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Marinette Dupain-Cheng is going to confess today. 

It’s not going to be like the twenty-second attempt, when she had left her water bottle’s lid screwed on too loosely and ended up digging out a soggy piece of paper in front of Adrien, which Marinette had stupidly dumped into his hands before running. 

It’s not going to be like the thirty-sixth attempt, when she had slipped in front of a banana peel and tripped face first into Adrien’s chest and promptly told him to ‘ stay peachy!’ 

It’s definitely not going to be like the thirty-ninth attempt, one that was too embarrassing for her to recall. Marinette keeps that one in the cobwebbed crevices of her memories with caution tape layered all over the crime scene. No, this time will be perfect, because everything—every roadblock, every little thing that has the slightest potential to go wrong—has been dealt with. 

Except, that is, the akuma attack that happens right after school. 

By the time she purifies the akuma and bids Chat goodbye, Adrien’s schedule has moved from Chinese lessons to fencing. In a mad scramble, Marinette snatches her backpack up from the corner she’d tossed it right before the akuma attack. Inside, nestled carefully, are a pair knitted mittens. They’re less colorful than the rest of her inventions, but it’s been meticulously tailored to fit Adrien’s color scheme in a way that she hopes won’t clash with his other clothing (and, fingers crossed, will pass Gabriel Agreste’s critical eye). In a smaller box lies five passionfruit macarons that she’d woken up to bake at four in the morning. 

It’s all perfect—every little bit—nothing can go wrong. Absolutely nothing. 

She runs past one of the other fencing boys on the way, ignoring the strange look he sends her. Then, crossing her fingers that Adrien is still in the locker room, rushes inside. 

It’s empty at first glance, and while Marinette’s heart drops, she isn’t deterred. She has a backup plan to the backup plan. And a backup plan to that. If she can’t catch Adrien before fencing, she’ll catch him after. If she can’t catch him after, she knows exactly where his Chinese lesson is—it’s all foolproof. No loopholes. No mushy notes, no banana peels. 

Except she doesn’t need to find him after. Because there, at the last row of the lockers, stands Adrien Agreste. 

He’s all dressed in his white fencing gear, arranging his shoes with the helmet tucked under his arms. Marinette practically barrels towards him, holding the gift-wrapped mittens and the box of passionfruit macarons. She’s out of breath, but it’s not from the running. Nervousness churns in her stomach, in her chest, until she feels like she’s going to barf. 

No. She is not going to barf on Adrien Agreste attempting to confess to him. That would make it even worse than attempt thirty-nine. 

“Adrien,” Marinette announces loudly. 

Said boy looks up at her. His eyes widen, hands dropping from his shoes and leaving his laces untied, before he straightens. His mouth is open and does not close. 

Is she that surprising? Maybe it’s because she’s in the boy’s locker room? But Marinette has long decided that doesn’t matter. She’s going to do it. She’s going to say it. Now. 

“I have something to tell you,” she continues. “Do you have a moment?” 

“Yes,” Adrien replies. He hasn’t taken his eyes off her. “Um, definitely. Definitely have a moment.” 

Mentally, Marinette congratulates herself. Her voice has remained even and confident, and she sounds like she knows what she’s talking about. Judging by the look of surprise that still hasn’t disappeared from Adrien’s face, she figures that she might be doing something right, finally. Or maybe something horribly, horribly wrong—

That thought drives out the eloquent speech she had prepared to deliver. Reverting back to her mess of words, Marinette thrusts out her arms, where the two packages lie. 

“I like you,” she declares. 

Oh, no. 

That was not how it was supposed to go. Marinette opens her mouth to amend, although she only ends up digging an even deeper hole. “Like, as in like-like you. Not as a friend. I mean—I mean, I do like you as a friend! But more than that too. I’ve liked you since you gave me your umbrella on the first day, and I realized you were such a compassionate, considerate person and you really care for your friends and you’re amazing and you smell good— argh.” She looks down at the gifts she’s still holding out to Adrien, tucked between red and black lined up her arms and tries to collect her words. “I like you a lot Adrien, and I know you might not feel the same, but I wanted to—” 

The realization hits Marinette a second before Adrien manages out, sounding like he very much might faint, “Ladybug?” 

They stare at each other. Then, like the idiot she is, Marinette blurts, “I’m not Ladybug, I’m Marinette.” 

Oh, God. 

It's tragedy at it’s finest. This much, much worse than the time she’d dumped her yoghurt over his head. 

