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Paw de Deux

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“Adri-chou, I can’t believe you,” Chloé sighed, shaking her head fondly as Adrien adjusted his domino mask and the little black cat ears perched atop his head.

“What?” he chuckled, next futzing with his bowtie. “I look good.”

“You look like Chat Noir,” Chloé groaned, fixing her own Ladybug mask in the mirror next to him.

Adrien re-mussed his hair with a grin. “Why shouldn’t I look like Chat Noir? I mean, isn’t the whole point of a masquerade to look like someone you’re not?”

Chloé gave a dissatisfied grumble and a toss of her head. “Well…I guess. At least you make that alley cat look good,” she conceded. “…Ready to get back out there?”

Adrien gave his tailcoat a flip behind him and then offered his oldest friend his arm. “Ready when you are, Milady.”

Chloé rolled her eyes but took the arm. “Ugh. You even sound like that cat.”

“I like playing the part,” Adrien admitted with a laugh.

As they approached the ballroom, he slowed their pace, turning to her. “…Thanks for this, Chlo,” he whispered with an earnest warmth shining in his eyes. “It means a lot to me, getting to hang out with friends outside of school, so I really appreciate you organizing this party and talking my father into letting me come. Thank you.”

She looked away, giving his arm a squeeze. “That’s what friends do, apparently. You’re welcome or whatever.”

He leaned in to give the top of her head a quick kiss before guiding her into the grand hall where over one hundred of their schoolmates were chatting with one another, laughing over the driving pulse of the music, munching on the whimsical hors d’oeuvres, and dancing like tomorrow would never come.

Across the room, over by the buffet table, Alya in an orange and purple ombre dress and Nino in a jewel green tux were taking a selfie with a girl who Adrien at first thought might be Marinette. It was hard to tell with her hair up in a bun instead of the usual pigtails. The cut of her dress revealed curves that Adrien hadn’t really noticed (or, if he had, he’d subconsciously buried that knowledge) on his friend before. If the girl were Marinette, she looked different.

Then she turned, and he got a good three-quarters view as she laughed at something Nino said. Her dress was pastel pink with little white polka dots, an A-line skirt down to midcalf with a sweetheart neckline and spaghetti straps on top. Her mask was the same colour as her dress, complete with polka dots.

She looked different, but Adrien would recognize her anywhere.

His heart tripped.

It was his Lady.

“What?” Chloé demanded, taking in the lovestruck look on her friend’s face, the rose petal blush leaking out from under his mask. She scanned the crowd until she found what he was staring at—whom, rather.

“Oh,” Chloé groaned. “Seriously, Adri-chou? You have such deplorable taste in women. It’s a good thing I’m over you or I would be appalled. Seriously? Marinette Dupain-Cheng?”

Adrien blinked, head whipping around to stare blankly at Chloé. “M-Marinette? That’s…that’s Marinette?” He looked back at Ladybug, swatting at Alya and blushing madly.

“I suppose she cleans up well,” Chloé snorted, crossing her arms petulantly across her chest. “You didn’t recognize her?”

Adrien shook his head. He could see it now. He could switch back and forth between the two of them. One instant he saw Ladybug as clearly as the ring on his finger. The next, she was obviously Marinette. She was both: his Lady, his Princess.

“I am the luckiest man alive,” he sighed happily, heart fluttering in his chest. After three years, he had finally found her, and she had been right under his nose the whole time.

Chloé gave a snort. “Debatable…but I’m pretty sure you could get lucky if you go talk to her. Don’t trip on your shoes on the way over there.” She gave him a firm slap on the back, intending to magnanimously send him on his way because she was just a good friend like that. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that Jean was giving her stickers on her chart when she did a good deed.

But Adrien only looked back at her in confusion. “But…what about you?”

Chloé rolled her eyes. “Adri-chou, I have other friends besides you and nearly two hundred guests besides. I’m the hostess. I’m going to go let the commoners see me and enjoy my glorious presence while you go make a fool of yourself over a peasant girl.”

