Actions

Work Header

Je Donne ma Langue au Chat

Chapter Text

He wants to wear her clothes.

 Immediately after thinking that, he winces, because damn if that doesn't sound supremely creepy.  And yet there it is.  His own assembly-line clothes that he wears everyday are his father’s, reducing him to a walking advertisement capitalized upon in every way.  Elegant, aesthetically pleasing designs, to be sure.  They wouldn’t be Agreste clothes if they were at all unsightly.  But the clothes that prisoners wore had more love in them.

 He and Nino had gotten some well-loved sweaters and jeans at a thrift store once and his father had burned them.

 But her clothes were made by hand, and with love, he can see that.  It was amazing to witness the process, once he'd first noticed it.  To see her working on a design in her little sketchbook, scribbling out lines and creating variation upon variation until she seemed satisfied.  Within a few days, she’d be sporting the new article of clothing, as well as lots of multi-colored bandages on her fingers.  He looks at them, and wildly thinks that he wants to kiss them.

 “What’s wrong with me?!” he thinks wildly one day after she comes in sporting a beautiful new dress, turning away from her to hide the blush on his face.  That's something Chat Noir would, and could, do, not Adrien Agreste.  But there's something about her that makes all of his standard operating procedures go on the fritz.  Something that makes him frantically backpedal and fight to keep his normal, polite, boring self on the surface, because of course, and this is just his luck, the girl's completely terrified of him.  The only time she seems able to even make eye contact with him is when he's Chat Noir. 

But he watches her from the corner of his eye, smiling and laughing with Alya, running her fingers through her hair, holding some mundane object just so, and he almost hears whispers in his head.  Pay attention, pay attention, you’re missing something, you’ve seen her before, she’s important, the most important. 

 She blushes bright red, like her dress, like his pounding heart, like a ladybug, and he quickly looks away.

 Adrien loves.  He loves so hard and so vividly that it aches like a phantom limb, because he loves but he must never let it be seen.  Perhaps it is because he lives in a vacuum of love, that it’s all brought out of him so brightly and heart-racingly torturous.  The scarf that he received for his birthday smells like salt from all the nights he’s curled up in his bed and clutched it, crying softly lest someone hear.  He doesn’t dare wear it outside.  What if he lost it?

 That scarf is like a candle to him, or a single star in the night sky.  Some pitiful evidence he clings to of something he couldn’t have lived much longer without.

 Ladybug isn’t like that at all.  She is vibrant and warm and she looks at him when she talks to him and she rolls her eyes at him and yet still smiles when she sees him.  He can’t figure out how to act properly around her, but she doesn’t seem to care, simply rolling with the punches and keeping them on track.  It was the most freeing experience he’d ever had. 

When he thinks about it that way, of course he’d been doomed to fall for her from the very beginning. 

Which then of course begs the question, why did his eyes keep sliding toward her, Marinette, she who raises up others?  It's like staring at a riddle and knowing that you know the answer, you really do, but you can’t think of what it is.  Like forgetting the words to your favorite song.

They both hum, Marinette and Ladybug, when they're distracted.  They hum the same soft melodies.  He wants to wear her clothes.  He wants those hands to touch him, indirectly or not.  He's Adrien Agreste.  He’ll take what he can get.

Plagg teases him mercilessly, that he's in love with two different girls.

Sometimes, late at night, he wonders if that's true.

Chapter Text

She is no fool.

She’s known him since before anyone else did, back when he was lonely because he was alone, and now, because no one leaves him alone.  The boy who lost one of his front teeth long before the other so for months he had the most unsightly and endearing smile.  The boy who wove her flower crowns that usually didn’t match her outfit.  The boy who had every thing he might have wanted but couldn’t have a cat no matter how many times he begged his father.  The boy who wouldn’t dare break the silence of that empty house with anything more than whispers.  The boy who only laughs when someone’s taking a picture.

Of course, he is also Adrien Agreste, rich and handsome model, fencer, pianist, speaker of Chinese.  These are who he is too.  But these are as much a suit of armor as they are himself, a skeleton that guards his heart.  She hates them all, pining after that reductive approximation of him like they know anything.  So she boasts and brags, speaking their language to draw a line in the sand.  At least then they’ll keep their distance.  They would use him and suck him dry, and he already gives himself so freely that it infuriates her.  He is precious and they are not worthy, can’t he see that?

And if she’s a bit selfish, sometimes, what does it matter?

Their lives barely overlap anymore, as he slowly learns to fill the void in his heart with people other than her.  But there are times when she receives a phone call in the middle of the night, already knowing who it is before she’s even fully awake.  She treasures those calls.  She is no fool.  She knows there aren’t many of them left.

So when her phone rings at half past 2 on a Wednesday night, she’s already getting dressed even as she picks up the phone and hears, “Chloe.  Please.  I need you to make me someone else.”  His voice is so small and wet and strained at the cracks where it’s already broken a thousand times before.

She responds with a soft voice, the one that’s only for him, has only ever been for him.  “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

He’s waiting for her by the main gate, and they tiptoe through the house and into his room.  It’s clear that he’s been crying but he’s already pulled himself together enough to only have a slight tremor in his voice.  When he was younger he’d cry in front of her.  She does and doesn’t miss that.  But Chloe can’t worry about that now, so she unpacks her supplies and gets to work.  She contours his face with powders and creams until she barely recognizes it, changes his entire complexion with bronzer and blushes.  Eyeshadow and winged eyeliner and mascara reshape his eyes until there’s almost nothing left of his face.

They wear the same shoe size, which makes things much easier, so with some heeled pumps, a knit top, and some pink flouncy skirt that she never wears, the transformation is almost complete.  After taking in the entire work, she carefully selects a lipgloss and paints his lips.  Finally, she mists some carnation-scented perfume over him.

“There,” she says as he sits before her on the edge of his bed, trembling like a foal, “now you’re almost as pretty as me.”

They spend the next few hours talking quietly and painting their nails, something that Chloe only ever does for herself during these strange late-night trysts.  His eyes keep drifting to the mirror, and every time he sees his altered reflection she can see some of the tension in his shoulders go away.

“We could make this easier on ourselves,” she says, surprising herself.

He looks at her oddly.  “What do you mean?”

“If you married me.  Eventually, obviously.”

He smiles wanly at her and looks up at the ceiling.  “But alas, my heart belongs to another,” he says wistfully.

“You have no chance with her,” she says, “She’s out of your league.  Obviously, Ladybug will fall for me instead.”  Because of course they ended up having a crush on the same person.

He laughs at that, more than he should, and says, “I really don’t think so,” as though he knows something she doesn’t, “But if she does, I don’t suppose you’ll share?”

That’s more like it.  She puts her hands on her hips and sticks her nose up haughtily.  “I share nothing.”

“Not even with me?” he asks, leaning his head on her shoulder and looking up at her with a slight pout.

Jesus Christ his face should be illegal.  “Sharing anything with you is a slippery slope,” she says.

