Actions

Work Header

Is This How You Feel

Chapter Text

Bright lights, feel alright
I’m gonna see her again tonight.
And now you’ve got me started
I’m gonna shake it right tonight.

- The Preatures, "Is This How You Feel?"

oOo

 

“Oh, God,” Alya whispered. “Marinette, look at the time.”

Alya held out her phone to her friend, the time on it undeniably reading 10 pm.

“We've been here for five hours?” Marinette whispered back in disbelief. They had been cooped up in the library since school had let out, preparing for three different tests they had the next day. However, between gossiping, stalking social media, and making a long SnapChat story to prove that they were studying, the time had gotten away from them.

Marinette groaned. For once, she didn't have a curfew – her parents were gone at a culinary convention, and would not be back until the weekend was up. Still, she didn't especially enjoy the idea of leaving her friend and returning to a quiet empty house – nor did she enjoy the idea of admitting that she could study no longer and would have to accept that the knowledge she had then was all she was going to have come test time.

“Come on, girl,” Alya said, starting to pack up their notes and books. “We couldn't stay any longer if we wanted to. They close at 11, but really try to get people packed up and out by 10:45.”

Marinette sighed in agreement, putting her own things away and trying not to bother the napping Tikki in her bag. She was at least thankful there had been no akuma attacks that day. Marinette couldn't remember the last time she had had a full, uninterrupted day to do anything productive, let alone study. She desperately needed it as well – not that her grades suffered horribly since becoming Ladybug, but it certainly made things tight. Plus, Tikki deserved a rest anyway.

“Do you need a ride home?” Alya asked once they were outside.

“Oh, I don't want to inconvenience you. I'll be fine! I live in the opposite direction anyway,” Marinette replied.

“You sure? It's really dark already. I don't want anything to happen to you...you know what kind of weirdos lurk around at night in the city.”

“I know, but I'll be fine! My house isn't that far away, and besides – if I get into trouble, we have heroes. Ladybug will show up to punch out all the creepers.”

Alya appeared slightly more convinced at the mention of Ladybug, but was still apprehensive. “It's really no trouble to have my mom swing by your place, really...”

“Alya. I'll be fine. Trust me,” Marinette said with a smile, squeezing her friend's shoulder.

“Mm, fine...if you insist. But you'd better text me when you get home. Promise?”

“Promise,” Marinette agreed with a smile, hooking pinkies with Alya as her mother pulled up to the library with a honk.

Text me,” Alya reiterated, getting in her car.

I will, I promise!” Marinette giggled, glad anyway that her friend cared enough about her safety to try to give her a ride. She waited until the car turned onto an unseen street before sneaking into the nearest alley. She hadn't lied when she said that Ladybug would protect her and punch out all the creepers. And she was very aware of the sketchy people that hid around the city at night, just waiting to prey on vulnerable young girls. So there was no harm in getting home as Ladybug, she decided. A quick trip home would not be enough to overexert Tikki, and swinging across rooftops made the trip so much faster.

“Tikki, are you up to transforming?” she whispered into her bag, waking the kwami from her sleep.

“Do we have to fight?” she mumbled sleepily.

“No, I just need to get home safe and sound.”

Tikki nodded and shook herself awake, transforming Marinette just after she double checked to make sure no overly curious civilians were passing by her particular alley.

She swung herself onto a nearby rooftop, appreciating the cool breeze in her hair. It was lovely night, despite the fact that the winter seemed to be lasting long into the spring time. Though her suit let no skin show, it was not exactly the warmest of outfits – this, she blamed on her disposition as a bug – but tonight, for once, the crisp fresh air was welcome after having spent so many hours in the musty library.

Therefore, she elected to take a longer, more scenic route home. She was fast enough with her yo-yo that Alya wouldn't get suspicious over her taking too long – she hoped. It would be easy to text her before she actually did make it, but her suit restricted her access to her civilian phone. That, and she already felt so guilty keeping her biggest secret from her best friend that she had resigned to never lie to her about anything ever again. If she were to text to say she made it home before she had made it, especially when Alya actually cared, Marinette would probably end up hating herself for weeks after.

In the near distance, she saw a large, familiar house – if house was even an appropriate word. Really, it was nothing short of a mansion. A mansion that she had found herself walking by time and time again, staring at and longing at, particularly in the evenings when the lights were on in the hundreds of windows, and she stood before it on night patrols, trying to determine which room he was in.

But now, she knew which room was his. She had been in it herself when Jackady's haphazard army was after Gabriel. And she had not been by the Agreste mansion at night since then. Surely it wouldn't hurt to go by, just for a moment. Just to see if the lights were on, and then she would go home.

She found a place on the tall fence to perch, and there is was, where it has always been. It was different know that she knew which window was the correct one. Before, it had just been speculation, but now...she had confirmation. That one, there, on the corner, was Adrien's room. And his lights were on. And though she couldn't see him, she was comforted with with feeling that she didn't have to share this moment with anyone. There was no Alya nudging at her ribs. There was no Chloe glaring her down, or getting in her line of sight. There was no akuma demanding her attention. It was just her and the window. Adrien's window.

And damn it all if the little light from that window wasn't like a lighthouse, beckoning her closer, because she had made it from the ground to her spot on the fence in an instant. And still, it wasn't close enough.

Could I make it to his trellis? His window ledge, even? Without him noticing? she wondered to herself. She had traumatic flashbacks to Twilight, and Edward watching Bella sleep. This wasn't like that, right? Surely he would at least be awake. His light was on after all. Maybe it would be more like Romeo and Juliet, and all tragedy and stupidity aside, that seemed so much more accurate. But soft – what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Adrien is the sun.

Yes, that was better. And he would come out and declare his love and they would plan their marriage before his nursemaid called him away. Perfect.

Or maybe she could be like Peter Pan, stealing Wendy away in the night. Because there was no way that could go wrong, either. At the very least, she might be able to teach him to fly, and yo-yo him up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. If she could even speak in the first place. At least her mask provided her with some confidence.

At some point during the midst of her internal monologue (somewhere between reciting Romeo's speech at the balcony and fancying herself as Peter Pan), Marinette found that she had worked her way to the platform outside Adrien's window. It was small, not quite worthy of being called a balcony, but large enough for her to stand on, and stay just out of the way of the window, which she now noticed was open just a crack.

And there he was, framed conveniently in view. Her breath caught in her throat. She definitely had not planned for this, and in her mind, she had been much more sure of herself. But here he was in person, and despite her suit boosting her confidence, she was still Marinette, and she still had strong feelings for the boy in the window, and he was going to be breathtaking to her whether she was wearing a mask or not. He was awake, as she had expected he would be, engrossed in a book on his sofa, with a large board of various cheeses at his coffee table.

How refined, she thought to herself. It figured that this was how he would spend his nights. Even in a room full of everything a teenage boy could possible dream of, he elected to enjoy a quiet night with book and a fancy snack – even if it was a lot of cheese for just one person. I wonder if he would enjoy Papa's cheese tarts? I should bring him some sometime.

The same spell that enticed her before, causing her to end up from the street to the window without a second thought, had taken hold again. She had started to lean against the windows edge to watch him, somehow unable to keep herself from trying to get even closer, but when Adrien shifted slightly to adjust a pillow, she jumped, worried that he was about to look her way, and realizing that she would have been perfectly in his line of sight. He didn't look up, but jumping caused her lose her balance and fall over, bringing a potted plant down with her. The terracotta shattered immediately, and if he had not heard the impact of her body, he definitely heard the break of the pot – especially on account of the window being open just the slightest bit.

Wonderful to know I'm just as much a mess around him in my suit as I am otherwise, Marinette groaned in her head.

Damn cats again,” she heard him mutter as his head shot up, but he froze when he saw her, still in an awkward pile on the ground.

Her teeth clenched. She had been caught, and there was no way to pretend that she wasn't sitting directly outside his window. What was she meant to do in this situation? Stand and swing away without a word? Greet him politely? Ask for his hand in marriage? That's what Romeo did. No, stop taking romance tips from Romeo. That's what got you into this mess.

Naturally, she did nothing but remain on the ground, eyes fixed on Adrien's as he walked over to the window. His face was entirely red and his eyes were wide, swimming with a mixture of emotion – fear, surprise, disbelief. Was he angry as well? How did a regular civilian act when a famous hero literally fell on their balcony in the dead of night without a warning? But then, Adrien wasn't a regular civilian. How would she feel if Chat were to land on her own balcony at night with no warning? She would scream most likely, she decided. But then, she couldn't count herself as regular either, seeing as she already had a relationship with Chat. Adrien didn't scream, so at least he was better than her in that regard.

He opened the window wide and his curtains blew out in a light gust.

“L-Ladybug?” he whispered, sounding frantic and concerned. “What are you doing here? Are you okay, what happened? Is there danger?” He stuck his head far out the window, eyes wide, looking for the non-existent akuma. His hands were shaking slightly, she noticed, still gripping the window sill tight.

Right, if I'm out as Ladybug, of course he would assume there's danger.

“No,” she answered, almost surprised at how quickly she was able to find her own voice. She blushed softly at her own confidence but rode on the adrenaline. She decided to tell as much of the truth as she could without revealing her deplorable creepiness. After all, she had already stolen his phone to almost detrimental results. How much worse of a stalker could she be? “I was just...getting home. It's kind of nice to be able to get home as Ladybug...no one will bother me. I am, after all, just a girl under this suit...and I...got distracted, and missed a ledge, and fell. Lucky there was a platform here.” She prayed with her entire being that he wouldn't see through what a ridiculous explanation that was.

Oh my God, y-you fell, how rude of me,” he spluttered. It was strange to see him this flustered. It wasn't a side of him she was commonly faced with, but it was comfortingly familiar. He held a hand out to her with a soft smile. It was the same image she had that day he held the umbrella out to her, and it was an image she had strived to see again every day since. In some ways, it seemed unfair that it was Ladybug that had drawn it out of him again, since she could hardly look him in the face unsuited. Still, it was heart stopping, and she took the hand gratefully. He pulled her to her feet and into the room with ease, as the window was much more like a French door.

“Mm, ouch,” she grunted, stumbling to her feet. She had fallen a little harder than she realized in the commotion of Adrien noticing her. Nothing was broken, but it hurt enough that she could focus on the pain of the fall despite standing in Adrien Agreste's room.

“Are you alright?” Adrien asked politely. The urgency and fear in his voice had died away, especially upon realizing there was no real danger, but he did seem a bit nervous still, his hands continuing to tremble slightly.

“I'm – yes, I think so, but that's going to be a nasty bruise,” she replied, rubbing at her thigh.

“Can I get you anything?” he offered. “Water? I have a stocked mini fridge.” He didn't acknowledge the cheese, she noticed, not that she wanted any in particular. She figured he liked it too much to give any of it away.

“Um...actually, that would be nice, thank you,” she agreed, noticing that she had gotten thirsty between studying and swinging around. She followed him to the fridge, and considering the size of his room, they actually had to walk quite a way from the window.

The fridge was by his computer, which she remembered seeing before displaying the picture of his mother, the last time she had been in his room. At that point though, they were both too busy and had too much on their mind to really speak.

She nearly finished the entire water bottle in one go, making a mental note that she needed to hydrate herself more and not wait to drink anything until Adrien himself handed her a bottle of what she realized was a rather pricey artisan bottle of water.

“Well, I'm glad you accepted my offer,” Adrien said. “Looks like you really needed it.”

She blushed, wondering if it had been rude to be so gluttonous. “I just get really busy and so caught up in things that I forget to take care of basic human needs. Like hydration.”

“I know the feeling,” he replied, looking down seriously at the floor. “Between photoshoots, and Chinese, and fencing, and actually attending school in person now, and...” he paused wincing slightly, as though catching himself from saying too much. “And...everything else, it's like I forget to be human sometimes.”

Ladybug nodded, trying to put together in her head just how busy he was. She knew, of course. She had memorized his schedule after all. But she often forget that he was just a teenager, too, and she wondered how many people in Paris saw Ladybug the same way. She was, after all, just as much a celebrity in this skin as Adrien was. She wondered offhandedly about Chat Noir as well. Her partner had to have been around their age, and he was in a similar boat. She realized that she rarely thought about her partner under the suit, though she knew he was just as human as she and Adrien were.

“I-I'm sorry, I'm talking about myself to much,” Adrien said. Had she been silent for too long. “I didn't mean to belittle your own experiences.”

No, please, tell me more about yourself, Marinette wanted to say. Tell me about every part of your day, and your fears, and wishes, and your favorite brand of underwear.

“It's alright,” she said instead. “It's nice to have someone that can relate. It's hard to find people who will talk to you as yourself and not a celebrity.” She did, of course, have this, but it wasn't like she could complain to anyone as her other half about how much responsibility she had. Adrien looked up and gave her a sympathetic smile, but she could tell he understood entirely.

“You really do look like her, you know,” Ladybug said.

His eyebrows furrowed. “I'm sorry?”

“Your mother? Do you remember when I was here last time? I saw her picture. You really do have her smile.”

He smiled wider. “Nah...I mean, genetically, maybe. I don't do it justice, though. On me, it's just a smile. On her...when she smiled, it was like a second sun. It was warm. It made everything bad melt away. It was the most comforting thing in the world.” His voice got sad as he trailed off, and she wondered what exactly had happened to his mother. She decided it was was best not to ask as he started to speak again. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course,” Ladybug replied. Anything.

He got closer to her. Not by much, but enough that it was noticeable and Marinette could feel goosebumps forming under the fabric of her suit.

“I was serious when I said that you had her smile last time. You have that same warmth. I remember the first time I saw you smile and I thought...well, it made me think of her.”

She wondered if he saw that smile in Marinette, too, but then, she couldn't recall when she might have had the courage to smile at him like that without her mask on. She made a mental note to test it out, just under the note to drink more water.

“She was beautiful,” Ladybug said softly, unsure of what else to say. It was true though, she was. And it was no wonder Adrien looked the way he did. Smile or not, she couldn't imagine living up to her likeness.

“So are you,” Adrien said without missing a beat, though he blushed deeply as though surprised by his own words. His hand reached out to brush a strand of hair away that had fallen into her eyes, and though he pulled it back quickly, possibly afraid that he had been too forward, Marinette didn't flinch away. Her heart did, however, feel stopped in her throat, and she had to urgently remind herself to smile to let him know what he hadn't crossed any lines.

He reached past her to wiggle the mouse on his computer and wake it up, presumably to display the picture of his mother again and release the tension, but the computer woke up to the Ladyblog instead, apparently having been the last page he had visited and forgotten to close out of.

“You're a fan, I see?” she commented, feeling instantly flattered. Of course, most Parisians kept up with the Ladyblog as it was just as good a news source regarding the goings-on in the city as it was a fansite. Adrien, however, flushed deeply as though it had been porn that was left on his computer.

“Uh, yeah, I mean, isn't everyone? H-how else do you think I know your smile so well?”

Smooth, she noted, though it was an odd thing to become flustered over. Not that she was one to talk.

“I've met to girl who runs it, actually,” she said, in an attempt to ease him. “She's quite nice and fun to be around. I hope I get the chance to become better acquainted with her, but there never seems to be enough time. Do you know her?”

“I do, actually,” Adrien responded, raising his eyebrows. “She sits behind me in school.”

“Maybe you should talk to her. If you're a fan of Ladybug, who better to talk to then the girl who runs the Ladyblog?”

“Well...I could talk to Ladybug, herself,” Adrien said with a cool smirk.

“I- Yes, I suppose you could,” Ladybug replied, flustered. She had almost forgotten her own identity. Damn, that one was really smooth.

After all, she had only been trying to talk up Alya so that Adrien might talk to her more, and by association, talk to Marinette more. Despite the fact that she was standing in the middle of his room, it didn't seem to count for much if he didn't really know her as anything other than a hero. Besides, Alya deserved the publicity anyway, and there were few fans as powerful as an Agreste. Alya deserved such a follower just for being as good and devoted a friend (and fan) she was.

Alya.

Alya.

Holy shit, I forgot to text Alya.

“Oh my God,” she proclaimed out loud at her sudden realization.

“What's the matter? Are you alright?” Adrien asked. His eyes darted to her earrings, though they hadn't started beeping yet, thanks to hardly having exerted herself. It was funny that he seemed to know that they were an indication of her de-transformation. Maybe the blog had run a piece on her earrings before that she had missed.

“I – Yeah, I'm fine, but I had been studying for these tests I have tomorrow with a friend, you know, civilian life and all, which is what I had been doing before I transformed to walk home, and I had promised her I would text her when I got home safe, and I don't even live too far from where I was studying, and she doesn't know I'm Ladybug, and then I got distracted when I fell, and oh my God, she's going to be worried sick, she probably hates me or thinks I'm dead in a ditch somewhere, or -”

Adrien grabbed her hand suddenly and squeezed to stop her from rambling. “Hey. It's okay. I understand. I've forgotten the same thing countless times, and no one has threatened to kill me yet. I'm sure you'll think of something to tell her, and she'll forgive you.”

Ladybug blinked a few times, trying to simultaneously register what he was saying to her, and the fact that he was still holding her hand.

“You're right,” she said softly. “God, she's so patient. She puts up with a lot from me, considering she doesn't know my secret. A lot of people do, actually...alright. I'd better go then. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” he said, offering that sweet, soft smile again, releasing her hand. “And, uh, good luck with those tests, too. I have a few tomorrow as well.”

Shit, had she mentioned those in her rambling? She hadn't meant to get so specific. She hoped it wasn't too revealing.

She nodded once, not trusting herself to open her mouth again, and turned to leave out the window.

“Uh, Ladybug?”

She turned her head instantly at the same time as he grabbed her hand again to stop her.

“Mhm?” she said softly as he drew back closer to her.

“Will you...visit me again?” he asked, which took her by surprise.

“Oh! Um, yes, of course. If you'd like for me too.”

“I'd love for you to,” he replied, and kissed her on the cheek before she realized what was happening. She had to restrain herself from shaking out of her skin. It was too quick and too chaste to register what Adrien's lips felt like on her skin, but that didn't change the fact that Adrien's lips had touched her skin.

“You'd better go,” he said quietly, his cheeks pink. She nodded at him and ran out the window quickly before she could taint the moment.

It didn't take her too long to make it home, now that she was in a hurry, and she de-transformed once she was safe on her own balcony. She was grateful that her parents weren't home, because she could have done without them scolding her as well for coming home too late.

She whipped out her phone immediately to see seventeen texts from Alya.

Oh God oh God oh God.

It was worse than seeing seventeen missed calls from her mother.

They started out politely, asking her if she made it, turning into just her name a few times, then her name in all caps, to finally:

From: Alya

GIRL YOU BETTER HAVE A DAMN GOOD EXCUSE BECAUSE I AM NOT DIGGING YOU OUT OF A DITCH SOMEWHERE

Well, it is a good excuse, kind of, if I could even tell you.

She tapped out a response as quick as possible, hoping to buy herself time to think of something better to say until the next day. At the very least, Alya would know she safe.

To: Alya

I AM SO SO SO SOSOSOO SORRY PLEASE DONT HATE ME

To: Alya

I got distracted, explain tomorrow, and then I fell, and it was a mess, and then I got home as fast as I could, and then fell asleep a little, and then woke up and remembered I forgot to text, I am so soso sorry

She stared at the screen, waiting anxiously for a reply.

From: Alya

...ok

From: Alya

but w/e distracted u had better be the best thing in the world i stg

He is, she said convincingly to herself as she fell asleep for real, not bothering to change into pajamas or think of a way to explain to Alya the next day that she managed to fall and run into Adrien on the way home at 11 pm.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I found the cure to growing older
And you're the only place that feels like home
Just so you know, you'll never know
Some secrets weren't meant to be told

I Slept With Someone In Fall Out Boy...,Fall Out Boy

oOo

So?” Alya whispered to Marinette in class the next morning. “What's your excuse this time? It had better be good.”

“It is, I promise,” Marinette whispered back, having decided to tell her friend as much of the truth as was safe. “I just...can't tell you yet.”

“What do you mean you can't tell me yet? Don't you owe me by this point?”

“I do, but...I can't tell you yet,” Marinette emphasized, flicking her eyes to Adrien, hoping Alya would catch on that she couldn't say anything within earshot of him.

Girls, please,” Mme. Bustier interrupted. “I cannot give out the tests if you're still talking.”

They were hushed immediately but Alya gave Marinette a thumbs up to indicate that she understood.

Their tests were all finished before their lunch period, and Marinette felt in somewhat high spirits, confident that she had at least gotten passing grades. She had tried spying on Adrien in an attempt to see if his behavior was any different, having just been visited by a heroine the night before, but since he was just as concentrated on his  own tests, and her only view of him was from behind, she was unable to get any sort of read on his thoughts.

“Alright, out with it!” Alya urged as she and Marinette sat down for lunch.

She took a deep breath, having rehearsed the story the night before. She decided that the only lie she would ever tell Alya would be in regards to her identity as Ladybug, so as long as she avoided that part of her story, she wouldn't necessarily be breaking any rules.

“Well, I decided to take the scenic route, even though it's longer, because it's better lit,” she said, which was entirely true.

“Not to mention Adrien's mansion is in that direction,” Alya commented.

Exactly, so I went by, just for a peek, and I fell down while I was around there. And who reached out to help me up, but Adrien. I guess that figures, since he lives there, but how convenient is that?”

Alya's eyes widened. “Oh, Adrien is a very good excuse. But why was he outside that late?”

Marinette shrugged. Non-committal answers were another good way to go.

“Well, whatever. So what happened then?” Alya asked, seeming to have forgotten that she was upset with her friend in the first place.

“Well...we talked a little, I guess,” Marinette replied. She decided to casually leave out the part about his mother. She felt that it was too personal. And how would it sound if she were to say that he thought she had her smile? How would she explain how that topic even came up?

“He's a big fan of Ladybug,” she decided to say instead. “He must have been out looking for her, maybe to spot her on night patrol...like you do sometimes.”

“Oh, that's so cool,” Alya squealed. “I wonder if he's ever gotten any good shots of her. Do you think he'd let me use them? Nino told me he was kind of obsessed with her, but I don't know, I guess I didn't realize how much! I guess I couldn't peg him as a super fan, but Nino tried to convince me he talks about her, like, all the time!”

“R-really?” Marinette asked.

“Yeah! Must be what it's like to be friends with me, having to hear your friend ramble about Ladybug all day...but you don't mind it, do you? And we get along just fine. Maybe that means you'd get along fine with Adrien, too! You already know how to listen to someone ramble on an on about Ladybug.”

Well, Marinette thought, It's pretty easy to listen to someone sing your praises endlessly.

“Hey! Maybe you should cosplay Ladybug and post pictures! I bet Adrien would be all over that! I'd even SnapChat them for you.”

“Th-that's okay,” Marinette insisted. “I'm not sure I could pull off that tight fabric.”

“Girl, please, I have seen you in a bikini. You're like, lowkey ripped. Never would have guessed. It's kind of impressive, actually. If you can't pull it off, no one can!”

She blushed in response, not ready to face the outcome of that scenario.

“Anyway,” Marinette said, “I was actually thinking of just...going over more often, you know? Like...casually. In the evenings, to see if he's still out. Maybe we can bond over bug watching.”

“It's not a bad idea,” Alya agreed. “But you think you can do that? Alone with him at night? Maybe you've done it once before, but that's only because you fell. Can you keep your composure?”

Oh, I fell all right, Marinette thought to herself before replying. “I mean...I have to try, right? If I want to be with him, I have to at least be able to talk to him. Might as well practice, and what better way than when we're on our own and bonding over Ladybug? I was actually thinking of bringing him some pastries this weekend.”

“You're so right. Good on you, girl! Sounds like one of the best plans you've had yet. Tell me how it goes though, and this time, text me.

Marinette giggled. “I will, I swear.”

She saw Adrien across the courtyard, animatedly describing something to Nino. Maybe he was describing his night. Maybe he was describing having run into Ladybug. After all, it wasn't like he had anything to hide from his friend.

Her heart dropped lightly. She was serious about going to Adrien's again to talk to him and, technically, bond over Ladybug – especially since he had asked. But it wasn't exactly preparing Marinette for anything. She couldn't imagine that her confidence as Ladybug would transfer well over to her alter ego. She had been able to look into Adrien's eyes without turning into a stammering idiot, which was incredible progress, but she could only imagine that as Marinette, she would feel so bad about her deception, having heard about his thoughts and feelings and emotions without him realizing it was her that he had been talking to, that she would stutter for a whole different set of reasons.

She sighed deeply when the bell rang, signaling for them to head to their afternoon classes. She was not going to be able to stay away from Adrien's room, but she hoped that her progress with him as Ladybug wouldn't completely sabotage her progress with him as herself.

oOo

Home was strange without her parents there. They had never left her alone for a full weekend before and struggled with what to do with the bakery, eventually deciding that they would just have to close it for the weekend. They didn't have any employees outside of the family, and Marinette only knew how to use the cash register and make simple pastries - and of course, couldn't do everything at the same time.

Luckily for her, this meant that whatever leftover stock her father had left in the bakery was up for grabs, as it wouldn't be fresh enough to be sold upon their return. She went in, hoping for cheese tarts and danishes, and tucked all she found away in a bag.

“Marinette, what are you doing?” Tikki asked, poking her head out of bag she'd been nestled in. “Stocking up for hibernation?”

“No,” Marinette giggled in reply. “I'm going to go see Adrien again tonight. I noticed that he had a lot of cheese in his room, so I thought he might like this.”

Tikki fell bag into the bag in a fit of giggles. “He might.”

Marinette cocked an eyebrow at the suddenly hysterical kwami, chocking up her oddly timed laughter to species difference. She wanted desperately to heat up the tarts and bring them to Adrien's window right away, but besides feeling that it would be too eager, she knew he wouldn't be there – he was occupied with lessons until seven at the latest on Fridays.

She took the pastries up to her room and fell onto her bed. Thanks to their tests, they only had about half the homework as usual, and with her parents gone, she had nothing to do downstairs. She almost wished for an akuma attack. Generally, she was grateful when she was given a reprieve from her duties, but now, she would have welcomed a means to kill time. At a time like this, she might have searched for a cat to retrieve from a tree, or help people cross the street, but she also didn't want to risk running out of time in her suit at night.

“You don't mind, do you, Tikki?” Marinette asked the kwami. “You wouldn't rather rest?”

“I don't mind at all,” Tikki replied. “It's not like you did much to exert yourself last night. And Adrien is...nice.”

“Nice?” Marinette replied. It seemed as though Tikki has wanted to use a different word instead.

“It's nice to be able to see you talk to him...like this.”

“You don't think it's a bad idea?”

Tikki perched herself on Marinette's hand. “I don't think it's a bad idea. It makes me happy. Especially if it makes you happy. And I think it's helping you to have more confidence. Do you agree?”

“I do, and I think if I practice talking to Adrien as Ladybug more, I might be able talk to him better as Marinette...especially if I just imagine wearing a mask. And it does make me happy. But...,”

“But you have to be careful,” Tikki finished. Marinette nodded.

“I have to be careful that I don't ruin my chances as Marinette. Because I can't just waltz into his room and suddenly announce who I am. I think that might set me back in both cases. And maybe he's talking to me because he doesn't know who I am.”

“I agree that it wouldn't be wise to expose yourself. I think if he's meant to figure it out, he will in due time.”

Marinette nodded. “I also have to be careful of what I say though. Because to me, I'm always Marinette. At least in my mind. But Adrien will always think he's talking to two different people. I can't mention anything I learn about him as Ladybug while we're in class, but I also can't mention anything to him as Ladybug that I know about his daytime life.”

“I didn't think about that,” Tikki admitted. “I will say you're doing better, but you do still get tongue-tied around him pretty easily.”

“Too bad you can't keep me in check when I'm in the suit,” Marinette sighed.

“I can, if you'd really like me to. I can make your earrings start beeping if you need a getaway. It happens involuntarily if I'm exhausted, but I can do it on my own just as easily.”

“Then please do. If I'm starting to say or do anything dangerous, just get me out of there.”

Tikki nodded happily, sounding especially proud to be able to assist, though really, Marinette knew she couldn't have ever gone to Adrien's room in the first place without Tikki. As she pulled out her sketchbook to kill time, she tried reminding herself that ending up in his room had not been her intention, let alone ending up there without being reprimanded for being on his balcony in the first place. She knew she was a lucky bug, but she made a mental note not to push her luck too far. After all, where she had been the night before had already been beyond her wildest dreams.

oOo

“You really think she's coming back tonight?” Plagg asked Adrien as he watched the boy dusting his already spotless room.

“I know she's coming back tonight.”

“How's that?” the kwami asked, moving around to choose a perfect piece of cheese from his plate. He did everything in his power to pretend that he didn't actually care, but really, this was a rather interesting development, and definitely not one he had seen coming. Not for the first time, he silently wished that he had a way to contact Tikki and see what was going on in her girl's mind.

“I just know, okay?”

“Oh, right, it's that mad love instinct or something like that.”

Hush,” Adrien said, but Plagg could see him smiling softly to himself. “I asked her to come, and she said she would. Have you ever known her to go back on her word?”

“Well, she can be kind of flaky,” Plagg admitted.

“I'm sure it's not her fault, though. She's not the only one with two identities. You know how it is for us. But do you think she'd actually tell me she was coming back and then never do it? She's not cruel.”

“No, she isn't. But you only know her as Chat. She doesn't really owe anything to Adrien.”

Adrien sighed. “You're right. She doesn't. Really, she doesn't owe anything to Chat either. She's just a good person. But would she have come at all in the first place if I was just Chat?”

Plagg winced and groaned. “Kid, there is no such thing as just Chat. There's an Adrien and there's a Chat, and they are the same, though they have their differences. But they are equal and they are great, and there is no just about it.”

Adrien looked at the kwami with raised eyebrows. “That was...uncharacteristically nice of you, Plagg.”

Plagg closed his eyes and shrugged. “Well, an insult to Chat is just as much an insult to me as it is to you. Plus, you may not realize this but I also had a hand in choosing you, too. You think I was just going to let myself get stuck with any lame old kid? Of course not. And if I say you're good, you're good. Adrien or Chat.”

Adrien smiled and would have replied if it weren't for a loud noise outside his window.

“Is it her?” Plagg asked, ready to take his cheese and bolt. “Did she fall again? That was loud. Not as graceful as she makes herself seem, is she?”

“No, it isn't her,” Adrien replied, though the disappointment in his voice indicated that he had thought it was her at first as well. “It's the damn cats again.”

He opened and peered out his window, and sure enough, there were three cats on his balcony, staring up at him and mewling to be cared for. And there sat the second broken planter in two nights. Ever since he had become Chat, cats seemed to be drawn both to him and his room, and despite living on the second floor of his opulent home, the cats always managed to make their way to the window somehow, breaking things in the process. The vase that Ladybug had broken had definitely not been the first, nor would it be the last. He did, however, prefer her on his balcony as opposed to a ton of strays, flattering as it was to be the Chosen One of so many felines.

He leaned to pet them each on the head, regretting that he didn't have any food to give them, but they seemed to be glad just to be in his company. He had never been around them as Chat Noir before and wondered how it would be different. He allowed the cats to circle him and rub against him to mark them. In some ways he felt like their king, and would appreciate them so much more if they didn't bother him at his widow and destroy his vases.

“Got a few friends?”

Adrien jumped, startling the cats, and turned to see Ladybug behind him.

“You came,” he smiled when he realized it was her.

“Of course I did. You asked me to, didn't you? I didn't mean to scare you.”

He rubbed his neck bashfully. “I mean...I just wasn't sure if you were just...being nice. I didn't know if you would actually want to come back again.”

“That's silly,” Ladybug said. “I don't say things I don't mean.”

“You don't have a friend you urgently need to text this time, do you?”

Ladybug giggled at the sincerity of his question. “No, I don't. Free to have a friendly chat. I brought you something, by the way.”

She handed him a large Tupperware box filled with various cheese tarts and danishes.

“I saw your cheese plate the other night and thought you'd like this. I...know a good baker. Oh! You have another plate. You really like that stuff, don't you?”

Adrien looked at pastries and laughed softly to himself. “I keep cheese in here for...aesthetic, I guess. I do love danishes though, thank you.”

Ladybug wrinkled her brow, wondering why everyone was having such a funny reaction to the cheese, but as long as Adrien liked the pastries, she was happy. If he liked them enough, it would lead him to to the Dupain-Cheng bakery and give her opportunities to talk to Adrien in person more. By that point, she hoped that she would be comfortable enough to talk to him as her unmasked self.

“Um, what about the container?” Adrien asked with genuine concern. “How should I return it to you?”

“Oh, don't worry about it! Keep it for all I care. I have plenty.”

“I can return it to you next week,” Adrien suggested.

“N-ext week? Where? When? You're so confident that I'll come back?”

Damn,” Adrien muttered. “Nah, I was just hoping that maybe if we knew each other as civilians, like from school or work, you'd slip up and agree to accept it then.”

“Ah, well, you won't get my secret from me that easily,” Ladybug said. “Maybe. Someday. But not now. If that's okay with you.”

“Of course it's okay,” Adrien said, somewhat relieved that his lady was at least consistent with the subject of her identity. It would have been something of a stab to find out that she only hid herself so intensely from Chat. Besides that, as her partner, he knew how it was to have a secret identity to conceal and actually would have been rather surprised and concerned if she were to give hers up so easily, even if it was to him.

Not to say that he was giving up entirely.

“How about this: If – no, when, I find out who you are, that's when I'll return the container. In broad daylight. To the girl under the mask. Deal?”

She studied his face carefully, feeling her cheeks heat up.

“...Okay. Deal. You're that confident though? What makes you think you even know my alter ego?”

He shrugged. “I'm not sure. But I feel like if you knew I didn't know you, you wouldn't have been so quick to make the deal. I feel as though you're too nice for that and you would have just told me that I didn't have a chance in hell of figuring it out. The fact that you're open to the challenge means that I must at least have a chance of succeeding.”

“Touché,” agreed Ladybug softly.

“So are you admitting it then? Have I seen you before? Under the mask?”

“I'll say this much – my lowly civilian self has definitely seen you in broad daylight. Whether or not you've ever really seen her is a different question entirely.”

“You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?”

“Of course not,” Ladybug smiled. At the very least, Adrien felt some sense of comfort. At least she didn't say that she didn't want him to find out at all. So she made it a challenge. A challenge was something he could work with at least.

“I feel kind of like an idiot though,” Adrien admitted.

“And why is that?”

“I just...I feel like I would have recognized that smile anywhere. You don't just...not notice that smile. If...we've seen each other before, then why haven't I noticed?”

Ladybug's eyes widened, still not used to the way Adrien complimented her so easily in this identity. “Well,” she said, “maybe the girl under the mask has never smiled like that at Adrien Agreste.”

“I suppose that's true,” he said, trying not to think about the fact that he may have been a reason for Ladybug's alter ego not to smile. It would have broken his heart to think that he might have been the thing stopping her from doing so.

“Would you be opposed to playing twenty questions?” he asked, trying to shift the subject matter.

“Oh, you're one of those guys?”

No, no, not like that at all. I mean, just to get to know you. Like, the real you. I only know the Ladybug that gets interviewed by the Ladyblog and saves Paris. I want to know the Ladybug that exists for the other twenty-three hours of the day.”

“You think it only takes an hour to save Paris?” she asked.

“Give or take,” he shrugged. In fact, their best time to date had been forty-seven minutes. He had taken the liberty of timing it.

“Well, how personal are we talking here?”

“I won't ask anything too revealing. I'm looking forward to this challenge actually. I just want to know like...the basics. Like your favorite animal. And you can ask me stuff, too.”

“Alright, then. Seems as good a thing to do as any. And it's hamsters, by the way.” She figured it wouldn't be too detrimental to play the game. It wasn't like Adrien knew any real personal stuff about Marinette anyway, so taking the opportunity to bond and learn more about Adrien seemed to only have benefits. As long as she remembered not to bring any of the information she learned up to him in conversation as Marinette. Which she hoped to God she wouldn't, as she now realized it was a very real danger. A danger that Tikki could not as easily save her from.

“Hamsters? That is...unexpectedly adorable. I've never known someone whose favorite animal was a hamster.”

“I like the way they eat,” Ladybug admitted simply. “And the way they lay flat when you pet them. Now it's your turn.”

“Cats,” he said without a moments hesitation, though he appeared to be almost immediately embarrassed by his answer.

“Well, it's a good thing!” Ladybug giggled. “They sure seem to like you! What do you think the reason is?”

Well, I am one, Adrien thought.

“The toe beans,” he said instead.

“I'm surprised you aren't more of a Chat Noir fan, then,” Ladybug said.

Adrien shrugged. “I'm a very big Chat Noir fan. I happen to think he's very...suave. But his smile just isn't as bright as Ladybug's.”

“You think Chat Noir is suave?”

“Yeah, sure. Classy. The cat's meow. You don't agree?”

Oh, you do the pun thing, too?”

“What pun thing?” Adrien asked, knowing full well.

“Chat is always making these ridiculous puns. Especially cat ones, as you can imagine.”

“You don't like them, then?”

Ladybug sighed. “They're...okay. I'll admit it. They are amusing. Just maybe not always at the most opportune of moments. It is both impressive and extremely worrisome that he sits there and comes up with jokes in the middle of battle.”

Well, that works for me, Adrien thought. As long as she finds them amusing.

“You didn't answer the other question,” Adrien said. “You don't agree that Chat is suave?”

“That's such an interesting word choice.”

“Alright, cool, then.”

“He's...sure, he's cool. I mean, he's a hero, you know? I think coolness comes as part of the packaged deal. He's my partner. I think very highly of him, of course, and trust him with my life as a partner should be able to. But...”

“But?”

“But...maybe that's a conversation for another time.” She looked down into her lap. Adrien's heart pounded, entirely unsure what to make of what she had said. There was something about Chat that she didn't like. Or, at least, there was something holding her back from liking Chat more. But there was not much he could do about it if she didn't tell him what it was. Fair enough, for now. It wasn't like she knew who he was. Already, it felt pretty sneaky and deceptive to ask about Chat at all.

“I believe this brings us to question four,” Ladybug said quietly, though it was clear she wanted to move past the sudden awkward silence.

“Four? How did we get to four? I only asked you about your favorite animal.”

“Ah, but you also asked me about what I thought of Chat. And his puns.”

“That doesn't count though!” Adrien protested, suddenly annoyed at himself for having wasted valuable inquiries.

“Hey, if you want me to play this ridiculous, clichéd game, we play it by my guidelines.”

“Okay, fine -”

“And actually, I think it's my turn for a question. You got to pick the last three. And I want to know...what is your favorite food?”

Adrien raised his eyebrows at her. “Would you be disappointed to hear that it isn't cheese?”

Ladybug laughed. “No, I wouldn't be disappointed. In fact, it's probably dangerous for someone to have their favorite food be cheese...”

Adrien knew that wherever Plagg was hiding and listening in, he had just become very offended.

“You know, I think a lot of people would expect me to have really expensive taste, just because I can afford to have really expensive taste, but actually, a while ago, I tried some pies from this bakery...the Dupain-Cheng bakery. Do you know it?”

Her eyes shot up at him. “Y-yes. Yes, I know it.”

“Their pies...are the best thing I've ever tasted,” he said. “I don't know if its the ingredients that go into them, or the passion, but whatever it is, they're perfect. I don't really get chances to eat them much, and my father likes keeping me on a really healthy diet, but they became my favorite food the first time I ever had them.”

The corner of Ladybug's mouth perked up funnily, and Adrien couldn't imagine what kind of thought was going through her head to cause such a curious reaction. “Well, then, I hope the cheese pastries please you half as much,” she said. She decided it would fall under a category of too personal to say that she had gotten them from the same bakery. After all, it might take away from the personal aspect of the gift as a whole. Either he would think that Ladybug had simply bought him a less-thoughtful gift, or he would think that she came from the bakery, and neither situation seemed appropriate.

“You used another question up, by the way,” Ladybug teased.

“I have not!”

“Yes, you asked me if I knew about the Dupain-Cheng bakery.”

Adrien ran a hand through his hair. “You're right. I did. Okay, you go again then.”

They made it through all twenty questions, Adrien having wasted six more of them on arbitrary questions without thinking. It was all very simple, and they covered their favorite music, games, and school subjects as well. Adrien was impressed with himself for never having asked anything too personal, unless the inquiries about Chat Noir counted, and Ladybug appeared pleased with herself for not having given out any revealing answers.

“You're no closer to knowing my identity, are you?” Ladybug asked him when they finished, wearing a mischievous smile. While she did share a sweet smile with his mother, this smile was all her own, and he loved it just as much, damning as it was.

“Not at all,” Adrien replied truthfully. “But I am closer knowing you. And that makes me pretty happy, too.”

“Me, too,” Ladybug agreed. “Like I said, it's nice to be able to just...talk to someone with this mask on, but just...be me.”

“You can't even do that with Chat?” Adrien asked.

“Again, another question for another time,” Ladybug said to his discontentment.

“Tomorrow?”

“Well, I can't promise you that I'll get into the complicated workings of my relationship with my partner, but if you'd like me to come over again, I'm free.”

Complicated workings? What was so complicated about it? he thought to himself. “I would enjoy it. I didn't realize how lonely it gets in his house until I had someone over.”

“We can do something fun then,” Ladybug suggest. “You seem like someone who needs to have more fun. And so much of your room looks...unused.”

“I guess I'm always too tired to really make use of it. And a lot of it isn't really as fun when you're alone.”

“It's settled then. It'll come over tomorrow, same time, as long as there's no akuma trouble, and we'll have fun.”

Adrien took her hand and kissed her cheek quickly before she could dash out of his room, and she felt a heat wash through her whole body. She was humbled and reminded again that, without the suit, she was just Marinette, standing in Adrien Agreste's room, getting her cheek kissed. Chloé would have a conniption.

She was lost for words, but gave him a smile and a polite and gracious nod before swinging out of his window.

“Keep her coming,” Plagg said, once she had gone. “She has fabulous taste.”

Adrien noticed then that, while he had been occupied with his Lady, Plagg had eaten through at least half of the cheese pastries. He rolled his eyes in annoyance, but upon taking a bite, he noted that they were definitely on par with the pies that he loved so much.

oOo

There did happen to be an akuma attack the next day, which Marinette found herself to be thankful for, as it broke up the monotony of the day, as well of the anxiety that took over while waiting to visit Adrien. Thankfully, it was in the early afternoon, which gave her plenty of time to help Tikki recover before the evening rolled around. She also noticed that Chat was having a rather good day – or at least, he seemed less unlucky than usual, and their chemistry worked particularly well. She even decided to let him kiss her hand before they parted ways, and she tried to ignored the way her heart skipped a beat when his mouth touched her skin. After all, wouldn't anyone's heart do the same when receiving affection from such a handsome and adoring partner, regardless of their feelings towards anyone else?

She replaced the memory of Chat's kiss on her hand with Adrien's kiss on her cheek as she prepared to see him again. Tikki seemed to be encouraging of the way things were going, and at the very least, seemed to be quite proud of the way she was keeping her composure while keeping her identity hidden was well.

By the time she was ready to head to Adrien's, she and Tikki were so full of a renewed energy that they might as well not have faced any akumas that whole week. She landed on his balcony with a casual elegance and she tried not to giggle as he tried to pretend that he hadn't been waiting for her at the window.

“Did you like the pastries?” she asked him when he let her inside.

“They were amazing! Almost as good as the pies.”

“I should have brought you more then.”

“Nah, you don't need to trouble yourself,” Adrien said. “I wouldn't want to end up with all of your Tupperware. Maybe I'll find out who you are soon and you can just restock the container I already have.”

“If you say so,” Ladybug smiled.

“So anything you had in mind for what you wanted to do tonight?” Adrien asked her.

She looked around his vast room, her eyes catching on his ridiculous collection of video games. “Can we play some of them?”

“You like video games?” Adrien asked her. Of course, she had mentioned knowing about them, but he hadn't expected her to go for that. Somehow, in his mind, he thought she would go for something more active. Then again, the point was not only for him to unwind, but for her to relax. He figured Ladybug already got enough exercise.

“Yeah...Ultimate Mecha Strike 3? I see it on your shelf.”

“One of my favorites,” Adrien said, smiling, thinking back to the akuma they fought that modeled the game. It had inspired him to practice more. “I have to warn you though, I'm pretty good.”

Ladybug responded to him with only a smile and she helped him set up the game.

Twenty matches and eighteen losses later, he set his controller down and put his head in his hands. Even the two matches that he had won were by extremely narrow margins.

“I can't believe how many girls have been handing my own ass to me in this game lately,” he said.

“What, are girls not allowed to be good at video games?” Ladybug asked huffily, a hand on her hip.

“No, no, that's not it at all! It just happens that the people who have been beating me recently have been girls. Maybe I'm losing my touch.”

“You're really good, Adrien!” Ladybug assured him. After all, he didn't know that it actually had been the same girl who kept beating him. She waited a moment to see if he would mention anything more about Marinette, and when he didn't, she patted his hand reassuringly. He seemed to perk up instantly, and they decided to play a few rounds of Mario Kart instead, which they were more evenly matched at.

Marinette was finding it more difficult to find conversation topics that weren't too revealing, but it was nice to just let Adrien talk. There seemed to be a lot of emotion that he kept pent up inside, and she wondered how much he talked to Nino about. It made sense that he would want to relax and have more casual chats with Nino, but that didn't leave Adrien many other people to rant to and talk about real problems with. He talked about his scheduling and how he wished he didn't have to try to be so many different people. She tried to tell him that he should feel free to be himself in any skin, but the problem seemed to be deeper than he was letting on.

He ranted about his father, to her dismay, since he had always been someone Marinette had looked up to. Adrien assured her that his father wanted the best – he just didn't show it in the best ways. He also ranted about Chloé, which put her heart at ease. He was always overly kind and polite to her, as he was with everyone, and she was sure he was only doing this because Ladybug was wearing a mask. Marinette couldn't imagine Adrien saying anything bad about even Chloé, or anyone else, to her or any of their only classmates. Either Adrien had an obscene amount of trust in her as Ladybug, or he saw her as an invisible person – something like a confession box. She hoped it was the former, since he might not care so much about discovering the identity of an invisible person. But then, she also wondered if he would feel ashamed, or betrayed even, to learn that she was Marinette. She had already come to terms with the fact that he would likely be disappointed with her, seeing as she was something of a gnat or termite, both in comparison to her Ladybug self, and the league that Adrien was in. He was so far out of her league that it was nothing short of a miracle that they even knew each other in the first place. That was something she was fairly prepared for. Betrayal, on the other hand, was not something she was prepared for, and she didn't think that she would be able to handle knowing that he felt betrayed by her.

They played Mario Kart, and Ladybug let Adrien ramble, until her earrings started beeping. She hadn't exactly done much, though she supposed the video games did get her worked up a bit, and this had already been her second transformation of the night. She felt more frantic about not wanting to transform, simply because of where she was and whose company she was in, so she was in too much of a hurry then to allow Adrien a third kiss on the cheek, or to even stick around to ensure that she would come back again. However, she did allow time for Adrien to give her hand a squeeze and a sincere thank you for having allowed him to ramble. She nodded her head at him as she jumped out his window and hit the ground just in time to transform. She hoped he was too into the challenge he had given himself to submit to temptation and peek out his window at her.

oOo

Marinette's parents were back the next morning, and brought back with them the warmth and fresh aromas and sounds that regularly filled their home and bakery. Still, as she walked to school after letting them both kiss her head, she couldn't help but feel as though she was waking up from a dream. And perhaps it had been. Perhaps her parents had never gone on a trip and she had never been in Adrien's room, playing games with him, or getting her cheek kissed by him, or hearing him pour his heart out. Even as Ladybug, it wouldn't have been the first time she had a dream like that.

For once, she was fairly early to school, only because her parents had woken her up with their early arrival. She was unsurprised that Adrien had not arrived yet, since he was often late as well and she had given him a late night. Therefore, she had no problems when Alya asked about him (also confirming that it had not been a dream at all).

So,” Alya said, leaning in close to Marinette with hand on her chin. “Did you run into the boy again this weekend? Hang around outside his house? Look at the sky and talk about Ladybug together?”

Oh, yeah, that's what it was that she said she would be doing.

“I did!” Marinette confirmed, seeing no use in denying having seen him. Still, she was unsure how she would go about explaining to Alya what exactly it was they did or talked about.

Alya raised an eyebrow. “Did this happen at night? Around the same time you ran into him the first time?”

“Yes?”

“So you would say around ten, perhaps last night, or even Saturday, you found yourself near the Agreste Mansion, and in the company of Adrien?”

“Yeah, Alya, I would say that. Why, what's the issue?” She felt the color draining from her face, though. Alya didn't get so intense and reporter-y unless something was up.

“No issue,” Alya said, retrieving her phone. “Only that I find it extremely interesting that Ladybug also found herself at Adrien Agreste's window at, oh, around ten, on both Saturday and Sunday.”

Alya handed her phone to Marinette who swiped through the pictures displayed, all heat and feeling gone from her body, and her heart having dropped to the pit of her stomach. There she was, fully clad as Ladybug, perched on Adrien's balcony. And there he was, at the window where he had waited for her the night before. Time-stamped and all. And if that was not enough, there were pictures from Saturday as well, of herself in Ladybug's skin, standing behind Adrien as he knelt down to pet what Marinette knew were three cats.

She mindlessly let Alya's phone drop into her lap, and while she saw her best friend's hand reach out and grab the phone before allowing it to tumble further to the floor, Marinette couldn't bring herself to look up and see her face.

Holy shit.

 

 

Chapter Text

Stay, Lady, Stay, Stay with your man a while
Why wait any longer for the world to begin,
You can have your cake and eat it, too
Why wait any longer for the one you love,
When he’s standing right in front of you?

- Lay, Lady, Lay, Bob Dylan

oOo

            “Please say something,” Alya pleaded after Marinette continued to stare in awe at her lap. She knew. Alya knew. There was nothing that could be done about it anymore, but a thousand excuses and solutions flashed through her mind, including possibly provoking Alix into an akuma again so that she could time travel back to make sure the photographs had never be taken. Hopeless.

            Maybe she doesn't know, Marinette thought to herself. I haven't confirmed anything yet. She didn't accuse me of anything yet. Maybe she really just thinks that it's a coincidence that Ladybug showed up at Adrien's the same time as me, and she's just mad that I wasn't the one taking pictures. Sorry, Alya, I'm not Peter Parker. Wrong kind of bug.

            But all of that was wrong and hopeless as well. Alya's pictures were the accusation. She didn't need to say anything more. And Marinette's shock and silence was all the confirmation needed.

            “Anything, Marinette,” Alya said to the silence again. Her initial excitement, whether it had been happy-excitement, or annoyed-excitement, or angry-excitement, had been replaced with a tone of genuine concern.

            “Hide the pictures,” was all the Marinette could say. Alya's phone screen had already gone black, but she nodded and stuff her phone deep in her bag.

            Well, that's comforting, Marinette noted. Alya's phone never made it that far into her bag. At least there seemed to be genuine concern for her comfort and wishes, regardless of how intense she had started out.

            “You don't owe me an explanation,” Alya whispered, as more students took their seats in the class room. “But I will admit that I'm...still in shock. I was already high in emotion knowing you had seen...him this weekend. But...the pictures were only a shot in the dark. I was almost sure that it was a fluke, but...I'm right, aren't I? It's not a fluke?”

            There it was. Alya definitely knew. But either she found it too good to be true or she didn't want to believe it. There was only one direction to go. Marinette shook her head.

            “You're right. It's not a fluke,” she answered, careful now not to outline the actually subject that they were discussing as the class was now nearly full of people who could easily listen in. Alya opened her mouth to reply with something Marinette could not guess at, nor would ever hear, as she cut her off. “I know I don't owe you an explanation. But you deserve one. You deserve one probably more than almost anyone else. And I'll tell you everything. I promise. Actually...now that I think about it, this is probably going to make things so much easier for me. But you have to wait until break. And until then, no mention of it while we're still in class.”

            Something changed in Alya's face. Her eyes began to shine, like they were realizing something beautiful and incredible that had been directly in front of her for so long – like a wall had been shattered in front of her and now she could see the world in a new, brighter, more logical light.

            “Deal,” Alya agreed with a smile as the girls hooked pinkies.

            “But how did you get the pictures?” Marinette whispered.

            “I know a guy,” Alya shrugged, but Marinette cocked an eyebrow at her in disbelief.

            “Fine,” she said, “I took them. I'll trade you an explanation for an explanation.”

            Marinette nodded as class started, and Adrien walked in the door just in time to answer for himself during attendance. Alya raised her eyebrows slightly and nodded her head in the direction of the boy, seeming to ask a million silent questions at once, but Marinette shook her head violently, hoping to answer at least some of them. She hoped Alya would take the shake of the head to mean no, Adrien did not know, and no, he should not see the pictures, and no, he should not be asked about his relationship to Ladybug. Alya made a gesture to suggest that she was locking her lips and throwing away the key, and shockingly, she didn’t speak again until their break. Marinette assumed that she was still too much in shock to say anything, but Alya was just worried that if she were to open her mouth, she wouldn’t be able to shut up and would ruin everything.

            Once they were out of class, Alya wasted no time grabbing Marinette and flying out of the room with her, headed to the most secluded corner of courtyard they could fine. Marinette was sure they had bumped into several people, and likely cut off many of their classmates rushing for the door, but Alya was going so fast that it was nigh impossible to apologize, or even to turn her head back.

            Once they were decently hidden and out of the way, Alya let out a squeal that she clearly had been trying to keep in for their past three classes.

            “Please don’t be mad,” Marinette pleaded.

            “Mad? Why would I be mad about this? It’s literally the most incredible thing that’s ever happened.”

            “You…you aren’t mad that I’ve been keeping it from you? I mean…you’re my best friend. And one of Ladybug’s – well, one of my biggest fans. I…I thought you’d be a little more annoyed.”

            “Oh my God, Marinette, give me a little more credit than that, girl. I’ve read enough comics to know why you couldn’t have said anything. Safety and all that jazz. I get it. But I promise I won’t write about this in the Ladyblog. I won’t even write in there than I know who you are. I know the danger. In fact, I’ll stop the speculation section of my blog all together. All articles guessing at your identity will be deleted. Promise.”

            “Won’t…won’t that annoy some people?”

            “They’ll get over it. I’ll delete the ones about Chat, too. Speaking of –,”

            “No, I don’t know who Chat is. And I’m not sure I want to know.”

            “Why not?

            “I…I don’t know. What if he’s completely horrible? Or…even worse, what if he’s…incredible? And I’m expected to show who I am and it just…doesn’t match up? Best of all might be if I don’t know him at all. Maybe he goes to a different school. After all, Paris is a big city. There’s a good chance I’ve never even met him.”

            Alya looked as though she had a hundred more questions about Chat, just realizing that knowing Ladybug meant knowing her partner my association as well.

            “Chat is…a topic for another time,” Marinette said, not letting Alya bring up anything. She was going to have to address this business with her partner eventually, though – not only was she making Alya hold off, but she had also held back with Adrien, too. What was she supposed to say about Chat in a situation like that?

            “So, how do you just become Ladybug?” Alya asked, back on track with stars in her eyes.

            “I- uh…actually, that’s a pretty good question. That first day we showed up, I was given the powers. Like I was chosen. Ladybug and Chat Noir have been around for centuries, as needed, all around the world, and the powers just get passed down. I guess we were needed. But I don’t know why it was me that was chosen.”

            “You’ve been Ladybug for as long as I’ve known you, then?”

            Marinette gave it some thought. As a matter of fact…

            “Yes. The whole time I’ve know you.”

            “How did I not notice?” Alya asked. “I mean, after you confirmed it, it was like a curtain had been thrown open and it was so…obvious. I mean…for one thing, you look identical. But before today…I never could have put it together. Like the dots were impossible to connect. I don’t know how to explain it.”

            “Maybe it’s impossible to know without the hero letting you know,” Marinette suggested, though she had no way of knowing if that was true or not.

            “Maybe…,” Alya agreed, mentally kicking herself for having been so blind. “So…no radioactive bugs?”

            “Unfortunately, no,” Mari said.

            “That’s disappointing.”

            “Um, there is this, though.”

            Marinette opened her bag and Tikki peaked her head out cautiously before flying up to Alya’s eye level.

            “Oh my God. It’s precious.”

            “I’m Tikki,” she said pleasantly, and explained how she was the source of Marinette’s powers, and how they were together all the time.

            “Oh, I’m very glad you aren’t radioactive,” Alya said, cooing over the kwami. “You are adorable.”

            Tikki went back into Marinette’s bag for safety, despite Alya’s desire to cuddle her more.

            “So? The pictures?” Marinette asked.

            “So? Adrien? I wouldn’t have taken the pictures if you hadn’t been at Adrien’s in the first place.”

            Marinette exhaled deeply. “Okay. Okay, yeah, you’re right. Well…okay, it was that night after the library of course.”

            “Of course.”

            “And that’s why I knew it would be okay for be to walk home alone. Like, I can just go home as Ladybug. Who’s going to bother me?”

            “Oh, that is so cool!

            “So…um, well…you know me. I…I went to Adrien’s.”

            “As you do.”

            “As I do, yes. But it was just to look, I swear. Well…back when we fought Jackady – you know, when Nino was on that competition show? I had to go to the Agreste Mansion to protect Monsieur Gabriel. And I ended up seeing Adrien’s room, so…”

            “So that’s how you finally figured out which window was his.”

            “Mhm. And I mean, I couldn’t stay away. I was curious, but to see if his lights were on. I had no intentions of getting so close, I swear.”

            “But it was too easy and tempting.”

            Marinette groaned and fell dramatically against the wall. “Yup. It was so easy and temping.”

            Marinette explained how she had been let in, and she decide it was okay now to mention the smile comment – not just from the weekend, but from the first time she had been in Adrien’s room.

            “Oh my God, you played 20 Questions.”

            “Mhm.”

            “He likes you.”

            “What? I don’t know…I think he’s more of just a fan boy, honestly. He seemed kind of shy talking about Ladybug. I think he really just wants Ladybug and Chat to be together. He’s like, the Ultimate Shipper. Which is weird, by the way, being shipped. I mean, we are real people. I think people forget that.”

            “Mental note to remove the official LadyNoir shipping page from the Ladyblog.”

            “No, no, you’re fine,” Marinette said. “Even if you keep it up just for show. You don’t want to seem too suspicious.”

            “Fine. But…I mean, even if Adrien is the ultimate LadyNoir fan, he has to be interested in you. I mean, all his compliments?”

            “Comparing me to his mother? You sure he’s not just using me to fill a hole?”

            “Well, that’s just depressing. Come on, this is a good thing.”

            “Yeah, I guess,” Marinette said. It wasn’t that she wasn’t completely overjoyed to be spending so much time with Adrien, but she had a strange feeling that maybe it was a bad idea after all.

            “So obviously he doesn’t know.”

            “Correct.”

            “Well, that’s good. It’s probably for the best that you don’t tell him until you’re sure what he’s feeling.”

            “Yeah…I mean, I told him that he was free to guess, and if he guessed right, I would tell him. He’s going to give me back my Tupperware in person when he finds out. He seems very convinced that he’ll be able to.”

            “Well, he’s full of it,” Alya said with a hand on her hip. "If I couldn’t figure it out, running the blog and sitting next to you every day, there’s no way he’s going to get it. And there’s no way you’re going to give in. You wouldn’t anyway, but now that there’s a challenge? You’re too stubborn.”

            “Exactly. Now, I think you owe me an explanation for the pictures.”

            “Oh, right!” Alya remembered, pulling her phone out. “Well…okay, I’m horrible. I was out walking, and I thought, wow, I wonder if Marinette made it to Adrien’s, so I decided to swing by, for like, distant moral support. Or to rescue you if the situation had gotten bad. And you weren’t there, but lo and behold, Ladybug was. So I took pictures of course, because that’s what I do. But then I realized…why is Ladybug at Adrien’s window? How do you go from saying that you want to try watching for her, to her actually being on his balcony? I didn’t know what to think, but I went back the next night, and same thing. I didn’t know what to think, but I wouldn’t allow myself to think that it was you, despite that first thought. I didn’t want the disappointment. Or excitement. Or…you know, whatever. I took the pictures for the blog, feeling really lucky, but then I decided not to post them. Especially since Adrien was obviously involved. It was just…too much. It was a shot in the dark. I didn’t have complete confirmation until this morning. Which you gave to me.”

            “I figured you were pretty sure.”

            “I probably was, somewhere deep down, but I just…didn’t want to tell myself that, you know? I wanted to be careful.” She watched Marinette look down and avoid her eye. “I am glad it’s you, though. If I could pick anyone I wanted to be Ladybug, of course it would be you, and you are more deserving of it than anyone else I know.”

            Marinette squeezed her best friend tight in relief. At least that was one person she hadn’t disappointed.

            “No more incriminating photos,” she whispered in her best friend’s ear.

            “Wouldn’t dream of it,” Alya whispered back at the school bell rang.

            “So, are you going back to see him tonight?” Alya asked her quietly as they walked back to class. Despite the danger, Alya was just as interested in her getting close to Adrien, regardless of which form she was in.

            Marinette shrugged. “I want to. I don’t think I can tonight though. My parents are back home and I need to spend some time with them, and Chat and I do night patrol on Monday’s.”

            “Really, what do you think the cat would think about this?”

            Marinette cross her arms.

            “Right, right, no answers about Chat today. I’ll have you know, though, it only makes me more intrigued.”

            “Well…I’ll let you know what the Chat situation is when I figure it out. And honestly, I’m not entirely sure what he’d think about this. I don’t know if I want to know. I don’t know if it’s even his business. I mean we are partners, but where do you draw the line? I…I don’t know. I’ve only seen him once since meeting Adrien and we didn’t really…talk. We talk more during our patrols at night when there’s not so much going on besides an occasional vagrant…”

            “Vagrant?”

            “You know, a mugger or robber or something. It’s not always an akuma.”

            “No, I’m just amused you used the word vagrant. You really are a super hero.”

            “Shut up. But yeah, I don’t know. I do want to go back. Regardless of if he knows who I am or not, or what becomes of this, I can’t just…stop. Besides, getting to know him will probably help in the long run. It is nice to just talk.”

            Alya squeezed her around the shoulders as they headed back to class, and she tried to remain inconspicuous about how much more her eyes darted between Adrien and Marinette than they usually did.

oOo

            Adrien finished his last Danish faster than he wished he had. He had berated Plagg for having eating so many of them, but really, Adrien couldn’t blame him – they really were just as delicious as the Dupain-Cheng pies. He hoped that his Lady would bring him more, but he was betting that she wouldn’t come by that day. After all, they had night patrols every Monday, and the chance that she would have time (and energy) to stop by afterwards on a school night was unlikely. He didn’t mind entirely, because he was still seeing her, whether she knew it or not, but he was curious as to whether or not she felt bad about not being able to come to his room.

            He decided it would be a good opportunity to figure out what she was feeling about Chat – specifically, why she had said but after praising him. Of course, he wanted to see Chat and Ladybug together, as much as he wanted to see Adrien and Ladybug together. In some ways, he wondered if Adrien could possibly hurt Chat’s advances, but he couldn’t imagine how that could be the case. Either way, it was him. And if Ladybug turned out to be interested in Chat, like he suspected she might be, based on her timid answers about him during their game of 20 Questions, then he would have no problems revealing himself as Adrien. Easy.

            Unless, of course, whoever she was turned out to be repulsed by Adrien. Which, somehow, he couldn’t imagine she would be, since she kept coming to his room. At the same time though, there was a perfectly good chance that she just didn’t care about Adrien. After all, she said that he had looked at her before, but maybe hadn’t really seen her before. What kind of person gave any worth to someone who didn’t see him as a person?

            Unless he was misinterpreting. Which was entirely possible. He wasn’t always the best at understanding people. Especially girls. Especially in the romantic context. Especially including his own feelings, which he also rarely understood.

            He decided his best course of action was to talk to her as Chat, maybe understand exactly where she stood in regards to him, and act accordingly as Adrien.

            Of course there was always the complicated situation of still not knowing who she was, but he hoped that, if she was interested in something, she might give him more hints at guessing. And he was very much still up for the challenge. As long as he had actually seen her. He made a note of trying to see more girls instead of just look at them. In his down time, of course.

            He transformed after setting the empty Tupperware container aside and pounced out of his window with a rapidly pounding heart to go meet his Lady.

oOo

            Marinette got her mind off of whether or not Adrien would be disappointed in her non-appearance when she noticed her partner bounding towards her across the Parisian rooftops. Her heart skipped a beat, but she couldn’t exactly guess why. Her mind shot to the kiss she let Chat place on her hand following their last fight, and her heart skipped again. For some reason, she was feeling guilty recently – especially when Chat’s name came up, which led her to adamantly avoid all conversation about him. Guilty about going to see Adrien and letting him kiss her cheek. Guilty that she let another boy get close to her and show her affection while she wore her suit when she was so hard on Chat about it. Of course, if she had never met Adrien, she would have been so much easier on Chat, but that wasn’t the case. The case was that Adrien did exist, and she did want him, even though she had an easily attainable partner (whose identity she didn’t know and couldn’t bear to, she reminded herself. So maybe he wasn’t so attainable after all.) The case was that she did like Adrien, even though, for some stupid reason, going to his room made her feel guilty. Even though, she admitted, Chat would have had a very good chance with her in another universe (she hated admitting it, but she couldn’t deny it was a fact).

            “My Lady,” Chat greeted her with half a smile.

            “Chat,” she nodded, trying perhaps too hard to hide the fact that her mind was giving itself a workout over the thought of him.

            “Have I ever mentioned that you look lovely in the moonlight?”

            “It may have come up in conversation,” she replied. In another world, she reminded herself, the comment might have melted her and she would have embraced Chat right there. In this world, she couldn’t allow that, and she forced the compliment to roll off.

            “Well, it’s especially true tonight,” Chat said, taking her hand to kiss it. She couldn’t help but allow him to do so again – and again, she felt her heart threaten to leap up in to her throat. A combination of the guilt from before and the lightning from the kiss shot rapidly through her body, and she couldn’t figure out why it felt so similar to Adrien’s lips on her skin. It was full of energy and delivered a red hot heat. A different energy and a different heat than Adrien’s, but it was charged all the same. It made the guilt worse. It made her nauseous.

            “You’re in good spirits,” Marinette noted, trying with annoying difficulty to keep her voice low and steady. God, I’m a mess.

            “How could I not be whilst in the presence of such a lovely Lady?”

            She rolled her eyes subtly. How was he able to say that kind of stuff without imploding? Well, if you’re saying it just to say it, it probably isn’t that hard, she determined. If he said that kind of thing to every girl he came across, of course it would be easy to say. It almost made her wonder just what kind of guy was under that mask.

            “You want to take the north tonight, and I’ll go south, and meet up at Notre Dame?” Marinette asked, hoping separation would cool her off.

            “Perfect. Half an hour?”

            “Perfect.”

            They split up in their respective directions and Marinette prayed to Jesus and Mary and all the saints that she wouldn’t run into any trouble. She couldn’t imagine that she would be very on top of her game in her current mind state.

            Thankfully, her good faith served her well and she made it to the top of Notre Dame before Chat did, just outside the Rose Window in the usual meeting spot.

            “You get held up?” she asked him when he finally touched down next to her. He was beaded with sweat and she tried as hard as she could not to notice the way the hair at the nape of his neck was starting to curl and cling to his skin.

            “Ah, kind of, but nothing to worry about. Just some cat burglar trying to rob a jewelry shop. I sent him on his way.”

            “Probably not the best way to use a cat pun, chaton. Don’t want to give yourself a bad reputation.”

            “I stole the Mona Lisa, remember?” he teased. “How much worse can my reputation get?”

            “You, and I, and all of Paris know perfectly well that you did no such thing.”

            “Hey, I did hard prison time for that, okay? I’m taking credit.”

            “If you insist, you silly kitty,” she said, feeling herself blush slightly from using his nickname. The worst part, she realized, was that this nonsense hadn’t even really begun until she had started visiting Adrien. Now that she was dividing her time in the Ladybug suit between men, her body and brain were punishing her. Mother Mary and Joseph, I have lost it.

            “My Lady?”

            “Yes, Chat?”

            “I was wondering…if I could talk to you, or, I guess, ask you about something? Before we go in our separate directions for the night?”

            She felt a shiver go through her body at the sound of the shakiness in his voice. All the confidence he had had while complimenting her, and the adrenaline he had gotten from dealing with the burglar, had gone. And she knew, somehow, that he wasn’t going to ask about her identity. He had stopped that as soon as he had started it, and was surprisingly very respectful towards respecting her wishes regarding wanting to keep her identity a secret.

            “Um, yes, I suppose,” she replied, filled with an immediate anxiety. Any kind of phrase ranging the gambit between Can I ask you something? and We need to talk sent her into a tizzy, and now, Chat bringing one of the big guns out while she felt at her most vulnerable. He cleared his throat.

            “Well, I…I just wondered if…Well…Okay, this is harder than I thought it might be. Um…look, I love being your partner, Ladybug. I couldn’t pick a better partner in a million years.”

            What is he getting at? Marinette wondered to herself. He rubbed the back of his neck timidly.

            “I think you’re fantastic, okay? I mean that sincerely. I just wondered if you would like to hang out sometime. Actually, no, I need to rephrase that. I can hang out with anyone. I think you’re fantastic, and I wondered if you would like to, uh, maybe go on a date or something. Sometime. Um, we can stay suited. I know you want to protect yourself. But maybe one night we can just…have a date up here together. Not after a patrol or after an akuma attack. Just…a date.”

            Marinette’s eyebrows shot up and she could feel goosebumps rising quickly under her suit. She didn’t know what she had expected, but it definitely had not been that. At that point, she wished he had asked anything else. She almost wished he had asked for her identity. She bet that she would have rather given that up to him than have to reply to him asking her out. And yet, there he was, glowing green eyes waiting patiently for an answer.

            I guess his compliments were genuine, then, Marinette realized, though she was still baffled as to how he could have possibly kept his composure while using them if he couldn’t do so while asking her out.

            “I…I know this was kind of…out of the blue, but please say…anything,” Chat said.

            Oh, right. I need to stop doing that to people.

            “Chaton…Chat. I…I’m really…well, surprised for one.”

            “Surprised?” Clearly, that was not exactly the response he had been expected.

            “I had no idea you liked me like that.”

            Chat blinked his eyes in disbelief a few times before exploding with laughter. “Really? I compliment you endlessly! I told you that you looked lovely in the moonlight! I kiss your hand all the time, for God’s sake!”

            “I…thought you were just…you know…being a cheeky cat. I figured that's how you were with every girl...I don't know how anyone could say that...romantic stuff without turning into a puddle...unless they weren't being genuine.”

            “And here I thought I was being too obvious. And for the record, I don't know how I say that stuff either.”

            “Well…flattering as this new revelation is…I can’t right now, Chat. I’m…I’m so sorry. In another world, or another time, there’s a very good chance I would have said yes. But…I can’t.”

            To her surprise, he didn’t look quite as forlorn as she thought he would have, given his recent nerves.

            “I understand,” he said, ever respectful. “Do you mind if I ask why? Is it something I’ve done? Anything I can work on? If it’s the stupid puns, I can hold back.”

            She smiled softly at him, filled with a sudden remorse that she wished would go away the moment it arose. “No. Believe it or not, I’m starting to find the puns a little endearing, even though you could work on your comedic timing.”

            “Then what is it?”

            “I…there’s…kind of someone else.”

            “You have a boyfriend? I should have asked before.”

            “No, not a boyfriend, but…I mean there is someone.”

            “You like someone else.” It wasn’t a question. She nodded in response.

            “Well, I hope he’s a worthwhile opponent,” Chat said with an unreadable kind of smile to one side. “I hope you know this means I haven’t given up entirely. And I still think you’re fantastic.”

            “You’re taking this quite well,” Marinette noted. Chat shrugged.

            “The way I see it, I’m going to be your partner for a long time. This guy isn’t your boyfriend yet, so from my perspective, I’m still the lucky one who gets to spend a lot of time with you. Maybe this guy is brilliant. If that’s the case, then you deserve someone like that. And if he doesn’t see how fantastic you are, well, your partner will still be right here, waiting to see that smile of yours.”

            “What…what did you say?”

            “That I would be right here?”

            “No, no, after that.”

            “That I would be waiting to see that smile of yours. It’s gorgeous.”

            Marinette shook her head softly and couldn’t help but smile genuinely, her body heating up considerably.

            “Right there,” Chat said. “That’s the one I’ll be waiting for.”

            “You know, Chat, you’re a much better guy than I give you credit for,” she said. It was too unfair that both he and Adrien had noticed the same smile. She almost wished that one of them wasn’t a good guy. Maybe then her guilt would settle down. If only one of them noticed the same smile in Marinette, the world might come full circle. “I…I’ll see you later this week, okay?”

            He smiled softly, and though she couldn’t read his emotions exactly, she hoped that she hadn’t hurt him too much. At the very least, he still seemed hopeful. Now that she knew that he had liked her, it was kind of endearing, albeit all the worse for her guilt.

“I hope I’ll see you soon,” he said bowing to her, and he leapt off Notre Dame before she could say anything else.

oOo

            “Do you think she’ll come tonight, Plagg?” Adrien asked the kwami the next night. There had been no akumas, and Adrien had hoped that Ladybug would drop by at the very least to say hi. He knew why she hadn’t come the night before, but she didn’t know he did, and he wondered if she would make a stop to explain that visits would be more sporadic, now that the weekend was over.

            “Are you going to ask me that every night, Adrien? Because I hardly know how humans work, let alone human girls. And frankly, I don’t care to know.”