Adrien bit his lip, torn. “Are you sure you’ll be okay, Chlo? If you say no, I won’t leave you.”

Chloé gave him an encouraging shove in the right direction. “Go. Talk to Dupain-Cheng and get disillusioned by the fact that, although she’s all dressed up, she’s still an unmitigated disaster. I want the full details later about what a mess she is and how much you wish you would have stayed with me. Go ask her to dance.”

“You’re the best, Chloé.” Adrien gave her a quick set of air kisses before striding off to “accidentally run into” the love of his life.

Chloé rolled her eyes once more for good measure. “Well, I already knew that.”


“No, really,” Nino insisted, putting a hand on Marinette’s upper arm and leveling her with a serious expression. “Out of his nose! Even Kim and Alix were impressed. I’m not kidding.”

Marinette shook her head, laughing even harder.

“Sure, Babe,” Alya snickered. “And what did Max—” She abruptly cut herself off when she glimpsed blonde, black, and green making a beeline straight for their group. Alya smirked. “Look sharp, Girl. Hottie incoming.”

Nino turned to frown at his girlfriend. “Do you ever say that about me?”

“All the time, Babe,” she assured.

Marinette turned and saw Chat Noir. Chat Noir detransformed. Chat Noir detransformed but still obviously dressed as himself with only a flimsy domino mask to protect his identity.

“Well, hello, Citizens,” Chat greeted with a toothy smile. “I trust you’re enjoying the party?”

“Hey, Chat Noir,” Nino chuckled. “Party’s great. I’m glad you were able to get Ladybug’s permission to take a break from saving Paris to join us.”

Chat laughed as he exchanged a fist bump with Nino. “I’ve actually got Chloé to thank for that. It was a tough sell, but ‘Ladybug’ eventually relented.”

“Thank God for Chloé—words I thought I’d never say,” Nino snickered, clapping Chat on the shoulder. “But great costume, Mec.”

“Thanks!” Chat beamed, obviously proud of himself.

He was going to get an earful later.

“Hey, Chat Noir.” Alya elbowed the hero teasingly. “Later, you’ll have to let me interview you for the Ladyblog.”

Chat nodded amicably. “Of course! Always glad to give an interview for my fans, but right now…” He turned to Marinette, and his breath caught.

Their gazes locked, and Marinette was surprised to find herself breathless as well. His eyes were such a beautiful shade of green. Bright like leaves in the early summer sunlight, jewel-like and lovely.

Chat Noir detransformed was strangely handsome. He sent a thrill through her body, making her heart skip.

Or maybe that was the terror brought on by her partner being on the knife’s edge of exposing his identity to all of Paris. Attraction…terror…in Marinette’s experience, they were often very closely intertwined.

“…I’d very much like to steal this beautiful young woman away for a dance.” Chat dipped into a bow, catching Marinette’s hand and bringing it to his lips. He stood slowly and did not release her hand as he stared intently into eyes he’d dreamed of over and over the past three years. “May I?”

Alya let out a shriek of laughter. “Kitty, you can keep her all night, if you want.” She caught her boyfriend by the arm and gently tugged. “Come on, Nino. Let’s give the kids some privacy. Have fun!” she called back over her shoulder.

“See you guys later!” Nino added as he was pulled away.

“May I have this dance?” Adrien repeated shyly, his free hand going to rub nervously at the back of his neck as Marinette stared at him in a mix of what looked like shock and disbelief.

“What are you doing?!” she hissed, stepping into his personal space so as not to be overheard.

They were practically chest to chest, her face little more than a handspan away from his own.

Adrien’s mind went blank. It was her. Now that he knew it was her, he could see the similarities. It was like a foggy pane of glass had been shattered.