They used to kiss, sometimes, in these quiet moments when they were alone.  But that was before…well, it was before.  They’ve never talked about it, but it just doesn’t feel right anymore if they’re not in public.  Yet as she looks down at him, she thinks furiously that someone needs to kiss this boy, a lot, very soon.  Someone needs to see the way his cheeks flush and his toes curl, and discover that kissing the spot where his cheek meets his throat, or his wrist, will turn him into putty faster than anything.  Someone needs to be a vessel for all that love he’s got churning in him, building up pressure until it seems like he’ll fall apart, someone who won’t take advantage of him or forget his birthday or make him hide his laughter.  Let him love them.  It’s very frustrating because she doesn’t particularly want it to be her, but someone definitely needs to do it.

But this boy sits in the eye of a storm, and anyone who really wants to get close had better have the backbone to stand up to her, or they won’t have any hope of making it through.  She will be the dragon the brave warrior of love must defeat to enter the tower.  And by God she will obliterate anyone who tries to hurt him.

It’s time for her to go soon after that, so they both wipe the polish off their nails.  Adrien washes the makeup off his face and changes back into his pajamas.  He hugs her tightly, like he wants to ask her to stay but won’t, because that would be breaking the rules, and there’s someone else he wants more anyway.  She hugs him back and gently kisses the top of his head.

“See you at school?” he asks as he escorts her back to the gate.

“Oh, probably,” she says flippantly, pinching his nose.

She is no fool.  She’s not a generous enough person to give him the love he needs.

Chapter Text

He knows that there are questions he can’t ask.

When he goes to Adrien’s house and sees picture after picture of Adrien, of his father, of them together, the vacuum begs a question, but he doesn’t bring it up.  Chloe, somehow, is allowed anywhere near him, with a slightly uncomfortable but still affectionate smile on his face.  The one time, the first time, that Adrien showed up to school with more bruises than fencing class justified, and Adrien smiled and assured him it was nothing, but Adrien has known how to lie since before he could speak.

Adrien’s world is like navigating a patch of thorns, every move away from one danger will bring you closer to countless others, so you must keep yourself in constant balance, equidistant from all of them.  Adrien does it as naturally as breathing.  And Nino, well, Nino is learning as best he can.

And Adrien, bless him, opens up to him like a flower, there is literally no other way to express it.  He will confide in him, laugh with him, and the poor kid seems so eager to touch someone, anyone.  Nino had never been that tactile before, but if Adrien needed it, well, what were friends for?

It’s been harder, since Adrien’s birthday, when he stormed away from Adrien’s house and that vampire that called itself a father, sat in the park, and woke up on top of the Eiffel Tower.  He hadn’t remembered anything at first, but it came back to him in flashes while he slept.  People looking at him and screaming, sending Ladybug and Chat Noir up with all the other people of Paris to their certain deaths, Adrien so small and fearful below him, looking up and whispering, “Nino?”

Not one thing about this is cool.  He wonders how Adrien even looks him in the eye now, why he doesn’t shrink away from his hands.  He’s managed to (apparently) talk his father back into letting Nino come over, so Nino does, because what else is there to do?  And Adrien looks at him so warmly and guilelessly and with fresh bruises peeking out from his clothes and Nino wants to scream.  But he’s been learning.  This world of Adrien’s of mirrors and masks and implications is slowly becoming familiar to him.  And there are some things that are certain.  He knows that there are questions he can’t ask.

It’s late.  He should be home by now, but he’s here, sitting on this park bench alone.  The moon is shining through the clouds.  Traffic still flows through the streets around him, but it’s fairly quiet.  And faintly, he hears a ringing bell.  Wait, what?

He turns and does a double take at the figure he sees perched in a tree near him.  Green eyes stare at him, nearly glowing in the gloom.  A devilish smile.  “Cat got your tongue?”

Nino swallows hard and looks away.  Chat Noir lands on the bench next to him, not making a sound save for the faint tinkling of his bell.  “Nice night,” he says with a grin.

“What are you doing here?” Nino asks, feeling his heart pound in his throat.

Chat Noir shrugs.  “Just patrolling, nothing to worry about.  My Lady and I try to do it when we can.  I saw you in the park and I recognized you.”

Nino’s face falls.  “Making sure I don’t turn into a monster again?”

Chat Noir blinks, before uneasily smiling.  “Paw-lease,” he says, “I know you’re not a bad guy.  What happened to you was not your fault.”

“But I wanted to do those things!  I wouldn’t have otherwise!  I remember!  Maybe that butterfly made me look like a monster, but it just brought out what was already there.  You didn’t see the look on my best friend’s face when he saw what I really was!!”

Nino expects the masked hero to deny that, to say something positive about the underlying good of humanity or whatever.  Probably another bad pun.  Something that would make him roll his eyes and not help at all.  What he doesn’t expect is to hear nothing but a faint, broken sound, like a whimper.  What he doesn’t expect is for Chat Noir’s forehead to suddenly be pressed to his own, his gleaming green eyes gazing into his soul.  “Do you really believe that?” Chat Noir asks in a hushed, horrified voice.

Nino’s mouth runs dry, and his palms are sweating.  Moonlight reveals a constellation of tears on Chat Noir’s long eyelashes.  He’s afraid to breathe, this moment a delicate soap bubble he’s afraid to pop.  “I can hear your heart beating,” Chat Noir says, his breath ghosting across Nino’s face like a winter wind.

Nino has no idea what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything.  “When I’m like this,” Chat Noir explains, “Everything is…I can see and hear so much.  It’s overwhelming sometimes.”

Nino has never felt so aware of his body in his entire life.  He wishes suddenly and dizzily that Adrien was here.  Adrien always knows what to do when it feels like the rug’s been swept out from under him.  Adrien could waltz his way through a minefield with his eyes closed, and Nino just has to follow his lead.  Adrien would know what to say to this…being that’s breathing the same air as him.  Adrien is always careful with him, never makes him feel stupid or like he doesn’t belong where he is.  Adrien is too good for him.

“Are you afraid of me?” Chat Noir asks suddenly.

Nino nods.

Chat Noir seems startled by this answer, his eyes shimmering.  “Why?” he asks.

Hell if Nino knows.  “Are you afraid of me?” he asks, the words arcing between them like current through a live wire.

Suddenly he has personal space again, Chat Noir having pulled away to about arm’s length.  “Nah,” he says, “If there’s one thing I know about people who get akumatized, it’s that they come out of it stronger than they were before.  That black butterfly only got in because there was a crack for it to go through, not because you had some inner evil.  Bone heals stronger after it breaks too, you know.”

Nino tugs at the hem of his shirt, not wanting to look Chat Noir in the eye again.  He scuffs his shoes in the dirt.  “You sure?” he asks quietly.

He can practically hear the grin in Chat Noir’s voice as he replies, “Paw-sitive.”

Dude,” Nino groans, smiling despite himself.  When he wipes his eyes, it’s just because there’s some dirt in them, yes, absolutely no other reason.

They sit in companionable silence for a while, or, well, Nino sits.  Chat Noir can’t seem to hold still, perched on the bench like a coiled spring.  He drums his fingers, he plays with his tail, he bounces from side to side.  “You seem to have a lot of energy,” Nino says, then kicks himself mentally for saying something so pointless.

