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Double Blind Date

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Alya’s hands shook slightly as she typed Marinette’s name into her phone’s contact search list. It wasn’t fear, but excitement.

She hadn’t expected to see Adrien again—not without having to track him down on her own.

After Hawkmoth’s defeat, the blanket of tension and shock that descended over Paris masked the clues at first. It made sense for Adrien to withdraw, of course. He hadn’t liked too much public attention before, but his father’s arrest made it almost impossible to leave the house without having to fight through a swarm of paparazzi.

They had tried to visit, but it became increasingly clear that it wasn’t only Adrien’s guardians deflecting his friends—he didn’t seem to want to see them. It was only after the next school year started that Alya learned he had gone abroad.

Even before the media started reporting on it, Alya noticed Chat Noir’s disappearance, but she didn’t connect the pieces until later.

Alya hit the call button and pressed the phone to her ear, speed-walking down the sidewalk toward the subway station.

What Gabriel had done and the type of father he had been to Adrien seemed enough to explain Marinette’s thinly concealed anger any time he came up in conversation. Marinette was closely invested in Adrien’s life, so, to some extent, it made sense that it took her longer than the rest of Paris to move on and regain a sense of normalcy.

Only, she never seemed to recover fully.

There was a point in time that Alya would have sworn she and Marinette would stay best friends no matter what. But since Hawkmoth’s defeat, Marinette was not the same girl she had been before.

For one thing, her interest in fashion evaporated like morning fog. Instead, she threw herself into a series of back-to-back projects designing album covers and marketing materials for rock labels. She didn’t have time to go out with friends anymore. Though, Alya suspected she was making herself busy to have an excuse not to.

It was only when Alya remembered to text her about her engagement to Nino that she realized, with a twist in her stomach, that they had fallen out of the habit of updating each other on the latest developments in their lives.

It was in the days following that interaction that the wild thought suddenly struck Alya, perhaps from the clarity that a new vantage point in life offered, that maybe Marinette was more closely connected to the events of Hawkmoth’s defeat than she had previously thought.

After a frantic review of all the footage she had taken for the Ladyblog, and all the records she had of conversations with Marinette— and Adrien —during their secondary school days, she was confident she had landed on the truth.

“Alya!” Marinette’s voice sounded surprised when she finally picked up the phone, a moment before Alya expected it to go to voicemail. “How are you?”

“I’m good, I’m good,” Alya said breathlessly, a fresh surge of excitement bubbling in her chest at the sound of her friend’s voice. “It’s been a while, huh? How are you, girl?”

“Glad for the distraction,” Marinette said, sounding like she was stifling a yawn. “I’ve been sitting at my desk all day. I think I forgot to have lunch.”

“Well, some things never change, I guess,” Alya laughed into the receiver. Fifteen seconds into the conversation, and she was already growing impatient with the small talk. “Listen, I have some exciting news.”

“Oh?”

“The cat is back in Paris.”

There was dead silence from the other end of the line. Even the sound of Marinette’s breathing stilled. There was no doubt she understood what Alya meant.

When Marinette spoke again, her voice was guarded. “How do you know? I don’t remember seeing any news.”

Alya took a deep breath and put her cards on the table. “I saw him, but he wasn’t suited up.”

Again, there was a pause before Marinette responded. “…Wait…”

“I know who he is,” Alya said hurriedly, sensing the rising tension on Marinette’s part. Better to be direct than mysterious, if she wanted to keep her friend’s trust. She lowered her voice. “And I know who you are, too.”

Marinette sucked in an audible breath. “Since when?”

“Since… a while ago.” Alya came to a stop beside the subway stairs. “We’ll talk, don’t worry. I don’t think anyone else knows, and I’ve done a lot of searching. But never mind that for now. I called you because I talked to him: Apparently he’s just here to deal with some business, and he’s leaving tomorrow night on a red-eye flight. But he said he has time to meet you, if you want.”

“Meet me? I—you mean—” Marinette sounded overwhelmed, voice shaky and frazzled.

“Girl, relax. I think he misses you.” Alya hoped saying it would help rather than hurt. She had long since stopped trying to tell Marinette what was best for her, but this time, she ventured to give her opinion. “It’s been years. I think you guys need to talk. And before you ask me who he is: he said he wanted to be the one to reveal himself to you, and of course I understand that.”

