despite his size. 

That received another sputtered chuckle from the model, shaking his head before relenting. It was best he just get it out of the way. Plagg wouldn't drop it if he was dead set on something.

And he was surprisingly dead set on this.

Which was still a little twilight-zoneish if he was being honest. Plagg being down to talk feelings was still a very new concept for him. But a lot of weird things had been happening that day. What was one more thing to add to the list?

"Just - everything I guess. The whole thing with Lila, everything with Marinette, talking to Ladybug about everything that's been going on, school." He paused with another shrug, "life in general?"

And that was just the executive summary.

Plagg blinked a couple of times before his curious gaze seemed to take on a more sarcastic appearance, "Oh is that all?" He rolled his eyes, "Kid you're going to give yourself an aneurysm if you keep trying to solve all your problems in your own head. If not an aneurysm, then a mental breakdown for sure." He landed softly on Adrien's chest, "Didn't you learn anything from your talk with pigtails this morning?"

Now it was Adrien's turn to raise a questioning brow, "you stuck around then, huh?"

"I try not to make a habit of being too far away from my chosen in case of emergencies."

"What about that time-"

"Special circumstances." Plagg cut him off with a decisive nod.

Adrien smirked.

"Uh-huh, and what about the cheese-"

"We're getting off-topic here!" There was a huff of finality that made his smirk widen, "Your princess is right, kid. Taking on everything by yourself ain't healthy."

The smirk vanished, "I'm not trying to-"

"Right, cause making that deal with liar-liar pants on fire was a collaborative decision."

The blonde kept his mouth shut because it wasn’t like he was wrong, but he didn’t like confirming that Plagg was right, either. Instead, he adjusted himself so that on arm snaked behind his head so that he could prop it up more comfortably to see him.

“Yeah, play the silent game - you know I’m right.”

“And I’ve already taken steps to fix that. I told Marinette. And now we’re going to work together to figure out what to do about Lila.” 

God, just saying her name made his skin crawl. 

And he still hadn’t really given himself a chance to work out the suffocating fury he felt every time her face came to mind. At this rate, he really would be at risk for Akumatization, and he couldn’t really find it in himself to feel bad about it. 

Okay, maybe he did feel a little bad. Otherwise, he probably would have already fallen victim to Hawkmoth - so he had to be doing something right.

“Come on kid - I was there. I know you didn’t tell her everything. Just the parts you thought she needed to hear.”

That had Adrien looking away, face heating, both because he’d been caught but also out of embarrassment. “She’s got enough on her own plate, Plagg. She doesn’t need all my nonsense on top of all of that.”

Plagg watched him a moment, and the silence made the model even more uneasy, “She’s not blind, Adrien. Even she called it out when you talked to her.”

She'd called attention to a lot of things that morning. Things he wished he could hide better. Things he felt were written on his skin and he wished he could just scrub it all away.

So many things weighing him down. And it wasn't fair to drag her down with him.

"What about the nonsense that goes with the stuff she is involved in? Why didn't you tell her about that?"

Because, as Plagg so eloquently put it: she wasn't blind. Marinette could see it and it made him feel sick that anyone could know.

'I mean, it all makes sense now - why she’s been so attached to you the last couple weeks.’ Marinette had said, and at the time, he’d focused on the problem at hand and not the context of her words.

But now, in the quiet isolation of his room, with nothing else to distract him and his Kwami poking and prodding at the sore spot, he was quickly reminded of what he wanted desperately to scrub from his mind. The lies, the touching, the increasingly provocative situations he found himself forced into.

He hadn’t promised more than his friendship in this deal, but he gave an inch and Lila was taking the whole damn mile - practically forcing herself on him from every direction and every way she possibly could. Her relentless advances were becoming borderline harassment.

If she wasn’t chasing away his friends, she was lying about their relationship or climbing him like a goddamned stepping stool.

‘No’ didn’t mean a damn thing to that vulture.

At first, he bit his tongue about the lies and he’d let the contact slide - everyone was handsy with him. But the more she persisted, the more Plagg insisted and pushed him to speak up. And he had. Sure, it was quiet at first, but the longer it went on and the more physical she’d gotten, the more direct he’d become.

It didn’t matter. 

And when he’d thought his father would step in to protect his ‘Brand’, the man did nothing more than comment that having them seen together would be good for business.  

If he tried speaking up, he would be dismissed.

If he tried to tell the liar off, he’d be told he was being dramatic. That the girl was only showing him affection as his ‘friend’.

Yeah, he was young, and socially stupid sometimes, but he wasn’t born yesterday - she was trying to seduce him.

Trying and failing miserably. But that didn’t seem to deter her in the slightest. 

“No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get her to cut it out. How is telling Marinette about something like that going to fix it? It's only going to make her upset.” 

Because he’s pretty sure up to this point every option he’d thought should have worked aside reporting her to the police (which at this point he was seconds away from doing if he didn’t think his own damn flesh and blood would interfere), hadn’t. Knowing Marinette, she'd come to his rescue, but at the expense of her becoming a pariah. 