            “You are really no help.”

            “Look, if it’s any consolation, I think Ladybug is the kind of person to at least have some closure, even if she decided to never come by again.”

            “Did you hear what she said though? Last night?”

            “Yes, yes, I heard your entire pathetic exchange,” Plagg replied, peering into the empty Tupperware container for the hundredth time, as though if he looked enough times, it would eventually refill herself.

            “There’s nothing wrong with Chat! She just likes someone else.”

            “Yes, I know, I heard.”

            “Okay, well what if it’s me?”

            “You as in Adrien?”

            “Yes, of course,” Adrien said, exasperated. “How many other identities do I have?”

            “I don’t know,” Plagg yawned, now at his cheese plate. “Do you really think Ladybug would fall for you in, what, three nights?”

            “Well, maybe not, but she claimed to know me outside of her suit.”

            “You don’t really have any girls in your life, though,” Plagg said. “Other than Chloé. If she even counts. But you already know she isn’t Ladybug.”

            Adrien grimaced at the thought. “That’s true,” he said. “But she said she just liked someone. Not that this guy was her boyfriend. And Ladybug did tell me that I had seen her, but not really seen her. So maybe she’s in my life enough to have fallen for me, but not so much that I would consider her to be, you know, in my life.”

            “I suppose,” Plagg yawned again, and by this point, Adrien was resigned to believe that he was just talking to himself.

            “Anyway, I already asked her out as Chat, since she seemed so…strange about him. Although now that she’s turned him down, I’m even more curious as to why she avoided questions about him. But she said Chat might have a chance if she didn’t like this other guy. And Chat and I are the same person. So maybe she has a type. And besides, she has made an effort to come see me more than once. There’s a decent chance that I am the other guy. So I might as well try,” he said, though the possibility that he could even be the person Ladybug liked sent a chill through him.

            “Try what?” Plagg asked, evidently still listening.

            “Confessing to her as Adrien.”

            “…You are pathetic.”

            “Hey! Give me some credit here! At least I’m trying. And then I’ll know. There’s got be a reason she landed on my balcony that first night.”

            “I guess, if you believe in that kind of thing. But what do you think is going to happen? She’ll say yes, and you’ll go on a date in broad daylight with a superhero?”

            “No,” Adrien said. “I’m hoping that if I am the guy, she’ll make it easier for me to find out who she is. Or I’ll tell her I’m Chat. Maybe both.”

            “You’ve lost your mind,” Plagg said. “I don’t understand humans, but I have seen a lot of Chat Noirs and Ladybugs, and I’ve seen a lot of them end up together, and a lot of them not work out. And I can tell you, it’s never that easy, regardless of the circumstance.”

            “Yeah, well, I’m the first Adrien Agreste you’ve ever seen and maybe it will be that easy.”

            Plagg shrugged and turned his complete attention back to his cheese as Adrien turned his record player on. He had state of the art digital music system, but he was in a Bob Dylan mood suddenly, and found that the album just sounded so much better on vinyl. A knock at his window startled him just as the music started playing.

            Lay, Lady, Lady. Lay across my big brass bed.

            He nearly sprinted to his window, heart racing, to meet Ladybug outside.

            “You came,” he greeted her happily.

            “I just wanted to say hi,” she said. “I can’t stay long tonight, but I thought I’d at least let you know I hadn’t disappeared without a trace. I just won’t be able to come as often on weekdays and when I’m working.”

            “I understand,” Adrien said. “But I did hope you might drop by today.”

            Lay, Lady, Lady. Lay across my big brass bed.

            “You like Bob Dylan?” Ladybug asked, peering into his room. “I don’t know if I would have pegged you as a fan.”

            Adrien shrugged. “On occasion. It seemed like that kind of a night.”

            Whatever colors you have in your mind, I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine.

            “It is a nice night for him,” Ladybug remarked softly. “His voice sounds lovely on vinyl.”

            They stood quietly, looking at the night sky and letting the record play on for a little while.

            “Ladybug,” Adrien said, finally breaking the silence. He almost felt bad, recreating same scenario he had just presented to Ladybug the night before, but it had to be done. She had to know. “I need to tell you something.”

            She looked down at him with her lapis eyes and he almost entirely forgot what it was he meant to tell her. He could tell that her cheeks where slightly flushed, even in the darkness of the night, and he wondered if she was recalling her conversation with Chat from the night before.

            “Yes?” she asked.

            He closed his eyes and counted to three.

             “I love you,” he said.

            Her pupils seemed to dilate suddenly and her mouth gaped opened slightly. “Y-you…what?”

            Lay, Lady, Lay. Lay across my big brass bed.

            Perhaps it had been too forward as Adrien, but he loved her as Chat, too, and he couldn’t deny that what he felt was love.

“I…I’ve admired you from afar for so long,” Adrien said, not mentioning that he had admired her up close for just as long. “And then you showed up here, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. And I got to see that smile up close, and talk to you, and…Ladybug, I…I think I love you.”

            She stared at him wordlessly. It was worse than when she had done it with Chat. He was almost positive that she would be able to hear the embarrassing drum beat of his heart, loud as it had become. She had already rejected Chat. If he was the other guy, surely she might have said something by now. Even when she had been rejecting him, she had responded more quickly than this. He opened his mouth to speak but she took two steps away from him towards the railing of the balcony. Surely he had done something very wrong. He held out a cautious hand, but Ladybug jumped back, up onto the railing. Her lip was quivering, and suddenly, the pang of his heart was one of pain. What have I done?

            Stay, Lady, Stay. Stay with your man a while.

            “I-I’m sorry Adrien,” she said in a near whisper. It was obvious that she was on the verge of tears as she turned to leap away.

            “Wait –,” he began, and reached out to her, but she was already gone.

            She had been so calm and kind while turning down Chat. And now – now he hadn’t even received a proper response. Clearly he had done something horribly wrong. Chat had been rejected because she liked another guy. Chat still stood a semblance of a chance.

            Adrien? Adrien had reduced her to tears. And he couldn’t for the life of him determine why.

            He couldn’t help but drop to the floor, just as his cat followers found their way up to join him, sensing his sudden pain, and rubbing up against him. Before long, Plagg was at his shoulder as well, where he rested a tiny kwami hand. The kwami was silent, and Adrien was glad he didn’t say I told you so, though they both knew the phrase hung in the air between them.

            Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

God that was strange to see you again
Introduced by a friend of a friend
Smiled and said "Yes I think we've met before"
In that instant it started to pour
Captured a taxi despite all the rain
We drove in silence across Pont Champlain
And all of the time you thought I was sad
I was trying to remember your name
- Your Ex-Lover Is Dead, Stars

oOo

            By the time Marinette touched down on her balcony, her cheeks were already stained with tears. She detransformed immediately and fell across her chaise. In the time it took for her to get from Adrien’s room to her own, her tears had changed from ones of shock and confusion to sadness and remorse to ones of anger. She couldn’t even pinpoint exactly what it was she was angry at yet, but in the moment she transformed, it was all she felt. Her tears burned searing hot on her cheeks and she screamed into a velvet pillow.

               “Marinette, hush, you’re going to wake up your parents,” Tikki whispered, reaching to pat her shaking shoulder. “It’s late, remember?”

               “God, I’m such an idiot,” Marinette growled angrily into the pillow. She flipped violently onto her back, causing Tikki to flinch back.

               “Sorry,” Marinette mumbled to the kwami as she took out her pigtails and shook out her hair with her hands. Something about wearing pigtails while she felt so angry – especially at herself – made her feel silly.

               “What happened?” Tikki asked, trying to find a safe spot to sit on the chaise.

               “What do you mean what happened?” Marinette repeated back, trying to find her softer voice. “You saw what happened. You were there.

               “I saw you run away. Is that why you’re upset?”

               Marinette went quiet, looking pensively out her window.

               “No. Well, yeah, partly, I guess. I don’t know what I’d have done if I didn’t run though.”

               “Tell him you love him back, maybe?”

               Marinette ran her hands through her hair again, so aggressively that Tikki was mildly surprised that she didn’t actually pull any hair out.

               “That would have made it all worse,” Marinette said.

               “I…don’t understand,” Tikki said. “I know you’re feeling a lot of things – I felt it in the suit. The sadness, the confusion…the anger. But why, Marinette? I have to admit, I’m a little confused, too.”

               Suddenly, Marinette felt a pang of guilt for having treated her kwami unfairly. It wasn’t right to snap at her, or expect her to understand – especially considering all Tikki did for her.

               “I’m sad that Adrien confessed. I’m angry because it could have been so easily avoided, in retrospect, had I never landed on his balcony in the first place and just talked to him like a normal person without a mask on. And I was confused, and kind of still am, as to why he confessed at all.”

            Tikki furrowed her brow. “I’m…I’m sorry, Marinette. I’m still lost. What are you confused about? And how can you be sad that Adrien loves you? Isn’t that what you wanted? You…you didn’t have this strong of a reaction when…when Chat did nearly the same thing.”

            Marinette sighed, but realized that at least talking it out might help her to feel better. “Chat couldn’t help it. Ladybug is all Chat knows. I mean, if we know each other as citizens, we don't realize it, so that might as well be true. But Adrien knows Marinette, too. Marinette and Ladybug. And it turned out exactly the way I hoped it wouldn’t. I ruined Marinette’s chances by getting to know him as Ladybug. Because Adrien knows both sides of me, and fell in love with Ladybug. The side that can’t be with him. And normally, I don’t mind when this kind of thing happens, but I would have given anything for Adrien to be the one person who preferred Marinette to Ladybug. So I’m sad. And angry at myself, because I pretty much ensured that this would happen.”

            Hot tears welled up and spilled out effortlessly again, but Tikki gently brushed them from her cheek. “Oh, Marinette…you have to remember that Ladybug and Marinette are the same person. You never did or said anything to Adrien as Ladybug that Marinette wouldn’t do or say. You told him that he had never really seen Marinette, but maybe you haven’t given him the chance to. I know if you opened up to him, he would start to see that Marinette has all of Ladybug’s qualities that he’s come to love. Plus, he seemed to fall pretty fast…three days is a bit…shocking, I think. He must have sensed some kind of familiarity. I’m sure that he’ll see it in Marinette, too!”

            “But why would be bother looking?” Marinette whispered. “He’s already decided he’s in love with someone. Even if that someone is technically me, what reason does he have to even look at other girls now?”

            “You can still talk to him,” Tikki replied. “Just try being his friend, the way you did as Ladybug.”

            “Talk to him. Right. I had a hard enough time before.”

            “But you’ve been doing just fine for a while now. Just pretend that the mask is on and you’re back in his room. Don’t forget, Adrien wants to find out who Ladybug is. Which makes perfect sense. What would have happened if you had stayed and told him you love him, too? Go on a date together as Adrien and Ladybug? I think he knows that he has to love the girl under the mask, too. He just doesn’t know her. So maybe he’s on the lookout for her still. Just…make yourself visible.”

            Marinette held Tikki in her hand so that the kwami knew that none of her frustration and emotion was being taken out on her. “I’ll do my best, Tikki. If he even still wants to talk to me after this.”

            “If he really loves you,” Tikki said, “I don’t think he’ll give up that easily. I’m sure he’s intelligent enough to realize that there’s something more to all of this. Still, I think it might be best to try talking to him. As Ladybug or Marinette. Even if it’s just a little.”

            “I don’t even know what I’d say,” Marinette said. “I mean, it would have been easiest to just stand there and say, hey, I’m Marinette and love you, too, but…”

            “I understand.”

            “It feels really manipulative,” Marinette resigned. “To get him to fall in love with Ladybug, only to release the transformation the moment I succeeded.”          

            “And if he does love you, as I said, he won’t give up. I think it’s more meaningful anyway that he shows interest and initiative in finding you on his own.”

            Marinette sighed. “Even if he did find out…I mean, what if he changes his mind? What if it kills the glamour? I know you said I’m the same person, but sometimes it’s hard to feel like Ladybug and I are the same. What if he only ever loves the concept of Ladybug and when he finds out how real the girl is underneath, the feeling goes away? I mean, maybe there’s a reason he never saw Marinette. Really, it would have been so easy if Adrien had just…never showed up. And I could have just accepted Chat’s stupid date request, and…ugh.” She buried her face back into her pillow.

            “Did you…want to accept Chat’s request?” Tikki asked.

            “It is as I told him. Were Adrien not in my life, Chat would have a perfectly good chance with me.”

            “Even the boy under Chat’s mask?”

            “I mean, sure. I guess. Hoping he’s not, like, a psychopath under there.”

            Tikki giggled. “He wouldn’t have gotten the miraculous had he been a psychopath.”

            “Hawkemoth did.”

            “Point taken. But Chat’s not evil.”

            “Well, then, I suppose, yeah. Had Adrien never existed, and I had accepted Chat’s date request, and it went well, eventually I’d have to accept the boy that he is, too.”

            “And you don’t think Adrien sees Ladybug that way?”

            “Well…it’s different, I suppose. Because Chat’s masked, too. He knows what it’s like to be hidden. Chat knows that it’s entirely possible to just be…a normal person under the suit. He knows that Ladybug is just as human as he is. But Adrien…what if Adrien doesn’t completely understand that concept? I think that’s for the case for a lot of Parisians. What if he’s expecting Marinette to be just as perfect?”

               Tikki smiled and hummed in the back of her throat.

               “What? What was that?”

               “I just think you’re thinking too hard about it. I think that it’ll sort itself out, though.”

               “If you say so.”

               “I still don’t understand what you were confused about though,” Tikki said. “And that was a pretty strong emotion. Shocked, I understand. Even your anger and sadness now. But I don’t really know what there was to be confused about. The boy was pretty straight forward.”

               “It’s just…not at all what I expected. I said before that I went there with no intention of getting him to love me. I just…didn’t see it coming at all.”

               Tikki broke into a fit of giggles. “Not at all? Marinette, he kissed your cheek! He loves your smile!”

               “He compared my smile to his mother’s.”

               “But he thinks it’s beautiful!”

               Marinette began to turn red. “Look, I thought he was just filling a hole! He’s lonely and pretty void of decent parental figures, and Ladybug is protective and someone a lot of people look up to, and if he noticed me because of my smile that reminds him of his absent mother’s, well, of course that was my first thought!”

               “You thought he saw Ladybug as a motherly figure?

               Marinette buried her face in her hands. “Shut up, Tikki, I’m bad at this. I guess I just didn’t expect Adrien would ever like me like that, regardless of how I presented myself.”

               Tikki patted at her hair. “I think it would be best for you to sleep this off,” she suggested.

               “I think you’re right,” Marinette agreed, rubbing at her tear-swollen eyes. She ran a hand of the framed picture of Adrien at her desk. For all her anger and confusion, she couldn’t imagine what he must have been feeling at that moment. Guilt washed over her for having let down not one, but two, perfectly sweet and wonderful guys in the span of two days. After all, they had no way of knowing what was going on in her head. It wasn’t their fault that she was a total basket case.

               “Marinette?”

               “Yes, Tikki?”

               “Snack before bed?”

               “Of course, Tikki.”

               Marinette set her kwami up with warm milk and cookies at her desk and fell asleep watching her sweet friend who gave her the opportunity in the first place to even know the perfectly sweet and wonderful guys at all.

oOo

               “You thought he saw Ladybug as a motherly figure?” Alya exclaimed the next morning before school. The fact that Alya now knew about Ladybug, requiring Marinette to desperately want to let Alya in on every detail of her second life was actually greatly helping Marinette’s attendance record. Before school was the safest time to tell her anything, since Alya was always early, and at the very least, Adrien was hardly ever there until the second the school bell rang.

               “Hush,” Marinette urged. “Just because it’s early doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone here. You know, you and Tikki should really be friends. She said pretty much the exact same thing.”

               “I knew I liked you,” came Tikki’s tiny, muffled voice from inside Marinette’s bag.

               “It’s true,” Marinette confirmed. “She always said she was fond of you…but that’s not the point. I thought you’d at least have sympathy for me!”

               Alya rubbed her temples. “Baby girl, you’re completely hopeless. You can’t talk to Adrien, and when you finally figure out a way to, it turns out great and he loves you. It’s set up so perfectly. And yet…”

               “Only I can figure out a way to turn being confessed to into a sign of doom.”

               “Basically. Really, though, it seems like he’s really attracted to Ladybug’s personality as well. It’s not like he confessed on day one! Just let him see Marinette’s personality. It should be easier now, don’t you think? He’ll have to start putting the pieces together.”

               “Did Tikki call you or something? Did she tell you what to say?”

               Alya shrugged. “What can I say? Great minds think alike. Besides, we’re both right.”

               “I guess,” Marinette mumbled, shoulders dropping. “By the way, it gets worse.”

               “Oh? What happened? Did he sweep you up in his arms and kiss you and propose you elope to Spain? God, the horror. The travesty. The absolute scandal of it all!” Alya clutched at her heart, feigning a heart attack.

               “Stop,” Marinette giggled, hitting her friend lightly on the shoulder. “No, none of that. Actually, you’re probably going to be all giddy in just a second. It’s about Chat.”

               Alya had to stop herself from squealing and doing a happy dance. “Ooh, finally time to talk about the sexy masked mystery partner, is it?”

               “You- You think he’s sexy?”

               Alya raised her eyebrows like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “That suit. Adrien or no Adrien, you can’t tell me you don’t think Chat’s a little sexy. I mean…honestly. What, is he a Monet? Gorgeous from far away, but a totally splotched mess super close up? Because I’ve got a few close up pics on the blog, and I don’t know…black looks good on everyone, and he pulls it off pretty nicely.”

               Marinette sighed. “Okay. Okay, fine. I guess he’s kind of…a little bit…sexy.”

            Alya squealed. “Yes! I knew it! Oh, this is so good.”

            Marinette raised an eyebrow at her friend.

            “What? I’ll admit, finding out that you were Ladybug changed my perspective in some ways, but I’m still a bit of a LadyNoir shipper at heart. And I just got you to admit that Chat Noir is sexy.”

            “So you were just trying to manipulate it out of me?”

            “Oh, no. He is sexy. There’s a whole section of comments on the Ladyblog confirming that most of Paris agrees. But you get to be closest to him, and it would be a real tragedy if you didn’t appreciate it.”

            “God, you’re going to have a field day with this then. Um…Well, before Adrien confessed to me…Chat maybe kinda did the same thing.”

            “Are you fucking kidding me?”

            “Alya!”

            “No, honestly, are you serious? How? Where? How? Oh my God. It’s all happening at once. You really are lucky.”

            “Well for starters, he just asked me on a date. And called me fantastic.”

            “I count that as confession. Go on.”

            “It was on Notre Dame. After patrol.”

            “Oh, this is too, too good.”

            “And I turned him down.”

            “Of course you did.”

            “Well, what was I supposed to do?” Marinette said, throwing her hands up. “I told him there was kind of another guy…and there is, even if we aren’t dating. And I told Chat we weren’t dating. But I also told Chat that if he didn’t have competition, I probably would have accepted.”

            “…Really?”

            “Well…yeah. I mean, it’s true. He’s really great. And…not awful to look at. And he’s my partner. And best friend, besides you. I mean, I trust him with my life. But there is Adrien, too, and the way I feel about Adrien is no joke. You know that. And I guess Adrien just feels more…real. Ladybug still feels like a fantasy life and Chat is a part of that. I know there’s a real boy under that mask, but until I know him, it’s still kind of too easy and good to be true, I guess.”

            “This is absolutely incredible. You have the two most desirable guys in Paris wrapped around your little red-and-black pinkie finger.”

            “Not Marinette’s very pink finger, though.”

            “They’re the same person.”

            “Yeah, but the boys don’t know that.”

            Alya squirmed. “I can hardly stand it…and you turned down Chat because you like the other one…and then turned him down, too. I swear, if I published this on the Ladyblog, I would reach the height of fame. We’d be more popular than any television show, that’s for sure.”

            “You’d better not.”

            “I won’t. But still. You sure have a knack for stirring things up. I mean I still can’t even believe you’re Ladybug, and then all of this happens. So what are you going to do, then?”

            Marinette shrugged as the school bell rang and they began to walk to class, arms hooked together.

            “Well, I’m thinking things with Chat won’t change too much. He actually took everything pretty positively. It’s not like I think of him really differently, anyway. As for Adrien, I’ll try to just be myself, I guess. I think you and Tikki are right – at least I’ll probably be able to speak to him now. I guess I could try to go see him as Ladybug again, too, but…I really just don’t know what I would say. Sorry, I love you, too, but we can’t be together because I want you to love my other self? Sounds kind of ridiculous.”

            “Actually…

            “No, Alya, I’m not doing that. I’ll…I’ll figure it out, okay? And I’ll keep you up to date.”

            They took their seats in class, and Marinette found herself watching the door, waiting for Adrien to come in. She rarely got a chance to do so, since she was normally as late to school as he was, and even if she had gotten the chance in the past, she wouldn’t have wanted to seem too desperate. Now, though, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the door.

            He walked in just in time for roll call as usual and she noticed instantly that he looked…awful. Even for the model that he was, he definitely didn’t look so good. His hair was messier than usual, he had a casual hoodie thrown on (which was rather attractive on him aside from the fact that it went with his distraught appearance so well). Most noticeable were his eyes. They were slightly bloodshot and had slight purple bags under them. At the very least, Marinette had gotten sleep, so her sad eyes didn’t look as noticeable in the morning. Adrien, on the other hand, had obviously not gotten very much sleep, regardless of if he had cried or not. He couldn’t even speak when his name was called for roll, doing nothing but raising his hand unenthusiastically. Nino patted him on the shoulder, and Adrien made an obvious effort to smile kindly at him, but other than that, he remained rather shut in on himself.

            Alya subtly slid a slip of paper to Marinette.

            ‘damn girl you really screwed w/ him’ the paper read.

            ‘oh thanks, I didn’t feel guilty enough,’ Marinette wrote back.

            ‘Sorry, Alya silently mouthed to her, and Marinette shrugged her forgiveness back.

            The day was hard enough to get through, watching Adrien’s melancholy all day and knowing she had caused it, but couldn’t do a thing about it. It was even worse that she couldn’t do much in the way of talking to him as Marinette, seeing as he was clearly purposely shutting himself off. She did notice that he talked to Nino during lunch, but she had no way of knowing what they were discussing, and they sat far off on their own.

            “You think you can fix it?” Alya asked Marinette after school. “I mean, he looks really torn up.”

            “Yeah…yeah, I’ll figure something out. I probably just needed to see this to get my butt kicked into gear.”

            “Were me and Tikki not enough?”

            Marinette shrugged. “He’s got a different effect on me.”

            “Clearly.”

            “I’ll sort it out. I don’t know how, yet, but…he really likes me, huh? Well, Ladybug, but…you know what I mean.”

            “I’d say so. You should probably know though…the way you feel right now? The way you’re blaming yourself for him being upset and everything? I bet you anything he feels similar. Blaming himself, I mean. I doubt he’s upset just over being turned down. He probably thinks he screwed up and probably scared you off forever.”

            “I didn’t think about that. Well…I’ll do what I can when I feel the time is right.”

            “Good luck, babe,” Alya said, hugging her friend. “Text me if you need anything. And don’t do anything hasty. Take your time and think about what you want to say. Don’t just go…rushing off. You know?”

            “Yeah, I know. I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you! Thanks!”

            “Anytime,” Alya saluted her.

oOo

            How Marinette was able to focus on and finish her homework earlythat night at all was beyond her, thought it was in no small part thanks to Tikki’s encouragement and coaching in between bites of chocolate chip.

            “Did you decide to go out tonight?” Tikki asked when the final problems of homework were finished up.

            “Yeah, I mean, we didn’t get all that work finished up fast for nothing, right? No matter what I end up doing, I want to at least get out of the house for a little bit. You ready?”

            “Ready.”

            “Tikki, transform me!”

            She hopped out her window, just after the sun had set. She often wished that she had more opportunities to hop around Paris, carefree, in the daytime, when the sun could brush her cheeks. Anytime she was suited in the sun, it was generally to fight an akuma. At the same time, it was nice to hop around at night, unseen and unbothered, and able to admire the lights. That night, though, it was difficult to really appreciate anything with so much clouding her mind.

            She made it to the Agreste mansion, feeling a strange de-ja-vu, reminding her of the night just a few days ago, before she had made it up to Adrien’s room at all. Then, it had been so easy to lose herself and end up on his balcony without a second thought. Now, standing on shaking legs, she couldn’t bring herself to go up. At the very least, she needed to give herself a little more time. Alya’s words repeated in her mind, and she reminded herself not to be hasty. After all, she really still didn’t know what to say. Were she to go up to him and apologize, it wouldn’t make much sense unless he knew that she had already loved him outside of being Ladybug. Which then might make him weirded out that she had come to his balcony at all the first time. Besides the fact that he might demand to know her identity. She knew it could be so easy, and all in all, it seemed like such a fantasy, but as much as Ladybug felt like a fantasy, she had to remind herself that it was all real. That was what had really gotten her into the mess anyway, thinking that half of her was fantasy. Now it was affecting, and possibly ruining her reality. Which, really, was all sides of her. It would be best if she just treated Ladybug as herself, rather than an imaginary alternate universe version of her. Ladybug really was just Marinette in a different outfit. Somehow, Tikki and Alya saw that so much easier than she did, even though it was her own mind and body.

                        She wasn’t going to discount her time with Adrien. Progress was progress, she decided, and either way, she got to learn more about him. That had been the goal in the first place. However, she decided, she could not exploit it anymore. She decided not to go back to him until she knew for sure what to say. Besides all that though, she felt as though it was unfair to both of them that she earn Adrien’s affection wearing Ladybug’s mask, even if it really was her the whole time. It wasn’t something she expected Tikki, or Alya, or anyone to understand, but she decided that if she was going to win anyone’s affection, it would be as an equal. There had to be some hero worship involved in Adrien’s affection – right?  Something about it didn’t feel quite the way she wanted it to feel.

            She supposed that was why she didn’t feel too upset about Chat asking her out. Ladybug was really all he knew, as she has told Tikki. And at that level, they were equals. His affection towards her felt more justified than Adrien’s, which stung in an entirely different way. She groaned to herself for what seemed like the thousandth time over the fact that she had been handed a wonderful (and, dare she say it again, even if it was in her head, sexy) partner on a silver platter when she had already pledged to dedicate her life to another perfect boy. Who, in true Marinette fashion, she kept screwing things up with. If anything proved to her that she and Ladybug were one in the same, it was that. The suit sure hadn’t prevented her from running away from Adrien’s.

            “Sorry, Tikki,” Marinette whispered, though she knew the kwami probably already understood. “Tonight’s not the night.”

            As if in response to her whisper, Marinette’s yoyo began to alert her, and she opened it up to the phone feature to see Chat’s face staring back at her. He looked calm – serious, even. It made sense, she thought, but she felt that now, she almost longed for his more joking, jovial self.

            “Chat?”

            “Ladybug, I saw on the baton that you were suited,” he said. Right. Built in GPS. “I was just out for fresh air. I didn’t expect you to be out, too. Is anything the matter?”

            “No,” she replied with a smile. “I guess we just had the same idea. Fresh air.”

            “You…okay?” he asked hesitantly. She wondered if she still looked visibly shaken up. Perhaps she did. At the very least, she was sure she didn’t look like herself.

            “I’m…yeah, I’m alright.”

            “You wanna do a quick patrol?” he asked. “Since we’re already out?”

            “Sounds like a good idea. I’ll do my regular route and meet you at Notre Dame as usual.”

oOo

            Adrien leapt off across his regular route, glad to have seen Ladybug’s face on the other line. He didn’t expect that she was going to show up at his bedroom that night. He felt pretty sure that there was something more going on that he didn’t understand, and he didn’t expect her to explain it to him right away. She had seemed just as upset, whatever it was he had done, and he had come to terms with the fact that she probably needed a little room to breathe. Besides that, he had finally agreed with Plagg that he had probably caught her a little off guard. He was right – even though he had loved her for much longer than she thought Adrien did, she still didn’t know that he was Chat. He could tell that she wasn’t entirely herself on the phone, though. He could see it in her eyes. Something about that relieved him, though. It wasn’t that he wanted her to be upset. He was tearing himself up about it. However, it was a relief that she was clearly still thinking about it. It might have concerned him more if she had run away with no tears in her eyes at all, appearing on the phone like absolutely nothing had happened.

            He made it to the top of Notre Dame without any problems. Tuesdays generally were pretty slow, even for crime, which was why it wasn’t a regular patrol night in the first place. Really, he just had to see her. It didn’t matter that he had turned him down as Chat and Adrien. There was something more to it, he could tell. And besides, whoever this other guy was, she admitted that Chat would have had a standing chance were he not in the way. He decided that Chat, at the very least, wasn’t out of the game yet.

            “Hey, there,” Ladybug greeted when she touched down at their usual spot where they had met not long before.

               “My Lady,” he greeted, trying to keep his respectful distance. Seeing her in person, she looked just as out of sorts as she had appeared over the phone. His heart leapt painfully. He was on her mind two-fold, he realized. He hadn’t considered the confusion she might be feeling. Regardless of who the other guy was, Adrien or not, she still had just had two emotion-heavy encounters with what she thought were two different guys. At least he was dealing with the same iteration of one girl. He now longed even more to be able to know the girl under her suit. To reach out to her and touch her cheek – the place just under her eyes where her mask still covered. Just to hug her and comfort her.

               “No trouble?” she asked him.

               Depends, he thought to himself. “No, not on my side.”

               She nodded, looking at her feet. “Yeah, none on mine either.”

               “Hey…You sure you’re okay?” he asked her again. She looked up.

               “I’ll…be okay,” she replied hesitantly.

               “Which means you aren’t okay right now. Can I help?”

               She didn’t answer right away, looking him in the face, trying to read him as best as she could.

               “No ulterior motives,” he said, clawed hand raised. “Cat’s honor. I’m here to talk, if you want it. No date or anything. Just talk. I’m your partner, don’t forget, and I consider you a very good friend. Best friend, even. I mean, I trust you with my life. That normally applies to battle, but it applies to this kind of stuff, too, you know.”

               Her eyes narrowed, examining him.

               “Just…partner to partner. Do…do you trust me?” he asked.

               “…Yes,” she replied, sitting down and motioning for him to join her. “You sure you wanna listen to this nonsense?”

               “I wouldn’t have asked otherwise,” he replied.

               Ladybug took a deep breath before starting. “Right. Okay…Well, I do like someone, you know?”

               “Right, I remember,” he said, with a small smile. He still had a chance, he reminded himself. Especially if that guy was him after all.

               “Well…I…I don’t know. I think…I may have messed things up. I might have actually had a chance with him. Imagine that. But I’m pretty sure I ruined it.”

               Well. Maybe it  was him. Not that he blamed her for freaking out and leaving. Whether it was him or not though, he had to ask…

               “Did he hurt you?” If the answer was yes, and it was Adrien she liked, he wouldn’t forgive himself, but at least he would know that he had something to work on. And if it wasn’t him, then he’d have someone to go after.

               She looked up at him, seemingly surprised by the intensity of his words.

               “No...No, but I may have hurt him.”

               Huh. Adrien was still in the running he decided.

               “How so?” he asked.

               “He…he doesn’t see me. Do you know what I mean? He doesn’t see me. I think…I think of all people, you might understand the best. Do you ever feel like people see an image that you present, but don’t actually know anything about who you really are? All of you?”

               She had asked him the same question as Adrien, essentially, and the answer remained the same, even though she thought she was asking someone who was misunderstood because he wore a black mask – not because his face was plastered across Paris.

               “Yeah. Yeah, I do understand,” Chat said. “So you think this guy only notices you…well, like this.”

               Ladybug shrugged. “More or less I suppose. But I pushed him away…or rather, pushed myself away. Rather than show him all the parts of me.”

               It was too close. It had to be him, he thought. How lucky he was. He was glad being unlucky in every other aspect of life, as long as he was granted enough luck that Adrien was the “other guy” that Ladybug liked.

               Unless it was just a major coincidence, but at least in that case, Chat still stood a chance.

               And if it was Adrien, he knew at least that he hadn’t done anything absolutely horrible. Sure, he wasn’t doing a very good job of seeing her, but it didn’t sound like she despised this guy. The thing was, he couldn’t for the life of him imagine any girl in his regular life that was close enough to like him like that. His head was spinning but he did his best not to show it.

            “I…I’m sorry, this probably isn’t very pleasant to hear,” Ladybug said to cut the silence. “Probably a little insensitive, actually…”

            “No, no, it’s fine,” he assured her. “I did ask, after all. And I am very interested. Really, if I could help in any way, I’d like to. I don’t like seeing you like this. If you could be happy all the time, I’d be happy. Even if I wasn’t the one bringing you happiness.”

            She smiled at him, truly genuinely, and he felt his heart pang in his chest. That was it. The smile.

            “You do bring me happiness, Chaton,” she said, and took him by surprise by leaning over and hugging his arm. He felt comforting warmth wash over him. “You’re very dear to me. And always will be, I hope you know. I’m just sorry I don’t show it very well. Or more often.”

            He patted her hand gently. It wasn’t over yet. Adrien was still in the game. Chat was still in the game. He wasn’t going to back out.

            “That means a lot to me,” he said and helped her stand back up. “You should get some rest, though. Sleep on it. I’m sure this guy will understand…whoever he is. You won’t tell me? I can go rough him up for you,” he winked.

            She shook her head. “My lips are sealed. But you’re right. I do need some sleep. You do, too, though. You look like you could use it.”

            He nodded to her. “Will do, My Lady. Get home safe, okay?”

            She smiled softly at him as she swung off the cathedral.

            As he watched her go, he began to devise a course of action.

            Step One: Confirm who Ladybug’s affections belonged to.

            Step Two: Figure out where in his life she was hiding so at the very least, Adrien could start to see the real her.

            Step Three: Never stop loving Ladybug and that deadly smile that made him feel so alive.

 

Chapter Text

I’ve been roaming around for hours
Singing all your songs of praise
How on Earth can I complain?
How in Hell can I be safe
From this sudden fear of change?
This sudden fear is strange…
- Simple Pleasures, Jake Bugg

oOo

Marinette detransformed back in her room, unable to describe exactly why her heart rate was twice as fast as normal. There was more to it than the fact that she had just been bounding across rooftops. In fact, the suit generally kept her heart in check.

“Are you alright, Marinette?” Tikki asked, having noticed the shift in behavior as well. “Still thinking about Adrien?”

Marinette fell to her chaise. “Yeah…yeah, I am.”

“I’m sure everything will be fine! You just need to take your time.”

“I know,” she agreed, laying back. Her mind was running a million miles a minute. It was no wonder that her heart was having a hard time keeping up.

“That’s not all, is it?”

Marinette sat back up again. “Do you…do you think it was okay of me to talk to Chat about all of that?”

Tikki tapped her hand thoughtfully on her chin. Cuteness aside, the gesture really made her appear as the wise, centuries-old god that she was.

“I think it’s a good thing that you are talking to Chat Noir like this. In fact, I would recommend you do it even more. I don’t think it’s a harmful thing for you two to spend time together while you aren’t fighting or patrolling. Not that you should make every conversation about Adrien. Chat Noir was very polite tonight, but he’s still human. I would be conscious of his emotions. But you two are still partners. Spending time together and talking and building each other’s trust is only going to help you in the long run, Marinette.”

“You don’t think I hurt him, do you?”

“I think Chat Noir is…extremely hopeful. I believe you have all the ability in the world to hurt him. In fact, you might be able to hurt him more than any akuma every could…given the chance. But no, I don’t think he’s hurt just yet. Like I said, he’s extremely hopeful. And would you agree that he has reason to be hopeful?”

Marinette examined Tikki closely before answering. She knew what the kwami was getting at, but she still decided to beat around the bush. “What do you mean?”

“Do you despise Chat Noir?”

“Absolutely not! Of course not, you know that. I respect him more than almost anyone else I know, and I trust him with my life. I’d kill for him. I’d probably die for him.”

“And he knows that, Marinette.”

“But I’m not…in love with him.”

“Because of Adrien.”

“Well…yeah. We’ve discussed that, Tikki.”

“And, hypothetically, if Adrien never existed?”

“Then…then yeah, I already admitted that I would probably give Chat a chance. But…that’s just the thing. Adrien does exist. And no matter how I feel about Chat, I’m not going to stop liking Adrien.”

“You can like more than one person at once, Marinette. It’s not a crime, you know. You aren’t betraying anyone.”

“I…yeah, I know that…but I never said I liked more than one person at once.”

Tikki crossed her arms and cocked her head at Marinette. “Well, you may not think so, since your love for Adrien is so overwhelming, but the mere fact that you admit that you would give Chat a chance in some scenario says that you have to like him at least a little bit. I know you already love him in some ways, if you’d die for him. It’s not that hard to go from love to like, you know. And even if you don’t see that because you’re just as focused, if not more, on Adrien, Chat does see it. You told him about that possibility, and he’s probably just waiting patiently for his window of opportunity.”

Marinette put her head in her hands. She didn’t want to admit it, but she knew that was the exact reason her heart was racing. She didn’t want to like Chat. Or maybe she didn’t want to like Adrien. At least Chat was simple and already liked her.

But then, things were different now. Because Adrien did love her now, too.

Or, he loved Ladybug.

And who loved Marinette?

A big, fat, nobody, that was who.

“Maybe I should just forget boys and run away to live in a forest with Alya as hermits.”

Tikki giggled. “It sounds lovely, but something tells me that she would never forgive you.”

“I know, you’re right. I shouldn’t have gone to see Adrien that night. And I shouldn’t have let Chat think he had a chance. I should have just…let things be the way they were.”

“I’m not so sure I agree,” Tikki said. “You know more about Adrien now. And you know what, or who, he likes – which is you, technically. It isn’t like you weren’t acting like yourself when you were with him. There was a minor setback, but I think it will sort itself out. And as for Chat, he’s always going to be there. You haven’t ruined anything with him and you know he’s always going to be dependable. And you’ve only opened an opportunity to spend more time with him.”

               “You think I should have accepted the date with him?”

               “Well…now, I don’t know about that,” Tikki said. “While I felt the same thing you did when he kissed your hand the other day – don’t deny it – I think it was for the best that you let him know that your heart is currently divided. I think he needed to know that you had another love interest. But maybe it was also good that you kept his hopes up. I think he’s welcoming of the challenge, actually. But again, I would encourage more stress-free conversations and hang-outs with him. It can’t hurt.”

               Marinette recalled the last time Chat kissed her hand, just after the time Adrien had kissed her cheek, when her body threatened to combust into flames. It was admittedly a new development – and one that had not started until after Adrien had kissed her cheek. She still couldn’t decide if she had felt guilt from letting someone else show her affection after she had let Adrien show her the same thing, or if she was just reliving the moment, or if she then knew what it felt like to have a boy she liked touch his lips to her skin only to have the feeling rekindled with Chat. It was a toss-up between the three, and she refused to believe that actually, she had felt a mixture of all three.

               Tikki took notice of her flush and silence. “Remember – it’s not a crime to have feelings for more than one person at once. And I think Alya will tell you the same thing. The problem is that your relationships with Adrien and Chat are so different. Adrien is your ideal. You have him plastered all over your walls. He’s technically your celebrity crush that you’re just lucky enough to know in person. And even better, or worse, is the fact that you don’t even like him for his fame or looks. Not that it hurts,” Tikki mused with a smile. “You just don’t know him that well, and haven’t had a chance to until recently. Chat, on the other hand, is your best friend, whom you already trust and respect and work well with. You’re already seen as a set. But your romantic feelings for him are…dormant.”

               “Meaning they can wake up?”

               Tikki shrugged her tiny shoulders. “You said it, not me.”

               “Why can’t I just…squish Chat and Adrien in to one stupid, blonde, Ladybug loving guy and be done with it?” Marinette asked as Tikki hummed quietly to herself. “How do you know so much about this kind of stuff anyway, Tikki?”

               The Kwami floated softly down to rest on the arm of the chaise. “I’ve seen countless Chats and Ladybugs get together,” she said. “Across time, across the world, in different languages, and different classes, and different cultures…don’t think you’re the first Ladybug I’ve ever given counseling to, romantic or otherwise. And you definitely are the first to have your heart split.”

               “H-How does it usually end up?” Marinette asked. “I mean…for the ones whose affections are…split?”

               Not that I’m admitting my affections are split, Marinette said. Not yet. Just curious.

               “Well, it’s not always the same,” Tikki said. “Sometimes – well, a lot of the times, Ladybug ends up with Chat Noir. Eventually they reveal their identities and they live in harmony as partners in both lives. I’m sure you understand on some level that that’s the easiest path for most. Chat and Ladybug are destined to be together. That doesn’t always mean romantically, but a lot of them find it very easy to fall in love. And sometimes, it works out better, or faster, or easier with someone else they’ve found. And that’s okay. It does not mean that Chat and Ladybug do not have a very special, close relationship. And then, it’s happened once or twice, that my Ladybug has run away to live with their best friend in the forest as a hermit.”

               Marinette raised her eyebrows at Tikki.

               “I’m serious! I’ve had a lot of Ladybugs and seen a lot of possibilities. And now that I think about it, in one or two cases…” Tikki trailed off, tapping her chin thoughtfully. Though she was smiling, Marinette couldn’t entirely read her expression.

               “What? In some cases, what?”

               “Oh? Nothing. I think it’s best that I stop influencing you so much. It’s your decision in the end. Maybe Adrien will work out, after you figure out what to do. Or maybe something with Chat will happen.”

               “Don’t hold your breath,” Marinette said, rolling her eyes, but she got a chill thinking about him kissing her hand again. Nope. No. It’s only because it made you think of Adrien kissing you. Stop.

               “Well, in any case, you should probably figure out what to say to Adrien. It’s easy with Chat because you’re both masked and this is the only you he knows, but you can’t carry an entire relationship with Adrien as Ladybug alone. I think you’re right in deciding you can’t carry on with this until you figure out things with him as Marinette.”

               “You’re right,” Marinette agreed. “And actually, I’ve figured out what I’m going to do.”

               She got up and went to her desk, pulling out her most inconspicuous and unidentifying sheet of paper. “Maybe I should just be with whichever one falls for Marinette first,” she mumbled, knowing full well what a disadvantage that gave Chat.

               “You’re writing a note?” Tikki asked, peering over her shoulder.

               “Mhm,” Marinette said, and leaned over to let Tikki read over her.

               Dear Adrien,
            I was flattered by your confession.
            I am deeply sorry that I ran away, and I feel bad, but I was in a panic and was unsure what to do. It was unfair to you and I apologize, but I needed time to think, and now I have.
            While your confession means a lot to me, I do not think Ladybug can come to see you any longer until you know who is under her mask. It is not fair for you to love Ladybug without truly knowing who she is. It is not fair to me. I am deeply sorry, and I hope you understand.
            I hope this inspires you to see me.
            I’ll see you soon.

            Marinette read it over and nodded, receiving a nod of approval from Tikki as well.

               “Eloquent…Don’t forget to sign it this time!” she prompted.

               “Well, who else could this be from?”

               “Just to be safe,” Tikki encouraged.

               Marinette nodded as she bent down to note.

               <3 Ladybug.

               She decided that signing off with “love” was too risky at that point, but a heart was just vague and caring enough. A heart could be anything. It could be part of her signature, for all he knew.

               She read the note five times over to convince herself that it was good enough, and decided at the last second to add a final piece.

               p.s. I still want the Tupperware back.

            “Do you want him to figure out who you are?” Tikki asked.

               “I want him to want to know who I am. There will come a time where he cares enough to find out who I am. Once he does it on his own, then I’ll know that he is interested in accepting and loving someone who is…just a someone. For all I know, right now he just loves Ladybug partially because she’s Ladybug. I know he’s not that superficial. I mean, he has the same issue. But still. It’s not like I’m an Amazon Princess or anything. I am just a person. Ladybug is just a person. And I want him to discover that and want to discover that on his own.”

               “I think that’s very wise of you. And you have the same plan with Chat? You do realize it’s potentially more difficult for him to figure it out, right?”

               “I said nothing about Chat. I’m still figuring that out. I don’t know if it’s safe – or necessary – for us to find each other out yet. One step at a time. Adrien first.”

               “Adrien first,” Tikki agreed with a sigh, admitting to herself that she was getting too invested. After all, the romantic relationships of her past Ladybugs had always been her favorite form of entertainment.

               “You aren’t too tired to go back out again?” Marinette asked. “Just to drop off the note. We’ll come right back.”

               “I’m never too tired for love,” Tikki said sleepily.

               Marinette giggled at her. “We’ll be quick – promise.”

               Note secured in hand, she transformed and leapt out her window, leaping along the familiar path to Adrien’s window. It felt familiar to be taking the route again, but strange as well, knowing it would be the last time for a while. The fact that she was going and not even seeing Adrien was especially unsettling, but the fact that she was leaving the note did make her feel better in some ways. She supposed it was the best possibility. She had to tell him something, but the risk of talking to him in person was too high. She didn’t think that she would be able to resist the temptation. Were she to go and he confess his love again, she would say to hell with Marinette What’s-Her-Name and fall into his arms, completely disregarding the logic or sanity or Chat’s feelings or her own personal, real progress with him. As it was, she was already in a position she didn’t want to be in.

               She made extra careful to land quietly on the balcony, though it made little difference, as six cats were already there to great her. They began to mewl and paw at her the moment she touched down, circling in between her legs so incessantly that she could hardly walk across the balcony.

               “Damn cats, leave me alone, mon Dieu, what is it, do felines have some pheromonal attraction to bugs I don’t know about?” She wiggled her legs in an attempt to shake them off, but the gesture only seemed to make them more affectionate with her. “How in the world does Adrien put up with you all?”

               She had to admit that were she not trying so hard to stay away from the Agreste home, she would have been rather taken with the cats. She was glad that she had never learned any of their names – if they had names at all – or else she would have made an effort to come see the cats every week.

               Trying to ignore the furry situation happening around her feet, she peered around looking for a decent place to put the note. She had to make sure it would be somewhere he would see it, after all. Did he come out to his balcony often enough? Maybe he only started coming out when she had landed there.

But then the cats…

               Out of the corner of her eye, Marinette noticed some dishes in the corner, tucked between the brick of the wall and the balcony railing, filled with milk and food. He had to have been outside recently. Maybe even that night. Maybe if she had come just moments earlier, he would have been out there, and they could have…

               She shook the idea from her mind, but decided that the note would be fine left outside. The sheer blue curtains were drawn on the inside, and she dared to peer up and gaze through the window. Was he still awake? She stood just to the side of the window which she hoped would be a blind spot for him, were he awake and peering out hopefully for her.

               To her satisfaction, he was out completely, sprawled rather ungracefully across his couch (And only to my satisfaction, she scolded herself, pretending that she wasn’t also a little disappointed that he wasn’t watching out for her and that she couldn’t rush in and apologize to him in person, and have a dozen blonde polka-dotted children with him. Adrien being asleep is the best thing that could have happened to you tonight.) Whatever he had been doing early that night had exhausted him though, she noticed. He hadn’t even bothered changing out of his clothes, aside from the fact that hadn’t made it to his bed, either. His undignified sprawl across the arm of the couch was such a visual contrast to the way he appeared the first night she had seen him, fairly poised and reading. He looked so much more casual, and it was just as attractive. Despite his unconventional position and the fact that he was sleeping in jeans, he really did appear to be at peace. She was glad for that, at least, that he didn’t seem to be losing too much sleep over her. She wouldn’t be able to stand the guilt of it.

                So she felt bed when she knew she was going to have to wake him up.

                A breeze had picked up, and she knew that the note wouldn’t stay put. She also saw that Adrien had brought his (remaining) plants indoors. Which was wise, in retrospect. She likely would have broken another pot if she had tried to slip a note under one. She had no choice but to wedge the note under the window sill. She knocked on the window just loud enough to get him to stir. She knew he would come to it, likely expecting her, but she zipped away before he had a chance to make it to the window and see her silhouette in the distance.

oOo

               Alya screamed until Marinette slapped her hands over her best friend’s mouth. Marinette raised her eyebrows hesitantly until she was sure that, when she removed them, Alya would not still be screaming.

               “I am going to -,” she looked around, suddenly aware that a few of the other early bird students milling around were starting at her and her raised voice. She lowered it before continuing again. “I am seriously going to kick your ass.”

               “Oh, hush. I’d like to see you try, anyway.”

               “Marinette Dupain-Cheng, you know very well that I can -,”

               Marinette cut her off by flipping her hair gently to show off her earrings, which Alya now took as a reminder that her best friend was a superhero.

               “Right,” Alya said. “Never mind the ass-kicking then. Still. I can’t believe you. Or this. Any of this.”

               “What? I haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, I thought I was doing a perfectly fine job.”

               “What does Tikki think?” Alya was curious to know.

               “I – well, she was…encouraging, if not ambiguous.”

               Tikki cleared her throat from Marinette's bag quietly in agreement.

               “There’s been a lot of Ladybugs,” Marinette explained quietly. “And Tikki’s counseled them all, but at the same time, we’re all different. What might have worked for one Ladybug and Chat might not work for us all. She wouldn’t want to skew her advice to me based on something she told a totally different Ladybug that might have worked for her.”

               “I suppose that’s true. Well, you still have me. And you’re the only Ladybug I’ve ever known, so my evidence won’t be skewed.”

               “Well, maybe not because of past Ladybugs, but it can be skewed for other reasons!”

               Alya huffily put her hands on her hips. “And how might that be?”

               “Well, I know you want to see me with Adrien, so you’re going to push that or all it’s worth, maybe even if I only show up to him as Ladybug. And at the same time, I’ve known you to be a hardcore LadyNoir shipper since the day you put up the Ladyblog. Which…is still a little weird, but I’ve been dealing with that since day one, so really, it’s no different now. I mean, it’s just as weird as that one time you said you thought you had a little bit of a crush on Ladybug. That’s...still awkward.”

               Alya shrugged. “It’s still true.”

               “Alya!” Marinette exclaimed, swatting at her arm. Alya shrugged.

               “What can I say? My best friend is a hottie. It would be totally unfair if I considered Chat Noir to be the only sexy one.”

               Marinette blushed and crossed her arms as Nino walked over.

               “Hey ladies, what’re you talking about so early this morning? Mari, you’re never this early.”

               “Just discussing her boy trouble,” Alya said tauntingly, turning Marinette an even deeper shade. “That, and how Ladybug is pretty hot.”

               “Oh, well yeah,” Nino shrugged. “I mean, is that even something that needs discussing? I’m pretty sure there’s a Paris-wide consensus concerning Ladybug’s hotness.”

               “Oh, God,” Marinette muttered.

               “Not that Paris’s collective crush on her means a good God damn,” Nino continued, “since Chat Noir obviously has that on lock down.”

               “I – excuse me?” Marinette said. “He has her on a what now?”

               Nino shrugged. “I just mean that he’s obviously got his ring on that. Erm, figuratively speaking. They’re an item.”

               “I don’t think so,” Marinette said.

               “Is there a skeptic in our midst?” Nino asked Alya. Marinette started to connect the dots and began to realize who the top commenter, Mr_Bubbles, on the official LadyNoir Shipping Page of the Ladyblog was. Until that very moment, she had always put Cobra Bubbles from Lilo & Stitch in place of the anonymous user’s face, or lack thereof. Now there was no doubt in her mind that it was Nino.

Which was just as weird.

On second thought, she realized, I think I’d rather have an army of Cobra Bubbles shippers than Nino and Alya. She was not ready for the havoc the two together could wreck – especially now that Alya knew who she was.

“Not a skeptic,” Marinette said. Alya’s head shot around to her. “But, I don’t think they’re committed to each other. Like that. Romantically.”

Yet,” Nino insisted. Alya had to stifle a giggle behind her sleeve. “Like, they want each other so bad dude. You can totally see it. I mean, have you seen the way Ladybug looks at Chat? She totally wants a piece of that pleather ass.”

Marinette nearly choked on nothing as Alya laughed and high-fived Nino. 

               “I mean, not that I blame her,” Nino shrugged. “Chat’s suit is sexy.”

               “I told you, Marinette. I told you Chat’s suit was sexy.”

               “Hey, I agreed with you,” Marinette muttered.

               “I know you did,” Alya said. “I just wanted to hear you say it again.”

               “This is not happening right now,” Marinette muttered to herself.

               “Well, now that that’s sorted,” Alya said, “you need to shoo, Nino. We still have boy trouble to discuss.”

               “Anything I can help with?” Nino offered. “I am a boy, after all.”

               “Oh, are you?” Alya said. “I hadn’t noticed.”

               Adrien’s best friend and Paris’s top LadyNoir shipper, besides Alya, asking if he can help with boy trouble revolving around Adrien and Ladybug’s relationship with Chat? Marinette thought. No. Nope. Absolutely not. In fact, perhaps the worst person to receive help from.

            “No, we can figure it out,” Marinette insisted with a sweet smile, hoping her blush had subsided at least slightly.

            Nino shrugged. “Suit yourself, but I’ll have you know, I am a relationship expert. Uh, good luck with whatever the trouble is.”

            They waved at him nonchalantly until he was satisfyingly out of earshot.

            “Alright,” Alya said. “From the beginning. We’ll go step by step here and figure out what to do.”

            “But I know what to do. Kind of.”

            “Yeah, I’m not trusting your judgement anymore,” Alya said.

            Marinette sighed. “Okay, then. Are we starting with Adrien or Chat?”

            Alya tapped her hand on her chin. “Adrien, I suppose. So that’s it, then? You just aren’t going to see him again? You tempted the boy, got your chaste little vanilla cheek peck, and left him so unsatisfied?”

            “Don’t you go referencing Romeo & Juliet at me,” Marinette said.

            “If this isn’t a balcony scene, what is?”

            “I’ll have you know that there is no evidence of that scene even taking place on a balcony. It’s just a popular staging choice.”

            “What-ever. Point is, you left him high and dry before anything good happened.”

            “Well, that’s kind of the point, Alya. I don’t want anything good to happen while I’m still masked and he doesn’t even know who I am. What kind of person does that even make me? It seems so petty. And unfair to us both. I’d be ruining my shots with him unmasked, which are the shots I really want, and he’d be carrying on some affair with someone he didn’t even know. It just wasn’t…right. And I’m not leaving him for good. Just…you know. Until he figures things out. Or I figure things out. Or when I decide things are going equally well with him when I’m not suited.”

            “Mhm, and that’s going to happen when?”

            “I’m…working on it.”

            “And run the note by me one last time.”

            Marinette sigh, but repeated the note’s context from memory, which was easy enough after having anxiously replayed it in her head so many times.

            “And the Tupperware thing?”

            Marinette explained to her how she had promised Adrien could keep the Tupperware until he figured out her identity.

            “God, if that’s not the cheesiest thing…I hope you’re ready to never see that Tupperware again.”

            “Oh, ye of little faith.”

            Alya shrugged. “I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. I’m sorry girl, but your boo is blind as a bat. He can’t see your crush, he can hardly see Chloe’s horns and pitchfork…if you think the boy is gunna pick out Ladybug in Paris…”

            “Okay, but she sits right behind him.”

            Alya shrugged a shoulder. “What makes you think he’s clever enough to turn around?”

            “He’s clever!” Marinette defended, but Alya was right. Adrien had been pretty blind to a lot of things. Besides that, even if he knew that he had seen Ladybug in person before, he didn’t know that she was in his class. He had the entire range of every woman he had met before at his disposal, and as a model, that was saying a lot. Marinette stared down at her shoes and Alya rubbed her back gently, sensing the dismay.

            “Why don’t we talk about Chat, then?” Alya suggested.

            “Right,” Marinette agreed.

            “You told him about Adrien.”

            “No, no, I didn’t. I wouldn’t tell Chat his name. But…I did tell Chat that I thought I may have messed things up with him and I was upset.”

            “Oh, girl.”

            “What?”

            “You gave him prime swooping opportunity. He’s going to think he has an even better chance now.”

            “You think so?” Marinette muttered. “I mean, I did mention I still liked…the guy. And Chat was perfectly respectful and listened and made no moves.”

            “Are you trying to destroy the poor kid?”

            “What?

            “He’s having to sit there and listen to his crush ramble on about her crush, and he doesn’t even get to know who the kids is so you can beat him him.”

            Marinette turned her head cautiously to Alya. “You don’t think Chat would actually go beat up Adrien, do you?”

            Alya shrugged.

            “God, I should have just kept my dumb mouth shut. That’s dumb cat is going to turn this into a competition, Alya. I don’t want Chat and Adrien competing over me.”

            Alya raised an eyebrow at her. “Uh-huh.”

            “Fine,” Marinette groaned. “It’s flattering. But it’s not even fair. Neither of them even know who I am. And I bet if they knew I was…well, me, they would stop competing altogether.”

            Alya rolled her eyes. “I’m not even going to try to argue with you, but you know they wouldn’t hate you.”

            “If you say so, but I’m not convinced. We’ll just see if either of them even care about who I am.”

            “Anyway, so what happened after you told Chat about how muddled up things are going with Adrien? Don’t leave anything out.”

            Marinette took a deep breath, trying to recall everything. “Well. I told him maybe I had hurt Adrien and not the other way around. And that it was all because Adrien doesn’t really know the real real me. He said that as long as I’m happy, he doesn’t care who it is bringing me happiness. Even if he isn’t the one.”

            “Shit, that kid’s got it bad.”

            “And then I told him that he does make me happy. And I hugged him.”

            Alya dropped her head into her hands and groaned before coming back up. She removed her glasses to massage the bridge of her nose. “You’re going to have that poor boy so messed up by the time all of this is through.”

            “Okay, tell me what I did wrong this time.”

            “First of all, you are keeping him on the hook so bad. He makes you happy. You’re hugging him –,”

            “What? He’s my best friend, next to you! And partner! You’re telling me I can’t hug him now?”

            “There’s nothing wrong with a hug. But this was after he asked you out. And after you told him if it wasn’t for Adrien, he might have a chance. And after you told him you might have just screwed up with Adrien. Now, even though your note might have saved your Adrien situation, he doesn’t know that, and I bet you anything that Chat thinks he’s still in the game. Now more than ever, probably.”

            “Game? What game?”

            “This game! This whole relationship thing is a game!”

            “Oh, this is so stupid.”

            Alya shrugged. “You’re the one falling on balconies and getting boys to compete for you.”

            “I didn’t – That’s not what I wanted! I didn’t even know Adrien was gunna be into Ladybug like that. It took me totally by surprise! And Chat…I just thought he was a flirty little shit. I didn’t know he was serious. I didn’t try to get this to happen.”

            Alya shook her hair. “You’re right, you’re right. You didn’t get them to do anything. This is just punishment for you being a blind bitch.”

            “Hey!

            “I mean, it’s true. You’re just as bad as Adrien if you were meeting that boy after hours in his damn room, as a celebrity, mind you, that all of Paris is in love with, and didn’t see this coming. And the fact that you didn’t expect this from Chat?” Alya threw her hands up. “Done. I’m done. I am deceased. No wonder you got stuck in this mess.”

            Marinette crossed her arms. “Well, I’m trying to get unstuck, thanks. And you’re supposed to be helping me here.”

            Alya draped her arm over her friend’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, girl, but you’re not making it very easy on me here.”

            “Anyway, I guess the Chat thing is about to get worse.”

            “Oh?” Alya asked as they stood to start walking to class.

            “Yeah…Tikki thinks, all things aside, that it’s best that I hang out with Chat more anyway. I mean, we are partners, after all.”

            Alya rubbed her hands together. Her shipper heart was coming out again. Despite how encouraging she was regarding Marinette’s advances with Adrien, she knew it would be a long time before extinguishing the fire she felt for LadyNoir. That was, if it ever did get extinguished. “And will you tell me where you’ll be hanging out ahead of time so that I can come take pics for the blog?”

            “Absolutely not,” Marinette laughed. “And don’t say hanging out like that. It’s supposed to be totally innocent.”

            Alya rolled her eyes. “Well, to you, maybe. And you know he’s going to try twice as hard to figure out who you are, now.”

            “What? Why?”

            “You told him that the reason you were freaked out by Adrien was because he didn’t ‘see’ you,” Alya said, using air quotes around Marinette’s words. “So what better way to win you over than by trying to ‘see’ you himself and one-up Adrien?”

            Marinette looked intensely forward. “Oh God, you’re right.”

            She was starting to understand how Chat was able to sit still as she talked about Adrien and be perfectly respectful. Of course, she didn’t doubt that he was respectful at heart anyway, but Chat was just sitting back on his haunches, patiently as possible, waiting for his perfect chance to pounce. Just like a cat. Alya was right. This was a game and he was in it to win it.

            “Where would he even start though?” Marinette asked as they took their seats in class. “At least Adrien knows that he’s encountered me before. Chat doesn’t really have a starting place.”

            Alya shrugged. “I wouldn’t put it past him. Especially if he’s clever and competitive and totally in love with you.”

            Marinette was about to protest the last point when Nino walked in and took his own seat. “Ooh, who’s competitive and totally in love with Marinette?”

            “None of your business, DJ,” Alya said to Marinette’s relief.

            “Would this have anything to do with your boy trouble?” Nino asked. “Offer’s still on the table. I can be a pretty good wing man.”

            “That won’t be necessary, thanks,” Marinette mumbled as Adrien walked in, just in the nick of time as usual. She took notice immediately of the fact that he looked significantly better than he had the day before. His hair was back to being properly combed, he looked a bit better rested (though not ideal, which Marinette quietly decided was probably due to his sleeping on his couch), and he had traded the hoodie for a blazer and scarf.

            “Marinette doesn’t want you having anything to do with her boy trouble,” Alya insisted to Nino.

            “Oh, Marinette, is something wrong?” Adrien asked, half turning around to her. “Are you having problems with someone?”

            Oh, this is not happening. God, it keeps getting worse. She tucked her knees up and hid her face down behind her bag, unable to come up with a way to answer, which was just as well as attendance started before she would have had a chance.

            I’m a little concerned, Marinette wrote to Alya on a slip a paper before discreetly sliding it across their table.

            Y? She quickly wrote back.

            He looks…too happy.

            Alya read the reply and had to bite down on her lip to keep herself from laughing. I thought u were totes beat up over getting him all upset?

            I was, Marinette wrote back. But the girl he confessed his love to just left him a note saying she wasn’t coming back and she didn’t even return the sentiment. You’d think he’d look a little more strung out over it based on how he looked yesterday.

            Alya took a moment to read over the note thoughtfully before responding, taking an extra moment to read and ignore a subtle text from Nino asking more about what Marinette was freaking out over. Alya knew that he was only so incessant because he knew just well as she did that Marinette had a crush on Adrien and he was desperate to know if there was some development he missed, but she found it most convenient to ignore him.

            maybe hes over u already, Alya wrote back. When Marinette read it, she shot her friend a side eye, but Alya only responded with a shrug.

            I’d like to think that Adrien is a little too classy to be that fickle, Marinette wrote, but now that Alya had brought it up, she was already overthinking herself into a hole. Maybe Adrien was over it. Maybe he had given up. After all, maybe he had already seen Ladybug as a concept to be too unattainable of a goal. And now, here she was making it even harder for him.

            maybe. or maybe hes too busy looking for you to be upset, Alya suggested. Marinette shrugged back, but didn’t write anything further. She would have liked to think that that was true. It was a better answer than any other alternative. However, he didn’t act any differently towards her throughout the day. He was back to his regular Adrien self, as if he had never had a bedroom visitor at all. He didn’t seem to be looking for anyone at all, let alone her.

            Things only got worse as the day progressed. Nino was still relentless, begging to be a wingman. He seemed to want to pay Marinette back for getting him closer to Alya, and he was hinting strongly about what a good job he would be able to do because of who he was friends with. Marinette shot countless glares at Alya, knowing that Nino was assuming her problems were with Adrien. Not that he was wrong.

            “Don’t give me those looks,” Alya whispered to Marinette between classes. “He just wants to help. I didn’t even tell him. He guessed. Which isn’t even hard. The whole class is kind of rooting for you. You aren’t exactly subtle, girl. Luckily for you, I guess, Adrien is the only oblivious one.”

            Marinette turned bright red. “Well, make him stop. It’s too complicated enough already without Nino getting involved.”

            It was only made worse by the fact that Adrien was always with Nino, so he was also conveniently within earshot when Nino insisted on being Marinette’s wingman.

            Therefore, by the time Gym came around, Marinette was thankful for once to hear the sounds of screams in the distance. A familiar and usually stressful cry, but if it meant a moment away from Adrien’s face and Nino’s pestering, she was glad to answer it.

            “Duty calls,” Marinette whispered to Alya. “I’ll be back. Try, uh, to take charge. And cover for me if you need to.”

            Alya shot her a thumbs up as the students in Gym rushed indoors to safety. It was kind of useful in this case to have Alya in the know, Marinette decided. At least she would have backup when she needed a quick cover.

            The akuma wasn’t anything too stressful. He was a stressed maître d’ who was sick of impatient guests, so he did what was simplest – made them wait. He chased civilians, freezing them in place, which was stressful to a degree, but he was rather slow himself and easy to dodge. Chat and Ladybug made short work of him with one quick Cataclysm and no Lucky Charm necessary, easily snagging the reservation book he carried that held the akuma and ripping it in half. Paris is back to normal and the maître d’ calm and back to work before that class period was even over. Marinette was almost disappointed that it didn’t take longer, but at the very least, she hoped that the attack was enough to at least make Nino forget about his obsession.

            “Ladybug!” Chat yelled quickly as he ran in the other direction. His miraculous was counting down far faster than hers was, having just used his power. “Patrol tonight?”

            Again? So soon? She thought until she remembered that the previous night had been an unscheduled patrol. She quickly gave him a thumbs up to allow him time to run off. He was gone around a corner in no time. Marinette said a prayer of thanks for the extra good luck of not having to have used her Lucky Charm. If Chat was even more intent now on finding out her identity, she would not have put it past him to stick around as long as possible to see transformation. With a deep exhale, Marinette scurried back to school just in time to catch the transition from Gym to the final class of the day. She was welcomed back as though she had never been missing with a pat on the back from Alya and another question from Nino. She sighed and rolled her eyes and did everything in her power to finish the day off without looking at Adrien.

oOo

            Patrol was a welcome relief. After a full day of civilian drama and trying (and failing) to understand Adrien’s emotions, as well as fending off Nino, and being coached and scolded by Alya, Marinette was actually looking forward to seeing Chat. At the very least, he was straightforward. Plus, at this point, the fact that they didn’t know each other’s identities worked in their favor, Marinette decided. Since Chat knew no one else in her life, as far as they were both concerned, there could be no gossip. It was just the two of them and a partnership that couldn’t be tainted by relationship shenanigans. At least, she hoped it wouldn’t be. Up until that point, Marinette hadn’t been aware that relationship shenanigans even existed between them, but after the short work they had made of the akuma earlier that afternoon, Marinette had determined that the partnership had not yet been tainted, if that were such a possibility.

            “My Lady,” Chat greeted as they touched down on Notre Dame. They had already seen each other that night, having to team up to stop a quick robbery, but now was their chance to greet each other properly. Ladybug made a quick mental note that, again, he didn’t bend down to kiss her hand.

            “Chat. You’re looking well,” she greeted back.

            “My Lady’s too kind,” he said with a smile. “And you, of course, are lovely as ever. Though, if you don’t mind me saying, you look troubled. Tense, I mean.”

            “Nothing gets past you, chaton.”

            “Anything you want to talk about? I’m all ears.” At that, the cat ears on top of his head actually twitched.

            She considered it deeply. Was she allowed to rant about Adrien again? According to Alya, it was only going to drive him crazier. Maybe it was insensitive. But at this point, there was no point in pretending that nothing was wrong. Against her better judgement, if she had any better judgement left at all, she shrugged, sat down, and began to tell him.

            “It’s this guy again,” she said as Chat sat down next to her. “I…Okay, this is so dumb, but remember how I said I didn’t think he was really…noticing me? Under the mask?”

            “I remember,” Chat said. “So, to clarify, this guy definitely knows who you are?”

            “Well, yes, but he doesn’t know that I’m Ladybug. Y’know? He knows my civilian self and he knows Ladybug, and apparently loves Ladybug, but is totally oblivious to my alter ego. Doesn’t know we’re the same person.”

            Chat closed his eyes and chuckles and she tried to ignore how charming it was. When had he lost the baby fat under his eyes? When had his jaw sharpened? She took note that he could do with shaving soon. Was it all new, or was it just because she was now sitting so close to him? It was as though he went from kitten to cat overnight. “So he still doesn’t have too much of a leg up on me.”

            “No, I guess he doesn’t,” she said, and flicked the bell at his collar, doing her best not to look at him. “Well…I decided it would be best for me not to meet him…as Ladybug, I mean, until he figures out who I am.”

            “You were meeting him as Ladybug?”

            “Well…yeah,” she blushed. “I mean, that’s how I figured out that he even liked me…like this, even though he doesn’t notice me out of my suit at all. I didn’t mean to meet him, actually. It just kind of…happened. And kept happening. Until I realized how he saw me. Or half of me, at least.”

            “I…see.”

            “So, I left him a note last night telling him that.”

            Something unreadable flashed in Chat’s eyes and the corner of his mouth twitched ever so slightly. “You left the guy you have crush on a note last night?”

            “…Yes?”

            “Just confirming,” he said. “Go on.” A strange glint remained in his bright green eye, but she had no idea what to make of it, so she continued.

            “Well…I saw him today. And he looked…completely…unperturbed. And I guess I just got a little…upset? Not that I wanted to make him feel bad. But I thought he’d be actively looking for me, or at least that he would look like he had just been told via note that the girl he loves is going to hold off from seeing him for an indeterminate amount of time.”

            “You think he stopped caring,” Chat muttered.

            “Well…yeah. I guess that’s it.”

            “Furr-give me for not crying the blues, My Lady,” he smirked.

            “I didn’t expect you would,” she giggled softly. “Sorry for…bringing this guy up again.”

            “It’s fine, trust me. I can’t imagine anyone would just…stop caring about you, anyway,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation and you just don’t quite have…the full picture yet. Especially if he likes you. I speak from experience.”

            At that, she felt herself blush. In her mind, her face was as red as her suit, but she hoped it was subtle enough on her skin and dark enough outside that Chat wouldn’t notice. She expected him to continue and say something about how if Adrien did stop caring, he would be there waiting for his turn, but curiously, he said nothing more.

            “I feel selfish,” Ladybug said after the brief, surprisingly comfortable, silence. “I never ask how you’re doing. After all, you’re in a similar position, aren’t you? I mean…I did turn you down, too.”

            Chat shrugged. “I can’t complain entirely yet. After all, I’m the guy that still gets to see you almost every day. And sitting here talking is just as good as anything else I could have expected. Even if it is just as friends. Speaking of, though, I did want to ask you something.”

            She raised her eyebrows at him but he raised his hands in defense.

            “Not like that! I mean…okay, kind of like that. But…let me explain. So…there’s a big gala at the Louvre on Sunday.”

            “I am aware,” she said cautiously. Galas, regardless of their subject or purpose, always promised to be a stunning showcase of fashion.

            “Well…,” he said slowly, rubbing his neck as he considered how to explain himself. “I…kind of have two tickets.”

            “You what? How in the world did you get tickets?”

            Chat shrugged. “I know a guy? In high places?”

            “I’m not buying it.”

            “What? It’s not like I stole them. I’m not a complete alley cat under this mask, you know. In fact, I’m quite dashing.”

            “I’m sure,” she said, though with that newly defined jawline…

            “Look, the point is, I ended up with two tickets. Forget about how I got them. And…well…I had this idea. I wasn’t going to go at all, actually. Not really in the mood to go as a civilian, and I don’t know who I’d get to go with me. The only person I would want to go with is you. So when that crossed my mind, I had the idea of going...as Chat Noir and Ladybug.”

            “Are you out of your mind?

            “What? It’s a good idea! Ladybug and Chat don’t ever make any very big evening public appearances, but we’re just as, if not more, important than a lot of the Parisians that will be attending. I think we’ll be completely welcome. And it’ll be much more enjoyable than going as civilians. We never get to make appearances out of suit.”

            “And what do you suggest we wear?”

            Chat shrugged. “Gala clothes? Dress your best. Elegant. But…with a mask. That shouldn’t be hard to find. You can get a mask at like, any costume or party shop. No one will recognize us, after we clean up and have masks on. Already, that will be two things making us look different than our everyday appearance. And if we introduce ourselves as Chat and Ladybug and keep to our color schemes, no one’s going to see us as anything else.”

            She looked down into her lap, fiddling with her hands. “I…guess. And what will this mean for us?”

            “Totally platonic, if that's what you want it to be. We’re going as a polite civic duty, as two important Parisians, as Ladybug and Chat Noir. It’ll be just like attending a ribbon cutting or the statue unveiling. We won’t have to worry about running out of time, and we won’t be risking our lives. That's not to say that I won't be more than honored to have you on my arm for the evening.”

            Ladybug considered it, and the idea was starting to sound more and more appealing. In a gala dress and mask, it wasn’t like she’d be any more revealing than they were in their suits. It did sound fun. Plus, she had always hoped to be able to attend a gala, and really, who was more deserving than she and Chat? Without the two of them, the Louvre might not even exist any longer for there to hold a gala at in the first place. As Marinette, the idea was more concerning. Chat insisted it wasn’t a date, but she was sure he’d pretend it was one for his own benefit anyway. She had no dress and no excuse to escape out of the house dressed for a red carpet, but she was sure that would all fall into place. After all, Tikki said she should try hanging out with Chat more, outside of dangerous situations. What better opportunity was there?

            “I…yes. Yes, okay, we can go,” she said, standing up.

            “You’ll go?” Chat repeated back to her with surprise as he stood up as well. “You’ll really go with me?”