“I—okay. Yes. Sure. I’ll meet him.”

“Le Mouron Rouge, one p.m. He said he’d make the reservation and wait for you no matter what. He’ll be wearing a green button-down shirt with a silver cat pinned to the lapel,” Alya rattled off.

“Okay,” Marinette said, feeling stunned. “Do you have a way of contacting him?”

Alya nodded. “I have his number.”

“I… I guess it would be fitting for me to wear red. A red sweater. Can you tell him?”

“You got it, girl.”

They said their goodbyes and hung up.

Alya felt light as she jogged down the steps into the subway, the weight of the long-held secret dissipating like a kaleidoscope of butterflies taking flight.

Marinette was so eager to see Chat Noir again, she left two hours earlier than she had to. Being alone in her apartment was putting her more and more on edge. Something about the crowds and the open air had a way of calming her down.

There was plenty of time before she had to be at the restaurant, so she decided to stop at the nearby Jardin des Tuileries to do some people-watching and sketching for a new project, if she could get her nerves to calm down enough.

The early November air was brisk, but she was comfortable enough in a pewter-grey trench coat and black-and-white houndstooth scarf. The thought of her identifying red sweater hidden underneath made her heart drum, but she tried not to think about it too much, or she would be a mess by the time she showed up at the restaurant.

It wasn’t long after she had begun sketching that she saw someone stop in front of her bench out of her peripheral vision.

She wouldn’t have looked up, except that the person said her name.

Thinking it might be an acquaintance from work, she looked up—and almost dropped her sketchbook when she recognized the piercing green eyes and awed expression that looked back at her.

“A-Adrien?” Marinette scrambled to her feet, dropping her pen in the process.

“Sorry,” they both said at the same time, kneeling for the pen.

They didn’t bump heads this time, as they had so many times in the past, but Marinette’s fingers completely missed the pen. Blushing in humiliation, she rose to standing position in time for Adrien to hand the pen back to her.

His hands were still as elegant as ever, but more filled-out than she remembered. The baby fat was gone from his cheeks, and his face was all sleek lines and angles, smoothed with health. Marinette had done more than a few internet searches in the years of his absence, to see what he was up to, but she invariably found nothing—he had seemed to fall out of the public eye. All she knew was that he had moved to China for university.

“I—I didn’t know you were back in Paris,” Marinette said falteringly.

“Oh… yeah.” Adrien rubbed sheepishly at the back of his neck. “Sorry. I should have called you.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to imply that!” Marinette’s mouth felt dry. “I just meant—I’m surprised to see you, but that’s not a bad thing! I’m glad. I mean, I missed—it’s been a while.”

Adrien smiled, slow and soft. “I missed you, too.”

Marinette’s cheeks tinged crimson, both from the fact that he’d obviously caught her slip-up and from pleasure that he returned the sentiment. “You’re probably busy, but—um, we should catch up sometime.”

“Actually…” Adrien put his hands in his coat pockets and looked off to the side, as if scanning his surroundings for something or someone. “I’m not busy. I’m meeting someone around here later, but I’m early, so… kinda just killing time.”

“Really? Me too.” Marinette let out a laugh intended to smooth over the mood. “If you want… maybe we could catch up while we’re waiting? I mean, you don’t have to—”

“No, I’d love to.” Adrien looked back at her, grinning this time. He motioned at the bench. “Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all!” Marinette moved aside, waiting for Adrien to sit before lowering herself back onto the bench, open sketchbook on her lap.

“Still designing?” Adrien leaned over toward her sketchbook.

Marinette resisted her natural reflex to flinch away. She felt exposed as Adrien’s eyes explored her preliminary sketches, but a small part of her treasured the way he never had a problem with invading her personal space. “Not fashion anymore,” she answered.

“Oh? Why not?” Adrien met her eyes. Their faces were close enough for her to see the fluctuations of color in his irises—streaks of forest green and gold mixed with peridot.

“Well…” Marinette bit her lip, debating how honest to be. The reason she had turned away from fashion was a personal matter for him, after all. But after everything that had happened, she didn’t want to be yet another person keeping secrets from Adrien. “After everything that happened with your father… I couldn’t look at fashion the same way anymore. He was my idol, you know, ever since I was young.”