Luckily, Chat Noir doesn’t seem to care.  “Yeah.  My Lady usually wears me out by the end of the night, so it’s good to come into it as fresh as possible.”  He then audibly chokes, whirling around and looking at Nino with a panicked expression.  “Not like, I mean, we’re not, I just mean that if there’s no akumas then we usually spar…ugh…” he groans, “that sounds even worse.”

“You don’t really have a way with words, do you?” Nino says, hiding a smile behind his hand.

Chat Noir grins sheepishly.  “My Lady says the same thing.  I still can’t believe she puts up with me.  I guess you could say it’s…miraculous?”

Nino laughs.  He hadn’t realized this before, never really having had the chance to, but Chat Noir is funny.  Although, probably not in the way that the guy strictly wants to be.  “Good thing there doesn’t seem to be any competition in the hero business.  You’ll probably be able to do this for the rest of your life.”

Chat Noir shrugs.  “Oh I don’t know about that.  Someday I’d like to do something a little less…public.”

“Oh?” Nino asks, raising an eyebrow, “Like what?”

“Teach physics.”

Well that was unexpected.  “Huh,” Nino says, “That’s funny.  That’s what my best friend wants to do too.”

Chat Noir grins and winks at him.  “Small world.”

Suddenly Nino hears a beeping sound, and Chat Noir sighs.  “Sorry, got to go.  Duty calls.”

“No, yeah, of course dude.  Go save Paris or whatever.”

Chat Noir gets up and makes to leap away, but stops suddenly, turning back and looking at Nino with an unreadable expression.  “You know,” he says hesitantly, “If you’re worried about how things are with your friend and all, you should probably just talk to him.  I’m sure that he doesn’t want you to be feeling like that.”

“I dunno, he’s got enough on his plate as it is.  I don’t want to just add one more thing to it.”

Chat Noir puts his hands on his hips.  “Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear.  That’s not a request.  And…” he adds, leaning in and putting a hand on Nino’s shoulder, “I’m not above using my powers of purrrrrrrrrrrrr-suasion to make sure you do.”

“Alright, alright, geez!” Nino laughs, swatting his hand away.

Chat Noir looks at him approvingly.  “Good,” he says, “I’ll know if you don’t.”

He laughs quietly to himself, like he’s just made a joke, and salutes.  “Stay safe, citizen,” he says in an artificially deep voice.

He extends his fist out, and Nino has completed the gesture before he realizes what’s happening.

There are so many things Nino suddenly wants to say.  Have we met?  Do I know you?  Where have I seen you before?  Why do you stumble over your words so much but still know exactly what to say to me?  I have someone else in my life like that.  Do you know him?

But Nino says nothing.  There’s a whoosh of air, and Chat Noir is gone, a fading shadow in the night.  Nino watches him go, and pulls out his phone to text Adrien, though he has a feeling he won’t get a reply until tomorrow, and that Adrien will show up in school with dark circles under his eyes and bruises on his skin.  But Nino won’t mention it.

He knows that there are questions he can’t ask.

Chapter Text

She wishes she could be more helpful.

Her phone beeps and she looks down at it and smiles.  Juleka has sent her yet another iteration of that meme she’s currently obsessed with, and while she doesn’t really get it, it’s enough that it makes her girlfriend smile.  She hasn’t even had a chance to put her phone away before it beeps again.  I’m thinking of changing my hair color…any suggestions?

She smiles, and her tongue sticks out of her mouth slightly as she types back.  Pink, obviously.

Bravissimo Adrien!  Take a quick break, and then we’ll need about fifty more pictures exactly like that!”

She looks up, and sees a camera crew, set up to take pictures of Adrien by the river.  She’s not sure exactly what he’s wearing, but it probably looks nice?  Marinette would probably know better.  She debates sending her a picture of the outfit to ask her about it, but decides that that would be weird.  Since she’s thinking of Marinette though, she does shoot her a quick text and ask if she still wants help with her physics homework.  It’s her favorite subject, so she often helps people out when she can.  It’s fun, and it gives her an excuse to stay away from home longer.

Adrien doesn’t seem to know how to sit like a normal person, his limbs casually and effortlessly arranged into a pose that flatters all his angles as he takes a drink from a water bottle.  The whole thing looks like a viral video waiting to happen.  Juleka could probably make him a meme if she wanted to.  The wind ruffles his hair, and the sunlight turns it into molten gold.  He looks so lonely.

She decides to go over to say hello.  She doesn’t know him very well, but he’s in her class, and he’s definitely made a good impression on her in the time since he joined their ranks.  She still remembers, as though she could ever forget, the day she decided to ask people at school to call her her real name.  She’d left home early, her mother calling out “Have a good day, Raoul,” and gone to Juleka’s to change. Her parents still called her that name.  There had been no anger or tears or anything when she’d tried to correct them.  They just ignored it.  Like they ignored everything they found unpleasant.

The entire class had been shocked when she’d shown up in the pink dress and makeup that Juleka had done for her, stammering out her quick explanation and ending with “so please don’t call me a boy anymore.”  No one had said anything.  They’d just stared at her like she was an explosion, or a typo.  She’d been about to run away to go puke in the bathroom, when suddenly she’d heard Adrien’s voice, clear and kind, say, “It’s nice to meet you again, Rose.”

Everything had been okay after that.

She walks up to him with a smile on her face and waves.  “Adrien, hi!” she says cheerily.

Adrien pauses drinking from his water bottle to turn and look at her, smiling as he sees her.  His head is high and self-assured, but his hands hold the water bottle just like Juleka holds things when she’s shy (i.e. all the time).  “Rose,” he says warmly, “You look beautiful today!  I love your dress.”

Adrien only has two or three smiles that Rose ever sees.  They’re the same as the ones she sees on posters and magazines and ads on the sides of buses.  They’re radiant and kind and light up his face, but the light isn’t coming from him.  It’s merely a reflection of his surroundings.

At first Rose wondered if that was the only way he knew how to smile, but since first noticing this trait, she has discovered a few exceptions.  Nino lights him up like a firework, light quickly and brightly and colorfully blooming across Adrien’s face like a flower, a brief flash followed by the smell of smoke.  Chloe is like the force and chemical reaction that lights up a glowstick, a soft but saturated light that Adrien emits from his whole body, but a light that is only visible in the dark.  And sometimes, she’ll catch him looking at Marinette, his eyes like fireflies.

“Thank you!” she says with a smile and a slight twirl.  The multicolored ruffled skirt swirls around her like frothy soap bubbles. “Marinette made it for me!”

Something akin to hunger flashes across Adrien’s eyes.  “I want to wear it,” he says under his breath, before immediately looking up at her, startled.  “I mean, it’s very nice,” he says hurriedly, “It seems well-made.”

He’s blushing like a sunset.  It’s a good look on him.

“Adrien!  Break’s over!” the cameraman calls, startling Rose into looking toward him.

When she looks back at Adrien, he’s already composed himself again.  He yawns.  “Guess I’d better go model now,” he says wryly, winking at her.