“Uh…asking you to dance?” Adrien laughed sheepishly. “I’m sorry. Was that too over-the-top? You can say no, Marinette. You don’t have to dance with me.” He tried not to let the disappointment he felt show.

“No, I meant…” She sighed, looking around at all the other people within earshot. She sighed again, taking him by the wrist. “Come with me.”

Marinette led him over to one of the wrap-around couches on the far side of the room by the windows looking out on the Left Bank on the other side of the Seine below. She sat him down near the bend in the couch and took a seat herself nearly on top of him, knee pressed to knee, thigh flush against thigh.

“Chat Noir,” she hissed in that serious tone she used when she needed him to focus during an akuma fight. “What are you doing putting your identity at risk like this? All it would take would be someone tugging off that skimpy mask of yours, and you’d be outted to all of Paris. What were you thinking?” she demanded.

He really shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, hadn’t he seen through her secret identity at a glance? Of course she saw Chat Noir when everyone else saw Adrien with cat ears. Still, he had to try to dissuade her; otherwise, she’d be livid when someone inevitably called out to “Adrien”.

“You think I’m Chat Noir?” he chuckled, putting his acting skills to good use. “I know we both have blonde hair and green eyes, but this is just a costume.” He reached up to remove his mask, figuring that outright denial and stubbornness would prevail. “See? It’s just me, A—”

“—Don’t!” she gasped, hands flying out to catch his and hold them in place.

Her eyes went as wide as the stuffed olives going around on the hors d’oeuvre trays, and her breathing hitched.

They sat there for a moment, suspended in time, gazing at one another in surprise, his face practically cradled in her hands.

She swallowed, eyes still round in fear and exhilaration.

“I would recognize you anywhere, Chat Noir,” she breathed, the whispered words striking a gong in his heart.

He laughed. It was all he could do in this futile situation.

He was trapped. She knew it was him, and there was nowhere to run. He was doomed as soon as Alya asked Marinette what she and Adrien had talked about after the party. Maybe his luck would hold out (Ha.) and he’d get out of this with his identity intact, but it was much more realistic to assume that he wouldn’t. He was living on borrowed time.

So he snickered ruefully. “That’s really funny because, usually, you don’t recognize me.”

She drew in a sharp breath, dropping her hands to her lap.

His lips twisted into a pained smile as he accepted his fate. “I guess, normally, you just see what you’re expecting to see.”

Just like how all it took for him to recognize his Lady was the addition of a mask around those cornflower blue eyes.

“Come on,” he whispered, slipping his hand into hers, gently guiding her back around behind the sound equipment and out onto a secluded balcony overlooking the Seine, hidden from the rest of the partygoers’ view.

With a heavy sigh, Marinette went over to the stone balustrade, resting her forearms on it and looking up at the faint stars in the autumn sky. “So…”

“So,” Adrien echoed, coming up to stand beside her. “I feel like I owe you an apology.”

His heart felt like an anchor at the thought that Ladybug was disappointed in his carelessness.

“If it makes this any better, I hadn’t intended to reveal my identity to a beautiful woman tonight,” he joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Marinette’s head whipped around, and she stared at him in shock, taken aback yet again. “You think I’m beautiful?”

Adrien returned her gaze for a moment, astounded that that was what she was latching onto, that was the thing she questioned.

“Marinette,” he laughed in exasperation. “I have been actively friend-zoning you for three years now in an attempt to be faithful to Ladybug.”

Marinette’s features twisted into yet another variation on “surprise”.

He stepped in closer, taking her face in his hands and stroking her cheek with his thumb, a tender, warm look in his viridian eyes.

She found herself holding her breath.

“Marinette,” he breathed reverently, finally letting himself feel everything he hadn’t been allowing himself to feel for her. “If not for Ladybug, it would have been you. God, you’re so beautiful, brave, kind, smart… You’re wonderful….” His voice caught in his throat as he realized, “You’re more than wonderful…and I should have accepted when you confessed to me two years ago. I’m sorry for being such an oblivious idiot,” he sighed, dropping his hands and looking away.