            “Yes, I’ll go. It’ll be fun. Besides, I kind of want to see how the Miraculous Chat Noir cleans up.”

            “You won’t be able to resist me, My Lady,” he said with a wink. “The question is, what are you going to wear?”

            She winked back at him. “I have something up my sleeve,” she said.

            He smiled at her. The Adrien in him would have offered to have an Agreste original sent to her, but he knew that would only re-open the question of how he had access to gala tickets and exclusive fashions. That, and he didn’t think she would give up her address to him so easily. He was forced to hope that she had something gala appropriate, though he didn’t underestimate his Lady.

            As she swung away, though, the question repeated stressfully in her head.

            What am I going to wear?

Chapter Text

We’re both in this masquerade
What can I do to see you
The girl behind the mask
Our love was just a masquerade
I wanna get to know you
The girl behind the mask
I want a chance to feel you
The girl behind the mask

- Masquerade, Eric Saad

oOo

To: Alya
I NEED YOU

               Marinette stripped quickly and shimmied into her pajamas the second she touched down in her room, texting Alya with one hand at the same time.

From: Alya
i only just confessed my slight ladybug crush today and u decide u need me rn? quite the turn around. im flattered seeing as you have blonde beauties practically drippin off u, and im the one u need

            Marinette groaned, rapidly tapping out a response, her toothbrush hanging from her mouth.

To: Alya
Now is NOT the time for jokes, Im kind of freaking out

From: Alya
gurl do u even realize what time it is?? im tireddddd, tell me in the a.m.

               Marinette rolled her eyes and flopped onto her bed, absentmindedly shimmying herself over her cat body pillow and resting her elbows onto it. For once in her life, Alya wasn’t immediately interested in the gossip, and it was the most inconvenient time of all.

To: Alya
Why is this is the one time you don’t want to hear about mine and/or Ladybug’s gossip?

               When Alya’s reply came in, Marinette could practically hear the sound of exasperation seeping through the screen.

From: Alya
1. imma assume this is ladynoir biz. 2. i was on patrol tonight too since i kno the patrol schedule 3. knowing ur ladybug doesnt mean i dont still do my own patrol 4. if anything really huge happened then id have seen it 5. im tired bc of patrol 6. u should be too 7. sleep 8. tell me in the a.m.

To: Alya
You spy on me?

From: Alya
thats what u take away…k. pls refer back to # 3. still got a blog to run. not like i can hear anything u and lover boy talk about on the rooftops. ill see you in the morning, get there early, nini

               Marinette kicked her legs in frustration and fury, much to Tikki’s initial shock.

               “Sorry, Tikki,” Marinette muttered, sitting back up straight.

               “Is it really that drastic that you need to talk to her now?” the kwami asked, bringing over an Oreo from Marinette’s desk and biting down on it daintily. “I think everything is going well. At least, nothing that can’t wait until morning, right? You probably should sleep if you’re going to go to school early in the morning.”

               “That’s just it, Tikki,” Marinette said. “Everything did go well. I just don’t know how to progress from this point. This was kind of an unexpected turn and there’s kind of a lot to take into account now.”

               “I agree,” Tikki said, finishing her cookie. “But I still think you should sleep on it, because you’re just going to keep talking and thinking yourself in circles, like you always do.”

               “Yeah…yeah, you’re right,” Marinette said. As had become their custom, Tikki flew to shut off the lights. “I’ll rest. But don’t expect me to get much sleep. I probably won’t sleep all night.”

               As soon as the lights went out, though, Marinette curled herself around the body pillow and drifted off quickly, staring at the glow of her computer desktop wallpaper.

oOo

               “Alright,” Alya said the next morning, stretching out and turning her full attention to Marinette. “Why is it that you need me? I mean, aside from the obvious fact that I’m gorgeous and talented and intelligent.”

               Marinette rolled her eyes. “Okay, so you saw me with Chat last night.”

               “Obviously, yes.”

               “Did you…did you get any pictures, by the way?”

               Alya shrugged. “A few, just to give a quick update on that robbery you two stopped. Once you got to Notre Dame, I didn’t take any. I can hardly see you two when you go up there. It’s like, really fucking high up. And I’m like, blind. And it was night. I kind of give up once you guys get to the cathedral.”

               “So you went home.”

               “I went home.”

               “Then how do you know nothing important happened?”

               “Because you texted me.”

               Marinette blinked. “I’m…sorry?”

               “You texted me. If something really big happened, like…Chat kissing you, you would have called me. If something really, really big happened, like you figure out Chat’s identity, you would have FaceTimed me.”

               Marinette’s huffy posture instantly slumped. “You’re right.”

               “I’m sure it’s exciting. Or important. And most definitely something you’re going to need my help with, lest your entire world catch fire -,”

               “Correct,” Marinette added.

               “– But, it was not text-Alya-in-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning. Right?”

               Marinette sighed. “Right.”

               “It was nothing that couldn’t wait until right now?”

               “No, I guess not.”

               “Okay. Good. See? I know you well. And you’ve probably had proper sleep and can talk about this rationally, or…well, we’ll see about that. Now – tell Mama Cesaire all about it, child.”   

“Okay, so I told Chat that I was kind of…concerned that Adrien didn’t seem less…upset yesterday.”

               “Girl, I’m telling you, you’re killing this boy. You are like…queen of the tease.”

               “What? I am not.”

               “You are both dangling the fact that you have a crush on someone else in front of him, and telling him that it’s not going how you planned it. You’re knocking him down only to immediately set him back up and give him hope again.”

               “Well, I’m not trying to do that,” Marinette whined. “I was just…ranting. Because Tikki said we should talk more. And he asked.”

               “Doesn’t change what you’re doing. You’re giving him just enough slack, and reeling him in, and giving him slack, and reeling in…”

               “He’s a cat, Alya. Not a fish.”

               Alya shrugged. “To-may-to, to-mah-to. I’m just saying, by talking to him about Adrien and describing your grievances with the little blonde cupcake, you’re only gunna cause Chat to be more into you.”

               Marinette ignored the end statement, shifting her focus to a different point. “You know, the term blonde cupcake could be referring to both Chat and Adrien. Don’t confuse me.”

               “Chat’s not a cupcake,” Alya explained. “He’s more of, like…a blonde éclair. Smooth and dark on the outside, but white and –,”

               “Don’t say it!”

               “– creamy on the inside.”

               “I’m going to throw up,” Marinette whined, focusing her gaze on the floor.

               “What? Don’t you like éclairs? I didn’t even get to the tantalizingly phallic shape of them yet.”

               “I hate you. I’m never telling you anything again.”

               Alya shrugged. “I, for one, am a big fan of your expanding palette. Finally getting around to enjoying all the desserts the world has to offer. Cupcakes are sweet. And everyone loves to lick frosting.”

               “Oh my God –,”

               “However, eclairs are totally a sexy dessert. And go really well with chocolate covered strawberries,” Alya finished, tapping the tip of Marinette’s nose. She wrinkled it before pausing and furrowing her eyebrows.

               “…Wait. Who’s the strawberry?”

               “You, silly!”

               Marinette rolled her eyes. “Fine, okay then. What about you? What’s your dessert preference?”

               Alya sat up proudly. “Well, I’ll have you know I love all of them. The strawberries and the éclairs all taste good to me, honey. However, this tall caramel macchiato,” she said, gesturing to herself, “is best paired with a smooth hazelnut mousse.”

               On that note, she caught Nino’s eye across the courtyard and winked at him exaggeratedly. He played along animatedly, miming a growl and clawing at the air, a little too much like something Chat would do.

               “This is literally the worst day of my life,” Marinette mumbled, knowing she was never going to be able to look at anything in her parents’ bakery the same way again.

               “Oh, come on girl, we’re teasing. Now, I know that wasn’t what you were texting about…”

               Marinette sighed deeply, almost regretting saying anything at all. If Alya was so animated about the most non-newsworthy news, there was no telling how she would react to the actual progression of going out at night with Chat. Not that they were going out. Again, she found herself drilling it into her own head that it was not a date. It was not. That was definitely not a thing she needed it to be. Dressing up and going to a glamorous event with someone in the evening didn’t have to be anything more than a friendly excursion. Still, she had an idea that Alya would not see it that way.

               “So…you know the Gala at the Louvre on Sunday?”

               “The Gala that we spy on annually and photograph from afar because it is the highest fashion showcase of the year in Paris? The Gala that you would sell your soul to go to? That Gala? Yes, I think I’ve heard of it.”

               “Yeah…I can’t go.”

               Alya blinked at her slowly. “You…can’t go. What do you mean you can’t go?

               “Okay. Let me rephrase. I can’t go with you. Because…I’m…attending.”

               Alya’s jaw dropped instantly. “You what? That definitely would have been phone call material, girl! Damn! Mad props, then, for keeping it in that long. Marinette…at the Louvre Gala…”

               “That’s the other thing actually. I’m not going as Marinette. I’m going as Ladybug.”

               “Right. And... why and how exactly?”

               Marinette shifted nervously. “Because…Chat asked me. And I said that I would go with him.”

               Alya looked like she was using absolutely all of the power within her not to scream. She finally took a deep breath in through her nose and exhaled slowly. “Okay. We are definitely going to come back to that -,” Marinette flushed deeply, “– But that’s not exactly what I meant. I mean, how are you gaining access to the Gala, and how do you expect to just waltz in with a superhero suit when everyone else is dripping in luxury?”

               “Okay, well…I guess I’ll start from the beginning. After I explained the situation with Adrien, Chat mentioned that he happened to have two tickets to the Gala. Now somehow he got them as his civilian self. I don’t know why or from where. He says friends in high places.”

               “So Chat is rich and famous.”

               “Don’t say that,” Marinette said, goosebumps spreading quickly across her body. That was exactly what she needed – for the other guy in her life to also be so high class that she couldn’t even kiss his shoe if she wanted to. Good. “Maybe he really just knows people.”

               “You know who knows rich and famous people?” Alya asked. “Other rich and famous people. Or maybe someone just gave them to him as Chat.”

               “I don’t think so, or else I would have known about it from the get-go. Plus, he mentioned that going as Chat and Ladybug was kind of his backup plan because he didn’t really want to go as a civilian and wouldn’t know who to take, other than me. I guess he’s not so ridiculously famous that his presence would be sorely missed if he showed up as Chat. This could be the first time he’s ever gotten tickets.”

               “Maybe he stole them,” Alya suggested.

               “I already determined that’s not the case,” Marinette said. “He came by them honestly. That’s all I know and all I want to know.”

               “Okay, then. Onto point number two – how are you just going to wear your suit to a Gala.”

               “I’m…not,” Marinette said. Alya did nothing but raise her eyebrows, awaiting explanation. “We’re dressing properly and formally with masks. We’re going to look nicer than we would as civilians anyway, and it isn’t like anyone at the Gala is going to recognize us. You think anyone important there is going to know who Marinette Dupain-Cheng, the baker’s daughter, is? No. Plus, I’ll have a mask on that will cover more of my face than the regular Ladybug mask does. It’s not like I’ll be showing more than I do as Ladybug anyway. I’ll probably look less like myself at the Gala than I do when I’m in the suit.”

               “Well, in that case,” Alya said, and paused before squealing.

               “Good Lord, calm down.”

               “You want me to stay calm? You’re going to the Louvre Gala as Ladybug on a date with Chat Noir.

               “Hey, now -,”  

               “This is big for both Marinette and Ladybug, so as your best friend and Ladybug’s biggest fan – actually, second, because I’m pretty sure Chat is your biggest fan – I think I have the right to freak out a little. I mean, you’ve been wishing you could see inside the Gala your whole life, and now you get to, while at the same time, going on a date and making all of us little people LadyNoir shippers overjoyed.”

               “It’s not a date though, Alya. It’s definitely not.”

               “Says who?”

               “Says…Chat. He said it didn’t have to mean that. We’re making a public appearance. As a civic duty.”

               “Oh, what-ever. Civic duty, my ass. You’re just hiding. Chat says that, but I bet you mentally he’s going to see it as a date, just to appease his imagination. And I bet you that all of Paris is going to think so, too. The tabloids, the blogs…I mean, I will neither confirm, nor deny, anything on the Ladyblog, but take someone like Nino, for example – I promise you, there will be no convincing him it isn’t a date. You can say it’s civic duty all you want, but the people will see what they want to see. Plus, this is going to be the first time the public has seen you without your suits. They’re going to lose their minds. All of Paris is going to act like proud parents, sending their babies off to the ball. And I mean, I guess that is kind of what they’re doing.”

               Marinette and Alya linked arms as they began to head to class. “I shouldn’t have agreed to this.”

               “Nonsense,” said Alya. “You still want to go. And you deserve it. Paris is going to see what they want anyway, so you may as well have fun while you’re at it. Besides, I don’t think it would be horrible to just call this a date.”

               “Excuse me?” Marinette whispered back as they neared throngs of students.

               “I think it sounds more suspicious for you to be denying it so adamantly. You can go on friend dates. You can go on dates with no commitment. People ask friends to be their dates to weddings and dances and all sorts of things all the time. It’s a very mature situation.”

               “I…I guess.”

               “Hey, Nino,” Alya said when the boy fell in step with them and followed them into their classroom. “Would you agree that you could go on a date with someone and not have a label? Like, go casually, or as a friend, or just for fun without there necessarily being strings attached?”

               Nino shrugged. “Yeah, I mean, sure. That happens a lot with double dates. How else are you gunna test the waters. Why? Has Mari made progress with her beau? Does a double date need to be arranged?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows at them.

               “None of your business,” Alya insisted. “…But we may come back to you on that offer.”

               “Alya!

               Her friend shrugged. “What? It’s true. It might come in handy for a certain situation. But not this situation.”

               “There’s another situation?” Nino piped again. “There’s two guys?”

               Oh my God, how is he so good at that? Nino, shut up, Marinette thought frantically as Adrien walked in. Her frantic thoughts then increased tenfold. Shut up, shut up, shut up, Nino, don’t you open your whore mouth again.

               “None of your business,” Alya reiterated. Nino stayed quiet then, turning to greet Adrien, but obviously still listening with one ear turned back towards them. Marinette noticed offhandedly that Adrien was uncharacteristically on time when Alya asked her what she was going to wear, seeing as they had never actually gotten around to that specific topic.

               “Wear to what, Marinette?” Adrien asked, half turning in his seat. “Are you designing something new?”    

               “Mari’s got a date,” Nino said.

               “Says who?” Alya shot. “We said no such thing.”

               “Sure,” Nino teased, winking at Marinette who, at that point in the day, had already been to trauma hell and back.

               If you value your life, you will not say another word the rest of class, Marinette wrote to Alya. She read it the note quickly and feigned locking her lips and tossing out the key.

               But furreal, what r u wearing? Alya wrote back as class started. Marinette didn’t notice the reply until Alya kicked her in the leg. She was entirely distracted by Adrien and Nino, who seemed to be having a note conversation of their own. And there was now a good chance that Adrien thought she had a date. It didn’t matter what Alya and Nino said – even if a date meant nothing, it certainly had a specific connotation, and she couldn’t afford anymore setbacks with Adrien. What was more, if Adrien had been looking better the day before, he could almost be considered chipper now. She wanted so much more to read the note he was passing with Nino than to read the one Alya handing back to her. She struggled to contain a groan when she saw that Alya’s colloquial spelling of for real had accidentally included a furry pun and was exactly the way Chat would have spelled it.

               I’ll have to make something, Marinette wrote back. I already have some ideas, but I have to start immediately. Btw I need a favor.

               Ofc, Alya wrote back quickly, slipping over the paper again when Mlle. Bustier was turned around. She noticed that Nino still had his head cocked slightly, even though there was no way that he’d be able to see their note.

               I need to stay at your house this weekend. My parents will prob already be expecting us to check out the red carpet like we usually do anyway but I need to be at your place early to get into my dress and get fixed up. Plus, don’t think I can explain to parents why I’m leaving the house in a gown.

            Alya read the response quickly and excitedly. It was only becoming more real, and she gave Marinette a discreet thumbs-up. Then, as an afterthought, she wrote something else.

               Whats in it for me? ;)

            Marinette rolled her eyes when she received the note, but replied anyway.

               I’ll make sure I get you a press pass.

               She slid the note over, gesturing for Alya to be quiet, already knowing her response would be over the top. She ignored Marinette completely, squealing with her mouth closed and smacking her desktop. Adrien and Nino both turned to look at her, as did Mlle. Bustier.

               “Mlle. Cesaire? Is everything alright?”

               “I – yes, I just…there was a bug on my desk. Sorry.”

               Marinette side eyed Alya as Mlle. Bustier continued with her lecture. Nino’s eyes lingered on Alya a moment longer though, looking between her and the note that was sitting obviously in front of them and was the clear cause of Alya’s sudden excitement, but he said and did nothing, eventually turning back to face the front of the room. Alya mouthed a quick thank you to Marinette once Nino had turned back around and Marinette shrugged back a you’re welcome, wondering suddenly if she should be worried about giving her friend such close access to the not-date that she would soon be sharing with Chat.

oOo

               Marinette decided that she couldn’t be entirely bothered with homework, having something as extravagant as a Gala dress to decide. The bright side was that there was hardly much work assigned between Thursday and the following Monday, and what little there was wasn’t anything she couldn’t Google answers to or grab off of Alya when they met at her house. Copying work wasn’t exactly something that she condoned, but the strain that had been put on her time had made it necessary more often than not. She only ever did it with work that she didn’t find especially important anyway, or work that she was confident she would be able to do easily otherwise. Plus, now that Alya knew her identity, her friend was more eager and willing to let her copy – she insisted it was the least she could do for her hero, best friend or not.

               Immediately after school on Thursday, Marinette headed to her favorite fabric store. Her parents were generous enough to pay her for when she worked in the bakery, and she had gathered a decent sum from babysitting Manon as well. Recently she had taken to saving the money, just in case she would need supplies for an upcoming design competition. Seeing as the gala was a much bigger deal than a simple contest, she was infinitely grateful for her recent frugality.

               She made it home with bags full of yards of various types of red and black fabrics and appliques for the mask she was also planning to make. She had yet to decide exactly what all of the supplies she was going to use, but seeing as making a dress for the Louvre Gala was her biggest project to date, she was willing to risk nothing – especially being short fabric. If that meant her next ten projects would be made of leftover red and black chiffon, then so be it.

               Having quickly and impatiently finished her five chapters of reading for The Count of Monte Cristo for French class (reading, unfortunately being something that couldn’t be copied, but thankfully something which she enjoyed), she went to frantically coloring and sketching her dress design ideas. She wanted the dress to be elegant and not too showy, as well as something that wasn’t gaudy or gimmicky either, which was easy to mess up on when using so much red and black. She didn’t want an elegant version of her suit, so anything with polka-dots was immediately scrapped. While black spots definitely screamed ladybug, they certainly didn’t scream elegance. She definitely wanted to look Ladybug inspired, so there would be no mistaking that she was the hero, but she also wanted to look appropriate for the event. She was eager to get the sketches finished, since three days was not exactly a lot of time to finish a gown of a caliber she hadn’t attempted yet, but Tikki reminded her gently that she couldn’t start the dress at all without a proper sketch.

               “If they can make a dress in one day on Project Runway, you can make one in three!” Tikki encouraged her. The kwami had taken to watching her favorite show with her and knew it was the best way to her heart. While she watched with French subtitles and used it to help improve her English, and especially her English fashion vocabulary (something that she would need for her future career), it was also her greatest source of inspiration.

               “You’re right, Tikki. You’re so right. I’ll make Heidi Klum proud!”

               After sketching and scrapping what felt like two hundred designs, she finally buckled down and designed two red dresses, inspired by the model queen herself. She loved each of them on their own and for different reasons, and while she was proud of herself for having finalized two designs, they were still that – two designs.

               “Which one, Tikki?”

               “I love them both too much!” the kwami replied, getting close and flitting between the two with an inquisitive eye. “Maybe you should ask Alya? I think she’d love to help.”

               “You’re right,” she agreed, getting her phone out and snapping photos of her sketchbook, getting the best angles possible before sending the pictures to Alya.

               To: Alya
            Which do you think I should go for? (left has pockets)

To: Alya        

 

               From: Alya
            !!!!!
            LOVE the right. V Ladybug. Bow on left is adorbs, but maybe a little juvenile 4 gala? V cute for a different occasion. I live for the right. Maybe put pockets on that one? Also itll cover the birthmark you have on that covered shoulder ;) too identifying to show off

            Marinette tapped her pen on her chin, reading over Alya’s text. She was definitely right, the more she looked between the two designs. She wasn’t ready to scrap her satin strapless bow dress forever, but the more she considered the two, the dress with the sleeve did just appear more mature. The way it fit did also seem more reminiscent of Ladybug as well. Her phone buzzed once more as she began to pull supplies out to work on the pattern for the dress.

               From: Alya
               Keep the hair down too like that, gorgeous. i can help. v mature and you NEVER have your hair down. no one will suspect a thing. u’ll look less like mari like this than u do when ur Ladybug

            From: Alya
            Chat’ll lose 1 of his 9 lives ;3

            Marinette rolled her eyes, blushing, and replied with a quick thank you and yes, please to Alya helping with her hair, ignoring the comment on Chat all together. She spent the night patterning and cutting fabric, still unable to believe what it was she was making the outfit for, or who she was going with.

oOo

               Friday was by far the slowest school day Marinette had ever experienced, she was sure. She couldn’t think about anything other than the gala and the piles of fabric scattered around her room. She was restless and nervous all day, fingers itching, knowing that she had to work, but unable to do anything until she got home. She wasn’t sure if she was thankful or not that Adrien was also absent. While attempting to decipher his mood the past few days had made her more anxious than anything, she found that she was preoccupied with staring his empty seat in front of her and growing more anxious anyway.

Her mind had somehow wandered to wondering if he would also be at the gala. After all, it was as much a fashion focused event as anything, and there was no reason why he shouldn’t be there. Maybe that was why he was absent in the first place. Maybe he was busy getting ready for the event with his father. What was worse was the fact that if she did run into him, it would be while she was Ladybug, after she had already given him a note saying that she wasn’t going to see him as Ladybug again. What if he asked her to dance? What if he made more declarations of love? In the middle of a gala? Where she couldn’t run away? Where Chat would likely be right at her side? The very idea of running into Adrien on Sunday, dressed up to the nines and in the same room as Chat, had her so jittery that Alya finally had to grab onto her arm to keep her from shaking their desk.

               She almost welcomed the distraction of Nino’s continued snooping and insistence on being a wingman. While it made everything a little more confusing, Alya did a good job rebounding and distracting him in her own flirty way, and without Adrien sitting within earshot, there was already less risk.

               The second akuma attack that week came about half way through the day, and was the second akuma that Marinette actually took as a bit of a relief. The victim ended up being one of the school teachers, causing the rest of the school day to be cancelled.

               Chat took a bit longer to get to the school than usual, and his sudden appearance was greatly appreciated. The akuma, going by the name Le Professeur (not one of Hawkemoth’s most creative names, in their opinion), was causing major damage to the school. She marked every student and faculty member she passed with a giant red F for failure with a menacing red pen that the akuma was no doubt located in. At the same time, she was using a comically large pointer like the one their teachers used to point at the blackboard to demolish classrooms. While Chat never needed to use his Cataclysm (La Professeur was doing a fine job of destroying everything on her own), Ladybug ended up having to use her Lucky Charm (an exceptionally delicious looking apple, which distracted the akuma, tricking her into thinking she was a good and admired teacher just long enough for Ladybug to grab the pen from her hand and snap it in half). The school was put back together in no time, and Marinette wondered how many kids would be annoyed that school wouldn’t be cancelled forever.

               She was more than ready to take off towards home to work on her dress non-stop until Sunday, but Chat grabbed her hand before she was able to.

               “My Lady -,”

               “Chat, I’d love to stick around and talk, but I used my power. I don’t exactly have a lot of time to spare. I’ll see you on Sunday,” she said, an irritating and familiar beeping beginning in her ear.

               “No, I know, that’s the thing. We forgot to arrange a meeting time. I can’t exactly come pick you up.”

               “Oh. Right.”

               “We should meet somewhere outside. A little out of the way. How about the Porte des Lions entrance? At like, 6:30? That’s about half an hour before the red carpet starts.”

               “Perfect.”

               “Until then, My Lady,” Chat said, bowing to her and taking off over a school building.

               As she made it back home just in time, Marinette couldn’t help but be hyper-aware of the fact that, once again, Chat avoided kissing her hand. Normally, she would pass off his kisses, but now that he wasn’t doing them at all, she was extremely aware of the absence and, dare she say it, found herself missing them. Not to mention the fact that she felt guilty. She knew he was holding off to respect her, now that she had already turned him down once and had been talking about Adrien so much. The guilt suddenly felt like a rock in the pit of her stomach, and Tikki seemed to sense it as well, gently stroking one of her pigtails as she draped and pinned fabric to her mannequin. She didn’t want to miss the gesture, but she did, whether it was because they made her think of the intimacy she had shared with Adrien (and that reasoning made her feel even more guilty), or because the absence of hand kisses was proof that her dynamic with Chat had definitely shifted. Either way, she wished there was some way she could ask for him to continue them without it being weird. As it was, she had pulled away from the kisses nine times out of ten in the past. To suddenly want them right after rejecting them only made her feel more like the tease that Alya had already accused her of being.

               Over the next two days, Marinette squashed all ideas of kisses and guilt and Chat’s chivalry and Adrien’s confusing emotions by putting her entire heart, soul, and mind into her design. It was going better than she had expected with the hardest part being the twist and ruching around the waist, transitioning from a tight and hugging silhouette to a falling skirt. Tikki was a much appreciated help, flitting around the design and keeping pins in place where extra help was needed, as well as flying up under the dress to ensure that it was proper from the inside out. Marinette added layers of red chiffon to the skirt, starting where the ruching stopped.

               By the time Saturday night rolled around, the gown was ready for a final fitting, though the reality of it didn’t set in until Marinette was in the gown and Tikki was helping her pull the tight sleeve up her shoulder. None of it felt real – the fact that she was trying on a dress to wear to the Louvre Gala, or the fact that she had made it and it looked good, or the fact that she would next be designing a mask because she was attending the event as the heroine of Paris and everyone simultaneously knew and didn’t know who she was. For what felt like the hundredth time that week, she wanted to cry and run to her mother and hug her, and for the first time that week, it wasn’t because of stupid boys.

               “Are you okay, Marinette?” Tikki asked, patting her pigtail again.

               “Yeah, I just -,” she halted to swallow a lump in her throat. “I can’t believe this is my life.”

               “If anyone deserves it, it’s you,” Tikki assured her, nuzzling her cheek.

               “Thank you,” she said genuinely, turning from side to side and admiring herself in her mirror. “Now – how does this look? Do you see any glaring mistakes?”

               Tikki checked all angles, especially the back where Marinette couldn’t see.

               “It’s gorgeous,” the kwami said. “I think it’ll look even better when the hair and mask are done, too. You did an amazing job, and I think you’ll fit in perfect. It is a dress worthy of Ladybug.”

               Marinette tossed the skirt up and watched it billow and float back down, settling back around her legs. The chiffon turned out to be a brilliant idea, and the layers added incredible dimension when the air caught under them. It was appropriately dreamy, and she couldn’t help but admire how her legs looked. The top of the dress, and the sleeve that covered her arm, was tight and very similar to her Ladybug suit. However, she never showed of her legs, and the muscle definition she had achieved from leaping around Paris was finally getting showcased. They were prominently contrasted and displayed against the backdrop of black chiffon, and while at one point she might have been self-conscious, she reveled in what she now considered to be one of her best physical assets. She wasn’t particularly tall either, but the slit that she had designed created an illusion of height. She wondered how many cameras would be focused on “Paris’s first look of Ladybug’s legs.”

               Reluctantly, she removed the dress and slipped it into a garment bag before sliding over to her desk to fashion a mask for herself. After the feat she had just accomplished with the gown, the mask was simple. She had bought a black base while she was at the fabric store, thinking it would be a nice change to have her mask be inverted colors.

               The shape of the mask was roughly the same as her Ladybug mask, but larger, going up further on her forehead and lower down onto her cheeks. The holes for her eyes however were smaller and more angled, and in its plain state, the mask reminded her of Chat’s. She tried it on before getting to designing it and decided that it was definitely more mysterious than her regular mask. Paired with the formal attire and her loose hair, it would be like wearing a disguise on top of a disguise, and she wondered if she would even be recognized as Ladybug.

               She set to gluing red rhinestones to the mask until it was appropriately covered. It was tedious, but after the struggles the dress had been giving her, it was almost therapeutic, gluing each individual stone in place. She set the mask on her desk and leaned back, exhausted.

               “Well, how does it look, Tikki?”

               “Perfect. Extremely appropriate. I think it’ll cover you up just as well as I could.”

               “That’s it, then. It’s time to head to Alya’s.”

               After packing up half her bathroom, the garment bag and mask, three shoe options, and four bag options, she said goodbye to her parents and tried to appear as calm as possible. She was sure there was a very prominent difference between her I’m going to spend the weekend with a friend face and her I’m going to the Louvre Gala in a dress I designed face, and she tried her best to present the former, sure that her garment bag wasn’t making her any more inconspicuous than she strived to be. Fortunately, the bakery was busy enough that her parents didn’t recognize anything different from any other time she went to see Alya. Still, by the time she arrived at her friend’s house, her heart felt like it was pounding all the way up in her throat.

               It was the first time they had ever gone to sleep early at a sleepover, but both girls were excited and determined to get up early to prepare for the event. Marinette had not thought about it much, but she realized that the event was just as big for Alya as well, receiving a press pass and probably getting the best photographs of Ladybug that there would be all night. She had twisted her hair back in a chignon and had opted for the very definition of a Little Black Dress. After adding tights and dark red lipstick, she looked highly adult and professional, and definitely like someone who should have a press pass at a high profile event. If anything, Marinette knew she could vouch for Alya being a friend of Ladybug, but she still didn’t want anyone to think that Alya wasn’t worthy of a badge and red carpet access. If her best friend couldn’t join her, she decided, then she didn’t want to be present at the event at all.

 After school on Thursday, she had sent an urgent letter as Ladybug to Mayor Bourgeois with no return address, requesting that a press pass be delivered to Alya’s house. She did her best to sound as cordial as possible, emphasizing the fact that she and Chat would be guests at the gala and would like to be kept happy and granted the simple request of their number one fan and primary new source receiving a badge – of course, in the nicest terms. She didn’t figure that the Mayor would deny her anyway, considering the number of times she had saved his daughter, regardless of how reluctantly it had been. As it was, Chloé still considered herself to be Ladybug’s best friend and would no doubt insist to Daddy that they buy her favor in anyway. Sure enough, Alya texted Marinette excitedly on Friday night with photos of the badge that had arrived in the mail.

               Alya helped Marinette into her dress, cooing over how good it looked materialized and in person. Alya also helped her decide on a nude pair of heels, mostly because she was already wearing so much red and black and didn’t want to appear gaudy or tacky. As a bonus, though, the shoes made her legs appear even longer, and she found herself wishing that she could wear the shoes every day. They also decided to give her nude lips for the same reason, and the decision kept her look more elegant than costumey. They did decide, however, to rim her eyes heavily in black, so as to blend in with her mask, which only made the blue in her eyes stand out more. Once her hair was down and straightened, even she had to admit she looked amazing, despite all of her usual insecurities. Amazing and entirely unrecognizable.

               Once they were ready, they ultimately decided that it would be for the best to split up and arrive at the gala separately. They still had to be very careful about letting the public see that Alya was more friendly with Ladybug than a reporter should be, and Marinette definitely didn’t think it would be good idea for her to be present when she met with Chat. Besides, it would be difficult anyway to walk the whole distance from Alya’s house to the Louvre in her heels and gown. It wasn’t like either of them had a car (or anywhere outside the gala to park), and they definitely didn’t have a limo like the majority of other attendees would have. While Alya was fine with walking – especially on her own and in her flats – Marinette decided it would be a good idea to transform and get to her and Chat’s meeting spot inconspicuously. As it was, no one even knew they would be making an appearance at the gala yet besides Alya and Mayor Bourgeois, and Marinette wasn’t keen on making a scene until a scene was ready to be made. She and Alya kissed each other’s cheeks and wished each other good luck before splitting up, and Marinette felt her heart once again rising to her throat as she transformed and swung to meet Chat.

               She landed and transformed in a hidden alley before heading to the lion statue outside the archway entrance they planned to meet at. She almost missed him at first, dressed in almost all black as usual and settled in a shadow, but she finally found Chat, leaning coolly and casually against the wall. As much as she wished she didn’t, she couldn’t help but catch her breath in her throat. He looked good. That was all there was to it. He. Looked. Good.

               He was dressed in a rather expensive suit – unmistakably an Agreste to a well-trained eye. In fact, she recognized it as part of the newest Spring men’s line (a line she followed so closely if only because Adrien was the face of it), based on the colored border of the lapel. The border was a muted grey-green, as was his tie. The rest of his suit was solid black – blacker, even, than Chat’s suit. The cut of the suit somehow allowed her to see the strength of his shoulders and lean frame in a different way than the cat suit did. He had grown and filled out over the time they had worked together, but it was as though she hadn’t fully noticed his suddenly maturity until then, in that outfit. And she hated it. She hated it because it looked too good on him. She hated it because the suit looked like it was made for him, and suits like that were her greatest weakness. She hated it because, for a brief moment, looking at him detransformed for the first time, she forgot what Adrien looked like in a suit.

               His mask was extremely similar to his regular mask. The only difference was that the corners came to points to look like ears, since there were no ears on the top of his head. His hair was definitely neater than usual, and he had made an obvious effort to smooth it back. While it still fell a bit into his eyes and flared at the nape of his neck, it was as much a contrast to his Chat hair as her loose hair must have been in comparison to her regular pigtails. What shocked her most, though, was that she could see the whites of his eyes. Much like his kisses, she didn’t really think about how the entirety of Chat’s eyes were green until so much of that green was absent. Still, she was pleased to see that his irises were just as green as they were when he was transformed. 

              

She wondered if she looked as good to Chat as he suddenly looked to her. Crush or no crush, she couldn’t do him the discredit of saying that he wasn’t terribly attractive to her at that moment. Based on the shift in his expression when she walked into his shadow though, she felt that it was safe to say that yes, she did look just as good to him. His devilish smirk that he had obviously been trying so hard to upkeep for her inevitably melted away as he gaped at her.

               “M-my Lady. You look…forgive me. You are…stunning.”

               He meant it. She could tell he did – no mask could hide the sincerity in his eyes. She decided right then that, at the very least, she owed him a date. He deserved one. For one night, she could forget Adrien. He wasn’t going anywhere. This night belonged to Chat.

               “Chat…you look perfect as well,” she said to him, channeling Ladybug completely. Thankfully, her gown and heels gave her just as much, if not more, confidence than her suit gave her. Therefore, when Chat stared back at her in disbelief following her compliment, she did something that she wasn’t sure she would have been brave enough to do had she been wearing anything other than the gown; she took Chat’s hand and kissed it. If he wasn’t going to do it to her, and she couldn’t ask him to, she figured that the only logical course of action was to switch roles. For the first time, she was able to see a blush spread throughout her partner, and it was easy to see that he was scarlet under his mask. Still, that was not enough.

               “You cleaned up surprisingly well for our first date, chaton. I’m impressed.”

               He couldn’t be any redder at that point, and it was comical to see a fully grown man rendered as incapacitated as she normally was around Adrien, whenever he addressed her directly (that was it. That’s what the suit had done for him. Over their past few years together as heroes, Chat had become a man, and the formal attire was his debut.). It was satisfying. Endearing. He cleared his throat nervously. She wondered if her outfit intimidated him at all. If he suddenly looked like a man to her, she wondered if her gown had blossomed her into a woman before his eyes. She was sure it had done something. At the very least, her loose hair had to have aged her up a few years. She reveled in her newly discovered power.

               “D-Date? I thought...you didn’t want that.”

               “I realized that a date doesn’t have to mean a label. I may have affections laying around Paris, but I am technically still a free woman with a free heart, and tonight, I think you deserve a date. I’m think tonight, I will be the envy of every woman in Paris, and I am especially honored to be your date for the night.”

               “And I know I’ll be the envy of every man. I won’t disappoint you, My Lady,” Chat said, the natural color returning to his cheeks. His eyes were so kind. Marinette found herself wishing that she could see his natural irises all the time.

               “I know you won’t,” Marinette said, smiling at him. She was sure that she had never seen her partner look so happy before, and it simultaneously warmed her and brought her guilt back. How could she possibly stand to hurt those kind eyes? “Shall we go?”

               “We shall,” he said, linking her arm with his as they ducked through the arch and headed to the red carpet.

               It was as busy and flashy around the Louvre as Marinette had always remembered it, but never had she been so close before. She was immediately star struck – models, artists, and designers were everywhere she looked. She was too overwhelmed to pick out every famous face, and as she and Chat neared the entrance of the Louvre, all attention turned to them.

               “Ladybug! Chat Noir! This way!” shouted a familiar face in the crowd. Alya. They turned towards her, but her exclamation had gotten the attention of the entire population. It became impossible to see anyone else, because suddenly, what seemed like a thousand cameras were blinding them. Their hero names were being shouted at them in every direction, ten times more so than they would be after an akuma attack. Regular press was one thing – paparazzi was a different breed entirely. Marinette was suddenly aware that not only would there be photographs of her newly exposed legs, but photographs of absolutely every angle of her. She heard reporters calling to her, asking the most important and famous question there was at a gala: Who are you wearing? She was entirely too overwhelmed to come up with an acceptable answer, but she heard Chat confirm that he indeed was wearing the newest Agreste design.

               They were finally ushered in to the museum where it was far more calm, despite the fact that everyone’s eyes were initially on them. It was to be expected – after all, their appearance was a complete surprise, both as in their physical presence and attire. Marinette had to remind herself once again that while she simply felt like she was in appropriate formalwear, this was the first time ever that the public was seeing Chat and Ladybug unsuited and in an evening setting. And the public was having a field day.

               Suddenly, Chat grabbed her hand, and she looked down in surprise. It was the first time she had felt his skin, she realized – smooth, soft, and declawed.

               “Hey, deep breaths, yeah? It’s okay,” he assured her when she looked up at him, still with mild surprise. His hands were just as astonishingly gentle as his eyes had turned out to be, unsuited. Not even a callus.

               And he was holding her hand to calm her. Not to show her off. Not to claim some kind of possession over her. Not to milk what was now officially a date for all it was worth. He was just trying to comfort her.

               And it worked.

               She hadn’t even realized how overwhelmed she had been, but she hadn’t even been able to speak on the red carpet. Chat had said everything. Somehow, he had been so calm in the face of so many flashbulbs. She supposed he had always been better at dealing with reporters and fans, but she didn’t expect that in this kind of setting, she would be rendered to helpless while he appeared as suave as always. It was perplexing. For one of the first times ever, she genuinely wondered about who was under Chat’s mask. Who was this guy that was able to secure tickets to the Louvre Gala, and show up in a brand new Agreste, and work the red carpet like a professional? Surely someone who was truly worthy of a miraculous, which only made her wonder how she was chosen in comparison to someone like that. Despite Chat’s normally wild exterior, Marinette also realized for the first time ever that maybe Chat was also out of her league.

               “Do I really look so out of place?” Marinette whispered to Chat. He looked down at her softly. When had he gotten so tall?

               “Not out of place at all, My Lady,” he smiled. “But perhaps a little…timid? Hey, now, keep your head up. You’re the bravest person I know. You deserve to be here more than anyone else. I’ve seen you face the nastiest of akumas. You can face a few people in nice clothes, no problem.”

               “Rich and famous people,” Marinette muttered, avoiding eye contact with everyone, Chat include. “I am so out of my element.”

               Chat gently reached to her face, using his finger to lift her chin and raise it to look at him.

               “They’re still just people,” he said. She couldn’t say what it was, but something in his voice gave her the confidence she needed. She looked out across the museum – models, designers, actors, and actresses, dressed in everything from Valentino to Dior. All just people.

The museum itself had been transformed completely into an event venue. There were round tables set up everywhere where guests were being served five-star meals, while smartly dressed waiters worked the room, providing everyone with hors d'oeuvres and gorgeous flutes of pink champagne.

As soon as Marinette noticed the waiters, one materialized and her and Chat’s side.

“I would be honored to serve the heroes of Paris,” he said. He couldn’t have been older than sixteen and was clearly pleased with the fact that he currently had the best part-time job of any sixteen-year-old kid in the city.

“Go on,” Chat prompted her. “You’ve more than earned it.”

Marinette followed his prompt and took a champagne flute as Chat followed suit. They clinked the flutes together in a toast and sipped at them conservatively as they made their way further into the museum.           

               Marinette was left breathless as each person passed them. Despite being more comfortable with the amount of people that were there, as well as their identities, the fashion was all as exquisite as it ever was at the Gala, and more than once, she had to catch and stop herself from staring.

               There were also fashion designs on display – if they could even be referred to as such. There were more like art pieces, definitely worthy of being showcased in the Louvre. She had a hard time even imagining any of the art pieces being worn by anyone. The Louvre Gala was and always had been a fashion event above all else. Proceeds went to the International Fashion Academy of Paris, as well as Parsons’s Paris, but was also a debut of new ideas and fashion revolutions in the modern world – much like the Met Gala of New York. Marinette had always dreamed of attending one of the two premier design academies of France, and looking around the Louvre at that moment, she couldn’t help but wonder how many guests were funding and supporting her dream just by being there.

               “Doing better?” Chat asked her.

               “Wonderful,” she breathed out. He still seemed so much more comfortable than she had expected him to be, but she was too awestruck to give it much thought.

               They greeted handfuls of guests that came up to them – Parisians, mostly, who saw them from afar on a day to day basis – but international guests kept to each other, allowing them to admire comfortably from afar. It was not long before she and Chat had finished their flutes of champagne, and she felt infinitely more calm and loose, smiling brightly at each guest who passed.

               “Ladybug. Chat Noir. What an…honor and surprise. I heard that you had made an appearance, but I simply had to see for myself.”

               The voice came from behind them, and while Marinette thought the voice was slightly familiar, Chat definitely recognized it, his eyes widening considerably beneath his mask. They turned at the same time to be met with a tall man that they both had interacted with personally, not long ago.

               Gabriel Agreste stood before them, hands behind his back and looking down his nose at them – he had to. Even though Chat seemed to have experienced a recent growth spurt, the prestigious designer still towered over both of them, casting a long shadow. Marinette was star struck as she ever was – after all, Gabriel Agreste remained her favorite designer to that day. Chat, on the other hand, seemed even more taken aback. He had not seemed so awed with the designers’ presence when they were in his manor, defending him against Jackady, but perhaps that was only because of the adrenaline caused by facing an akuma. Chat was clearly a fan, based on his outfit choice that evening, but still, it was the first time that night that Marinette had seen him appear anything other than cool as the cat that he was.

               “Monsieur Agreste,” Marinette greeted him with all of the formality and grace of Ladybug, seeing as Chat did not seem as though he would be finding his words any time soon. “What a pleasure to see you again. I had read that you would be in Tibet this week. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

               Chat looked down and her subtly, as if he had known the same thing. Perhaps that was why he had been as taken by surprise as he was.

               “I was not aware that you kept up with me.”

               Marinette shrugged politely. “How could I not? You are my favorite designer, after all.”

               “You flatter me. You’re right – I was meant to be in Tibet this week. However, I postponed the trip for this event especially. After all, I am in charge of a great deal of the invitations and funding. I thought last minute that it was only appropriate that I make an appearance.”

               Suddenly, Marinette was faced with a realization. If Gabriel Agreste was there, and so involved in the event planning, then Adrien…

               “I regret that my son could not accompany me tonight,” Gabriel continued as though he had read her mind. Chat looked back and forth between her and the designer, expression just as lost. “He was feeling…under the weather, I suppose, and decided not to come. Shame. I hear from my assistant that he is quite a fan of yours, Ladybug.”

               Marinette gulped suddenly. “I-Is that so?”

               “Mm. You must have made quite an impression on him.”

               “Well, I…I hope I get the chance to meet him sometime soon. You spoke so highly of him the last time we met.”

               Chat gaped at her, seemingly unsure what to make of the exchange he was witnessing, until Gabriel addressed him.

               “Chat Noir. I am honored to see you wearing a suit of mine. You wear it…handsomely.” Gabriel’s eyes ran down him slowly. “It’s from my brand new line, if I’m not mistaken. I can’t help but wonder how you got ahold of such a nice one…so quickly.”

               It was Chat’s turn to gulp, but he answered clearly. “I just know people in high places. I suppose it’s a perk of being a savior of Paris.”

               The same answer he had given her when she asked about the tickets. Marinette wondered again exactly what kind of person Chat was. Perhaps he just happened to be wealthy, but at the same time, she couldn’t help wondering if he was more dangerous than that. Who else knew people in high places? Members of the mafia? She shuddered, but quickly decided someone like that wouldn’t have earned a miraculous to use for good.

               Gabriel, meanwhile, did not seem to be satisfied with Chat’s answer, but pushed him no further.

               “Are you seated anywhere?” he asked instead. “I would be honored to welcome you two to my table.”

               A chill ran through Marinette’s body. She had just been invited to sit at Gabriel Agreste’s table at the Louvre Gala by Gabriel Agreste himself. She didn’t bother consulting Chat before enthusiastically agreeing.

               “We would love to join you,” Marinette replied, grabbing Chat’s hand, afraid he would remain frozen in his place if she didn’t.

               “Hey, you okay?” she whispered to him as they followed Gabriel through the mass of guests. It was now her turn to comfort him.

               “I wasn’t expecting to see him,” Chat whispered back.

               “Is it bad that he’s here?”

               “No, I just…didn’t expect it.”

               “Big fan, are you?”

               “Mm…something like that. I’ll be fine.”

               Her caring disposition, paired with the champagne in her system, encouraged her to run her thumb back and forth affectionately over the back of Chat’s hand, which seemed to ease him considerably.

               “Here we are,” Gabriel said, gesturing to his table. It wasn’t until she felt Chat catch her at her elbows that she realized she had almost fallen over at the sight of who else was seated at Gabriel’s table. To his right was none other than Heidi Klum herself, and seated next to her were Zac Posen in the flesh and his partner, the French stylist Christopher Niquet.

               “May I introduce you to our heroes of Paris?” Gabriel said to the three in perfect English. “These are the two I’ve told you so much about. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty from Christopher, Zac.”

               Marinette’s heart hammered in her chest. Gabriel Agreste had told Heidi Klum about her. Zac Posen talked to his partner about her.

               “Big, big fan,” she said as calmly as possible in her clearest English – English that she was perfecting by watching the very show Heidi and Zac starred on. It was simple English, but as long as her message got across. She sat carefully in the chair that Chat pulled out for her and shook hands with her idols. He greeted them enthusiastically and charmingly in English that was far better than her own, though more accented than Gabriel’s. She decided not to be surprised. After all, he had already shocked her with the tickets and his attire. Good English was naturally the next step.

               Zac Posen whispered discreetly to Christopher who then addressed Marinette directly.

               “Zac would like to know who you are wearing,” he asked her in French. She looked down at herself, almost forgetting the glamorous gown she was wearing. She realized that for as many times as Chat had told people that night that he was wearing an Agreste suit, she had yet to answer the question, despite being asked multiple times.

               “It’s a custom design from…a friend,” Marinette said. What else could she say? Give away the relationship she had…with herself? Of course not. She supposed that was why Chat stuck to saying that he received his goods from “friends” as well.

               Christopher translated for Zac and Heidi who both smiled at her approvingly.

               “I’d love to know this friend,” Heidi said in her own accented English. “She has good taste. I hope to see more from her.”

               While Marinette understood the compliment, she couldn’t think of how to respond. It was the highest compliment she could think to earn from the people she looked up to most, and they didn’t realize it was her that they were paying the compliment to. She blushed, smiled, and eventually thanked them.

               Food was finally placed in front of them – a lobster each with white asparagus and caviar and a mélange of potatoes and vegetables. For dessert, they were served a smooth green apple sorbet on a spun-sugar nest with rhubarb compote.

               “This is the dessert they served in New York this year,” Marinette heard Heidi whisper to Gabriel. “It’s divine.”

               And it was. She felt just as dreamy as ever, breaking apart and eating the sugar nest daintily. She was content to sit there with her idols, in her fancy dress, with her decadent dessert, even if no one at the table truly knew who she was. After all, if they did, she likely wouldn’t be allowed to sit at the table, or enter the gala, at all. But Chat was right. She did deserve it. Suit or not, she was the one who had saved Paris twice that week, and she was the one who had designed the dress that she was wearing, complimented by Heidi Klum herself. It was her greatest dream come true, and if she died that night, she was sure she would die content.

               She remained quiet, pleased that Chat had found his voice again. She was enthralled by the way his voice sounded in English – still cool, but somehow, so much more innocent. She supposed it was the accent. Before she knew it though, he was back to speaking French to her again.

               “Will you dance with me, My Lady?”

               She looked down at the hand he offered her. Her dessert had long since been finished, Gabriel had gotten up to make his rounds again, and the other three had fallen into their own conversation. The small orchestra had picked up louder than before, as the sound of harps and violins reverberated off the walls of the museum.

               “I’d love to,” she responded, all fears aside. It was a date, after all, and everyone was dancing – pairs she thought she’d never see interact. Singers were dancing with actors. Directors were dancing with models. That’s what the gala did, after all. It brought the elite together from all corners of elitehood.

Chat led her to the dance floor, putting a hand politely at the center of her back and holding her hand with his free one.

“Put your hand on the edge of my shoulder,” he instructed her, and nodded his head to this music. “This is a waltz. Do you know how to waltz?”

               She thought of her guilty pleasure, watching clips of America’s Dancing With the Stars online. It wasn’t until then that she recognized her addiction to American reality television.

               “I…I’ve watched them before.”

               “Lucky for you, I’m a very skilled waltz-er. Keep your back tall and straight, like there’s a metal rod going directly through your body.”

               Marinette narrowed her eyes at him through the mask. “How…who are you Chat? You continue to surprise me. You can waltz now, too?”

               He shrugged, giving her his signature smirk. “I’m a kitty of many talents. Now, follow my lead, and step to the music. Twirl when I tell you to twirl. Follow my feet. I’ll count for you.”

               She nodded and straightened her back like she was supposed to, stepping back as Chat stepped forward.

               “One, two, three, one, two, three. Good, keep up, Buggaboo. One, two, three, one, two three.”

               She couldn’t help but look down at their feet to make sure they were going in the right direction, but Chat’s eyes were on her face the whole time.

               “You’re doing well. Do you think you can do it while looking up?”

               She blushed, not having realized that her gaze was so concentrated on the ground, but she looked up, letting the music and Chat guide her.

               “Purr-fect. Now, on this third count, I’m going to let go so you can spin out. Ready? One, two, three…”

               He did as he said he would, releasing his hold on her back as he spun her out. Her eyes immediately shot to the floor again, making sure she didn’t trip over her heels as she danced backwards.

               “And spin back in,” Chat mouthed to her, and she rolled herself along his outstretched arm and back against his chest.

               “Very good, My Lady,” he smiled down on her as they danced side by side for a few steps, his arms crossed over her. “I’m surprised you’ve never done this before. Now, twist out, and we’ll do it again.”

               They returned to their original steps, and before long, Chat no longer had to count for her. They fell into a rhythm, even as the song transitioned into a new one.

               “Everyone’s watching you,” Chat said.

               “Don’t say that!” Marinette squeaked back. She was having a hard enough time focusing with Chat’s eyes on her.

               “It’s true. And they should be. You’re doing beautifully.”

               She smiled shyly at him. She still wanted to hate him for the way he looked in the suit and the way he could handle himself on the red carpet and the way he could speak to her idols in fluent English, and the way he could waltz, and teach her to waltz at that. But she couldn’t. She had nothing left but overwhelming adoration for her partner.

               “My Lady, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

               “Go ahead.”

               “Do you, um…Okay. So, you said you were bothered that the other guy didn’t know your true self.”

               The other guy. Adrien. Marinette felt the pang of guilt return to her stomach. She hadn’t thought about Adrien in several hours. Not since first greeting Gabriel.

               “Well,” Chat continued. “I thought the only way I could have a chance would be if I tried to know your true self as well. Because I’m not giving up on you.”

               “H-how do you mean?”

               “I mean I’m asking permission to try to learn you are. On my own.”

               Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming.

               “Chat, I…don’t understand how you could possibly do that.”

               “Why?”

               “Well, you do know you’re at a major disadvantage, right? The…other guy, I mean, he already knows that he’s seen me before. I already know that I know him outside my mask. But for all you know, you and I could live on opposite ends of the city from each other. We could go to different schools. We may have never seen each other at all.”

               He stared down at her as they continued to step to the music. She searched for answers in his eyes and found nothing. A chill went throughout her body as his bare thumb caressed the edge of her mask.

               “I think I’ll take my chances,” he whispered so softly she could hardly hear him at all. “The music is about to end. I’m going to dip you down. I won’t drop you, so left your body fall.”

               She trusted him, whoever he was, his hand still gripped tightly at the center of her back.

               “I’m not giving up on you,” he repeated, gazing at her.

               As the last notes of the waltz ended and he held her in position for an extra beat, a shrill scream pierced the air.

Chapter Text

You don’t see what you possess, a beauty calm and clear,
It floods the sky and blurs the darkness like a chandelier,
All the light that you possess is skewed by lakes and seas,
The shattered surface, so imperfect is all that you believe,
I will bring a mirror, so silver, so exact,
So precise and so pristine, a perfect pane of glass,
I will set the mirror up to face the blacked sky,
You will see your beauty every moment that you rise.
- You Are the Moon, The Hush Sound

oOo

As the final notes of the waltz floated through the air, Adrien dipped Ladybug gracefully and securely, thankful for the thousandth time that evening that ballroom dancing had been added to his repertoire of classes for skills he never thought would end up being useful, only to surprise him at the most convenient times. Already, he had been able to use his various language skills in multiple situations, and fencing certainly came in handy when it came to using Chat Noir’s baton. However, the fact that he had been able to lead Ladybug in a waltz, his hand continually at the small of her back, twirling her and the chiffon of her skirt in a blaze of embers across the dance floor, was what made him realize that every grueling lesson and every second of his staunch upbringing had truly been worth it.

So naturally, the moment was shattered by a telltale scream.

He gathered Ladybug back up quickly as the irresistible dream-like reverie in her eyes was quickly replaced with panic, soon followed by determination.

“You know as well as I do what that scream means,” she said with authority, though Adrien was pleased, at least, to see that she was visibly disappointed over their night getting cut short. “Meet you back here?”

“I’ll be counting the seconds,” he said, bowing to her. It crossed his mind that kissing her hand might not be so risky anymore – or perhaps it would be even more risky now – but there was no time to find out. He ran through the throng of already-panicked A-listers as he slipped behind a column to transform. He supposed that since he and Ladybug were technically already masked, transforming in the midst of everything wouldn’t have been a horrible idea, but he wasn’t sure how exposed the kwami should or shouldn’t be, so discretion it was.

Adrien was sure that this was the fastest they had ever met up and gotten to the scene of an akuma attack, seeing as they had started in the middle of it. Had it not been such a perfect evening, he might have been more excited about their new record. Records aside, an interrupted gala date just didn’t provide the same thrill than an interrupted school day provided.

“Fancy meeting you here, My Lady,” he greeted, winking at her when they met back at their dancing spot. “Didn’t think I’d cat-ch you here.”

“Now isn’t the time for jokes,” Ladybug said, rolling her eyes and adding an extra, whispered, “that wasn’t even a good one.”

Adrien smiled – she was back to her usual self. He couldn’t help but grow warm thinking that, really, he had been dancing with the girl under the mask only moments ago. Of course, she had still being wearing a mask, but it was so temptingly removable, and she hadn’t been under the influence of a kwami. He knew that he was a little wilder and daring as Chat, and while that was partially attributed to his anonymity and desire for freedom, he had to give some credit to Plagg. There were some sides of Chat that just didn’t present themselves as readily when he was Adrien.

This seemed to be reflected in Ladybug at the gala as well. Of course, it may have partially been because she was nervous meeting her idols and not being as used to the famous atmosphere, but she certainly seemed more reserved that night. Reserved and demure. Not that it was unflattering by any means. In fact, Adrien realized that he was only falling for her more, thanks to that night. It was the way she carried herself; humble, because of where she was and who she was around, but proud enough to realize, eventually, that she belonged here. Her eyes had lit up when she met the group at his father’s table in pure excitement. She didn’t get chances to be so excited in the face of an akuma. That excitement was pure girl – pure civilian. He was seeing the side of her that was a fan, rather than an idol, and it was sweet. A sweet reminder that she was human and she was attainable, and he loved her all the more for it. She wasn’t on a dream girl pedestal of hero-worship anymore, he realized, but he had not forgotten that, in his mind, she did deserve such a pedestal. She deserved the world and all the things in it – both the hero of Paris that everyone looked up to, and the girl who was a closet fashion fanatic whose, eye lit up when meeting models and designers.

Well. No wonder the girl knew him in civilian life. She was a fashion fan. Of course.

That narrowed it down.

Chat! Are you listening?”

Adrien shook his head, snapping out of his thought process and turning to where Ladybug called him.

“The akuma is in the dining area, based on the screams. Are you coming?’

“Of course! Lead the way!”

He ran after her, avoiding all of the formally dressed guests running in the opposite direction. Some of the international guests, who had never seen an akuma, or the heroes in action for that matter, lingered and turned their heads as they ran by, but based on the panic being displayed even by the Parisians, the akuma sounded to be tougher than the others they had faced that week.

He couldn’t help but shoot his eyes to the table they had been eating at. While there had been guests running everywhere, most were still confined to the dining area – Heidi and Zac, for example, had not even left the vicinity of the table yet. But Gabriel…

“My Lady! Where’s my f- I mean, where’s Gabriel?”

She turned her head to him, brow furrowed, before looking at the Agreste table. If she had noticed his almost-slip-up, she said nothing.

“I don’t know! Didn’t he get up to mingle? I’m sure he’s in the crowd with everyone else! Don’t worry about it!”

The akuma finally came into view then. He was what seemed to be a designer, unsurprisingly, based on the mass population of the gala. He had apparently become upset over being jilted by other designers. Ladybug had just quoted Heidi Klum's famous line while they were at dinner, showing off the English she had learned from her. What was it? In fashion, one day you're in, and the next day, you're out? Evidently, the man under the akuma had been “out,” and someone at the party had told him so. Perhaps not the ideal location to scorn someone's fashion designs, but Adrien knew just as well as anyone there how cut throat the industry was.

“You dare to call me a faux pas? I'll show you what a real Faux Pas looks like!”

“He's calling himself Faux Pas? Isn't that a little self-deprecating?” Chat called to Ladybug. She turned back to him and shrugged.

“I guess he's just going to own it!”

And own it he did. The akuma had yards and yards of fabric billowing around him in every color and pattern imaginable. It was a gaudy collection of puce and chartreuse, and paisley and polka-dots. If his actual designs had been anything similar at all, it was no wonder he was called out on them.

He couldn't fly, but he might as well have been able to. The lengths of fabric spiraled around him like tentacles, turning him into a grotesquely colored octopus of sorts. Each length of fabric seemed to have a mind and life of its own, and they lifted Faux Pas in the air, acting as stilts, as though he were a strange human-fabric Daddy Long Leg hybrid. In all, there was something about him that was rather disturbing, as spidery as he was. It certainly didn't help that he was creating literal nooses out of seemingly infinite supplies of fabrics and hanging them from the chandeliers that had been set up over the dining area.

“You don't suppose those are for...” Ladybug started, looking warily back at Chat. It wasn't often that that got such a violent and vengeful akuma, but it did happen, and the nooses looked pretty serious. Chat gulped.

“I think they're exactly for what you think they're for,” he shouted back to Ladybug, unsure of what angle to even approach the akuma from. The setting was rather tricky as well – being indoors, it was much more difficult to get a good angle. Panicked guests were still running around, and even worse, were standing around rubber-necking. There were no buildings to bound across or get on top of either, and it seemed that they were at a major disadvantage.

Gabriel Agreste! Come out, wherever you are! I'll show you a faux pas, Monsieur Agreste!

“Oh, God...” Adrien muttered. “My Lady! I think we should reconsider looking for Gabriel!”

Why am I not surprised it was you again, Père? Adrien thought to himself, scanning the large room. His father was tall – it should not have been so hard to spot him. Still, he was nowhere to be found. Maybe if you weren't so...

Adrien stopped the train of thought, feeling his body burn. True or not, he had a hard time thinking negative thoughts about his father. Whether it was guilt, seeing as his father was still hurting just as much as he was over the sudden absence of his mother, or it was fear, he was unsure. He was still recovering from telling off his father the last time they had protected him, and that was when he had been under the guise of Chat.

“He's getting to be as bad as Chloè Bourgeois!” Ladybug yelled at him as she swung from a chandelier to get around the akuma. “Causing akumas and then being targeted by them!”

Not that Adrien wanted to agree, but it was true. True and kind of embarrassing, but...he didn't want to say that his father was similar to Chloè, and he didn't want to say that either of them brought the akumas onto themselves, but after a while, it became exceedingly difficult to excuse their actions, regardless of his history with either of them.

“There! Monsieur Agreste!”

Adrien shot his head to where Ladybug pointed, and there was his father, right by the Agreste table, as though he had never left. Unlike the majority of civilians surrounding them, he wore an expression of annoyance and contempt, rather than fear. So characteristic. He mostly looked perturbed and inconvenienced by the attack. Adrien thought he'd at least be angrier over the fact that there was an akuma destroying what was more or less his gala. Or the fact that he had caused the akuma. Or that fact that the akuma was literally coming after him with a noose in order to hang him on a chandelier. This particular akuma, in fact, seemed so focused on removing Gabriel from the picture that he had yet to make a reference to capturing Chat and Ladybug's miraculouses. Which was both a great concern and a great blessing. Hawkemoth had clearly lost all control of the akuma, which seemed to be similar to the Jackady case. It seemed that akumas that targeted his father would stop at nothing and accept no distraction.

Again – a great concern.

And Gabriel continued to stand there.

“P -,” Adrien started, only to remember again that he was wearing his mask. He went unnoticed in the midst of the commotion and used the moment to recompose himself and shout louder. “Monsieur Agreste! With all due respect, you need to get out of here!”

Gabriel turned his head wearing an expected expression of disgust.

With all due respect, Chat Noir,” Gabriel practical spat, drawing his name out, “I thought I told you I don’t take orders. Even from superheroes.”

Adrien felt his temperature rising in frustration. Forgetting feelings and guilt, he rolled his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, but you’re going to get yourself killed in here. I am forced to remind you, again, that while this may be your event in great part, and you may be at the top of this industry, you cannot act like you’re above everyone else, because it’s not as true as you think!”

This time, he didn’t recoil, standing firmly by every word he said. Adrien noticed that Gabriel attempted to stand firm as well, but he had been stricken. Knowing exactly what to look for to see if he had truly pierced the stone, he noticed that the muscle in Gabriel’s jaw was twitching and that his pupils had constricted to nothing more than pinpricks. His knuckles were stark white. It was the way he looked for the first five minutes after becoming a family of two, rather than three.

Adrien didn’t give himself a chance to feel guilt, but more importantly, he didn’t give Gabriel a chance to speak back to him. Sucking up all fear, he ran forward and picked up Gabriel, running with him out of dining area. His father was conveniently light thanks to the added strength of the cat suit, and Adrien focused on running to safety, rather than the fact that he was dressed the way he was and essentially fireman carrying his father through the Louvre. It wasn’t exactly what he pictured when his childhood-self had been asked where he saw himself in ten years.

“Stay,” he told Gabriel, finally setting him down safely outside the museum where the red carpet was still set up. Questions were still being called out and pictures were still being taken – at an alarming rate especially as Chat Noir came out carrying a famous designer like a damsel in distress. Adrien stayed around to answer no questions, calling out a quick apology before his father, or the press for that matter, could grab and hold him hostage.

Back in the dining area, it appeared as though the akuma was only more enraged due to the sudden absence of the man he had a vendetta against. He chased Ladybug around the room, who was doing less fighting and more swinging from chandelier to chandelier. It was only the already exasperated expression on her face that restricted him from calling her a party girl.

“Chat!” she called out, panting for breath. “Find a way to distract him so I can have time to get a lucky charm!”

Chat nodded, calling on his Cataclysm before he was even entirely sure what he wanted to use it on. He finally zeroed in on Faux Pas’s position, spidering his way towards Ladybug.

“Hurry, please! My swinging arm is getting sore! I’m not going to have energy to do a Lucky Charm at all at this rate!”

She didn’t have to wait any longer though; the moment she passed by, leaving just seconds of time between her and Faux Pas, Chat vaulted forward and landed his Cataclysm on the chandelier directly in front of the akuma, just a second after Ladybug had swung from it.

The chandelier did not land directly on top of Faux Pas, but it did graze his feet, startle him, and give Ladybug the time to use her Lucky Charm.

“Don’t run with those!” Adrien shouted at her when he saw that the charm was a large pair of spotted scissors.

“I have no idea what the akumatized object is!” she shouted back at him. “I’m just gunna start snipping fabric and you start unravelling it!”

Doing so ended up being easier than either of them had expected, since Faux Pas had grown the lengths of fabric so far out. They snipped and unraveled as fast as he produced the fabric, much to his growing annoyance. Unfortunately, the akuma was in none of the gaudily patterned tendrils.

“I don’t think the akuma can be in any of this fabric!” Chat suggested. “He’s producing it himself! He didn’t already have it!”

“I think you’re right!” Ladybug said, but rather than grow discouraged, her thoughtful expression took over on her face, until suddenly – “Catch!”

She shot her yo-yo out, knocking Faux Pas’s top hat from his head, and Chat chased after it, catching it in the air and rolling onto his back with it. Since they had done such a diligent job with grounding Faux Pas, it was simple not only to remove his hat, but to run out of his way, and throw it back over his head to Ladybug in a sort of dangerous Monkey-in-the-Middle situation. She mutilated the horrendous hat with her scissors until the akuma was released from its threads. She quickly purified it, leaving the Louvre in the luxurious state it had previously been in. The ice sculptures that had decorated the dining area had even been brought back to life as Ladybug’s Miraculous power restored everything and reversed their melting process. If anything, the museum looked even better than it had before the attack. Of course, it had also been completely cleared of all celebrities as well. The designer that had been under Faux Pas left the museum dejectedly and embarrassed without even an apology, perhaps to find the remaining threads of his dignity. Adrien quietly prayed the designer wouldn’t wind up passing by his father back outside.

Ladybug walked towards him in a veil of pink as her transformation released. He had never seen the pink glow before, and watching the release of her transformation for the first time excited him, even though she was still wearing her gala mask and dress underneath. It was lovely, however, to watch the dark hair released from Ladybug’s pigtails and float back down to rest on her shoulders in a frame around her face. He appreciated that her hair was down more now that he had just had the contrast. While it was beautiful, his excitement mostly stemmed from this being the first time he had ever seen Ladybug – knowing it was Ladybug – out of her suit. She was so tantalizingly close, yet further than ever, because he could think of no one in his life he knew that wore their hair like that. He noticed then, which he had not noticed prior to the akuma attack, that Ladybug’s hair was actually much darker when she was unsuited. While it was dark and black either way, there was a bit of a blue sheen to it Ladybug’s suit – like a raven’s feathers or a beetle’s wings. Which made sense when he thought about it. He expected, after all, that her physical body underwent changes as well. His eyes lost their whites completely when he transformed, hair ruffling aside. Detransformed, her hair was blacker, and while the sheen lessened greatly in intensity, it gained a finish that was far closer to velvet. It contrasted her skin greatly and instead of matching her eyes, it made them pop out even more. It was beautiful in its own way, and Adrien cursed himself for not noticing the differences as well prior to her transformation.

He surprised himself by reaching out to run his fingertips through the ends of her hair as she approached him and his own transformation released. She surprised him even further by smiling at him, rather than batting his hand away. The strands felt as close to velvet as they looked.

“I think that signals the end of our date, chaton,” Ladybug said to him, running her fingertips along the edge of her own mask as though afraid that perhaps she had lost it somehow.

“As much as I’d like for it to go on forever, I think you’re right,” Adrien agreed. After all, no one had dared come back into the museum. He held out his arm to her, unsure of how she would feel about it despite the fact that they had been waltzing not moments ago. She took it though, and he lead her out of the Louvre, thankful to have her next to him at all.

Though many guests had dispersed, much of the press was still there. Adrien was unsurprised, having just been outside to bring Gabriel to safety, and he had to give them all kudos for their dedication. Ladybug, though a little more taken aback, seemed to have the same idea and answered some questions regarding their attendance at the gala and the sudden attack as a reward for their patience. While she continued to blow off questions regarding who had designed her dress for her, she was significantly less nervous and even posed with him for pictures, which was something she rarely did – at least, she rarely let Chat have his arm around her in pictures. It was just another point in the night that he was sure he was dreaming.

The sight of his father’s limousine rolling by, however, reminded him that this was very much reality. He had forgotten that his father had not originally meant to be at the gala, and more importantly, he had forgotten that he was supposed to be incapacitated at home with an actual excuse as to why Adrien the Model could not attend the event.

“Ah – thank you for the questions and pictures and all. Always a pleasure, but we must be going now,” Adrien said as the press groaned, but actually began to dissipate. They had, after all, been lingering around for hours. Alya Cesaire, who had somehow acquired a press pass, lingered the longest, snapping in every last picture she had time for, which Adrien was secretly thankful for. He knew the pictures would be up on the Ladyblog, and though he was in a sudden urgent rush to be back home, he did still want as many pictures of their first real date as possible. Ladybug, kind as ever, remembered Alya, who only gave up and left when she waved goodbye to her.

“Well…,” Adrien said, turning to Ladybug once the crowd around the Louvre pyramid had been reduced to little more than a few mingling couples. “That an exciting end to the night.”

“Not entirely unexpected though,” Ladybug smiled. “It’s a cutthroat, high tension industry. Kind of figures that someone would get their feelings hurt. Besides, what would a LadyNoir date be without an akuma?”

Adrien felt himself smirk at her. While smirks were second nature in his suit, they were something he generally had to try for as a civilian, having worked on the perfect one for modeling. This time, however, it spread on his face before he had a chance to stop it.

“You just used our celebrity couple name,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get used to it.”

“I don’t have to,” he laughed. “It’s going to be all over the Ladyblog tomorrow.”

“I suppose you’re right. How disappointed everyone will be when we aren’t wed tomorrow at sunset.”

“Me included,” Adrien teased. “Joking aside, though, I wouldn’t actually be surprised if a mass hysteria breaks out once every one hears that our little date was purely platonic. Some of those Ladyblog shippers are…intense.”

Though covered by her mask, Adrien could tell by Ladybug’s wrinkling forehead that she was raising her eyebrows. “You aren’t pushing this date as more than platonic?”

He shrugged. “I’m being realistic. It was a wonderful date, and you know I’d love to have a romantic one with you as well, someday. But I know this wasn’t the one. I know that wasn’t what it was to you. I can wait. You were the one who said dates didn’t always have to be romantic. Friends can go on dates.”

“That’s very mature of you, Chat,” Ladybug said, sounding genuinely impressed.

He shrugged, glad that he hadn’t let her down. “I’m playing the game properly, My Lady. Romantic, platonic, or even just as a civic, business-related duty, being at your side was the greatest honor. Let it be known that I’m the first Parisian disappointed that this wasn’t the beginning of the great Ladynoir romance. But I willingly admit that it wasn’t. My time will come when my time will come. I’ll wait patiently by your side.”

Ladybug gave him a new sort of smile that he hadn’t seen before. He couldn’t tell if it was full of pity, or sympathy, or love, or confusion even. He could tell it wasn’t happy, per se, but otherwise, she was unreadable. “How are you so good, Chat? How are you so hopeful and good, all the time? You’re…too good. Much more than I deserve.”

He shrugged. “I just pray my patience will pay off, someday. My goodness is entirely inspired by you, though. So if anyone deserves it, it’s you.”

She gave him the unreadable smile again as color darkened her cheeks. In an instant though, her expression changed to one of urgency.

“Didn’t you need to go?”

Adrien’s heart leapt. “Oh, God, yes…I…Oh, I hope it’s not too late.”

“Is anything the matter? Can I help?”

“Well, it’s just that…you know, I snuck out to come here.”

“Oh. Same, actually. I’m meant to be staying the night at my friend’s house.”

“Well, my, um…I was supposed to be home alone this week…but I was recently, uh, informed that my father is…still in Paris,” he said, being as vague as possible. “So, I need to get back before he notices I’m gone, unless that’s already happened.”

“Oh, you naughty chaton. I wish you all of my luck!”

“Thank you, My Lady. I had a beautiful evening. You know I’d walk you home if…”

“I know. One day you’ll be able to. If enough of my luck rubs off on you. I’ll see you on patrol tomorrow.”

She waved to him as his heart skipped two beats – once, because she hinted that some of her luck could rub off on him, and he would see her home one day. Twice, because he had forgotten than the next day was a Monday and that they had patrol again. It wasn’t until he watched her slip in to an ally, likely to recover and retransform to get home, that he let himself slip away and do the same, in a hurry to get home and slide in through his window.

Adrien's anxiety was at an all time high by the time he finally reached the mansion. He hadn't even made his bed to make it look at though he was in is sleeping. It wasn't that anyone often came to check on him in his room, but if he was skipping out on a famous event – especially one that his father had such an important presence at – because he was sick, there was a better chance that his father would look in to call him on his bluff. It hadn't been a problem when his father had meant to be out of Paris, but seeing as he had actually gone to the gala and was likely already settled at home, the threat was far higher.