And frankly, he was tired of watching her sacrificing herself (time, sleep, social life, you name it) for people who didn’t deserve it.

“Well, what about your new girlfriend?”

My new what?

“Girlfriend? What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb! The fencer! You and her shared that ice cream remember?” As if he’d been struck by an epiphany, the black cat flew around above him excitedly, “Here’s an option! Lie-la can’t really put her claim on you if you’re a taken guy! Just make it official!”

Oh right. That.

Adrien’s frown deepened as he followed the Kwami’s flight path, “Plagg, I’m not going to use Kagami’s feelings as a shield. She doesn’t deserve that. And besides, it’s not fair to either of us if I go into something with her I’m not ready for.”

That had Plagg freezing mid-air to turn a curious look on him.

“Wait, I thought you said you were going to move on from Ladybug. Didn’t that whole ice cream thing solidify the relationship?”

“No. Because it was just ice cream. And I said I would try to move on from Ladybug. Kagami and I have already agreed that jumping into a relationship is not a good idea. I'm just not ready."

While Adrien wasn’t opposed to the idea of Kagami - quite the opposite, he was very fond of her and he liked spending time with her, that was exactly the problem. ‘Fond of’ and ‘liked’ wasn’t exactly the strongest foundation of long-term relationship statuses.  And he couldn’t help feeling like he would be doing it out of convenience rather than actual desire and that just wasn’t fair.

Kagami deserved someone’s whole heart. 

“I don’t see what the problem is. Just start going out with fencer chick - you'll learn to be ready after a couple of dates! Wouldn’t that solve everything?”

This elicited a long heavy sigh from the model as he tried to put the emotions into something the Kwami would understand. Because this wasn’t the first time they’d had this song and dance and he was tired of repeating himself, “Plagg, if I told you we could never buy camembert ever again, but you could have the next slightly less stinky cheese out there as a replacement, what would you say?”

This got Plagg to stop, looking at him a little strangely as he pondered the sudden question and seemingly change in subject, “I guess I’d have to ask why we couldn’t get my beautiful camembert, first.”

Leave it to Plagg to completely miss the point, “There is no more. Nowhere in the world.”

The Kwami of destruction hummed, “Well I guess I would be really upset, but I’d move on to the next best thing because I don’t have a choice?”

Adrien sat up, “Now let’s say we just couldn’t afford it, or they wouldn’t ship it to us anymore. It’s there. Always just out of your grasp. You just can’t have it - or you can, just not in the way you’d like.”

Plagg frowned, but his eyes seemed to watch him closely as he landed on the bed in front of Adrien once more, “Is this metaphor going somewhere?”

“I have a choice, Plagg. And moving on -” His gaze fell to the bed between them as he frowned further, “Moving on requires wanting to move on. And that’s part of the problem. I don’t actually want to, so no matter how much I sit here and say I will, I won’t, and that’s not fair to anyone I try to move on to.”

“So you’re going to wallow in self-pity because you’re chasing unrequited love?”

Okay, first off, ouch

But it wasn’t like he could argue with him. That was what he’d done up to this point, hadn't he?

Chased Ladybug for feelings she’d made clear was not there. The annoying little voice in the back of his head whispered about how alike he and Lila were and he literally shook that thought away because fuck that . But at the same time, he couldn’t push it away completely because he really had been quite determined. 

So, instead of trying to work through the cluster fuck of anxiety and guilt that train of thought led to, Adrien sighed relentingly, “No, actually, I’m taking some time to not chase romance.”

“Wait… really?”

It was a decision he’d come to recently, but one he planned on keeping with for the foreseeable future. The blonde nodded, “Yeah, I mean, after everything that happened with Master Fu and Miracle Queen and all this nonsense with Lila and everything else, I just… I realized that I had other things I needed to focus on.”

Things that he didn’t want to really focus on this late in the evening.

Like school for instance (the least of his problems, but at least it was the one thing he felt like he had any control over at the moment) - and the project that was worth 60% of his grade.

He turned towards his phone and grabbed it from his bedside table to look at the messages from earlier. 

And just like that, the clouds looming over his head seemed to dissipate.

Seeing her name in the stream of texts between them that morning brought soothing memories of quick banter, warm hugs, and safety. Even when the conversation over mobile had quickly turned concerning, she remained a balm to his emotional gashes.

There definitely needed to be more time spent with her. He didn't care what he had to do to make it happen. It just needed to be a thing in his life - end of story.

And not just as Chat, because the cat didn't get the same kind of hugs from her that Adrien Agreste did, even if Chat seemed to get the banter more often (and sometimes scritches if she was in a really good mood).

Speaking of Chat Noir, that reminded him that he actually had a house call to make.

But not before letting his Kwami know that his efforts were not in vain.

It had helped to talk about everything - sort of. Mostly. Even if there hadn't really been any resolutions to his growing pile of problems. But, maybe that was okay for now. 