“No,” she was quick to assure, placing a hand on his forearm. “Chat Noir, no. I…”

She looked down at their feet, scuffing at the concrete with the toe of her pastel pink pump as guilt flooded her system. “No. I was confused when I confessed to you.”

He frowned, head tipping to the side interrogatively, but didn’t say anything, not wanting to push her.

She shook her head and looked up to meet his eyes. “I do have feelings for you, but it’s complicated. I respect you, and I see you as a precious friend. I am fond of you, but when I confessed to you back then…” She winced. “It wasn’t real. Those feelings weren’t directed at you.”

Adrien’s eyebrows drew closer together, causing his domino mask to crinkle. “I don’t understand.”

Her lips tightened into a shamefaced smile. “Chat Noir, I’m sorry, but…I was just transferring my feelings for Adrien onto you. I know you deserve better, and I really am sorry,” she tried to explain, but he had stopped hearing her clearly near the end of her previous sentence.

“You were really nice to me during Glaciator when things were really messy with my feelings for Adrien and I was feeling brokenhearted, so…I started thinking I liked you, but…” She sighed, feeling bad for the elaborate web of lies she had to concoct to keep her own identity safe. “I’m sorry.”

“Wait.” His head was spinning. There was no way that his life could be that perfect. “Adrien…Agreste?” he clarified, unable to let it go.

A part of him knew it was wrong to be learning this information because she thought they were two different people, but a bigger part knew that he would never sleep again until he knew for sure how she felt about him.

“You were in love with Adrien Agreste?” He held his breath and began to pray to anyone who was listening.

She groaned, laughing at herself as she turned back to the balustrade, slumping against it once more. “Oh, Chat Noir. Don’t laugh at how hopeless I am, but I’m still in love with Adrien Agreste.”

Fireworks went off in his chest.

He was the luckiest guy in the universe.

“Not that he knows it,” Marinette added miserably.

“Why?” Adrien demanded, mind boggled. “You’ve never… How does… Why haven’t… Just…why?” he pleaded. “You should tell him!”

She laughed bitterly, waving away the idea. “I’ve tried. All my attempts have ended in humiliation and failure. I’ve been trying since we were thirteen, Chat Noir. There’s no point in trying because the cosmos is clearly against me. …It wants me to end up with someone else.”

Adrien’s heart ached at her resigned tone, figuring that she was referring to their bond as Ladybug and Chat Noir.

“I should just quit struggling and be grateful that the universe is trying so hard to give me such a wonderful blessing, but…my heart can’t help wanting Adrien.”

A wistful smile came to her lips, and he wanted to kiss it off, replace it with one of joy.

She thought of him as a blessing. That meant the world to him when he’d so often felt like a burden at home for the past half a decade.

“What if Adrien confessed to you?” he suggested gently, leaning on the balustrade beside her, letting their shoulders brush.

She gave a snort and shook her head. “Like that’s going to happen. Be nice, Chat Noir. Don’t give me false hope. You’ll get me akumatized.”

“Never,” he swore, placing a hand over hers. “I promise, Marinette. I have it on good authority that he’s sweet on you.”

Slowly, she turned her gaze on him, her eyebrow arching warily. “Oh? Whose authority?”

His,” he stressed, figuring that he owed her at least that much honesty when he’d learned of her crush on him through means that weren’t exactly above board. “But, honestly, this is something you should be hearing from him, not me.”

“What makes you think he ever plans on saying anything?” she sighed, looking up again at the moon as it smiled down on them in a Cheshire Cat crescent. “Thanks, Chat Noir, but you probably misunderstood the degree of his feelings. He probably meant that he thought I was sweet, not that he was sweet on me. Thanks, though.”