“That makes two of us,” Adrien said with a rueful smile. “I completely get that.” He looked away.

“That doesn’t extend to you, though,” Marinette rushed to add. “I’ve seen the things people have said about you, and I just want you to know—I know you had nothing to do with what your father did.”

She felt clumsy, with these heavy and potentially barbed words spilling out too soon after their reunion, when she still wasn’t sure where they stood as friends.

Adrien looked back, and there was sadness in his eyes this time. “Thanks, Marinette. That really means a lot to me.”

He reached out and squeezed Marinette’s shoulder. In that touch, she felt the same warmth she always had from him, and that reassured her slightly that he was still the same boy she had fallen in love with once.

Marinette smiled, then leaned back against the bench. She capped and uncapped her pen. “So, are you meeting a date?” she teased lightly.

“Sure. A date.” Adrien winked, then shook his head with a huff of breathy laughter. “Who am I kidding? Nah, I’m meeting an old friend. Someone really important to me whom I haven’t seen in a long time.”

“Oh? Me too.” Marinette snuck a glance at him. He was staring out at the park, eyes soft and distant as if he weren’t looking at the scene at all, but instead watching a memory.

“What a coincidence,” Adrien said. He looked at her, then reached out and placed his hand on hers as if it were a completely normal thing to do. “Are you nervous?”

Marinette’s eyes flicked down to where his hand overlapped hers, on top of her sketchbook. “No, why?”

“You look tense. And your hands are shaking.”

“Really?” Marinette hadn’t noticed, but now that she paid attention, they were. “I guess I’m a little nervous. And it’s chilly out.”

“True. The cold does make nerves worse sometimes.” Adrien angled himself diagonally on the bench so he could reach over with his other hand to cup Marinette’s in both of his. “Good thing we met, so we can calm each other down, right?”

“You’re nervous too?” Marinette looked him over. He didn’t seem nervous at all.

Adrien laughed, and this time she heard the edge of tension in it. “I mean—she’s the love of my life, and it’s possible she hates me now, so—yeah.”

Marinette blinked, feeling a pinprick in her heart. She brushed it off, though—there was no reason to feel hurt about him mentioning a girl he loved. She was supposed to be over Adrien. “Why would she hate you?”

“I kind of abandoned her,” Adrien said morosely. “When I went to China. I didn’t tell her I was leaving.”

Marinette understood what it felt like to be left behind suddenly. Chat Noir had done it to her after Hawkmoth’s defeat. He had disappeared without an explanation, and she had gone out countless nights to search the rooftops to no avail. Still, would she hate him if he ever showed up again?

“That’s no reason to hate someone,” Marinette said, as much to answer her own question as to reassure Adrien.

It had never occurred to her to be angry with Chat for that. The only thing she felt toward him was longing to see him again, and curiosity about why he had disappeared so suddenly.

“Honestly, I don’t think she’d blame me,” Adrien said, releasing Marinette’s right hand. He waited for her to set down the pen before lifting her left hand to give it the same attention. “But I still feel bad.”

“You shouldn’t.” Marinette watched him rub her hands gently. The air was cold enough for pockets, but not enough for gloves. He didn’t have to warm her like this. But her hands seemed to have stopped shaking, so the contact was probably good for both of them. “I’m sure you had your reasons.”

Adrien didn’t answer, but the look in his eyes said he was still blaming himself in spite of Marinette’s words.

“Is it the same girl you were in love with back in collège?” Marinette ventured. Perhaps she shouldn’t ask, but now that they were older, she felt like there was enough emotional and temporal distance to make it possible to discuss these things. In her mind, it was a way of proving that she had left her feelings for him in the past.

“Huh? Oh, I forgot I mentioned her to you.” Adrien smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, it’s the same girl.”

“You still love her?”

Adrien nodded. “I know, I’m a fool for holding on so long. It’s just—there’s no one else like her. I’ll never forget her, and I don’t know how I could fall in love with someone else.”

Marinette looked at her lap. If he could still love someone from back then, thinking she hated him, was it really so bad that her heart twinged to hear him talk about her?