Adrien looked up and watched the creature for a moment, a smile making him on his face as he reached over to brush a finger over the soft fur on the Kwami’s head, immediately receiving a purr, “Thanks for the talk Plagg. I really do appreciate it.”

And he did. More than he’d ever be able to really admit. No one else could handle his ups and downs the way Plagg could. And for all his posturing, the Kwami never did seem to hold it against him or judge him for it.

“Yeah, well, good. You should.” He huffed, but the softer turn his eyes took said something far closer to ‘you’re welcome’ as he leaned back into the pets his holder gave.

Checking the time, Adrien threw his legs over the side of the bed and climbed to his feet, “It’s Ladybug’s day to patrol, so she’ll probably be heading out soon if not already out making the rounds.”

A soft groan behind him brought his attention back to the slumped creature, looking put out by a realization that came with what Adrien was implying, “I suddenly get the feeling that we’re about to go make this a team patrol.”

Adrien's grin broadened, “You got it, Bud - Plagg! Claws Out!”

Chapter Text

Making his way across the roofs through the Parisian night was second nature to Chat Noir.

Rarely did he really need to look where he was going, relying mostly on instinct to drive his baton to sturdy crevices taking him to new heights and confident footfalls to guide his sprint.

This particular route happened to be one of his favorites. One, he knew, he'd be able to trek with his eyes closed.

Because it was the one that took him to one of his closest friend's balconies where he would sometimes pop in for a chat when she was out sketching her ideas away into the night. Not to mention the free food that sometimes accompanied said visits.

This night, however, he had other motivations. And as much as he wanted to spend a little more time in her comforting presence scarfing down pastries his dietician would never approve of, he had to get the theory about Lila and Hawkmoth to Ladybug as soon as possible. 

And maybe have a little heart-to-heart over everything else that had happened recently too.

With little time wasted, Chat Noir found himself launching to the balcony railing sitting high above one of the best Bakeries in all of Paris but coming up short when he was met with darkness and silence. 

No fashion-hungry classmates to be found.

Huh - a quick glance at the trap door to her room showed that her lights were out. Strange. He could have sworn she'd be home - and a quick check on his baton said that it was about the time she'd normally be out when he was passing on patrol. 

Maybe she'd had an errand to run and was out. Or maybe she was spending some time with her family downstairs. 

Either way, it left him in a predicament. He'd really hoped to do this in one go. But he couldn't just intrude on her evening without good reason. And there were no reasons that wouldn’t reveal his identity. 

Oh well. He'd have to catch her another time.

For now, it was very important that he caught Ladybug and they had a nice long talk. Hopefully.

Admittedly, he was still trying to figure out how he was going to convince his partner to sit down long enough to listen to him since she was usually pretty adamant about limited 'hang-out' time. It was a rare occasion sort of thing. A 'she has to be in the right mood for it' sort of thing.

In other words, not very conducive for extensive, heartfelt discussions.

But he had to try.

So, with one last pondering look over his shoulder at Marinette's empty patio furniture, he launched himself back out into the night.

It didn’t take long for Chat to locate his Lady after that.

He'd expected to have to chase her down as she made her usual rounds over the city - hell, worst-case scenario, he'd expected to have to tie her down long enough to get a word in edgewise. But to his surprise, his hunt led him to a stationary point at the Palais de Chaillot, overlooking the gardens, fountain, and bridge serving as the preamble to the Eiffel Tower, brightly lit in all its glowing splendor.

She didn't move or even acknowledge when he touched down on the rooftop behind her as she gazed out at the landmark that had backdropped their debut so long ago; one leg hanging over the side of the building as the other was pulled up where she could prop her chin on her knee.

The scene made him stop short, his breath catching in his throat. It was a rare treat to just watch her in the silence of a peaceful night. Softly backlit by the city of love. There was just something magical about it.

But he hadn't come here to admire the view. No matter how beautiful it (she) may be. And he had to quickly shake his head of those wayward thoughts as he approached, his more reasonable side coming out to remind him that he was supposed to be leaving romance alone right now, right ?

God, he was a mess.

At least she wasn't running. Yet. Hopefully, he wouldn't have to do anything drastic to get her to listen.

"Hey there bug, looking awfully thoughtful over here."

Ladybug jumped slightly, having been so caught up in her own thoughts that she hadn't even heard him walk up and plop down beside her - and he had to admonish himself for the little bit of pride that filled his chest for having gotten the drop on her for once.

She placed a hand on her chest, steadying her breath as a small grin formed on her lips, "Hey Chat. I didn't think I'd see you out tonight. You do know it's my turn to patrol, right?" Her tone turned teasing.

Even that wasn't enough to silence his quiet win, but he wouldn't rub it in. So, instead, he gave her a grin to match hers, "I never forget our patrol schedules, My Lady." He started strong, leaning into her space before he realized what he was doing.

But the moment he did, the moment his own ears picked up the tone of his words, it was too much - too flirtatious. Damn it... old habits were such a bitch to kick. This wasn't how he planned on doing things. He was supposed to be behaving - not jumping in her face at every opportunity. 