Adrien,” says the cameraman, walking over to them, “We have a very narrow window of time that we’re working in.  Let’s go.”  He stops and looks at Rose suddenly.  “And who is this?” he asks Adrien.

“Rose.  She’s a classmate.”

The cameraman looks at her brightly.  “Rose.  Cara.  Would you like to be Adrien’s partner for some photos?”

Rose looks at Adrien with a confused expression.  He smiles carefully and shrugs.  “He does this sometimes,” he says, “Apparently it adds “intrigue” and “romance.””  He flashes her an impish sidelong grin and lowers his eyelids, glancing at her through his long eyelashes.  Oh yeah, he’s the whole package, no doubt about that.  Too bad he’s not her brand.  “No one ever says no,” he says, his voice like cinnamon.

“Um.”

Fantastico!” crows the cameraman, “I will go get the release forms!”

Rose looks at her feet.  She can feel Adrien’s expectant eyes on her.  It would be fun, as long as she doesn’t have to do anything weird.  She wonders if she could get them to advertise that Marinette made the dress…Marinette would probably like that.  She could talk to her about it next time she helps her with her physics homework.  Maybe it would give Marinette the confidence to make a fashion blog like literally everyone in class has been trying to get her to do.  And Adrien is so friendly and kind and accepting…but how accepting?  She suddenly feels self-conscious.  “You don’t have to…I mean...the cameraman doesn’t know…” she babbles, feeling smaller and smaller with each syllable, “I understand if you’re uncomfortable with this, cuz I’m not a re—”

A warm hand wraps around hers.  “Not a what?” Adrien asks, his voice like a rush of cool water in summer.  He kisses her hand.  “Not a real girl?”

She squints her eyes shut.  He squeezes her hand.  “If anything, I’m the one who isn’t real,” he says quietly.

Her eyes flutter open, and she stares at him, something odd coiling in her chest.  It reminds her of when Juleka had first spoken to her after school, back when everyone still thought Rose was a boy, her eyes bright like candles and full of promises.  It’s even more like when she first tearfully told Juleka what she really was, and Juleka had replied without missing a beat, “What!!  You mean all this time I’ve had a super cute girlfriend and I didn’t even know it?!”

But those feelings had taken in the warmth around her and tucked it away under her ribs.  Now she feels like she’s the source of the warmth.  It eddies around her and melts frost she hadn’t even noticed before.  Adrien looks so small and so cold under his smile.  But he is undoubtedly a good person.  She wishes she could be more helpful.

She thinks she understands now.  Looking at Adrien is like looking through frosted glass, or a mask.  There’s something within that she’s not seeing.  A flickering light in the corner of her eyes.  She sees it better when she doesn’t look directly at it.

She smiles at him, and squeezes his hand.  She wishes she could be more helpful.  “Alright, let’s go.”

His lips curl up in a perfect smile, and he pulls her closer, wrapping his arm around her waist.  “I knew you couldn’t resist me,” he says, his voice the perfect blend of confident and charming.

She knows that somewhere in this there is a lie.  She wishes she knew where it begins and where Adrien ends.  She wonders if even Adrien knows.

Chapter Text

He could see what was happening.

He is an artist.  He always notices details.  He sees her every day in class.  He walks past her bakery on his way home from ballet class and sees her there.  He sees her in the park.  With her friends.  Her hair is down today, cascading over the shoulders exposed by the dress she’s wearing.  Like everything else about her, the fit of the dress is perfect, draping over her as though it was made just for her.  Wherever she bought it, she should shop there always.

Adrien is looking at her.  Of course, everyone, even Chloe, is looking at her, but as Adrien stares, Nathanaël can see her shoulders turn as red as her dress.  He traces out the curve of her spine in his sketchbook, and creates a graphite dress in wispy lines blooming around it.  Adrien looks away.  She leans forward slightly, as though pulled by a string.  Ah.  He could see what was happening.

They’re learning about stars in physics right now, and how most stars don’t exist on their own out in the cosmos, but in star systems.  A binary star is a system of two, orbiting around each other, around some central point shared between them.  When Adrien’s head turns as she gets up, Nathanaël can’t help but think of binary stars.

An akuma attacks on his way home from school, turning the river into a roiling, undulating mass that drags people in and spits out figures made of water.  He finds himself confronted by a form that resembles his darker self, mist and steam coalescing around it into the shapes of what it draws.  It does not speak to him.  It only watches.

He can see his reflection in its skin(?), hair plastered against his scalp from all the water, both eyes looking out, wide with fear.  From here, it almost looks like he’s trapped within it.

“Look out!”

A blur of color, and a splash, and the thing is gone, nothing more than a puddle now.  Alix had skated right through it, water dripping off of her and pooling on the ground beneath her.  He falls to his knees, shivering.  He can hear screaming in the distance.

A pained expression flits across Alix’s face.  She skates toward him and pats his head awkwardly.  “Stay safe,” she says, before rushing away.

Before long, Ladybug and Chat Noir have appeared to save the day.  He watches them leaping through the air and working in harmony, and he again can’t help but think of binary stars.  He wishes he was like them.  He’s just boring and uninteresting Nathanaël, and it’s no wonder that she never looks at him.

“Are you alright?” Ladybug asks, and she’s beautiful, and her eyelashes frame her eyes like wings, and she glows from within with something miraculous and incomprehensible.  It’s a gravitational pull that brings him closer, because she’s looking right at him.  He nods.

“I’ve swept the other side for civilians, but it seems like everyone’s out of the water now,” Chat Noir says, leaping across the water toward them, “all clear on this side?”

“Yes,” Ladybug says, turning toward Chat Noir and away from Nathanaël, “Just checking up on our last one.”

“Meow-velous!” Chat Noir says excitedly.

Ladybug glares at him.  “Well, since we’re done for the day, I’m leaving,” she says, rolling her eyes, and sends out her yoyo to swing away.

Chat Noir is less radiant than Ladybug, but his eyes shine with the same miraculous and incomprehensible…something, that Ladybug has.  As Chat Noir grumbles halfheartedly and leaps after her, Nathanaël wonders if this is what it’s like to be in the presence of gods.  He could see what was happening.

He hopes she made it out safely.

He doesn’t quite feel like going home, so he stays where he is by the river, watching the sun dip lower and lower in the sky.  His shivering only gets worse, so he starts doing some stretches to try to warm up, sinking down into the splits after a few minutes of effort.  He finds himself strangely apathetic to the idea of people possibly seeing him.  They can’t possibly think any less of him anyway.

“Wow, you look like crap,” Alix says, rolling up to him on her skates.  Nathanaël sighs.  Leave it to Alix to just cut right to the chase.

Suddenly there is a warm presence by him, and Alix is there, leaning against him, filling the space despite how small she is.  Her eyes spark like lightning bolts.  “What’re you sitting here all mopey for?” she asks.

He sighs heavily and looks toward the sunset, his hair blowing slightly in the wind.  “You wouldn’t understand,” he says sadly.

Alix snorts.  “Well that’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think?  Try me.”