“See? No harm,” Plagg commented, flitting around. No notes had been left, nothing had been ruined, his room had not been set on fire in a fit of rage, and evidently no search parties had been sent out. The lights were off and everything was as boring and safe as it ever was when he stepped out as Chat Noir. While relief washed over him, he was almost disappointed as well that no one had bothered checking up on him while he was meant to be too ill to make a public appearance. He might as well have been kidnapped hours prior and no one ever would have known the difference.

“I'm hungry,” grumbled Plagg, clearly unperturbed. He probably would have been unperturbed with nothing but food on his mind even if Adrien had come home to his room on fire.

“The mini fridge just got stocked,” Adrien replied. Needing to keep up an annoyingly strict diet, he hadn't made much use out of the mini fridge until Plagg came along. Honestly, he was glad for the chance to use the fridge at all, despite not caring much for the fragrant cheese. It made him feel less as though it were going to waste, like so much of his room was. He loved his rock wall and his games and everything else his room was furnished with, as any teenage boy would, but he never had chances to use any of it. He was sure the ledges of his rock wall had dust on them. Annoying as Plagg's cravings might be, nothing was as annoying as all the frivolity going to waste. If he couldn't give the stuff to someone else, like Nino, who had both more time and appreciation, he wished that he at least had time or allowance to invite people over to help him use the stuff. That had been another nice thing about Ladybug's visits – she helped him put the room to use. Of course, that had been too good to last.

God, stop acting so sorry for yourself, he scolded himself, absentmindedly watching Plagg dig through the fridge. You're the one who had to say you loved her like an idiot. You're the only one who can fix this.

He woke his computer up to hop to the Ladybog (which he had finally turned into his homepage) to see if Alya had added pictures from the gala yet, just to remind himself that things were not going so bad. Sure, the date had been platonic, and sure, Ladybug was apparently still upset about Adrien, and sure, she didn't know that he and Chat were one in the same, but he had spent a whole lovely evening with his Lady, and she had called it a date, and left it on a happy note, and didn't cry.

It was progress.

That, and he was already desperate to see her in her dress again.

Just as he saw that no new updates had been made to the blog, he heard his door open behind him.

“Adrien?”

He turned, calm but surprised, knowing that the woman's voice did not belong to his father. Nathalie stood there, hair down with no glasses, wearing button up red satin pajamas. Still, even in nightwear, she looked polished and professional. It was not unusual for his father's assistant to stay the night in the mansion. She was unmarried and had no children, and it was generally more convenient when there was a lot of work. Her stays were even more frequent when Gabriel was not in the mansion at all.

“Nathalie?”

“I just came to see how you were doing. Are you feeling better? I made sure no one came in to disturb you so you could get rest. Do you need me to schedule you a doctor's appointment for tomorrow?”

“I – no, I'm feeling a bit better. I'll be good to go to school tomorrow. Thank you, Nathalie.”

“Of course. I'll have your father know that you're doing better.”

“Where is he? Is he home? I saw that he went to the gala. Erm, I mean, the live stream. I watched the red carpet live stream and I saw he went.” And you saw him leave, too. Of course he's home, what kind of question is that?

“He's not here,” Nathalie said to his surprise, and apparently believing his live stream story. “He decided to go to the gala last minute, but his Tibet trip is still on. He went to the airport immediately from the Louvre. If you need anything, all the staff will be here all weekend, and I'll be in my office for most of the time. Will you be needed anything else this evening?”

Adrien breathed an internal sigh of relief. “Ah – um, no. Thanks, Nat.”

“Very well. See you tomorrow. Sleep well. And soon, if you want to feel better. Good night.”

She left him then as Adrien shut his computer back off and fell in to bed.

“Your Pops must really like Tibet,” Plagg said as he settled onto the edge of Adrien's pillow with his last bite of cheese.

“Ugh, do you have to eat that in the bed? And what are you talking about? He goes all over for business.”

“Yeah, but in his safe, behind that painting of your mom, he also had that book about Tibet, and travel guides about Tibet, and tickets to Tibet...either he's really excited about the place, or that's a pretty important business trip.”

“Huh...I never thought about that.”

“Of course you didn't. Y'know, you may make a pretty good Chat, kid, but you're also blind.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

Nothing, nothing, but you are the one who claims to be in love with someone who you can't even recognize in your every day life.”

Plagg!

“Hush, you'll wake up the staff.”

“I will not, they're in the complete other wing of the mansion!”

“Well, be quiet anyway. I'm tired, I wanna sleep.”

“Plagg, you can't just bring something like that up and drop it.”

“Sorry, what? I'm sleeping, I can't hear you.”

Plagg!

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

Adrien groaned in annoyance but gave it up, knowing there was no dealing with Plagg when he decided he was sleepy or hungry. Still, Plagg knew more than he was admitting. He always knew more than he was admitting. He probably knew who Ladybug was from day one. He probably knew the color of her room and he probably knew what Hawkemoth had for dinner. Still, it might as well have all been completely unknown information as long as Plagg was the only one who knew it. He'd cooperate the day he achieved a lifetime supply of cheese. Casually he wondered if Ladybug's kwami was just as difficult. Probably not, but if they had any information, they clearly kept it to themself as well.

Adrien rolled over on his side to sleep, mind full of Ladybug's gala dress and her cinnamon-vanilla skin and how he could work on developing something better than 20/20 vision by the morning.

oOo

“Dude, not gunna lie, I'm kinda hating you right now,” Nino said the next morning, punching Adrien lightly on the arm as they walked into class that morning. He was always so much better at getting to school on time when Nathalie was in charge.

“Why? What did I do this time?”

“You just had to be sick this weekend.”

“What? Oh, yeah. Sorry we couldn't hang out or anything yesterday.”

“Forget that!” Nino said, throwing his hands up. “You could have been at the Louvre Gala. Didn't you see? Ladybug and Chat Noir showed up! Like, out of their suits! Well, they had masks on, obviously, but dude. It was epic.”

“Were...were you there? At the red carpet?”

“Ah – no,” Nino admitted. “But the pics are all over the Ladyblog. Alya, show him, go on!”

Adrien turned in his chair to look at the phone screen Alya was proudly presenting.

Look at that quality!” Nino gushed. “Alya got a press pass. Like a real press pass. Can you believe that?”

Adrien looked up at the blog owner, suddenly remembering that she had been on the red carpet, and looking rather professional as well. “How did you manage to swing that?”

“Ladybug got it for me,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Y-you know, I mean, you're in contact with Ladybug?” Adrien stuttered, gaping at her with Nino, who evidently hadn't yet heard how she acquired her pass. Even Marinette, who was pink in the face and seemingly overwhelmed by the attention their table was getting, stared at her friend, brows furrowed. Had she not even told Marinette?

“I, uh, well, yeah,” Alya shrugged. “I mean, I run the official Ladyblog, don't I? I've interviewed her before, albeit briefly...I did upload the first footage of her ever. Maybe she just took a notice. Besides, she never, ah, gave it to me in person. It came in the mail.”

The group collectively dropped their shoulders. Adrien, personally, was only disappointed to heard that Alya didn't actually interact with Ladybug in person. Which was silly – he did on an almost every day basis, and even had as Adrien, but for a moment, he thought perhaps she might give him a better chance of finding Ladybug's identity.

Or not.

“You jealous, Adrien?” Nino teased. Adrien jumped.

“Wh-what?”

“Of Alya, possibly having interacted with Ladybug in the flesh?

Suddenly, both Alya and Marinette had their eyes on him.

“I...well...I mean, no. Maybe of Chat Noir, though. He's looking pretty good.”

“Models are not allowed to be jealous of how good someone else looks,” Alya said. “It just ruins the game even more for the rest of us. But..., okay, you're not wrong. Kitty's looking fly as hell.”

They all leaned over the phone, examining him in the suit he wore. Adrien was glad, suddenly, that he already knew how to pose for pictures and how to act casual around people staring at them in awe. He had to admit – Chat did wear the suit well. Of course, the Agreste suit was modeled for his body. It was designed to look perfect. But it did look like Chat modeling, rather than himself. His hair was just messy enough and the mask had giving him the confidence to channel Chat's unique swagger. He had grown up, he realized, but hadn't really seen it until looking at pictures of himself dressed up as someone else. He was taller, of course, but his jaw had become defined, and his shoulders broadened significantly as well. Of course, his acrobatics and weekly fights only helped, but even mirrors had been unable to show him what he was now looking at.

“Look at that, Marinette,” Alya said, tilting to phone in all angles. “You can't tell me you don't think that's a good looking cat. Like, is that not the sexiest picture of Chat you've ever seen?”

Marinette glared at Alya, and Adrien turned his full attention on her, very interested in what her response would be. Unsurprisingly, she grew red as ever.

“You – I – Alya, damn it...yes, i-it's the...the s-sexiest picture of Ch-Chat I'veeverseen. Happy?”

Deliriously so,” Alya teased. Marinette looked as though she wanted to be buried alive, but Adrien felt a surge of pride wash throughout him anyway.

Nino snatched Alya's phone, flicking through more photos. “Damn. Just look at the love radiating off the LadyNoir pics.”

“The -,”

“- what?”

Adrien and Marinette turned to each other quickly, having had the exact same reaction. Marinette blinked, startled, but shot her head back to Nino quickly.

“Ah, yeah, I forgot. Marinette's the local cynic,” he explained to Adrien. “She doesn't see the obviousness of the glorious romantic relationship that is LadyNoir as some of us do.” He fist-bumped Alya. “I didn't know you were a cynic, too, dude.”

“I...I'm not...,” Adrien admitted. Was it romance? Not necessarily. Not yet, anyway, but he couldn't truthfully deny that he was the biggest Ladynoir shipper of all. “I just didn't realize you felt so strongly about it.”

Nino shrugged. “Said it once and I'll say it again – I calls 'em as I sees 'em. And this is the biggest obvious thing I've ever seen. But I'm not surprised you can't see it. You're pretty blind, you know.”

Adrien furrowed his eyebrows intensely and turned to Nino. “What's that supposed to mean? God, I feel like everyone is saying that to me lately.”

“They say it because it's true, dude. The love Ladybug and Chat Noir clearly share is almost as obvious as – ow!

Nino recoiled as Alya smacked the back of his head with her textbook. Marinette stared wide-eyed behind them as much as Adrien did.

Fine, I'll stay out of it, damn, you didn't have to hit me...” Nino muttered, rubbing the back of his head.

Adrien waited hopefully for Nino to continue, but as Mlle. Bustier walked in, his hope dwindled significantly. He heard Marinette and Alya whispering rapidly and incoherently behind him, and he knew without a doubt that it was all concerning more things he was unaware of and too blind to see. Plagg was probably having a giggling fit in his bag.

“What else am I blind to?” Adrien prodded Nino, who only shook his head with remorse. When attendance started up, he knew it really was hopeless and hung his head in defeat. It was one thing to be clueless – not knowing Ladybug's identity, not understanding the cryptic things people (and kwamis) said, and now, apparently being clueless regarding whatever it was Nino knew and Alya didn't want him talking about. It was another thing to apparently be the only one who was clueless. Marinette and Alya whispered with heads ducked close together all day, and although Alya definitely seemed to know something (of course, if anyone was going to know secrets, it would be Alya), it was clear that they weren't saying anything else. Even Nino seemed to know more than he let on, shouting to Marinette and Alya that he could still easily help with Marinette's problem, but there was no telling what the problem was.

Marinette insisted on closing herself off to him, and it seemed as though she only interacted with him when circumstances forced her to. She seemed nice enough – more than nice, even – when they had practiced for the Mecha Strike tournament. In fact, he still had the lucky bracelet she had given him hung by his computer in his room. Otherwise, though, she either wouldn't, or couldn't speak to him. He knew it was a problem with him, and not her personality, because he had seen her charisma as bravery shine when she interacted with her friends, with their classmates, in her role as class president, and even Chat. She wasn't shy at all – full of personality, talent, and leadership skills. It was only around him that she acted as though she were moments away from combustion. He assumed it was a combination of intimidation and distaste. After all, he was the son and most famous model of her favorite designer. It was obvious to everyone how important fashion design was to her – even Adrien, who had recently been diagnosed with deplorable vision saw that – and she both loved and feared his father. It seemed to make sense that she would be confused as to how to act around him. Of course, he knew she very well could still harbor a great dislike for him as well. Though he had apologized and tried to set things right with her the first day they met, and he had considered her a friend from the moment he offered her his umbrella, he knew that there was a chance that the apology was too little, too late. It was no secret that she and Chloè had the strongest rivalry in the class and it was entirely possible that Marinette felt even more uncomfortable knowing that he was one of the only people in the class – or world, for that matter – that humored Chloè at all.

It was a shame, though. He had seen Marinette's disposition around others (and Chat) enough to know her true personality, even if she didn't show it around him, and he had always known she was the kind of person he would want to be close to or be friends with. She was the complete opposite of Chloè in fact, which made her all the more appealing. Aside from that, he simply felt himself drawn to her. He had the strong feeling that they would be the very best of friends if she would just let him in.

Evidently, she was having none of it. He had to admit, it only made her more intriguing to him, and he grew more intent on gaining her friendship, or approval, or anything, but all of his attempts to talk to her usually seemed to go the same way. It was bad enough that she was one of their only classmates that had not given him a birthday gift. Even those who hadn't given him a gift had at least brought a card to his party. Not only did she not bring a card at all, but she also spent a large portion of his party...not at his party. She had just been...gone. Adrien didn't need more gifts. He didn't need any gifts. He already had everything. It was just hard not to notice that she had hardly acknowledged his birthday at all when everyone else had. Not only that, but she generally was the first to acknowledge and give praise to others. She was even known to bring baked goods for the class when it was someone else's birthday.

He wanted nothing more than to clear his name in her books. She was too good a person to pass up as a friend. Intimidation was one thing (that he hoped he could soothe), but if she disliked him, he had to know the reasons and fix them.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem as though that would be happening on that Monday. Marinette was too focused on her secrets with Alya, and Nino was too focused on pretending he was in the loop, so Adrien took advantage of his solitude and spent the entire day scrolling through the Ladyblog.

It was incredible how fast classes would go when he spent them looking at Ladybug (and himself) rather than paying attention. If any of his teachers noticed, they said nothing. Adrien, thanks to being home schooled, was far ahead of the curriculum. He opted to stay with his age group rather than skip ahead, seeing as he went to public school in the first place in order to be with peers, but it meant that he could afford not to pay attention in class. His biggest challenges ended up being keeping his expression in check, since he found it just as difficult not to gape at Ladybug in picture format as it had been in person, and keeping Nino and Alya from looking at his screen and starting a fuss.

While he was definitely surprised by his own apparent maturity in the photographs, he spent most of his time looking at Ladybug, memorizing the look so that he could recall it easily, even without reference.

Her dress was obviously custom – he had seen enough custom looks to know. It fit her like a second skin on top, almost just the way her suit did. She really must have had a friend who could do the work for her, though the short notice it was prepared under was also impressive. It wasn't like she had known she'd be going to the gala for very long. Her surprise and demeanor gave away the fact that under her suit, she likely wasn't unrealistically rich or famous though, which made her acquisition of a custom gown even more perplexing.

Her hair and legs were his main focus however, and though he knew that a large amount of the appeal came from the fact that the had never seen her hair lowered or legs exposed before, he could say with an unbiased opinion that they were beautiful. He had not appreciated them enough the night before, afraid that he would stare, and he was suddenly very glad for his decision, because once he started staring at her full length portrait, he couldn't stop. The only force that got him to flip to the next photo was the fact that he might be in the next one.

Luckily for him, the next one was exactly what he had been looking for. Just the photo on its own caused him to turn bright red. It was no wonder Nino had commented on them. Ladybug was looking directly at the camera, smiling softly and demurely, but his likeness was looking at Ladybug. The way he looked at her came as a surprise even to him. Of course, he knew the way he thought about her, but he had no idea how clearly those feelings showed up on his face. He looked like he belonged on the cover of a regency period film. He looked at her like her face was made of diamonds. He looked at her the way she deserved to be looked at, and the way he imagined he would and could and should look at her – he just never realized that his face gave him away to such an extent. It was no small wonder that most of Paris shipped them. Were he an unbiased party, he'd ship them, too, if that picture was the evidence.

Finally growing too embarrassed at how unabashedly he displayed his feelings to the world, he closed out of the blog, instead looking forward to seeing Ladybug in person again during their patrol. Her legs would be covered and her hair would be up again, and they wouldn't be dancing, and she wouldn't be filled with a girlish wonder, but he had the memory in his back pocket. Really, he just wanted to see her again. It didn't matter what he was to her. He had to be in her presence and he had to look at her like that and feel that way about her and wait for her forever, if that was what it came down to. He didn't think he could falter even if he wanted to. He was inevitably drawn to her existence, and even if it was their joint miraculous that ultimately caused his strong attraction to her, it was real and valid and he couldn't resist it. Both his ring and his heart guaranteed that he was going to be his Lady's knight for all time, even is she never pledged herself back to him. If anything, though, the gala made Adrien even more intent on discovering Ladybug's identity. It was the beginning of his evidence that he could love her even without her suit and the personality and character changes the suit brought with it. Unfortunately, while the gala inspired his determination, the facts surrounding the event, as well as Ladybug's gown and hair, seemed to deter him further.

The school day ended quickly and without a single akuma attack, thankfully. Monday akuma attacks were the worst, and since it was such a stupid day of the week, there were often a lot of negative emotions. Thankfully, it seemed that Hawkemoth was having too busy a Monday himself to send out any akumas, and he and Ladybug would be able to have a nice evening of patrol. Often, if attacks happened on patrol day, patrol would be canceled for the night as more than one attack a day was rare, and two transformations in a day was strenuous, and Adrien was not in the mood to give up an evening with his Lady after spending the whole day looking at her pictures and fantasizing about her likeness against the night sky.

oOo

Adrien had known his adrenaline was higher than usual from the moment he left his room that night, which was saying a lot for when he was wearing Chat's skin. He knew that, more than likely, things wouldn't be much different between he and Ladybug. Their date had been platonic – really, nothing more than when they attended ribbon cuttings or statue unveilings together. They had waltzed, but they had been no closer than they sometimes had to get when fighting an akuma. Still, he hadn't been able to keep his mind from running wild with the fantasy. What if it had been more? What if, under the lights from the chandeliers strewn across the Louvre, or even in the middle of the dance floor, she had fallen in love with him? Of course, that was highly unlikely, and he knew it. Even if he had succeeded in charming her, he gave her enough credit to assume she wouldn't forget her interest Adrien that easily. In fact, that was what had kept her from being with him in the first place, and he was wise enough to know that the way he presented Chat and Adrien were different. They were the same person, and both sides showcased real and valid aspects of his personality, but many of Chat's mannerisms were difficult, or inappropriate, to display as Adrien, and it wasn't always practical to be at the height of class and propriety as Chat. They were both him – he just had to find a way to get his Lady to love and accept the Chat side of him without losing interest in the Adrien side of him.

How could he do it?

He didn't know.

Was it even possible? Could she, or would she, ever love both sides of him at the same time?

He didn't know.

Though it would be significantly easier, he felt, if he figured out who she was. Then, at least, he could do a little more work as Adrien instead of being left to make all the progress as Chat. He had regretted telling her that he was in love with her as Adrien countless times within the past week. However, he was finally coming to realize that perhaps that had made everything better – or, at the very least, it had been a catalyst. She never would have gotten upset otherwise. She might never have opened up to Chat, and they would have been stuck in square one forever. As much as he liked it, he was realistic to realize they never could have carried on a relationship as just Ladybug and Adrien meeting at midnight forever. Now he knew that she was interested in Adrien. Now he had opened the window to talking to her as Chat.

His deep contemplation melted away the moment he saw Ladybug flash in front of him. He was back to his one-track mind, only this time he didn't have to imagine Ladybug in front of a night sky – she was there. The slideshow in his mind alternated rapidly between the image of her in blazing chiffon on the dance floor and her suited silhouette against the moon, until suddenly, they were one, and and imagined her jumping from rooftop to rooftop with her hair down and the fabric billowing behind her. He didn't bother splitting up from her, or rather, he didn't care to, and he followed right behind her all the way to Notre Dame. He wondered if he would follow behind her like that for his whole life, though he quickly decided it wouldn't be the worst fate in the world, if he couldn't be with her.

He had thought nothing would change, since their date had been platonic, but standing at the cathedral, he realized that that was not necessarily true. He was even more attracted to her. He hadn't thought it possible, but it was undeniably true. He had seen the way that he looked older – more matured – in the photographs, but it had been the same for her as well. She truly was a Lady. And he had seen her legs, and he had seen her arm, toned and freed from fabric, and he had seen her collarbones...and he tried not to picture them, but despite popular opinion, he was just a young, human male, after all. He realized that perhaps it was foolish. According to Ladybug, he had met, or at least come across her as Adrien, so presumably, he had seen his Lady's legs and arms and neck prior to the Gala. And he could not recall ever being quite so tantalized. He had guessed a great part of the attraction was the fact that he had seen them and this time knew to whom they belonged. And the fact that he had never seen them before. Hadn't there been a time and place when women kept even their wrists covered for modesty? And then, wrists became tantalizing because they were never seen. It worked the same way he supposed, but the fact was that now that he had seen Ladybug's skin, and knew that it belonged to her, he couldn't stop thinking about it. He wouldn't be the first to admit that he was getting hot and bothered over an arm, but he was happy to work with what he had.

And her hair. What he wouldn't give to see it down again, framing her face, the strands caressing her soft cheeks, and the nape of her neck...

“Cat got your tongue?”

Chat's head shot up.

“My Lady?”

“You've been quiet for a while, and I asked you a question.”

“Ah – I'm sorry. I was thinking. About our lovely outing last night. But to answer your question, no, the cat doesn't have my tongue. I think I have to remind you that I am the cat. But I appreciate your efforts making a cat-related joke, Bugaboo. It didn't go unnoticed.”

“Well, I'm glad,” Ladybug responded with a smile. “But that wasn't the question I meant. I asked something before that.”

Chat blinked at her, embarrassed that he had been too zoned out imagining her collarbones of all things to hear the first thing she had said.

“I asked you if you had time to talk?”

His eyebrows shot up. He hadn't had to ask her if she was okay first. He hadn't needed to grab her hand. He jumped at the question as though she might take it back if he took too long to reply.

“Of course. Is there something wrong?”

“I – um, do you mind if we move to a rooftop? I'm not in the mood to be sitting around gargoyles.”

“Are you afraid of them?”

“No, no. It's just, I feel like ever since we read Notre-Dame de Paris, I've been paranoid that they listen to us. And if they're eavesdropping, who knows who else might be. After all, we keep the same patrol schedule and route every week. By now, I'm sure there are...plenty of people who know that we always meet here when we finish. And I know that we're high up, but, if it's alright with you, I'd like to keep my private moments with chaton as private as possible.”

He was warmed by the thought – not the fact that she was correct and there were probably hidden paparazzi and reporters, always waiting to catch something between them, but the fact that she was still interested in private moments with him at all.

“Follow me,” he said, sneaking around the cathedral. They were high up enough that any spies on the ground would not have notice them slip away. He led her to a high rooftop he knew of almost dangerously close to his mansion. He thought for a moment of actually taking her to the top of the mansion, but vetoed the idea at the last minute. The roof he chose instead was still plenty high and had just as good a view of the Eiffel Tower. He thought that she might enjoy it at the very least, though his initial thought had been that it was a romantic sight.

“So, what's on your mind? Everything okay?” Chat asked her as they sat down together. She didn't look at him, instead looking straight ahead at the lit up landmark. Biting down on her bottom lip, she nodded.

“Y-yeah, everything's alright,” she said, voice breaking. She cleared her throat to try to disguise it. He had seen that look before, and though the context had been very different, it wasn't a face he had ever wanted to see again.

“Hey, Bugaboo...it's alright for everything to not be alright. You don't have to lie to me.”

“I...I know,” she said slowly, composing herself. Her voice was clear again, but it was overtly obvious that she had to try hard not to cry. “I'm sorry. That's why I asked you to talk in the first place. It's just...I've been kind of...worried.”

“Worried, my Lady?”

“I...God, this is going to sound so stupid. I just. Look. I had a lot of fun last night, you know?”

“I had a lot of fun today, too,” Chat replied, though his heart skipped. Something was deeply bothering her.

“And I was proud. I was proud I went and danced. And I was so happy. And I was proud of my dress and the way I looked. If I'm completely honest, chaton, I don't feel like that very often. I know all of Paris looks up to me, and I know...I know the way you see me. But I always feel...I feel overshadowed by myself sometimes. Does that make sense?”

He cocked his head gently at her. “Actually, it makes a remarkable amount of sense. I think I can relate...in a way. Believe it or not.”

She smiled a sad smile at him. While she was glad he understood, it was obvious that the feeling was not one she'd have wished on anyone. “Anyway, in my every day life, I feel...kind of invisible. I did before becoming Ladybug, but I think it's gotten worse since being Ladybug. Everyone sees her. Everyone. But as a civilian, I'm pretty...insignificant. And even though we're the same person, seeing so many people around me praise Ladybug while kind of forgetting that I'm standing right there...I don't know.”

He nodded at her. Of course, he had it the other way around. He made himself more invisible somehow as Chat, and Adrien stood out too much and overshadowed Chat's chances with Ladybug, but at the very least, he could understand the terminology she used.

“Anyway, the gala felt really good. I know I was presenting as Ladybug, but I was untransformed and I was somewhere I've always wanted to go – even before getting my miraculous – and I wasn't saving anyone. Not until the very end. And I felt like I could be beautiful and receive praise without my suit. But...then the pictures came out on the Ladyblog.”

Chat felt his heart sink to the pit of his stomach. She didn't like the pictures. She was bothered by the pictures for some reason. And he had literally spent the entire day admiring them. Even without knowing what it was that bothered her, his mind was flooded with guilt.

“Everyone was admiring them, and I remembered that they didn't know it was me. They didn't know the pride that went into the dress I wore, and they didn't know I was the one who had let my hair down and...it bothered me. In a different way than when I hear praise after we fight an akuma. I guess because I felt the gala belonged to me a little more. Anyway, I was actually okay with it, until -”

She stopped suddenly, her voice catching. It took him a moment to realize it was because she had started to cry, tears spilling quickly and freely over her mask. Once she decided to quite holding back, there was no stopping the tears.

“Ladybug -”

“U-until...he saw them.”

“He...?” But the fact hit him the instant he opened his mouth. She meant him. Adrien. His heart sunk even lower than his stomach. It was bad enough that he had accidentally hurt her and been the cause of her tears again, but what was worse was that she had obviously seen him looking at the pictures. She had been in his presence that very day and he could have seen her, but he had been too busy looking at pictures of her instead.

“The...the guy. Th-the other g-guy. I know, I know I said I w-wouldn't talk about h-him as m-much, b-but,” she wiped at her eyes in vain. “But he fawned over the pictures all day. Not even trying to find me, when I was right there. And I – I realized that e-even if I d-did feel like myself last night, no one else saw th-that. Everyone saw Ladybug get pretty, and talk, and dance. N-no one knew it w-was me. And I'm m-more invisible to h-him than I e-ever was. I k-keep ruining it for myself.”

“My Lady -” he tried again, but she cut him off to continue.

“I'm...I'm just afraid,” she said. “I'm...maybe he'll n-never see me. A-and that's okay. M-maybe it's f-for the b-best, since he'd o-obviously be disappointed in m-me.” His heart panged uncomfortably from the depths it had fallen to. “B-but then I remembered I agreed to let you figure out who I a-am. A-and -”

Her tears, which had grown softer and quieter, suddenly came back in full force as she let out a sob, burying her face into her hands. He let her cry it out for a moment before deciding it might be okay to put his arm around her. She surprised him a bit by leaning gently into him, and he rubbed small circles around her back.

She started to speak again, voice muffled slightly by her hands but still audible. “And I j-just...if he n-never sees m-me, that's o-okay. He m-might be happier with the i-idea of Ladybug. but I d-don't think I could h-handle if y-you w-were d-dis...disappointed...”

She couldn't finish the sentence, but he knew what she meant, and his heart ached more than ever. He hugged her closer to him, his face buried in her hair, still hot and sweet like cinnamon.

“Shh, sh,” he soothed her, hand rubbing her arm gently. “Oh, baby girl...”

He couldn't help the pet name, and wasn't even sure where he pulled it from, but it certainly felt more appropriate than his usual repertoire of names he generally pulled from. It seemed he had made the right choice, though because she lifted her head from her hands. Though her eyes were red and watery, the sobbing had stopped. She remained in the crook of his arm, but continued to look ahead.

“I could never be disappointed in you. You need to understand that,” Chat whispered into her hair.

“I'm...I'm so plain as myself. I'm so...I'm nobody.” Her voice was small.

“Hey, that isn't true. Maybe people can't see it yet. Maybe...this guy can't see it. But that's because he's a dumb ass. That's not on you.”

She giggled a watery giggle, moving away from him temporarily only to hug onto his arm.

I know it was the girl under the mask at the gala. Maybe no one else was thinking about that, but I was. It's been on my mind all day. She wasn't traipsing around Paris, and she wasn't risking her life to save others, but she was every bit as lovely and charming and fiery as the Lady I know. And she wears a dress just as well. Let me ask you something.”

“Hm?”

He gently lifted her face to look up his.

“Do you have these freckles without your mask on?”

She hesitated before answering. “Y-yes. I do.”

“And you hair – does it smell like cinnamon without your mask on?”

She smiled. “Yes, probably.”

“Actually, I can confirm that. It did last night...and what about your voice. That doesn't change when you transform, does it? Does it sound as strong and clear? Do you speak up?”

“I...yes, I think so. As much as I can.”

“Are you passionate what you love, the way you were at the gala, and Monsieur Agreste's table?”

“Of course.”

“And those things are all amazing. You are a famous heroine, Ladybug. And so is the girl under the mask. Just because people are too dumb to see that doesn't make it any less true. And I'll find you, and I'll know all those things about you and more. And I won't be disappointed. And something tells me this other guy will come around, too. And if he knows what's good for him, the girl under the mask will only be an added bonus, if the girl I went on a date with last night is any testament. I'll show you how wonderful you are, with or without your mask. You'll see.”

She said nothing in reply right away, so Chat took the opportunity the kiss her forehead gently. Again, he felt it was appropriate, and her hum of satisfaction told him it was the right choice. He knew then that he had even further motivation to find her. Of course he was curious and of course he wanted to be with her, but neither of those things were as important as finding her simply to be able to show her her value and worth as a human. She deserved it more than anyone he knew, and even if he couldn't love her, he needed her to know how worthy she was of attention and praise and adoration and everything good in life.

“Chat?”

“Yeah?”

“Who are you?”

She meant it as a rhetorical question, he knew, and since she didn't know he was Adrien, he could understand why. Everything else aside, he did realize he was being especially positive and hopeful while simultaneously being suspiciously not jealous of Ladybug's “other guy.” He supposed it was a too-good-to-be-true situation in her eyes. It wasn't her fault for not knowing that he was both guys in her life, who were both hopelessly devoted to her, regardless of who she was. Still, he decided to entertain her.

“Do you want to know who I am?”

She paused and his heart skipped. What if she said yes? He hadn't counted in her actually wanting to know.

“I...don't know,” she said finally, putting him more at ease. “I don't want you to tell me. I want to figure out because we're supposed to know.”

“Are you asking permission to figure me out on your own, then?”

“I...suppose so.”

“Then by all means, go ahead,” he chuckled.

She was quiet for a while again, and he wondered for a moment is she were actually going to make a guess.

“Tell me something,” she said finally, surprising him.

“Something? Um, like what?”

“Anything. Something about you. About Chat. A random fact. I've got to start somewhere.”

He thought for a minute about what would be least identifying. He tried to recall what they had covered in twenty questions when Ladybug had visited him as Adrien so he could avoid providing the same answers.

“The green gummy bears are my favorite,” he said finally. “I used to to eat just the green ones out of the bag, so Na – I mean, a friend of mine, finally found a place to order bags that only had green ones in them.”

Ladybug wrinkled her nose. “I hate them. I hate anything green apple flavored. Next time I get gummy bears, I'll send you my green ones.”

“You're too kind, my Lady. Okay, now you tell me one.”

She thought for a shorter time. “I'm a big, secret fan of K-Pop.”

“No kidding?”

She shrugged in reply, leaning her head onto his shoulder as they stared at the skyline. He waited for her to request more facts from him, but evidently she was content enough to sit there staring at the city. He was tempted to smell her hair and kiss her forehead again and hug her tight, and he wondered if her silence was a way of begging him to do so.

It wasn't until he felt her weight shift and heard her breath grow heavy that he realized she had fallen asleep in the crook of his arm.

 

 

Chapter Text

In a few weeks I will get time
To realize it's right before my eyes
And I can take it if it's what I want to do.
I am leaving, this is starting to feel like
It's right before my eyes
And I can taste it, it's my sweet beginning.
And I can tell just what you want,
You don't want to be alone,
You don't want to be alone.
- What You Want, Two Door Cinema Club

oOo

 

The sudden weight of Ladybug on Chat's chest was pleasingly comfortable. She was still nestled into the crook of his arm, which was still wrapped comfortingly around her, but he didn't dare move his other hand to touch her. She obviously trusted him enough to fall asleep on him, which he was still taken aback at, and she had done so while he had been comforting her. His arm had been around her for just that reason, and he wasn't going to betray her by turning it into something else. Not while she trusted him and not while she was so vulnerable and asleep. Still, he awarding himself the intoxicating simple pleasure of resting atop her head. Once, when they had first started their partnership, such a gesture never would have been possible; not because she never would have fallen asleep on him (though that was just as true), but because they had been the same size. If the photographs of him at the gala had not been an ultimate sign that he had transformed with age, then his ability to rest his own head atop his Lady's was.

The scent of her hair was still warm with cinnamon and natural sweetness. It seemed unique to her – not like the expensive shampoos the models he worked with used. Expensive shampoo wasn't bad, of course, but Ladybug's scent was her own, not John Frieda's. Plus, the scent of her hair helped him eliminate nearly all models he had worked closely with. He had already eliminated about half for having the wrong hair and eye color, but there was still no shortage of dark haired, blue eyed models. It was a lovely combination, and in his line of work, it was almost common. But now, even the most toned and confident of dark haired, light eyed models were out of the running. It was just as well. That meant he didn't have to get any closer to any of them. In his experience, many of them were intimidating for all the wrong reasons, stand-offish, or both. Not to mention, the ones who had ever shown interest in him clearly did so for his name first and his face second. They were definitely career women. Not necessarily anything wrong with that, but he couldn't go for it, true hopeless romantic that he was, and his Lady was certainly not that way, even with her now clear interest in fashion. Even when she had come to see him as Adrien, she interacted with him like a human, as though completely undeterred by his celebrity status.

He lifted his head back up, her scent surely imprinted in his mind. His sense of smell was certainly better when he was Chat, but the memory of scents that he picked up when suited didn't vanish when he became Adrien again. He would know the fragrance again anywhere, he was sure.

Chat felt himself growing drowsy as well, staring off into the skyline. He was certain he had never been more comfortable in his life, soothed by the heavy breathing of the sleeping Ladybug. She looked so soft and peaceful in comparison to the determination and confidence usually painted on her face, and especially in comparison to her recent crying hysteria. This put him at peace as well, and he wanted to do everything in his power not to wake her.

Chat decided that, in that moment, things were going very well for him.

Did he know her identity yet? No.

Was she absolutely in love with him yet? Decidedly not.

Was she still ultimately interested in another guy who was both a complete idiot and a total asshole who kept making her cry, albeit unintentionally? Absolutely.

But the fact that he was that idiot and asshole was certainly a comfort. An unconventional comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. At least in the sense that he had no competition. He had major plans to work on absolutely everything else – starting first with never making her cry again, accidentally or otherwise, and followed by figuring out who exactly it was that he had fallen in love with.

Still, none of the hold backs seemed to matter in that moment, because despite the fact that all of the cards had been placed against Chat (unless you considered the fact that he was also Adrien, in which case, it was only almost all of the cards), Ladybug had asked him about himself and had fallen asleep on him. As Chat. Despite everything, she at least trusted him, and was comfortable around him, and at the very least, seemed to care about him. Which already felt leaps and bounds beyond the relationship he had with her when they were first starting out two years prior. Of course, she had always claimed to trust him. He was her partner. However, trust in battle was one thing. Trusting him with her tears and her secrets and her sleeping body was entirely something else.

He held her tighter, never wanting the peace to end. He imagined that there was no Hawkemoth and no akumas. He imagined that he didn't have a famous face plastered all over Paris and he imagined that there wasn't a sweet-smelling, upset girl (a girl that he had caused to be upset) under Ladybug's mask. He imagined that they were just who they were – Ladybug and Chat Noir – and nothing else, with no other responsibilities but to be with each other. It didn't matter at that very moment how romantic the relationship was or not. He was content then to just be, and be with her, because he was convinced that night that his Lady loved him. Maybe it was only platonic at that moment. Maybe it was romantic, but towards only one half of him. It didn't matter yet. He could tell by the way she rested unabashedly and without shame on his chest. If it was her job to protect Paris, then it was his ultimate job to protect her. He let the arm wrapped around her tighten, as if verifying his realization, envisioning himself with a protective sort of angel wing engulfing her.

Was it cocky of him to imagine himself an angel?

He decided not. Not if he was a guardian angel and performed his job properly. After all, he hadn't coined the term for himself in the first place. One issue of Vogue France had described Adrien's likeness as angelic, so he figured that it was time he start living up to the role, despite Chat's unprecedented reputation of being anything but.

He let himself drift away, the warmth of her presence greater than any other covering he could have hoped for. Her steady breaths lulled him, and he wondered if she could hear his heartbeat from her position. Probably. It had probably lulled her to sleep just as her breathing was doing to him. He hoped that it hadn't been pounding too fast.

oOo

Chat was standing upright now, and so was Ladybug, a rooftop away from him. This time, she was wearing her gala outfit. Chat was sure that it wasn't his wishful imagination this time.

But how had she gotten onto the rooftop wearing that?

The chiffon around her legs caught on the warm night breeze and moonlight filtered through the fabric. The vision was better than he could have dreamed it would be, her silhouette cast against the moon.

Chat didn't realize how dumb he had been struck until Ladybug called out to him. Her voice seemed both too far away and impossibly close.

“Catch me if you can, chaton,” she said teasingly before bolting off. As she ran, he noticed that she was barefoot. It made sense, he decided. Running on rooftops had to be considerably more difficult in heels. Before he fully registered her challenge, she was leaping off the ledge. He opened his mouth to shout out and stop her, but before he was able to find his voice, she produced her yo-yo, seemingly from out of nowhere, and landed on another rooftop, and then another.

It wasn't until Ladybug was out of sight that Chat found himself. Right. She wanted him to chase her. Catch her. He bounded off in the direction she had jolted away in, reasonably disappointed that he was only in his regular suit and not the tailored one he had worn to the Louvre.

The moment he reached the spot Ladybug had been originally standing in, however, he realized that he had already completely lost track of her. There were no bolts of red fabric against the night sky. There was no sound of a yo-yo whizzing in the air. She had totally vanished. Or so he thought.

Chaton,” came her voice again. She could have been standing directly behind him, but when he turned around, there was nothing but air. “Chaton,let's play hide-and-seek. Come find me.”

He voice was taunting and tempting and attracted him as a siren's might. He was grateful not to be a sailor – she would have him dashed against the rocks for sure.

Chat pounced, building to building, still with no physical trace of Ladybug, but her voice let him know when he was getting closer to her or further away.

“Don't look there, you silly kitty,” her voice said as he neared the Bourgeois Hotel.

“You aren't very good at this game, are you?” she said again as he searched what felt like every stairwell in her vicinity. “Use all of your senses.”

As is they hadn't existed before her suggestion, his cat ears twitched and his night vision flicked on and off. Useful as they were in an attack, they weren't what he needed. Instead, he followed her scent, something he knew to be a traceable part of her – both parts of her.

Her cinnamon aroma made itself present as though it had not been there until he had tried looking for it. It was mixed with other sweet scents – vanilla, warm butter, honey – but there was no doubt that her unique scent was under it all.

The scent led him unmistakably to a tall, white, bright building. It was brighter than the buildings around it, and something about it was so familiar. The street corner, the aroma, the colors...surely he had been there before. Unfortunately, it ran short on more distinguishing physical qualities. It was as though the building itself were trying to play hide and seek as well. Its edges were almost splotchy and undefined, like an unpolished sketch. The bottom shop (At least, it seemed to be a shop. It was a different color than the other two stories) had no lettering to describe what it was, even where the architecture suggested lettering might be. There were no signs in the windows. In fact, the windows were completely blacked out. Impossible to look in. And yet, he still couldn't shake the feeling that he had been there before. The memory of scent didn't lie.

He touched down on the balcony atop the building, where he was now certain the scent was coming from. The moment he landed, Ladybug was there. She hadn't been there before...had she? Had he been so unobservant? It was as though she had appeared from no where the very instant he stepped foot on the solid platform. Then again, he had watched her vanish without a trace not moments earlier. Chat smiled devilishly at her, gripping her by the shoulders. She made no fuss, not moving at all, challenging him further with her eyes.

“Caught you,” Chat said, just above a whisper.

“Yes, you did...,” Ladybug agreed, her voice also low. It was natural now, clearly coming out of the mouth he was transfixed on and not somewhere from his subconscious. “But...did you find me?”

He stared at her, baffled. There she was, in his hands, in her gala gown, and he still didn't have her. He had chased her and caught her and yet, was no closer to her, really, than he had been before he had started running towards her. There she was, telling him what she had told him before, time and time again. Telling him what everyone seemed to be telling him lately.

I'm trying, he wanted to say. The words would not come out. I'm trying to find you. Help me to find you!

She flicked his bell. “You have to try harder.” Her voice was still low, but this time, it was less teasing. It was...sad.

I'm trying! He opened his mouth, but he physically could not speak to her, hard as he tried. Please, what can I do? Where can I look? Help me...

“Look around you, chaton.

Of course. As if I haven't tried that before, he thought to himself with frustration.

She spoke again, as though she could hear inside his head. “Look where you're standing right now. Where are you at? Where am I?”

He obeyed her and observed his surroundings. He was still on a balcony, on the top of the white building. It was still undefined. He knew he had seen it before. He had to have. He could not have envisioned it otherwise, he was sure. Still, it wouldn't come in to focus. He wished he had glasses, if only to see where he was standing. Filtering through all of his memories, not a single connection could be made. He only wished the building's edges were as prominent and clear as the aromas it gave off. He wished he knew why the building was important to his Lady at all.

He looked at her face, hoping to find some truth in her eyes, but they gave him nothing but disappointment. His heart panged painfully.

“You don't know where you're at, do you Chat Noir?”

She used his name more formally, and though she used it a hundred times before, he knew that this time, it was because she was upset. He didn't want to disappoint her. He didn't want to tell her that he was right and that, familiar as it seemed, he had no idea what building he was standing on. She frowned.

“Try harder for me, okay?” she asked sincerely.

“Do you want me to find you, my Lady?” Chat replied, surprised that he was able to speak again. She did nothing but smile softly. He thought that she might start to speak again, but if she were about to or not, he never got to find out. A cacophony of beeping interrupted their intimate silence. Chat looked down at his ring. Of course.

“Go on, Chat,” Ladybug encourage. She wasn't beeping. She wasn't technically transformed, he remembered, sparkling gala mask concealing her face as opposed to her common one. “Go on. You'll come back again.”

Reluctantly, Chat nodded, hopping off the balcony and landing hard on the street below.

oOo

Chat woke up, blinking sleep away blearily. Right. Just a dream.

The beeping, however, had continued in the waking life with double the strength. It took a moment for Chat to remember where he was. How long had he been out? It was still dark outside. He looked down at the weight still heavy on his chest – Ladybug. A Ladybug that was in her regular suit again, whose miraculous was beeping this time.

Chat's heart leaped in his chest. Right, that beeping means something. How long has it been going off?

He decided it could not have been going off for long, since it had woken him up, and he was generally a light sleeper.

Ladybug, on the other hand, was completely unaffected.

He shook her gently with the arm that was wrapped around her.

“My Lady? My Lady, c'mon, we gotta go.”

“Mm,” she mumbled, clearly not wanting to budge. Chat couldn't even tell if she was hearing the beeping at all. I wonder how she gets up in the morning? he wondered, making a mental note that Ladybug was not an easy riser. He was sure the information would be useful...sometime.

“Ladybug, come on, our transformations are going to release.”

She yawned, blinking her eyes a few times before they opened wide with realization. She looked up at him, confusion in her eyes, clearly having slept deeply enough to have forgotten that she had fallen asleep at all. It was then that Chat realized their beeping was out of sync. Ladybug's was starting to beep significantly faster than his own. Why, he was unsure. Still, he had two paw prints left on his ring, while he could see that Ladybug only had one dot left on her earring.

“Chat! Ah – close your eyes!” Ladybug, now fully aware of their position and what was happening, had adopted an expression that was totally frantic. Chat witnessed a blinding pink light just before registering her request and he snapped his eyes shut. He had already seen the pink light once before, but then, in the Louvre, she had still been wearing a mask underneath. Now, though he couldn't see her, he knew she wore no mask at all, and everything felt different.

“A-are your eyes c-closed?” Ladybug managed to force out. She was trembling in his hold, unable to move anywhere other than in the crook of his arm.

“Of course, my Lady.”

“P-please don't open them.”

“I would never do you the dishonor.”

“I know I'm letting you find out, but...”

“I know, my Lady. I understand. Not like this. I'm...I'm going to go now while I still have time so you can recharge.”

He wanted to say more. Maybe because she was unmasked. Maybe because of the dream. Maybe because she was still shaking and he just wanted to comfort her. Instead, eyes still shut so tight it was almost paining him, he unwrapped his arm from around her and found where her bangs were, brushing them aside gently and kissing her gingerly on the forehead again. He hoped that it was comforting to her and said all it needed to say and more. Carefully, he got up and turned his back on her, and though he was hyper-aware of her all-too-human presence behind him, he ran and vaulted off the roof, seconds away from his own telltale detransformation.

oOo

Adrien slipped into his room after paying proper attention to his balcony cats, and fell onto his bed. His long, late night absence had gone unnoticed as usual, though with his father gone for an extended period of time, he had not expected there to be much trouble in the middle of the night. He slipped easily back into the reverie of chasing Ladybug. It was much the same as the dream he had just experienced, repeating itself over and over. He chased her along the Seine, and through the Louvre once more, across his own home, and up and down the Eiffel Tower, with a quick detour to Notre Dame, but always leading back to the same building that he could not recognize. It was even harder now, because he could no longer smell it. It was too difficult now that he was detransformed and her hair wasn't directly under his nose. Every time they met on the mystery building's balcony, she ended up looking disappointed.

The dream was so much like the rooftop one, in fact, that he was woken up again by an obnoxious beeping.

Adrien, turn it off,” he heard Plagg groan. “It isn't even time for school yet.”

Adrien rubbed his eyes awake. While he was normally one to wake up at the first alarm without hitting snooze, thanks to years of strict scheduling, he wasn't any happier about having to get up early. Looking at his phone, though, he saw immediately that Plagg was right. It wasn't even 5:30 am yet. He realized also that, though the noise was similar, this beeping was not his regular alarm clock.

Recently, a new sort of speaker system had been installed in the mansion. It did little more than send the noisy, beeing to different areas of the mansion – it didn't transport voice messages, like a school P.A. System might – but it had proven to be useful, and had definitely saved the household a great deal of walking. While every room had a speaker now, only a few had button systems for calling. Adrien's room was one, in case he needed assistance, but more importantly, Gabriel and Nathalie's offices both had them as well. Adrien was glad, at least, that Nathalie didn't have to walk from one wing of the mansion to the other anymore simply to give Adrien a message, but that didn't make him any happier at being woken up before 6 am but an irritating speaker.

He rolled from his bed, not bothering with changing out of his pajama bottoms yet or brushing his hair. With any luck, Nathalie wouldn't keep him long and he'd have a chance to sleep about an hour more before school.

“You needed me, Nat?” Adrien asked, entering her office. She was already dressed and ready for the day. She looked up from her computer, wrinkling her forehead for a brief moment in disapproval of his disarray, as though she had expected him to already be awake and decent at such an ungodly hour as well.

“Mm, yes, we need to get an early start on your schedule for today.”

“Ugh, do I have something before school? There won't be much time...”

“No, no, you won't be going to school. Your work will demand your full attention all day.”

Adrien did everything in his power to contain his groan. Nathalie didn't need to deal with his difficult, hormonal, angsty attitude. He almost felt bad enough subjecting Plagg to it day in and day out, and it wasn't Nathalie's fault the he had the demanding job he had, relentless through all his emotions. Still, he had come to a comfortable conclusion that Ladybug wasn't one of the female models he often worked closely with, which meant school was one of the most likely places for her to be. How am I supposed to keep an eye open for her there if I'm not even there at all?

“Why?” Adrien finally asked, trying to sound as civil as possible.

“We're going to La Mode. You're doing an exclusive interview and cover shoot.”

La Mode?”

Nathalie peered over the top of her computer. “Yes, the magazine. You did a cover for them...what? A year and a half ago? Two years?”

“Yeah, that's why I'm confused...I also had a whole featured interview then and everything. Why are they doing a follow up so soon? What more can they possibly ask?”

Nathalie quirked and eyebrow at him, pondering how to respond. Finally, she removed her glasses and rubbed at the bridge of her nose.

“I...hm. Okay. Adrien...how do I say this...,” she mumbled, and Adrien noticed her cheeks getting pink.He wondered when the last time was he had seen Nathalie blush, if there had ever been a time at all. “Look. I'm sure you've noticed yourself, but...there comes a time when a young man's body goes through...certain changes in adolescence. And you are – well, you have been, going through them.”

Suddenly, Adrien felt his face grow white-hot. He hadn't expected for Nathalie to be giving him this talk. He hadn't expected for anybody to be giving him this talk. When would there have been a chance? By this time, he had learned all the gory details of puberty for himself, and now that he was in the latter half of his teenage years, he expected that all the adult figures in his life assumed that he had figured out everything for himself as well, and that an explanation would not be necessary. Then again, he supposed he had been a bit of a “late bloomer.” He would be 18 on his next birthday, and though that was several months away, he had only just caught up in height to the other boys in his class. Nino, for one, had visible facial hair before he had even turned 17. Adrien had always given himself the excuse that early facial hair would be more more visible on Nino's darker Italian coloring as opposed to his own fair hair and complexion, but all up until recent weeks, he had only been experiencing nothing but peach fuzz. Besides that, it had only been that week that he noticed his own heightened, bulking figure in the gala photographs, and next to Ladybug's frame, as well as the way his jaw had defined itself. So really, Nathalie wasn't wrong, but he still could not grasp why La Mode would use this as reasoning to get another interview so soon.

Nathalie continued, responding to his unvoiced questions. “La Mode wants to photograph you in a more mature setting. Grown up poses and all. I suppose as a contrast to your last, more jovial shoot. A before and after kind of thing. Then, you were Gabriel Agreste's fresh faced, porcelain, protege of a son. Now, you're Adrien Agreste – you stand as your own person, as the handsome and chiseled male face of the Agreste brand. Um, their words, not mine. They're also under the impression that a man will have new answers...even if it only has been two years...so I would be prepared for that. They might be more invasive.”

“Invasive?”

“Yes, you know...last time, the interview was about being an Agreste, about your schedule, how someone so young can keep up...Now, I expect they'll ask you more personal questions. I suggest you go get ready. If you hurry, we'll have time to make a stop for coffee.”

Adrien smiled, though his blush remained. She was so serious, clearly under an insurmountable measure of pressure from his father, but she did care about him, he knew. Strictly speaking, he wasn't allowed to have sugary, sweet coffee, but he knew from experience that Nathalie would let him order the drink with the most chocolate and whipped cream possible. He turned to get back to his room to get ready, more awake than when he first entered Nathalie's office.

“Oh, and Adrien?”

He turned back to Nathalie who removed her glasses sheepishly again.

“They're painting you as Paris's most eligible bachelor, just so...you're prepared with what comes with that.”

“E-excuse me?” Adrien choked out.

“It means nothing but more publicity, I promise you. It's not like there will be a line of girls for you to hand a rose off to. It's just a title to get the magazine selling. I'm just saying...be prepared for that level of questioning. And...you don't have to answer anything if you don't want to. Sometimes, coyness can be just as alluring of a trait...hurry and go now.”

Adrien nodded at her and ran out, considering what she had said. As he focused on himself in the mirror of his room, he tried to see all the ways that he had changed recently. The transformation had been fairly rapid, but then, so had most of the transformations of boys in his class. Nino's facial shadow seemed to show up over night, and he remembered that Kim's voice change literally had shown up over night.

He stripped his shirt and admired his muscle definition. That, he had always had; fencing, basketball, a strict dietitian and an occasional personal trainer around times for important shoots made sure of that. Recently, though, his work as Chat had started to shine through more, and now that he was taller and broader, the muscle definition looked appropriate (and good, if he said so himself), as opposed to awkward on a too small and too scrawny body. He reminded himself to add more protein to his diet as he inspected his face closer. It was so difficult to note a difference when he saw his own face every day, but there definitely was one, especially looking back at old magazine covers he had done. He had lost a lot of baby fat in his cheeks, and over all, he had matured. His eyes looked more adult, even. He had always thought that Chat was more mature and adult, physically, but now he looked to be catching up with his alter ego. Brushing upwards against his cheeks, he could also feel slight rough texture. The hair was still too fair to notice from a great distance, but it was there, and definitely more than peach fuzz now. He wondered if Ladybug had noticed it over the past few nights, or if it had been too dark. In any case, he now saw that perhaps a follow-up interview and shoot was justified. He shaved quickly, just because he had reason to, and rushed out to meet Nathalie at the car.

The photo shoot felt more natural than Adrien had expected it would. Though he hadn't been able to channel Chat all the time, his new maturity helped him to be able to easier. The shoot, as Nathalie warned him, was more adult than his last one with La Mode. Back then, it had been all jumping in the air and quintessential “cool teen” poses. Now, the photographer wanted him to “make love” to the camera. While the request sounded strange at first – it was certainly a request models got often, but that Adrien had always been too young to receive – he found it came easy. Such a request certainly would have embarrassed the Adrien from two years before, but now, he simply pretended that he was wearing his mask, and he could practically feel caffeine-laced charisma shooting through his veins.

La Mode was without a doubt going for a before-and-after approach. Last meeting, they had dressed him in olive green pants and a casual long sleeve from his father's high-end teen line. Now, he wore a brown button up and dressier olive pants, still from his father's line, but this time, very much geared towards adults. The clothing was released the same time as the suit he had worn at the gala, and though they fit him beautifully now, he would have looked like a boy playing dress-up in his father's closet had he worn the outfit two years prior.

The shoot finally sealed his newfound “grown up” feelings. While he has always considered himself mature in manners and intelligence, he now looked it, and the photos were like a stamp of validation. Inside the magazine were several pictures to cover five pages and accompany his interview, including one where he lounged on a white armchair, glass of wine in hand (wine, for God's sake), and another where he looked out a bay window, stroking a small cat in the palm of his hand (something no one else seemed to find as humorous as he did). For the cover, he could not have played it more differently than his last cover. He took the request to make love to the camera as literally as was appropriate and began to strip his button-up elegantly. The staff had known he had grown into his body, but evidently had not expected to see the muscle definition underneath the shirt. The cameraman ate it up, and Adrien then felt his smirk slip onto his face with little effort. Modeling was like his game now. It was not a job he had chosen for himself, but now he felt a power to make it into what he wanted it to be. With his maturity came a new sense of freedom. Now, he was able to explore a cheekier, flirtier side of himself ,not just when he was Chat, but as Adrien as well, through his modeling. He vowed to milk it for all it was worth. Gone were the days of being the proper beau, fit for cotillion and beautillion balls. After all, he was Paris's most eligible bachelor, according to the media, and if the magazine wanted to debut him as a man that could seduce the camera, he saw no reason not to give them what they wanted. They were allowing him the chance to access the suave, wilder parts of himself, which he never got to do without his mask on, and he was going to run with it. Modeling was going to become his territory now. He was taking over, no longer treating it as another occasion to be an obedient little boy.

Besides, he was still a complete nerd at heart, but it wasn't like he was covering up that part of himself – neither as Chat or as Adrien the Man Model. All of Paris saw Chat's flirtatious side, but they also saw his fun-loving pun-making personality. Now, all of Paris would see the newly blossomed and sensual Adrien as well, but they would also be given a interview which he now fully intended to use to show his full personality. His first interview with La Mode had been all about working for his father, and what he thought of modeling and the clothes, and what his childhood was like. Now, the interview was all about him, and if he was going to take over one aspect of modeling, he was taking over all aspects of it. Paris was going to meet the real Adrien Agreste, and his father was no where in sight to dictate who that man was. With any luck, Ladybug would pick up a copy of the magazine, and the shoot would seduce her as well, and she would read the interview, and, maybe, make a connection. Or, at the very least, fall more in love with him. While it might distract her from Chat, it would only be because she was focused on Adrien, or, with any hope, cause her to see them more as the same person. In either case, he could only imagine that it was a win-win situation for him.

He answered the interview questions as truthfully as possible, and maybe even too much so, as the crew allowed him to keep his glass of wine from the shoot. They covered his extra-curriculars and school, which was a new subject, seeing as he had not yet been enrolled the first time the magazine had featured him. Naturally, his favorite brands and styles were brought up as well, but he had to disappoint them with the boring answer of Agreste. The interviewer laughed though, considering it to be her own mistake. After all, as both the face and son of the brand, he must not have had much of a choice in answering with anything other than his own name (Adrien didn't bother telling him that he mostly only owned Agreste brand clothing anyway, so he couldn't have formed much of a different opinion even if he had wanted to).

While answering as himself, Adrien was careful to not give away anything too incriminating. He tip-toed around questions that might reveal him as Chat, such as “So – How does Adrien Agreste spend his evenings?” (to which he answered that he enjoyed walking experiencing Paris under the stars – not a lie). He also narrowly escaped questioning regarding the gala. La Mode asked him why he had missed out, and he almost corrected them by saying that, no, they were mistaken, he had been there, before remembering that Adrien, in fact, had not been. The hardest, though, was trying to remember what Ladybug knew about Adrien and what she knew about Chat from playing their question games and not letting them cross over. The closest he got to a misstep was when he was asked about his guilty pleasures. In his mind, most of his guilty pleasures were unhealthy foods because they were something he was explicitly not allowed to have, but that he went for anyway. Without thinking, he answered gummy bears, forgetting that he had just talked to Ladybug about them the night before. He stopped himself from going into detail about favoring the green ones, and tried covering himself further by trailing off on his affinity for pastries. The interviewer went back to the gummy bears, however, laughing and saying that he would probably be met with a P.O. Box full of them, all from hopeful, pining, fan girls. Still, he hoped that without mentioning his favorite flavor, Ladybug wouldn't register the detail, if she read the interview at all.

Finally, the questioning inevitably led to his love life, though he had to disappoint the magazine again with ambiguity.

“So, you aren't tied down by any glamorous socialites, or, perhaps, heiresses?” the interviewer asked him,

Good God, Adrien thought. The media would still be following my relationship with Chloè, if there even is such a thing anymore...

“Absolutely not. Nothing of the sort,” Adrien said, knowing he'd probably have to deal with Chloè's backlash, since she always acted at though they were betrothed. He shrugged it off in his mind. It just came with the territory of growing up, he decided. “I wouldn't be a very good bachelor if I was already tied down, would I?”

“Right you are. Well, then, would you give us the honor of telling us what type of girls you like?”

Oh, I can tell you exactly the type of girl I like, right down to the freckles on her perfect nose and the curve of her -

Adrien stopped his own train of thought before he developed any embarrassing signs of infatuation, instead answering as generally as possible, and deliberately avoiding physical attributes.

“I like...strong, independent girls. Girls that aren't afraid to stand up for themselves and others. I like a good sense of humor and ability to have fun. But also someone who can be reserved and classy at the appropriate times.”

“So you would say you're looking for a real lady, then?” the interviewer asked. Adrien blinked, making sure he had heard her right.

“I...yes, I suppose that's one way of putting it.”

“And would you mind telling us if any ladies have caught your eye that match your description?”

Adrien smiled teasingly. “I'm afraid I'll have to give you a solid no comment on that one.”

“None at all? So you can't tell us that you have found someone, but you can't tell us that you haven't found someone either?”

“That is precisely what I'm saying.”

“Are you playing hard to get with us, Adrien?”

The model shrugged, remembering what Nathalie had told him when she assured him that he didn't have to give any answers he didn't want to. “Coyness does nothing but make one appear more tantalizing.”

“You've got that right. Well, then I suppose that's all the questions we have for today. Thank you for your time and for the wonderful pictures.”

“No, thank you,” Adrien replied, and shook hands gratefully with the interviewer before heading home. He had been annoyed initially about having to miss school, but now, he was pleased with the result and only looked forward to Wednesday more. Not only was there patrol and the increased opportunity to look for his Lady (now that he was more convinced she went to his school, and was prepared to look for her and not at pictures of her on his phone), but Adrien knew that the new issue of La Mode would be out the very next day. It was a weekly magazine and he knew they worked quickly and overnight. The fact that he had only just shot the cover and conducted the interview made no difference, and the magazine would be online and on shelves by morning. He realized it was arrogant to assume, or even hope, the Ladybug would see the copy right away, but the chance that she would heightened his anticipation and excitement further.

He was welcomed back to school with hearty enthusiasm. He had new shoots and campaigns out frequently, and his classmates had grown used to it. If he was featured on a new billboard, one or two students might mention to him that they had seen it the next day. However, this time, it appeared that plenty of people had already seen his new interview and considered it to be a bigger deal. The article, pictures included, was going viral locally online, as the city was always proud of its own celebrities, masked or not, and it seemed that his classmates recognized that this was a step in the direction of a new era of his career. Gone were the youthful, baby faced, teen years, and though Adrien had only meant to seduce the camera (and perhaps Ladybug by extension), it seemed that he had also seduced most of Paris. Chloè, he noticed, was one of the few that had a physical copy already, along with a few younger and older fan girls he was not well acquainted with that were far too shy to come up to him and congratulate him as his own peers were able to. However, though Chloè was examining the pages scrutinizing eye, Adrien noticed that she was deliberately avoiding coming to see him or hang on him as she usually did, and he knew it was because he had not only avoided named her, but denied any connection to any heiresses at all. Seeing as she was probably the best known heiress in the city, practically being the Paris Hilton of...well, Paris, denouncing any affiliation with heiresses might as well have been dragging the name of Chloè Bourgeois through the mud outright.

After making his way through the initial unexpected fanfare of the morning, Adrien headed to his locker to pull out his books for class. Upon opening it, however, he was hit with a powerful aroma – not of the camembert he often had hidden away for Plagg, but something familiar and sweet. It was not exactly Ladybug's scent, but it was close enough to get his heart racing.

Set neatly atop his books, in a pink cellophane bag tied with black ribbon, was a batch of his favorite pies and tarts. Judging from their still strong fragrance, they were fresh as well. While, the initial warm scent and contents of the bag made him think of Ladybug instantly and her first Tupperware gift to him, his rational thought reminded him of the fangirls that had been staring at him all morning, and that even the interviewer had mentioned. She had talked about gummy bears being sent to his P.O. Box, but Adrien had mentioned pastries in the interview as well, and really, how was this any different? Besides, Ladybug's M.O. Was Tupperware. Wouldn't she have used it again?

He realized though, after considering the possibilities further, that his locker couldn't be opened by just anyone. Who but himself knew the combination? As far as his knowledge, nobody. However, that didn't mean that could stop someone from breaking in somehow. Plagg had been able to slip inside his father's safe and unlock it no problem. If Ladybug also had a kwami, and she certainly did, wouldn't it be able to do something similar? As for the Tupperware, Ladybug's was still sitting safely on his mini-fridge. There was a chance that that had been her only container, or she didn't want to sacrifice anymore. That was fine, he decided. This packaging was adorable and much more indicative of her. Gingerly, he picked up the bag before looking around to see if anyone was watching. On the backside, looped onto the ribbon, was a paper tag, stamped with a little bug doodle. Adrien's heart leapt as though the sender had not been confirmed until that very moment. That only meant that Ladybug was closer than ever – close enough to get to his locker before he did that morning, and close enough to know which was his locker at all. At least one thing was for certain – she had to be at his school. He had his eyes open now for sure, he thought, and slipped the package of pastries into his bag before heading to class.

oOo

“Okay, but what does this mean?” Alya whispered to Marinette before class started. They had been scrolling through Adrien's interview all morning as Alya helped Marinette decipher each answer, as well as helped her from hyperventilating and passing over the pictures (with a brief pause for Alya to comment on the irony of Adrien holding a black kitten in his hand - Marinette was not amused). The girls had already deeply discussed Chat's interaction with her at the gala, and Marinette had admitted openly to everyone that she was, in fact, been attracted to him in his suit. Earlier that morning, Marinette had also described to Alya the details of their Monday night – how Chat had held her and kissed her forehead, and made her feel welcome and safe, regardless of his feelings for her, and how they had fallen asleep together accidentally. Alya had squealed in delight, particularly when Marinette made an official declaration that, thanks to the gala and Monday night, Chat had made himself on equal footing with Adrien in the competition for her affections. She decided she liked them equally, meaning they had equal chances, meaning the deciding factor official lay on which of them discovered the real her first.

That standing, however, lasted no longer than five minutes before blowing up in their faces. Alya inevitably pulled out her phone and, seeing the viral article, slipped it directly under Marinette's nose.

There was Adrien, nearly half naked on the cover of La Mode, with enough follow up pictures to give her several nights of entertainment, and an interview all about him being the perfect bachelor, as though she was not already aware of his position. She had, of course, recently noticed Chat's height on her, and his apparent need for a razor, but now the same maturity was being documented on Adrien. It was unsurprising, she supposed, since all the boys in her class were maturing at the same sudden and rapid pace, but it didn't make matters any easier for her. Chat and Adrien had been dead even in her mind for somewhere between 24 hours and 5 minutes (Alya would say it officially 5 minutes, since nothing was official until she heard of it), until La Mode caused Adrien to have a leg up again. She had groaned in agony. For once, everything seemed easier with Chat and Adrien equal. Evidently, the universe was not having that.

And so there they were, analyzing every word of Adrien's interview to see if he had any answers that might suggest he was still interested in Ladybug. After all, the whole reason Marinette had been upset and had further considered making Chat even with Adrien was because Adrien had suddenly stopped acting upset about his loss of Ladybug, and had made no noticeable attempts at looking for her (not to mention he seemed to be making no conscious effort at getting her Tupperware back to her, forcing her to have to use one of the bags her bakery generally used for specially purchased care packages to leave him his gift in his locker – something she could not resist doing. If she was willing to give Chat hints, it was only fair she give some to Adrien as well).

His answer to whether or not he had interest in a lady in his life (interesting word choice on the part of the interviewer) had been a resounding...no comment.

“I think it just means he is very personal about his life,” Marinette shrugged, not wanting to falsely get her hopes up.

“If he were that personal, he would have answered no comment to all of these. Notice that he claims to have no noble girls holding him down – that eliminates Chloè, thank God – and he doesn't mind describing his ideal girl, either. Which, I might add, describes Ladybug to a T.”

Marinette shrugged noncommittally. “It describes any decent girl to a T. It's so vague. He doesn't even give any preferences to physical features.”

“Well, what do you want him to do? Come right out and say that his ideal girl is Ladybug? That she's snuck into his room? Don't forget he's a professional, too. He has to make himself sound appealing. They're painting him as a bachelor officially debuting in society. He'd kind of ruin the entire angle if he said the only girl worthy of him was a practically untouchable superhero. He has to look attainable to the every day girl. It's what sells.”

“Yeah, I suppose you're right,” Marinette replied.

“Besides, look, he's the one who's saying that his coyness makes him more appealing. Maybe you're the one he's trying to seduce. If he truly had his eyes on no one, he would have just said he was a free agent. And if he did have someone, and it was just any girl, he would have said so. If his heart is still set on Ladybug, this is the only answer he could have given.”

“That's true,” Marinette agreed as Adrien and Nino walked in together, chatting animatedly.

“So, he already passed Chat in the rankings again?” Alya whispered, her voice low enough that the boys wouldn't notice.

“For now, I suppose,” Marinette sighed. “Who knows, though. We have patrol again tonight, and my plan might cause them to get even again.”

Alya nodded, anxious to hear how Marinette's plans for that night's patrol would pan out. She stared at Adrien, trying to siphon off any more information from him.

“Did you leave him the pastries?” Alya whispered to Marinette, not seeing the package on Adrien's person.

Marinette nodded back. “Of course I did. They're probably in his bag or his locker still.”

“Too bad we couldn't see his reaction,” Alya said. “That would have been useful.”

Alright, you four! That's enough! We can't even get through attendance!” Everyone's heads shot to the front of the classroom, where the generally calm Mlle. Bustier had her hands on her hips, patience lost. “Adrien, I've already called your name twice to no response. Nino, please switch seats with Marinette today, and we'll see if that settles the talking down. You can have your usual seats back tomorrow.”

Mlle. Bustier knew that Adrien and Marinette did not, or would not, talk much, but she could not imagine the red alert she had just triggered in Marinette's brain at that very moment. She did her best to stay calm and keep her head high, and while she took her seat next to Adrien sheepishly, it was in large part due to being called out, and not entirely because of who she was sitting by. Of course, she was all the more shy for just having looked at a particularly sensual photo shoot of his, but then, so had most of the school. She had already decided that she would forever be more confident around Adrien. After all, it had been a breeze talking to him with a suit on. This was no different, and she realized he was never going to recognize who she was if she didn't take on the same level of confidence that he described being attracted to in his interview. She settled her chin in her hands in an attempt to look casual until she felt something bump her elbow. She looked down to see a piece of paper being nudged toward her. Without looking Adrien in the face, she received the paper subtly while Mlle. Bustier's back was turned.

You okay? It read. Marinette was completely unsurprised to see perfectly formed penmanship and proper grammar. She looked up at Adrien, eyebrows knit together, too taken aback by the note to be flushed by him gazing back at her. They had looked at each other before, this close, but she couldn't help but feel so raw and exposed now. When he responded to her expression with a nod of his head prompting her to reply, she returned to the paper.

Im fine, why do you ask? She responded in her own girlish, looping scrawl. She was more conscious of matching his proper writing than she was when she wrote to Alya, who lost all relationship with the French language when it came to note passing. Adrien also proved to be far more adept at taking, passing, and writing notes in a discreet manner as well. Marinette had a response back in her hands before she noticed he had even taken the paper back.

You look distracted, that's all. Seemed out of sorts when Nino and I walked in. And it's kind of partially my fault you have to sit here. I know this is probably the last place you want to sit.

She cocked her head curiously at his response. Why does he think that? She turned her head to give him a quizzical look before writing again.

Im alright, just a lot on my mind I suppose. Its just as much my fault. Besides, Im very content to be sitting here.

Really? I was under the impression you didn't like me very much, actually. I kind of thought you tolerated me because Nino and Alya are so close, but I thought for sure you'd have zero interest in sitting by me alone.

Marinette's eyes widened at the response. Had he honestly thought she didn't like him this whole time? Well. That explained...more than a lot. Suddenly, she felt guilty for every interaction that they had ever had in the past two years. She began psychoanalyzing every detail. When he had come to practice for the Mecha Strike tournament at her house, she hadn't let him eat any of her parents' food. Did he think that was because she didn't like him? And he had appeared more timid than usual when asking her to autograph Jagged Stone's CD. Had he thought she was going to strike him down?

Im so sorry I gave you that impression! Ive probably come off as so rude. I can just be timid and I guess it comes off as stand-offish. Im working on it, promise. Youre a very lovely person to be sitting next to. :)

She couldn't help but watch Adrien read the response from the corner of her eye, and she caught an unmistakable smile.

That's a relief to hear. I always thought you'd be a wonderful friend to have, and I don't want to give you any reason to be timid...by the way, can I ask you something?

Her heart leapt suddenly. What could he possibly have to ask a girl he thought disliked him up until just moments ago?

Go right ahead, she responded politely.

Did you see any girls from our school come into your parents' bakery this morning? I got a package but it was unsigned.

Ooh, he lies, Marinette thought to herself. Of course, it wasn't like he knew she had signed it, and if he didn't know that, he couldn't tell her he was on the lookout for Ladybug. She wondered if this counted as cheating in their elaborate game of hide-and-seek. Either way, it wasn't going to work. He realized not to whom he was speaking. It was so silly, she realized. Why ask if any girls had come into her bakery when she was the one who lived there? Who had better access to the bakery but her? Why wasn't she the one who came immediately to mind? Though, again, up until moments ago, he thought she disliked him. Why would he consider that a girl who didn't like him would give him a gift? No wonder he hadn't considered her before.

I can't say I saw anybody. I'm sorry. She must have really wanted to be illusive.

Adrien took the note back with a nod and a shrug, as if to say thanks anyway. He didn't pass the note back again, though they settled into their seats more comfortably than they had at the beginning of class. Marinette was just thankful that getting in trouble had provided her the chance to hear that Adrien had deliberately not been considering her as Ladybug because had thought she didn't like him at all, and now she had been given the chance to right their wrongs and put herself back in the running.