Backpedaling to give her some space, he took a breath and quickly cleared his throat, his voice softer, and more reserved when he spoke again, "Actually, I was hoping we could take some time to catch up and talk."

He didn't need to look at her to be able to sense the wide range of shifting emotions currently taking over his partner. Shock, unease, anxiousness, maybe even a little guarded but eventually her body and expression softened, "Um, sure. Alright, what do you want to talk about?"

That was a good start. She hadn't outright denied him or run away, so hopefully, they were going to be able to be a little more open with each other from now on. That's what they needed. 

"A little of everything, actually. You and I have been a little overwhelmed since," he swallowed, "well, since," he cleared his throat again, trying to force the words out that seemed to bunch and clog in his windpipe, but to no avail. Finally, he just settled with, "Let's just say that it's been a very hectic month."

He wasn't sure why it was so difficult to say it. Maybe it was less about how he felt about the situation and more about the fear of how his partner felt about him bringing up Fu's 'retirement' as the guardian.

Especially knowing how she'd been so distraught during Miracle Queen's attack.

He could still vividly remember her fear and sadness when they'd found each other in the water of the Seine when she'd told him about her mistake in finding Fu and not transforming. It had broken his heart to see her so down on herself.

There were a couple of heartbeats of silence between them before she hummed softly in agreement as she nodded.

That's when Chat turned to study her. 

Really look at her.

Not fawn over her beauty as the soft yellow lights of Paris's nightlife danced softly over her skin. No, this time, he was taking her in as she stared out ahead of them at the view and what he saw actually had him faltering.

She looked tired. Really tired. 

Bluebell eyes that sparkled like a clear summer sky seemed dim, hazed. Complexion so soft he'd dare compare it to silk was pale and there was an undeniable darker hue beneath her eyes. 

And he could understand it because she looked how he felt. 

Tired and just plain done with everything going on around them.

She was just like him. 

The realization hit him harder than he ever thought it would - probably harder than it really should have. Making her more real to him than ever before. 

It wasn't like he didn't know she had her faults and flaws, that she wasn’t affected by the stressors of leading dangerous double lives. But he also knew that adoration for her often blurred his vision and made her seem otherworldly. 

But looking at her now made it clear to him how alike they really were. And how stupidly blind he’d really been.

Of course she was like him. Ladybug was a teenager just trying to make her place in a world that required her to split her life between trying to be a normal highschooler and a superhero who sacrificed herself and her peace of mind for the safety of others - just like him. Then on top of all of that, she was a guardian of the miraculous now. 

"How are you?" He asked, not quite able to stop himself.

He had to know. He had to be able to be there for her the way Marinette had been there for him that morning. If he could do nothing else, he could at least do that.

She was pulled away from her thoughts again, and seemed surprised by the question, "Huh?"

"How are you?" Chat repeated, but the continued wide-eyed reaction from his partner made him anxious that he was being too forward again, "I-I mean just overall? Like, how are you holding up with everything?"

Was that too flirtatious of a question? No, he was genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. He was allowed to be worried about her, damn it. 

Her eyes widened even further and he had to wonder if anyone ever really took the time to ask her that in her personal life? Was it so surprising that he would ask? Had he not taken the time to ask this past month? 

No, he's positive that he had. A few times, maybe not so directly, but he'd tried in his own round-about way. She just always seemed intent on not making it a big thing. Always quick to brush it off and move on.

"I uh… I'm good! I'm great."

Like she was doing now.

"Really?" The question was curious, not accusatory. 

She offered him a smile, but he’d known her long enough to spot a forced smile on her face from a mile away, "Yeah. Of course."

A raised brow at her is all it seems to take for her to fall into a battle with herself internally over something. He can see it plain as day despite how well she thought she hid it behind that unfaltering confidence. The same confidence she used to convince the citizens they were safe, even when she didn’t have a plan. Eventually, something wins and she deflates significantly with a long sigh and a long meaningful stare at him, "Honestly? I'm overwhelmed."

Well, that wasn't how he saw this conversation going. Not that he was complaining. He hadn't had to pry the truth out of her like he feared he'd have to. 

Frankly, Chat is struck by the complete honesty in her words. At how her whole presence seems to shrink in on itself as she’s stripped of that mask of confidence. At how worn out she seems. He tilts his head, silently prodding her to continue. Something she eventually does, even if it was reluctantly.

"There are good days and bad days. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting my head around it, others I just can't seem to do anything right. And… and that doesn't even take civilian life into account."

Preaching to the choir sister. He let out a breathy chuckle, still a little in shock that they were actually sitting here and having a real conversation, "I know the feeling."

Before he knew it, they'd fallen into another silence that was heavier than either of them seemed to be comfortable with. Watching her fidget made him fidget. The tension was so uncomfortable as he fought with himself over what was okay to ask or what might come off as being too personal. There was always the chance that the next thing he said would make her run away. 

Was it always like this? Feeling like he was stepping on broken glass? 

He definitely never had an issue talking to her before.

So why was it so hard now? Because he decided not to pursue romance? Was he really so much less confident that he'd be a better friend than a love interest?