Marinette knows that she should do something to fix the situation. Especially now, as Ladybug, who should be able to fix more than she ruins. Will it work if she summons a Lucky Charm? If she Miraculous Ladybug’s the situation, will Adrien forget about the very, very conspicuous slip-up? 

No, probably not. 

“Um,” Adrien manages. His face is as pale as a sheet. “Ladybug? I—I don’t—uh, are you sure you’ve got the wrong person? This is for—that’s for me?” 

Amidst the panic, Marinette’s heart still manages to drop even further. Of course. It’s a little vague, his reply, but it’s enough for her to understand the undertones in his voice. 

“No,” she stammers, reverting right back to a stuttering mess she had been so certain she was long past. Then, as if she hasn’t contradicted herself enough today, she thrusts the bundle—macarons, mittens—into Adrien’s arms. He manages to catch it all, despite her shaky fumbling. 

“I’m sorry,” Marinette tells him, because it’s the only thing she can think of saying. 

Adrien doesn’t move. His mouth is open and Marinette can’t tell if the expression on his face is shock or confusion or worst—disgust. 

The countless possibilities and the sheer terror of not-knowing throws Marinette into action. In one well-rehearsed action, she throws her yo-yo towards the window. It slams against the lock, opening a sliver. 

And, like a coward, Marinette runs. 

 

***

 

She’s missing. 

Adrien has searched everywhere. 

He’s well aware of the fact that he skipped fencing; Nathalie will undoubtedly find out and therefore his father will too, but he can’t bring himself to care. He can spin another story about the akuma attack—it doesn’t matter, not when Ladybug— Marinette— is nowhere to be found.

He scours the whole school first, as Adrien Agreste. Then, without letting Plagg convince him into doing anything smarter, Adrien transforms into Chat Noir. 

It’s very apparent he has lost his ability to think things clearly when he stops by at the Dupain-Cheng’s bakery to ask for Marinette’s whereabouts. 

He’s hit with memories of his last visit here, as Chat Noir: standing in front of the door, imposingly large, with a single pink rose in hand. That might’ve been one of the most terrifying days of his life. 

How ridiculous to think that it had been Ladybug—Ladybug, Marinette, Ladybug—that had welcomed him inside, Ladybug whom he had kissed so nervously on the cheek, Ladybug’s parents who…

Adrien’s head is spinning so much that he thinks he’s going to be sick. 

The bakery isn’t very crowded when he enters, but he assumes it's because he came at an odd time. He sees Marinette’s mother behind the counter, straightening the displays. Her eyes widen when she sees him. Tom Dupain is nowhere in sight, which Adrien decides is most likely best for himself. They left on decent terms, but he doesn't want to explain to the man why his daughter might be possibly missing. 

“Chat Noir!” she exclaims. “What a lovely surprise.” 

He manages to return her smile, but it feels more like a wince. “Is La—Marinette home, Mrs. Cheng?” 

“Sabine,” she corrects. “And no, not that I know of. School ended and she has yet to come back. Would you like me to pass a message for her?” 

Adrien tries to hide his disappointment, but he’s pretty sure Sabine is too perceptive to have missed the way his ears drop. “That’s okay,” he tells her. “Any idea where she might be?” 

A shake of her head. Adrien bids her farewell before rushing out, hoping to avoid any more questions. 

His next destination is Alya’s house. She’s home, sitting in her room editing the formatting for the Ladyblog. Adrien doesn’t dare walk through their front door, but instead, taps on the window as he clings onto the side of the apartment. 

Her eyes go wide when she sees him, and the window is thrown open in a moment and Alya practically sticks her head out. “Chat Noir!” she exclaims with her usual enthusiasm. “What can I help you with? Actually, do you think I could interview—” 

“Not now.” He readjusts his grip. “I’m actually looking for Marinette. Do you know where she is?”

Alya frowns. “Marinette? I haven’t seen her since after school. She went looking for one of our classmates—Adrien Agreste? Maybe you’ll find her with him.”

Adrien’s heart stutters a little when he hears his name from her lips, an old nervousness about his identity. He does his best to make sure his expression doesn’t betray his thoughts, and instead offers Alya a tight-lipped smile. “Thank you, anyway,” he says. “I’ll just keep looking.” 

He can see the question forming on her lips. Adrien practically flees to avoid questioning yet again. 

He visits many places, everywhere he can imagine Marinette would go. He even turns up at the Couffaine’s boat, but the answer he receives is the same: no, she hasn't been here. 

An hour into his search and Adrien finally . begins to look for spots he knew Ladybug would visit. 

He scours Eiffel tower. The area around Notre Dame. He goes to the school again, for good measure. Neither Ladybug or Marinette are anywhere in sight. 