Although Adrien never passed the note back, Marinette couldn't help but notice that he kept playing around with it, finally starting to doodle a portrait on the back. She wondered if he doodled in class often – she could never tell from the angle she sat behind him. From the looks of it, he was rather good. He drew in a more traditional, realistic style than she or Nathanael did, but it suited him, and she was unsurprised that he had the skill. It took her a moment to realize, though, that he was drawing her.

Well, Ladybug. Still, it took her by surprise. Clearly, now, she was still heavily on his mind. The detail he went into, however, was the most surprising part. He had her likeness down exquisitely – at least her masked likeness. He included details that most sketch artists that drew Ladybug left out. He included her freckles, and the black around her eyes. The fact that he had the detail down so well, especially after not having seen her up close in a while, was impressive, and she could not fathom how he both knew her face so well, but could not recognize it when it was sitting right next to him.

It had been the same with Alya, though. Who knew Ladybug's face better than someone dealing with hundreds of pictures of it on a weekly basis? And yet, she had been none the wiser, seeing Marinette's face up close every day, whereas Adrien just had this one moment. Alya had said learning that Marinette was Ladybug was like having a wall in her mind shattered. It was obvious instantly and made perfect sense, but it was as though there had been an obstruction, stopping her from making a connection until she had ultimate confirmed proof – a dam of sorts that fell and flooded her mind with truth all at once. Maybe there was a more exact science – or magic – behind it. Maybe Adrien could have both her masked and unmasked faced memorized exactly, and still be blocked from knowing without having confirmed, incriminating evidence in his hands, like the picture Alya had taken.

Which certainly made things more difficult. Not only for Adrien trying to find Ladybug, but for Chat trying to find her as well. And for her trying to find Chat, since she was now trying to do that as well, she remembered.

Class ended as Adrien began to sketch a second Ladybug, this time in her gala mask with her hair down.

How many pictures of me has he memorized? she wondered, though pleased to see that he apparently wasn't over her yet.

Adrien folded the note and slipped it into his pocket, giving her a wave as he walked out of the classroom. She waved back, confidently as possibly, and reunited with Alya to give her the details of the note exchange and sketches, as well as to discuss the plan she had for Chat that night, anxiety and excitement mixing uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach.

 

 

Chapter Text

I don't know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can't react
And games that never amount
To more than they're meant
Will play themselves out
- Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard

oOo

 

Marinette paced her room anxiously, a late dinner rumbling in her stomach, before she headed out for patrol. She had stayed at school late, between analyzing Adrien's interview, his drawings, and the notes he had exchanged with her, but also, whether or not her plan for Chat was a good one. She already felt somewhat guilty over having put up pages of Adrien's magazine shoot around the room. Chat had only just made himself equal with Adrien in the contest for her affections, and right away, Adrien went and did something that threw off the balance again. While she was a fan of Adrien's career anyway, model or not, it still wasn't entirely fair to Chat that Adrien surrounded her constantly, between school and his photographs, and Chat had no other way to get a leg up in day to day life. Therefore, Alya tried to convince her continuously that her idea was a good one, but the fact that she was just a strong supporter of her being with both Chat and Adrien made her view a bit skewed. Marinette couldn't help but wonder if sometimes, Alya still saw her and Ladybug as two completely separate people, despite how many times her best friend had tried telling her that now, she couldn't separate Marinette from Ladybug. Still, Marinette felt she needed advice from an outside source.

“Tikki, are you really sure this is a good idea? I mean...what if he thinks it's a horrible idea, or...think of everything that could go wrong.”

“Didn't you say I inspired the idea in the first place?” Tikki giggled. Marinette felt herself getting annoyed that the little fairy wasn't seeing the urgency of the situation.

You did, but I just...look!”

Marinette dramatically threw her arms in the air as she scurried to rifle through her backpack, eventually pulling out a piece of lined paper. Though it was decorated with small stickers and written all in color-coordinated glitter pens, Tikki could still see how frantic and detailed the writing was.

“Look, I made a list of all the pros and cons of going through with this,” she said, holding the list out to Tikki. The kwami flew forward to examine it.

“Um, Marinette, I don't think anyone's going to combust into flames as a result of this decision.”

“I didn't write out all the steps,” Marinette mumbled. “But believe me, there is a very specific case where this can cause someone to combust.”

“And...why would this cause Alya to steal a truck? Why would she steal a truck?”

Marinette shrugged. “Why does Alya do anything?”

Tikki sighed, her tiny body rising and falling as she did.

“I really think it will be fine,” she assured her Chosen. “Just have confidence, and remember that Chat adores you and will probably be more than happy to go along with this. He's probably already thought of it himself, more than once.”

“But -”

“Go! It's almost ten, and if something goes wrong, we'll deal with that when the time comes.”

Ladybug's heart raced all throughout patrol. Chat did not trail behind her, as he had during their previous night together, but it turned out that splitting up had not been necessary at all.

Chat laughed when they touched down at the cathedral.

“You'd think Hawkemoth was on vacation or something!”

He had a point. There wasn't much to deal with in the way of petty crime anymore. Most people didn't bother simply because Ladybug and Chat existed, and those who would have committed petty crimes usually got akumatized before they could. She realized that they had not been faced with anything since the Gala, however. Three days without an akuma was not unheard of, but it still felt like a pretty nice break. Unfortunately, it was unlikely that no one in Paris had had a negative emotion in three whole days, so Chat's jest that Hawkemoth was vacationing actually wasn't such a horrible suggestion.

“Maybe he is,” Lady smiled back, her heart picking up pace. It was silly to be nervous, she thought. Her decision wasn't such a huge one. It wasn't like she was going to detransform. Still, what she had been thinking of was a step across boundaries and into different parts of each others' lives. But then, hadn't their late night talks already been doing that?

“Cat got your tongue, my Lady?”

“No, no, I was just thinking.”

Chat smirked naughtily. “Would you like a cat to have your tongue?”

“Oh, God, you're awful,” Ladybug replied, swatting at him.

“I don't know, I think I'm pretty a-meow-zing, myself.”

“You were doing so well, Chaton. I thought I was free of those awful puns.”

“Nah, my mind had just been too fogged up by your beauty at the gala for me to come up with them fast enough, but they're coming back to me now.”

“Lucky me,” Ladybug mumbled, leaning on a gargoyle.

“Really, though, anything you wanna talk about?”

Ladybug didn't answer right away, still unsure how to bring up her idea. Why she was so nervous, she couldn't say.

“...Wanna let the cat out of the bag?”

Ladybug shot her head to Chat, eyebrow raised. He held his hands up in defense.

“Last one, I swear.”

Ladybug exhaled, not realizing she had been holding her breath in the first place.

“Fine, but sit down. I get anxious leaning over the edge.”

“Really?” Chat asked with true disbelief. “You didn't use to. You can stand on top of the Eiffel Tower without a shiver. You can always swing on to something if you fell. Or I'd catch you,” he said with a wink.

“It's not so much the height. Not the height at all, actually. It's just that...I heard from...reputable sources that some people know our patrol route and times, and also know that we always finish here. Which is why I haven't been comfortable here the past few days.”

“Ah, so when you said gargoyles listening made you uneasy...”

“I was also referring to any press that might be following.”

“Right. But...there's no way they can hear what's going on up here, if there's anyone down there at all,” Chat said, peering down.

“Oh, trust me, there will be,” Ladybug mumbled to herself, knowing very well that Alya would be down there. “Anyway, you're right, they can't hear us. Which is why we can stay here tonight. But I'd still rather be away from the edge. Because they can see us. And I don't know how I feel about being watched.”

“Got it.” Chat joined her in sitting outside the rose window. “So, what you been thinkin' about, Bugaboo? Need me to beat anyone up yet? You don't look too upset.” At least, he hoped, seeing as Adrien was the one that had been inadvertently upsetting her lately, and he didn't think he was able to beat up himself. After all, he wasn't sure he even had time to do anything, since he had been absent one of the two days that had passed since their last patrol.

“I...have a proposition for you. An...idea. But I've been nervous because this is a totally new thing for us, and I don't know if you'd be interested or think I was weird, or what. But we've already seen each other detransformed, if you consider the gala, and that was a pretty new thing, and it didn't go badly, and no one caught on fire, so, it might be okay.”

Chat's heart leapt, simply because she was nervous about something involving him and not because she was upset at all. And if it was any bit as good or new or exciting as the gala had been, he was sure he would be more than pleased. The possibility of fire, however, did set him off track. He laughed lightly.

“Ah, my Lady, whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be as wonderful as all of your ideas. I don't know how I feel about people catching on fire though.”

“Hm? Oh, I mean, I'm sure that won't happen. I just...overthink things.”

“You? I never would have guessed.”

“I – it's, uh, a civilian thing, I guess,” she said, gesturing wildly before settling with rubbing the back of her neck. “Anything that isn't a Lucky Charm, I tend to overthink.”

“Bad news for the akumas, then,” Chat laughed, amused at the way she was suddenly losing her Ladybug cool. He was only more intrigued to know about her civilian self – the girl who stammered with nerves and waved her arms frantically, trying to convey a message.

“It's just...that's straightforward for me. There isn't a lot of room for risk or deviation. Plus, there is a lot of luck involved. Anything else, though...”

“I understand, Bugaboo. Well, go ahead and tell me, then! What's this proposition you've got yourself all worked up over? Despite all the danger I've heard of, I can't help be be pretty curious.”

Ladybug tugged at a pigtail as she grew pinker and Chat couldn't help but feel his heart swell over her overwhelming cuteness in that moment. A great deal of Ladybug's nerves, she was beginning to realize, came from the fact that her feelings for Chat were beginning to rival those for Adrien so closely now, and though she could still function around Chat like she always could, intimate moments like these were becoming more difficult that she thought they might have been a year before. Just as she was starting to feel comfortable with Adrien, her old problem just bubbled itself up with Chat. If she could find a way to be cool, calm, and collected with both of them at all times, then, she decided, she would really be in business.

“So, I've been talking to my kwami, like I think I mentioned, which is why I thought it might be a good idea to have little moments like these.”

“Right, and let me try to figure out your identity.”

“Um, right, yes,” Ladybug confirmed. That still made her a bit nervous, she had to admit, even if she had been given permission to seek out Chat on her own. She had to admit she had not exactly been keeping a close eye out at thus far. “And I just think it's a good idea to strengthen our bond. You know, for trust and...that kind of thing. But we never have much time, you know, and we're limited to these patrol times after we're low on energy, and I end up talking about my own problems so much, and I know you said it was okay, but I feel bad, and you never get to talk about yourself, and when we both talk, it gets late, and we do stupid stuff like fall asleep, which is dangerous -,” she slapped a hand over her mouth, realizing she had started to ramble manically. Chat's eyes were wide and his eyebrows were raised. “I'm sorry, I'm freaking you out.”

Chat's expression settled and he laughed calmly. “No, no, I'm just amused, that's all. Go on, I'm all ears.”

“I just, uh, I guess I thought it might be better if we could talk, like, outside of our suits. So we can have more time and not worry.”

Chat's expression became perplexed. “My Lady...?”

Ladybug's eyes shot open wide. “Oh, no! Not like that! Not, like, detransformed and chatting face to face! That kind of defeats the purpose. I just meant that, like, maybe, I don't know...I could...give you my phone number, or something,” she explained, her voice getting quiet at the end. “I completely understand if that makes you uncomfortable, or you think it's a dumb idea. It's kind of a dumb idea.”

Chat realized Ladybug was rambling again because he had been struck dumb and she was trying to fill the sudden silence, but he had no words. He heart was leaping – soaring, even – over the fact that in moments, he would have Ladybug's phone number. Her real phone number. Not her compact. The phone that belonged to the unmasked girl. The phone she stared at in bed, trying to fall asleep. The phone that vibrated in the pocket of her tight jeans. Excitement surged though his body. And the best part was, she had come to him.

“...and I know things could go wrong, and it's silly, I shouldn't have mentioned -”

Chat grabbed her hands to stop her continued rambling. “Hey. Don't worry about it. I'd be absolutely honored to have your phone number. I think it's a perfect idea. Best friends should have each others' phone numbers. We can talk and get to know each other without having to worry about that obnoxious beeping. And better yet, no pesky gargoyles to bug us.”

Ladybug smiled at him, her nerves clearly ebbing.

“So, did you bring something to write your number down on?” Chat asked. Ladybug winced.

“I...no. I forgot.”

Chat shrugged. “That's fine, just rattle it off, I'll remember.”

“You...you sure?”

“Yeah, no problem. I have a thing for numbers. I just have a knack for remembering them. Go ahead and tell me twice, and I won't forget it. I'll go right back home, write it down, and I'll text you from my phone. Sound good?”

“Perfect,” Ladybug smiled bigger this time, relieved that her proposition went off far smoother than she had expected it would. She relayed her cell phone number to him twice, slowly. At the last minute, she wondered if the boy behind Chat's mask was someone she knew in person that already had her number, and if this was a mistake after all. After running through boys she knew in her head, though, she realized that the only boys her age whose numbers she had were Nino, because of her closeness with Alya, and Kim, because he was a childhood and family friend. She had not previously considered either boy to be Chat, but now canceled them both out, thanks to physical attributes the fact that they had both been akumatized and she had seen them fighting Chat. There was no harm then, she decided. Even if Chat was someone she knew by some miracle of a chance, there was little reason he would discover her based on her phone number.

“Got it,” Chat confirmed, repeating the number back to Ladybug twice for confirmation.

“Well, I guess there's no reason to stick around much longer tonight, then,” she said.

“I guess you're right,” Chat replied. “I should get right home and save this number before some fluke causes me to forget it. Goodnight, my Lady. I'll text you when I get home.”

The phrase leaving Chat's mouth made Ladybug's heartbeat pick up in double time from the reality of it all, but her heart stopped just as suddenly when he kissed her hand, returning a gesture she thought was over with. Unexpectedly, but also just as she had hoped, her proposition had thrown Chat back into the game with vigor.

oOo

Adrien couldn't stop beaming as he rolled into his room. He skipped, to Plagg's exaggerated annoyance, singing the number Ladybug had relayed to him over and over. In that moment, the number was the most precious thing he had ever memorized or recited in his life. Each number was like a treasure he was afraid of losing, treating them carefully as they passed over his lips.

“Will you get that number in your phone already so I don't have to listen to you sing it anymore?” Plagg complained. Adrien rolled his eyes but stopped singing instantly, in too good of a mood to argue with the kwami.

He retrieved his phone, but immediately thought better of using his main number. Some, not many, classmates had it, but the phone was primarily used for contact with his father, business, and scheduling. He had a second phone, which he used like most people used a junk email address. He gave the number to work contacts he wouldn't need for long, or classmates he had projects with, but might not talk to much otherwise. That phone was now about to become the Ladybug Hotline and was going to find a new permanent home in his right pocket. He cleared it of all the numbers he didn't need, since he really had not used it in a while, and input Ladybug's number flawlessly. He was sure he'd never forget it for as long as he lived, already able to recite it faster than than his father or Nathalie's phone numbers. He typed the contact name as Ladybug, thought better of it and typed LB instead, added a heart for good measure, and opened a conversation with her, heart threatening to pound out of his chest. What if she had been joking? What if she gave him a fake number and it was just an elaborate prank on Chat? What if she changed her mind and didn't want to talk much, or worse, didn't respond at all, leaving him with a painful tension? What if, by chance, she had been one of those throwaway work contacts? A number he had just deleted? The chance was so small, and honestly, quite unrealistic, because he never would have deleted the number of anyone like Ladybug, but what if? What if she was right and someone did combust? What if he combusted, the moment he pressed send?

“If you don't text her, I'm going to take the phone and do it myself,” Plagg said as though Adrien's thoughts were being plastered onto his face.

Fine,” Adrien whined.

“Oh, don't groan like it's so painful. You've only wanted this forever.”

“Well, yeah, but it's not that easy,” Adrien replied, tapping out a message that simply read it's me.

No, no, no, no,” Plagg protested frantically, knocking the phone from his Chosen's hand. “I forbid you from sending that.”

What? Did you not just tell me to text her?”

“I did, but not that. God, how...how...douchey.

Douchey? How is it douchey? How do you even know what kind of behavior the word douchey describes?”

“What, you think I shut these big ears off when the TV comes on? Or when I travel literally everywhere with you? I pick things up, kid. And I'm telling you, it's slightly egotistical, douchey behavior to say it's me, like you're assuming she's automatically going to know it's you. Like you're the only one she's expecting a text from. Like you're the only person she gives her number out to.”

“But Plagg. I literally just got her number. We just discussed it.”

“I know that, but there's no such thing as too much humility.”

“Why would she be expecting a text from another unknown number tonight, though? Who else would she be giving out her number to?”

Adrien felt pangs of jealousy. He wasn't entirely worried, nor did he want to act too possessive (he had done so in the past to atrocious results), but he couldn't help it. Plagg was right. He had gotten Ladybug's number. But it wasn't so they could plan a date, or hook up, or partake in any other illicit phone related activities (God help him as he tried to keep his mind off such activities). She very well could be giving her number out to other people whom she had flirtatious relations with.

“I don't know, maybe that other guy she likes?” Plagg suggested. Adrien's entire body grew red hot with now fully-fledged jealousy. Until he was hit with a rational wash of realization.

“You mean me, Plagg? I am the other guy she likes. Well, Adrien is.”

“Yes, but Ladybug doesn't know that you know that. She doesn't know she gave her number to Adrien. She thinks she gave it to Chat. So...text her as Chat. And in the mean time, we'll work on the douchey model's texting skills.”

“My texting skills are fine.”

Plagg raised an eyebrow. “I can tell you know, even watching you text Nino, your texting skills are mediocre at best. You grew up around too many models. Not healthy. We need to work on your people skills.”

Adrien couldn't argue with that. His people skills did need improvement. His cat skills were infinitely better.

“How do you know so much about all this?” Adrien asked. He had to admit, obnoxious as Plagg usually was, he was making sense, and if he couldn't trust his own people skills, then he had nothing to lose in trusting Plagg's.

“Like I said, I watch a lot of TV...but, you also aren't the first Chat I've had to help with...Ladybug matters of the heart.”

“Are you saying you're willing to be my wing man, then? And stop rolling your eyes about what you've described as, and I quote, mad love?

Plagg shrugged noncommittally. “I just can't watch anymore Chat's make fools of themselves, that's all.”

“And they have in the past?”

Plagg sighed. “Look – a lot of Chats and Ladybugs have ended up in relationships, it's true. And I've assisted when my assistance was called upon. Better than having to sit around listening to lovesick and heartbroken whining. A lot of them haven't ended up together. No desire. But, there have also been Chats who act like idiots and would have ended up in a very pleasant relationship had they not screwed it all up for themselves. You, my friend, thankfully haven't quite reached that point yet. You've made some poor judgments, sure -,”

“Hey, I didn't make Ladybug come to my balcony that night!”

“True, but you didn't have to tell her that you loved her. I'm just saying, you haven't ruined yourself yet. In fact, you have a pretty good chance if you just take it easy. And not send her douchey texts.”

“Right,” Adrien agreed, then remembering that he did have to text her still. By now, he had been home at least twenty minutes. He wondered if she was waiting up for him. After all, she wouldn't even have his number until the text arrive.

“Just...be yourself. Be Chat. And forget everything about seducing women that you might have learned from pudding-brain models. Because I know you, and you aren't a pudding-brain. None of my Chosens are or ever have been, and you're one of my most intelligent. We're not gunna let go of that now.”

Adrien pondered for moment about what Chat-like thing he could say that was appropriate. Trying not to waste too much time, he finally typed out Meow, capitalized and all, adding a smile emoji to round it out.

“There. Is that enough like Chat?”

Plagg threw his tiny hands up. “I guess. Better than it's me, anyway.”

Chat hit send, his heart pounding, even though he had only sent a simple word that he said to Ladybug in person all the time, and she would be expecting him to text anyway. Still, he couldn't rest until Ladybug replied back, and quicker than he had expected she was going to. With a wishful heart, he wondered if she had just been sitting by the phone. Her reply was a simple hello, followed by the same smiling emoji he had sent her, and a second text contained nothing but the ladybug emoji, which made his chest warm. Warm that she could be playful and warm that she apparently wasn't having second thoughts regarding giving him her number and warm that apparently he hadn't said the wrong thing.

It was late, and Plagg warned him not too stay up too long. Appearing overeager on the first night would do him no favors anyway. He agreed, only thanking Ladybug for trusting him with something as personal as her phone number, and telling her that they had school the next day. He meant it as a hint, to suggest that they went to school together, but he realized when Ladybug replied with simple agreement that, being the same age, they would both still have school, regardless of whether or not they attended the same one. They bid each other good night, and though Adrien held himself back from sending her any hearts, he was comforted with the knowledge that they would be falling asleep at the same time following their good nights. With heavy eyelids and exuberant thoughts, Adrien drifted off, again unable to dream of anything other than Ladybug and her legs and her eyes and her voice and her untouchable cinnamon scent, and that unrecognizable building that she continually spirited him away to.

oOo

“I told you it was going to be fine! Look, you've been on your phone all morning!”

Marinette looked up from her screen and smiled at Alya. What could she say? It had been fine.

“So...is Chat back in your good graces, then?”

“Chat was never in my bad graces,” Marinette explained. “He was just in my best-friend-but-not-Adrien graces. But, if you're asking if I...like...him again...then, yes. Texting sealed that deal again.”

Alya slowly raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Tell me true. Do you, in this moment, have a crush on Chat Noir?”

Marinette's face turned red as fast as Alya had ever seen it turn – especially regarding anything other than Adrien.

“Yes, I do,” she confirmed. “However, I still have those new photoshoot pictures of Adrien's. Don't think this is over yet. They're just neck in neck is all.”

“Yeah, but it seems like you're getting further with Chat.”

Marinette shrugged. “That's the thing. I feel like they're pretty even. I mean with Ladybug. Don't forget that Ladybug just left more pastries in Adrien's locker. I may not have gone back to his balcony, but I'm sure he took that as a peace offering, or a hint, or something. A sign that I'm watching him not find me. Don't forget, I may be texting right now, and I may have brought those pastries, but neither Chat nor Adrien know it's me. So you may think you can see me doing better or worse with either one of them, but we won't really know until one of them knows who I am.”

“I guess that's true,” Alya agreed. “But if you're leaving pastries around and texting so much, one of them is bound to find out sooner than later. You gunna talk to him all through class? Mlle. Bustier has gotten really good at noticing that kind of thing.”

Marinette shrugged. “I'll be discreet.”

“It doesn't matter which guy you like, you're always hopeless, girl.”

Marinette tapped away until class started, occasionally tilting her screen to the side to show Alya something that Chat had said. To Alya, the conversation did not appear to be especially interesting. Basic talk about how waking up was hard in the mornings and school was lame and about their favorite breakfast foods. Still, she enjoyed being included, not only to be able to help Marinette craft and analyze responses, but because at the end of the day, she was still a fan of the heroes. Since she was so intimate with Ladybug's alter ego, hearing from Chat's was the only way she could get a fix of adrenaline from hearing about the double life of a hero. Knowing that Ladybug was Marinette had taken all of the fun out of peaking behind her mask, so Chat was all she had left when it came to having fun not knowing a hero's identity.

The girls both looked up when Nino and Adrien walked in together. Nino had a sort of funny smile as he watched Adrien walk in who, incidentally, was also glued to his phone screen. Nino looked up and waved at Alya and Marinette (still convinced that he knew all about Marinette's “situation” and that he was, in some way, helping her). Adrien, however, was unblinking, smiling absently, and would have missed his seat had Nino not guided him by his shoulder. Marinette wasn't paying attention, partially because, as she told Alya, she didn't want to draw too much attention to herself (“Isn't that what you want to do? So he notices you?” Alya had asked. Marinette insisted that was missing the point.), and partially because she was trying to appear more casual around Adrien. In Alya's mind, this was only making her relationship with Adrien more ridiculous and nonsensical, but based on the note he and Marinette had been passing the day before, she guessed it could be worse. Adrien could still think Marinette hated him.

The entire morning was torture. Marinette almost got caught texting several times, trying to stifle occasional giggles and conceal eye rolls. Alya supposed it was a good thing that she could now talk to Chat during the day and outside of akuma attacks, but since Marinette was doing it at school and in the middle of class, it was distracting her entirely from Adrien, who appeared to be a situation spinning out of control. He had already confessed his love to Ladybug, and had acted very suspiciously in his magazine interview regarding being in a relationship. In school, though, he didn't seem to be on the lookout (perhaps with the exception of his sketch of Ladybug on his note with Marinette), and he hadn't even brought up the pastries that had been left in his locker. Something didn't match up, Alya was sure, and Marinette wasn't going to see that if she was glued to her phone with Chat. Her furthering with her relationship with him was all well and good, but it didn't change the fact that there was something very off with Adrien's behavior. She looked at Nino, who had turned to look back for a minute, seemingly confused as well by their friends' odd behavior. While Nino knew a lot less about Marinette's situation than he claimed to know, he had to know something about what was going on in Adrien's personal life. They spoke privately all the time. Alya made a mental note to snatch him after school for questioning. She leaned over a final time to see Marinette's phone screen before the school bell rang and shook her head at how completely and utterly hopeless it was.

They were just as flirty on screen as they were in person. Marinette probably didn't even realize it, but it was as plain as the nickname she had given him; cutesy and suggestive and blaringly obvious. While it now seemed evident that Chat was winning at the game he had invented, Alya was now more determined than ever to figure out why Adrien seemed to be forfeiting altogether.

oOo

The school day finished much the same way it had begun. Marinette and Adrien were officially checked out of society and neither of them noticed each other much at all, and Nino was impossible to get on his own. At lunch, at least, Alya had noticed that Adrien talked a great deal to Nino, at the far end of the courtyard, only taking periodic breaks to check the phone, but she didn't get a chance to speak to either of them.

Therefore, when Alya got home, she had no choice but to steal her mother's truck.

She stretched in the driver's seat, not nervous in the least except for the fact that that she was strictly not allowed to drive the truck. She had business to attend to, and found that her bike was not correct for the mood at all.

As she drove to Nino's house which was just down the road (the lack of distance being her reasoning for being okay with stealing the truck), she began to laugh to herself. Something on Marinette's pro and con list had actually come true for once. Marinette's giving her number to Chat had in fact, in a very roundabout way (which was the only way Marinette worked), caused Alya to steal a truck. Incroyable.

Once outside Nino's house, and seeing that his parents weren't home yet, Alya texted him to say that she was outside and honked twice. It didn't take him long to come out and he hopped in the truck without question, by now understanding and accepting Alya antics.

“What can I do for you today, babe?” Nino asked with a cool smile, now sitting in the passenger seat. Alya remained parked as she spoke to him but left the radio on lightly. Really, the truck hadn't been entirely necessary, but she was glad she had brought it to have the conversation in anyway.

“That's Miss Caramel Macchiato to you, my friend.”

Nino shrugged. “As you wish.”

“I'm here to discuss a mutual acquaintance of ours.”

“Is that so?”

“One Adrien Agreste.

“I see. Would this have anything to do with another mutual acquaintance's little situation? Not naming names here, but...I don't know, a baker's daughter, perhaps?”

“Maybe,”Alya muttered. “Maybe. It goes...a little deeper than that, I suppose.”

“Need me to play wingman yet? It'll take like, five seconds.”

“Well, see, that's the thing. I don't think that would ever work.”

“Why is that?” Nino asked.

“Just because Adrien's been acting strange. I don't know if he's into Marinette, or if he even notices her. He's seemed to be kind of distracted recently. And he's kind of seemed to have mood swings recently. I wondered if you had noticed.”

“Yeah, you are right. He has been kind of on a roller coaster. One day he's depressed and hiding in his hoodie, but then you have days like today where he's in outer space and can't stop staring at his phone. He seemed okay about having to sit next to Mari in class the other day, and he was pretty happy to hear she didn't hate him.”

“Do you know whom he was texting so much today? I've never seen him so invested in his phone. I think he usually likes to avoid it.” Alya asked.

“Nah,” Nino replied. “Whoever it is, he must really like her. I'm sure I could still work it out for Marinette if that's what she wanted, though.”

“She? He's texting a girl? But you don't know who?”

“Nope, only that it's a girl. You know, he told me that a few weeks ago, some girl he really liked came to his window and they hung out a while until he said something that scared her off.”

Suddenly, things started clicking in Alya's head. “You don't think he was texting that girl from the balcony then, do you?”

“I can't say for sure, but maybe. He really liked her.”

No confirmation. But what if? If Adrien was texting the girl from the balcony, then that meant he was texting Marinette. That meant that while Marinette had been texting Adrien and Chat. But she hadn't mentioned texting Adrien at all. Unless...

Wouldn't that be easy? The chance was so ridiculously impossible, she decided. After all, it was, again, unconfirmed. But Alya couldn't help but daydream about that being the case.

“Is that all you know?”Alya asked.

“About Adrien's mysterious love life? Yeah. Girl he liked on a balcony, silence, texting a girl.”

“Well, thanks for your help anyway.”

Nino saluted her, hopped out of the truck, and she drove away, window down and enjoying the air.

That was, until a scream pierced it.

Even then, things weren't so bad, Alya decided. An akuma attack meant a new blog post which meant more followers. She dutifully drove the truck in the direction of the screaming.

No akuma in sight.

Alya didn't know what was stranger – the fact that she could hear screams, but hear no villain, or the fact that she had just spotted Adrien, phone put away, and sprinting like his life depended on it.

Alya weighed her options. She could go towards the screams, which guaranteed blog traffic, but the usual signs weren't there. It wasn't something people went to the blog for. The other option was to tail Adrien and see what shenanigans he was up to that were causing him to sprint so frantically.

She went for the second option, parking and hopping out of the truck. Attacks were a dime a dozen. Adrien, on the other hand, was harder catch, especially alone and more recently. Besides, his running had gotten the best of her curiosity. He didn't just run for nothing. Alya tailed behind him with dedication, and when Adrien slipped into an alley without warning, Alya followed, her heart pounding in strange fear and curiosity. She didn't follow because she was a stalker, but because she was a reporter and needed to know what was going on. She had been filled with strange fear and curiosity her whole life.

Alya was already entirely confused as to why Adrien had ducked into an alley in the first place, but she never could have prepare herself for what it was she saw. Involuntarily, before she was even registering what it was that she was seeing, she screamed before finally slapping a hand to her mouth to shut herself up.

Adrien had been acting odd. Adrien had been running. Adrien had been glued to his phone. Adrien had ducked into an alley. This was all okay. This was all good and this was the kind of thing that made Alya want to snoop.

However, now she screamed, because while Adrien had done all those things, it was not Adrien that stood before her now.

Adrien was gone, and in his place was Chat Noir.

 

Chapter Text

I been sleeping for 40 days and
I know I'm sleeping 'cause this dream's too amazing
She got gold doorknobs where her eyes used to be
One turned and I learned what it really means to see
- 40 Day Dream, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

 

oOo

 

Finding out that Marinette was Ladybug was one thing. It made sense. It clicked into place in an instant. Alya had not been face to face with her when she had first taken the pictures of her on Adrien's balcony. She had had an entire night to process the possibility, so by the time Marinette had confirmed...it had been like slipping into a warm bath at the perfect time.

Seeing Adrien transform into Chat in an alley, on the other had, was entirely different. That was jumping into scalding water. It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense at all. Not now.

But...it did. It made perfect sense. Because the glass had shattered, just the way it did when she watched Marinette drop her phone with the telltale photos on it. Adrien left every time Marinette did. Even after Alya knew that her best friend was Ladybug, watching Adrien sneak away at the same time as her during an akuma attack had registered as nothing. The fact that Adrien had not gone to his father's own gala, but Chat had two tickets had registered as nothing. Adrien was late. Adrien was missing. Adrien had no lady, but damn, he had been suspicious. Adrien bulked up the same time as Chat, and Marinette had a crush on two blonde boys with green eyes and broad shoulders and lots of fame and influence on the city. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

And now, it was all there. Everything made sense of course because the evidence was there. It had been there the whole time. But it was so stupid, so confused, and it could have been the simplest thing in the whole world. From the beginning! It was so obvious, because there was the proof, and the shattered glass was scattered around her feet. The water was scalding, but Alya couldn't find her voice to scream. She had the good sense not to. She gaped instead, until Adrien – Chat – spoke first. Which was surprising. Alya imagined herself to look completely dumbstruck, but Chat look far worse than she imagined herself. If he had fur, it would have been sticking straight up.

“Alya – I...I know this is...a bit of...of a shock –,”

“Well, actually...,” Alya started, because it wasn't a shock. Not after the first .5 seconds. It was a mess, and it was confusing, and it changed everything. But shocking, no. Now that there was proof, it was the least shocking thing in the world.

“Okay, well, it's a shock to me,” Chat said, getting antsy. “And I need you to just...not...move. Or...speak. Or run, or...can you just stay put for like...twenty minutes?”

Alya blinked at him. Any day before, this would be quite the position for her. One on one time with Chat Noir with no paparazzi or reporters around other than herself. She could have personally asked about Ladybug. Today, though, he was Adrien in a suit. Which, she supposed, he always had been. But this was ridiculous. He was ridiculous and Ladybug – no, Marinette – was ridiculous. And he was asking her to not move? She shrugged.

“Fine. But you'd better come back for me.”

Chat smirked at her and Adrien Supermodel Swagger melted off of him. God, this was so stupid.

“Chat Noir doesn't leave young girls in alleyways.”

Alya raised and eyebrow as he sprinted away. She shook her head, leaned against the brick wall, and pulled out her phone to kill time.

oOo

“What was that? It wasn't an akuma,” Alya said when Chat returned to the alley.

“How did you know?”

“I've followed you and Ladybug to nearly every akuma. I know the sounds, I know the signs. Besides, there hasn't been an akuma in...a few days, so I've assumed Hawkemoth is, oh, I don't know, on vacation. Right?”

Chat wrinkled his eyebrows. “Right...it was just a bank robbery. And the guy didn't get akumatized, so...yeah, Lady and I have been thinking our friendly little rival is enjoying some rest and relaxation.”

“Well, now that that's out of the way – Adrien motherfucking Agreste.”

Chat shrugged, unoffended by the curse. Alya had every right. “In the flesh. Ah, give me a moment.”

He released his transformation, and it had all come full circle. She had seen him go both in and out of transformation. Alya hadn't even seen that much from Marinette.

“You know, uh, Adrien, not to be bothersome or anything, but it looks just as suspicious, if not more so to an outsider, to see me alone in an alley with Adrien as it is to see me in one with Chat Noir.”

“I see your point,” Adrien agreed. “Fine, then. Let's go, walk and talk.”

“I swear, I thought the coast was clear,” Adrien said.

“It was. Except for me. I'm very elusive. It's the gift of the reporter. By the way, where did Ladybug go after all of this?”

Adrien shrugged. “Home, I guess, wherever that is. We didn't get a moment to talk unfortunately. When I saw it was a robbery, I texted her, and mentioned that I could take care of it on my own.”

Alya raised her eyebrows at him. Of course, she already knew that he and Ladybug had been texting (and of course, it made extra sense now that Adrien had been equally attached to his phone), but he didn't know that.

“Yeah, we text. No big deal. It's kind of a new thing, actually. Anyway, she swung by to see if I was doing alright, but I already had it taken care of, so she didn't hang around. Why?”

“Because I don't want there to be a chance of her seeing us together, that's why.”

Adrien knitted his eyebrows. “I...I don't understand.”

“You're a real piece of work, Agreste. You're really something.”

“Excuse me?”

“I'm not gunna call you a dick. Because this is a lot deeper than that, I know. There's a lot to it. You have your hands tied in a lot of ways. But you are a player. No matter how you slice it. A player is a player.”

“Doesn't a player have like...a ton of girls?” Adrien asked. “I only have Ladybug. Kind of. I kind of have Ladybug.”

“A player plays. However that may be. And you, my friend, are playing.”

“I don't...”

“Right, right, you don't understand. God, no wonder you're so blind to everything all the time. You're book smart, but you sure don't catch onto things very quickly.”

“I need to work on my –,”

“People skills, trust me, I know. And I know you kind of have Ladybug. And I know you're playing her.”

Adrien stared at her, mouth gaping.

“Are you, or are you not, pursuing Ladybug both as yourself and as Chat Noir? And does she, or does she not know that you're the same person?”

Adrien looked at though he might protest, but he finally sighed, shoulders dropping, and gave in. “I am, and she does not.”

“Player.”

“But how...?”

“How do I know? If you were listening to me in class the other day, you'd remember I said that I knew Ladybug.”

Adrien's eyebrows shot up. “Are you kidding me? I thought you meant you knew her like on a reporter to celebrity basis. I didn't know you knew knew her.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know her. Surprise, surprise. We're buddies.”

Adrien fell silent in thought, eyes narrowing. “Alya...do you know her identity?”

There was no point in protesting, really. There might have been were this just a conversation with Adrien or just a conversation with Chat. But it was a conversation with both of them. If she knew Chat's identity, it was only fair that she admit to knowing Ladybug's as well.

Yes, I do. And if you figured out how to pay attention, you would know that, and you would probably know who she was, too, and you would win this ridiculous little game you've got going on here.”

“She didn't tell you who she was, did she?”

“Nah,” Alya admitted. “I figured it out, fairly recently, and kinda like this. So no, I'm not more special than you. She never made me an offer to try to find her out. Never gave me any hints, either. She thinks pretty damn highly of you, I'll tell you that much. Both sides of you, but I hope to God you've figured out that much by now.”

Relief washed over Adrien's face. “Well, I feel better at least. I can't believe you know about the game.”

Alya shrugged. “I'm a reporter. A Ladybug reporter. I'd have dragged it out of her one way or another.”

“To be fair,” Adrien continued, “she hasn't really given me that many hints. The question games we play are pretty superficial. I can't really figure her out based on them.”

Alya couldn't help but laugh. “Oh, Lord,” she said, wiping a tear of laughter away. “Hopeless! You're hopeless. Boy, she's given you so many hints. Unintentionally. And the biggest one is to open your eyes. Which I know she's asked you to do, and which I know you think you're doing, but you're not. Listening is good and all. I know you're a damn fine listener. But Adrien – Open. Your fucking. Eyes.”

Adrien winced that time. “Really that many, huh?”

“Really, really. I'm not going to tell her who you are. I'm not going to tell you who she is. I know better than that. But you have more than enough means to figure out who she is. To be honest, you have more of a chance than she does at this point. Not that she's an idiot. You just definitely have more to go off of. I mean, wow, it's almost like she wants you to find her out. Fancy that. Just...,” she sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Just go home and review your evidence. The hard evidence. Every last bit of it. If Ladybug's touched it, investigate it.”

“Yeah...yeah, okay, I'll do that.”

“When's the next time you'll see her?”

“Tonight.”

“Good, good. Hey, can I give you some advice?”

“Yeah, of course,” Adrien replied. After all, at this point, Alya knew the whole truth. She knew more than both he and Ladybug combined.

“Don't be an idiot and stop looking for when you're Adrien, but I would but your full effort into pursuing her as Chat. No use in confusing her, and she likes you enough as Chat at this point that it would be worth it. Trust me. Make sure she likes Chat completely, and I have full faith you can figure out who she is. You're a smart boy. And then just...bring it full circle. She'll figure you out in due time, but if you win all of her over as one version of yourself, then no more confusion. As long as you're both pursuing her, Adrien and Chat, you're never going to get her to settle. Soon enough, she'll find out she doesn't have to, but just go with one for now. Trust me, she likes Chat enough right now that you'll be alright.”

“She...does?”

“She hasn't given up on Adrien, which is the good news, but she's more open to Chat now. She's not restricting herself anymore. Competition is fairly...even, I would say. And if you figure her out, but only tell her that Chat knows, then I think the rest will fall into place. But stop playing her, and stop splitting her attention. You're making it twice as hard on yourself. And on her, for that matter. Keep your eyes open as Adrien, but don't distract her as Adrien. Once she runs into Chat's arms completely, I think you'll be home free, my man. Just, uh, trust me.”

Adrien considered this and nodding, finally taking Alya by surprise by hugging her.

“Thank you, Alya,” he murmured into her shoulder.

“Any time,” she replied, somewhat taken aback by the hug. Of course, a great deal of her motivation was helping Marinette, but she now felt twice as motivated to help Adrien and Chat. It was now sinking in how easy this made everything. She had just been considering how simple such a situation would be. She didn't have to decide whether she wanted Marinette to be with Adrien more or if she wanted Ladybug and Chat Noir to be together more. It was the same thing. Marinette didn't have to worry or hurt herself anymore. And of course she had had a hold on the two most attractive and desired guys in Paris – they was the same guy. They were all four her friends and all four her idols, and though they were only two people, she had four times the love and devotion for them. She felt it to be her civil and loyal duty to be a mediator for them. She vowed not to reveal them to each other, but she knew then that she wouldn't have to. They would figure it out in due time. The hardest part now was hiding her excitement for one thing, but even more so, hiding her frustration.

“Hey, Alya?” Adrien asked when they pulled away.

“Hm?

“If I guess and I tell you, and I'm right, would you let me know? Just so I don't accidentally guess wrong in front of her and make a fool of myself?”

Alya looked him up and down. “Maybe. We'll see how well you do...But, I'll always be around to help. Now go home. Look at your evidence. Go.”

She shooed him away and he smiled at her before running off.

oOo

Marinette sat at the kitchen counter, half eaten bagel in front of her, reading through her texts. She wasn't sure why she hadn't thought of exchanging numbers with Chat before. It was entertaining and useful, but above all, comforting. Her recent nights of talking with Chat had been nice of course, but dominating the conversation with her own problems and Adrien had gradually been causing her more and more guilt. And then there was worrying about running out of time. While it had been pleasant, falling asleep together had been both unintentional and dangerous. Texting each other seemed to eliminate all problems, but it also just felt...right. Like they were supposed to be talking more that just when they were masked or something. It was different than texting Alya, even though Alya was her best friend whom she loved with all her heart. It was just...different.

They weren't discussing anything important necessarily – now just the robbery that had occurred – but even that had was nice.

From: Chat
It was no big deal, I swear. Had it all under control.

Marinette smiled at his perfect grammar. Once upon a time, she would not have expected it, but now it just seemed to fit perfectly.

To: Chat
so I saw, you were pretty much done when I got there. I was impressed

From: Chat
Are you saying you like what you saw?

Marinette giggled softly to herself. Well, she wasn't going to lie.

To:Chat
yes kitty, I very much liked what I saw

He sent back a winking cat emoji and she couldn't help but smile widely, even as a blush warmed her. How in the world was he able to do this to her suddenly? Once, she thought Chat was just a hopeless flirt. He flirted with Ladybug (which, apparently, had been genuine after all), and he had flirted with Marinette (which...well, maybe that had just been his own odd form of chivalry...unless he recognized the Ladybug radiating off of her, but probably not). But this was different, too. Maybe because she knew he was genuine now? Maybe because she liked him back now. Maybe because she was actually flirting back now. Chat asking if she liked what she saw didn't have to be accepted or treated like a flirtation. But she took it. And she said she did. And she wasn't annoyed in the least by the cat emoji. In fact, she found that she kind of adored it, and adored the suggestion that the flirt was understood and accepted.

Her heart fluttered. It felt like she had always imagined texting Adrien would feel like, were she ever able to speak to him properly enough to get his number and actually text him. But she had never been able to. There had been an extreme benefit to being friends with Chat first, it turned out, and though she actually felt a little nervous around him now, it felt right.

It was so bad, she thought. It was so wrong, that now, with every single text, and every single encounter, she felt herself liking Chat more and more. She still liked Adrien, she did, the very same as always. But she couldn't even try denying she felt the same about Chat now. That was probably why it felt so wrong – like she was betraying Adrien or something. But God, Adrien didn't even know she liked him. She had left. Chat was literally in the palm of her hand, and she was flirting with him (nervously, but successfully), and he accepted it. And she liked it. The guilt was there, but the truth was, she now had more of a legitimate relationship with Chat, an she didn't dislike it. So Adrien had said he loved her. But he knew both sides of her and only confessed to the masked one. Ladybug was all Chat knew. And they had been on a date. And they had each others' numbers. The last time Marinette had Adrien's number, all hell had broken loose.

Marinette liked Adrien still. Really liked him. Maybe even loved him, as not-right as it was, given the deception of it all. But she really liked Chat, too, and thanks to her texting plan, that's what made sense.

The entire situation made her nervous. Not butterfly nervous, the way Chat's winking cat had made her. Just...unsettled. She tried not to think about it and continued her conversation as if Chat was the only guy she had ever known or liked. She'd be seeing him again during patrol at least. Maybe seeing him and talking in person after all their texting would seal some kind of deal and she would forget about Adrien.

Unlikely.

Completely unlikely.

Impossible.

Especially because even if she didn't have a crush on Adrien anymore, she was still going to be a Gabriel fan, and she was still going to have Adrien's pictures all over her walls.

This is so fucked up, she thought to herself, running her hands through her bangs. Maybe she wouldn't say it out loud, if only because she didn't feel as comfortable using that kind of language, but...it was true. It was fucked. She loved two boys and they both loved her and she was hopelessly devoted to both of them now, which made her hopelessly guilty, and wouldn't it be so nice if she just could forget about one of them. If only she had met Chat first, then there wouldn't be a problem in sight. Just a few hours would have made a huge difference. Maybe if she had used her miraculous sooner, or maybe if she had stayed angry at Adrien for being friends with Chloé, but no. The world just had to have its way with her. She sighed.

Chat today. Focus on Chat today. Solidify your relationship with Chat. Work on Adrien when you have the chance, and it'll all be fine. And then, whichever one of them finds you out first, that'll be who deserves your attention. But for now, keep them even. And today is Chat. Chat gets my attention today. Chat, Chat, Chat. Chat deserves today.

She looked down at her phone in time to see Chat mention looking forward to their meeting that night, and that he had a question for her about a dream he had had with her in it. The mention of a dream about her, regardless of how innocent or not it was, got her blood pumping again, and she was back to enjoying that moment just talking to Chat and thinking of nothing else.

“Marinette?”

She looked up at her phone to see her mother staring at her inquisitively. When Marinette looked up, Sabine smiled and returned to the dishes in the sink.

“Yeah, Mama?”

“You sure look happy about something. Are you texting Alya?”

Marinette stared at her mother's knowing look and couldn't reply. She couldn't lie and say that she was texting Alya, because Sabine would see through that in a second, but she couldn't say who it really was either.

“Didn't think so,” Sabine said. “I know you like Alya, but...not that much. And you certainly aren't attached to your phone like this when you're talking to her either.”

Marinette looked down at the counter, still unsure how to respond.

“Is it – no, I'm not going to ask who it is. But be careful, mon chou, okay?”

“What do you mean, Mama?”

Sabine smiled and came around the counter to put an arm around her daughter.

“I mean, be smart. Remember who you are and stay level headed. Don't go changing yourself and...don't do anything you're going to regret. And if you need my help, you'd better come to me. Better to come to me for help before things go wrong, rather than later. Not that I think things will go wrong, but remember that I'm on your side.”

Marinette took a moment to consider her words. Was she talking about entertaining two guys level of regret (and there was no way she could have known about that), or...sex regret? She shuddered, both at the prospect of that being what her mother was talking about and the prospect of doing that with either Chat or Adrien at this level. Not that she was entirely opposed to that...but things were far too complicated for that this early. And would lead to regret. And then she'd be crawling back to her mother who would deliver a prompt I told you so, and...well, they'd be in the exact position Sabine was warning her against. And besides all of that, there was also the question of who Sabine was going to guess she was texting. Marinette decided that she didn't want to know, because then she would know who her mother thought she was probably thinking of having...sex with...or something, and already, she was much further down any road she really wanted to be on.

“Thank you, Mama,” she said, and turned into Sabine to hug her, who kissed the top of her head and returned to the dishes. Marinette returned to her phone to send final texts to Chat before heading to her room to get ready for the night.

To: Chat
just had a strange and awkward conversation with my mother

To: Chat
btw, id be happy to help with your dream. Im looking forward to hearing all about it, and seeing u tonight.

oOo

Adrien sprinted through his mansion, skidding on the freshly polished floors, and ignoring Nathalie who happened to be standing at the base of the stairs with her legal pad. Surely, she had something to tell him or scold him for, but there was no time for it now. If it was anything important, she would have grabbed him, or followed him, but she didn't. Once in his room, he immediately threw his bag onto his sofa and bee lined to his desk.

Excuse me, in case you've forgotten, I'm still in here!” Plagg said, maneuvering his way out of the bag. “I'm sure you don't need me to remind you that you need me to be Chat Noir, so I'd kind of appreciate if you don't kill me! I've been around for a very long time, and I'm not gunna die because some love struck kid feels that it's okay to throw me around.”

“Sorry, Plagg, sorry! But I know you heard Alya! We have enough to go on! Ladybug's identity is in this very room!”

Plagg groaned. “I'm sure this is all very exciting for you, but still...I'd like to stay alive.”

“I'll give you a weeks supply of camembert for tonight if you help me find everything Ladybug has touched in this room.”

“Well, why didn't you say so earlier? Move!”

Plagg flew to his desk and started throwing papers left and right with extreme vigor.

“Oh, now you're enthusiastic? Look, I know you act like you don't care very much about...well, most things, but I know you have to be at least a little interested in who she is.”

“Not at all.”

“Why not?”

Plagg groaned a groan that was extreme even for him. “Because I already know who she is. I've known the whole time, and it's just started to really annoy me that you don't have it figured out on your own by now, so I'm entirely uninterested. I'll find you things that she's touched in exchange for the cheese, but trust me, my actual interest in finding her identity is extremely low, seeing as it's not a surprise.”

Adrien dropped everything he was holding. “You know who she is?

Plagg shrugged. “Yeah, of course I know who she is. You think I can't sense when her kwami's around? I don't even need to see at all to feel her presence. Besides, we were consulted. We had to approve of our own Chosens, but we had to approve of each others' as well. We're two halves of the same coin, more or less. Two halves of a whole. So don't get any ideas. Chat Noir and Ladybug are the only two Miraculous that are paired, so we're the only kwamis that are in on each others' secrets, unless you count the Guardian, which I don't, and I don't feel like explaining that right now...so don't go asking if I can find Hawkemoth for you, because I can't.”

Adrien had practically stopped listening to everything past Plagg's first sentence, mind swimming with the realization. “You've known. And you haven't said anything?”

“Of course not. Couldn't if I want to. And I don't want to. Not my business and not my place. Kinda like how Alya won't tell you. Except I care less. But I can't anyway because I'm bound by some stupid vow. Tikki and I know for our own good and benefit...and because we can't help but sense each othe, but you two have to find out on your own.”

“Tikki?”

“Uh, that's the name of Ladybug's kwami.”

“Are they sweet like Ladybug? Or are they a pain in the butt, like you? I can't imagine how Ladybug would deal with a cheese-obsessed nuisance. But she'd probably handle it better, anyway.”

Adrien caught a sudden shift in Plagg's entire demeanor. He softened, ears and whiskers dropping, and his eyes glistened. “Tikki? No, she's nothing like me at all. She's...she's perfect.” He got quiet, staring out Adrien's window, before speaking again. “I'll help as much as much as the vow allows me to.”

Adrien smiled softly, not drawing any attention to Plagg's obvious feelings. And here he thought that Plagg couldn't care about anything as much as his food. In the past five minutes, however, he proved that, despite his attitude, he did care for Adrien and his feelings quite a lot. And despite everything, he adored Tikki. Sympathy pulsed through Adrien's veins as they compiled their haphazard collection of evidence. Plagg loved Tikki. That much was obvious. Plagg loved Tikki as much as Adrien loved his Lady and then some, probably. And had been doing so for centuries, at least. And worst of all, they were separated constantly. In fact, any time they were near each other at all, at least for the past two years, they were in the form of suits. Adrien made a mental note to get Plagg at least two weeks of camembert instead.

“Alright, kid, what have you got so far?”

“Well...there's the Tupperware. And the wrappings from the gift in my locker. Pretty much guaranteed that they're from the same source. They both smell just like her, had the same pastries, she handed me the Tupperware in person, and the locker gift has her signature on it.”

“And this tells you what?”

Adrien shrugged. “I don't know. I don't know what kind of Tupperware the girls in my school use. Or bags. And she just knew I liked pastries. Anyone can buy pastries. It's not like pastries are unique to her or anything.”

“...Right,” Plagg said. “We'll come back to that all later, then.”

“What have you got?”

Plagg handed him one slip of paper that Adrien recognized instantly. He had read it a thousand times after all. It was the note that Ladybug had left for him on his balcony after he had confessed to her and before she never came to his room again.

“Plagg, how is this going to help me figure out who she is?”

“I don't know, just read it a few more times, I guess.”

“What are you talking about? I obsessed over this note. I've read it more than a few times, trust me.”

“Adrien, just do it. Did Alya not tell you to review everything?

“I guess,” he replied, and scanned his eyes over the paper. He read it once more, and then twice more, and then three times, until his eyes were no longer reading the words, but seeing them. “Wait...”

“What is it?” Plagg asked, a tinge of encouragement it his voice.

“I've seen these words before.”

“No shit, you've just read them ten billion times...,” the kwami muttered.

“Plagg!”

“It's true, you said it yourself.”

“That's not what I meant anyway. I mean I've seen these words somewhere else. I recognize this handwriting. I just don't think I registered it. Like...I knew I recognized it in the back of my head, but I thought it was just because I knew it was Ladybug's and because I've read this so much, but...no, no, I've seen this writing somewhere else, I'm sure of it now.”

Plagg rifled through the mess in front of him, found what he was looking for, and handed it off to Adrien.

“This it?”

Adrien received the second piece of evidence – another something that he had spent a great amount of time looking at and reading, but had not done so in several months. It was his Valentine's Day card from two years ago. He had never gotten confirmation that it was from Ladybug, and though he told himself it had to be from her, he knew deep in his heart that it was more likely that the card was from an anonymous fan girl.

“Plagg, did you honestly put this in the Ladybug Evidence pile? We don't know for sure...”

But Adrien open the card, and sure enough, the feminine looping handwriting matched up, stroke by stroke. A forensics lab could not have convinced him more that the letters were written by the same hand – even his name had been written exactly the same way, the capital A swirled in front and with an arched back, like it was curling in ecstasy.

“Oh my God. It was her. The whole time. She actually liked me back then. I didn't even know Ladybug knew me as Adrien back then. I had kind of given up hope that it was from her at all.”

“Of course she knew you back then. You guys go to the same school. You know this. And if she replied to your poem, she absolutely goes to school with you. She told you that you never saw her. What if she's been seeing you this whole time? Not just recently, but from the beginning? I mean, this kind of proves it, don't you think?”

Adrien sighed deeply. “Damn, no wonder she's upset. If she's liked me as ourselves the whole time and I obviously haven't noticed, and then confess to Ladybug immediately? I must have made her feel horrible.”

“You think?”

“Oh, come on, Plagg. I don't need that. I know how bad I've been. But that's...pretty persistent of her. If Ladybug has liked Adrien this whole time, and has been fending off Chat for that long because of that...Kind of impressive loyalty, don't you think?”

Plagg smiled softly. “She's a special girl, Adrien. I know, I wouldn't have approved otherwise. I've never had any doubt that it would work out, because of all this. But you really need to focus. I don't know if I can take it anymore otherwise. I'll pull my whiskers out. You've loved Ladybug for two years, and it killed you when she walked away after your confession, but I guess you can't help it. You fell in love with a masked person. But she fell for Adrien and I bet you anything she feels inadequate compared to Ladybug.”

“...You think so?”

“I know so, kid. You like to be Chat because Adrien is in the spotlight all the time. You can hide as Chat, in a way, and do what you want to do. Ladybug can't really hide as easily. She's constantly in the spotlight when she's suited, and I'm going to just tell you right now in case you haven't figured it out – she is not famous as a civilian. And especially looked over now, considering the fact that the one person she likes most confessed to Ladybug when she thinks he's only known her for three days when he's known her for two years.”

“...Oh my God.”

“Now, don't act like it's the end of the world. Besides, I think Alya's right. Just focus on your relationship with her as Chat. Those texts sounded good earlier. You'll be okay.”

“If you say so,” Adrien said, though he was really only convinced because he knew now that Plagg knew who she was. If he said it would be okay, and Alya said it would be okay, and they both knew her, then they definitely knew better than him.

“How did you know to give me that card on Valentine's Day, Plagg?” Adrien asked, rubbing the edges of it.

“I felt it. And it smelled like her.”

“Really?...You know something? This isn't what I was thinking of. The card I mean. I mean, yes, this is her writing of course. And this has been...a great discovery. But when I was thinking that I had seen this writing before...I wasn't thinking of this.”

“Huh,” Plagg replied. “Do you...have a different sample of her writing?”

“I don't...I don't think so. Not besides the little Ladybug she drew on the locker gift.”

Plagg looked around at the pile. “I'm sure you have...something. Maybe you have something else of Ladybug's that you just didn't know was hers.”

“How would I not know if I had something of Ladybug's?”

“Because maybe she's given you something as a civilian and you just didn't realize it was her.”

“...Oh.

He headed back to his desk, searching for anything that could have been given to him by a girl until Plagg tugged on a strand of his hair.

“You made enough progress today, and I'm glad you're finally starting to get somewhere, but you're going to be late for patrol.”

Adrien checked the time, which set his heart racing. The excitement of learning more about Ladybug had made him forget that he was about to see her in person.

“We can look more when we come back, I promise,” Plagg said.

“I thought you didn't care.”

“I don't, but if this helps you stop being an idiot, and if you actually give me a week's worth of cheese to eat on one sitting, then it's worth it. I'm all for that. God, I wish Alya had seen you sooner. I was annoyed with you at first, because I have to admit, that was pretty careless of you. You're lucky it was just Alya, because anyone else could have been dangerous. But apparently, talking with Alya finally got you to open your eyes, so you know what? Good. Great. Alya is my new favorite person. And I'll help you look when we come back. After I eat.”

Adrien patted the kwami's little head before transforming and leaving his room, blood filled with adrenaline.

oOo

Patrol that night was the busiest that they had had in a while. No akumas still, but the criminals in town seemed to be catching on to this. And since akumas had been largely absent during the day, so had Chat Noir and Ladybug. Some criminals were dumb enough to think that they were gone all altogether, rather than realizing that it was not necessary to come out and fight if there was nothing around to fight. The other criminals had likely always been around, but with Hawkemoth in the picture, regular criminals generally ended up as akumas. So really, the fact that there was suddenly so much trouble with civilians was only because there were no akumas to bother them. Overall, it roughly translated to the same amount of work every week.

“I don't like dealing with these kind of criminals so much,” Ladybug admitted after handing off the fifth armed robber that night to the Parisian Police.

“No? Why not?” Chat asked, waving as the police car took the criminal away. “Quicker and easier, don't you think? We haven't used Cataclysm or Lucky Charm all night, and that was our fifth assisted arrest in the last hour and a half.”

Ladybug shrugged. “It's just kind...too real, I guess. Akumas take a lot out of us, and they can be more than a pain, and more dangerous in a lot of cases, but once it's taken care of, everything goes back to how it was. The person we fight never even remembers what they did. It's all...purified, like it never happened. And most of the time, the akumas are after our miraculous. They don't always make other citizens their main target. We're the only two affected that way. It just...makes me nervous, I guess, because the kind of people we helped arrest tonight...they don't need to be akumatized to do what they do. They just...do it. It's kind of like a reminder that people can be bad on their own, without the help of demonic butterfly possession...you know what I mean? Plus, arresting someone and purifying them does not have the same effect. They're still out there. If all of our enemies were akumas, we might not even need a prison. Everything would go back to normal at the end of the day.”

“Yeah...you're right,” Chat said, though he didn't seem to want to accept it. “Makes me wonder though...do you think Hawkemoth is just...akumatized also? By like, an ultimate akuma maybe? Or do you think he was always...the way that he is?”

Ladybug looked off to where the police lights were turning into nothing more than red and blue pinpricks. She didn't seemed to be just as disheartened. “I...I've wondered the same thing. I don't know.”

“I just don't want to think that anyone could be that horrible – that cruel – intrinsically. I hope...I hope if we ever find him, that we can help him. I can't imagine the pain he must have to experience to do the kinds of things he does.”

Ladybug reached out and gently squeezed Chat's arm. “I hope we can help him, too, chaton. Come on, we've circled the city at least a dozen times tonight. I think we've controlled all of the robberies that'll happen tonight, and if not...well, the cops are on alert. They know what's going on, and they can't really expect us to be available all the time. Let's go, I'm looking forward to hearing about this dream of yours.”

Chat nodded, but when he grabbed Ladybug's hand and led the way to a secret rooftop, her breath caught in her throat. The touch of his hand, once benign, was now like a shock of electricity, and the fact that he had dreamt about her and was going to tell her about it on a private rooftop gave her warm feelings all over, even in places she didn't know could get warm. She couldn't exactly explain why the notion of him dreaming about her got her heart racing so violently. After all, they had been best friends for two years. Chat occasionally made his way into Ladybug's dreams for this reason, even if it was just to say hello. However, there was no doubt that the chemistry between them had shifted in the past few days, and evidently, Chat had liked her for even longer. The dream could have been about anything, and following the strange conversation she had had with Sabine that afternoon, Ladybug couldn't help but wonder if it was one of those kinds of dreams, if he dreamed about her like that at all. Then again, he wouldn't need help with a dream like that, or describe that kind of dream to her at all.

Would he?

By the time they were seated on the same rooftop they had fallen asleep on during their last patrol, Ladybug knew she was beet red.

“So, the dream -,” Chat started before noticing Ladybug, looking into the distance with moon-illuminated red cheeks. “Are you...okay?”

“Huh? Oh, I'm fine. I...yeah, I'm perfectly fine! Just thinking is all. Tell me your dream,” she replied, politely setting her hands in her lap.

“Right...well, if you're sure, then...I've had a few dreams about you recently.”

“...Oh?”

“I mean, a recurring kind of dream that features you that are all kind of the same so it feels like you're trying to tell me something. It's not like I've never dreamed about you before, because of course I've dreamed about you before...B-but, not like that! I just, you've been in dreams before, but this one...means something?”

Ladybug giggled now that the mood was settled, glad that she wasn't the only one nervous over the prospect of Chat having a potentially sexual dream about her. At that point, she didn't even care if he did have that kind of a dream about her, now that it had been determined that the kind he had to ask her about was not that kind.

“Go on, Chat,” Ladybug prompted when her giggling had ceased. He was washed with relief upon seeing that he had not made her totally uncomfortable.

“I guess they started after we went to the gala, because sometimes you're dressed...well, as Ladybug, but usually you're in the dress you wore for the gala. I'm not sure that means anything...Actually, it started the time we fell asleep right here. That was the first time I had the dream, was right here on the rooftop. Anyway, we run around the city for a while as we usually do, until we start to play hide-and-seek. And you hide really well. Dream levels of really well. Like you keep...vanishing into thin air. And this lasts for varying lengths of time, but we always end up at the same place and...I'm sure it means something, but I can't figure out what, and I thought...if you kept leading me to the same place, that maybe it's somewhere you know? I know I've seen the place before because it's so familiar, but I just...don't know.”

“Can you describe it, maybe?” It really wasn't the kind of dream she expected, but it did seem like something she could help with.

“Well...it's white and tall. Maybe a shop underneath? Because it's a different color and architecture...kind of. And there's a balcony on top that you can stand on, with some plants...There's no words on shop on the bottom, it's kind of blurred, but I'm sure it's a shop. And you lead me to the balcony every time, but I can never remember how to get there when I'm awake. And any time I ask where we are, you just kind of...look really disappointed in me.”

Of course she looked disappointed. Because if Chat knew that building, then he would know her, and the whole problem was that neither he nor Adrien could figure out who she was. And it wasn't that she was hoping for either boy to guess before the other, but Chat would certainly want to find out first, so of course she kept leading him there and of course she was disappointed that he couldn't figure it out.

“Do you know it, my Lady? Or is it just nonsense that my mind is coming up with?”

Ladybug nodded slowly. She did promise to help after all, and Chat didn't deserve to drive himself crazy because she lied to him about knowing what the place was. Besides, if he was dreaming about it, and he was dreaming about her there, then that meant that somewhere, deep in the recesses of his mind, he already knew who she was.

“Can...can you tell me?”

Ladybug then shook her head no.

“Why not?”

Ladybug muttered her reply so softly that Chat couldn't hear her. She was far away, like she was giving something up, even though she would not say what the place was. He put a hand on her shoulder as a gentle prompt, hoping she might repeat herself a little louder.

“I live there,” she said, still soft, but loud enough and willingly giving up the information.

Chat felt his heart rate pick up exponentially. It didn't matter that she wouldn't say what the place was or even how far it was. He was there. He was so close. Some part of him knew who she was, and with that information and the fact that he was sure the proof of her identity was in his room somewhere, he was comforted. That's all he needed. In his heart, he had already won.

But Ladybug was still quiet, and wouldn't look at him. Acting on an impulse, Chat touched her opposite cheek and turned her to look at him.

“You sure you okay, Bugaboo?”

She provided a small smile and nodded. “Yes, I'm fine.”

“You aren't...disappointed in me for real, are you? Because I can't remember what the place is?”

“No, chaton, I'm not disappointed. I'm not disappointed at all. I'm...happy.”

“...You are?”

“I am. Because you know. I know you know. You have all the pieces. You just have to...put them together. You're seeing me. Despite everything. I'm masked. You've had less to go on than anyone, I guess, and despite all that, you're seeing me.”

Chat felt himself flush – with pride, and surprise, and excitement, and adoration for the girl sitting next to him all at once.

“And...,” his heart pounded considering the next thing he was about to ask. “You aren't disappointed that...your other boy hasn't found you yet?”

Ladybug looked away again. “I'm not sure disappointed is quite right. I'm not anything. I guess, once, I would have wanted him to figure it out most. And I suppose I'm confused at how he's pulled away. But I'm not disappointed. I still care about him. I do. But if you're the one that finds me out first, then there's no way I can be disappointed. I could never be disappointed in you.”

Chat wanted to smile – and maybe he was, he could hardly feel his face – but he almost too surprised to do much else. He certainly couldn't respond. This was close to everything he ever wanted. Ladybug knew Adrien, and she knew Chat, and though she didn't seem to know he was the same person, she accepted and cared for and really liked both of them. And she wasn't disappointed in him as Chat. He had shown her every side of him, every facet, and she didn't reject any part of him. She wasn't disappointed that Adrien wasn't figuring her out (as far as she knew), but he felt that if the roles were flipped, and Chat pulled back while Adrien acted in full force, she would feel the same. Maybe in another circumstance, he might have felt differently, but seeing as he was both boys, he couldn't feel a negative emotion. And it was necessary that he pursue her as Chat. She already liked Adrien. He had to make sure she was okay with Chat as well, and now it seemed that she was. Alya had not been wrong, and he could only hope that he could seal the deal by following through and putting the necessary pieces together.

“I'm really glad we exchanged numbers,” Ladybug continued softly, filling the silence since Chat couldn't find his voice. She was so close. When had she gotten so close to him? “I really like talking to you, chaton.”

Chat swallowed hard. “I...really like it, too.”

She was inches from his face. How had she gotten so close? Was she actually moving closer? Or was it his imagination? The fact that he could see every fleck in her Monterey eyes told him that it wasn't just a trick of the light.

“Please find me, Chat,” she said, barely above a whisper.

“I promise,” he replied, though he was barely able to get out the words before the space was closed between them. He could no longer see the Seine in her eyes, because they were closed, and her lips were, unbelievably, pressed against his. They were as soft as he had dreamed (and he had dreamed, despite his protesting), and she tasted as the smelled – like sugar and hot cinnamon.

She pulled away far sooner than he would have liked, and he couldn't imagine that they had been pressed together for more than five seconds, but it was all for the best, he knew. If she had kissed him for any longer, his heart would have burst, or he would have had a brain aneurysm, or both. Her eyes opened slowly as he brushed his clawed fingertips over his lips, to see if the burning cinnamon still lingered.

“I'm sor -”

“Don't apologize,” Chat cut her off, voice slightly huskier.

“Was...that okay?”

“It was...it was...it was. Do you know...how long I've dreamed of that?”

Ladybug smiled shyly, as though she was only just realizing what it was that she had done. “I thought you said you didn't dream about me like that?”

Chat looked down into his lap. “Well...maybe...I've had one or two kiss dreams before. But that's all!”

Ladybug giggled and patted his hand tenderly just as the ring beneath her's began to beep.

“We're exhausted,” Ladybug admitted as Chat's head dropped in disappointment. “We did a lot of crime fighting tonight.”

Chat looked back up at her. “I'll text you?”

“Of course,” Ladybug agreed, happier than ever to hear those words. He kissed her hand, and though she had just kissed his lips, this gesture seemed to hold the same amount of intimacy. They held eye contact until the absolute last second when they both jumped off the roof in opposite directions.

oOo

Chat's transformation didn't last his whole journey home. Halfway to the mansion, he was Adrien again, mind reeling, because as a civilian, he could still feel the sweetness left on his lips. It was real. It was all real and Ladybug had kissed him and she wasn't disappointed in him and she believed in him and she liked him, both Chat and Adrien, and she wanted him to find her. She really did. And he was so close.

Plagg smirked knowingly but was too tired to say anything, so Adrien slipped the kwami into his pocket, making a mental note to get him a months worth of camembert instead. There was an extra spring in his step remembering all that there was in his room left to go through, but was interrupted by a tap on his arm.

“Adrien,” Plagg yawned, mildly out of it, and holding out a piece of folded paper. “This was in your pocket and it's poking me.”

Adrien took the paper kindly and heard an angel chorus as he glanced over it.

“Can I have my cheese now?”

“You will never run out of cheese again, Plagg,” Adrien said absently, stopped suddenly in his tracks. The paper had his own writing on it, as well as his tiny small drawings of Ladybug, but he was blind to them. All he could see was Ladybug's responses to him all over it – the writing he had been thinking of before, rather than the Valentine. The looping script he had fallen in love with almost as much as he had fallen in love with the girl who had written it.

Alya was right. Ladybug was right. She was close. Extremely close. So close that within the last few days, he had exchanged a note conversation with her in class, not realizing that the freckles he drew on her likeness on the paper were the same freckles on Marinette Dupain-Cheng's nose, sitting right next to him.


 

Chapter Text

Trying hard not to fall on the way home
You were trying to wear me down, down
Kissing up on fences and up on walls
On the way home, I guess it's all working out now
Cuz there's still too long til the weekend,
Too long 'til I drown in your hands
Too long since I've been a fool
- Wild, Troye Sivan

oOo

Before Adrien could even get a full grasp on his feelings, he was crying. He hadn't cried since he had gotten confirmation that he mother wasn't coming back home. But now, tears were flowing freely, and he couldn't even entirely understand why, other than the fact that he was absolutely filled to the brim with emotion.

Plagg emerged again from Adrien's pocket, this time wondering why they weren't moving forward, stopping only when he noticed Adrien's face.

“Hey, I'm getting pretty hungry now, Ad -, Adrien?”

Plagg was suddenly fully awake as he noticed his Chosen's tears. “Are...are you okay? What happened? What was that paper?”

“I've found her, Plagg,” Adrien replied with a smile through his tears.

“You what?”

Adrien handed the note to his kwami who turned it over, back and forth in his hands. The kwami, too, had grown to recognize the pretty script for as much as Adrien studied it, and with his heightened senses that could detect Marinette's bakery-developed sweet scent, he hardly had to read through the content of the note to understand what it was.

“I can't believe it...,” Plagg mumbled. “If I had known you had this, I would have given it to you earlier.”

“You aren't denying it,” Adrien said softly, still crying softly.

“It isn't my place to confirm or deny,” Plagg replied, though his expression was enough. “Why are you crying, though? Are you that upset?”

Adrien shook his head. “I'm not upset at all. I'm happy. So happy. I'm just afraid that I'll wake up at any moment and none of this will be real.”

And he might be afraid of such a thing had he not already convinced himself that Ladybug's kiss was real, too.

“Does this mean no week's supply of cheese, since there's nothing left to go through?” Plagg yawned, still exhausted despite the excitement.

“Plagg, you're perfect. You will never run out of cheese for the rest of your life.”

Plagg grinned with contentment. Overall, his day had been splendid. Not only would Adrien (hopefully) stop being an idiot, but he was set for life in the food department.

“It's Marinette,” Adrien breathed, as though he still didn't believe it. It wouldn't be until she confirmed it herself that it would really be stamped in his mind as a permanent fixture, but for now, there was enough confirmation to keep him content and to stop him from looking further.

Everything made sense. For one, Ladybug's personality in Marinette was undeniably evident. It explained her leadership, resourcefulness, and bravery, and definitely matched up with the way she interacted with him as Chat. And of course Marinette had always acted so strange around him. She liked him. Really liked him.

Marinette likes me. The information was, surprisingly, just as incredible and satisfying as the information that Ladybug liked him had been. And lo and behold, they were one and the same. Based on the tingle and overwhelming joy Adrien felt, though, he realized that had subconsciously been hoping Ladybug was someone like Marinette the whole time. In fact, now that he knew, he couldn't imagine Ladybug being anyone better. The two girls were melding in his mind, and he could now no longer think of one persona without the other. He imagined Ladybug sitting behind him in class and he saw Marinette swinging from a yo-yo, until the only logical thing to do was imagine her as she had been at the gala, both masked and unmasked, and he had never found her so extraordinarily beautiful as he did in that moment. He realized that, had he not met Ladybug when he did, he very likely would have fallen in love with Marinette first, if he had not already been a bit infatuated with her. After all, he had always admired her, from the way she acted in the face of an akuma (which now made extraordinary sense), to the way she stood up to and for classmates, to her work dedication, and he had certainly craved her friendship more than any of his other classmates. Of course, there was the fact that he had been sure she didn't like him, but he found that her “dislike” bothered him more than anyone else's would have.