No, no, that was him just being dramatic. This tension, it felt different than anything related to love and rejection.

But it felt familiar too.

Like something unresolved.

Like how it felt after a fight with a friend, right before both parties talked and apologized for whatever caused their squabbles and about the things that bothered them.

He and Ladybug hadn't fought, but they had a lot of unresolved piled up between them. 

And he feared that if he left it that way for too long, she'd find an excuse to leave and nothing would move forward. Nothing would get fixed. 

How long could a partnership really survive on half-assed communication like that?

He couldn't let that happen. They needed this. Both of them. Just a chance to take emotional and mental stock of everything that had occurred in the last month. A chance to get back to solid, stable ground.

But part of the problem with tension and anxiety over unresolved issues was the internal struggle of figuring out what to say next. What beast should they tackle first? How did he approach the things that weighed on him without making it seem like he felt she was responsible for fixing everything herself? How did he broach the elephants neither of them wanted to acknowledge?

And how did he do all of that without losing her when it was all said and done?

No, he had to keep the catastrophizing to a minimum. Getting stuck in that spiral would keep them from moving forward. 

Though, maybe luck was on his side tonight, as Ladybug opened the conversation back up.

"It really has been a crazy month, huh?"

Chat nodded with a hum, mentally sighing with relief as that wall of tension seemed to shrink in thickness. 

"Mayura and sentibug, Miracle Queen, Master Fu passing on the guardianship."

And of course all the little things in between. It wasn't like Hawkmoth had taken a break over the last month. Not to mention their double lives. It was a miracle that neither of them had broken down yet.

Or maybe they already had? Hadn’t he run away from class in a near breakdown just that morning?

Was it so hard to believe that maybe Ladybug was just barely hanging on too?

He studied her again, watching as her eyes flicked quickly over the dark horizon as thoughts bombarded her. 

Well, that just won't do.

"Come on bug. Talk to me. I can see the wheels turning in your head. I'm your partner."

Then that traitorous voice in the back of his head reared up, making him voice his insecurities, adding a teasing lilt - almost self-deprecating, "Unless of course, being the new guardian changes that?"

The look of pure panic and confusion that mars her features as she whips around to take him in is enough to make him regret opening his mouth, but before he can apologize, she’s quick to reassure him, "What? No! Of course, it doesn't! I'm just - old habits die hard, you know? I'm still trying to get my head around a lot of this. So I'm having trouble putting that into words."

She’s just as lost as he is. Of course, she is. 

Why does he keep expecting her to have all the answers? Sure, she was the brains in their partnership, but that didn't mean she had the answers to everything. 

Sitting there, staring at his partner, he feels like he’s looking at his own reflection from that morning. So many things needing to be said, but no idea how to say it. Not knowing if he could say it all. 

The difference was, he’d had Marinette.

His classmate had made it easy for him to just be . She’d kicked down his walls and let him breathe for what felt like the first time in forever.

It was too bad he couldn’t just take Ladybug to Marinette, cause he’s sure she’d know what to say. She’d be able to help them resolve this tension.

He’s positive that they’d get along really well too, with how alike they are. 

But if he couldn’t take Ladybug to Marinette, maybe he could bring a little Marinette to Ladybug.

"LB, we're friends, right?" He asked, mimicking his classmate’s words from that morning.

The confusion was still present as she eyed him speculatively - probably a little thrown off by his change in demeanor, but his partner softened her gaze at the question,"Of course Chat. You're one of my best friends. I wouldn't be half the ladybug I am today without you."

Well if that didn’t just warm him up like a catnap in the summer sun, he didn’t know what would. There were tingles running up his spine and over his body as a soft smile pulled at his lips, "Then as one of your best friends, I'm not going to let you sit here and try and work all of this out by yourself."

Her brows shot up in surprise, but there was a quick flash of something in her gaze that he couldn’t name before it slipped away.

"Do you trust me?"

She nodded, "With my life."

Chat Noir turned his body so that he could face her completely, balancing himself with one leg falling over the side of the building and the other touching the roof while still keeping some distance between them, "Then talk to me. About everything."

There was a soft squeak as she replied, taken aback by his request, "Everything?"

He nodded with a grin.

"That's a lot," she warned.

Like that was going to stop him.

"Then you better get started."

She laughed lightly and it was so cheerful. Light and musical on the wind - like bells ringing on a bright sunny day, "I wouldn't even know where to start, Chat!"

He put a thoughtful claw to his chin, making a show of being deep in thought despite this being everything he’d hoped for this conversation, "Hmm, well, let's start with the most recent and work backward. How are you feeling about being the guardian?"

Still seeming unsure if she wanted to comply, Ladybug watched him carefully, but she spoke none-the-less, "I guess it's everything I said before. I feel like I'm getting the hang of understanding the Kwami a bit better, but there is so much Fu hadn't had the chance to teach me. I feel like I'm drowning in information most of the time."


There was another flit of her gaze, like she was unsure of her next words, "As the new guardian I get to make certain changes to rules, too."