She turned to give him a wan smile, flipping her palm over to squeeze his hand before pulling hers away. “I appreciate you trying to cheer me up, but my situation’s kind of hopeless.”

Adrien took a deep breath and let it out slowly, gathering his resolve. He reached up to run a single knuckle gently along her cheek. “Marinette? May I tell you my identity?”

She jumped back, somehow managing not to break an ankle in her low-heeled pumps. “No!” she insisted, arms waving frantically. “You can’t! Secret identities are secret for a reason, Chat Noir. It’s too dangerous!”

“Marinette, you’re going to find out anyway,” he tried to reason with her. “I’d really rather tell you myself.”

She shook her head vehemently. “There’s no reason why I’d have to find out your identity just because I saw you here detransformed.”

Adrien blew out a long breath, trying to keep from getting frustrated. “Nino and Alya saw me go off with you. They’re going to ask about where we disappeared to. Well, maybe not Nino,” he amended, “but you know how Alya is. She’ll want to know everything.”

“So, I’ll tell her that I had a pleasant evening stargazing and chatting with Chat Noir,” she answered with a shrug. “No big deal, no identities exposed.”

Adrien slowly shook his head. “Marinette, Nino and Alya recognized me. They were just joking around and teasing, pretending I was really Chat Noir because of the costume. You are the only one who knows I’m the real Chat Noir, so when Alya asks you what happened between you and insert-my-real-name-here, you’re going to find out my identity. There’s no way around this.”

She pursed her lips and averted her gaze, trying to focus.

She got the same look of intense concentration she wore when trying to figure out her Lucky Charm. “…Maybe…I’ll just tell Alya that I don’t want to talk about the party—any aspect of it. She’ll probably think that something bad happened, but…”

“Marinette,” Adrien sighed, not wanting to play this game. “This isn’t going to work.”

She shook her head stubbornly. “It has to work, Chat Noir. I can’t know who you are. It’ll put us both in danger.”

He reached out, gently putting a hand on her arm. “I’ll protect you,” he promised.

“Just like I always do.”

“…and you’ll protect me. I know you will,” he insisted.

“Just like you always do, My Lady.”

Marinette stepped back, shaking her head. “Chat Noir, I’m not ready.”

She looked scared and uncertain, and it sent a sharp pang to his gut.

He’d do anything to give her back her confidence and reassure her.

“It’s okay,” he soothed, stepping forward and resting a hand on her shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. We can wait. Just…don’t be afraid, Marinette. This is going to be a good thing.”

Finding out her identity, that two of the most important girls in his life were one and the same, had been a blessing. He could only hope that she would feel the same when she discovered that her friend, the boy she’d desired for so long, and her precious partner, the one she assumed destiny meant for her, were the same person.

“It’s going to be okay,” he insisted.

She stepped into him, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his chest. She clung to him like a piece of driftwood keeping her from being sucked down into the maelstrom.

“I hope you’re right,” she mumbled, voice shaky. “I really, really hope you’re right.”

“We’re going to get through this,” he promised, squeezing her tight. “I’ve got you. Always.”

They stood there for a long while, Adrien trying to telepathically instill her with the strength she needed to clear this hurdle in their partnership. When time seemed to stretch on too long and he began to fear that she’d become lost in a whirlwind of negative thoughts, he decided to try distraction to occupy her mind and keep potentially dark thoughts from making her a target for akumatization.

“You know, we got majorly sidetracked,” he observed with a chuckle.

She lifted her head from his chest and looked up at him, puzzled. “From what?”

“Originally, I asked you to dance with me. I never got an answer, did I? You can say no,” he assured again. “but…”

“You’d rather I said yes?” she chuckled, repositioning her hands around his waist.

“Definitely,” he hummed, taking in once more how lovely Marinette looked in her gown.

“All right,” Marinette conceded with a smile, letting him guide her hands into a proper dance hold, letting him distract her. “I don’t know how to do this.”