Adrien suddenly couldn't imagine ever having not known that Ladybug was Marinette and vice versa. He wasn't only happy that he now knew who his Lady was, but because of who she was as well. He wondered if his strange infatuation with how Marinette felt about him stemmed from his feelings for Ladybug, like he was supposed to be with her, or otherwise was naturally drawn to her. After all, they were partners, masked or not. And Marinette already liked him. So maybe that's just the way it was meant to be. It was too perfect. There were four different identities between the two of them, and they all liked each other – it was true even if Marinette didn't know it yet. It was just too perfect. It couldn't have worked better if Ladybug had been anyone else. Ladybug was perfect, Marinette was perfect, and she didn't even have the joy of knowing it yet.

“Hey, Plagg,” Adrien said.

“Hm?” the kwami replied from his pocket.

“I'm in love with Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

There was a pause, and then finally -

“I know, Adrien.”

Saying it out loud, even though Adrien was already completely sure of it in his heart, made everything feel real. When, with his statement, he realized that Marinette had kissed him, along with Ladybug, he nearly collapsed, all feeling leaving his body. Of course, technically, he had loved Marinette just as long and as much as he loved Ladybug, but seeing as she had become twice as beautiful and desirable to him since the kiss that had only just happened (a feat he never would have imagined possible), it was now twice as unbelievable. He ran his fingers, now declawed, over his lips again in his own form of pinching himself awake, but this was all too real.

“Plagg, we're taking a detour home,” Adrien said, taking off on the long route before he could get a word of protest, but with the kwami back asleep, protest never came at all. It took some time, but after jogging his memory, he remembered the way to the Dupain-Cheng bakery. He hadn't been there in quite some time, which he hoped would be a good enough excuse for not remembering the building in his dreams.

He was there in fifteen minutes, and faced with the facade and fragrance of the building, he knew for sure that this was where Ladybug – Marinette – had always led him in his dreams. This was Ladybug's home. That was the balcony to Ladybug's room. Now that he was directly in front of it, Adrien couldn't understand how he didn't remember it, but then again, now that he knew who Ladybug was beyond a shadow of a doubt, he couldn't understand how he had never seen her before, either.

It was late now, but the bakery somehow still seemed to be open. The lights below were still on and he could see Tom Dupain sweeping inside. He swallowed hard. If Ladybug was Marinette, then Tom was Ladybug's father. Well, no time like the present to start getting acquainted.

Walking towards the bakery, he saw the light in Marinette's room switch on, and his heart pounced. She must have just made it in, and he had to admit that he was grateful she beat him there. He wasn't quite ready to see her yet – not when he knew and they were both civilians. That was something he needed more preparation for.

He gingerly opened the door to the bakery and Tom's head shot up immediately in surprise.

“Adrien? I haven't seen you around here in a while. It's late, son.”

“I'm sorry, Monsieur Dupain. Is the bakery closed? I saw the light on and I hoped it might still be open.”

Tom put down his broom and went behind the bakery's counter. “Well, we usually aren't open at this time, but we just got done with a huge catering order and I didn't get around to flipping the sign yet. My fault. It's only fair that I serve you, though to tell you the truth, after that order and a full work day, we don't have much stock left.”

“Do you have any cheese tarts left, by any chance?”

Tom smiled knowingly. “I'll go to the back and see what we have.”

He came back with a tray of assorted treats and laid them on the counter.

“You're in luck, I have plenty of cheese tarts left. And, I brought some surplus pies we had from the order.” He cupped a hand around his mouth to whisper, “Marinette told me that they're your favorite food.” He puffed his his chest out proudly.

“Did she?” Adrien replied, amused. He had never told Marinette that the pies were his favorite – only Ladybug. “Well, she's right. They are. Um, I'll...take all of it. The cheese and the pies.”

“Really? Saves me a lot of clean up trouble. And money. I'm glad I didn't flip the sign, thank you, Adrien. Will that go on your tab?”

“My...what?”

“Your tab. I keep a tab for your father's catering team – he uses us for a lot of events – and I send him a bill at the end of the month generally. I can add this to the tab.”

“Oh. Then, um, yes, please.” It turned out to be rather convenient, since it wasn't until that moment that Adrien realized he didn't have his wallet on him.

“Will that be all, then?” Tom asked, bagging the pastries.

“Yes, thank you, Monsieur Dupain.”

“Any time, Adrien. You know, I was being serious about you not having come around much recently. We'd love to see more of you!”

Adrien smiled. “I think you'll be seeing much more of then.”

“I'll be sure to keep pies stocked up for you,” he replied with a wink, waving him off and returning to his sweeping.

Adrien headed home again for good, bag full of pastries under his arm, which lured Plagg back out of his pocket. He gave the kwami two whole cheese tarts which he devoured before they even reached the mansion.

Once again, Nathalie was at the foot of the staircase, legal pad in hand, and raised an eyebrow at Adrien as he walked in. It wasn't every day that he walked through the front door so late at night. Generally, after patrol, he slipped back through his window, undetected.

“Adrien. You've been out late. You realize that's rather dangerous, don't you?”

“Uh, yeah...sorry, Nat. I just...got a craving. I went down to the bakery.”

“The Dupain-Cheng Bakery?”

“Yeah, that one.”

Then, both of Nathalie's eyebrows went up. “If there aren't enough pastries for you in the kitchens, I can order for them to be better stocked.”

“No, no, that's okay. I like going there. Seeing people.”

“...Right. Well. Next time, please let me know when you'll be stepping out this late. This is rather out of the norm. I wouldn't want your father to be alarmed.”

Right. Very out of the norm. I never step out late at night. Nope. Not me. Adrien who? I would never.

“Speaking of your father...I meant to tell you this afternoon, but you...rushed by me. He's returned from Tibet. However, he is exhausted and worn from his trip, and asked for me to greet you for him.”

“Ah. Right. Well, uh, thanks then. Was his trip good?”

Nathalie readjusted her glasses. “Fine. But I believe he will be going back again. I don't think he got all he wanted out of the trip.”

Adrien shrugged, assumed that's all he was getting out of her. “Alright. Thanks, then. Uh, you want a pie?”

She looked as though she would say no, but her expression softened suddenly. “That would be nice. Thank you, Adrien.”

He smiled and nodded at her, carrying the large bag to his room and closing the door behind him, exhaling in relief. He hadn't thought about the oddity of walking in the front at night, and since his father was home again, he could only be thankful it wasn't Gabriel at the foot of the steps. If that had been the case, the Dupain-Cheng pies might be henceforth banned for life.

Adrien set the bag of pastries down and immediately took out his phone to text Ladybug – Marinette – that he had made it home, taking a small risk in sending a heart as well. It took her some time to get back to him, which was strange since he knew she was home, but he watched his screen until she replied; a singular red heart. It was simple, but it was legitimate and made Adrien's heart race. The fact that she didn't say much more was fine with him. After all, she was the one who had kissed him and she was the one that thought she was juggling two guys. She obviously had a lot to think about. But she was serious enough about him that she could send him a heart, and that was enough for him.

He took the note out of his pocket again and spread it out. He brought over the Valentine and the apology note from his balcony, and even the little ladybug doodle from his gift bag in his locket. He compared the handwriting on all of them, and it was perfectly identical. The script was too personalized for there to be a coincidence. Adrien wondered if she had signed the locker package with a doodle in order to disguise her writing, not remembering she had already left him a note, and not anticipating that they would be exchanging more notes later that afternoon.

“What else do I have that's her's, Plagg?” Adrien asked, not wanting to look away from the writing samples, as they were the most definitive proof of Ladybug's identity. He felt as though turning his head might cause them to disappear and it would no longer be real. Despite the fact that he had only just pieced together that Marinette was Ladybug, he knew for a fact that he was in love with her – it wasn't difficult considering his love for Ladybug and infatuation and interest surrounding his classmate – and he wasn't ready to let go of Marinette yet, if itturned out not to be real.

“I 'unno,” came Plagg's muffled answer. He had already slipped away to help himself to tarts. “You have her container. Her...what's it called?”

“Her Tupperware?”

“Yeah, that! That's Marinette's. You can take it back to her now.”

Adrien reluctantly abandoned his notes and went to his fridge where the container sat, picking it up and running his hands around the smooth edges as though it were an extension of Marinette.

“I can't give it to her,” he said finally.

“What? Why not? I thought the deal was that you'd return it once you found out who she was.”

“That's right. That was the deal for Adrien. But remember, I'm trying to get close to her as Chat? So Chat's the one that found her out. If she thinks Adrien knows who she is, it's just going to confuse her as to which one of us she's going to go for. I just have to tell her I know as Chat, and give her the Tupperware later.”

“...Yeah, you're right,” Plagg said, licking his lips. He took a deep breath before deciding to say more. “You know, Adrien. We do have more from her.”

“What else did Ladybug give me?”

“Well, nothing...I think. But Marinette's given you something else.”

“She...has? I mean, she always is very generous, but I'm still the only one in class she didn't give a birthday gift to.”

Plagg sighed. “Kid. You just found out that she's Ladybug, and that she's been weird around you because she likes you. You really think she got you nothing?”

Adrien looked down. “But...my birthday party. I hardly saw her there. I don't even know if I remember seeing her there at all. And I looked out.”

Of course, that had been his birthday two years prior, but thanks to the events that had transpired, it remained the only birthday party he had ever had at the mansion.

Plagg rolled his eyes. “And what happened at your party, Adrien?” Plagg asked like he were quizzing a Kindergartner.

“Nino got akumatized and Ladybug and I fixed it.”

Plagg raised his eyebrows to signal that Adrien was missing something.

Oh. She was there. And she...got me something?”

Plagg flew to Adrien's armoire and rifled through it until he brought out a length of blue fabric which overwhelmed his tiny body.

“Hate to break it to you, Adrien, but this isn't from your Pops.”

Adrien relieved the kwami of the scarf and ran in through his hands, recalling how pleased he had been to receive something different and new from his father. He had worn it every day that season. It had always seemed strange to him that Gabriel had gotten him such a suddenly personal gift, but he didn't want to think too hard about it. Now, he was all to happy to abandon the notion to accept that this was a gift from Marinette. She hadn't forgotten him at all. In fact, she had given him his favorite gift that year. And the fact that he now knew it had not been his father did not change the fact that it was his favorite.

It was obvious that she had made it, which made it even more special. I bet she made her gala dress, too. She said a friend had made it. She obviously couldn't take the credit. No wonder she looked so happy with the praise. God, she's talented. He ran his fingers over the one ridged part of the scarf that he had gotten so familiar with, finally turning it over to examine it. He had never thought about why the scarf had one ridged part. He always assumed it was a problem with manufacturing, but running his fingers over it had become a kind of calming nervous habit. If Marinette had made the scarf, though, a ridge was likely intentional.

And it turned out not to be a ridge at all. It was her name. The script was cleverly interwoven into the other strands keeping the scarf together, and as it was blue as well, he wouldn't have noticed it had he not been looking for it. But it was definitely there, and slightly raised. She always signs her work.

“You know you can't wear that to school tomorrow,” Plagg said. “For the same reason you can't bring the Tupperware.”

“I know,” Adrien replied with a smile, content to run his fingers over the lettering a few more times. He stepped into his shower and washed away Chat Noir's sweat from patrol, and when he got out of the shower as a clean Adrien, the scarf was still there, and the notes were still laid out side by side and the bag of pastries was still at his desk. He sighed with contentment, and though he knew he couldn't wear the scarf to school out of the blue, he took it to bed with him and traced the letters of Marinette's name with his fingers until he fell asleep.

oOo

Marinette stumbled into her room at her least graceful and it took her several tries to flip her lights on with her shaky hands. The emotion even seemed to have worn Tikki out, as she was dead asleep the moment Marinette transformed, not even alert enough to ask for a cookie.

Though she had somehow gotten a few words in to Chat after she had kissed him, everything after that had been a blur. A shaky blur. Mostly, she couldn't believe she had actually done it. It wasn't like she had planned it. It just...happened. It wasn't like she hadn't thought about it once or twice before, and it had definitely run through her head a few times when Chat had first texted her about a dream, but she thought for sure it would have taken her much longer to muster up the courage to kiss either Chat or Adrien. Of course, she had kissed Chat before, but that was definitely a heat of the moment situation, a cure, and he hadn't even been himself. He didn't remember a thing. So that didn't count. This was a 2nd chance and now she couldn't deny that her first kiss had been with Chat Noir. First, second. It didn't matter. It was all the same. Maybe that was just the way it was supposed to be.

Somehow, she didn't feel guilty that she kissed Chat while she still liked Adrien. She couldn't help that she liked him. It wasn't illegal to to kiss someone, or even date someone, while having a crush on another person. It was a crush. And Chat was doing a far better job than Adrien. Adrien had confessed to her, obscenely early, but that was all. Maybe he was intimidated that she was a real person under the mask. Maybe that's why he seemed to lose interest after she left the note. Maybe that's why he was so vague in his interview, and he only loved a masked person. Maybe only a hero was good enough for Adrien Agreste. That was okay. She had never expected anything different, realistically. Adrien could remain a celebrity crush. Everyone had celebrity crushes and kissed people that were perfectly satisfying, and perfect, and wonderful, and just for them. A celebrity crush was just a crush. No one ever expected to kiss that person. It was just bad luck that Marinette's celebrity crush sat in front of her in class, but she couldn't let that deter her anymore. Besides, Chat was a celebrity, too. She couldn't be too greedy. And he was attractive. And he did like her. Maybe that was what was meant to be all along, too.

When she regained focus and stopped shaking, she whipped her phone out, pausing to listen for awake parents. She could make out her dad's voice speaking to someone male – obviously not her mother – downstairs in the bakery. It was odd that the bakery was still open, but she used it to her advantage and called Alya.

Despite her friend's protests at late night texts, she answered the phone call immediately.

“What happened? Did he kiss you?” Alya asked as she picked up on the first ring.

“...What?”

Alya sighed audibly on the other line. “I told you. If you text me, that tells me that nothing happened that can't wait until morning. If something big happens, you call me. If something huge happens, you FaceTime me. So – did he kiss you?”

“Not...exactly,” Marinette replied, twirling a pigtail.

“Well, what the hell does not exactly mean? Work with me a little!”

“It means...,” Marinette took a deep breath. “It means that I kissed him.”

Marinette could hear Alya hold the phone away from her face so she could squeal – a noise which wasn't muffled in the least by Alya's attempted gesture of courtesy.

“What do you mean you kissed him?

“I mean just that. I kissed him. We talked and I think he's getting close to figuring out who I am and...he was just so close and I do like him a lot and texting is going so well, and...it just felt like the right thing to do.”

“So it's definitely Chat then? That's who you're focused on?”

Marinette shrugged, though Alya couldn't see her. “I mean, I'm not deciding until one of them guesses for sure, but I'm kind of hoping – waiting – for Chat. It's not that I don't want Adrien to find me. I just think waiting for Chat to do so will be more lucrative. And I didn't dislike the kiss. I'd do it again.” She went on to explain all she had just determined about Adrien being a celebrity crush.

“Well,Chat is kind of a celebrity crush, too.”

“Exactly! So I'm lucky as it is.”

“Well...if you're happy, I'm happy,” Alya said. “So you're focused on Chat? What's what you're saying?”

“For now, yes. I think that's the best. If things change, things change. Maybe Chat will never figure out who I am and Adrien will jump into my arms tomorrow, but right now, I don't see that happening. So, for now. I'm focused on Chat.”

“Right...just wanted to make sure. We can talk about it more tomorrow. I'm glad you called me for this one, Mari.”

“I'm glad, too.”

“And I can't make a blog post about this? I can't relieve the shippers?”

Marinette giggled. “No, not yet.”

“Ha, didn't think so. I'll see you tomorrow, then.”

When Marinette hung up the phone, she had a new text from Chat.

From: Chat Noir
I've made it home, My Lady
<3

She smiled at his courtesy, and figured that maybe he would have added the heart regardless of the stage in their relationship. After a moment of thought though, she decided to respond with a heart of her own. She could think of nothing right to say, not over the phone, but thought it would be decent to at least let him know that she didn't regret a thing about the night. With a warmth in her chest and the comfort of feeling no guilt at all, she climbed into her loft to fall asleep.

oOo

Adrien was both annoyed and relieved at his assigned seat the next day at school. On one hand, he wanted to watch Marinette all day, with the new information he had. How did Ladybug act in class, now that he knew she was Ladybug? And he was sure she would be telling Alya about their kiss, because it was Marinette that had kissed him, and Alya did say that she knew who Ladybug was.

On the other hand, it was probably for the best that he couldn't see her, because the class had a tendency to notice who watched who. In fact, the class generally knew when someone had a crush before they did. After all, he was supposed to be holding back as Adrien now, to leave room for Chat, and let the rest fall into place. That couldn't happen if he was getting excited in class, staring at the girl who had kissed him on a roof the night before.

So far, he supposed he had been doing well. Marinette had a crush on Adrien, but had loosened up and liked Chat enough to kiss him. He couldn't even feel offended that she kissed another guy (even if they were both him), because Adrien, admittedly, was bad at finding her. Adrien supposed if he were in her position, he would go for Chat, too. Chat at least looked like he was trying.

Sitting in class was agony, and anytime he heard Marinette shift behind him, or he heard Alya make a muffled sound, he got an itch telling him to turn and look. It was bad enough that he could practically feel Alya's eyes burning a hole in the back of his head. She was in the same position he was now, except that she had the luxury of staring as much as she wanted. The entire class was a test of his endurance, and he could feel himself getting red as he forced himself to stay seated and facing forward. He didn't care. Adrien didn't care. Why should he care about the girl behind him? He never did. She wasn't Ladybug. Nope. Of course not. And he wasn't Chat and she didn't kiss him, so why should he care?

“Hey, man, you doing okay? You look like you're about implode,” Nino whispered to him just before class was about to end.

“Mm, yeah, fine, I just need...bathroom,” he mumbled, guessing that was a good enough excuse that would allow him to slip away quickly as well. Just as he made it to the door of the class, Chloé was on his arm. Normally, he would humor her – it was easier for and on everyone. He had no time for that now. He shrugged her off hard enough to get her to release her grip on him.

“Chlo, if you do not want me to literally explode, back off, please,” he said, trying not to growl and adding the please as a last resort of politeness. She released him with surprising quickness (though that may have had to do with the fact that Nino was sure Adrien would literally explode, and was gently holding on to Chloé's shoulder so that she wouldn't run after him).

He found Alya and Marinette quickly at their usual bench and bee-lined to them. It was nearly impossible not to take Marinette in his arms right there, let alone look at her, but he reigned in his self-control and looked directly at Alya.

“Can I talk to you real quick?” he asked.

Alya looked at him, brows knitting together, looked at Marinette, and back to Adrien, clearly trying to piece something together.

“Sure...,” she said slowly.

“I'm...I'm sorry, I meant alone, actually,” Adrien said. He saw Marinette's eyes narrow – she, of course, had no idea about the last conversation he had had alone with Alya.

“Oh, yeah, of course,” Alya said. “Um, be right back, Mar.”

He led her away, far away enough that Marinette couldn't see or hear them (or Chloé, or Nino, for that matter).

“How can I help you, then?” Alya asked. “Need a hint? Are you going insane?”

“I know who she is,” Adrien said.

“What? You do not. You're just trying to get me to say it. You were clueless yesterday.”

“Yeah, well, I figured it out last night. Not long after she kissed me. Which I know she told you all about. Probably in a phone call. Probably in a fit of panic. And probably again this morning.”

Alya crossed her arms and cocked her head. “And how, pray tell, do you know that?”

“Marinette is Ladybug.”

Alya's eyes got wide and she slowly put her hands over her mouth.

“I'm right, aren't I?” Adrien asked. “You told me if I guessed right, you would tell me.”

Alya let her hands fall away as she nodded slowly. “Yeah...yeah, you're right. Marinette is Ladybug. And you...Adrien Agreste, are Chat Noir. And you know Marinette is Ladybug. And Marinette...knows nothing. And likes both of you. Am I caught up?”

Adrien swallowed. “Y-yeah, that's pretty much where I'm at, too,” he said, and now that it was confirmed by someone who knew for sure, Marinette was practically glowing pink with ladybug print arrows pointing to her. How did no one else see it? Though he supposed now, that's probably what he looked like to Alya, and she was experiencing it two-fold. “So, she really likes both of us, huh?”

“Yeah...but because of the texting and the kiss and, you know, everything, I think she's more hopeful about the Chat side of you.”

“Right, that's what I figured.”

“So don't tell her as Adrien that you know. Because then she'll want to give Adrien a chance and she'll feel guilty about thinking Adrien wasn't trying and about kissing Chat, and...do you see why I was going crazy yesterday?”

“Yeah, I worked that much out,” Adrien said. “I'll tell her as Chat, solidify that relationship, and let her work out the rest. Like you said. Knowing who she is now doesn't change any of that.”

“Good...so how did you figure it out?”

Adrien explained what he considered his own handwriting analysis prowess and how the rest fell into place from there – her fashion skill and her personality and the building, her home, that she kept leading him to.

“Incredible. Well, I'm proud of you, Agreste. If I knew you would have figured it out that soon after me getting to you, I would have followed you a lot sooner.”

“...Why were you following me again, exactly?”

Alya shrugged. “You were acting weird. And both you and Mari were attached to your phones all day. I just wanted to see if you were up to something. It's the reporter in me. I mean now it makes sense.”

“Right...Hey...do you hear that?”

Alya stopped to listen just in time to hear a massive boom somewhere just outside the school.

“Sounds like an akuma to me,” Alya shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess Hawkemoth is off his little vacation. Cover for me – us?”

“I've been doing it anyway,” Alya said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I got you guys...Good job, Adrien.”

He sprinted out of the school courtyard to transform discreetly, trying to pretend to himself that he wasn't excited about the prospect of imaging Marinette take down an akuma.

oOo

“Come on Plagg, finish eating that, we're going out,” Adrien said, brushing his hair despite the fact that it was going to be a mess the minute he transformed.

Why? We worked hard today, and there's no patrol.”

Because we're going to see Marinette.”

Plagg looked up and blinked. “Wait – really?”

“Really really.”

“We're going to see her untransformed?”

“Yup.”

“Then that means Tikki will be there.”

Adrien raised an eyebrow. “Well...yeah, I suppose, but you'll be transformed, and I doubt she'll let her kwami float around when she doesn't know I know.”

Plagg shrugged. “Doesn't matter. I'll know she's there.”

Adrien smiled knowingly and transformed. The route to the bakery was easy now it seemed, and he ran there as though on autopilot. Just as he had done in his dream, he hopped up on to her balcony. Ah, how the tides have turned. He took a deep breath and finally tapped at the window.

She didn't take long to open up the door, which made sense. It wasn't like a knock on a balcony door was common, if she felt at all like he had felt when he heard her fall on his own balcony. Which makes me wonder – if she's Marinette, maybe that wasn't a fall at all.

She stood there, staring at him, at first with full recognition, until her face finally fell to confusion.

“...Chat Noir?”

He bowed deeply. “At your service, Mlle. Dupain Cheng.”

 

Chapter Text

You were so full of yourself
But damn, were you cute, as well
You liked my legs, I liked your moves
Anyone could tell, it ain't hard to deny that...

When it comes to men it's known
That I end up choosing wrong
'Cause I always trip and fall,
the same old rock and repeat and go back
How blind a girl could be
to miss you hide your ring
Thought about everything, I'm so naive
and I should have known that.

- Did It Again, Shakira

oOo

It took Marinette a solid moment to see anything out of the ordinary regarding Chat Noir's sudden presence on her balcony. She had been seeing him much more lately – outside of battle – and the way he was looking at her caused her to forget that she was not dressed as Ladybug and that, following their encounter with the Evillustrator, they did not often meet while she was detransformed. Therefore, Chat's unprompted appearance was entirely unexpected.

“...Chat Noir?”

He bowed to her with near comical flamboyance. “At your service, Mlle. Dupain Cheng.”

Right. So he remembered her name. Apparently his visit wasn't accidental.

“Um...c-can I help you?”

The words felt like cotton in Marinette's mouth. It was even harder now than it had ever been to pretend that she didn't know him as well as she did. It was hard to pretend that she didn't know his secrets, and that she hadn't kissed him. Last time she had seen him, as Marinette, she had been rather sassy with him. She could only hope that he didn't recognize her change in character. Still, there was no way she could consciously control the pound of her heart as she was now faced with her inevitable love interest who now didn't know she was interested in him. She couldn't control her eyes from trailing along his jaw and resting on the lips she had so recently kissed (an action that still plagued at least fifty percent of her thoughts, as she could hardly believe she had actually done it at all), wondering what possibly could have possessed him to come to her bedroom without notice when he had Ladybug in all her spotted, kissable glory.

“Oh, I was just in the neighborhood,” he said, more than casually and examining the long clawed nails of his suit. “Came by to see how you were feline.

Marinette raised her eyebrows, unable to let that slide, regardless of how strange the situation was. “How I was feline?

“...Alright, even I'll admit that that one wasn't good. But yeah, just came to...see. I'm not allowed to come check on old allies now and then?”

“Do you...do this often?” Marinette asked. “Check on old allies, I mean.”

“Well, to be honest, aside from Ladybug, I think you've been the only one to really help me take down an akuma. At least, you've been the only memorable one."

Marinette looked him up and down, still unsure as to what exactly his visit meant. “...Right.”

“Do you mind if I...step in?”

There was no reason he should be there. There was no reason she should let him in. He was in love with Ladybug and Ladybug had returned his affections. Marinette was nothing to him except an old victim of an akuma attack who proved to be useful once or twice upon a time. There was no logical explanation as to why he should land on her balcony at such a late hour and ask to come in. And yet, she trusted him inevitably.

“Sure,” she said slowly, stepping aside to let him inside her room.

He strolled in as though it were the most casual thing in the world, taking in the scenery of her room.

“I have a confession,” he said finally.

“Do you, now?”

“Yeah...You see, my kwami -,” he paused, as though realizing that he should explain what a kwami was. “My kwami, that gives me my power, is partial to cheese. Your – well, your family I should say, sells some rather tasty cheese tarts. I wondered if you might have any extra laying around that I could buy from you.”

Marinette looked at him quizzically. “I'm sure we do, but with all due respect, Chat Noir, I still don't really understand this visit. Why not just come as a civilian and buy some during the day, like a regular Parisian, rather than coming through my bedroom window in the middle of the night?”

“Mm, I could do that, but you see, if I come too often, it would get rather suspicious. And besides, if I did it that way, I couldn't very well see your pretty face, could I?” He winked at her.

“...Chat?”

His behavior was inscrutable. He wanted to check on her – months after they had faced the Evillustrator. And now he wanted cheese tarts, which surely he could buy during store hours. She didn't know who he really was under the mask, but his answers to their question games only ever suggested that he was a normal person. And now he was flirting. He had proved that his flirting with Ladybug had always been genuine, but she had assumed that the kiss they had shared created some level of exclusiveness. To Chat, she was just a baker's daughter – not Ladybug – so why, rationally, was he in her bedroom after hours talking about her pretty face?

“I am serious – I am in the market for cheese tarts. But I did also genuinely want to check on you. And see that face of yours. You are a fascinating person, Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

“I...am?”

“Mm, terribly. Completely mesmerizing...huh. And who is this strapping young fellow?” he asked with a smirk. He had found her pin ups of Adrien's latest photo shoot plastered on her walls. She darkened.

“N-no one. Just...I'm a fan of the designer.”

He laughed, in spite of everything. “Designer? This photo shoot doesn't feature a whole lot of clothing...what designer are you a fan of, exactly? The god that crafted those abs?”

It wasn't so much the subject as it was the person whom was pointing it out. Marinette felt the blush spread though her body. “I don't see how that's any of your business.”

Chat chuckled, leaving the photos, as he crossed his arms. “I'd like to think it's a little bit my business. Or maybe not, you're right.”

Marinette looked him up and down, confused as ever. “Chat, I have to say, I still don't entirely understand why you're here. And why you're critiquing what it is I choose to hang on my walls.”

“I told you. Pretty face.”

“I...don't follow,” Marinette said, feeling a pang of jealousy. Of course, it was Ladybug being jealous of herself, but Chat didn't know that she wasn't two different people. “I was under the impression that you had...Ladybug. I'm just some girl you worked with once.”

“Maybe, maybe...,” Chat said, not addressing his relationship with Ladybug at all. “But I've seen you around Paris a lot. That happens when you're a superhero. And the temptation has grown too strong. I was finally led here, and...I just had to ask.”

“Ask...what?” Marinette felt herself growing more nervous. Suddenly she felt that she didn't know Chat at all. Everything had been perfect. Perfect and lined up. And now, after she had kissed Chat and had Adrien's new pictures on her wall, he was showing up in her bedroom rather uncharacteristically? She had half a mind to smack him and see if he wasn't actually an akuma himself.

“To kiss you.”

She felt her heart drop nearly clear out of her body. Of course. Of course she had given him too much credit. He was just as much a womanizer now than ever. And to think that she actually was going to give him a chance. It was hard to be upset with him – his face and hair and lips, soft and dangerous looking as they were – but here he was, not more than three days after kissing Ladybug, whom he was meant to be in love with, asking to kiss her. On a sick level, it was flattering that he was flirting with her as Marinette, but it was mostly in vain. At that point, she couldn't help but wonder how many other girls he had asked to kiss.

“I...I'm afraid I have to say no,” she said. It was hard – near impossible – as she had wanted to kiss him from the moment she had opened the door to her balcony. Still, he had to be stopped. Painful regret was already starting to pulse through her. It took immense power not to grab her phone right then and there and delete Chat's number from it. And how could she face him again as Ladybug? She couldn't lead him on anymore, and certainly couldn't kiss him again. He seemed to see how many thoughts were sprinting across her face at that moment. He lightly placed his hand on her shoulders.

“No? Well, that's fair, I suppose. I won't push you. But I do have to say, it stings a little. After all, you only just kissed me, and I so willingly and happily kissed you back. Didn't you enjoy that at all? I certainly thought there was some chemistry to it.”

“I...? But when did I...? I never kissed...oh.

Suddenly, all of her jealousy and anger and regret washed away as quickly as it had shown up. Chat wasn't playing her at all. Chat was perfect and wonderful.

Chat had figured her out. Chat Noir knew that she was Ladybug, and he had come to her room to confirm it. To mess with her first, but ultimately confirm what he had already figured out. He did nothing but smile at her.

“You know...?” Marinette asked, only to make sure she was right. “You know who I am?”

“I do, My Lady. But...I think I need to hear it from you. I think that's how this really works. I can't explain it, exactly, but it's like there's...a film. Or a frosted glass window...like, no matter how much proof I have, I can't entirely know that it's you without you confirming. So...?”

“I am Ladybug,” Marinette said without a hint of hesitation. Chat smiled widely at her.

“Glass shattered,” he said. He couldn't stop grinning.

“I have to know how you figured it out,” she said.

He opened his mouth to reply, and then closed it slowly. “I can't, My Lady. I can't without revealing who I am. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but you still want to find out who I am on your own, correct?”

“Correct,” Marinette replied, almost reluctantly. “It's only right.”

“Right...I think I'd prefer you find out on your own, too, then. The point is...you left me just enough evidence that I was able to work it out. And now that I know who you are -,” he took another curious glance around her room, “- I have no doubt that you'll be able to figure out who I am as well.”

“And...you're still here.”

“Of course I am. Why shouldn't I be?”

She shrugged. “I'm just Marinette. I sell cheese tarts. I have a lame pink room and I'm not insanely rich or powerful or...anything. I make clothes in my free time. There's nothing remarkable about me. I'm not a princess, despite what you may have called me once upon a time, or an heiress, or...anything of significance. I can't exactly live up to Ladybug.”

Chat rolled his eyes and smiled. “You're really worried about that? You don't have to live up to Ladybug. You are Ladybug. You are miraculous throughout your very being, transformed or not. You had to be, in order to be chosen. You aren't just Marinette. You're the Marinette. And I'll have you know that your cheese tarts are very convenient. Your pink room is endearing and I adore it and it suits you. You are exactly as you need to be. And I'll have you know that you don't just make clothes in your free time. You make incredible clothes in your free time. Clothes that Heidi Klum herself complimented. Yes, I've worked out that you made your gala dress. Once I knew who you were, that wasn't too difficult. Maybe you could even design that guy some clothes you wear for his next shoot,” Chat laughed, gesturing back to Adrien's spread.

“Jealous, are you?” Marinette asked.

“Are you kitten me? Not at all.”

“Really? Puns at a time like this?”

“Pun time is all the time, My Lady.”

Marientte rolled her eyes. “If you say so...So, you really meant all that?”

“Every word. Cat's honor. I'm being serious. You're fascinating, Marinette. I adored Ladybug. I vowed I would adore whomever was under that mask, because there was no way Ladybug couldn't be anything less than fantastic. And then we met at the gala, which was the closest thing to unmasked that I had ever seen you, and I fell even harder – which I didn't know was possible. And I couldn't get you and that dress out of my mind. I'm sure you've worked it out, but it was here that you kept leading me, in my dreams. I couldn't be any happier. You're...brilliant.”

And that was all she needed. Finally, finally, someone was choosing Marinette. Chat knew Ladybug, but now he knew Marinette, too, and he wasn't leaving. He was praising her. The real her. Not the girl who swung around Paris, but the one that lived in a bakery, and had a pink room, and sewed clothing. He knew both versions of her. He loved both versions of her. Adrien's pictures stared at them, but she couldn't let herself be distracted by them. Chat was wonderful, and he had tried hard, and all odds had been against him, but he had won the race, and he was seemingly happy with everything he was getting. Marinette gave him a sure smile.

“I think...I'm ready to rethink that kiss. I think I might be able to oblige you.”

“Hoped you might say that,” Chat smirked, wrapping his clawed hands around her slight figure, engulfed by a fluffy pink robe, and pulled her towards him. Without a moment of hesitation, his lips were on hers. The initial contact with his lips was cold, sending a chill and goosebumps through Marinette, as Chat had only just been out in the chill air. However, the kiss soon grew warm as blood rushed to both of their faces, and Marinette's cinnamon flavor mixed between them, and Chat slowly and gently slipped his tongue between Marinette's lips. She opened her mouth to welcome him at first, but then jumped and gasped at the deepened contact. Chat pulled away instantly.

“Are you alright? Is this...alright?”

He was slightly out of breath it seemed, and Marinette had to admit that she was as well, with the rush of everything. She thought of how she might have felt, not long ago, if she were to have kissed Adrien and supposed that Chat must feel the same way now, kissing his long time crush. In fact, it must have reached feelings that she could not yet hope to fathom, seeing as he had the added bonus of knowing (and also liking) her true identity. But then, Marinette put Adrien to the back of her mind. After all, Chat was a crush as well. She had called him sexy. And she had admitted it to people. And she felt deeply affected by the kiss in any case.

“I'm – yeah, I'm alright. I just – let's sit?”

She took him by the hand, forgetting that his flesh there wasn't exposed, and led him to her chaise, where he sat almost gingerly.

“Is...is that what I think it is?”

From where he was sitting on the chaise, he could just see the top of Marinette's loft bed.

“N-no. That's...that's nothing.”

“You have a stuffed cat pillow. A cat body pillow.”

Marinette let out a sigh of relief. “Oh. That.”

“What was that sigh? What else is up there?” He craned his next carefully as Marinette winced.

Oh my God. That's...you have the Chat Noir puppet up there? The one from the collection that got us in trouble with the Puppeteer?”

“N-no,” Marinette muttered, though her voice was filled with telltale defeat.

“How many puppets do you have up there?”

“...Just the one.”

Chat couldn't help but smile widely. “You mean to tell me that you have a cat body pillow and the Chat Noir puppet in your bed?” Undoubtedly, he was extremely proud, despite Marinette's obvious embarrassment. “And here I was, worried about Mr. Model over your desk there.”

“Well...you are the one I'm kissing,” Marinette said sheepishly.

Chat smirked. “Not right now, you aren't.”

Marinette paused before shrugging off her heavy robe, leaving her pajamas underneath. “Right,” she said breathlessly, nearing him, her eyelids getting heavy. “I was just...cooling down.”

“Are you better now, Princess?”

“I am,” she breathed, directly on Chat's lips. “But not for long.”

She kissed him gently once again, just before he moved himself away. “And I'm still allowed to call you Princess?”

Marinette leaned back to look in his eyes. “I...I'm not one. You realize that, right?”

“You are to me,” Chat shrugged.

“You mean...like, really? You weren't messing around before?”

“Regardless of how I felt or acted around Ladybug, my chivalry towards Marinette is and always has been genuine. Like I said, you're fascinating to me. That's been true as long as I've known you...Ladybug aside.”

Marinette quirked an eyebrow at him. Of course, her lack of knowledge of his identity only made her more skeptical of the fact that he had any more interest in her as Marinette than he actually did.

“Do I need to kiss you again to convince you?” he asked, searching her face for answers.

Marinette blinked at him. “...Yes?”

Chat smiled and kissed her forehead. “Princess.”

And her nose.

“Princess.”

And her eyes.

“Princess.”

And her jaw.

“Princess.”

And finally kissed her lips again.

He felt her shudder beneath him, his suited arms wrapping around her now disrobed waist. For the sake of comfort and some other surge of ambition in his young male mind, he laid her down gently on the chaise and hovered over her as he deepened his kiss. Fear and confidence mixed in his chest, as well as nerve and gumption, as he gently ran his tongue along her lip, and then against her own tongue. To his almost surprise and immense pleasure, she welcomed the move, albeit demurely. To his further pleasure, he found that she still tasted a dozen times sweeter than her fragrance.

He was afraid of crushing her, he found. Of course, he had never found himself in a position like that over a girl – at least not intentionally – and while she was unsuited, Marinette somehow seemed so much more fragile to him. The bright side, however, was that it was not difficult to get used to the fact that he was hovering over his classmate, all while his own photos watched on. It would probably be more difficult than ever to sit in front of her in class and pretend that he had not been in such a compromising position with her, but he decided the challenge would be worth it – especially whenever she got to the point of figuring out who he really was.

It occurred to him suddenly that he had glossed over a point. He had come to terms long ago that he was in love with Ladybug. He had come to terms recently with the fact that Ladybug was interested in him as Adrien. He had definitely come to terms with the fact that he was in love with Marinette, as well. That had almost been the easiest one, considering everything. But the fact that Marinette liked Adrien was now coming full circle. Of course, she seemed to like Chat just as much now, if not more, which was equally satisfying, but for all the love he felt for both her personas, he now realized that she had similar feelings for both of his – and she didn't even know they were the same person yet. The realization overtook him and he responded to Marinette with further passion, still careful not to crush her.

He moved his head away gently, only to brush strands of hair from her face and stroke her cheek, just on the space where her mask otherwise would have covered. He had taken for granted the fact that he could see her full face now and understand who she was. He had never been close enough to see this many freckles on her cheeks before. He kissed her cheek softly and, though surprised, he turned her face to let him. He wished he had a way to kiss every one of them, but, unsuccessful, he returned to her lips.

He moved his hand to her waist for better leverage over her, all while impressed by her stamina; as he shifted, her lips did not move from his, and he had to admit how flattered he was. The fabric of her tank top, no longer concealed by the fluffy robe, shifted slightly, and his wrist made contact with the bare skin of her hip. Of course, the contact wasn't exactly skin-against-skin, as his entire arm was still securely concealed beneath his suit, but he felt a thrill regardless. It was evident that she felt it as well, as she shuddered unmistakably and her tongue flicked, surprised, across the roof of his mouth, which sent a satisfying chill down his own spine. He supposed she must have been ticklish there, too, as she bucked softly underneath him. The innocent movement, however, excited him almost unbearably.

Chat was unsure how long they had been pressed together, his dark figure over her on the chaise. It felt simultaneously like a full night and one antagonizingly long minute. At the same exact instant, however, they jumped suddenly apart.

Shit,” Marinette muttered quietly.

“What? What is it, what was that?”

“Parents. Ears like dogs. Their bedroom isn't far, and they come and check sometimes...you can't imagine how quiet I have to be coming in from patrol. And how often I get grounded...um, forget about that, you have to go. Now.”

“You get grounded? You parents -,”

“You pick now to discuss my parents? When they're coming right this instant? We have the rest of eternity. Go, Chaton!”

He did as he was told, reluctantly, as Marinette gave him a slight push. He lingered at the balcony, looking back at her.

“Princess...,”

“Chat, you're going to get us both in trouble.”

“I just wanted to say...I'm glad it's you.”

Marinette smiled back at him before shooing him away frantically.

Mon Chou? Marinette?”

She turned quickly, moments after Chat's escape.

“Mama?”

“I heard voices, I just wanted to check on you. It's late.”

“I – yeah. Working. I had Alya on speaker phone for help. Just hung up.”

Sabine looked around the room with her too-clever Mother's eye. Marinette was immediately thankful that she had already had work strewn about the room. Chat had altered nothing.

“Right. Well...get some sleep, Mon Petite. I love you.”

“Love you, too, Mama.”

Marinette let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding as she watched Sabine climb back down through the trap door. She finally climbed up her loft, shyly asking a knowing Tikki to flick the light off, as she squeezed her body pillow and puppet a little tighter.

“Tikki?” Marinette finally whispered into the darkness.

“Yes?”

“He knows.”

“Yes, he does.”

Marinette sighed deeply. “This is...right, isn't it? He loves me, I think. I know he loves Ladybug. But he cares about me, too, obviously. And he knows, and Adrien...well, I don't know.”

“I think the only question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you care about Chat like he cares about you,” Tikki replied without hesitation.

“Well, of course I do,” Marinette said. “I do. I really do. I just wouldn't want it to seem like I'm giving up on Adrien because this is easier or something. I wouldn't want Chat to think that. I would want him to think I'm with him because I truly...I really like him, you know? Not because it's what's convenient for me. I...”

“You love him?”

“...I love him, Tikki. I love Chat. I didn't give up on anything. And I didn't settle. This is just...what happened. It feels weird, almost. I guess because it isn't what I expected. But...it feels right. So...do you think it's right?”

“If you love him, and it is how you say it is, then yes, I think it's right. I know what your intentions are, Marinette. I know you wouldn't give up on anything. We don't always get to choose who we love. And I have full faith that your feelings are genuine. I've seen it first hand.”

“Oh,” Marinette said bashfully. “Sorry you had to witness all that, by the way.”

Tikki shrugged in the dark. “It comes with the job description. I know it's going to happen. I've seen more...There have been married Miraculous couples, you know.”

Marinette blushed deeply, at the consideration that Tikki had witnessed far more than she probably ever wanted to, and at the prospect of marrying her own Chat (now, without even knowing who he was), and most of all, at the idea of doing more with Chat than they had done that night. Not that she was ruling out the option, or against it at all, admittedly. Still, she was only human. An inexperienced, in-love, passionate, teenage human.

“Hey, Tikki?”

“Yes, Marinette?”

“Can I ask you something? I've...been curious for a while.”

“Anything.”

“Do you...do you know who Chat is? I mean, underneath the mask?”

Tikki took a longer pause. “Yes. Yes, I do. I have to know, actually. We have to consent to who our Chosens are, Plagg and I. I mean, Chat's kwami and I.”

“You know Chat's kwami?”

There was unmistakable warmth in Tikki's voice. “Of course. Absolutely. Very well...I miss him, ridiculous as he is. But yes, we need to consent. I know who he is. Plagg has know who you are. We do not reveal what we know to our Chosens, however, so I can say without a doubt that...Chat discovered your identity without Plagg revealing it to him.”

“So you know Chat's identity...and you still think this is right?”

“...I do.”

“And what are the chances that I'll discover his identity?”

“I'd say you have just as good a chance as he had.”

Marinette nodded her head. “Then I'd better get looking.”

 

Chapter Text

Pleased to meet you baby I'm your fool
I'm the patron saint of the cruel
There's a dark room in my soul
When I hear your name baby I lose control...
There's nothing very much
I wouldn't do to catch your eye
And you can't see me now see me now...
I'm no loser but I can't win
I'm the right man in the wrong skin
I could be our holy ghost
But I'll be deaf dumb and blind when you need me most

- Desperate Guy, The Fratellis

oOo

 

Adrien returned home with an elation he didn't know was possible. He wasn't worried about school the next day, or the fact that his father or Nathalie might have noticed he was missing for a time (not that they generally did, but Adrien always maintain a small hope that his father's trips would enlighten him somehow and change his ways). There was nothing on his mind except for the memory of the sensation of Marinette's lips. Marinette's lips. Which were also Ladybug's. Which were Marinette's. One half of his brain couldn't believe that he actually finally knew who Ladybug was, while the other half of his brain couldn't believe his luck. After all, he was supposed to be the unlucky one. And yet, he was somehow blessed with Marinette as his Ladybug.

And she was a good kisser. Not that he had a wide range to compare her skills to, but it certainly felt like everything he had ever dreamed it would – and more. He wondered if she had practiced. But then...who would she have practiced on?

Adrien convinced himself that there was no one before him. Even if there had been – and Marinette had the right to be with who she wanted, when she wanted – he entertained the fantasy that he, Adrien (and Chat), was Marinette (and Ladybug's) one and only. Besides, it was a fantasy Chat had usually entertained anyway. She only made it worse by sealing it with a kiss.

Once upon a time, Adrien had been worried about Ladybug's reaction to his identity. He was famous, yes, but that meant that there was a greater possibility that she had already formed an opinion on him, without knowing who we really was. Of course, he had always been prepared to reveal himself, if she was up for doing the same. The rules had changed now, but the point stood that his identity in Ladybug's eyes had always been an ambiguous future.

It turned out, after all, that she had already formed an opinion on him. That's why Ladybug ever came to his window in the first place. Despite her attitude, there was no doubt that was why his photo shoot pictures were up on her wall as well. And those were his brand new ones, so even if she wasn't on fire for Adrien anymore, as evidenced by her reception of Chat, the coals were still hot. They had to be. It was strange feeling jealous of himself, but it didn't feel quite so bad when he realized she was all the more likely to accept both sides of him. His approach, after all, turned out to be just right. Had he continued his pursuit as Adrien as well, while Marinette had feelings for both sides of him, her decision never would have gotten any easier. He had done things in a very roundabout way, and not at all how he pictured their romantic reveal would go, but he was getting kisses in any case, and he had been awarded with his perfect Ladybug's perfect identity, so he supposed things could have gone worse.

Adrien was welcomed by the familiar host of kittens on his balcony. The most frequent three waited for him – a white, a black, and a calico. Their food had been devoured, and it seemed as though they really were just there to await his arrival. When he thought about it, he realized that Marinette kind of had just as many clues to his identity as he had had to hers. She couldn't have thought it was coincidence that kittens just hung around his balcony. How did she think they got there? Then again, Adrien had to admit that even he wasn't sure how they got there. Plagg's only answer was that the strength of the Black Cat Miraculous was more powerful than he knew and there were still mysteries surrounding it that had not yet been understood or discovered. He could be real serious and cryptic when he chose to be, Plagg could.

Adrien spent the usual amount of time on the balcony, fawning over his involuntary pets. It may have just been his imagination, but it seemed that they sensed his joy and returned it back to him, purring against his legs. In his state of elation, Adrien decided to do something different – and something he, at the moment, couldn't understand why he had never done before. He scooped the tiny kittens up, two on one arm and one on the other, and brought them into his room with him.

“You guys shouldn't have to be outside in the cold,” Adrien said to them, though he was sure they probably wouldn't have stayed on the balcony all night long. He didn't know exactly where it was they went or came from, but they weren't usually still there come morning.

“They're happy you brought them in,” Plagg said. “They consider it an extremely high honor. I think this is what they've been wanting all along. Acceptance or something.”

Adrien quirked an eyebrow at the kwami. “What, you speak cat or something?”

Plagg shrugged. “Well, I'm practically one of them, aren't I? I'm like...their god, probably. Which makes you...like, their demigod. I don't know. I never thought about it.”

“So you've been able to understand them this whole time?”

“Them, other cats...sure.”

“And you can't tell me where they came from or how they get to my balcony? Christ, Plagg, it's been driving me crazy!”

Plagg shrugged again, flitting around in search of leftover tarts.

“Look, just because I understand them doesn't mean I listen. They think you're nice, they like the food, and they're happy to be here. Simple minded things. They haven't exactly relayed anything useful, so I never thought to pass it along. Anyway, you should be lucky I tend not to listen in on things that don't concern me.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“All I'm saying, kid, is that I could be mocking your gross kissing games right now, but since I didn't listen in on them, I can't and I'm not going to. Now, where's the rest of those tarts?”

“Backpack,” Adrien responded simply. “Hurry and eat them and come over here, we need to name these little guys.”

“No, you can' name 'em,” Plagg groaned, mouth already full of crumbly pastry. He swallowed. “Then you get attached, and they get attached, and then they'll really never leave.”

“Maybe I don't want them to leave. I like them, they're cute.”

“You're only saying that because they're tiny and you're in love and your brain is fuzzy.”

“Are you saying they won't be tiny tomorrow, too? Or that I won't be in love tomorrow?”

“No, but...that's not the point.”

“The point is, you don't want them to take my attention away from you.”

Plagg went silent. “...Not true.”

Adrien laughed. “It is too! I can tell by your voice. You're probably needier than all three of them put together...you don't supposed they eat camembert, too, do you?”

“No, they don't,” Plagg said. “Honestly. I'm not just saying that to keep it to myself. The regular cat food is just fine for them.”

“Right...so, what do we name them?” Adrien paused, but as Plagg opened his mouth, Adrien quickly spoke again to stop him. “And we are not naming a kitten Camembert.”

“Why not, Adrien? It's the best word, so it's the best name.”

“What about...Brie? That's a real name, at least. And the cheese it pretty similar to Camembert, too.”

“...I guess. Yeah. Brie. Brie is okay.”

Adrien pet the little white kitten's head – now named Brie – and looked to her companions.

“The Calico one?”

“Gouda?”

“No! No more cheese names.”

“You're so boring, Adrien. Fine. Almond?”

Adrien sighed. “Okay, Almond is kind of cute. At least it's not Gouda. And then the last one?”

Plagg tapped on his chin thoughtfully, apparently too consumed in the naming process to remember that he hadn't wanted to name them at all in the first place.

“...Merlot.”

Merlot?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Brie, Almond, and Merlot? They're cats, not an evening snack!”

“Potato, Potato.”

“Plagg, that's awful!”

“I'm kidding, I'm not going to eat them. That's probably cannibalism. I'm just naming them after things I like. Isn't that nice?”

“I...suppose.”

“Besides, the names are cute on their own, aren't they?”

“Merlot is named after wine.”

“But you used the name. And you like it. Don't you?”

Adrien sighed in defeat. “I do. I like them all.”

“I'm the cat naming champion. This is why I'm the god, and you're the demi-god.”

“If you say so, Plagg,” Adrien agreed, climbing into the bed. The kittens happily pawed at his soft, goose feather duvet, as if they had never been sat on anything softer or more comfortable that the balcony. They settled in a delicate pile on Adrien's torso, and he went to sleep with Plagg on a pillow next to him, happier than he could conceivably remember ever being.

oOo

An all too familiar vision surrounded Adrien. It was sunset, on a rooftop in an ambiguous part of the city – or perhaps he knew exactly where he was and just couldn't notice when faced with the girl in front of him.

Marinette stood before him, entirely herself. She wore her gala dress, whose design was now a permanent fixture in his mind. This time, finally, her mask was gone. The dress suited her even more. Somehow, even though he had no exact proof, Adrien now knew that Marinette's name had to be stitched into the seam of the dress's sleeve. If I had only seen it that night instead. If I had only noticed her work.

“Mari,” he said to her. He had nothing else.

“I don't think you've called me that before.”

“Really? Do you prefer Princess?

She giggled, and as she did, her loose hair tossed around her face, the setting sun giving it a raven-feather sheen. He wondered if there would be a way he could somehow convince her to wear it that way to school. The absence of her mask made the look appear brand new, and now her hair was framing her face in a similar, but more flattering way.

“Mari is fine.”

“You're not running,” Adrien pointed out.

“You're right, I'm not.”

“I guess you don't really have to anymore.”

“You're right. I hope you can find your way to my house on your own now, then?”

Adrien laughed. “Yeah, I think I can manage that. After all, where else am I going to get my pastry supply?”

“I guess you're right,” Marinette smiled. “And are you going to buy my father's pastries with your mask on?”

“What? Of course not, I don't -,” but reaching up, Adrien realized that he was, indeed, wearing his mask. He was just Chat. Wild, anonymous, Chat, surely nothing more than a shadow, even compared to Marinette unsuited.

“Won't you take it off, Chaton?”

“You know I can't,” he replied. “Not now. We've gone too far. It's only fair. I have to know that you see me enough to know who I am, too.”

Marinette smiled. “You're right, of course.”

“You aren't upset?”

“Why would I be upset? It's only fair, like you just said. Hey, do you think my dad's pastries have special powers? They seem to be doing the trick for us anyway.”

“I think Plagg would agree with that,” Adrien laughed. “You know...I think you're really much closer to knowing who I am than I ever was.”

“...Really?”

“I really think so. You kind of...unintentionally left me too much information.”

“And you won't explain that?”

“Can't yet. But really, I think you already know. Deep down. I think you want it too bad to recognize it's the truth.”

Marinette's smile faded for the first time. Her eyebrows furrowed. “How do you know what I want, chaton? What makes you think you know my deepest wishes?”

“I know you better than you realize, Mari. You have it. I believe in you now, more than ever.”

For a moment, he was sure Marinette would run towards him, shouting his real name. Or perhaps run towards him to tear his mask off. In the end, she did neither, and turned around as the sun set, and Adrien woke up.

“The tables have turned, Plagg,” Adrien said groggily, but no less elated. He was careful not to disturb the kittens still settled around him.

“Well, tell them to turn back, Adrien,” Plagg replied with his eyes closed. “I'm still asleep.”

oOo

Marinette woke up partially dazed and almost entirely forgetting that time was not stopped and that she still had school. It wasn't until Tikki started tugging on her hair that she bothered getting up. In the rush of the previous night, she had forgotten to even set her alarm clock. The kwami, it had turned out, was an even more accurate alarm clock anyway.

“Marinette, I know a lot is happening right now, but you still have school.”

“I know,” Marinette replied, rubbing an eye. “Can't I just...stay home sick?”

“Love sickness is not a reason to stay home.”

“I'm not – fine, okay, maybe I'm a little love sick. Regardless of who it's over.”

“Besides, if you don't go to school, how are you ever going to find out who Chat is, too? I thought that's what you wanted to do. You can't do it from your room very well.”

“I guess, but I don't see how school is going to help.”

Tikki raised her eyebrows. “You don't think you can find any hints at school?”

“I...well, where?”

“Chat found you pretty quickly, Marinette. Given the circumstances. He says it's because you unintentionally left him a lot of evidence. What evidence could you have possibly left behind in your Ladybug suit? And when you aren't dressed as Ladybug, you spend most of your time at school. You don't know where Chat could be. You always wanted Adrien to take hints in school. Maybe while you were hoping for that, Chat was picking up all the hints you wanted Adrien to.”

“But that would mean...,”

“That Chat goes to your school? Maybe. In fact, considering the fact that he put all those hints to good use, I'd say it's very likely. Don't think it's out of the question for a superhero to attend your school. You go, after all.”

“I mean, yeah,” Marinette agreed, still hardly believing. “But what are the chances? That we're the same age, even. Let alone have the same school district.”

“The chances are pretty good, actually,” Tikki said.

“How do you figure?”

“Because you and Chat receiving miraculous' was not random. It wasn't a super crazy twist of fate. You two were hand chosen, and your potential compatibility was taken into consideration, too.”

“Chat goes to my school,” Marinette said. It was more of a statement to herself, rather than a question to Tikki. The possibility simply seemed too ridiculous, but Tikki had a point. Marinette had spent so long pretending that Chat didn't exist outside of his suit that the fact that he almost certainly went to school with her was almost harder to comprehend than the fact that she had now kissed him on two separate nights. “Tikki, you know who he is. You aren't just leading me on this thought process to convince me to go to school, right?”

“Well it worked, didn't it?” Tikki giggled. “I'm just kidding. But in all seriousness, it's logical enough that you could have thought of it all on your own if you weren't so stubborn. So I feel no qualms about giving you a nudge in the right direction.”

There was a strange feeling in the pit of Marinette's stomach that reminded her in some ways of how it felt the first few times she became Ladybug. Part of her felt doomed, and wanted to stay curled up under her covers until she turned 30. Another part of her was surging with adrenaline and determination, which mixed into some form of confidence. She had all the power she needed to find Chat and now all she had to do was go dig him out. Like buried treasure. Who would have thought?

She did her morning routine as she always had – after all, it only seemed to have done her favors so far. She washed her face and applied her brown eyeliner and pink lip gloss, but when she reached for her elastics, she stopped herself.

“What's the matter?”

“No pigtails today,” Marinette replied.

“Really? Why not?”

“Well, I've worn my hair in pigtails...forever. Since my mom had to put them in for me. I just got used to it, and it suits me, and it keeps my hair back when I'm working, but...my hair isn't that bothersome. It's not too long, and it's pretty simple and straight. I mean, if Alya can keep her hair down all the time, and it doesn't bother her, I don't see why I can't. Besides, it'll tidy itself up if I transform into Ladybug, won't it?”

“It will,” Tikki replied. “Especially if you want for it to.”

“Well then, maybe it's time for a change. I'm older, anyway. And I liked it when I wore it like this at the gala,” Marinette said, putting the hair half back.

“I think Chat did, too,” Tikki said, cheekily.

“Exactly. So maybe if I wear it like this, and Chat goes to my school, and he knows that I'm Ladybug now, it'll...I don't know, drag him out of hiding.”

“I don't think he's hiding, exactly.”

“You know what I mean.”

Marinette left the house after kissing both her parents and thanking them for their enthusiastic hair compliments. Her mother questioned the sudden change, which Marinette played off coolly, grabbing one a croissant for breakfast.

“What, a girl can't change her hair?” Tom asked Sabine as their daughter sprinted out of the house.

“I just think there's more to it than that,” Sabine explained. “Of course I have no doubt that she likes it and wanted a change. But maybe there's something...more.”

“Something to prove, maybe? A dare?”

“Or someone to impress.”

“I see,” Tom replied, crossing his arms. “I know I'm not the best at noticing the little things, but did you ever wear your hair like that? When we were younger?”

“Like that? Not really. My hair was never quite long enough to do it like that,” Sabine replied. “Or as well behaved.”

“Huh,” Tom replied, unable to shake the feeling that the hairstyle was strikingly familiar, despite the fact that his little girl had worn the same pigtails for nearly as long as he could remember.

oOo

Girl! Your hair!

Marinette skipped over to where Alya was waiting for her.

“What? Is it bad? Too much?”

“No, of course not! I wouldn't have let you go to the gala like that otherwise. But what brought it on? I never thought I'd see the day where you'd let it loose. Not for school, anyway.”

Marinette shrugged. “I don't know. Just a change of pace, I guess.”

Alya tossed the black strands off her friend's shoulder. “Uh-huh, that could be. Or, did it have anything to do with a certain Chat Noir making a detour to your window last night?”

How do you know...?”

“Don't question my methods. Besides, you of all people should know by now that I have eyes everywhere. Ever vigilant.”

“You didn't - ?”

“No, no pictures. Too risky. But don't think I didn't see. So, what happened?”

Immediately, Marinette reddened. “Well, um...y'know. Bedroom stuff.”

Bedroom stuff?” Alya squealed. “Marinette, what happened?

“Oh, my God! No, not that. Not yet, anyway.”

“Not yet? Are you planning that?”

“I...don't know. I mean, I guess not actively yet. But if I was, it would...it would be him.”

“Incredible,” Alya said.

“What?”

“It's just...once, not long ago, you might have said that about Adrien. And now you're saying it about Chat with, I guess, more conviction, but...nothing has changed.”

“What are you talking about? Everything has changed. Who could have seen this coming?”

Alya shrugged, catching herself. “I just mean...for all your crazy antics, Marinette, you're a lot more predictable than you know.”

Marinette gave her friend a confused look, letting the topic go. “Anyway, it was just...kissing.”

“Ooh! Good kissing? Good, long kissing?”

“Yes, and, uh, kinda yes? I mean...as long as you could really hope for. My mom came up and he had to make a quick escape.”

“Well, does this mean you have a boyfriend?”

Marinette swatted Alya's arm. “No, I can't!

“Why not?”

“Well, you know I'm Ladybug, and Chat knows I'm Ladybug, but the world does not, and it's very suspicious if Marinette the Baker's Daughter starts going public with a hero of Paris.”

“I guess. But in closed quarters...can't you?”

“You're really rooting for this, aren't you?”

“I'm really rooting for this. For your sake. And Chat's sake. And also, there's a running bet on the shipping threat of the blog over when Chat and Ladybug will be official. And Nino and I both have big money on it.”

“Okay, one, I can't believe you have bets on us. Well...scratch that, I totally believe it. You two would be the ones to bet.”

“In all fairness, the bet did start before I knew who you two were.”

“Well that's – wait, what did you just say?”

“I said that the bet started before I knew who you two really were.”

“Us two?

Alya's eyes went wide, but she didn't reply.

“Alya. Exactly how well do you know Chat Noir?”

“E-enough to give him a little motivation.”

“Seriously?”

“I...okay, I accidentally, totally on complete accident, may or may not have seen him transform.”

“Ooh, I'm going to kill him.”

“Him? Why him?”

Marinette threw her arms in the air. “Because! How reckless does he have to be to let someone catch him? He's lucky it was you.”

“Well, it only could have been me anyway. Because of my great reporter tactics. I'm the only one who saw you on Adrien's balcony. And I'm the only one who caught Chat on your balcony. But it's only because I was following up on something. I had intended to talk to...you know, the real him. And I was really determined. So I kinda...followed him into a dark alley without him seeing, and...yeah.”

“You...,” Marinette lowered her voice, understanding the scope of the situation. “You fucking know who Chat is. I can't believe you found out before me.”

“Well, I kind of cheated. It's not like I was trying.

“Then that's even worse! I am trying, and I haven't done it yet. And Tikki knows, too. And it's a really sick kind of torture, really sick, because I don't want you guys to tell me -,”

“We wouldn't tell you even if you did want us to, right Tikki?”

“Right,” the muffled kwami said from Marinette's bag.

“I don't want you guys to tell me, and you can't tell me, but you know, and you'll know how close I'm getting or how far, and...it's gunna drive us insane!”

“Honestly, it's already driving me insane. I don't know how Tikki's been able to handle it, because I'm sure she's known the whole time.”

“She has,” Marinette admitted, exasperated. “I can't believe this.”

“I'm surprised I didn't find out sooner, to be honest,” Alya said. “For as much as I follow you around. I think I know you better than you do.”

“I wouldn't be surprised if you do. In any case, I don't have a boyfriend.”

“Even though you sealed it with a few kisses?”

“...We'll have to discuss that. Maybe Ladybug has a boyfriend. But Marinette does not. Don't end the bet just yet.”

“Wouldn't dream of it,” Alya said with a wink, taking Marinette to class by a linked arm. Marinette stuffed the rest of her croissant in mouth, disgruntled over the fact that she felt even more out of the loop than she had before. If this is what Chat and Adrien felt every time someone told them they weren't seeing me well enough, I feel infinitely bad for them. Maybe not so much Adrien, since it apparently didn't seem to get through to him, but Lord.

Adrien walked in with a small, though fashionable, lunch box which he opened to reveal even more tarts. He had not given up on them. And now that Marinette thought about it, he still had her Tupperware. Well, I guess I'm never getting that back. How he can still eat those and be so oblivious otherwise is shocking to me, though.

It was strange having those kinds of feelings towards Adrien, rather than fluttered ones. They weren't feelings of anger. Perhaps disappointment was closer. Disappointment that he didn't find out first, and disappointment that he was eating her tarts while she was sitting right there. It was even stranger having those kinds of feelings following her kissing Chat. Especially because, despite all of her disappointment overall, she wasn't disappointed in Chat. She didn't think she could ever be. Still, her attention was just as focused on Adrien as it had ever been. The feelings were strange and different, and she was still thinking about Chat, but all the same, she was just as fixated on Adrien as ever.

“Hey,” Alya said, stealing a quick look at Adrien. She couldn't help but think he was being quite the smug bastard with his tarts and his gold trimmed lunch box and his knowing everything. He knew Marinette was driving herself crazy right behind him. Here, Marinette was thinking her fizzling crush was a completely ignorant egghead, and he was at least forty steps ahead of her in the game. No one, especially herself, gave the boy enough credit. The model or the superhero. She nudged Marinette with her foot. “Hey. You okay?”

Through Marinette's thought process, she had taken a tight hold of her pencil, and her white knuckled hand was threatening to snap it in half. “Fine.”

“Put the pencil down,” Alya said, laying her hand gently on her friends. “That's a good one.”

And it was. It was pink and velvety and had a fuzzy pink bauble on it. Alya got it for her for her birthday, specifically because the brand was known for making good sketching pencils, and she was not about to see it get broken over Adrien motherfucking Agreste. Especially when nothing actually was wrong.

“I'm just, I don't know. I thought this would be easier,” Marinette said.

“Which part?” Alya whispered. “The search for...you-know-who, or the getting over...him?

“...Both.”

“Of course.”

Finishing off a tart, Alya caught Adrien looking back and eyeing her. She raised an eyebrow at him and he did nothing but wink at her before turning back around. Adrien Motherfucking Agreste.

Oh, fuck me,” Marinette whispered under her breath, so quietly that Alya only barely heard her.

“Buy me dinner first and then we'll talk,” Alya replied.

“No, seriously, akuma is coming.”

“Shit, really?”

“Wait.”

Alya did so, and the classroom shook ever so slightly. Marinette nodded her head towards the window showing the Parisian landscape where an akuma's work was clearly spreading it's way around the city. There were vines and yellow powder engulfing the city, and the akuma itself seemed to be very obviously plant-based. It wasn't long before the entire class was taking notice.

“Well, it was nice when it lasted,” Mlle. Bustier said, referring to Hawkmoth's strange week-long absence. It seemed that it had not gone unnoticed by Chat and Ladybug alone. “Alright, everyone in fire drill positions, you know what to do.”

The school had since adopted the fire drill system as the akuma system as well – out of buildings and away from anything dangerous until the danger blew over. That was, unless the akuma was inside the school. Still, a lot of those involved hardly ended up remembering the attacks anyway. The students were getting jaded as it was and usually, they proceeded and returned to class as if it really was nothing more than a fire drill. The bright side, in Marinette's opinion, was that excuses to get out of class were hardly needed anymore, since everyone was getting out of class together anyway.

“I got you covered, don't worry,” Alya said to Marinette as they filed out. “Go do your thing. And pay attention to what direction Chat comes from!”

Marinette nodded and slipped away – unfortunately too quickly to hear Alya let Adrien know that she had his back, too.

“I am way too good for them,” she said to Nino, who shrugged, and proceed to taunt her over the fact that he had to be way closer to winning the Ladynoir bet than she was.

oOo

After school, Marinette lay in her bed, recovering from the akuma attack. Though her miraculous generally cured all akuma effects, something about the akuma that afternoon had stuck with her. He was plant based – a disgruntled gardener – and he had spread plants and pollen all over the city. According to Tikki, some akuma affects did linger, especially if the effect was more internal than external. Both fortunately and unfortunately, such lingering effects only lingered on herself and Chat. In the end, she had a bad reaction to the pollen and the plants. “And that might have to do with your disposition as a ladybug. Some manufactured plants that are bad for buggies like us.”

“I'm not a real ladybug,” Marinette protested with a sniffle.

“Your miraculous makes parts of your DNA think you are, though.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Unfortunately not. Be glad you aren't Chat at least. Be more careful throwing him into the Seine. He's not so good with water.”

“I'll keep that in mind...”

So Marinette rested, in her tank top and underwear, a mini oscillating fan clipped to her bed's railing, as sweat poured off her forehead and she continued to sniff. The plants had activated stuffed sinuses and some kind of unpleasant fever, and since the akuma attack, she could not cool herself off. It was only out of pure determination that she didn't go home from school. Determination and confusion over the fact that she caught Adrien staring at her constantly throughout the day. Then again, most of her classmates had, thanks to her letting her hair down, which had a very positive reaction, aside from the fact that it hadn't seemed to draw Chat out.

“Tikki, why didn't I feel this sick this morning? I actually could have stayed home.”

Tikki patted Marinette's red forehead in response as her phone went off.

What,” she whined at the tech. “I'm sick, leave me alone.”

From: Chat

Open your balcony window!

“What?” Marinette said groggily. Before she could register the message, there was a knock on the window.

“Oh, you dumb cat,” she muttered, and scurried out of bed, grabbing a blanket at the last second and wrapping it around herself like towel and pushing the window open.

“My Lady, I – are you okay?”

“No. Get in here before someone sees you.”

Chat jumped in without protesting, but looked her up and down.

“What's up with the blanket?”

“I'm not wearing pants,” Marinette replied grumpily.

“O-oh.” Chat did his very best to conceal his surprise and excitement, only because he could tell that he had clearly dropped in on his Lady at a bad time.

“The akuma got to me, that's all.”

Chat's ears drooped. “Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't know that could happen.”

“Yeah, I don't know, something to do with plants and my 'disposition as a ladybug.' Gave me some feverish reaction.”

“That's horrible. Well, really, I just dropped by to see if we were still on for our patrol tomorrow.”

“Of course we're still on! It's always on the same day. Couldn't you have just texted me to ask?”

Chat shrugged. “I could have. But why do that when I can just come see you?” He stroked a gloved hand under her chin.

“I'm so flattered,” she replied, and though it was dripping with sarcasm, she really did mean it genuinely.

“Can I bring you anything?” Chat asked genuinely.

“Soup?”

“Perfect, I can bring soup!”

“No, no, chaton, I'm joking. I don't want you jumping around the city with hot soup. Besides, I live at a bakery. I think I can find some here. Thank you, though. Really.”

“Sorry I bothered you when you're sick. And not wearing pants.”

Marinette pushed him away playfully. It still felt strange that she could stand in front of him like nothing, without her suit on (or anything else for that matter), and him know who she was. But it was...comfortable.

“That's okay, I'm really glad you did. I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Marinette smiled.

“And Mari? I know you're looking, but...please don't come to school tomorrow if you're still feeling badly, okay?”

Marinette felt a pleasant turn in her stomach when he called her by the shorter name. It didn't register until later that he had only further confirmed his presence at her school. “Alright. But you're not making me miss patrol. I can't go that long without seeing my kitty.”

“You're making me blush,” he said. For a moment he looked as though he would kiss her on the lips, but appeared to think better of it and kissed her forehead instead. “Au revoir.”

oOo

Marinette did stay home from school the next day. She was almost tempted to go anyway, despite her promise, but all Sabine had to do was touch a hand to her daughters forehead and she was back in bed. Therefore, by the time patrol rolled around, she was itching to leave the house. She was still a little sniffling and her sinus headache came and went, but her fever was broken and she figured that the best thing to help cure her was the night air as she swung from rooftop to rooftop.

“Feeling better, My Lady?” Chat asked as she met up with him after running around. No major crime was happening, but every corner had to be patrolled now that akuma attacks had started back up.

“Quite a bit, yes.”

“Good, because I wanted to ask you something.”

“Oh? Does it have anything to do with Hawkmoth?”

“Um...no, why?”

“Well, he's back, obviously.”

“...You're right. How long was it?”

“A week. Maybe a little more.”

Chat tapped his chin thoughtfully, putting aside what he really wanted to ask her. “He must have just gone somewhere.”

“You know that that means then, don't you?”

Chat shook his head slowly.

“It means that this is more evidence for Hawkmoth being a real person, like us, instead of just...a really big akuma. I know it's not pleasant to think of Hawkmoth as a miraculous holder like us, because that means that people are really capable of that amount of badness on their own, but...I really do think he's just a person.”

“That's...really sad. How does that change what he do, though?”

“Well, I've been thinking. Today especially, since I stayed home like a good bug. And...well he's always sending akumas after our miraculous', right?”

“Right...”

“And he always hides away. He must find himself vulnerable. So...what if we go to him?

“Are you...are you sure?”

“I mean...I suppose. I don't know if we'll get his miraculous or if we'll stop him or what. But maybe at the very least we can find out who he is, if we run his time out or something. And then our jobs will be easier. Don't you think?”

Chat squeezed Ladybug's hand. “I think if you think it's a good idea, then we should go for it. We can start researching, and if you want, I can come to your place and help when it's safe.”

“Good. Well, now that's out of the way, what did you really want to ask me, kitty?”

He flexed, looking suspiciously like a real cat. “I just thought, since, you know, at least half of us know...half of us...we could have, like...a date.”

“We already had a date, kitty,” she said, tapping his nose, which he wrinkled.

“What, the gala? That doesn't count.”

“It counted then, didn't it?”

“I mean...I guess. But I wanna go on a date with Marinette.”

“But we can't go out somewhere when I'm...looking like myself, and you're looking like...that.”

“Well, that's okay! We can do a night time thing. On a day when we don't have patrol. Or I can come visit. We can...eat.”

“Eat?”

“I'm just thinking about easy date things to do given our situation.”

“And you don't wanna wait for me to find out who you are so we can just make all this official and be easy on ourselves?”

Chat practically purred. “As lovely as that sounds, and it does really sound like the cat's pajamas -”

“Stop.”

“While it does sound meow-varlous -”

“Now you're just making things up.”

“Fine. While it does sound great, and I'm looking forward to that day more than you know, I don't see why we can't have a little fun in the mean time.”