She nodded, "Yeah. Like about our identities, and how miraculous are handled. I've been doing a lot of thinking about that, actually."

He didn't dare interrupt. This was a topic Chat Noir had not been shy about from the moment he’d made his debut as a hero. It was no secret that he’d always favored the idea of knowing who each other was - it only seemed natural to him. Why hide from the person who was literally supposed to be the yin to your yang?

But, he’d stopped asking some time ago - because it had been made clear that their miraculous would be taken if they were ever to find out. Another one of Fu’s rules he had very much disagreed with. But like with most things in his life, he’d followed the instructions and expectations laid before him. Regardless if he’d liked it or not.

But that had been before.

Ladybug was the guardian now.

Having her bring it up unprompted had him suddenly on edge, clutching to it as his life depended on it despite that little voice telling him he was stupid for clinging to it. 

"Thinking back on the last few months, there are a lot of things I wish had been done differently. And as much as I respect Master Fu for his teachings, I find a lot of faults in the way he'd handled a lot of this."

There was a thickness in his throat he had to swallow before he could speak again; he could count on one hand the number times Ladybug had confided her shared displeasure for the system to him. "Like what?"

"Well, keeping you in the dark for as long as he did for instance. It wasn't fair to either of us. You deserve to know as much as I had, and I shouldn't have been put in a position where I had to hide things from you. I know why he did it, and to an extent I understand - but the fear he held onto made him do things that were detrimental to his cause. Detrimental to us."

Chat’s heartbeat quickened.


Nope. He shook his thoughts away, forcing the traitorous organ in his chest to slow. She didn’t mean it like that. 

“So w-what are you going to do?”

“Well, for one, I don’t want to hide anything from you anymore." There was tenderness in the smile she turned on him and it made his insides melt. "You're my partner. I don't want there to be secrets between us. Besides, one day it might be necessary that I pass the guardianship over to you and I -”

Insides melting aside, he didn't like where her thoughts were leading. He was quick to interrupt, “Don't talk like that."

Though as much as he hated the idea, she had a point. It was a worst-case scenario, but it was still a possibility. A thought she seemed to mirror as she raised a brow at his interruption. 

But that was a conversation for another night. Tonight he didn't want to think about the possibility of losing her. 

"I can't deny that having no more secrets between us is sounding more and more appealing. I know I've always wanted to know about your identity, but recently-" he cut himself off before he could say more than he should, "well, let's say just having someone else we can rely on no matter what, someone who understands, would be huge."

They both were quiet again, listening to the dying sounds of traffic from the streets behind them as the evening had shifted to night and most civilians had made their way to their homes and families, leaving only the stragglers roaming the streets. 

But that silence was almost too much for him again. 

Because she’d dangled that carrot that was their identities in front of his face and now he couldn’t find the self discipline to not chase after it.

"Does this mean you've changed your mind about the whole identity thing then?"

This time, she nibbled on her lip, "Yes and no. I'll admit that revealing ourselves still scares the hell out of me."

At least she was being honest and not giving it the old blanket 'responsibility' excuse. Even if it did make him wilt a little. But only a little. He knew better than to get his hope's up on this.

"Why? Cause you think I won't like who's under the mask?" He teased, trying to remain spirited.

She chuckled softly, turning to flick the bell hanging at his throat, "Oh no, that might have been true in the beginning, but I know that I'm not a different person from the costume. I think you'd like me just fine ."

The confidence in her tone made him think she knew that with certainty. 

Which of course he would, he'd always vowed to love whoever was under the mask. But there was just that hint of a knowing glint in her eyes that spoke of something more. More that he couldn't really discern right now. "Then what are you afraid of?"

"Hawkmoth. And the things he's been ramping up on in the last month. I'm not just Ladybug any more. I'm the guardian too, and if something happened…" her voice trailed off.

"I get it."

And he did. It was a big responsibility Fu had placed on her shoulders.

Master Fu may not have been a perfect guardian, but he had years of experience and training behind him. Nearly two centuries of training and working with the miraculous. But one thing that seemed quite clear was that Fu had done it by himself. Mostly out of necessity, but because of that, the old man had relied far too much on his own judgment, his own skill, and his own experience. 

That didn’t mean they had to, though.

"That just means we're going to have to be even more careful.” Chat’s voice was as resolute as he felt. Sincere. Determined. Thinking about Ladybug taking on the guardianship on top of everything else made him worry for her. Because he knew, given the chance, she'd take on the responsibility by herself. And she didn't have centuries of experience and training, “You need someone to back you up, bug. Fu had the both of us - whether he admitted it or not. You have me. And I promise I'll always be here to protect you."

He expected her to roll her eyes like usual, despite how serious he was about her relying on him.

What he hadn't expected was the very soft, almost sad smile she gave in return, "If you're protecting me, then who's protecting you?"

Chat swallowed, stare darting back and forth to search blue eyes remaining trained on him. That wasn’t ‘almost sad’ staring back at him, he realized. There was genuine grief hiding at the edge of her gaze that he couldn’t even begin to comprehend. 