“What’s the point?” he asks, “It’s not like you’ve ever become a monster and hurt someone you cared about.”

Beeep, wrong, try again,” Alix says, pinching his nose.  He jumps and turns to her.  “Have you really already forgotten?” she asks.

A broken watch on the ground.  Tears streaming down her face.  Flashes of green light, and her face hidden.  Disappearing.

He had forgotten.

“At least all you did was scare Chloe a lot, and, frankly, I have no particular affection for her,” Alix says with a grin.

“Yes, and I humiliated myself.”

Alix shrugs.  “Well, I don’t think any less of you.”

That’s surprisingly comforting, but she’s not who he would want to hear it from.  “Okay, so we’ve both been akumas before,” he says, “Are you going to tell me you understand the agony of unrequited love as well?”

She smiles knowingly.  “Of course.  What teenager doesn’t?”

Adrien doesn’t,” he says bitterly.

Alix winces.  “Oooh, tough break,” she says, “he’s definitely got a lot of people crushing on him.  For what it’s worth, most of them probably have a lot of growing up left to do.  He’s cute and not a bad guy, I’ll give him that, but he’s kind of blah.”

Nathanaël stares at her like she’s sprouted a second head.  “How can you even say that?” he asks, bewildered, “He’s perfect.  He’s better than me in every way!”

“Sounds like you’re the one with a crush on him,” Alix says, her eyes full of mirth, “How is he better than you?”

Nathanaël laughs.  “Where do I even begin?  He’s handsome and popular, he speaks Chinese, he plays the piano, he can fence, he knows how to make eye contact with the people he talks to…I’m just weak, pitiful, and shy.  It’s no wonder she doesn’t care about me, there’s nothing interesting about me.”

Alix raises an eyebrow.  “You are doing the splits right now,” she says, glancing down at his legs.

His eyes widen.  He’d gotten distracted, and completely forgotten about that.  “That’s nothing that special,” he says shyly, looking away and sitting up, hugging his knees to his chest, “I can only do this because I do ballet.”

Alix laughs.  “Are you kidding?  I think that’s amazing!  I can’t do the splits, and I’ll bet Adrien can’t either.  And it’s super cool that you do ballet!  Hey, I’ll bet you can do something else really cool because of ballet…can you lift me?”

He looks at her.  She’s small, much smaller than some of the girls in his class that he’s lifted.  “I guess…” he says nervously.

She grins.  “Do it, do it!” she says, “please!

They stand up, and he swallows hard, but he puts his hands on her hips.  “This isn’t some sort of trick, is it?” he asks cautiously.

She smiles up at him.  “Maybe a cool trick!  Lift me!”

Something’s wrong with his heart, but he pulls up, and she’s over his head, extending her arms out like a swan.  The image is ruined slightly by her roller skates, but the light of the sunset makes her hair shine like copper.  She beams down at him.  “Wow!” she exclaims, “you really can do it!  How can you call yourself weak when you can lift me up into the air?  Wow…” she says again, “the sunset is so pretty…”

He furrows his brow.  “I didn’t think you liked pretty things,” he says uncertainly.

“Hah!  Shows what you know.  I love pretty things.  Ballet, art, sunsets…” she trails off and looks down at him mischievously, “you.”

His heart stops beating.  He doesn’t understand what’s happening.  He starts to tremble, and he lowers Alix down quickly, looking at her with wide eyes.  She smiles up at him.  “You shouldn’t sell yourself short,” she says, “your art is beautiful, and you can dance, and your voice sounds nice, and the rest of you isn’t bad either.”

Nathanaël squirms and looks away, but Alix gently cups his chin and pulls his face back to hers.  “You don’t need to hide your face,” she says softly, “you’re worth looking at.”

She so much smaller than him, but she still feels so close.  He wonders wildly if she’s going to kiss him.  But the moment passes, and she pulls away.  “Well,” she says, “it’s going to be dark soon.  I’d better head home.  You should do the same.”

He nods, not trusting himself to speak.  He watches her go.

The next morning, before class starts, he’s flipping idly through his sketchbook without drawing anything.  A shadow falls over the pages, and he looks up in surprise.  It’s Adrien!  He’s looking down at Nathanaël’s sketchbook thoughtfully, a slight smile on his face.  “Those are really good!” he says, “have you drawn any of me?”

Nathanaël swallows hard and nods, flipping through the book until he comes to the right page.  Everyone’s been drawn at least once or twice, but Adrien has often featured as the villain in his daydreams.  But Adrien just says, with a huge grin on his face, “Wow!  I look so cool!  Or, hot, I guess, since I’ve got all those flames around me and stuff.  Man, I look just like a DBZ character!”

Nathanaël looks at him oddly.  Adrien is much less cool and intimidating up close, he decides.  Impulsively, he lifts his gaze to meet Adrien’s eyes.  They are open and guileless, with no trace of deception within them.  Nathanaël flips through to find another picture of Adrien, but as he does, Adrien remarks, “You sure do draw Marinette a lot.”

Eerk!  Immediately Nathanaël starts to blush, bracing himself for impact.  But what Adrien says surprises him.  “Is she okay with that?”

Nathanaël blinks.  “Um, I haven’t asked her about it,” he admits.

Adrien frowns.  “You should probably ask her,” he says, “you’ve drawn her an awful lot.  Wow, but you’ve drawn her outfits too.”

Nathanaël shrugs noncommittally, and she is walking into the room now so she’s all he’s looking at.  Alix walks in right behind her, and smiles and waves at him, his attention snapping toward her like a rubber band.  What?

“Wow, you’ve really captured all the little details,” Adrien says, and Nathanaël internally puffs up proudly.  Of course he has.  “Did you know that she makes all her clothes herself?” Adrien asks excitedly, and Nathanaël’s heart stops beating.

“Wh-what?” he asks, looking at her and wondering how he couldn’t have known.

Adrien laughs self-deprecatingly.  “Oh what am I saying, of course you knew that.  Anyone who spends more than a minute or two talking to her knows that!  It’s amazing though, this really does look just like her,” he says, his fingers tracing a drawing of her face.

Suddenly he frowns.  “That’s odd…something’s missing…” he muses quietly.

Nathanaël reaches for his sketchbook to pull it away, hunching his shoulders defensively.  But before he can take it, Adrien snaps his fingers.  “That’s it!” he says, “you forgot her freckles!”

Nathanaël stares at Adrien incredulously.  “What freckles?”

Adrien laughs.  “You know!” he says, “The ones on her face!  You can’t see them unless you’re up close, but they’re definitely there.  They’re really cute too,” he adds more quietly, to himself.

The bell rings, and Adrien jumps.  He smiles at Nathanaël.  “Guess I’d better get to my seat,” he says, and walks back to the front of the room.  He smiles at everyone as he passes by, but his smile for her lasts just a little bit longer, as though he doesn’t realize he’s doing it.  She looks bashfully at him and a smile lights up her whole face, a radiant goddess.  Nathanaël’s heart sinks.  He could see what was happening.

Nathanaël holds his face in his hands.  It’s no wonder she doesn’t look at him.  Has he even really been looking at her?