“I'm a little scared of what that means,” Marinette giggled.

“Hey, I'm a totally innocent kitty. Will you at least agree to discuss a date?”

“I will agree to discuss a date.”

“Yes! Thanks,” Chat said with a kiss on her cheek. He returned home with joy in his heart once more to spend a third night with his deliciously named kittens and dream about Marinette who had finally let her hair down.

 

Chapter Text

We should get jerseys cause we make a good team
But yours would look better than mine, cause you're outta my league
And I know that it's so cliche to tell you that everyday
I spend with you is the new best day of my life
If anyone can make me a better person you could
All I gotta say is I must've done something good
I came along one day and you rearranged my life
All I gotta say is I must've done something right
- Something Right, Reliant K

oOo

That weekend proved to be terribly convenient, especially considering the fact that Marinette now had Chat's phone number. Unfortunately, it had turned out that an uncle of her's was ill and needed her parents' help. This did, however, allow Marinette to be home alone once again, as of that Friday afternoon – a generally rare occurrence. She pulled out her phone for a text.

To: Chat

this weekend is a good one for you to come discuss things. My parents aren't home...

He texted back swiftly.

From: Chat

Oooh, meeeeow, Princess! Didn't know you could be so...suggestive ;)

She rolled her eyes. It was always a surprise to her that, even when calling her pet names, and teasing her, and meowing (actually typing out his purrs), he had perfect grammar.

To: Chat

stooopppp, you know what I mean. Just an easy time to visit.

She had a thought and decided to send a second text.

To: Chat

okay, and prob a good time for a date.

From: Chat

Perfect :) Then I'll see you tomorrow? After a little of our own research perhaps?

Marinette sent a text in agreement and sat at her computer. It was in great part her own idea to look for Hawkemoth, but she had no honest idea where to start in looking for him. It was only until recently that she started to truly believe that Hawkemoth could be his own person – a real person. How easy it was to just...imagine and hope that he himself was an akuma to be purified, and that some poor...person, or even just an entity was inside him, waiting to be freed and forget what he had been doing. But that didn't make any logical sense. It was sad. But if Hawkemoth was an akuma himself, would he even have the sense to make more? Or know what he was after without any influence? There had to be a source. Someone had to be cruelor hurt – enough to make akumas and not be one himself.

“Hey, Tikki?”

“Yes?”

The kwami perched on Marinette's shoulder.

“How much are you allowed to say about the miraculous'?”

Tikki sighed. “Well...I can't give away identities. Especially when I don't know who they are...But I suppose I can explain their existence a little, if you have a question.”

“So, Chat and I...we were chosen.”

“Correct, you were hand picked.”

“By...you and Chat's kwami?”

“Oh, no!” Tikki replied, waving her tiny hands to set Marinette right. “No. We do have a say. We can't be given to someone we don't approve of. But...there is a Master. He chooses. And then consults us.”

“Oh! Of course. Master Fu. I completely forgot that I met him when we went to return that book...although to be honest, you can't blame me for forgetting. He did tell me to try to forget him until it was time to meet again. But how did he know to choose me if we had never met prior to that?”

“You had met him, though!” Tikki smiled.

“...I did?”

“Yes, you had to have done so. He can only make judgments in person, after all. He isn't going to pick out of the blue, is he? You must have seen him in passing long enough for him to determine you were worthy, whether you remember the encounter or not.”

“I...suppose you're right. But, how does he choose?”

“He finds the two people that are pure of heart, and selfless, and worthy of the miraculous.”

“Chat is like that?”

“Of course he's like that. Can't you tell?”

Marinette wrung her hands together. “I mean...Yeah, I can. He is kind, and selfless, and...he acts like he's so saucy sometimes, but he really is pure. It's just that..well, he's supposed to go to my school, right? Who is like that and like Chat at the same time?”

Tikki giggled. “You're overthinking it a bit, Marinette.”

“Okay, well...am I really like that? I have to admit, I didn't think too highly of myself around the time I got my earrings.”

“You're full of fire, which is exciting, but you really are one of the sweetest Ladybugs I have ever worked with.”

Marinette smiled and nuzzled the kwami's cheek. “Thank you, Tikki. But, um...well, Chat and I...we don't have the only miraculouses, do we? There are more...right?”

“You're right. There are. The Master himself is a miraculous holder. The Black Cat and Ladybug, as I believe I've told you before, are the strongest – especially together – but there are more. The Master has the Turtle miraculous, but...there are even more.”

“And where are they?”

Tikki's antenna drooped. “I don't really know. I know there are more. But I do not know where they are.”

“H-Hawkemoth...he's a miraculous holder...isn't he?”

Tikki's sorrowful demeanor remained. “He is. And I know it's a horrible thing to think of. I don't want to believe he has a miraculous either, but...he does. I've seen the power before. It's been quite a long time, but the Butterfly miraculous has had other owners, too.”

“You've...seen the power before? A power to...make villains? Play on negative emotions? Tikki...if the Master is responsible for handing out miraculouses, why would he ever give the Butterfly to...anyone?”

“Marinette, you don't understand...the miraculouses – all of them – are pure at the core. The kwamis, my friends that I've been around for centuries, are pure. The Master only chooses the pure to be wielders, and as they are needed. But...accidents happen. They can get lost. Hawkemoth, whomever he may be, has been after your earrings. And Chat's ring. I...can't say why. Only that together, the miraculouses hold...incredible power. Not just power to fight. But a power to perform nothing short of miracles. And he must need it. But imagine if he were to get your earrings. That would be one instance of a miraculous landing somewhere it wasn't supposed to. Somewhere Master didn't choose. Your suspicions are correct, Marinette. Hawkemoth is a real person with a miraculous. He is not a good person, because the miraculous is corrupted. Originally, it was used to create soldiers of good. It fed off of positive emotions. It's previous owner was active...several years ago. But more recently than you would think. And then...it was just...gone. And the current Hawkemoth found it. And I don't know what his intentions are, but I would be concerned, Marinette. With every akuma, he's getting more clever. And I hate to say this, but...the Butterfly miraculous isn't the only one missing right now. It could be anywhere. But I think it's...wise of you to try to find him.”

“You do?”

“I do. You and Chat Noir can wait forever for Hawkemoth to reveal himself, but I don't think he will. That isn't how the Butterfly works. It likes to...stay in its cocoon, to use the proper terminology. It is very brave of you. The situation, of course, is dangerous. But I have faith. And you can fight akumas every day and keep them back, but I do think finding Hawkemoth is the only step to ending this for good.”

Marinette slumped against her hand. “I'd go there right now if I could. The thing is...I still have no idea where to look.”

Tikki stroked a tiny hand against Marinette's loose hair. “I wish I had an idea. But if I had any idea how to track a miraculous...it might not have fallen into bad hands in the first place.”

oOo

“What are you so excited about?” Plagg asked Adrien, who stared smiling at his phone.

“Date with Marinette this weekend.”

Plagg rolled his eyes.

“I think your priority this weekend is Hawkemoth, though, and if you ask me, it's a death sentence.”

“Oh? You don't think it's a good idea?”

Plagg shrugged. “I didn't say that. I think the only way you every can find him is to go after him yourself, because he's not going to come out on his own. Remember the first akuma? He spoke to you, but it was just an illusion of butterflies. He won't show himself. So if you want to find him, and you do need to find him, then it's a good idea. But as far as fighting goes, it is almost certainly a death sentence.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Probably! You've had some pretty damn bad akumas -”

“Plagg!”

“What? It's true! And that's just a portion of his strength. Are you not convinced? Do you think I don't know what I'm talking about?”

“I just...well...no, I know you know what you're talking about. But why wouldn't he just come out himself? If he could be our death sentence, why does he hide like a coward?”

Plagg did not respond.

“Besides,” Adrien continued, “You've been around a while, but this is the first time the Butterfly miraculous has gone rogue...right?”

“Right,” Plagg agreed, warily.

“Then how do you know how he works?”

“Because I've seen a good Butterfly. And they do command soldiers, but not generally from behind. They lead the pack, and they are the best. The soldiers are just for extra force. I don't think Hawkemoth is hiding because he's weak. I think he's doing it because he's intelligent.”

Adrien sighed. “Maybe. And maybe it is a death sentence. But it's the only way to stop him, you know? And only Ladybug and I can do it. That's why we got our powers. It was to stop Hawkemoth. We can take care of akumas, and win one hundred battles, but it's worth nothing if we don't win the war. And this is the only way to win the war. If sacrifices need to be made...well, so be it.”

Plagg's ear drooped. “I've heard it all before, Adrien...”

“What?”

“You're not the first Black Cat that has felt the need to be sacrificial. Not by a long shot.”

“...How many?”

“Too many.”

“And...did they succeed?”

“Many succeeded in their tasks...but many have succeeded in being sacrificed, too.”

Adrien's eyes widened. “I'm...I'm sorry, Plagg. That's horrible. I'm sorry, I didn't know.”

“It's not your fault, kid. It's not something that generally gets discussed. Just remember, I'm here, too. And I'm a part of you, just like I was a part of all the Black Cats before you. And you may be stubborn sometimes, and ridiculous, and completely blind, but...I love you, Adrien. You're one of the best Black Cats I've ever known, and I know I don't show it well. Forgive me for guarding myself. And forgive me for being selfish.”

“You have every right to be...But we can do this, Plagg. I know we can. We just have to find him. We don't have to destroy him instantly.”

“Then I have faith in you. I'm just worried. Hey, uh, Adrien?”

“Hm?”

“What makes you so sure Hawkemoth has a miraculous?”

“Well...doesn't he?”

“Yes...I just wanted to know how you knew.”

Adrien looked out his window. Something in him hoped a divine force would lead his eyes to where Hawkemoth was, but no such thing occurred. “Well, he's after mine and Ladybug's miraculouses, right? How does he know about them if he doesn't have one himself? No one else really seems to. Alya asked Ladybug if she had been bitten by something radioactive. The only other people who mention them are the akumas, and it's only when they're being controlled. And then they forget everything.”

“You make a good point.”

And, that book of my dad's.”

“You mean...?”

“The one I no longer have, yes. But I remember a lot of it. It had information from past Ladybugs and Black Cats, and even the Fox, which I now wish I knew more about...but it had information about the Butterfly, too. I didn't piece it together right away, but that's what it was, wasn't it?”

“You're...right. Um....Adrien?”

“Yeah?”

“Why...um...Why did your dad have that book?”

Adrien shrugged. “I...don't know.”

“You had never seen it before that day we looked in the safe?”

“No, he never mentioned a thing about it...Plagg, you don't think...?”

Plagg scratched at an ear. “I don't think anything, Adrien. But it might be a good idea to look back in the safe.”

Adrien sighed and got up, knowing his father wasn't home. He felt a sick anxiety in his stomach. Hawkemoth was centralized in Paris and was someone who had not yet been akumatized. Of course, a great population of Paris had not yet been akumatized, but...he was one of the ones who had not been. And he had a book about miraculouses. In a safe.

“Plagg, what if -”

He couldn't even bring himself to voice the possibility.

“What if your dad is Hawkemoth?”

Adrien opened his mouth to protest, but couldn't deny that that was his exact concern. Once, in a moment of complete lunacy, he had thought that Chloé was Ladybug and had been quickly proven wrong. He hoped the same would happen in this case, but now, he had more hints. Possible evidence.

“Adrien, I'm not going to pretend that it isn't possible. Ironic...but...it's possible.”

“Plagg, you think he's Hawkemoth, don't you? You're convinced.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You aren't acting like yourself. I can just tell.”

“I...yes. I'm sorry, Adrien. But I do. And...if we go back to the safe, I can tell you more. You know, if he is though, and you confirm it....you have to be careful about how you tell Marinette you know.”

“I wouldn't tell her.”

Plagg's eyebrows furrowed. “Not at all? Why?”

“We don't need to know who he is. Just where he is. I'll tell her enough of what I know to let her figure out where he's hiding – if we're right and can even confirm who he is – and then we can face him, and it won't be a problem.”

“If it's any help, I hope it isn't him, either, kid.”

They timidly walked to the safe together and Plagg slipped in to open it as he had before. Though Gabriel was not home, Adrien felt a sense of paranoia worse than he had felt before.

The safe no longer contained the book, as they knew, but it was still filled with curious objects – objects that they could not notice before because of the book, but that were now overwhelmingly suspicious. Everything seemed suspicious now. Gabriel's absence, his travels, his personality, his presence and disappearance at the Gala. Even the fact that he had a safe in the first place.

“I didn't think hard enough about all of this stuff last time,” Plagg said, rifling through brochures and journals. “But it means something.”

“What are you talking about? It's just...a bunch of information on Tibet. And why wouldn't he have that? He just went after all.”

“Why?”

“I – for work, of course. He travels for work all the time.”

“For fashion. Adrien, I know I act like I don't care, and usually I don't, but that doesn't make me ignorant. When your father travels for work, it's usually for fashion shows. New York, Los Angeles, Milan, Barcelona...but what fashion business is he possibly going to need in the mountains of Tibet?”

“How do you know he went to the mountains?” Adrien asked.

“They're circled on this map,” Plagg explained, nudging a brochure open.

“Okay, fine, maybe it was more unconventional work. What does Tibet mean to you?”

Plagg took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the shelf in the safe. “I had forgotten. It didn't occur to me to be relevant, but than your father went again, and...I know you've noticed, Adrien, I know it. When your father left, the akumas went on vacation. And now he's back and your break is over.”

Adrien exhaled a shaky breath and ran his fingers through his hair. “Okay. Okay, you're right, it...it crossed my mind. But that still doesn't have anything to do with Tibet.”

“Did you know there is a Master? A master of the miraculouses. He has one himself -”

“The Turtle, right,” Adrien finished. “You mentioned it. He chose us.”

“Right, well...he's from Tibet. And he's been Master for...many years. And by many, I mean like, over eighty. And he had to have the position passed down. The previous Master's last position was in Tibet. Sleeping for so long made it hard to remember, but I can recall now. So maybe he was doing miraculous research. That's definitely what it looks like, based on his notes. And the book that was here.”

“Yeah, but...what would my father even want with two miraculouses? I mean, if he already has one...

“Well, the Black Cat and Ladybug miraculouses give you the Ultimate Power.”

“But what does that mean? Like...what even is Ultimate Power, aside from having super powers?”

“Well...,” Plagg thought, “I'm going to be honest – we haven't been combined too many times. Ultimate Power is tempting, but not always necessary, and sometimes it messes too much with the way things are meant to be. Miraculouses, like the name suggests, create miracles. Together, the Black Cat and Ladybug – the power of destruction and creation – preform the ultimate of miracles. Can you think of what that might be?”

Adrien swallowed and looked down. The ultimate of miracle? To him, the greatest miracle was love. He suggested it.

“Love? Think bigger. Love can be achieved without magic. You've found it yourself. Think...impossible. Think true miracles. People who are religious, people staying over night in hospitals...what kinds of miracles do they consider?”

Adrien was beginning to see what he was getting at but...

“Could...could the Ultimate Power bring someone back...from the dead?”

“It could,” Plagg confirmed. “I'm sure among other things, but that's a pretty big one. Does it make any more sense now? Is there anyone your father might want to bring back?”

Adrien couldn't reply, but a lump formed in his throat. He knew. Maybe he had known for a while. But it was beyond obvious now. It was easier to see in his father than it had been to see in Marinette – perhaps because he was so eager to find her that he was afraid of getting his hopes up. There was no hope here – only cold truth, just as there was the day his mother didn't return home. The feeling was the same and he couldn't shake it. He picked up his mother's portrait that sat up inside the safe, careful of the colorful pin resting on it.

“Did she...did she pass?” Plagg asked. It should have been obvious, but Adrien had never actually confirmed her dead. Adrien shook his head.

“I don't know. I really don't. She went on a trip – she did now and then, but I'm not sure why. I assumed business, but then I don't really know what business she would have had...not without my father.”

“Where...where did she go?”

Adrien shut his eyes tight, praying hot tears wouldn't arise. Why didn't he see it before?

“Tibet.”

Plagg was quiet. It was clearly just as obvious to him as well.

“Do you think she was a miraculous wielder?”

“I...don't know. What would she possibly be?” Adrien asked.

“Well,” Plagg started. “It seems a lot like she might have had some connection at this point. She wasn't the Black Cat or the Ladybug. I doubt greatly that she was the Fox, especially after dealing with the fake Fox not too long ago. She's not the Bee, because Master was still in possession of it. She's clearly not the Turtle or Black Cat or Ladybug. That leaves the Butterfly and the Peacock.”

“The Peacock?” Adrien asked. “There's a Peacock?”

“Well...the miraculous has been missing for quite a long time. Like the Butterfly.”

Adrien felt himself flush. The information was overwhelming. Information he didn't want to believe, but there was more evidence for it all than there was a lack thereof.

“Wait...,” he said, and began moving items around in the safe. Most were books and pamphlets – an overwhelming amount about Tibet. But there was one object out of place. Something he had seen before and thought nothing of. Perhaps it was just exceptionally valuable and worthy of being put in the safe, but nothing else in the safe was that valuable. There were countless objects throughout the mansion more valuable than the objects in the safe, and that was what the high security system was for. The objects in the safe were not necessarily there because they were exceptionally valuable and needed protection. They were there to be kept away from other people in the mansion. Workers, Nathalie, himself...He finally found what he was looking for.

“Plagg, have you seen this before?” Adrien asked, holding up a pin. It was jeweled and colored with greens and blues and purples, fanned out in a familiar shape.

“It's familiar,” he yawned, inspecting it.

“What does it look like to you?”

“...A peacock.”

The Peacock?”

“I...think...it might be. Adrien...”

“I know.”

“It's been gone for a long time.”

“We have to leave it here, Plagg.”

“I know, but...Well, I guess if it's in the safe, it'll be okay. But...it answers a lot of questions, Adrien. If that's what it actually is.”

Adrien nodded solemnly and replaced his mother's portrait, and what he was sure was the Peacock miraculous.

The night passed by with excruciating slowness. He had intended to spend the whole day researching, and now it was pointless. He wanted to go back to how things were before. He longed to be clueless and ignorant, before Ladybug ever suggested that try seeking out their enemy. Once or twice he almost wished he didn't have his own miraculous at all. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he would never have met his Lady. Well, that's not true, he decided. She still would have sat behind me in class. He exhaled and wondered if she was worried about him at all. He hadn't texted her all day past that morning which was rare for him. He decided to make up an excuse about being too invested in research, which wouldn't be a total lie.

“Hey, Plagg...if my father is Hawkemoth, where do you think he...y'know...sends akumas from?” Adrien asked as he lay awake in bed. Thought the day had been slow and miserable, he found he was having a hard time getting to sleep.

Plagg yawned into his pillow, returning to his regular, less somber self. “I dunno, are you still on that?”

“Well, yeah,” Adrien said. “That's really what Mari and I are trying to find out. I can't tell her who he is. I shouldn't even know. She needs to figure that out. But we can't go after him if we don't know where he works from. And it can't just be out in the open. I would have seen.”

Plagg shrugged. “I dunno, maybe it's behind a painting.”

“...What?”

“Well, I don't know, Adrien, I'm tired. I just know he likes keeping things behind paintings. He kept stuff about your mother behind a portrait of her. Maybe he works behind the portrait she's absent from.”

“I...oh my God.”

Adrien tossed off his blankets and jumped out of bed.

Adrien, it's almost two in the morning, where are you going?”

Hush.”

The kwami reluctantly followed his Chosen as he slipped quietly out of his room. His father was home and at that time of night, it was very unlikely that he would be lurking around, and Nathalie was not there at all. Though Gabriel's room and office were both far from his own, Adrien took paranoid light steps to the larger-than-life portrait of he and his father. He hated it. Gabriel had commissioned it following the disappearance of his mother and the entire concept of it was depressing. The colors were depressing, and his face was depressing, and the lack of his mother was depressing. Adrien could never understand why his father would want such a painting at all, but if Plagg was right and Gabriel became the Hawkemoth he was immediately following the loss of his mother, then it was the perfect kind of portrait to hide an entire room behind. What was more was that his father knew he hated the portrait. What better way to keep him away from it?

He got close to it – closer than he had ever bothered before – and felt around the edges. It was huge, which only made it even more likely to conceal something. It seemed like a regular portrait, but then, so had the Klimt style portrait of his mother. The left side of the portrait was hardly suspicious, aside from the fact that it was not pressed all the way against the wall. The right side, however, was attached to the wall. Completely. There were cleverly concealed hinges all the way to the top, just as a door might have. Adrien felt his heart sink into his stomach. He needed nothing more. He didn't even bother opening the door – he couldn't possibly bear it. The fact that his father was hiding so much was enough, but that most obvious possibility was that Hawkemoth's lair lay behind the portrait was enough to make him physically ill.

He set aside the fact that his father was more than likely his mortal enemy, and the fact that both of his parents were fairly obviously connected with miraculouses, even before he had ever been involved himself. Maybe that's the real reason I was chosen. I'm a legacy. But that couldn't be true either, he decided. The Butterfly and Peacock had been missing for ages. There was a good chance it was completely unknown that Adrien had miraculousness in his blood before he became Chat Noir at all.

Perhaps the bigger irony was the fact that he had been living with Hawkemoth and had not noticed a thing. Or that Hawkemoth, who so desperately desired his and Ladybug's miraculouses, had Chat Noir directly under his thumb, and hadn't noticed a thing, either. Or perhaps he did, and is only waiting for a moment to strike. Then again, Ladybug has sat behind him in class for the entirety of his high school career, and he hadn't noticed that either. It served him right.

Not for the first time, a horrible thought crossed his mind. A truly horrible thought. Every time he thought it, often involuntarily, guilt pulsed through every vein and bone in his body. He thought it when he was sure his mother's disappearance was Gabriel's fault. He thought it when his father forbid him from going to school. He thought it every time he was sure his father had forgotten his birthday. It was a thought that occurred now and then, and Adrien had always decided it was an impulse, and had always felt immediate remorse, and had always kept it to himself. For the first time, however, when the thought crossed his mind, he felt it strongly enough to speak it out loud.

“I hate my father, Plagg. I think I hate my father.”

The guilt came, but it was different. He felt like a horrible son, but only because he hadn't been able to sort it out sooner. He felt guilty for being so ignorant and letting horrible things happen in his house, unable to do a thing about any of them.

Plagg placed a tiny, sympathetic hand on Adrien's shoulder after they climbed back into bed. Plagg had no concept of fathers. He had no concept of family. But he did have a concept of love, and Adrien, at that moment, was the closest to family he had, and he understood his sadness. He shared a pillow with his Chosen that night, nestled into the warm crook of his neck until morning.

oOo

“Marinette, wake up,” Tikki urged, tugging at her Chosen's loose hair. She rubbed an eye lazily.

“Wha'? We don't have school today, let me sleep.”

“There's an akuma! Right now, we have to go.”

At the word akuma, Marinette shot up in her bed. “What? Already? What's Hawkemoth doing working so early on a Saturday?”

“It's not early! You stayed up way too late researching last night! It's almost 1 pm! Get up, get up!”

She didn't need more convincing after that, though she did steal a glance at her clock to make sure Tikki was telling the truth. She had one text from Chat, which was overwhelmingly simple and only read “Akuma, Come quick.” She asked Tikki to transform her before she had even climbed all the way out of her bed, and was out the door in no time.

“What in the world?

There was snow everywhere, in sporadic patches across the city. The air was still cold, but spring had certainly arrived. Snow was not something that should be making itself present.

“'Afternoon, My Lady,” Chat greeted as they met up. “Nice of you to join me.”

He sounded less than upbeat, and his voice seemed deeper, but then, Ladybug supposed that she wasn't too chipper about dealing with an akuma first thing in the morning either. Before she could greet Chat back, the akuma streaked by on a sheet of ice.

“What is this, Stormy Weather Part Two?” Ladybug asked. “He looks like Jack Frost.”

“That's exactly what he is,” Chat replied sounding exasperated.

“Awesome, just what I need. Snow is my favorite.” As it was, she was not entirely healed following the battle with the gardener akuma, and snow, she knew, was even more miserable to her ladybug genes.

The akuma, thankfully, did not take too much time to get rid of, thanks to the help of a Cataclysm placed on a snow fort, and a (concerningly dangerous) blowtorch Lucky Charm. Still, it was an annoying start to the weekend, and the cold, Ladybug felt, didn't help her recovering body.

“Meet me at my house,” Ladybug whispered to Chat as they waved to Alya's camera. She gave them a wink just before they left, making sure the press couldn't follow their path home.

Marinette was back to her self just as she dove into the room, bit self-conscious as she had never transformed directly in front of Chat before. A thud behind her told her that Chat had landed in behind her, but the sudden flash of light that temporarily soaked her room with green kept her frozen in place.

Don't turn around!” the boy's voice came behind her, though she had already told herself that she wouldn't.

Chat is detransformed behind me. There's a boy without a costume directly behind me.

Though she was no closer to turning around, Marinette's heart pounded in her throat at the thought alone.

“Sorry, um, do you have any...cheese?”

“Cheese?” Marinette asked, distracted by Chat's voice. Was it silly to think he sounded...different? His voice was familiar...so familiar...but it did not sound like Chat. Did she sound different as Marinette? She made a mental note to ask. It wasn't something that had occurred to her before.

“Uh, yeah, sorry, for my kwami.”

Suddenly, a small flash of black flew in front of her face. Before she could even register what it could be, Tikki tackled it.

Plagg!” There was an exuberance in her voice that Marinette was sure she had never heard before. She pulled away from him and Marinette saw instantly that it was a kwami as well. Indeed, it was one she had never seen before, but the situation made it too obvious. Tikki had taken a hold of the little black kwami's hand as they hovered sheepishly before Marinette's face.

“Marinette, this is-”

“I'm Plagg!” he said quickly, and gave her what she supposed was a bow. “Nice to meet you. Do you have any cheese? Specifically camembert so...he can transform back? I'm so tired.”

He yawned, revealing the tiniest sharp teeth, and Tikki continued to watch him like nothing else in the world existed. Marinette wondered when the last time was that they were physically together in their kwami forms. Marinette noticed how much like a little kitten he looked and couldn't help but stroke his head lightly between his ears.

“You are adorable -”

“He is not adorable!” Chat protested behind her, still sounding a little unlike himself, but no less familiar.

“Nice to see someone appreciates me!”

“You must be the sweetest thing. Sure, I have cheese. Follow me. Be right back, Chat.”

Marinette lead Plagg downstairs to feed him, and she could have sworn she had never seen someone look so much like they were in heaven. Geeze, he and Adrien should be friends, she couldn't help but think as he dug through the store of cheese tarts.

Much better.”

“Chat's lucky to have such a sweet kwami, transforming just so he can hang around here.”

Plagg shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. He owes me. Although...seeing Tikki was worth it.”

Marinette decided not to comment, but smiled to herself. The relationship between the two kwamis was clearly deeper and more complicated and personal than she could imagine. Her own relationship with Chat was complicated enough and they had been together through several pairs.

“I guess, uh, wait right here while I go up and transform him.”

Marinette did as she was told until Chat himself opened her trap door and let her up.

“Guess we can't have any of our relationship be easy, can we?”

“Guess not,” Marinette smiled at him. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah, sure, anything.”

“Do you think my voice is different when I'm like this as opposed to when I'm Ladybug?”

Chat pursed his lips to think. “Huh. I mean...yeah...yeah, I guess it is. I mean, they're both your voice, right? They sound the same now, but I guess they are a bit different, too. I mean, I've always been interested in Ladybug, but I had met you as Marinette before. You would think I'd have noticed you had the same voice as someone I loved. But I don't know, I just...didn't. Why?”

“Because right now, when you were detransformed, you just...sounded different. Not like Chat, I mean. I mean, you sounded...like you, I guess. Your voice was familiar. But not like Chat.”

“...How familiar?”

“Well...I can't put it with a face, I guess. But familiar. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Here, I want to show you something before our date.”

Chat smiled widely for the first time since he had been there. “Princess, I thought this was research first, date after. It sounds to me like you're changing priorities.”

Marinette shrugged. “Well...I don't know, I actually stayed up really late doing research last night already. I just wanted to show you my notes, but we have time, you know. Plus, I've been feeling a little...you know, not that great. The last two akumas really got to my ladybug side. I know I was really...gung-ho about the whole 'finding Hawkemoth' thing, and don't worry, I do still want to, especially after as much research as I did yesterday, but...I kind of want to relax today a bit.”

“I'm really glad you said that,” Chat replied, his shoulders visibly relaxing. “I was up really late last night, too. It was...a hard day.”

“I noticed you were a little off today. You okay?”

“You noticed?”

“Of course I noticed. How could I not?”

“I'm...I'll be alright. Just family stuff. It was a stressful day. I'll be fine. I'm with you now.” He smiled at her but she could tell there was something aching behind it. She regretted for a second not turning around earlier to see who he was, only so that she could offer real human sympathy, be really, she hardly could. At it was, she somehow still had a hard time thinking of Chat as a civilian behind his mask. She honestly felt kind of horrible about that, since she of all people would be most likely to sympathize with having two identities. All she was able to do was grab his hand and pat it softly.

“I'm sorry, Chaton. I really am...Come on. I'll show you some notes, and then we can have our date.”

“I'd love that,” he replied, and Marinette pulled him over to her desk. Scattered all over its surface were papers with organized – but colorful – charts, lists, and tables written entirely in gel pen.

“Pretty peppy for the subject matter...,” Chat noted. Marinette shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess you're right. I make all of my charts and lists like this. If they weren't so strict about homework, I'd probably do that in gel pen, too, actually. To be completely honest, serious subject matter is the best reason to make it colorful. I have to keep my mood up.”

Chat smiled genuinely at her. “I like the way you think. So what have you got here?”

“Well, I was on call with Alya nearly all day yesterday because...well, obviously. She probably knows more than the both of us do.”

“You got that right...”

“No, but really! Aside from all this identity hoo-hah,” Marinette said, waving her hand.

“It's only hoo-hah because you're the only one who doesn't know.”

“...Okay, true. But still, all that aside, Alya does have the best view of what goes on. She's at the scene of the crime before we are nearly every time. Think about it! She sees the direction the akumas come from most often. And she writes about them. Chat, we've fought so many akumas at this point, I've honestly started to forget some, or at least their nuances. Alya doesn't. That girl's memory is on point. And the fact that she has write ups about all of them is crazy convenient. Not only that, but she's kept track of all the akumatized victims thus far. Don't forget, she's been trying to figure us and Hawkemoth out the whole time, too. Probably longer than the pair of us have. She's a damn superhero in her own right.”

“So these charts are...?”

“Almost all Alya's findings, with my input. What direction the butterflies she's seen have come from and where they've gone. Who can't be Hawkemoth based on previous akuma attacks. She's figured out Hawkemoth's schedule even. When he takes breaks or goes on vacation. Chat, we should have been doing it the whole time. We only noticed this one week, but Alya has entire time tables. Did you know he almost never attacks on Tuesdays? Think about the days we usually have patrol. They work for us because we're rarely tired because there's a low chance of attack. But she's done it in time slots, too. On Mondays, he only ever attacks between 3 and 4 pm.”

Chat went quiet. Marinette assumed he was absorbing an overwhelming amount of information, but really, he was focused on the fact that his father always met with manufacturers and models and photographers on Tuesdays, and was usually designing or in conference calls on Monday mornings.

“You okay, Chaton?” Marinette asked. “You look ill.”

“I – uh, no, I'm fine. Anxiety...I guess.”

“Oh, right, I'm sorry. Yeah, this is kind of a lot just after having dealt with home stuff. Sorry...you want to just...hang out?”

“I'd love that,” Chat replied, the color in his face returning to its natural, less green hue.

“I'll go get you some water...,” Marinette said and scampered down the stairs. Chat looked around the room for the brief time she was absent, noticing that his magazine spread was still pinned to the wall. He wasn't the sole subject of the wall anymore, though. There were other models and fashion shoots surrounding his own face. Still, a great majority of the designs were still his fathers. He remembered then what a great idol his father actually was to Marinette and how Hawkemoth's identity would have a personal affect on her as well. I guess we'll be perfectly matched in disappointment as well, then. Looking around her desk, he saw just how many colorful charts she actually had – for everything. Her entire life was a metallic rainbow time table. Just before turning his attention back to the trap door where Marinette would re-enter from, he stole a glance at her computer screen, which now featured a nighttime photograph of he and Ladybug on a roof that Alya had snapped and featured on the front page of the Ladyblog for a month. Almost instantly, Chat's anxiety was replaced with warmth.

“Hey, sorry I took so long, I decided to bring you some warm milk, too...”

Chat turned to see Marinette climbing expertly back up through her room holding two glasses. Realizing what he was looking at, he rushed to assist her.

“Milk?” he question, eyeing the glass. He hadn't had a plain glass of milk in what felt like years. Marinette blushed softly.

“Yeah...I don't know, I'm noticing more and more that I'm adopting ladybug features...like my sickness, for example. I just thought that maybe it might be similar for you, like how cats like milk. Um, on that note, sorry for tossing you in the water so many times.”

“What? Oh! No, no, it's fine. Um, if you could avoided it in the future, that would be appreciated, but it's okay. Milk, though...not something I considered. It's purr-fect.”

Marinette flicked his nose softly. “Stop, just because I'm not in the Ladybug outfit doesn't mean I'm any more tolerant of your ridiculous cat lingo. So...I thought we could just...relax and watch something nice? What do you think?”

“Are you suggesting something like...Netflix?”

“Well...yeah, that is kind of what I had in mind.”

A cheeky smile spread over Chat's face. “Let's see...relaxing...and Netflix...Princess, I think the rest of the world refers to that as Netflix and chill. And we all know what that really means.”

She turned bright red. “No, I wasn't referring to that at all! I just...well, what else do you suggest we do? We can't really go outside together like this, and my house isn't the most exciting place in the world.”

“Oh, no, Princess, I wasn't implying we should do something else. I'm just reminding you of the implications of watching Netflix on a date when you're home alone.”

Marinette rolled her eyes, but internally, couldn't deny that she had actually been hoping that the Netflix date might lead to her and Chat getting closer. She had tasted blood and wanted more, God help her. Still, she had to prove a point first. She would find a way to have her cake and eat it, too.

“We can do something else first. Just to prove I'm not...you know, eager for something else to happen.”

“Like what?” Chat taunted.

“Well...we can play a video game...do you like Mecha Strike? I have it set up downstairs already...”

Chat made a strange face, somewhere between a smirk and a wince, but he shrugged. “Sure, if you insist. I love Mecha Strike.”

“Oh, you've played?”

“Of course I've played. Hasn't everyone?”

Marinette led Chat downstairs to her living room as he followed closely behind, still nursing his glass of milk.

“Is it that good?” she asked him. He was practically cradling the glass like a child.

“I'm never drinking anything else ever again.”

She smiled warmly at him as she plugged in the game system, bent in a ridiculous angle over the back of the television set.

“I really adore you, you know that?” Chat asked. “You look kind of amazing doing that.”

Marinette stood straight up and turned to face him, a hand on her hip. Strands of her loose hair stuck to light sweat on her face and between her loose pink tank top and bleach stained cut offs, she couldn't imagine looking like anything more than an exasperated teen moonlighting as an electrician.

“What? Like this?”

“Yeah, exactly. You're...kind of gorgeous like that. You're hair frames your face really nicely, and your face is so natural and flushed and...it's just really pretty. And then you're bent over the TV, and...it's kind of a nice view, honestly, but...you're just beautiful, Marinette. You really are. And this is a very domestic setting and I think I'm getting a little too used to it.”

Marinette blushed deeply as she was reminded again why Chat had “won.” He loved Ladybug, but more importantly he saw her. And loved her. She had never heard herself described like that. Not Marinette. She brushed a loose strand behind her ear.

“Th-thank you, Chaton. Really. I don't know what to say. Um...here.”

She finished hooking the system up and handed Chat a controller. He smiled warmly at her, evidently pleased with her form of being flattered.

Starting the game up triggered a very strange sense of familiarity in Marinette. Chat, unsurprisingly, chose the black cat mech, but Marinette was reminded anyway about how Adrien chose the same – both when she played him as Marinette and when she had played him as Ladybug. Practicing with Adrien the first time had always been what Marinette considered to be their first date, even thought it was really nothing of the sort. It had been the first thing she and Adrien had done together when she visited his room as Ladybug. And now, here she was, playing with Chat Noir at the start of their first date. And it only felt like a third round of the exact same thing happening. Nothing had changed.

Marinette even handed his ass to him multiple times. God, she thought. It's like losing to me at Mecha Strike is the first step to winning me over, what the hell?

“This is just depressing,” Chat mumbled.

“What?”

“I don't know, I used to be good at this game, but recently I've just been...getting destroyed.”

“You're still good! In fact, much better than I expected. I'm kind of a champion at this game. Hidden talent.”

This is your hidden talent? Not the fact that you can become a super hero on command and swing around Paris?”

Marinette giggled and shrugged. “Well, maybe I'm a woman of many talents. Come on, we can watch Netflix now. I'll even let you pick.”

They decided not to watch a movie because that would take too much focus, and though neither of them stated it explicitly, they were both in the mind send to not pay much attention to the television screen. Chat eventually settled on a simple anime that seemed to involve a lot of colors and robots, and thought it was interesting (and amusing to see that Chat was a nerd and already knew most of the words to the first episode), Marinette found that she was far more interested in the crook of Chat's arm. He ran his had up and down her own arm, and she felt as though she were made to fit into him, like a puzzle piece. She didn't feel guilty for anything. She didn't feel guilty about her feelings towards him because she knew they were genuine and not strictly platonic or pitiful. She didn't feel guilty about abandoning Adrien, because while she still had a shallow crush on him, and could admit that he was handsome and kind, it wasn't this. It was a shallow crush and nothing more. Chat was...an experience she had not previously thought possible. Part of her wished he would detransform, just so she could feel the flesh of his thumb running down his arm, but at the same time, the feel of his clawed, gloved hand was thrilling. Before she knew it, she was letting the anime fade into the background, becoming little more than ambient noise.

“So,” Chat whispered huskily. “A little birdie told me that you, Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, think Chat Noir is sexy.”

Marinette jumped slightly, both in surprise at the sound of his voice and what he said. “Who told you that?”

“Mm, I can't reveal my secrets, can I?”

“Well, whoever it was...they were wrong.”

“Oh? You don't think I'm sexy?”

Marinette swallowed her nerves. “No. I don't think you're sexy...I know you are.”

Chat's eyes went wide, obviously not having expected that kind of answer at all, and before she knew it, he surprised Marinette with his lips on hers – the only form of a thanks he could come up with.

More surprising to her, though simultaneously not surprising at all, she didn't retreat, but responded with equal enthusiasm. In theory, she was into the idea of “Netflix and Chill,” but it wasn't until Chat kissed her that she realized how into it she really was.

The kiss was similar to their last – passionate and deep, just as it had been when Chat came to tell her that he knew her identity and loved her just as much, if not more. This time, however, lacked the risk of nearby parents. There was no danger, no time limit, and likely no more akumas for the remainder of the day.

Before she knew entirely what was happening, Marinette realized that she was on her back and Chat was over her. In the back of her mind, she wondered how he was able to do that so often without her knowing how he managed it, but at the forefront of her mind, she wished he would never stop.

His mouth was warm on hers, but still managed to send a chill down her spine when he flicked his tongue over her bottom lip. Marinette wanted to groan in agony at the simple fact that she couldn't possibly make the kiss deeper than it already was, but God, she wanted to. She feared she might bruise Chat's lips with the desperation in which she pushed against them with, but with every push, he only responded more vigorously.

She actually did groan when he bit her lip softly with what seemed to be slightly sharper cat teeth.

Sorry,” he whispered breathily against her darkening lips.

“No...no, no, no, it's...its okay, I didn't mind,” Marinette responding, getting used to the surge of electricity the bite sent through her body. “You can...you can do it again, if you want.”

Chat responded by kissing her softly, but passionately, again, running his teeth across her lip and pressing on it softly. She had no other way of telling him that she liked it other than giving him a soft bite back. She felt him smile against her lips as she trailed down to kiss his jaw and top of his neck. With shaky fingers, she reached for his bell, which she knew was a zipper.

“I-it only works down to the collar bone,” Chat said with a slight tremor in his voice.

“That's okay,” Marinette replied softly, and pulled it down just as far as it would go. She kissed him down his neck until she reached the exposed top of his collarbone. She kissed it gently and gave it tiny lick before sucking, carefully but with intent. She thought she heard a squeak of surprise from Chat, but he only lifted his head to give her better access to the exposed skin.

She pulled away from her handiwork as Chat ran his fingers through her hair, and smiled in approval at the blossoming purple mark at the edge of his collarbone.

“I can give Chat a million kisses if I want to,” she spoke quietly. “But that is a gift for the civilian underneath.”

Chat turned a deep red and swallowed. “H-he'll wear it proudly.”

He returned to her mouth and kissed her gently, but a shaky hand toyed with the loose hem of her tank top. Marinette knew what he was getting at, and with timid enthusiasm, she shifted slightly to prompt him to continue on. He seemed to take the message, because the shaky hand was suddenly under her shirt and caressed her stomach on gentle accident. He bypassed her bralette entirely, and before she knew it, Marinette was adjusting to the fact that Chat Noir's cool, gloved hand was on her bare breast.

Adjusting did not take long at all, and part of her wished it wouldn't leave. With one of her free hands, she reached up her own shirt and pressed against his hand, prompting him to continue down the path he was on. With a ginger pass of his thumb across her nipple, a pleasurable chill ran up her spine.

“Hold on,” Marinette whispered, and immediately Chat retracted his hand. She was pleased it didn't take much to get him to back off if she needed it, but she was really only having him pause to assist him. They both sat back up, and Marinette chocked another one up to swallowing her shyness as she quickly pulled off her tank top and bralette. She had to admit, the sudden chill that came from a lack of clothing (and lack of Chat's hand on her breast) was more shocking than the fact that she was naked from the waist up in front of her partner for the first time. It was as if appearing as Marinette in front of him had left her feeling more naked than anything else ever could, and anything after that was the most natural thing in the world.

Chat, on the other hand, looked ready to faint.

Cat got your tongue, Chaton?” Marinette teased, reveling in newfound power.

“I...you're...you're perfect.

He didn't allow her a chance to respond as he was back on top of her in no time at all, mouth on hers with a second wing of enthusiasm. His tongue flicked across hers again, like a lick of fire that was gone too soon, because just as suddenly as he had pressed against her lips, he had moved lower, and his lips were on her throat, and then just between her collarbones, and then to her breast bone. From there, he peppered what seemed to be one hundred more kisses across her chest, as if his lips were creating more freckles on the surface of her pale body. His hand found a breast again, though it was more confident this time, and when his thumb stroked her left nipple again, it was at the same time his tongue ran across the right. Marinette jumped slightly in surprise delight, and gave Chat reassurance with a stroke through his messy hair.

He remained in that position for what seemed like several blissful hours, occasionally switching his hand and mouth. He kissed at her chest with just as much enthusiasm as he kissed at her mouth, and Marinette was glad for how her clothing covered her, because when Chat was done with his work, he had left four dark violet love bites on her porcelain breasts. It surprised Marinette how much she enjoyed them being there – the idea of her kitten marking her as his territory. Something about it, the animalism of it, thrilled her.

He finally returned to her mouth, and she found she missed kissing him back more than she was willing to admit out loud. The thought crossed her mind that the kisses were rather tame in comparison to what he had just been doing, but she snatched the thought back as Chat's clawed fingers ran along the waistline of her shorts.

The new territory made his hands shake again, and the activity was catching up with Marinette as she felt her heart pounding suddenly against her chest. Still, she had an even more overwhelming desire to allow Chat to continue, and informed him by lifting her hips slightly.

Chat pulled away from kissing Marinette for a moment to look her in the eyes and lift his eyebrows, as if asking for extra permission. She nodded shyly but confidently, and Chat carefully lowered himself back down to her, kissing her cheek, the corner of her mouth, and finally her lips, just as his fingers dipped below her waist band.

Chat's initial stroke between her legs alone nearly drover Marinette mad with ecstasy, and she could not honestly decide what was the greater cause: the fact that this was the first time someone other than herself had touched her there, or the fact that Chat was touching her there and she wanted nothing more than for him to continue, or the fact that his hand was gloved and clawed and there was something she really liked about that. She barely had time to get her brain to work like enough to decide that the answer was “all three” before he stroked a second time, and she couldn't help from gasping.

“You okay?” Chat asked nervously, clearly sorting through his own Rolodex of emotions.

“I'm good, please, keep going,” Marinette pleaded.

“You sure, I don't want to hurt you...”

“Please, keep going,” she repeated. “You won't hurt me. Please...”

He accepted her answer and stroked again with two fingers, which caused Marinette to physically shiver beneath him.

It was obvious Chat wasn't going to do much more than stroke, if only to avoid the risk of hurting her with his claws, but Marinette responded to the full attention to her clitoris with such eager enthusiasm, that it really made no difference. She had never known before then how wet you could really get down there – and even more so when it was for a specific person. Chat's two fingers alone were better than any fantasy she had imagined previously, and they slid across her sensitive, slick skin as though they were made for nothing else but to bring her pleasure.

As the initial shock melted away, Chat found a stroking rhythm, rubbing his fingers back and forth in time with Marinette's heavy breathing, which quickly evolved into something more like a pant. She needed to find a better way to express her enthusiasm, or at least release the ecstasy building in her. Without realizing, she already had one hand tangled in Chat's hair as the other clawed into his shoulder – something that didn't seem to hurt him with his suit on. He smiled at her mischievously, and before she could brace herself, his strokes came faster, like stormy waves, and Marinette had no choice but to respond by bucking her hips. The action only caused Chat's fingers to press harder against her, and she was eager to buck again – this time of her own accord.

“I've never seen you so beautiful,” Chat breathed out. Marinette could no longer tell if it was Chat's fingers crashing into her like waves or her own pulses of pleasure. She flushed across her bare chest as she arched her back. She gasped as she reached her climax with Chat's final stroke, and he bent down to kiss the tops of her breasts again. Their heart beats pounded together, syncing up with one others, as well as an all-too-familiar dreadful, steady beeping.

 

Chapter Text

We've come too far to give up who we are
So let's raise the bar and our cups to the stars
She's up all night 'til the sun
I'm up all night to get some
She's up all night for good fun
I'm up all night to get lucky

- Lucky, Daft Punk

oOo

At the first sign of beeping, Marinette kicked Chat off of her. He tumbled and fell to the floor.

“Mm, Princess, I hope it was good,” he said, blushing. “But next time, be careful about your enthusiasm.”

“You... dumb cat! You're going to detransform!”

Chat sighed, part of him almost hoping in vain that she'd be okay with that and just let it happen. Of course, he wouldn't have wanted it to happen that way, either. But how simple it would be.The harrowing beeping persisted, and despite Marinette's panicking, he took his time looking around the room.

“Here!” he shouted, tossing her a scarf off the hat rack.

“...What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Tie it around your eyes!”

“Chat, are you joking?

“Of course not. Quick, the beeping is getting faster!”

For lack of a better idea, Marinette did as she was told.

“There,” Adrien said as he released his transformation. “Um, you still aren't wearing a shirt.”

“I know that!” Marinette snapped, but her body turned red and she instinctively slapped an arm over her bare breasts.

“It's okay, Plagg didn't look. He said he doesn't want to be involved in our human perversions. He went to find Tikki.”

“I wasn't worried about Plagg. You're the one still standing there!”

He laughed, and Marinette noted that, while still familiar, he sounded a bit different from Chat again. She still loved it – loved him – deep in her soul, but she could not deny that it was different. It was, undoubtedly, the boy underneath without the dark facade to hide under.

“My...lips have been there. I'd think we'd have turned off the shyness by now.”

“It's different,” Marinette whined. “That was Chat. He's...a sinner. This is...you.”

“That's not fair! You're also you! You haven't been Ladybug this whole time.”

“But I am Ladybug! We're the same.”

“And so how am I not the same as Chat?”

Marinette went quiet. “I...I don't know. It doesn't matter! I don't know who you are. It's like being naked in front of a stranger.”

Meowch, Princess, that wounds me.”

“No. No, you aren't allowed to do cat puns when you aren't Chat,” Marinette

“It's exactly the same. I'm exactly the same as Chat. You are Mari and Ladybug, and that's always what you wanted me to see, right? And I'm Chat...and myself always. So...are you okay with the scarf until Plagg recharges?”

“I suppose so,” Marinette replied, allowing herself to smile. She felt Chat – or, whoever he was without his suit on – sit next to her, and she slowly lowered her arms from her chest. He was right, after all. He had just been very close to her chest. And he wasn't a stranger. And somehow, being blindfolded made her feel more invisible anyway. It was just the concept that there was just a boy sitting next to her. If someone were to look in, aside from seeing her half naked, they would just see two teenagers. No superheros at all. The boy had just given her a kind of ecstasy she truthfully had never experienced before, and she wanted more, and she didn't even know what he looked like really. She didn't even know what he was wearing, and he had been there all day.

She suddenly felt his hand on her bare shoulder and she jumped, not out of fear, but surprise that his hands were bare, too. Marinette had almost entirely forgotten that he wouldn't have gloves or claws and suddenly, there was a whole new layer of closeness and intimacy. It only gave her more to be scared and excited about. His hand ran down her shoulder and across her collar bone. She could feel his hand shaking, as if, despite their conversation, he was more nervous after transforming anyway. The shaky hand dropped past her collar and ran down the side of her breast, sending a chill up her spine. Whether he was the same as Chat or not, his detransformation and the scarf had put a speed bump in their momentum and they were suddenly back to square one. A jittery, cautious, nervous square one – not that either of them wanted to slow down even more. It was a slower passion, but the passion was definitely still present.

“Something on your mind, Princess?” he asked. His voice had calmed and, again, even if he was still Chat, he had definitely lost some of his sass and swagger. His voice was soft, but she was starting to realize that they really weren't two different people. She was lucky enough to have all of it in one person. Unfortunately, if Chat outside of his suit sounded just a little different to her ears, it only made him that much harder to find. A boy whom she loved as much as Chat and sounded kind of like Chat...but not, and looked kind of like Chat...but not. Were his real eyes even green? His suit affected his eyes in a way hers didn't. She had even more sympathy for him. Honestly, where were you even supposed to begin? Finding Hawkemoth was its own nearly impossible struggle, but Chat was still unknown to her, too. And Alya did know who he was, as did Tikki, and she wasn't getting any good hints at all.

“I...well, yeah, I guess. I was just thinking that you were right. You are the same. But it's hitting me again that I don't really know who you are. I mean...I do. I obviously know your personality by now, and I trust you and everything, but I don't know...I don't even know what you're wearing right now.”

He laughed softly, a trace of the nerves still there. “Well, I could take a tip from your book and wear nothing at all...”

“Oh, hush,” Marinette said, but smiled back, her nerves melting back away as well.

“I know what you mean. Figuring out that you were Marinette made this easier in some ways, but the tables are definitely turned now. You...you wanna slow down, then? Until you find out who I am?”

“No!” Marinette exclaimed, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. “I mean...no. Honestly, I don't think it'll change that much. No, I mean, it will, because...well, I won't be blindfolded for one thing, and we can go on proper dates and everything, but like, I won't want to date you, or do this kind of thing, any more or less than I do now. I'm going to love who you are under your mask just as equally. You know how that feels, and I'm serious. I can already tell by how you're acting now, and how you sound. I know you'll tell me again that you're the same, but there is something a little different about you unsuited. Even based on how you acted at the gala. Remember we were unsuited then?”

“Yeah,” Adrien replied, nearly forgetting that had been the case. “Yeah, I guess you were a little different, too. I assumed it was just nerves, but Ladybug is at the center of attention most of the time, so why should it have been any different?”

“Do you really think the suits change us, Chat?” Marinette asked.

“I don't know,” Adrien replied. “Not entirely. I promise, I never say or do anything as Chat that I regret or wouldn't do as myself. Maybe I have a little more confidence because that's how it was when I first put on the suit. I can be free and do what I want and act how I want and...I guess it was a chance for the world to have a new first impression of me. I'm myself in the suit and I'm myself out of the suit. The suit just gives me a chance to explore other sides of me. Not different sides. Just other ones. But, still...I guess things happen that make me feel like it's a little different, you know? I have more confidence in general. I remember the first time I flipped off a building and landed on my feet. Would I have ever done that unsuited? Hell no. I didn't even know for sure I'd land on my feet with the suit on. I just...felt it. That kind of confidence.”

Marinette nodded. She noticed that, during the conversation, she had started to physically lean on her partner. She was now unbelievably comfortable. More comfortable than she had been all day, perhaps, both in her position and in her state of being. Chat's arm was around her, and she couldn't recall when in the conversation that had happened, but his bare thumb was making circles on her bare back, and even though she was blinded – literally blinded – it was right.

“I get that bit,” Marinette said. “I was terrified, and I mean terrified, when I first got the job...You wanna know something? Something I haven't told anyone?”

“You mean other than the fact that you're a Parisian heroine?”

“That doesn't count. I never told you I was, really.”

“Fine, yes, tell me. Actually, it's kind of a huge honor you want to tell me something you've never told anyone else.”

“So...Okay, when we first got our miraculous, like I said, I was terrified. I didn't want mine. I didn't think I could do it. I thought there was a mistake.”

“You weren't even a little excited?”

Marinette shrugged. “I don't know. I was just thinking about being scared and how much responsibility there was.”

“Of course you were.”

So, I tried pawning my earrings off on Alya.”

“You did what? I thought Alya didn't know who you were until recently.”

“Oh, she didn't! I just stuck the earrings in her bag. She was so excited about the whole super heroine thing, I thought she'd really...you know, take up the mantle. I ended up taking them back though, of course. And even though I was scared and didn't necessarily believe in Marinette, I still had faith in Ladybug. I'd never done it before, but I had faith that my yo-yo would go exactly where I wanted it to. I had faith that I'd know what to do with my Lucky Charm. Inherently, it is still us, but I've been thinking...I don't know, I think we also have a little bit of all the past Ladybugs and Black Cats in us, too.”

“I think...yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Um, to circle around, though...so this is fine? Without knowing who I am?”

Marinette giggled. “Yeah, of course! I know you enough. And just like I said, I'm going to love you when I see you under the mask because...well, I already do. I'm not worried about it. It's just...I don't know, I just know that I could slip off this scarf right now, and see you, and you won't be wearing all black, and...well, actually, you could still be in all black. Are you a goth kid, chaton? I might find you faster.”

He laughed. “No, I'm not. I'm wearing white right now, actually.”

“Ooh, Chat Blanc, hm?”

He leaned down to kiss her collar bone and she got a chill. “Hey, uh...sorry if this is...imposing, but do you happen to have any food?”

“Food?”

“Like, uh...dinner.”

“...What time is it?”

“9 pm.”

“Is it really? Geeze. We kept ourselves busy. Um, sure, we can make something. But...think you can transform back?”

“Oh! Yeah, I'll be back. Let me find Plagg...”

Marinette heard him stand and once she was sure he was headed up to her room and out of sight, she removed the scarf, found her removed clothing, and put them back on. Still, a part of her kind of wished that she would be able to remove it again soon. She tried repressing the thought, but they had gone too far, and now it was no use. She liked being with Chat intimately like that. Even when it was all calm, and all she did was lean into him. She was comfortable with him and just wanted to be in his arms again already. It felt right with him. It felt as though they could go from fighting together, to talking, to having a romantic night under the stars, to having a moment of raw, sexual passion, and it would all be the same and all be right. There was no need to warm up to any of it, or change, or get used to anything. It was all them, and it was all natural, and that was how she knew she would love him just the same after finding out who he was under the mask. It was just natural. Right.

“Hey, I'm back!” Chat announced, returning and in his suit again. It was still a bit odd to see Chat as Chat in her living room. She was still getting used to that side of her life crossing over so directly into her personal life, and she was more than intimate with Chat, but it still seemed unnatural for him to be walking around with his suit.

“Are you...comfortable?” Marinette asked.

“With...? With what we did? With being here? I mean...yeah. It's natural. I thought we talked about that. Do you...Do you not feel that?”

No, no, no, that isn't what I meant. But since you brought it up, I am...very okay with what you did. And with you being here. Very comfortable. Not that it isn't still a little jarring or anything. Not, not that I don't like you here! It's just...Well, this is what I was getting at. You're in your suit. Isn't that...uncomfortable? I love you as Chat. I love you as you. I love you. And I am fully aware that you're Chat and I'm Ladybug and this is the relationship we have. I know who it is that I'm...doing all this with, you know? But it is still strange to see you walking around my home – my domestic living space – in that. It's unnatural in the general sense of the term. It's natural because our relationship is natural but...well, it's a surreal thought, nonetheless.”

Chat smirked. “Well, how do you think I felt when you -”

Adrien!, he suddenly heard Plagg shout loudly inside his head, and he silenced himself. He was going to compare the situation to her walking around his own balcony and bedroom as Ladybug, but of course, she didn't know she had walked around his room. And she wasn't supposed to.

“When I what...?” Marinette prompted.

“I, uh...nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Spoilers.”

“Spoilers? Chat, what are you talking about? Spoilers for what?”

“Uh,” Chat murmured, rubbing his neck. “Well, okay, that was a lame way to say it. I mean...I forgot you don't know my identity. And I was gunna say something that would have given me away.”

“Oh, um. Yeah, okay, don't say that then.”

“Point is,” Chat said, “Yeah, I am comfortable actually. Are you not comfortable just walking around as Ladybug?”

Marinette shrugged. “She seems...more brave and confident than me. I feel like I have to try hard to keep it up. It's comfortable, I suppose, but exhausting.”

Chat smiled and stroked a finger under Marinette's chin, lifting her head gently. “You are brave. And so charismatic. And you appear confident. But if it still feels like a farce, you don't have to keep it up in front of me. I know that you're all of those things anyway. You don't have to be on all the time. No one should have to be. For me, I just feel...relaxed and free as Chat. I feel like myself.”

“If you say so,” Marinette replied, smiling. “I hope some time you can come over as yourself and look it, too.”

Chat pecked her on the cheek. “I'd really like that.”

Marinette blushed and cleared her throat. “So, um...food?”

“Food,” he agreed. “What, um, have you got?”

“Well, we have lots of pies. Does that sounds okay to you?”

Chat reminded himself to be only as excited as Chat would be. They were Adrien's favorite food, but he wasn't sure if he was allowed to mimic the same enthusiasm.

“I love pie,” Chat smiled. “Especially from here, of course.”

He started to head to the bakery before Marinette stopped him by putting a hand out. “Where are you going?”

“To...get pie? Or that that kind of thing no longer get stored in a patisserie?”

Marinette giggled. “Well, not now. The store is closed. We don't have extras this time. We'll have to make them.”

Chat swallowed visibly. “M-make them?”

“Yeah, I thought that was the idea. Most of the time food has to be made...Is there a problem?”

Chat looked down, apparently embarrassed. “I've...um, I've never cooked before.”

“Really? Like...Ever?” It was unbelievable to Marinette who had helped in the kitchen since she was four years old. Chat shook his head shamefully.

“Never. Not even toast. I'm a failure of a cat.”

Marinette shrugged, despite her disbelief. “Well...not really. Most cats can't cook, I'm pretty sure. But how have you survived this long?”

“Um...weird home life...I guess.”

Marinette tucked the comment in the back of her mind. Can't cook worth a damn. Weird home life. Chat having anxiety about home. Chat feeling more free in his suit. She bit at her thumb. And yet he was someone with free reign to sneak around and visit girls' houses as a hero, and obtain tickets to red carpet events. Marinette flushed red, not only at the revisiting thought that Chat was real under than mask, but in shame over not paying closer attention to that person. For one thing, She could use all of that information to figure out who he really was, and she wasn't. For another, she felt that Chat listened to all of her minuscule problems so often when he definitely seemed to be the one to need attention more. Needed attention and was too good to say so. She sighed and added a smile.

“Come on, I'll teach you.”

Marinette took him into to kitchen and dug around in the cupboard for aprons.

“I don't think I need one,” Chat said.

“Oh, don't be shy. We might get flour everywhere. Especially since you're a beginner.”

“I don't doubt it,” Chat replied, “but I don't think anything will really stick to the suit.”

Marinette looked him up and down. “Yeah, I suppose you're right,” she agreed, and pulled her own pink-and-white striped apron over her head.

“You look cute in that,” Chat said with a touch of shyness.

“Oh?”

“Domestic Ladybug. I can't lie to you, Princess, I've dreamed of the sight before.”

She shoved him playfully before getting out all of the supplies for the pies they would make.

“Do you want savory or sweet?” Marinette asked.

“Mm, can we do cheese ones and sweet ones?”

“Sure,” she smiled, laying out the dough ingredients before him. She showed him how to measure wet and dry ingredients and how to fold them together and how to get them in the mixer. Once she dough was formed and sticky, she showed him how to roll out the dough on top of flour, and how to make sure the dough wouldn't be too soft, but not too crumbly, either. The crust was by far the hardest part of the pie, and took Marinette herself a long while to learn the perfect crust ratio. She wasn't sure Chat was interested in all of that, however. He seemed content just to be rolling the dough out with the pin. She had seen Chat happy before, of course. He was happy at the gala, and when she kissed him, and perhaps just now, on the couch, watching anime and being intimate. Now, however, he displayed the slightly more rare look of pure, innocent, joy. She believe him now that he had never cooked anything before, but she was confident he enjoyed the process of making something and would want to again.

Marinette instructed him carefully on how to place the crusts in small tins, and showed him how to pour in cheese and fruit fillings, which thankfully, were generally prepared in large batches beforehand, and were already stocked in the fridge. She let him lay the top crust over them all and asked him to draw designs in them, which he happily did with his claw, despite her having given him a fork.

They put the pies in the oven, and though Marinette had expected him to occupy the time in other ways, he spent most of the wait time staring through the window of the oven, entranced by how the dough morphed and turned golden.

“You like tea, chaton? Coffee?” Marinette asked. It was a bit late for a coffee, but a craving for tea had hit her and she thought it only polite to offer both to her partner.

“Coffee would be great,” he replied, eyes still fixated on the pies which were nearing completion.

“It's not too late for you?” Marinette asked with genuine curiosity. Chat turned his head back now.

“Nah, I'm used to it. I've been dependant on coffee for a long time. I need it to live most mornings actually. I've been drinking it consistently since I was ten.”

Ten? That'll stunt your growth, kitty.”

He looked himself up and down, reminding both of them that in the past few weeks, he had shot up to be a head taller than her at least . “I think I'm okay. Besides, when you have a life like mine, you need it. Trust me.”

“A life like yours? I'm a hero of Paris, too, and I've never felt like I needed coffee to survive. The suit adds a little adrenaline and energy, don't you think?”

“It does,” Chat agreed, and cleared his throat. “I mean, my civilian life. Um, you have any creamer?”

Civilian life. Right. Of course. “We have vanilla and hazelnut.”

“Hazelnut is perfect. And one sugar, please?”

Marinette finished brewing her rose tea and brought Chat his coffee just as the pies finished. As they ate (Chat so enthusiastically it was as though he had been starved his whole life and she had brought him in as a stray), Marinette attempted to fit more puzzle pieces together of his life. So now he had a hectic home life and anxieties and an apparent lack of freedom, plus the kind of life where he had never needed to (or never bothered) to cook for himself – and was now addicted to coffee, too? For her and Alya, they'd get coffee now and then, but only on late study nights and when they had a nice weekend lunch. Chloé often walked around with fancy or overly luxurious coffees, piled with whipped cream, apparently thinking something about chocolate drizzle made her cooler than anyone else. But for their ages, she couldn't imagine needing the coffee. At least so much that it became second nature and the caffeine strength had worn away. And since he was ten? The more information she received, the more of an enigma he became. And a kid like this went to her school? She thought she might have noticed.

“These are amazing! I don't think I could make them without your help, though,” Chat said, finishing a third pie.

“Come over often enough and you'll learn,” Marinette said, resting her chin in her hand.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just thinking...about you, actually.”

“Me?”

“Mhm. Still don't know who you are. And you're giving me a lot of little...tidbits, and it only seems to make it harder.”

He smiled. “Sorry, Princess. Shouldn't have dealt it out if you didn't think you could take it.”

When they finished, they headed back to Marinette's room, as though they had had some telepathic agreement to return there.

“Are we going to do more research tonight?” Chat asked. Marinette shrugged.

“I guess not. It's not like we're in a huge hurry. We have tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? You want me to come over again?”

“Well, my parents will still be gone, and I don't know when we'll have another opportunity this convenient, you know?” Her eye caught her clock and she was surprised to see that it was almost 11. Of course, they had gone slow, and actually making the pies took a decent amount of time, seeing as Chat needed several tries to get things just right. Then they had to cook time, and the time it took to eat. It made sense that it was 11, but it was still surprising how easily the day could pass. “Hey, is it, like, okay for you to have been out this long? It's not like we planned it. You don't need to be anywhere, do you?”

Chat shrugged. “Not at all. In fact, I'd wouldn't be totally surprised if no one noticed I was missing at all.”

Marinette felt a twinge of sadness and guilt for him, but based on the information he had already given her, she supposed something like that should have been expected.

“Do you...do you want to stay then? Save you a trip?”

“Stay? You mean, like...overnight?”

“Well...yeah.”

“Then...yes, of course, if you don't mind?”

“No, no, not at all. Let me, um...go get ready,” she said and slipped off. She had certainly never had a sleepover with a boy before, but this already seemed to be several levels up from that. This was a boy she was romantically – and now, sexually (an idea that still made her heart forget to beat when she thought of it) involved with. He was her partner. He partner whose name she didn't even actually know. Her parents were gone and she had full intentions of letting him sleep in her bed. She had no reservations about any of it, of course. She wanted him in her bed, truthfully. She still wanted to be in his arms just as much as she had before. Still, she couldn't help the nerves. In many ways, he was still her crush.

She got ready for bed, took off her bra, and changed into flannel shorts that matched the tank top she was leaving on to sleep in. Again, she was a Domestic Ladybug, but this time, one that was bound to trigger more intimate thoughts. Half her underwear was missing, she was showing twice as much of her body, and she was going to get ready to beckon Chat into her bed.

She emerged from her bathroom to exactly what she expected to see. Chat was gaping at her, and she could practically see the stars in his eyes. “You...look cute,” he managed to say.

“Thanks,” she replied with a blush, despite having expected it.

“So...?”

“Up on my bed,” Marinette said, catching on that he wanted to know where he should sleep.

“You sure?”

She giggled nervously. “Yes, of course, come on.”

He followed her cautiously up the ladder, and while he was clearly timid, she could tell by his eyes that he did want to be up there. What she didn't know was for just how long he had dreamed of sharing Ladybug's bed. He just never imagined it could be so easy.

“Aren't you...uncomfortable?” Marinette asked, again, very aware that he was confined in his suit.

“Well...that's the thing,” Chat said. “If I sleep, I need to release my transformation. It wouldn't last anyway, even if I tried.”

“Hm,” Marinette contemplated. Part of her knew that had to be the case, but she had conveniently placed it out of her mind. “Here, I know.”

She dug around inside her pillow case and pulled out something pink and satin, which Chat quickly realized was a sleep mask. “I'll just use this,” she said, holding it up.

“Wait, let me see that,” Chat said, taking it from her. It had ears on it, and embroidered on the front were shut eyes, a pink nose, and whiskers. It was a cat-themed mask. A pink, cat themed mask. He felt a jolt of electricity in his veins.

“I don't think I've ever loved you so much.”

She smiled, unable to think of an appropriate reply because she could tell how genuine he was being. She slid the mask on and smoothed her hair down. “So?”

“Purrfect,” Chat said. “And you can't see? Can I release now?”

“You can release,” Marinette said, glad a solution had been found that would keep him in her bed. Her nerves shot up once more, however, at the thought that it would be the real him laying beside her, and not a masked hero whose identity she could temporarily pretend did not exist.

They are the same, she told herself for the umpteenth time that night. They are the same, they are the same. Mask or not, the same boy is in your bed. They are the same.

The difference was that if it had been Chat, she wouldn't need the sleep mask, and if she were to remove her mask, her life would be forever changed. The darkness behind her eyes lightened slightly and she knew that he had released.

“Where'd Tikki and Plagg go? Did he fly off right when you released?” she asked, trying to break the tension building inside herself.

“Probably getting up to their own perversions,” said Chat. Not Chat. Mystery Boy...Mystery Boy that I only know as Chat.

“Oh my God, I can't believe you said that!” she said, swatting the air. She meant to hit his shoulder, but being blinded, she missed and caught his chin.

“Ouch, thanks for that,” he replied. She tried desperately to ignore the fact that, because she knew he was unsuited, he sounded different. He can't sound different. That doesn't make any sense. He is the same. The same.

She had desperately wanted Chat and Adrien to see that she was the same as Ladybug, but there were differences there, too. Her personas were not identical. Similar, of course, and their personalities were the same at the core, but there were differences. Hard as she tried, Marinette suspected she wouldn't be able to stop separating Chat and the boy beneath his mask until she knew exactly who he was.

“Sorry,” she mumbled nervously, a beat too late. “Anyway, I was going to ask Tikki to shut the light off...unless it's already off. I can't...really see.”

“I'll get it, Marinette!” Tikki's voice shouted, though Marinette had no way of knowing where she was at.

“There it goes,” Chat said. Marinette felt him sit up and start wiggling.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Well, I'm not going to sleep in my jeans and polo.”

“You're...wearing a polo?”

“I...yeah? Is that a problem?”

“No, I just...not what I expected, I guess.”

Chat laughed. “Well, what did you expect, then? Skinny jeans and a brooding turtleneck?”

“...Kinda.”

“Sorry to disappoint, Princess,” he chuckled. They're the same. They're the same. That chuckle wasn't different. “Just a white polo, I'm afraid.”

As the bed shook ever so slightly, she realized he had tossed his clothes down to the end of it.

“Don't you have something...decent to sleep in?” Marinette asked him, feeling herself blush hard. She was infinitely grateful that the lights were already out.

“Well...I do own pajamas, believe it or not. Haven't you ever heard of the phrase, the cat's pajamas? That phrase would never work if the cat didn't actually own any. But he does. And they are the cat's pajamas. Very soft and comfortable. But I didn't know I was staying here, so I don't have any. So I guess you just have to deal with me being indecent, because I have nothing else. And I'm not sleeping in jeans. Besides, I thought we had gotten past this part.”

“It's different,” Marinette mumbled.

“How is it different?” Chat asked. “It's the same! Tamer, in fact. For one, I'll thank you to notice that you're still fully clothed. And you're still blindfolded. Besides, I'm not completely naked. I am wearing underwear.”

“Oh, well, thank God for that.”

They grew quieter, and despite her groaning, Marinette found herself inching closer to the boy. It wasn't difficult to do, on her bed made for one, and she was glad to find his arms were held open to her. She expected Chat might tease her quick turn around, but she was grateful he did not. Perhaps another difference between his identities. Or, even better, perhaps he just truly wanted to hold her.

She was glad he wasn't wearing his shirt, silly as it was. Her protests were a vain attempt to mask how thrilled she really was, and the way she had inched close to Chat was a dead giveaway of her true feelings, but she didn't mind. Before long, she was curled in against him, and though they had already crossed plenty off of their intimacy checklist earlier that day, this was somehow a new and different tier that did not touch on anything else. It was thrilling in it's own way – and she could tell he agreed by the way his heart beat in almost double time against her ear. She was already familiar with his unsurprisingly toned chest and abdomen, but his warmth was new. She almost could have done without her blanket, but kept it around them for irrational safety and habits sake. She half expected him to start purring.

“Waiting to hear me purr?” Chat asked, as if reading her mind. She jumped, which did not help her much – with nowhere to go, she only succeeded in jolting against him.

“No,” she lied.

“I might, you know.”

“What do you mean?” she whispered against his chest.

“I might purr.”

“You're joking.”

“No, really. I recently...met some cats. Kittens. They're drawn to me, I don't know, but I adopted them and they sleep with me, and I really think I purr with them when they're curled up on top of me. You're a bit like that...curled on my chest. I really think I might start purring.”

“I'm no kitten, though,” Marinette protested softly.

“Mm, your mask tells me otherwise. You may be a bug in the daytime, My Lady, but you're a cat when you dream.”

“You wish. So...you really adopted kittens, then?”

“I really did. I think it suits me. They're like baby sidekicks. I guess they're just...attracted to me. They kept showing up at my room, so I finally just let them in.”

“...Huh.”

“What?”

“It's just that...no, never mind. So, did you name them?”

“Yes, but – okay, don't laugh. Promise? Plagg helped name them.”

“Promise.”

“Their names are Brie, Almond, and Merlot.”

Marinette had to hold back a squeal. “That's adorable! I love it. And individually, they all sound very appropriate. That's so cute, I love it.”

“I said don't laugh!”

“I'm not laughing! I'm smiling because it makes me happy. You make me happy.”

She felt his arms tighten around her gently, his fingers stroking at her hip where her shirt had ridden up slightly. The skin was set on fire, as though he had never touched her before, and as she fell asleep, she thought she could make out the sound of subtle vibrations coming from within him.

oOo

The Sunday that followed was far less productive than either of them had planned. Adrien became Chat again before Marinette woke up at all, and he stirred her by lifting her mask off. While Marinette would have loved to stay in bed for several more hours, Chat used his suit as an excuse to climb out of bed (“I'd love to, but it's too sweltering with the suit, and the blankets...come on, we have research to do”). She knew he would have loved to stay in bed as well, but there was life to attend to. Specifically, their lives as superheros.