What had he done to make her look at him like that? Because whatever it had been, he’d spend the rest of his life making up for it. “This cat's got it all covered, Milady. No need to worry your pretty little head.” He tried in a soothing tone, hoping the familiar banter would help clear the air.

“But I do worry.”

The jokes subsided as he took in her continued concern. This was really weighing on her.

“We're basically back to square one, Chat. All the other heroes’ identities have been compromised. We don't have any back up anymore and I know you're going to keep throwing yourself in front of me and I -”

Woah there! 

Chat reeled back as Ladybug started gesturing wildly, nearly causing him to lose his balance on the edge of the roof, just barely catching himself as she'd ranted.

He knew a spiral when he saw one, and if he let this go for too much longer she was going to work herself up and be a sitting duck for an Akuma.

“Hey - hey,” He had to avoid a wayward arm, but he was able to grab her shoulders and turn her to look at him, “I know this isn't ideal, but we've been in tighter spots before.” Now that she was focusing on him, he smiled at the pout she gave at what must have seemed like him brushing off her concern. 

Which was ludicrous and only made him smile wider, giving a reassuring squeeze to the arms he held tightly to. “I know you're worried about me, but part of always being there to protect you means I need to be better about protecting myself as well, right? So I'm not going to be stupid about this. Promise.”

She sniffled and nodded, but it was clear it was going to take more than words to prove he was serious about what he'd said. But that would have to come later. 

"Look, you don't have to make any decisions on identities right now. One secret between us, for now, isn't the end of the world, right? As for the other heroes… we'll just have to solve that problem as we need backup."

She sighed, nodding in agreement. But the sadness in her eyes had receded and that was a win for him.

"Alright, so, we have that settled."

"Not quite."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, if there are going to be no secrets between us, we need to discuss who will get what miraculous. It should be your choice too."

The smile resurfaced on his face in a new brilliance, "I a-purr-ciate the candor, Bugaboo, but I think it's probably best we leave that for next time."

She scrunched her nose at the pet name but didn't argue, “If you insist. What else did you want to talk about?”

This was a good enough time as any to get to the meat and bones of what he really came here to talk about, “Well you brought up Hawkmoth, so let's talk about him.”

She groaned, and the act of rolling her eyes indicated how much she really didn’t like that idea, “Do we have to?” 

Wow, that was a side of his partner he wasn’t used to seeing. Made her seem her actual age. “We don’t have to, but it’s probably for the best we do anyways.”

Ladybug pouted again, making a show of leaning back on her hands once he'd released her to examine him pointedly, “Since when are you the voice of reason?”

“Since you became the guardian and started needing someone to talk some sense to you.” He smirked.

“Fair.” She chuckled back.

As if beckoning her attention, Ladybug turned her eyes back to the Eiffel Tower. Grin gradually dropping.

A monument and symbol of the people of Paris and France as a whole, but also a symbol to both of them.

This is where they’d first made their stand against the terrorist known as Hawkmoth. This was where Ladybug, so young and green to the world of miraculous and heroism, stood tall before citizen and foe, promising that the two of them would always be there to protect the city. 

This was where they’d made their stand on Heroes Day. 

This was where they’d fought their allies and Miracle Queen and lost Master Fu. 

Fitting, that the location that backdropped some of the biggest milestones and turning points in their struggle against their foe also served as the backdrop to a conversation as important as this. 

Another turning point.

“I don't know, Chat. I just can't shake this feeling that he's been playing with us up till now.”

“How do you mean?”

Her eyes narrowed on the scenery before them like she could clearly see each of their battles playing out in front of them. “I have a hard time believing that anyone would actually think Mr. Pidgeon was the most optimal choice of Akuma twenty-eight times in a row. And then baby August? I mean… we've beaten every villain he's ever sent our way. But the more recent ones?”

“So you don't think he's actually as stupid as we think?” 

“At the very least I don't think he's pulling his punches anymore. Beforehand, I just got the impression that he was desperate. Now…” 

Her fingers traced absently over the stone making up the building beneath them and Chat knew she was thinking about Master Fu again. “Now I'm thinking something's changed. His villains are stronger, more diverse. We have to use our power multiple times to stop them. And I'll admit, Love Eater and Miracle Queen were brutal hits, even if we did win, we lost quite a bit.” 

“I see what you mean.”

Miracle Queen had been quite the decisive blow. They won the battle but lost the war. They’d lost their mentor. They’d lost their allies. They’d been isolated down to themselves and it felt so much like what was happening in his civilian life that he almost shuddered.

Being Chat Noir had always been a freedom to him. Still was. But now, more than ever before (which was strange because Hawkmoth literally Akumatized people for the sole purpose of stealing their miraculous), he felt like there was a giant target on their backs. 

“With each new plot, he becomes a little more aggressive. He's not desperate anymore. It's methodical.” She frowned, but something seemed to clear whatever train of thought she’d been following, “Actually, speaking of which, do you remember Marinette?”