He doesn’t know anything at all about Marinette.

But he looks up, and Alix is smiling at him, and maybe it’s okay.

Chapter Text

She’s not the kind of person to change her mind.

Years of working customer service, i.e., the cashier at her parent’s bakery, have given her that.  Sure, plenty of the customers are wonderful, polite, genuinely decent human beings.  But she’d learned quickly that she should invest about as much energy into a customer as there were tips in her tip jar.  Which, she notes, narrowing her eyes at it, is currently empty.

It isn’t so bad, she admits, returning to her attention to the cocoa and the plate of cookies her father had set out for her and Alya.  Things are slow right now, so Marinette is practically only here as a formality.  Her homework is done, which leaves her and Alya free to hang out.  Marinette keeps zoning out as she listens to Alya relate the latest and greatest tales of Ladybug’s heroics, but it’s not like she needs to pay attention.  She was kind of there for the whole thing.

Alya snaps her fingers in Marinette’s face and jolts her out of it.  Marinette yelps slightly, then glares at Alya, who is smiling fondly at her.  “Thinking about Adrien?” she asks.

Well, not really, but now that she mentioned it…  She takes a sip of her cocoa and smiles into the warmth.  Adrien’s lips would probably be just as warm, if she kissed him.  Just like Chat Noir’s had been…

Blinking.  Rapidly putting the cocoa down.  Trying not to think about the mindblowing experience that was kissing Chat Noir, ah, shit, too late.

“Now I know we’ve talked about this before,” Alya says, and Marinette inwardly sighs in relief as she’s distracted, “but I still don’t quite understand.  What do you like about Adrien?  Really.”

Marinette gives her a quizzical look.  “What’s not to love?” she asks, “He’s patient, and kind, and really smart, and his hands are soft, and…” she lowers her eyes for this part, “I think he’s kind of shy.”  It makes her heart break, truth be told.

Alya makes a weird face.  “But you’re not shy,” she points out, “except with him that is.  You’re actually kind of a steamroller.  Isn’t that a problem?”

Marinette sighs happily.  “But maybe I could help him open up,” she says, “help him feel less like he has to be on his best behavior all the time.  Like he can get frustrated sometimes, like he can be goofy, and say what’s on his mind.  Like he can be a real person instead of a celebrity all the time.”

Alya smirks.  “So what you’re saying is you want to help him be more like Chat Noir?  The cute, outgoing, goofy, hero of Paris who seems to like you and who you can actually hold a conversation with?  I dunno, I’m feeling like perhaps there’s an easier way…”

Marinette rolls her eyes and shakes her head firmly.  “Out of the question,” she says, “my heart belongs to Adrien.”  She’s not the kind of person to change her mind.

Alya groans.  “Your heart can belong to more than one person you know,” she says, “but that aside, I agree with you that Adrien would probably be happier if he could relax and open up more, and it’s not wrong for you to wish that that happens to him.  But I’m not sure about how good it is to be wishing that you’ll be the person to make it happen…shouldn’t he figure it out for himself?  He’s a person, not a pet.  You should respect that.”

Marinette indignantly takes a bite out of her cookie.  “That’s unfair!  I totally respect him!”

“Says the person who digs through his trash, stole and hacked his phone, and has completely mapped out his entire schedule,” Alya says wryly, raising an eyebrow.

Marinette has nothing to say to that.  There isn’t really anything to say.  She munches her cookie gloomily until Alya shows mercy on her and changes the subject.  But she has trouble sleeping that night.

An akuma attacks the school the next day, and while the students all scatter, Marinette rushes to try to find a private place to transform.  She ducks into an empty office and feels the calming influence of Tikki’s power rush over her, and feels more like Ladybug and less like herself.  That’s fine.  She doesn’t want to be Marinette right now anyway.

A quiet and quickly muffled gasp behind her makes her whirl around.  Someone was here.  Quickly sweeping the room, she finds Chloe curled up under a desk, trembling.  She looks up at her with wide eyes.  “Marinette?” Chloe whispers, and well, at least that answers that question.

Ladybug grimaces, but a rumbling under her feet reminds her that she has other priorities at the moment.  “Stay safe,” she says firmly, and Chloe nods shakily.

The akuma proves to be exceptionally difficult to fight due to its ability to make portals that keep her and Chat Noir far away from it.  By the time they manage to capture it, they’re both exhausted.  Neither of them quite ready to leap away to find a private place to transform, they take a moment to sit quietly on the roof of the school.

“You seem distracted,” Chat Noir says, “is something wrong?”

She hugs her knees.  “I’ve told you, I want to keep my two worlds separate.”  She’s not the kind of person to change her mind.

Chat Noir smiles sadly.  “So there is something.  I won’t force you to talk about it, but, please?  You’re my partner, no matter what, and I want to be able to help you.  And besides,” he adds quietly, “there’s a girl in my class who looked like she was feeling crummy too, but I didn’t feel like I knew her well enough to say anything.  So I’ve been feeling pretty gloomy and useless, but it would make me feel better if I could at least help my partner out.”

She looks at him.  Chat Noir.  Her partner.  Loudmouthed, excitable, impulsive.  Loyal.  Dancing around the lines in the sand she’s drawn but never, not once, crossing them, which is more than she can say about herself with her crush.  He looks at her like she’s a real person, and even at his worst always makes eye contact with her and can, you know, sustain a thread of conversation.  That, again, is more than she can say about herself with her crush.

But she’s not the kind of person to change her mind.  And talking about this with Chat Noir isn’t likely to lead anything worth pursuing.  If anything, it’ll just make her heart hurt.  She can’t let him know who he is, not even a little.

Suddenly her blood runs cold.  “Shit!” she says under her breath, and Chat Noir blinks owlishly at her.

“My Lady?” he asks hesitantly.

“Chloe knows, Chloe saw me,” she says, her voice calm but her pulse racing.

“Chloe…Chloe Bourgeois?  The mayor’s daughter?!”

Ladybug slumps defeatedly, wondering if she couldn’t perhaps convince her parents to let her move to China with her grandparents.  Probably not, but maybe it’s worth a shot?  “She’s going to tell everyone,” she moans, “she’s probably already told everyone.”

A feather-light, hesitant touch on her shoulder that she unthinkingly leans into.  “It’s going to be okay,” he says gently.

Her eyes prickle.  She’s going to cry, she thinks miserably.  “I guess I should tell you who I am,” she says bitterly, “If you’re going to find out anyway, I’d rather you find out from me than from Chloe.  My name is—”

Chat Noir presses a finger to her lips, shushing her.  He takes a deep shuddering breath.  “Please, God, not like this,” he says desperately, “Not like this.  Not when you’re on the verge of tears at the thought of telling me.  Chloe won’t tell anyone, I know it.  Your secret will stay safe.”

“The dumb cat is right,” Chloe says.

Ladybug whirls around and sees her, walking through the door to the roof.  She’s alone.

Chat Noir sighs in relief.  “I’m going to go and let you two talk about this,” he says, “our transformations are about to wear off anyway.”