It’s at the banks of the Seine that Adrien nearly gives up. He drops by at Andre’s ice cream stand, grudgingly heading over when the man beckons to him. 

“Looking for somebody?” he asks. 

“Yeah.” Adrien toes the ground. “Has Ladybug passed this area?” 

Wordlessly, Andre points his hand towards the row of rooftop. Adrien follows his gaze to them, where bricks and stone dip and form into structures, and—

There. 

Red against blue, outlined against the sky. 

There. 

Adrien sucks in a breath. “Thank you,” he breathes to Andre before leaping off. 

He drops by behind Ladybug thirty seconds later, his throat closing and chest constricting. She doesn’t turn around even though she must’ve heard the thump of his landing. 

She looks impossibly small sitting there. But of course. Ladybug is Marinette—short and cute and bright and generous Marinette, who’s adorably clumsy and sometimes stumbles with her words around him. Other times, she snaps at Chloe—Chloe, who no one else dares confront—without an ounce of fear. (Figures. After facing akumas as Ladybug, Marinette Dupain-Cheng probably wouldn’t be scared of Chloe.) 

There, with her legs pulled to her chest and untouched ice cream melting in a couple next to her, Adrien finds himself reconciling the two people very easily in his mind, even if part of him still trembles with disbelief and anticipation. 

Marinette—Ladybug—is in love with Adrien Agreste; Ladybug is in love with him. 

It’s that thought that gives him courage to take a step forward. “Hey,” he greets, throat dry. 

“Hey,” she replies softly. “Why are you out right now, kitty?”

Adrien sits down beside her. “Something surprising happened to me today and I needed time to clear my head. You?” 

She turns her head to look at him, and for the first time, Adrien takes her features in with the whole picture in mind. Blue eyes like the sky, black hair. They even had the same hairstyle. The same voice. Ladybug pouts like Marinette does when she’s trying to convince people, because God help him, Ladybug was Marinette. 

“Remember the boy I told you I liked?” Ladybug mumbles. 

The sting in his chest is gone when she mentions it. Mentions him. 

All those days of harbouring jealousy—jealousy Adrien had told himself many times was irrational yet could not let go of—at Ladybug’s unnamed crush, and it had been himself all along. 

“Yeah.” 

“Well, I made a mistake today.” She stretches her legs out in front of her and gives him a sad little smile. “I thought… I don’t know what I was thinking, but I thought I should finally tell him what I feel about him.” 

“Did he reject you?” Adrien asks carefully. 

“Yes—no, but I-I might’ve accidentally given away my identity. He isn’t the sort of person who would go around telling anybody, but I just—I mean, now he knows I’m Ladybug. And the worst part is that the first thing he said was are you sure you’ve got the wrong person. So maybe that was a rejection. Maybe—I mean, what if he was disappointed? To find out who Paris’ superhero really was?” 

“Why would he be disappointed?” 

Ladybug throws her arms up. “Because it’s me,” she says. “I’m just a normal girl underneath the suit. Maybe he was expecting…maybe he was expecting someone more phenomenal. Someone more…worthy? It’s just… yeah, the options could’ve been much worse. But they could’ve been much better, you know? Maybe if I hadn’t accidentally confessed as Ladybug, he wouldn’t have been…wouldn’t have been as disappointed.”

Her words hurt, the fact that this is what she thinks about herself and his opinion of her, but Adrien doesn’t let himself give in yet. The words and dancing on the tip of his tongue— Plagg, claws in— but he seals them away for later. “If this boy you like doesn’t think you’re worthy, then he’s not worthy,” he tells her. “Underneath the suit, whoever you are, I’m certain you’re just as amazing.” 

She laughs, but it’s a little strained. “Thanks, kitty,” she whispers. “I wish he thought like that as well.” 

Adrien can barely sit still. It must be black magic that his voice comes out without trembling. “Maybe he does.” 

“If he did, why did he say that? He looked shocked, and it wasn't the sort of good shock?” 

“Did you give him a chance to respond?” 

“Well… no.” 

“Maybe Adrien would’ve said something different if you stayed a little longer.” 

“Or maybe he would’ve said even worse— wait. Did you just say Adrien?” 

She looks at him now, and Adrien’s heart is beating so fast that he’s sure it’s going to rip right out of his ribcage. “Did you say Adrien?” she repeats when he doesn't immediately respond. 

Adrien takes a deep breath. “Plagg, claws in.” 

His transformation falls in a burst of green light, too quick for Ladybug to turn away, too sudden for her to remember to close her eyes.