It was bad for her; that was for sure.

“What about you?” Adrien asked.

“Oh.” Marinette was so engrossed in Adrien, she had almost forgotten she was getting ready to meet Chat Noir. It still seemed unreal to her. She hadn’t expected to be able to see him again, and she wouldn’t believe it was happening until they met face to face. “I’m… meeting someone very important to me, too. I haven’t seen him since—” Marinette stopped herself from saying ‘Hawkmoth’s defeat.’ “Since before university.”

“Did I know him?” Adrien inquired, tipping his head.

“Um…” Marinette’s lips cracked in a smile. Who didn’t know him? “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Oh, really?” Adrien’s eyes brightened. “Who is it? Nathaniel?”

Marinette wrinkled her brow and laughed. “No, not him.”

“Marc? Luka?”

Marinette shook her head. “Stop guessing!” she giggled, extracting her hand from his at last to swat at him playfully.

“Why, is it a secret?” Adrien teased.

Marinette’s heart ached at the way their rapport had already turned comfortable so soon after meeting again. They’d never been like this back in collège and lycée—there were too many unresolved emotions between them. It was easier now that she didn’t hope anything would develop between them—but to what consequence? This shared moment would soon pass.

“It’s kind of a secret,” Marinette taunted, crossing her arms. “What are you gonna do about it?”

The mirth dissipated from Adrien’s expression, though his smile remained. “Nothing. You’re allowed to have your secrets.”

Oh. His words were like a splinter that Marinette hadn’t noticed until it shifted painfully, reminding her of all that stood between her and Adrien. Years, physical distance, secrets, trauma. There was, at least, one truth she could offer in exchange for the secret she had to keep.

“I had a huge crush on you back in collège,” Marinette admitted. The fact that she could use the past tense emboldened her, and the words rolled off her tongue with the ease of retrospect.

Adrien sat up straighter, his polite smile morphing into a look of surprise. “Oh, really?”

Marinette nodded. Was it the chilly air bringing out a rosy tint in Adrien’s cheeks, or was he blushing?

“I’m sorry I didn’t know.” He rubbed his neck.

“It’s not your fault! How could you know if I never told you?” Marinette laughed.

“Why didn’t you?” Adrien’s eyes glittered, soft and curious.

Marinette toyed with the button on the cuff of her trench coat. “I tried, actually, but things kept going wrong.”

Adrien burst out in laughter, prompting Marinette to look up in bemusement.

“Sorry,” Adrien said through an infectious grin. “It’s just—of course things kept going wrong—it’s you, after all.”

“Hey!” Marinette tried to pout, but the corners of her mouth kept tugging upward.

“Remember when I gave you that umbrella?” Adrien burst out laughing again before Marinette could even respond.

Soon, she joined him.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed you, Marinette,” Adrien sighed, calming down. “I’m sorry we fell out of touch. That was entirely my fault.”

“No! It was mine,” Marinette said. “I kind of… threw myself into work after Hawkmoth’s—”

She stopped abruptly. It felt weird to say ‘Hawkmoth’s defeat’, the term everyone used colloquially, when they were talking about Adrien’s father.

“Hawkmoth’s defeat,” Adrien finished. “It’s okay.”

Marinette nodded, feeling like there was sand in her chest.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I kind of fell out of touch with everyone who wasn’t involved with work. Even Alya. So—for my part, I’m sorry too.”

Adrien shook his head. “I guess it happens to everyone after lycée.—Oh! By the way, I meant to ask. If you’re not into fashion anymore, what are you doing these days? Your sketches looked really cool.”

“Album covers!” Marinette answered. “Jagged introduced me to some contacts in the music industry, and one gig led to another. I studied Graphic Design and Marketing in school—and now that I have more time and a handful of regular clients, I have a pretty steady influx of work as a freelancer.”

“That’s awesome! Congratulations.” Adrien tapped her knee in support. “I can’t get over the fact that you’re on a first-name basis with Jagged Stone.”

Marinette thanked him and laughed, refraining from commenting on how it was weird to hear that from a world-famous supermodel. She guessed from the fact that he’d evaded the media for the past four years that he’d rather she not acknowledge his fame.

“So, what have you been up to in China?” she asked instead, hoping it didn’t come across as nosy.