Before Ladybug can say anything, he’s leapt off the roof and is bounding away into the distance.  When she’s sure he’s gone, she releases the transformation and sits on the ground quietly.  Just her.  Just Marinette.

The silence is apparently displeasing to Chloe, who stomps her foot and angrily starts playing with her phone.  “I’m not going to tell anyone,” she says tetchily.

“If what, I start being your best friend now?” Marinette snaps, hunching her shoulders and looking away.

Chloe scoffs.  “No.  Have you forgotten?  I don’t like you.”

Marinette laughs self-deprecatingly.  “You must be pretty disappointed then, to find out that I’m the Miraculous Ladybug, hero of Paris.”

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Chloe says, “my…hero, has turned out to be someone who hates me.  Who wouldn’t be disappointed?”

Marinette whirls around to glare at her.  “Well maybe if you weren’t such an awful person I wouldn’t hate you!” she says furiously, then blinks.  Chloe looks like she’s been…crying?

“N-no,” Chloe hiccups, and sniffles slightly, “I’m not going to let it be like that.  I won’t let you tell me who to be just so you’ll like me.  I’m my own person, and you don’t understand anything, and if you don’t like who I am then that’s just how it is!”

“Look, it’s not my fault you’re an awful person!” Marinette shouts, “I refuse to be the bad guy here just because you’re spoiled and in denial!”

“You think I don’t know what kind of person I am!?” Chloe shrieks, “How low is your opinion of me?!”

They’re both breathing heavily.  Black mascara streaks are running down Chloe’s cheeks, and her hair is a mess.  Marinette refuses to feel bad.  She knows what kind of person Chloe is, and Marinette’s not the kind of person to change her mind.  “I’m just going to go,” Chloe says, heading for the door.

“What, so you can go tell everyone the truth about me?” says Marinette.

Chloe turns back, and Marinette’s heart stops beating.  Chloe is trembling, and her whole face is flushed with some emotion Marinette can’t identify.  She wipes at the streaks of mascara on her face, which…improves the state of things, at least.  She sneers.  “You don’t understand anything, Marinette Dupain-Cheng,” she says.

As Chloe walks away, Marinette sees her pull out her phone.  “Adrien,” she sobs, nearly out of earshot, “Can I come over?  I can’t—”

Marinette is so exhausted, she’s run out of emotional responses.  She just sits there quietly, ignoring Tikki’s concern, until she judges it to be safe to head down from the roof herself, walking home and collapsing into bed.

In the morning, she has a text message from Chloe.  You shouldn’t be ashamed of who you are.  It’s not like you’re me.  You’re both a superhero and a good person.  But I won’t tell anyone, I promise.

The message had been sent at 3:36 that morning.  Chat Noir seems to have understood Chloe better than she did.  What does that say? Marinette feels her heart ache despite herself.  

She’s not the kind of person to change her mind.

Maybe she should be.

Chapter Text

He really needs to learn when to quit. Whether it's dares, or contests, or unrequited love, he really needs to, like, immediately right now, learn when to quit.

It's blondes, he decides as he avoids paying attention to the teacher, that were the trouble. First of course was Rose, though he’d called her Raoul at the time. She’d always had the cutest smile and gentle voice and Kim had honestly been smitten with her since before they could read. When she’d politely told him that she was already seeing someone else he’d immediately backed off, and settled for pining from a distance and whining to Max a lot.

He’d been more optimistic about Adrien when he’d transferred into their class. He was kind, and a bit shy as well, but with a lame sense of humor and a surprising ability to stand his ground that was hard not to fall for. The fact that you could practically hear a choir of angels singing every time he smiled didn’t hurt either. But, of course, that hadn’t worked out either. The fact that there are pictures of his extremely kissable face literally everywhere is fine, no big deal, nothing to worry about.

In some sense, it was almost a relief that Chloe had just mercilessly shot him down instead of letting him down easy. Certainly it was the only time that the power of flight had resulted from a failed romance, at least in Kim’s experience. He still sometimes feels something tingling between his shoulderblades, and all his clothes feel so heavy. He’s started going on longer and longer runs, and on one particularly bad day he’d hiked up to the top of the Eiffel Tower via the stairs. Unfortunately, rather than help, he’d just felt more claustrophobic from the crowds pressing in around him than he did on the ground.

However, on his way back down he’d noticed Chat Noir perched on one of the many iron crossbeams, hidden from view except from the stairs. Kim had thought about saying something, but Chat Noir had looked like he was sleeping, and what do you even say to the being that could destroy anything and jump between buildings and was on the news and you’d maybe kind of taken control of once? Answer, you say nothing, and take a selfie with the superhero in the background to send to Alix.

Well, that and spend the whole night wide awake with thoughts of wanting to paint black lipstick on that mouth again, and smear it.

He really needs to learn when to quit.

Max had only glanced up from his phone for a moment to give him a shell-shocked puppy expression, before sighing and saying that, well, statistically, there was probably only a 37% chance that Chat Noir was dating Ladybug. So, technically, he was probably single. It would take a lot to make himself stand out, but hats off to Chloe, after the world-record shoot down she’d given him Kim felt like he could take on anything.

His thoughts are interrupted by the loud thwack of the teacher handing back his latest physics test. He winces, and glances over at Alix, who helpfully lifts her paper up a bit. He groans. As usual, she’d managed to score exactly 3% higher than him. Twice was a coincidence…thrice was an extremely unlikely coincidence. But nineteen times? Either there's foul play involved, or Alix is secretly Ladybug or something.

Curiously, he glances back at Alix, who's picking her nose. Yeah, not likely. Even putting aside the fact that Alix had been akumatized before, which kind of ruled her out.

Alix’s potentially supernatural abilities aside, Chat Noir definitely takes up most of his thinking time. Hell, if he could come up with a pun as clever as “Ladyblog” he might start a blog himself. He finds himself staying closer to the sites of akuma attacks then he really should be, and trying to follow after the hero after he’s saved the day. Finding him isn’t too difficult, but finding him alone is next to impossible. Still, Kim is determined, and has new running shoes with special insoles! He's good to go!

Sometimes he ends up in really random parts of town that he doesn't know very well. That probably isn’t good. The long walks home because he (as usual) has no money for the bus and he refuses to call someone are definitely not good. He really needs to learn when to quit.

One night, however, he finally gets his lucky break. After a particularly long and grueling akuma fight, Chat Noir’s escape from the scene is slow and sloppy, making him easy to follow. Alarmingly easy, Kim realizes, as the superhero seems to be barely making some of the jumps. Kim had almost completely caught up with him when Chat Noir fails to clear a jump, instead falling flat on his face in an alley.

Heart beating unbelievably fast, Kim races over to him as he tries to push himself up. “Don’t worry about me,” he says as Kim gets close, head swaying, “just taking a little catnap.” With that, he completely collapses on the ground, shimmering with green light. Several heart-stopping moments later, an unconscious Adrien Agreste is lying on the street just in front of Kim.