He rolled his eyes. “We’ve danced together before, Marinette, and you’re a natural.”

Her heart jumped, and she wasn’t sure if the cause was the compliment or the fact that she’d danced with Chat Noir without knowing it.

“Just follow my lead,” he coaxed, guiding her into a simple slow dance with just a little swing as the soft sounds of a bossa nova melody drifted out of the ballroom onto the balcony.

She relaxed into his hold, trusting her partner. On the inside, she tried to convince herself to trust him when he said that this identity reveal would be a good thing.

She couldn’t help but worry. Protecting their identities so as not to doom Paris had been one of her chief concerns for years. It was so hard to just let go and trust in what seemed like an instant.

“…How…How did we meet?” she inquired suddenly, deciding to assist Chat in his attempts to distract her.

“You mean you and…me?” he verified.

She nodded. “Don’t tell me who you are yet, but…just…work me up to it, okay?”

“Okay,” he agreed, glad that she was trying to work with him. “We…met at school. You didn’t like me at first. I didn’t make a good impression, and our relationship was kind of…off, I guess, for a while. Eventually I started to feel like you really did want to be my friend, but I wasn’t always sure the first few months.”

Marinette frowned, scanning her memories for someone she’d been on the outs with at first until she gradually came around. She came up blank.

“And…what did you think of me?” she wondered. If things had been so awkward, Marinette was surprised that Chat had even wanted to be her friend.

A soft pink blush leaked out from under his domino mask. “Well, my first thoughts were that you were cute and that I wanted to get you to be my friend. After that…I thought you were kind of quirky but really sweet and talented and cool. I saw how you acted with our other schoolmates, and I saw what a good friend you were, the way you always supported and encouraged people, stood up for people, went out of your way for others, even when you were crazy busy. I admired you. I do admire you, Marinette,” he chuckled, giving her a besotted grin as he slowly guided her into a turn.

Her face burned as his words sparked a fire within her.

He was painfully sweet, so attentive. If not for Adrien, it would be too easy to fall for her wonderful partner. He always listened, always understood, always supported and comforted and encouraged. He could be an annoying goofball, but even that side of him was endearing.

And he saw all the good things in her even without the mask. He saw her inner Ladybug and was just as charmed with the smaller-scale heroics Marinette could do as he was by her ability to concoct elaborate plans and kick akuma butt while transformed.

As Chat picked up the pace of their dance, Marinette wondered if it wouldn’t be better to let go of her hopeless feelings for Adrien and let herself be in love with Chat Noir. She’d been fighting these feelings for him for so long…maybe it was time to accept them, accept that she was going to discover his identity before the night was through, accept that Chat was the one meant for her.

“How did…I mean…you said that you had feelings for me, right?” she inquired awkwardly.

He nodded, endlessly patient. “That’s right.”

She bit her lip. “You said you’d been friend-zoning me on purpose for a long time. When did you realize you had feelings for me?”

He looked off over her shoulder, trying to organize his thoughts before meeting her eye once more. He shrugged. “I’m not quite sure. I think I’ve always had a bit of a crush on you, even from the very beginning. I mean, I noticed how cute you were, Marinette, even though we were just friends, but…it took a couple months of Plagg teasing me about my quote-unquote ‘girlfriend’ and me denying it before I realized that I actually did have those kind of feelings for you.”

“But you didn’t let yourself act on them because you wanted to be faithful to Ladybug,” she whispered, starting to nod her head in understanding.

It was like her feelings for Chat and how she’d buried them out of loyalty to Adrien.

She couldn’t help but laugh at what a hopeless pair they made.

“What’s funny?” His eyes searched her face, trying to follow her thoughts.

Marinette smiled, shaking her head. “I was just thinking how silly we both are, Chaton.”

His stomach gave a flip at the nickname.

“I’ve been trying to keep my feelings for you at bay out of determination to be faithful to Adrien.” She laughed again, shrugging helplessly. “How silly are we?”