Chat blinked at her, caught off guard, “Dupain-Cheng?”

Ladybug nodded, keeping her focus forward, “She flagged me down earlier and shared a theory with me that has me a little concerned.”

Ah, so she'd beat him to it.

“Yeah?” He answered, curiously. He wasn’t supposed to know about what she was about to say.  

“I'm sure you remember Lila Rossi, right?”

Even hearing her name in costume made his stomach turn. “How could I forget. She was Volpina and Chameleon. Not to mention, she's made it pretty clear she's not your biggest fan.”

“Yeah, well I have reason to believe she might be working against us more than we thought.” 

“You mean intentionally with Hawkmoth?”

Ladybug’s head turned quickly, surprised by his guess. Whoops. Should have just let her lead the conversation.

“E-exactly.” Her eyes narrowed questioningly on him a moment but it cleared up quickly, “Marinette said that she and a friend were talking about the day we fought Mayura and sentibug - apparently right before that, there was almost a massive Akuma possession. As bad as Heroes Day. But she wasn't clear on what happened, because the butterflies all disappeared on their own. And then it must have been brushed off in light of our fight with Mayura and Hawkmoth because there was no record of the event anywhere.”

He knew the answer, but he had to keep her talking. “How does Lila Rossi fit into all of this?”

“Marinette has reason to believe that Lila helped orchestrate the entire thing. By framing her and trying to get her expelled.”

From her tone and the thoughtful look on her face, he couldn’t immediately tell what she thought about this theory. But having been there and having experienced the situation himself, he knew how important this was. “And… you believe her?” 

Really? That’s what you go with?

“Do… do you?” She mimicked his tone, and if he’d sounded dubious, she made it sound slightly pleading. 

“Of course. Marinette is one of the most capable people I know. If she has reason to believe that Lila is working with that terrorist, then I stand by her.”

Was he imagining the slightly darker tint on her cheeks?

“You sound like you know her pretty well, Kitty.”

Whoops! Abort! Abort! 

He’d never told Ladybug that he spent time with Marinette on patrol because he was sure she’d chastise him for it. But how was he supposed to ignore such warm welcoming company on nights he patrolled alone? “Oh, uh w-well…  I uh stop by sometimes to chat with her on patrol.” He rubbed the back of his neck out of nervous habit, turning away from her, but glancing back to gauge her reaction.

And to his surprise, it was teasing. Her mask raised slightly with her questioning brow, “Do you, now?” 

Great. Now he was blushing. 

Because the way she said it implied she thought it was more than that. “It's not, what I mean is… she's just-!” He sputtered, waving his hands wildly, trying to come up with the best excuse but was cut off by a giggle Ladybug hid behind her fingers that crinkled her eyes at the corners.

“You don't have to worry, Chat, I’m not going to tell you not to be friends with her. Just be careful. She is still a civilian.”


This time, when silence fell over them, it wasn’t as heavy. 

Sure, there was a lot they still hadn’t covered, but this felt like a natural progression and resting point. They’d confronted so much already. And the problems weren’t going to go away overnight. 

But this felt as close to solid ground as they were going to get for now.

A soft chime broke the peace that had settled between them, catching Chat’s attention as Ladybug pulled her compact out and frowned at it, “It’s getting late. We should probably call it a night soon.”

Chat was going to have to get his eyes and ears checked, because for a second there, he could have sworn she looked disappointed to have to be heading home.

“I wish we could keep talking because this has actually been really cathartic.” She sighed, and yup, that was definitely disappointment on her face! “But I have some stuff I still have to do before bed, and I’m not exactly a morning person on the best of days - even with a full night’s rest.” She giggled, smiling brightly at him.

As if his world weren’t already tilted on its axis. Was - was that a comment about her civilian life?

What kind of alternate universe had he woken up in?! Seriously. He was starting to question his reality at this point. First Marinette, then Plagg, now Ladybug? 

What was next? His father coming to tuck him into bed??

“Y-yeah. We - we should do this more often.” 

Of course, when he needed Chat Noir’s bravado the most it was nowhere to be found.

Ladybug nodded, a smile still blinding him in the night and turning his thoughts to garbled haze, “Yeah. I’d like that.” Then she stretched her arms above her head before climbing to her feet, “We’ll talk more on our next patrol, okay Chaton?”

Without hearing his answer she moved away, towards the other side of the roof, intent on calling it a night.

But there was something he had to know before she flew away, “Wait!” he called quickly, pushing through the love sick haze to put his thoughts back together, and she paused, to look back at him expectantly, “A-about Lila - what are we going to do about what you learned from Marinette?”

“Unfortunately, you and I can’t do a whole lot without evidence.” She frowned, and Chat was more than a little angry that he had to ruin what felt like a perfect ending to their evening together, but that anger was short-lived as something more akin to determination re-lit Ladybug’s gaze as she casted out her yo-yo, catching it on another building in the distance.

“But if I'm right, I think we'll have allies who are willing to help get us the evidence we need before the end of the week.”

And with that and a salute, she was gone.