Silence follows. Then, with a loud shriek, she practically leaps to her feet. “ Adrien?” 

Now that he’s reached the end of what’s been thought through, Adrien can only improvise. He opens his palms, which are sticky with sweat. “Ta-da?” he announces weakly. 

Ladybug lets out a sound that sits between a sputter and a choke. She points a finger at him. “You’re Adrien,” she says. 

“Yeah. And you’re—you’re Marinette.” 

They stare at each other, both speechless, before Adrien says, “I wasn’t disappointed, you know. I was just… I wasn’t functioning properly because the girl I’ve been in love with for the past six months confessed to me. And because I was so used to you turning me down that it was just—uh, it was shocking. But I promise you it’s the best sort of shock. Not the bad kind you were talking about." 

“Oh my God,” Ladybug manages. “ You’re Chat. Of course you’re Chat Noir. And…all those times—I dumped yoghurt on Chat Noir’s head?” 

Adrien can’t help the laughter that bursts out. “Ladybug dumped yoghurt on my head,” he confirms. 

“I’ve… thrown Adrien Agreste off the Eiffel tower for fun.” 

“I sit in front of Ladybug in class.” 

“Adrien’s face is plastered all across the city and nobody suspects that you’re Chat Noir!” 

At that, she bursts out laughing. It’s a little hysterical, but it’s laughter all the same, and she laughs until she has doubled over, clutching her stomach and shaking. “We’re so stupid,” Ladybug manages out between giggles. “All this time, and we’ve been idiots.” 

He grins back at her. “To think that you’ve been the one grilling me about keeping my identity secret, yet you’re the one who gave it away in the end.” 

Ladybug shakes her head. “What now?” 

“What now?” Adrien echoes. “Well, the girl of my dreams just confessed to me, and I haven’t given her an answer yet.” He takes a deep breath. The words are well rehearsed as Chat; less so as Adrien Agreste. It’s strangely foreign now that their situation has shifted so drastically, but he plows on. “I like you as well, but I’ve made that abundantly clear. And I like you, Marinette too. N-not just Ladybug. Both sides of you. I’m not disappointed you’re Ladybug, because now that I see it, it could only be you. And I’m so, so glad you decided to tell me today. Even if it didn’t go as you planned in the beginning.” 

A thrill runs through him when he sees the way her face lifts into a smile. They look at each other, wordless but not needing words, everything unspoken already laid out between them. 

“There doesn’t need to be a what now,” Adrien adds. “I’m quite content with now.” 

He holds out his hand, and she takes it. 

“I’m glad you’re my partner,” Ladybug says quietly, after a little bit of silence. “And I’m glad that today happened. And I’m really, really glad that it was you I dumped that yoghurt on. It's suddenly a lot less embarrassing.” 

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” 

She nudges his hip playfully with her own. It’s a familiar action, but this time, Adrien swears his heart melts a little bit more at it. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, kitty.” 

“Well, if I’ve got it right, you like me because I’m amazing and generous and smell good, so I don’t think I’m getting ahead of myself.” 

When he sneaks a glance at her, her face is red. “Shut up.”

“Or else?” 

“Or else,” she echoes, then shakes her head. “I just remembered. I gotta go before my parents start panicking.” 

“Are you leaving on purpose?”

“Ye— no! No, I’m not. But my maman expected me home hours ago, and they’re bound to worry. I’ll—I’ll call you when I get back, and we can even meet tonight if you want.” 

Adrien smiles at her. It's endearing, these little pieces of Marinette he sees in Ladybug that he's never noticed before. The slight stumbling over her words, the way she taps her feet on the ground. “It’s fine,” he reassures, “I get it. And tonight sounds good.” 

“Tonight it is,” Ladybug agrees. “Eiffel tower?” 

“Yeah. S-see you.” 

She gives him a quick wave, pauses, then leans in and presses a chaste kiss against his cheek. Before Adrien can speak or react, she has thrown her yo-yo towards a nearby building and swung away. 

His face is warm long after the red of Ladybug’s suit disappears. Adrien doesn’t know how long he continued staring after her if it’s not for Plagg, who zips out of his shirt and smacks his cheek, hard. 

“Close your mouth before I barf,” his kwami groans. “Because I’m this close to cataclysming myself.” 

“Ladybug likes me back,” Adrien tells Plagg for good measure. 

“I’ve heard!” 

Despite his complaining, though, Plagg grants him silence as Adrien sits quietly on the rooftop. And everything is okay—everything is more than okay—because Ladybug is Marinette, Marinette is Ladybug, and Adrien has never been happier.