“I studied Education at an international university,” Adrien said, and from the look on his face, Marinette could tell he had enjoyed it. “And in my free time, I taught French and English.”

“English too?” Marinette’s mouth made an ‘o’. “Impressive. Do you like teaching?”

“I love it!” Adrien beamed.

Marinette grinned. She’d only seen Adrien looking this excited before when he was allowed to do things with friends. She hoped it was a sign that he was happier now, in general. “Do you think you’ll stay in China for a while?”

“Hmm,” Adrien exhaled, tapping his chin. “Not forever. I’m going back tonight, but… I’m getting to the point where I’d like to come back to Paris eventually. Maybe soon.”

“Really?” Marinette’s stomach flipped involuntarily at the prospect. “That’s… good, I think.”

She didn’t want to pry into the subject, but of course he’d have trauma associated with Paris. She hoped his desire to return meant he was coming to terms with it all.

“Oh, shi—sorry.” Adrien looked at his watch—a classic-looking smartwatch with a black leather band. “It’s almost time for me to meet—uh, my friend.”

“Oh!” Marinette started. In her excitement to reconnect with Adrien, she had completely lost track of time. She peeked at her smartphone in her purse. “Oh no, me too!”

It was twelve-fifty, ten minutes to the appointed time; but thankfully, Le Mouron Rouge was only down the street. No need to panic.

Marinette got to her feet and took a deep breath. The somersaulting of her stomach intensified as it began to hit her that she would be meeting her long-lost partner in a matter of minutes.

“You okay, Marinette?” Adrien was on his feet too, and he placed his hands on Marinette’s shoulders, as if to steady her. “Take deep breaths.”

As Marinette followed his advice and started to calm down, she marveled at the fact that he had picked up on little clues in her behavior to realize how she was feeling. Had he always paid such close attention to her, or had it just been too long since she’d had a real friend in her life?

“I’m glad we met,” Marinette said, grinning to show she was okay. “I guess your number is different now, but—you have mine still, right?”

Adrien nodded. “Let’s keep in touch, for sure! I have a China number, but I’ll message you through, uhh, WeChat? If you have it?”

“Is that an app?” Marinette asked, and when Adrien gave her a thumbs up, added, “I’ll download it.”

Adrien touched her shoulder. “I’m glad we met, too.”

Marinette was eager to get to the restaurant, but at the same time, she regretted having to walk away from Adrien. “Well—I’ll be looking forward to that message, then.” She felt like she was holding her breath, waiting for the moment of parting.

“It was really good seeing you.” Adrien leaned in to give her la bise, and Marinette had to concentrate hard to make sure she leaned the opposite way. They switched cheeks, then stepped apart.

“Hope to see you the next time you’re in Paris,” Marinette breathed.

“Don’t miss me too much.” Adrien winked.

Marinette lifted a hand to wave awkwardly, then turned away toward the restaurant.

She hadn’t taken five paces when she heard a laugh behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Adrien on her heels.

“I swear I’m not following you,” he said. “I’m going this way, too.”

“Oh?” Marinette giggled. “What a coincidence.”

“Still nervous?” Adrien asked. “About the person you’re meeting.”

“Not at all,” Marinette said in a high voice.

“Yeah, right,” Adrien smirked.

Am I really that obvious? Marinette wondered, but before she could come up with a sulky retort, Adrien slipped his hand into hers.

“Since we’re going the same way for now—I could use a little more strength if you don’t mind.”

Marinette thought there was something precious about the fact that he didn’t pretend he was the one comforting her.

After walking in silence for a couple blocks, they slowed to a stop near the entrance to the restaurant.

Marinette felt goosebumps crawl up her arms.

“This is where you were heading?” she asked in a small voice, pointing up at the vermilion awnings of Le Mouron Rouge. When she turned to look at his face, she found him looking as shell-shocked as she felt.

He licked his lips and nodded. His hand felt clammy in hers.

“I’m sorry if this is weird, but—” He lifted her hand and pulled back the cuff of her trench coat slightly to expose the cranberry-red sleeve of her sweater. He gasped.

“Wait—no way,” Marinette mumbled in a daze as it began to hit her what was happening.