Kim has to stare for a good minute before he groans and shouts “SERIOUSLY?!?!” up at the sky and whatever sadistic higher power is up there watching him. After indulging in that moment of self-care, he looks at the boy sleeping before him and thinks that he probably shouldn’t just leave him lying there. Glancing around, Kim realizes that they're actually pretty close to his house, so without letting himself think about it too much he picks Adrien up and slings him over his shoulders, carrying him the short distance to where he lives.

Mom's working the night shift tonight, and evidently his little brothers have already left to go to their dad’s house. He was supposed to go too, but their dad isn’t his dad, and even though they’d lived together for about five years before Mom had divorced him he still can’t bring himself to feel anything more than neutral well-wishes towards the man. Probably for the best anyway, since otherwise Adrien would have been left alone lying in that alley for God knows how long.

Adrien is deposited gently on the saggy old couch, which despite its worn-out appearance is the more comfortable of the two in Kim’s living room. As he lies down on the couch, Adrien stretches out gently, a soft sigh escaping from his lips. Snap a picture and you’d have a magazine cover ready to go. Kim slaps himself in the face and goes to the kitchen.

It's at about this time that the delayed reaction sets in, and Kim starts freaking out. “OHMYGODCHATNOIRISADRIENWHATTHEHELL?!?!?!?” gushes out of his mouth, and he leanes against the kitchen door, breathing heavily and glancing nervously back at Adrien, still sleeping soundly on the couch.

“What now?”

After Kim has managed to restart his heart, he glances ahead in slow motion and sees Alix perched on the kitchen table, munching on some bread with jam. He blinks. “’sup?”

“I was hungry. There’s always food at your place.”

Kim rolls his eyes. “Oh, by all means, just let yourself in.”

Alix stuffs down the last of her bread and cocks her head. “More importantly, what was that you were saying about Chat Noir. And…” she trails off, looking over his shoulder, “Is that Adrien passed out on your couch? Did you kidnap him? Am I a witness? Bro, I knew you liked him, but you have really got to learn when to quit.”

“Alix! You know it isn’t like that!”

“Relax, relax,” Alix says, rolling her eyes and hopping off the table. She ducks around him and walks over to the couch, perching on one of the arm rests. “Man, so he’s like, Chat Noir? Did I hear you right?”

Kim walks over and very gingerly sits down on the other couch, his whole body coiled with tension. “Yeah, I guess so. Chat Noir’s costume disappeared and then there was Adrien. Why is this my life? How is this my life?”

Alix pokes Adrien’s butt with her foot. “Heh, I’ve touched Chat Noir’s butt. But sheesh, he’s really out cold, huh? Guess he’s sleeping here.” She digs through his pockets and pulls out a phone. “Don’t suppose you know his password, do you?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“He’s just going to have a lot of missed messages in the morning is all. You got Nino’s number?”

Kim shakes his head. Alix rolls her eyes. “What good are you then? I’ll text Nathanaël…maybe he does. He’ll at least have Marinette or Alya’s number, so they can tell Nino to tell Monsieur Agreste that Adrien isn’t dead.”

She gets up and heads for the door. Frantically, Kim reaches out after her. “Wait! Where are you going?”

She shrugs. “I’m peacing out. I had my snack…time to hit the road. Guess it’s just gonna be you and A-dri-en aaaaaaaaall night,” she adds with a grin.

“Alix, no, don’t leave me!”

“You behave yourselves now, don’t become part of the problem, Kim. Don’t let Adrien become a statistic!”

She's gone, and Kim whirls around to glare at Adrien. “This is your fault,” he tells Adrien’s long eyelashes.

They flutter softly with his breath, but otherwise provide no repartee. Feeling like he's going to spontaneously combust, he sits up ramrod-straight on the couch and decides that he won’t move until Adrien wakes up.

He opens his eyes and jolts awake, falling off the couch and getting tangled in the blanket that has somehow ended up on top of him. Nearly falling over several times, he scrambles to his feet and looks around, noticing first that Adrien is not on the couch, and second that Chat Noir is climbing out his window. He’s turned to look back, presumably at the noise Kim just made, his eyes glowing green in the dark.

Kim’s mouth goes dry. “A-Adrien,” he stutters, and Chat Noir shivers.

“Uh, no, sorry, that’s not me,” Chat Noir lies poorly, “Adrien left a while ago. Now it’s just me, Chat Noir.”

Kim walks over to the window and meets Chat Noir’s eyes. “Adrien,” he says more confidently.

Green eyes shimmer, and Chat Noir sniffles slightly. “What?” he asks, sounding like he's about to cry.

I want to kiss you. I want to hold your hand. I want to punch something for you. I miss flying. “Uh, Alix knows too.”

Chat Noir stares at him for a moment, then collapses on the windowsill. “Seriously? Anyone else?” His eyes widene. “You didn’t tell my father did you?!”

“What? No! I would never tell anyone! I mean, I told Alix kind of, but that was an accident and I didn’t exactly tell her she just…ugh,” he groans, covering his face, “I’m worse at this than at Physics.”

Chat Noir blinks, then smiles nervously. “That depends…how’d you do on your last Physics test?”

“Worse than Alix.”

Chat Noir curls his hand over his mouth and smiles despite himself. “Well, then, in that case, no, you’re not worse at this than Physics.”

Kim reaches forward and hesitantly shoves him. “Wipe that smug look off your face, I’d like to see you beat me in a race. Whileyou’renotwearingthesuit,” he adds hurriedly, and Chat Noir laughs.

A blink, and the faint sound of a tinkling bell later, and suddenly Chat Noir iss sitting on Kim’s shoulder, smirking. “Then what should I wear?”

Kim swallows. “A pink frilly dress, obviously,” he sputters, fighting the urge to look away and hide his face.

A strange look flickers across Adrien’s face. “I’d take you up on that,” he says quietly, “but another time! The level of my cathletic abilities will have to wait, as I must away to home before my father deploys all of Paris’s police.” He looks away, then hopefully looks back at Kim, smiling and leaning in slightly. “Rain check?”

Kim’s heart stutters. “Sure.”

“Clawesome. And, um, seriously, don’t tell anyone else. I’d…better go talk to Alix about this too…”

“Alix once kept it a secret from me that she’d stolen my favorite tshirt and was wearing it everyday,” Kim says flatly, “For a month.”

Chat Noir blinks. “How?

“A terrifying poker face.”

Chat Noir cocks his head. “Well, alright…I mean, I should definitely still talk to her about it, but maybe I feel a bit better. Um, oh, uh, thanks for giving me a place to sleep for a few hours,” he adds with a smile, “see you around.”

With that, he gracefully leaps off of Kim’s shoulder and out the window, quickly fading into the night. Kim watches him go and tries to make his heart stop beating so fast. Then he rubs his face, and goes to text Max. Another potential romance completely down the drain.

He gently touches his shoulder. It's still warm.

He runs to the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face. He really needs to know when to quit.

Max tells him to just come over the next time he gets rejected. Kim indignantly texts back that he hasn’t been rejected. Max tells him it's all the same, and that he might want to consider trying someone that isn’t blonde. As just a friendly, nonspecific suggestion.