“S-Super, super silly,” he agreed, voice nearly breaking as emotion threatened to wash him away.

His Lady did love him. His Princess loved him too, and he could have them both.

Her face took on a quizzical expression, and her head tipped to the side. “When did you decide to stop fighting the fact that you have feelings for me?”

He bit his lip, hesitating. He knew he had to tell her. If there was one thing Adrien was certain of, it was that Marinette and Ladybug hated lies.

She wasn’t going to be happy that he knew her identity, but it was better if he came clean sooner rather than later.

He inhaled slowly and took his time letting it out. “You’re not going to like this, but…tonight. When I saw you across the room with Nino and Alya, I was absolutely floored. Chloé saw me going to pieces over you and made a snide comment, something like me being able to do better than Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “Typical Chloé.”

Adrien gulped, gathering his courage before continuing. “I hadn’t recognized you as Marinette at first.”

Marinette blinked, her feet slowing to a stop as she stared at him, trying to wring meaning from his words. “Wh-What do you mean?”

He gave her hand a squeeze. “It’s just like how you look at me and see Chat Noir,” he explained gently. “I looked at you and saw my Lady.”

Marinette gasped, her skin going as pale as moonlight.

“I stopped pushing away my feelings for Marinette the moment I realized that the two girls I loved were the same person.”

She almost tripped as she staggered backward, but he caught her and helped her over to the stone bench by the railing.

“Come on. Let’s sit down,” he urged. “Don’t freak out, Buginette. It’s going to be okay.”

“Okay?” she squawked. “How is it going to be okay, Chat Noir? You know my identity. I’m about to find out your identity. All it would take would be one truth-telling akuma and we’d be screwed. Papillon is going to use us against one another and get our Miraculouses, and Paris is going to burn to the ground, and the world is going to end, and it’s all my fault for coming to a stupid masquerade. How is any of this going to be okay?”

“Marinette,” he intoned firmly, catching her face in his hands and making her look at him, making her see the hard determination in his eyes.

She stilled, focusing intently on him.

“It’s going to be okay,” he swore. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I love you, Marinette, and I’m going to protect you with everything I have, just like I know that you’re going to do everything in your power to protect me.”

His words shook her to her core, and suddenly she felt calm. Gazing into those peridot eyes, she could feel how true his words were. She trusted him completely, just as he trusted her, and they had overcome insurmountable odds together again and again over the years. Wasn’t this just one more hurdle to leap over? They could do it. With him, she felt like she could do anything.

She’d never felt more certain about anything than in that moment.

“Chat Noir?” she whispered, reaching up to cup Adrien’s face.

“Hm?” His breath hitched as she ran her thumb along the bottom edge of his flimsy mask.

“I love you too.” She leaned in, eyes slipping closed as she tipped her head.

Adrien happily followed suit, luxuriating in the feeling of her breath on his lips, the anticipation of them brushing against hers in a kiss that he’d finally remember.

The door to the balcony opened, and Chloé’s voice stole the moment away from them before Adrien could learn what Marinette’s lip gloss tasted like.

“There you are,” Chloé huffed, sounding indignant and put out. “I’ve been searching for you for, like, twenty minutes, Adrien.”

His body went cold as he heard Marinette’s sharp intake of breath. He couldn’t look at her.

Chloé continued, either oblivious to or uncaring about the scene she was interrupting. “Your car is here. Your dad says time’s up.”

“Don’t—” Adrien’s voice cracked, and he had to swallow and try again. “Don’t tell him you found me yet, please. I’ll be there in, like, five minutes, but this is really important. Please, Chlo?”

Chloé rolled her eyes, shooting Marinette an unimpressed, bored look, trying to hide the fact that she cared. “Fiiiine,” she sighed. “I never saw you, but hurry up, Adri-chou.”

Chloé turned with a flip of her hair and was gone, leaving awkward silence in her wake.