Before she could say anything more, he extracted his hand from hers, then parted his scarf and the top flap of his pea coat to reveal the collar of his now-visible emerald-green button-down shirt. A small silver cat pin sat upon the wing of the lapel.

“You’re—” Marinette’s mouth dropped open. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes as all the pieces fell into place and she saw all the events of the past from her newfound perspective. Without thinking, she lunged forward and threw her arms around Adrien’s middle, burying her face in his chest, head tucked under his chin.

Adrien’s arms closed around her, tentatively at first, then tighter. Her wearing a red sweater might have been a coincidence, but her reaction to seeing his own identifying signs was not.

As Marinette let tears freely bleed from her eyes into the wool of Adrien’s coat, she realized he was shaking, and lifted her face to peer up at him. His mouth was pressed into a thin line, and as their eyes met, he hurriedly wiped a tear from his cheek.

“I’m sorry for abandoning you,” he said.

Marinette shook her head. “You didn’t abandon me—don’t think of it that way. Oh my goodness, you’ve been through so much.”

“That’s no excuse,” Adrien said in a low tone.

Marinette’s eyes widened as a thought occurred to her. “Do you still have—?” She stepped back, breaking Adrien’s hold on her, and lifted his right hand. There was no ring on his finger.

“Plagg is still with me,” Adrien reassured, patting his chest, which Marinette assumed to mean that he had the ring on him elsewhere. “It’s just hard to wear the ring… too many memories attached. That’s part of why I’m here, actually.”

A pit of dread formed in Marinette’s stomach. “To return the Miraculous?”

“… If that’s okay,” Adrien admitted, gaze dropping as if he were ashamed.

Part of Marinette felt like Adrien— Chat Noir —was cutting ties with her, but she knew that wasn’t what he intended. This wasn’t about her. She nodded, smiling. “You don’t have to ask. Of course it’s okay. We’re safe right now, and if we need someone else…”

She didn’t want to verbalize it.

Adrien put his hands on Marinette’s shoulders. “I know I’m giving it up now, but that’s only because I still have some healing to do, and right now, I just really need to be rid of any reminders of the past. But if something happens, and you need me, I’m still here.” He paused, as if reconsidering his words. “—Of course, if you prefer, you can pick someone else. I’m fine with that. Whatever you think is best, my Lady.”

Hearing Adrien call her that, and the thought of picking a new Chat Noir, brought fresh tears to Marinette’s eyes. Whatever response she was about to say vanished from her mind as her face crumpled and she began to cry. Ashamed, she covered her face with her hands.

Adrien pulled her into his chest and hugged her tightly. “I’m sorry,” he said, then deposited a kiss on the top of her head. “You do know you’re not alone right? Now that we know, you can talk to me.”

Marinette understood. Even though he was giving up the ring, he still wanted her to treat him like a partner.

“I still love you,” she blurted out. It sounded like such a non-sequitur, but it had been too long, and things had become too complicated. She needed to say it before her brain could supply any of the myriad reasons not to.

“I love you too, Buguinette,” Adrien whispered, quieter than the bustle of the street, only for her to hear.

He cupped her cheek, and Marinette lifted her head to find him gazing softly at her. His smile melted the layers that kept them apart—all the years, the distance, the secrets, the misunderstandings, the tension.

Standing on tiptoe, Marinette kissed him, cold lips brushing together just briefly. She was about to pull away when she felt Adrien’s thumb brush her cheek, coaxing her closer, his lips chasing hers.

They kissed again, and Marinette’s heart battered her chest like a bird’s wing, soft but strong and full of hope.

“You’re leaving tonight,” Marinette murmured in realization.

“But I’ll be back,” Adrien said. “Wait for me?”

There was nothing definite about the request, except that their story was still unfinished and that there would be a continuation.

And Marinette’s response—that was also definite. “Of course I’ll wait.”

Adrien smiled, nudged her nose with his, and found her lips again.

When they parted, Marinette wove her fingers between his and as if by unspoken agreement, they turned toward the door of the restaurant together. Later, they could sort out the details. Later, they would have time to close the gaps between them one by one, and decide what should change, and whether anything should change at all.

Right now, the important thing was that they had found one another, and there was a warm lunch waiting for them.