Adrien took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He wondered if Marinette’s declaration of love would still hold true now. This was definitely not how he’d envisaged revealing his identity to the love of his life.

“Adrien?” Marinette called softly, voice wavering and unsure.

He turned to face her, taking in the questioning look in her eyes. He gulped and slowly removed his mask. “Hi.”

She drew in a long breath, eyes going wide. She reached out and pulled the mask back down.

Adrien blinked.

She pushed it back up again with a whispered, “Oh my gosh.”

She pulled the mask down and then slid it up once more. “Oh my gosh!”

Adrien sat still, obediently submitting to her inspection as she repeated the unmasking and remasking several times before finally coming to the conclusion: “You’re Adrien Agreste!”

He tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. “Surprise? I’m sorry, Marinette. I didn’t want you to find out like this. I didn’t—”

She pressed a finger to his lips as a warm smile began to curl the edges of hers. “Shh,” she breathed. “It’s okay. I think…once I get done freaking out a bit, anyway, that this is going to be a good thing.”

A rush of relief washed over him, making him give a giddy laugh. “Yeah? You think so?”

She nodded even as she buried her face in her hands. “I just can’t believe I told you I loved you like that! Ugh. I sounded so pathetic, but I thought I was talking to Chat Noir, so—”

“—Marinette,” he cut her off gently, reaching out to carefully stroke her hair around the bun so that he didn’t mess it up. “You were talking to Chat Noir—your friend, your partner, the guy who loves you more than anything—and he would never judge you.” Adrien slipped the mask off once more, letting it fall to his lap. “I would never judge you, Marinette…and hearing you say you loved me…I was over the moon. Like I tried to tell you before, Adrien Agreste is definitely sweet on you.”

She burst out laughing, her eyes tearing up as she shook her head, bringing up one hand to press against the back of his and trap it against her face. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“I know right?” he laughed right along with her until she surged forward, claiming his lips in a sloppy, enthusiastic kiss which he eagerly returned.

Nearly a full minute later, they pulled away with twin dopey expressions.

“I love you,” he sighed, heart full for the first time in years.

“I love you too,” she giggled, using her thumb to wipe some of her lip gloss off of his lips. “But you need to go. The last thing we need is your father grounding you.”

Adrien gave a little whine, wondering if he could distract her with more kisses because that was about the only thing he wanted to do at the moment.

“Seriously, Adrien,” she laughed as if she could read his mind.

“But…we still have so much we need to talk about,” he argued, reasoning that that was more likely to persuade her than “but I want to kiss you more”.

“Come drop by my balcony later,” she instructed, getting to her feet and pulling him up after her. “We can talk later.”

“Are you sure?” he pressed. “I mean…I feel like I just dropped a ton of emotional bricks on you. I don’t want to leave you like this,” he insisted even as she led him over to the door.

Marinette shook her head, giving him an adoring smile. “I’ll be fine. I’ll go back in and find Alya and Nino. The rest of the party will give me some time to calm down and wrap my head around all of this. We can talk later.”

Adrien bit his lip, trying to think of anything he could say to prolong the moment. “You’re sure?”

She nodded. “Are you going to be okay?”

He considered lying but quickly ruled that out. “Marinette, the two women I love are the same person, and they love me back. I’m going to be fantastic,” he assured, making her laugh.

“Good,” she chuckled, giving his hand a squeeze. “Then I’ll see you later, Chaton. Let’s not keep your father waiting.”

With a wistful sigh, Adrien turned to go, but his hand paused on the doorknob as a thought occurred to him. He looked back at her wearing a tentative, uncertain expression. “Just one thing, though. Does this mean we’re dating now? Can we be dating? Will you go out with me?”

Marinette broke out into a wide grin and pulled him in for a searing kiss.

When she finally broke away, she whispered, “That was a ‘yes’,” against his lips.

“Oh,” he sighed. “Good.”