They ate a breakfast of the surplus pies they had made, and Marinette decided that she found it even more strange to see Chat suited at her breakfast table with early orange light coming through the windows. If nothing else, it was the attire that got to her. The suits didn't seem appropriate for any setting but fighting in Paris. Fully clad in his suit as casual as he was, eating pie, was a surreal image regardless of the circumstances.

They made an honest attempt to study more, with Chat's mood better than it had been the day before, and Alya's input had proven to be as useful as it could be. They made a comprehensive list of all akumatized victims they knew of thus far, and from there, began to list adults they knew of that had not been.

“You sure Hawkemoth is an adult?” Marinette asked.

“I don't think any child is so damaged that they need desperate measures the way he does. Plus, we've heard him speak – and we've seen him via Volpina's projections. His voice and appearance are adult, and male. Don't you remember how tall he was?”

“True...well, that narrows down our audience. But don't forget, I've known your gender and height and voice and hair color for a long time now, or at least thought I did, and I'm no closer to figuring out who you are.”

“Point,” Chat said, as they continued their list. Inside, he knew that the list was pointless. Of course it wasn't M. Damocles. Nor was it Tom Dupain (wouldn't Marinette know that? But then, he hadn't recognized his own father. “I don't want it to be him, either, Chat, but we can't be prejudiced, here.” Yeah, tell me about it). He knew exactly who it was, and it was killing him, but to bring up the perfectly correct answer now out of no where would be ludicrous, let alone suspicious.

“This could take centuries,” Chat said, knowing it wouldn't. Still, it might convince Marinette that he hadn't know the whole time when the truth came up. “Do you know how many adult men are in Paris? I mean, at least we've narrowed down the age and gender demographic, but that's still a countless amount of people.” And you got lucky enough to live under his roof. That's the Black Cat for you.

“It won't take that long.”

“How do you figure? Do you have a magic rolodex of all the adult males in Paris that we can flick through real quick?”

“Of course not, but I'm almost certain that Hawkemoth is someone we know, or that we're at least familiar with.”

“...Oh?”

“Think about it. Look, I don't know about you, but...well, I know you go to my school at this point, so you've got to be pretty close. As for me, I've personally known all the akuma victims, or known their family. With, maybe, the exception of Aurore Beauréal, but she was already famous from all of her television coverage. We had all been witness to the Pixelator because we all worked in the hotel that day and saw him, and as for Mr. Pigeon, I had been watching him that whole afternoon, and I've watched him feed his pigeons countless other times before. I certainly feel like I know him. And Jackady was televised locally as well! My point is, I've certainly known of all the victims prior to their akumatization, and in almost every case, I've known them personally. With the amount of people living in Paris, the chances that we'd be familiar with all of them can't be coincidental. I don't think Hawkemoth knows who we are, personally...at least, I don't think so, because he surely would have come after us, but I think he knows where we're centralized. He must know what school we go to. Just look at how many of my classmates have been akumatized!”

It was obvious to Adrien just then that Marinette wasn't thinking about that fact that, except for the two of them, the whole class had been akumatized. It was good for him that the conversation was so focused on Hawkemoth, or they might be having a very different afternoon. He wondered if she remembered seeing the cats on his balcony when she had visited what felt like weeks ago. So close. She was so close. But she had to do it on her own. Just like she had to get close enough to think that Gabriel Agreste being Hawkemoth was her idea.

“Yeah...yeah, I guess you're right,” Chat said, and truthfully, he had not considered her point before. Had he, he might have figured out his father's identity far sooner.

They listed names and looked over Alya's notes for a few more hours, with snacks and breaks to watch silly YouTube videos. The way they were working, it was 3 pm before they knew it, and Marinette received a text from her mother telling her that they were going to be home in no time.

“That's alright, I should head back anyway. I don't think anyone missed me last night, but I should at least let the people at home know I'm still alive.”

“Good idea,” Marinette smiled, kissing his cheek, and thinking that people at home was a very strange word for family. Then again, the past day was proof enough that Chat's home life was more than likely less than conventional.

oOo

Marinette was happier waking up the next Monday than she had been waking up on any Monday for quite some time. Her parents, however, noticed nothing out of the ordinary or out of place aside from extra pies in the fridge. These, however, they were happy about, and complimented her on refining her skills.

Knowing that Chat was at school, combined with the weekend they had just had, caused Marinette to take even more care at getting ready. Her hair she left down, as she had been doing, but she decided to make changes to her wardrobe. She had bought a new top on an impulse while out with Alya recently, but had yet to wear it. It was dark navy blue and hugged at her waist, and though Alya told her that she looked great in it, she was shy about it. Navy blue was a color darker than she was used to wearing, and she had never considered her waist one worth showing off. But the gala dress worked...and nothing is as tight as Ladybug's suit.

She admitted that it did look great when she put it on, but it was certainly different that her usual attire. When was the last time she hadn't worn at least a little pink to school? Her blazer was dark, but even that had light trim. With her dark hair down and the blue shirt, she gained an immediately more mature appearance, and certainly a more mysterious and sultry one.

“Is this okay, Tikki?”

“You look great, Marinette.”

“It's not too...you know?”

Tikki giggled. “Just because it's a dark color doesn't make it suggestive. It's different...but it suits you. You look wonderful.”

Marinette smiled and patted her kwami's head. Her outfit continued to grow on her, especially with her natural makeup keeping it appropriate for daytime, and by the time she left the house, she felt fantastic.

“Is something different about her?” Tom asked Sabine when their daughter skipped away.

Sabine shrugged. “She's maturing, no?”

Marinette had barely made it one step into the school before Alya practically tackled her to the ground.

Jesus, Alya! Kill me, why don't you?”

“We have way too much to discuss! You should have been here earlier.” Alya held her out at at arm's distance. “I see, though, that you took your sweet time putting this together. I told you that shirt looked good on you.”

“What do we have to discuss?”

“Oh! Oh! Do not even play coy with me right now. I've already had a long talk with Chat this morning.”

“You...did?”

“Of course I did! I wanted to figure out if my research helped at all. And from what I hear, despite the fact that he spent the night, you didn't seem to get a lot done. Now...why is that Marinette?”

Marinette blushed, suddenly feeling extremely guilty that she didn't call Alya first thing after Chat left on Sunday.

“Okay, well, we started to study...but he was feeling bad from something that happened at home.”

Marinette jumped into the rest of her story, explaining how they played video games and watched tv, until suddenly, they diverged into something else. She explained everything, and though she had a hard time keeping her composure, she knew that Alya would notice – and never forgive her – if she did not disclose every detail of what had occurred. The fact that Chat's transformation released just as he had made her climax amused Alya to no end and she had to stop Marinette's story to laugh.

“I'm sorry, that's a problem only you two could have...what a twist for your first time.”

“My first what? Alya, I hardly think this counts as...my first time. I didn't even see his -”

“Marinette. The nipple made it's appearance, and he got an orgasm out of you, first hand. Literally. It was certainly your first time. Don't get me wrong, you still have plenty of firsts to go, but this counts for something.”

“Fine! Fine,” Marinette agreed, voice catching in sheepishness from the mention of her own nipple and orgasm. “Anyway, so he grabbed a scarf...”

Marinette continued the story, telling her about the pies and sleeping together, leaving in the fact that he stripped down, but leaving out what his heart beat sounded like.

“I cannot fucking believe it. My little girl's all grown up.”

“Oh, hush. Just because you're more experienced doesn't mean I'm you're little girl.”

“No, no, I know, I'm not...belittling you. It's just...you don't realize how much better this story is knowing who both of you are,” Alya smiled.

“Is Chat just horrible?”

“Horrible?”

“Is that why you're so amused?”

“Honey, if he was horrible, he wouldn't be Chat.”

“True.”

“But you are right. I am amused.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. When once there was too little information, there now seemed to be too much to think of. She couldn't help wanting to look for a brooding boy with a hints of a strange home life in his eyes. I wonder if any of the boys at this school are in the circus? But a brooding boy that wore white polo shirts and cuddled kittens names after aspects of a cheese plate was...something.

Once back in class, Marinette slipped her phone out and sent a group text to Alya and Chat.

To: Alya, Chat

Research @ my house tomorrow? Might be good to have alya there...and come in your suit, Chat

Her phone vibrated almost right after she had set it down again, and she realized too late that she should have looked around to see I any of the boys had their phones out.

From: Chat

Wow, it's almost like you don't know me at all. You know I'm not making this that easy on you. ;) Sounds good, though. See you tomorrow.

From: Alya

good to see u 2 admit u need me ~ ill be there

Marinette exhaled deeply as Alya gave her a subtle thumbs up. She also realized too late that Alya's presence meant no intimate time with Chat. Following their morning conversation, shy as she was, Marinette realized just how much she wanted to explore the other firsts that she and Chat had not yet gotten to. As an afterthought, she sent a separate text to Chat.

To: Chat

btw, patrol tonight. Haven't forgotten. Don't tell Alya.

Again, the reply came quickly.

From: Chat

I haven't forgotten, either. Besides, I wasn't counting on including Alya on all of our activities. Invaluable as she is. Knowing our identities and being clever can't get you everything. Patrol is always ours.

Marinette smiled softly at her screen, waiting until M. Bustier's back was turned again to reply.

To: Chat

good, meet me at pont marie then. Go a new direction. I dont want to be followed.

From: Chat

Pretty cryptic, My Lady. Is a ground level meeting place safe enough for that?

To: Chat

I have my reasons. and it will be if our usual spies are looking to rooftops.

Chat replied to her with a smile and thumbs up, and Marinette relaxed, fanning away Alya's subtle questioning regarding what the excess texts were about. She smiled, hoping that Chat would appreciate her reasons for being as cryptic as she was.

 

Chapter Text

You only hold me up like this
'Cause you don't know who I really am...
Turn off the lights and turn off the shyness
'Cause all of our moves make up for the silence...
I've got headaches and bad luck
But they couldn't touch you, oh no.

- Of All the Gin Joints in the World, Fall Out Boy

oOo

“Come out, come out, kitty, kitty,” Ladybug cooed softly, stepping cautiously out onto the Pont Marie. Notre Dame stood looming nearby, and Ladybug felt comfortably inconspicuous. She had purposely requested a later patrol and the Paris streets were even quieter than usual. It was a school night, but somehow, Ladybug's identity being known by Chat, and knowing that Chat at least attended her school, somehow made that detail easier to ignore. It was as though, now they knew they were losing sleep they needed to attend the same location the next day, it was alright. Besides the late hour, the Pont Marie, as Ladybug had pointed out to Chat via text, was low to the ground. Despite the fact that daytime activities and akuma fights took the duo to varying levels of terrain, ground included, patrol never touched ground unless there was a problem, which there hardly ever was at night when Paris knew the heroes were already suited and ready to go. Lastly, those who knew their patrol route knew that Chat and Ladybug never hit the Pont Marie. There had never been any large, executive reason for this. The other bridges that encircled Notre Dame simply seemed bigger and more active. It was by chance and circumstance that they never hit the bridge, but because of this, as well as the later meeting time, they were able to meet entirely unnoticed by their regular band of watchers.

Hero Watch had started as a casual, unnamed hobby of Parisians that happened to be out during patrol nights. Since then, it turned into a Ladyblog sponsored activity, complete with meet-ups and all. Journalists and photographers often joined the group and had fun together watching the heroes – generally led by Alya. Of course, she likely had twice the fun, now knowing both of the masked teenagers' identities. Marinette had pretended to be part of Hero Watch in order to have an excuse as to why she had been meeting Adrien at night, since, at the time, she couldn't tell Alya that she had been visiting in her red suit. It was no wonder she figured it out, Marinette thought to herself. I had never been to a single Hero Watch meet up, and for good reason. And then the one time I claim to show up, it's when she's not even there and there's no patrol, and I just happened to see Adrien. It was also through Hero Watch that Alya was able to get incriminating photos of her, and ultimately determine her identity. It seems so long ago.

In some ways, it was long ago. Then, she had been (to use Alya's word, not her own) obsessed with Adrien. Chat was a friend. A big part of her life, but not the way that she had been convinced Adrien was meant to be. She was paying him visits and bringing him pastries, and he had gone so far as to kiss her hand and confess his love, and yet, she had run away. For good reason, she supposed. It all just felt so long ago. A different life, and a different girl. And now, here she was on a bridge, waiting for Chat Noir to join her, with sly thoughts and no intention of being followed.

Chaton,” Ladybug whispered out again. “Are you out there?”

She nearly jumped out of her suit when a pair of hands grabbed her around her waist.

Sorry! I'm sorry, didn't mean to scare you. Shouldn't have done that in the middle of the night. Wasn't thinking. And sorry I'm late. I was held up.”

She spun sharply to come face to face with Chat. “No, it's fine, I'm glad to see you. I was getting cold.”

Cold?”

“Yes, okay? I'm a bug. I get cold easily. I stay cold.”

“Poor thing,” Chat purred, half mocking her, but he pulled her into a quick hug and rubbed his hands up and down her arms. “So, are you going to tell me why you planned such a secret rendezvous tonight?”

Ladybug raised her eyebrows at him, and though they were covered by her mask, she hoped that he got the point. “You have no idea?”

“Well,” he mumbled, wringing his clawed hands. He did have an idea. And idea he liked very much and hoped she was thinking of, as well. In Chat's mind, it was the best idea. He didn't dare suggest it, however, for fear that he might do so only to discover her real idea was just and noble (like figuring out that Gabriel was who they were searching for all on her own). Then he would be an even bigger idiot and she would never speak to him again – in either of his identities. His bad luck, it turned out, seemed to play a rather large hand in helping him screw things up far worse than he believed he would have done were he not Chat. “I...Look, I'm not gunna dig myself into any sort of hole by suggesting anything, so I'll just let you show me why we had to be all incognito today, and I'll just go with it.”

Ladybug giggled, knowing exactly what his concern was and what he was thinking about. He's only a human boy, after all. If he's not thinking it, I'll eat my entire suit. I'll eat it right off.

“Come on, then,” Ladybug prompted, taking his hand and tugging him off to a residential district outside their regular route. It was both strange and exciting to be running around totally grounded. Sneaking around on the ground at night in their suits had about the same effect on them that jumping around on roofs in broad daylight as civilians would have.

Here,” Ladybug whispered, stopping outside a nondescript apartment complex.

Here?” Chat repeated back. Giving no response, Ladybug yo-yo-ed her way onto the roof of the complex, and Chat followed shortly after.

“Why here?”

“It's conveniently commonplace, standard, ordinary...not to mention, dark and unlit.”

She wasn't wrong. The complex was build from dark stone, and stood just outside the range of streetlamps. Perhaps not the safest to live, but it was certainly a safe place to meet on top of.

“So...?” Chat began, growing more and more hopeful that his idea was the right one.

Ladybug grabbed what she could of Chat's collar and pushed him up against the door to the stairwell, kissing him hard.

“That okay?” she murmured against his lips.

“Mm,” he replied, kissing back enthusiastically. It was answer enough for her.

She did her best to display some form of dominance, but his height advantage was enough to make it difficult. Still, she had the means to do what she had intended to do from the beginning.

Though her kiss began with the force of a storm, she allowed it to ebb away like a gentle wave. She could feel his eagerness in the way he reached out with his mouth to her when she pulled away, but she wouldn't give in, instead lining his jaw with smaller kisses instead, until she reached his ear.

“You know, I've been thinking, chaton,” she whispered in her most seductive voice manageable.

“Oh?” he forced out. The word game out as little more than a grunt, and Ladybug could sweat she felt him shivering under her hands. And he teased me for being cold.

“Mm. I've been thinking about...your fingers. And where they've been. And how good they were to me.” She felt him tense against the door. “And it's a shame, because, even though you had fun – ah, you did have fun, didn't you?”

He brain nearly froze thinking of the fun, and the way she felt under his fingers – every part of her – soft, and wet, and warm. He nodded fiercely.

Good,” Ladybug continued. “Good. But despite all that fun, I didn't really get to pay you back, did I?”

“P-pay me back?” Chat managed to say. His voice hardly felt like his own.

“I didn't get to hear you,” Ladybug said. She could tell he was confused. She had expected him to be. She pushed back a shaggy blonde curl from his ear, and got on tip toe to get as close to his ear as she could. “I didn't get to hear you whimper, chaton.”

Had Ladybug's hold not been so tight on him, he may have slipped straight through her fingers. She surprised herself and gave full credit to the spirits of past Ladybug's she believed to be in her suit. The heroine's confidence that she had been depending to become more domineering had come through. The playing field had evened itself out – now that they were both suited. Even if it were entirely her imagination, she had to run with it. She had him where she wanted him now.

She returned to kissing him as she had started, and shivers aside, Chat seemed to be entirely open to letting Ladybug take over. His own mind was still attempting to sort everything out. He knew it was Marinette. She was kissing him, as Ladybug, for the first time since he knew her identity. Of course, he had just stayed a weekend with her, and as she had so kindly pointed out, he had gone pretty far with her as well. Still, this was different in a way. He loved Marinette. Of course he did, since the girls were one and the same. Still, before, it had been a masked Ladybug in all of his dreams and fantasies. It was all he had ever known. And here she was; the girl he knew he loved, wearing that mask, wanting to hear his whimpers. And it was real. The thought alone was almost enough to elicit the whimpers she seemed to crave, but – no. Though she seemed to play the role of being in charge, his sounds of ecstasy still needed to be earned.

Sometime during his thought process, her lips still on his, her hand slipped behind his head, fingers curling his hair. He swore he might start purring, again unsure if such a thing were even possible, though if it were, he was determined not to give her the satisfaction. Her hand was putting pressure on him, though, somehow pressing his lips deeper into hers, and how could he not part his lips to let her tongue slip through? How could they not meld together?

Ladybug's tongue flicked playfully across the tip of Chat's as she reveled in how her plan was working; she still felt that she definitely had the upper hand, and she had no intention of relinquishing it. Not that night. To make sure she had a handle on him, she bit his lip softly, and she felt him relax, letting her do so completely. He was hers, and as she bit harder ever so slightly, she felt him release into her even more. Perfect.

After she was fully convinced that her tongue had distracted and occupied him, slipping it back over his lip following her bite, she slotted one of her legs between his two carefully. She was sure he hadn't even noticed the shift in her positioning. As he continued to surrender his mouth to her, hardly pushing back and willfully giving her free reign, she dragged her thigh across his crotch. As he physically trembled, it was obvious that he hadn't realized where her leg had moved to. Just as she had planned, he had been taken entirely by surprise. That wasn't to say, however, that he hadn't been ready for the move – he was completely hard against her thigh.

She had, of course, expected this. It was the intention, after all, but something about the situation still took her aback. It was so human. He, Chat, was hard for her under that suit. She had done that to him, whoever was under the suit. It was something she couldn't really see, something that belonged to the civilian, and could only come out with the rest of him. It was, somehow, proof that the boy under the mask – under the suit, even – wanted her. What startled her further, however, was how much of it there was. Despite knowing exactly what was going to happen, planning for it, and deciding what she was going to do before hand, she had not expected the size to be what it was. After all, she had no point of reference. She had never purposely ground against anyone's erection, and had no idea what size to expect at all, but she decided that, regardless of what she was comparing it to in her mind, she would describe it as big. Certainly bigger than she had imagined it was allowed to be.

Perhaps he had thought that her move had been accidental – a sorry shift of a leg. To convince him otherwise, Ladybug slotted her leg back between his the way it had just been. Expecting it now, Chat parted his legs slightly. Ladybug ran her thigh along his shaft again, slower, feeling how tightly restricted it was in his suit. Part of her felt bad for him, deciding that he couldn't be comfortable, but ultimately she determined that it placed him into her hands even more. The suit acted like a kind of softcore, but useful, bondage. She didn't know who he was and therefore, he wasn't allowed to detransform. Therefore, he would have to suffer, stuck in his suit, longing for real, skin-to-skin touch and not getting it. That is, until...well, we'll cross that bridge when we reach it. She would have him whimpering in no time, and without any real effort on his part. All she needed was the tight, restricting suit and a strategically placed touch. No sweat. Not for me, at least.

When she ran her leg against him a third time, he responded by pressing himself back against her. Good, it's working. As she continued to kiss him, she realized it was equally torturous to pull away from his kisses and tease around his jawline instead. His high collar restricted her access to his neck, but she dared herself to pull it down as far as it would go, his golden bell ringing softly.

“This is n-ot fair,” Chat manged to say, his voice hitching slightly.

“What's not fair?” Ladybug taunted him, whispering against his jaw.

“I – you,” he started, unable to focus with the simple position that Ladybug was in. Her thigh wasn't moving and and her lips were hovering just above his jaw, and she still had him wrapped around her finger. Somehow, it was easier than she had expected it was going to be. “God damn it,” he muttered.

“Yes?”

“It's not fair because I could actually touch your skin and you just brought me up here to torture me.”

“I'm torturing you? I had no idea, I just wanted some kisses.”

Don't play coy. You know what you're doing,” he replied darkly.

Jesus Christ, Ladybug thought. Fine then, if you don't want me to be coy...

Her lips were back on his – her time for playing around was done. She moved her thigh away from in between his legs, and for a moment, it seemed as though he were going to protest. It seemed that he might say, Oh, no, My Lady. You aren't being coy at all. You aren't torturing me at all. This is fine, I could do this forever. She hoped that that was exactly what he was thinking, but she didn't give him a chance to say a word. Her hand replaced her thigh in between his legs and, not letting herself give it a second thought, she ran her hand up his shaft and felt him immediately tense up. It was hard not to tense up herself – the way he felt under her hand was even more surprising than he felt against her thigh, and she wondered how he felt the first time his hand was in her pants. He seemed confident enough, and she knew she couldn't let her own guard down. She had to remain in charge and on top. She had to be dominant. Still, he was hard for her. He had tensed up for her. He was going to whimper for her.

And I need to keep this up to hear it, she reminded her herself. She let her hand fall and then stroked up against him hard again. She hadn't realized that her thinking had caused her lips to fall away from his, but her second stroke caused him to pull her back to him enthusiastically. His back was pressed hard against the door again, and Ladybug was pressed hard against his body, trying to find a rhythm between kissing him deeply and keeping her hand tight between them, rubbing him up an down. The way she was pressed against him, and he held her against him, it was hard to fit her hand between them at all, but it was only that much better for it. She tried not to think too hard about it – what she was doing. It was so sudden, it seemed, and she could hardly believe it was her idea at all, but here she was, going about it all as though it was something she did all the time. She couldn't let him know at all what she was thinking in the back of her head. Is this regular size? Are they really as big as this? I had no idea. Is he really this hard...for me? Or is that that suit? The less she thought about the questions, the faster and quicker she was able to work. She let her suit take over, the kind of animalistic instinct that was now a part of her. Had she been unsuited – had they both been unsuited – she knew for a fact that things would have been different. Slower, more awkward, more cautious. There would be time for that later. For bigger things. This, she knew, was different. She wasn't going to give him everything yet, because she couldn't as long as he was suited. She was simply going to pay him back for what he had given her when he was suited. So she felt it was completely justified to let her animalistic side take over. Marinette could have her shy, slow fun later, but she had to make it better by teasing him first.

The more he pulled her body close to him, the better he seemed to feel. It did restrict her hand movements a bit, but it pressed her hand harder into his erection, and at the point that he was at, it seemed that he didn't need her to move her hand quickly. His suit turned out to help her cause even more than she had come to realize at all. The tightness paired with how much he seemed to be begging to burst out of his suit meant that her speed was hardly needed. She was truthfully unsure how long it took, but he seemed to be whimpering far faster than he had gotten her to.

“St-stop,” he gasped out against her mouth, and immediately, Ladybug jumped away from him.

“Are you alright?” she asked him. He was still hard, but she could have sworn she had felt him start to quiver under her hand.

“F-fine,” he panted out, but he looked as though he wanted to devour her whole, or at least grab her hand and put it right back into himself. “If you keep going, I either need to take this suit off, or I'm going to have a real uncomfortable situation, and I don't think Plagg will thank either of us for that.”

“Oh,” Ladybug smirked. That had not been something she had considered when devising her plan, though in her defense, she had never rubbed someone off over a magic cat suit before. “Well, I guess I'll just have to stop there, then...until next time.”

He looked like he might whimper again, this time out of anguish. “You sure you don't want to just...give up the game right here and have me unsuit?”

Ladybug smiled. “Not tonight, Kitty. Besides, if you did that here, I think we might have a bit to discuss before...you know, continuing with what we had going on there. You know that.”

He raised his eyebrows and stared at her, head turned slightly.

“What?” Ladybug asked, waiting for him to say something. He smiled gently, uncomfortable and full of craving though she knew he was.

“Whilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?” he asked, quoting Romeo. She found it ironic that Chat was now quoting from the balcony scene when it had been her visit to Adrien that had reminded her of the scene in the first place. And of course Chat was the kind of nerd that quoted Shakespeare in real life conversation. Because he was never going to stop confusing her like that. Something else to add to the Chat Facts journal. Green gummy bears only. Gets tickets to galas and has no one to go with except his crime fighting partner. Uses infuriating puns but quotes Shakespeare. Amazing.

Luckily, she had worn out her own DVD copy of Romeo + Juliet featuring Leonardo Dicaprio if for no other reason than it had her favorite balcony scene, swimming pool and all (and she had to admit that a... certain crush of hers, once upon a recent time, bore a resemblance to the young Dicaprio as well). She parried with the following quote. 

“What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” she asked, innocently as the teenaged Claire Danes. She knew one answer that was on his mind, even though he could not have it. Instead, he smiled wider, apparently glad that she quoted back at him.

“The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine.”

What she recited next was the truth. “I gave thee mine before thou didst request it,” she said, and she had. He knew that, but seemed to take just as much pleasure in the fact that she rounded out the scene with him. God, I love him, she though, after realizing what they had just done. Why else had she worn out the DVD if she did not want to relive that scene in her own life – even if Romeo and Juliet's tale didn't exactly end in a way she envied (she had gotten to the point where she stopped watching every time after Romeo's banishment). She could tell, somehow, by Chat's face that he was thinking the same thing, though. Why else would a boy quote Shakespeare to a girl if he did not want to impress her with it? And even better, if he did not want her to recite it back? He pulled her into another kiss – a sweet, slower kiss – and she couldn't help wishing they had a pull to fall into or a Nurse to hide from. Ladybug did, truthfully, feel bad that his erection was still hard between them, and there was nothing she could do about it without creating a messier situation than she knew he was prepared to go home and deal with, but the kiss stayed soft and gentle; the kind of kiss that followed a stupidly sappy Shakespeare exchange.

“I'll leave you to go take care of yourself, love,” Ladybug said. She though she saw him blush at the suggestion, which in a way, was almost ludicrous to her, following what they had done and said to each other. “We'll meet again tomorrow with Alya, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Chat confirmed, his voice softer from the rekindled sexuality. Ladybug began to walk away from him toward the edge of dark apartment complex as her earrings began to beep softly. At this point, the only reason this worried her was because it would restrict her own transportation home. Chat's ring began to beep as well, but she didn't think he noticed under the final thing she said to him.

“Thanks for letting me hear you whimper,” she said, just loud enough that he was still able to hear. “I really enjoyed it.”

She swung off the roof so quickly after that, she didn't have the chance to see him standing there, frozen in his place and mouth hung open, staring after the place she jumped until he heard his warning beeps grow dangerously loud. The image she pictured on the way home, however, was hardly different, and had her smiling until the second she landing in her room.

“That was mean,” Tikki commented when Marinette had transformed.

“Hey! Don't judge me! Besides, I thought you ignored...all that.”

“I don't ignore it. Then again, you haven't been in your suit yet while doing that kind of thing. But as I've told you time and time again, Marinette, you are not the first. And you won't be the last. I don't mind, really. It doesn't bother me. Consider me neutral. And as much as he likes to whine and complain and tease, Plagg really doesn't care either. He really doesn't. We've seen more and we've seen less, but it's just...a human thing. And even if it did bother us...well, we've seen enough that it couldn't possible bother us anymore. Really, I'm just glad to see that you and Chat are getting closer, because that's really all this means to me. That doesn't mean that I don't know what kind of games you're playing, Marinette. I have seen it all. And that was mean.”

Marinette blushed. “Just, uh, so that we're on the same page here...remind me why I'm mean?”

Tikki put tiny hands on her hips. “You know why! Marinette, I appreciate that you had to pay Chat back for what he gave you. That's only courteous, I suppose. But I know you know what happens to a boy when you...tease them that bad and don't follow through. It can be...really uncomfortable. Painful, if it goes on long enough. And with his suit? Poor thing.”

Marinette blushed even harder, this time with some shame. “Well, if it means anything, I did originally intend to...finish, you know. I just didn't consider...everything. Besides, I do also intend to see it through...soon enough, I guess. But I couldn't wait until I figured out who he was to pay him back! What if I don't find out for weeks still? He'd think I was all give and no take. I had to do something.

Tikki tapped her chin. “I guess if you didn't intend to be that mean, it's not so horrible, but don't do it that bad again. Chat is strong, but that's an unpleasant situation no matter how strong you are. It's a good thing he was just going right home to detransform. Poor thing...”

Marinette laughed at her kwami. “Are you always this sympathetic to Plagg's Chats?”

“Always,” Tikki agreed. “The male ones, at least. For some reason, all you girls get a kick from torturing them.”

“Well, I'll try my best to be nicer,” Marinette said. “Or...at the very least, I'll let him finish next time. Somehow...you know something?”

“Hm?” Tikki replied, stuffing bits of an Oreo in her mouth.

“I don't think I'd have been that bad were I not wearing my suit. I mean, I could have warmed up to it, sure, but I couldn't have hopped into the role so easily. Something in the suit gives me an extra little...animalistic push. You wouldn't have anything to do with that...would you?”

Tikki nearly spit out the bit of cookie that was in her mouth. She got herself to swallow before bursting out with laughter. “No, no, no, Marinette. Of course, not. I promise, Plagg and I really are not involved in that. However, I heard your thought process, and...you were kind of on the right track. You do inherit a little bit of each of the previous Ladybugs when you wear the suit, and Chat does the same with past Black Cats. Little bursts of confidence, sass, bravery, bravado...and sexuality, I suppose. It's all in the suit. And I can definitely see how you might inherit some of that...well, raw animal magnetism from some of my old Chosens. The Scarab, for one, would probably be very proud of your actions tonight. She's probably cheering you on in spirit.”

“The Scarab?” Marinette asked, as she finished grooming for bed and climbed her loft.

“Yes, she my most recent Egyptian Ladybug. Super feisty. You remind me of her, sometimes. Different in so many ways, but every now and then, I see her spark in you. She had...a certain fire in her, too. Which definitely extended to her sexuality.”

“Did she torture her Black Cat?” Marinette asked with genuine curiosity. She wanted to know everything about her predecessors, but the added bonus of hearing how they acted with their partners intrigued her further.

“Well, you could say that,” Tikki said. “Her Black Cat was called Bastet, named after the black cat warrior goddess of Egypt. They protected Cleopatra -”

“Wait – your most recent Egyptian Chosens protected Cleopatra?”

Tikki nodded. “It's really not as long ago as you'd be led to believe, you know. And we've had Egyptian ones prior to those two. You realize we've been doing this job for quite some time, yes?”

“Yeah, I know,” Marinette agreed. “Still, it seems strange...that you've been around that long and remember it all.”

Tikki shrugged as though it were no big deal. “Anyway, so The Scarab and Bastet...right, well, The Scarab loved to tease Bastet...romantically, playfully, sexually...She was a spitfire. But Bastet was kind of a spitfire back in her own way, and she kind of reveled in it. For all the teasing, it was a very healthy relationship, honestly. She thrived.”

“Bastet was a woman?” Marinette asked. It was less out of shock and more out of a pleased curiosity.

“Yes, that was an era where both Plagg and I had female Chosens, who didn't meet until after they were chosen, but they did fall in love as so many Black Cats and Ladybugs have. And it was a very beautiful and heated relationship. They stayed together for their entire lives, actually. I can definitely see bits of The Scarab in you, and she's just one example of the spirits you inherit when you're suited. I'm telling you that you will pick up the sexual energy of those that came before you, but...make sure you don't leave Chat high and dry. It was lucky that The Scarab's teasing never left Bastet in uncomfortable pain. Then again, their suits weren't so restricting...”

“Their suits were different?”

“They usually are,” Tikki replied. “You match the need, and era, and location. Bastet wore a black cat mask, a shift, a lot of gold, and used a cane staff. Not unlike usual depiction of the goddess. It was desert suitable, and suitable for Cleopatra's court. It also provided...easy access. Just be aware next time.”

 

Marinette smiled and laid stomach first on her pillow as Tikki braided tiny sections of her hair. All she wanted now was to hear more about the Ladybug's before her and how they affected her. Throughout all of Tikki's reminiscing, however, the female Egyptian couple remained her favorite, and she fantasied about the energy she drew from The Scarab.

As she grew sleepier, a picture text popped up on her phone from Chat. She sat up and opened the message cautiously.

She was faced with a profile of his body, below the chest and above the knees, bare except for a set of dark green boxer briefs (the color of which did not surprise her). She was pleased to see that he was as toned as he had always felt under her hands, but of course, it was not as though she had expected him to fake the tone of his body. It was just a new experience to see it.

Her heart leapt hard when she came to terms with that fact that it was Chat's body she was looking at, and she spent a few moments staring, memorizing his shape and tan. It thrilled her in a different way than physically touching him thrilled her. It was like seeing something she wasn't quite allowed to see yet – peeking at a Christmas present a little too early, but...well, it was still hers. She was still going to get it eventually. What was the real harm? Well, I still have done quite well for myself, I have to say.

Inevitably, her eyes were drawn to his crotch, which had returned to its natural state (and suited the boxer briefs well, she had to admit). What made her heart skip an extra beat was that, despite his relaxed state, he filled out the briefs quite well. A sudden desire to touch him again crossed her mind and she couldn't force it back down.

It took Marinette several minutes to even notice that he had sent text along with the picture as well.

From: Chat

Helped myself out and now I'm all better. Wish you could have heard my whimpers again. I swear, I think I whispered your name, Marinette...

Her heart suddenly picked up double time as she grabbed her pillow and squealed hard into it. She couldn't handle it. She had put on a good and confident show with her suit on, but unsuited, she could not contain herself. He had helped himself? And it was because of her. And he had thought of her as he finished himself off. And he had whimpered. God, he had really whimpered, and he wanted her to hear it, even outside of the heat of the moment. But what really put the cherry on the cake was that he had whispered her name and had thought to tell her about it. Her name. Marinette. Ladybug had shown her bravado, and he had responded appropriately, but he had not forgotten who was under her mask. He still wanted her and he still thought of her and she didn't become a different fantasy for him when it was convenient.

I swear, I think I whispered your name, Marinette...

She couldn't hold back her smile, her eyes sparkling with mist, and she hugged her body pillow tight as Tikki shut the lights off, thinking of how much she loved, she loved, she loved him.

oOo

“Hello, Alya, you haven't been over in a while, it seems like,” Sabine greeted as the girls walked in from school the next day, books in hand.

“Just been busy, Sabine. That time of year,” Alya said. Sabine was one of those relaxed kind of mothers that insisted she wasn't Madame Cheng to Marinette's friends, and Alya was one of those relaxed kind of friends who accepted this and used the first name. She was the only one of Marinette's friends who did so.

Alya was also a relaxed enough friend to know when to lie to her friends' parents, and didn't mind doing so – this being one of those times. She wasn't busy at all, or at least, she wasn't busier. She still had her blog and homework and Hero Watch, but none of those activities had ever stopped her from coming over all the time anyway. The truth was that Alya knowing Marinette's identity had changed the course of things. While Marinette had once needed to come up with elaborate excuses, she no longer did. In fact, there were times when Alya refused to come over anyway, insisting that Marinette should be using the time for heroine activities (which Marinette often rolled her eyes at, but generally took her up on). She no longer had to keep Alya from being too suspicious, and truthfully, they ended up spending much of the time together anyway, since Alya was rarely far behind the heroes anyway.

There was also the fact that Marinette was spending more nights with boys, between her earlier meetings on Adrien's balcony, and her more recent visits with Chat, which were now extending beyond regular patrols. Alya, being the good and gracious friend she was, only seemed to see this as a good thing.

And now the two were crossing over.

Alya had known the identities of both she and Chat for a while now, it seemed, but they had not yet all been together since then. Not, at least, to Marinette's knowledge. She knew that Chat went to her school, and Alya seemed to be excited about this, watching her extra closely to see if she would get any closer to finding him. Though Marinette tried relaxing more at school, hoping he might just end up doing something to become more obviously visible to her, she wondered honestly if the three of them had all been together since then, without their knowledge.

But it would just be without my knowledge, wouldn't be? Marinette asked herself. Now that Chat knew who she was, too, he and Alya could be hanging around her together at school all the time, like they were sharing an inside joke, and she would never be any the wiser.

But...they'd never be able to, right? If they both knew, and they were both with me together, I mean...Chat and Alya? They'd never be able to keep straight faces.

She decided that, whether it was true or not, this was going to be the first time the three of them had been together, if for no reason other than it was the first time she was aware of it.

“Hey, Tikki!” Alya greeted the kwami when they were all safe in Marinette's bedroom. Alya and Tikki had hit it off right away, which was something that Marinette had initially resented, seeing as their bond was formed over their shared criticism of Marinette's choices and actions regarding Adrien and Chat. Now, though, the bond seemed natural. Chat aside, Alya and Tikki were her best friends and their connection was inevitable. It made sense. It just meant double the amount of times she had to hear she was being ridiculous or making a bad decision. Since Alya and Tikki had always heard everything she every did, she had honestly always had to hear all of that twice. Now, she just had to hear the voices of reason agree with each other and tag team. At least before they were kept separated. Really, it was a small price to pay. Strangeness aside, the fact that Alya know knew who she (and Chat) were was invaluable. In the grand scheme of things, having a lot of people knowing their identities would never work; it would be more dangerous than anything. The fact that it was just one person though, and the fact that it was Alya, and the fact that she was in charge of Hero Watch and the Ladyblog (and could control them to their convenience) was nothing short of a relief.

“So, where is Romeo?” Alya teased.

“Shut up,” Marinette whined. “Wherever he is, he can probably hear you. I think he has like...supersonic cat hearing.”

“That is not a thing.”

“Is too! Well, maybe just regular, really good cat hearing. Still.”

“Hey, not my fault. You're the one who chooses to tell me everything. I can't believe – well, no, that's not true. I can believe.”

“Believe what?”

“Well, I was going to say that I couldn't believe you two losers quoted Shakespeare at each other, but that's not true. I can totally believe it. I should take credit away from you though. You only know it because you've watched that damn DVD so many times.”

“That counts. If you know Shakespeare by heart, it doesn't matter where you learned it from. Those plays were originally meant to be viewed, you know. Besides, how do you know Chat doesn't know it from the movie?”

Alya laughed. “He knows Shakespeare honestly, trust me.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “This is so dumb.”

“What's dumb?”

“You knowing.”

“Shut up, you love that I know.”

“...Fine. But still. You end up doing stuff like this.”

“Well, then, don't tell me these things. You tell me you quoted Shakespeare at each other after grinding all over the cat, and expect me not to tease you.”

“Ugh, it was better than you make it sound, you know. It was...well, it was just better. And boy's packing.”

Alya scoffed. “Well, duh, he is! I could have told you that.”

“I – but...how?” Marinette asked, an unpleasant combination of bashful of accusatory. “You haven't...?”

God, no, Marinette, I haven't seen Chat's dick. I just know. You just know. Well, with some guys, I guess. And I could have just told you that that kid was blessed. No way he couldn't be. Just...it just figures I guess,” she laughed. Then, more quietly, like she were saying it to herself, “he would be packing...”

“Alright, then...,” Marinette trailed off. “I haven't seen it either, just so you know.”

“I know,” Alya said. “I'd know if you had.”

“Right, well, I just felt it. And got a picture. Underwear still on, but...I mean...you could tell.”

Alya feigned applause. “You got a picture. I'm so proud of you, Mari.”

“Oh, stop,” Marinette whined.

“So, tell me, if you were just going to end up telling me everything afterward, why did you even bother going a different secret route?”

“How do you know we...?”

Alya laughed hard. “I'm not stupid, Mari. You obviously did all this yesterday, and no one saw you out and about. So you went a different direction. Not hard to deduce, to be totally honest.”

“...Fine. But just because I'm going to tell you everything doesn't mean I want you following me, you know. If you had followed, we wouldn't have done anything in the first place. Besides, it's not just you out there at night, and if you follow us, they all follow. One day, we'll let you be the camera man for our great sex tape – I'm kidding, Alya, shut up – but until then, I'm just going to have to kiss and tell, and you'll have to be happy with that.”

“You know, you don't have to tell me every detail.”

“But you want me to, don't you?”

“...Yeah, kind of.”

“Then this relationship works out for us both.”

“And how about Tikki?” Alya asked.

“How about Tikki?”

“Well, she's got to sit around and listen to all of this. And witness it. How does she feel about that?”

Tikki shrugged from where she was seated at Marinette's desk. “Doesn't bother me a bit,” she said. “Natural as anything else humans do, I guess, as long as I'm not too involved in it.”

Just then, Marinette's phone went off.

From: Chat

I'm here now.

“He's here,” Marinette relayed, texting him back to say he could come in.

“Took him long enough,” Alya said. “We all left school at the same time, didn't we?”

“Well, I wouldn't know,” Marinette said.

Chat opened the door that led to Marinette's balcony and dropped in. “Sorry I'm late,” he apologized, and settled onto the floor where Marinette and Alya joined him.

Alya looked back and forth between the unsuited Marinette and the out of place Chat, contrasted shockingly against the pale pink room.

“Now this has to be the stupidest fucking thing I've ever laid my own two eyeballs on,” she said.

“What?” Marinette replied, sure she was meant to be offended, but unsure why.

“He's transformed. It's ridiculous. We could be doing this like civilized, intelligent human beings, but no. This is the situation. Chat Noir, all black and shiny, sitting up here in your room. Your mother doesn't know he's up here and you don't know who he is. But he's allowed in your room, no problem. Could be any fuckin' weirdo in latex -”

“Hey!”

“- and I'm here, acting like it's no big deal, because I know you you both are, and...oh my God, neither of you even realize how stupid this is. I don't know if I want to laugh or gouge my own eyes out. And now we're going to figure out who Hawkemoth is. Correct?”

“Correct,” Marinette answered, used to Alya's knack for adding drama to situations that didn't require drama in the first place. Chat, who was not, had his arms crossed huffily over his chest, still pouting over the fact that he could be any fucking weirdo in latex, forgetting that Alya already knew who he was.

Alya shrugged. “Well, I guess the past few weeks have been as weird as anything. Let's get down to it then, shall we?”

In the stacks of books that Alya carried to Marinette's house was her research. It turned out that she had done for more work than either of them had realized. The weekend before, Marinette had believed they had comprised a fairly decent compilation of who had already been akumatized, and whom Hawkemoth could not be. Alya, on the other hand, had binders full.

“And you never thought to show this to us?” Chat asked her. Alya shrugged.

“I don't know,” she replied in earnest. “I didn't know how much you guys knew or didn't know, for one – I mean, part of me assumed you were actively figuring out a lot of this as you went along. I didn't want to be that lame kid who tries to compile and hand in a bunch of information only to find out it's not actually needed. Then there was the fact that I wasn't sure if you guys even wanted it in the first place. There's some information you can just never come back from, I guess. And some battles. Maybe you guys wanted to live in ignorance a little longer, I don't know. Maybe it's like when you're playing one of those huge roleplay video games, and you finally do enough to unlock the final mission that'll beat and end the game, but you haven't done all the side missions first, and you want to...and you wish you never unlocked to final mission in the first place. It feels strange and wrong having that unlocked sometimes, without doing it. Know what I mean?”

Yeah, I know, said Adrien's voice in Chat's head. He actually thought that Alya's comparison was fairly accurate, but it was hard to appreciate with how much she had hit the nail on the head. There was just no coming back from some pieces of information.

Alya opened the first binder, which cleared many Parisians from being Hawkemoth. The first page was simple – made up entirely of classmates, most of which had been akumatized early on. Alya, however, agreed immediately that Hawkemoth had to be an adult male, so many pages were skipped over altogether.

For a few reasons, Chat wished that Alya and Marinette would figure it out sooner rather than later; enough so that he decided that, if they got close enough to the truth, he would suggest his own father and make a very good case as to why Gabriel would be the answer. The longer he knew – especially knowing and not doing anything about it – the longer he felt it eat at him. At least if it were widely understood that Gabriel Agreste was Hawkemoth, he might feel safer, and he wouldn't feel as though the secret were weighing so heavily on his shoulders alone.

The first binder was quickly narrowed down to adult males that definitely could not be Hawkemoth and was being cross-referenced with a binder containing names of people that could be. The latter binder was now filtered through quickly, and Chat was both scared and relieved to see his father's name as a contender. Part of him wished that he were just painfully wrong, but he knew that would never happen. He had already found himself enough proof that he didn't need Alya and Mari's meetings at all. Another part of him was glad only to see that someone else had also thought of Gabriel's name as well. Of course, he was included in a binder that contained names and identities of a good amount of people, but Gabriel's presence proved that no one is ever above reproach.

Alya had also already managed to pick up on the fact that attacks were centralized. All the victims were from the same circle of Paris. They all knew Marinette, and both Alya and Chat confirmed that they all knew him as well. This fact did not eliminate any names, because Alya had only listed names from that part of Paris in the first place, but it felt nice to have a theory confirmed (or at least backed up), and it was nice that Gabriel was still included. The fact that he was famous did not cause either Marinette or Alya to suggest his name be taken off. In fact, his wealth and status only gave him more of a means.

What pleased Chat the most was the fact that, at the rate the investigation was going at, Marinette and Alya could easily come up with and accuse Gabriel on their own and it wouldn't seem out of the blue for Adrien to bring the name. They were so close. Just a few more to be eliminated. It felt awful to be pleased at anything at all, surrounding the fact that Gabriel was Hawkemoth, but he knew now that there was no way he could deny that fact. Now, the only relief was that the girls saw it too and he wouldn't need to bring so much attention to himself.

“What are these maps for, then?” Chat asked, trying to seem as unlike he knew anything as possible. They were maps of Paris – that much was obvious – with red and purple markings all over them.

“A guide to all the akuma attacks, location wise,” Alya explained, spreading them out. Only one of the maps showed all of Paris, and there was a dot where each akuma attack started to where the purification had taken place, connected with lines, like a serious game of connect-the-dots. Chat was reminded immediately of the stereotypical board in a detectives office, where clues and suspects were connected with tacks and string. The big map also revealed that the attacks all occurred around the same area or route between the school, the Bourgeois Hotel, and the Agreste home. The very few exceptions were attacks on those who normally would have been in those locations anyway, or should have known people within the circle. Looking at the big map, however, it was easy to see that the average number of attacks occurred in the same area. The were on the right track.

“And what about these, then?” Chat asked, referencing the other maps. They were heavily marked as well, and with more than just a bunch of connected dots; they looked as though they were covered in sports plays. They also covered much smaller areas. One map he saw only covered the distance between his mansion and the Eiffel Tower, and another was a map just of the school.

These,” Alya explained, “Show which direction the akumas flew in at, if they were seen. Honestly, it's a bit of speculation. In some cases, the akuma never was seen before the attack. At lot is based on what victims claimed they remembered in interviews, too, but we all know how reliable those are. Half the victims end up forgetting so much of what had happened before...And then the map tracks the direction the akumas fly back to. It actually seems like they return back to the same place, after being purified. Poor butterflies. I think it's safe to assume that the same ones get used over and over again.”

Marinette pouted, unhappy with this information. She had considered the same thing, but she was still displeased to imagine the poor butterflies she saved time and time again were also being abused time and time again.

“What does all this tell us, then?” she asked, gesturing to the move specific maps.

“Honestly? Not too much,” Alya explained. “Just that they're happening in the same area, you know. The butterflies, from what I can tell, kind of come and go from the smack center of this, but...I don't know. It's hard to tell. I think it's best not to use the butterflies as solid evidence. It is nice to have these maps, though.”

Chat looked everything over – the binders, the maps the lists. Combined with what he knew (at least, the information he knew which easily could be accessible to the public), there was enough evidence to make a solid accusation against Gabriel. At that point, even had Adrien not found evidence on his own time, Gabriel would be looking fairly suspicious. He had been involved in a few attacks, and the mansion was in the middle of everything.

“Alya...how long have you been doing this?” Chat asked honestly.

“Doing what?”

“You know, compiling all this evidence and everything.”

Alya shrugged. “I guess since day one. Or day two. After I started the Ladyblog and Ivan got akumatized. It started out just for fun, just so I could say I had covered as much as possible. Then it started to become part of Hero Watch and different segments of the blog, where fans would make theories. By that time, I had so much information I couldn't bring myself to stop compiling it. I figured I probably was collecting more than the two of you and that it might someday help you two out. I was right, wasn't I?”

“You definitely were,” Marinette agreed solemnly.

Chat figured he had stalled long enough and there was enough evidence on the table now to progress and get to what he was most worried about.

“So,” he started, but it took time for him to decide what he was actually going to say. He felt himself flush and hoped it wasn't noticeable. If Marinette noticed, she wasn't saying anything. She was looking back and forth over the scattered research, brow furrowed, biting at her cuticle. Something about it all clearly had her worried, but he was unsure what exactly it could be. After all, no one she was extraordinarily close to was still being accused.

“What?” Alya prompted, studying his face. She had noticed his flush immediately. He kept forgetting that, though he was suited, she still knew who he was underneath. While Marinette was still hung up on the fact that Chat had anxieties regarding a strange home life, Alya had a better idea of why and how those anxieties came about.

“I was just wondering,” he said, and then cleared his throat. “I mean, you must have some...idea who it is. After all this, Alya. You had theories about who we were, didn't you? I'm just curious about who your...top suspects are.”

Alya nodded slowly, as though she were dreading the final topic as well.

“I was getting to that,” she said. “You're right, I do have some I think are more likely to be Hawkemoth than others. Three, in fact, make the most sense. A lot more names in this binder should be crossed out, honestly. The only reason they aren't is because I can't prove for sure that they aren't Hawkemoth. But I mean...I'm pretty sure they aren't. Like Damocles? I mean, really. He's smack in the middle of everyone and everything, but he's practically cleared.”

“So, who are we looking at, then?” Marinette asked, equal parts concerned and curious. The cuticle around her thumb, Chat noticed, was bleeding down her hand. She paid it no mind.

Alya took a deep breath before diving in. “Well, my first and least likely suspect of the three is Mayor Bourgeois.”

Mayor Bourgeois?” Chat practically coughed out.

“I said least likely!”

“He's a daft coward!” Marinette exclaimed, her voice quieting towards the end when she remembered that her mother was expecting her to be doing homework quietly.

“I said least likely!” Alya repeated. “Let me at least explain why he's a suspect, though. I looked at who caused a lot of attacks, you know, who made the victims upset in the first place. Do you two realize -”

“How many Chloé has caused?” Marinette finished. “Yes, we realize.”

“Right, well...I mean I thought maybe the mayor had employed her. I mean, it's possible.”

“Yeah, I suppose it is,” Chat said, “but what's more possible is that Chloé just happens to be that cruel.”

“Yeah, I know,” Alya said. “And like Marinette said, he isn't...the brightest candle in church, if you know what I mean. And he's addressed the attacks and was around too much during the very first one. Now, I'm not totally positive here, but I think Hawkemoth has to be at least somewhat in control. He can't just...be in two places at once, I guess is what I'm saying. And we heard his voice that first day, projected up on the Eiffel Tower, before you made your speech, Marinette. What I'm saying is, he had the resources, the means, and he had family connected with many of the attacks, but as far as motivation and likelihood, well...Chloé's more likely to be him, and she's not even an adult male.”

“Think about Volpina's projections as well,” Chat muttered.

“What?” Alya asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Remember Volpina's power? She could make things appear that weren't actually there? She dangled a projection of...Adrien Agreste over the side of the Eiffel Tower. Looked like him. Had weight. Wasn't actually him. Well, she did the same with Hawkemoth, too. She made him appear around on the rooftops. He was really tall and thin – didn't look like the mayor at all. And I know Volpina was the queen of illusions, but I don't think she could, or would, make anything she wanted. I mean, her images had to be based on something. Hawkemoth was controlling her to some extent, and even if she could, what reason did she had to make a projection of Hawkemoth that was inaccurate? I think the ones she projected actually were what he looked like, and if that's the case, it's even less likely that the mayor is Hawkemoth.”

Alya nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. Yeah, okay, I definitely agree. I had almost had the mayor crossed off completely, but based on the evidence, I felt obligated to bring him up anyway. Besides, this will make my other two look more convincing anyway. And already, they're way more convincing anyway.”

“Well?” Marinette prompted. “Who, then?”

Alya took a deep breath and looked between them both. “Well...they're pretty even at the moment, but right now, my top two suspects are Mr. Kubdel...and Gabriel Agreste.”

Marinette's eyebrows rose slowly. “Mr. Kubdel and Gabriel Agreste?

“More convincing than Monsieur Bourgeois, aren't they?”

“Well, yeah,” Marinette agreed. “But still. It's a pretty serious accusation, don't you think?”

“It's a serious accusation no matter who it is you're accusing,” Chat said softly. He was almost surprised at how even and steady his own voice was. Again, he was relieved that Gabriel was a the forefront of the investigation without the requirement of his input, but each step made the situation more real and more shocking.

“You're right,” Alya agreed, giving him a lingering look. “Anyway, I suppose I should explain myself here. One thing I thought was interesting was that all three men were missing their wives. I mean, I know only one of them can be Hawkemoth, but it was still a strange coincidence anyway, and thought that might count as motivation somewhere down the line.”

Remarkable, Alya, Chat thought to himself. You should have a miraculous. Or at least an investigators badge. After all, Adrien himself had determined that, if anything, his mother's absence was partial motivation, as it was now likely that the powers of creation and destruction might revive someone from the dead.

“Between Kubdel and Agreste however, they do make more sense. Both away on business frequently, and both have or do work in or around the Louvre, where a lot of attacks have started or taken place. The Louvre attacks are the ones most frequently on the outskirts of the little circle we've come up with, but if Hawkemoth is at the outside location, it's a logical exception, right?”

“That...makes sense,” Marinette said, thumbing through papers. She was clearly thinking of all possible evidence and not only what Alya had just mentioned. “I mean, both of them...make sense...But kind of sad, don't you think? Maybe they don't have their wives anymore, but they have family still. They have people who look up to them.”

Chat tensed and was thankful that Alya didn't shoot him a look, though he could tell she wanted to.

“It's sad no matter what,” Alya said solemnly. “It's always going to be someone with a family, or friends, or a job, or someone who looks up to them. It's always going to be someone in Paris that someone trusted at some point. It's a person who, somehow, got a dark heart, and is damaged enough that he feels the need to send demons out into our city. Yeah...it's sad.”

They sat in what felt like an obligatory silence until Chat couldn't stand it any longer. Voicing his opinion now couldn't give him away – they were close enough – and he couldn't let Mr. Kubdel take any blame. He could be a stand-offish man, but he wasn't Hawkemoth, that was for sure.

“Mr. Kubdel is innocent,” Chat said, unwavering, drawing on every ounce of confidence and bravery he had. “Gabriel Agreste is Hawkemoth.”

Marinette's eyebrows knit together tighter than ever before. She seemed to be rendered speechless. Of course, it was a lot to take in for her, as well. He remained her favorite designer. She had won his competitions and had his designs pinned up around her room, still. She had met him at the gala and in his own home, both times before saving him from an akuma that he had, it now appeared, set on himself. And he was the father of the boy she once loved. Still loved. She said nothing, understandably.

Alya couldn't keep herself from turning to look at him now.

“You...say that with a lot of conviction, Chat Noir,” Alya said slowly. There was so much more she wanted to say and couldn't, but he knew exactly what she'd say to him if she were able. Your own father? Are you sure? I'm so sorry I had to suggest him, Adrien, I'm sorry. Are you sure? Are you sure I'm not wrong? Back down now if you must. I'm sorry, Adrien. I'm so sorry. Be careful – don't give yourself away. I'm sorry.

“Yes, I do,” he replied, unwavering.

“Why are you so convinced?” Marinette asked.

“A few reasons...it helps that he was one of the top two suspects. It means there's a fifty-fifty chance between our options. It's not like I'm pulling him out of a hat here. We've slugged through a lot of suspects here already, and Alya had already mad some good points. I'm going to be honest, though – I was already suspecting Gabriel Agreste before we even had our meeting.”

“You...were?” Alya asked. He could now hear the concern in her voice, and he felt bad that he couldn't immediate explain and reassure his friend that things were not as bad with him as they seemed now. He wondered how much worse Marinette's reaction might be if she also knew he was accusing his own father, and with such confidence.

“Why didn't you suggest it earlier?” Marinette asked.

“I wasn't sure enough,” Chat lied. “It was just suspicion. I suspected him more than I suspected anyone else, but it wasn't like I was conducting a grand investigation. I had my quiet hunches, but not serious enough. It wasn't until today that I really determined the truth. I didn't want to go throwing around accusations that serious unless I was sure.”

It was enough to satisfy Marinette, but a look to Alya told he that he really had known for certain earlier.

“So, why are you so sure, then?” Marinette asked.

“I might as well clear Kubdel first. Now, I'm going to assume that bringing back a possibly deceased wife is motivation, which I will get back to. It is convincing motivation, if you consider the evidence I've gathered. Personal, I don't think Hawkemoth is causing a mess just for the sake of it. I mean, it's not evil for the sake of evil. There's a reason that he's done this and there's a reason he needs the miraculouses. Anyway, if bringing back a deceased wife, or any loved one for that matter, is worth all the trouble he's caused Paris, then he must value family and loved ones at the very least. If he's trying to bring someone back, he wouldn't risk the loved one's he still has left. Think about it – both of Mr. Kubdel's children have been akumatized. I mean, I know Hawkemoth is twisted, but he very obviously still cares about what's important to him. Aside from a spouse, what's more important than your own children? And Adrien Agreste has never been akumatized. Marinette, you probably haven't because your earrings give you an even cheerier disposition than you had already. What is there for an akuma to be attracted to? But...I've seen the Agreste kid brooding. There's got to be plenty for an akuma to cling to and nothing, even though he's smack in the middle of the circle. And yet, nothing has come after him.”

“Brings up a point I meant to mention earlier,” Alya said, flipping through her notes of who had caused the various attacks. “I already mentioned Chloé causing plenty, which was evidence for the mayor, but we determined that she's just cruel. Which we know to be true, of course. But this is what's really interesting...Gabriel Agreste has caused at least three. One, I believe to be absolutely unintentional: The Bubbler. I think that was just his harsh over-protectiveness backfiring, you know? He probably didn't actually expect Nino to get so upset. He's used to just getting his way, isn't he?”

Chat nodded, which did nothing to give up who he was. His father's demeanor was notorious.

“The other two,” Alya “were what intrigued me. You see, Adult Males in general are not a frequent cause of akuma victimization. Gabriel Agreste, as a singular entity is. There are one-time offenders, but they're clearly accidental or nothing to worry about. There's Chloé, of course, but we already determined that she's liable to do her thing, since she's also smack dab in the middle of this circle we've planned out. But Gabriel Agreste? I mean, people are upset all the time. Often enough that almost anyone in the whole city could be akumatized at any time. But they aren't. Why always choose the people that Chloé upsets? To stay in the same central location, close to where Ladybug and Chat already are. But why choose Gabriel Agreste that many times, as well? One case was in the Louvre, which we've already discussed is meant to be out of our range, and the other was at the tv station and he caused the akuma to come after him. Why? I mean, I can't say for sure, but I definitely do not think it was a coincidence. This fact alone, obscure thought it might be, bumped Gabriel's name up on my list. I'm not even sure what it means, but I'm willing to bed that Gabriel has been doing it on purpose. I mean, causing akumas and luring them to him.”

“I was just about to get to that,” Chat said. “I do agree with you. I think he's doing it on purpose. But I also think I have a good reason why that might be. For Jackady, I mean...look, that television program he appeared on is adored and extremely popular. Thousands of people watch it. Gabriel is a difficult person to deal with, but I don't believe he would hung up in front of that kind of audience. In general, sure, but on a show that popular, I don't think he'd have risked hurting his reputation and image for the sake of having an attitude and upsetting some poor hypnotist. If anything, I think Gabriel might make an attempt to be hypnotized, if only because of the audience. He must have felt the opportunity he had was too good to give up, regardless of how many eyes were on him; an easy target, initially a far way from his house, could be upset and lured to his house. Think about it. Jackady was determined to get to him, and what did that do? It got Ladybug and I inside his house as well. Jackady was step one of coming up with a new plan. Jackady marked the beginning of trickier akumas, because they aren't always focused on getting the miraculouses first. Jackady wanted Gabriel first, which got Ladybug and I there first. Why have an akuma grab our jewelry when they can lead them to him and he can do it himself? It's harder, of course because he needs to be in a certain position and piss them off in a certain way to get the akuma to chase him, giving Paris's heroes time to come defend him, but it would be nice.”

“It's brilliant,” Alya agreed, though she still sounded upset over the fact that Chat was compiling such evidence against his father.

“He asked about my earrings while we were there,” Marinette said absently, her fingers reaching up to stroke a dulled earring. “He did, he asked. He mentioned that he had never noticed them before, but I didn't understand where he might have in the first place. I mean...of course he hadn't noticed them before. Miraculous or not, the earrings are not really something that most people notice first about me. Aren't Ladyblog followers still unsure about what tells us we're about to transform back? A lot don't even realize that these powers are totally confined to our suits. They think we're like...Spider-Man. Alya, you asked me if I was bitten by a radioactive bug when you first saw me! And akuma victims forget everything, so they don't really remember they were ever after physical objects. How many people honestly notice my earrings, or think they're important enough to mention that they didn't notice them in the first place? I think he was just drawing attention to them, honestly. Giving himself an excuse to look closer. I did think then that it was...an odd thing to point out. Maybe a fashion designer perk? Or just...polite conversation starter? But we're both celebrities in Paris. I wouldn't think he needed my earrings to start a conversation.”

“And...you think Hawkemoth would know exactly what your Miraculouses are?” Alya asked, looking timidly at Chat.

“Yes,” he said confidently. “I mean he knows we have them in the first place, which is a lot more than most people can say, but I'm pretty positive he knows ours are earrings and a ring.”

“How can he know that much about you two when you know hardly anything at all about him?”

Marinette cleared her throat. “I think I know,” she said.

“Me too,” Tikki piped up. She had been so quiet, they had nearly all forgotten that she had been there the whole time.

Please, Chat thought. Please, please, say what I think you're going to say so that I don't have to. Please talk about the book, Marinette. I know you know about it. I can't talk about it. I wasn't supposed to have had it. Please, talk about the book and that's all we need.

“I, uh...so...Adrien had this book. He mentioned it was his dad's. At least, that's what I overheard him saying.”

Alya raised an eyebrow at her, but could say nothing. Chat didn't care. In fact, he encouraged it now. He hoped she had overheard him real good and well.

“He was telling Lila and then I saw her steal the book...which of course wasn't okay.”

“And I told Marinette that we needed it,” Tikki said, seemingly defending the fact that she had ever come into possession of the book.

“So the book ended up in the trash and we dug it out,” Marinette said, blushing. “I originally intended to get it and give it back to Adrien, and tell him what Lila had done, taking it and being so flippant about it, but Tikki insisted that we needed to keep it, and it became clear why pretty quickly.”

“Wait, wait, wait, slow down,” Alya said, holding her hands up. “Slow way down. What that hell is this book? I completely lost track here.”

Don't explain anything, Chat reminded himself. You know nothing. Explain nothing.

“I was getting there,” Marinette said. “Adrien found this book apparently that belong to his dad, and he was clearly intrigued with it enough to bring it to school. Lila seemed to be really interested in it, too. They were in the library and I heard them talking, and she said something about being a Miraculous. Well, I guess it would be weird for just Marinette to stick around that long, but now I'm free to say that being Ladybug made me want to stay and listen more. At the time, though, I was more interested in Lila and how suspicious she was acting, and whether or not there was a fox Miraculous at all, but I should have been focused on where Adrien got the book in the first place. I mean it's a book about us. And it's accurate, apparently. So Lila took it, God knows why, and disposed of it, again, God knows why, but the important part is that I recovered it....at Tikki's command, of course. I guess it had been missing for...a while.”

“And what did you do with it?” Chat asked, trying to maintain a purely curious tone. Really, though, the book never came back to him. He had always wondered what exactly had happened to it.

Marinette blushed. “Well, to be honest, I did flick through it a little. I mean, how can you blame me, really? Not really the easiest thing in the world to read. As in, impossible. It was in some language I didn't recognize. But Tikki said it was crucial, so of course I believed her.”

“It was crucial,” Tikki said. “It has years of history and information about our lives in it! It had to get back to its rightful place.”

“Which was?” Alya prompted. And now Chat was equally inquisitive. If not his dad's safe, where was the book's rightful place?

“With Master Fu.”

“Master Who?” Alya asked.

“The man who holds all of the miraculouses,” Tikki tried to patiently explain. “There's one guardian, or master, who is in charge of keeping them all safe and distributing them if necessary. He has the turtle miraculous but hasn't worked in the field in years. Master Fu has always elected to stay out of the way of the active miraculouses unless it's time, or totally necessary. I suppose he hasn't decided it's quite time yet, because he only met Marinette out of necessity and had us leave pretty quickly afterwards. He's strange that way, honestly. I think he always preferred you two to meet him together, and after you've learned each others' identities, so that you can both come unsuited. See, Marinette came unsuited, but he knows who you two are of course, because he chose you.”

Alya's mouth had fallen open slightly and she narrowed her eyes, attempted to keep up.

“Okay, so let's see if I follow,” Chat said. “There's someone, this Master Fu, that holds all the miraculouses to protect them and he's a holder himself. He chose us, but prefers to stay a recluse until it's time. But that time hasn't come yet because we both aren't ready and don't both know each others' identities. But Marinette had to meet him early because of this book. Correct?”

“Correct,” Tikki nodded.

“So, what did he say about it, then?”

Marinette shrugged. “Honestly? Not much. Not time. He's got, like, this whole thing about it being time and not time and people being ready...it's a little confusing. He took the book, raved about how it's been missing for a few years and how he thought he'd never see it again, like the Butterfly and Peacock miraculouses. He didn't think it was necessary to read any of the book to me, but he was probably waiting for me to come back with you to do that.”

“Well, why does that matter?” Chat asked, almost frustrated. “He didn't think he was ever going to see the book again anyway! Why does it matter if he told you about it?”

Marinette shrugged. “It's the whole yin and yang thing. To him, we're pretty much one person. Just telling me alone would have been useless I guess. He did ask me where I got the book though. And I half truthed him. I told him I saw Lila toss it after talking about miraculouses and that Tikki said we needed it...which was true, but I left out the fact that Adrien had it first. Lila stole it and mistreated it, but it was Adrien's book first and I didn't want him to get in trouble. I didn't even consider at that point that the book had been Monsieur Agreste's in the first place.”

Well, I doubt I would have gotten in trouble, Chat thought to himself. But that was nice of her anyway, I guess. Maybe not to Lila, but she did still lie and steal...oh, well. Other villain, other time.

“I did still look at the pictures, though,” Marinette said. “There's pictures of all of the miraculouses – the objects I mean. My earrings and Chat's ring is there, so if Gabriel had this book and saw that, then he would know what we had. And there were also pictures of the Butterfly miraculous. Until recently, I still wanted to believe that Hawkemoth was a separate entity. I wanted to believe that no human, owning a miraculous like I do, would use it for evil. But I stopped being able to deny that that was a possibility. From what I could tell, the Butterfly makes armies for good. Or is supposed to. Instead of making armies for good, he's using his akuma to control one awful soldier at a time.”

“Evil magic does take more energy,” Tikki said solemnly. “Be glad for that. You wouldn't want to face an entire army at once.”

“I didn't get to any pages that discussed what might happen if you combined the Ladybug and Black Cat miraculous, but at this point, I'm not sure I want to know for sure what might happen. All I know is that Gabriel Agreste is at the top of our suspect list, has lured both us and akumas directly towards him more than once, has noticed our miraculouses physically – and to be honest, I think he's the first to ever really comment on my earrings directly before – and he had this book. How many copies of this book are there, Tikki?”

“As far as I know, that's the only one.”

“Tikki...did you used to live with Master Fu?” Chat asked.

“Yes, Plagg and I both did, of course.”

“Do you have any idea how long the book was missing? Maybe if you know, we can figure out how or why M...onsieur Agreste obtained it.” He had to hold himself back especially from saying my father.

“Well, I can't give an exact number figure,” Tikki said. “Years are hard for me to keep track of, now that I've been alive for so long. Especially when we're dormant. But I do know a general time frame. Master Fu didn't always used to live in Paris. He moves...well, when it's time, as you might expect. Not sure how he can tell. Maybe it's a Turtle thing. Anyway, before he lived in France, he lived in Tibet. Anyway, I'm not sure when it was that he moved, or how long we lived in France before you got a hold of us, but I know for certain that he lost the book when he was still in Tibet. He must have sense where it moved to.”

“T-Tibet?” Chat asked slowly.

“Yeah, why?”

“I...Marinette, remember that week that Hawkemoth seemed inactive for a while and we joked that he must be taking a break? It happened right after the gala.”

“Yes, I remember,” Marinette replied, already beginning to see where he was headed.

“Gabriel was leaving the gala quickly that night. He wasn't even supposed to be there and he moved his travel times around. I expect that he heard we were going to be there and he couldn't pass it up. Anyway, he was headed for Tibet. He mentioned it at some point during the night.” Whether he did or didn't was irrelevant. Gabriel could have mentioned his travel plans at any time that night. The point was, he knew where his father had gone. It was clear. Too obvious now. If the location wasn't enough of a giveaway, the fact that Hawkemoth's activity started at stopped at the same time was proof enough. Alya and Marinette had done it. They had done it without his suggestion.

“I can't believe we know who Hawkemoth is,” Alya said.

“I can't believe it's Gabriel Agreste,” Marinette said.

Chat continued to stare at all the research on the floor, silent, until his ring began to beep.

Purr-fect timing,” he said, trying to lighten up the moment and his own mood. “I'd better take off. I can't stay long today. I'll text you, Mari. And Alya?”

Alya caught his burning green eyes.

“Thank you. So much.”

“For what?” she asked, realizing a second too late that he was likely thanking her for things he couldn't actually say in front of Marinette.

“Uh, for helping out, that's all. Couldn't have done this without you. Really.”

She smiled softly. “Any time, Chat Noir.”

He sprinted out the balcony door as his beeping sped up and Marinette fell back on the floor.

“I just can't believe it,” she said, more to herself than Alya.

“Can't you?” Alya asked. For a long time, she had suspected Gabriel the most, even before she had all of the evidence. She considered it a kind of investigators curse, and in most cases, it would probably do more harm to focus on likely prejudiced hunches, but here, she turned out to be spot on. Because of this, Chat's identity came as a bonus surprise. She had been speculating for a while that Adrien's recent brooding and Chat's family anxieties were a whole lot more concerning than a simply overprotective father.

“I mean...I guess I can believe it. I don't want to, though.”

“Of course you don't. You don't want to believe that anyone is Hawkemoth. You're too pure, Marinette.”

“I know, I know...poor Adrien though.”

“Poor Adrien,” Alya added.

“I guess I've been judging him a little harshly.”

“Maybe. You've been judging him for different things, but maybe, yes. He'll be okay, I think. He's a strong boy. But...Well, now that you know, I guess the best you can do is try to save him by finding Hawkemoth and getting rid of him. And save the rest of Paris while you're at it.”

Marinette looked at the papers and maps scattered around her, seeing through them.

“How do we do it?”

“What do you mean?” Alya asked.

“I mean how do we get rid of Hawkemoth? I can't go up to Gabriel Agreste and smack him over the head, can I? If I do it as Marinette, that's all kinds of assault charges I'm facing, and I could never prove why I was doing it. As Ladybug, it'll look just as bad. Like I'm attacking a man for no reason. We can't just go in. We know who he is, but the public does not. So we have to be careful. So then there's the question. How do we get rid of Hawkemoth?”

“I guess...you'd have to do it while he's Hawkemoth, then.”

“Yup. Yeah, that would be it, wouldn't it? But...Alya, the only reason I even know what he looks like is because of that book and because of Volpina's illusions. We've never seen him. Not he real him anyway. He uses pawns so that he can stay hidden away. So where is he hiding?”

Alya laughed. “Well, that should be easy now, don't you think?”

“Why's that?”

“Why did we bother figuring out who he was in the first place?” Alya asked. Marinette stayed quiet. “Because that's how you find him. If you already knew where he was, it wouldn't matter who he was. You could just pull his mask off afterwards, Scooby Doo style.”

“I don't think his mask would come off like that...”

“You know what I mean! Point is, you know how to find him because you know who he is.”

“But it's Gabriel Agreste.

“Well, you've snuck your way into his house before, haven't you?” Alya teased. Marinette grabbed a nearby pillow and smacked her with it. “You have! You just have a different task this time. I think it'll work out. Besides, you have Chat. He's intuitive enough. I think you'll be okay finding it. He's got enough money. He probably just...has a room in that mansion he stares out of all day.”

Marinette narrowed her eyes. “You're...probably right, actually. Well...we'll figure it out tomorrow, I guess. So...should we do homework then?”

“We already did,” Alya said, shifting their papers around.

“Real homework,” Marinette said. “You know, for school. I feel like I've gotten so behind. Hero stuff, I guess.”

Hero stuff,” Alya mocked. “More like boy stuff. Although...I guess it's kind of one and the same category now, isn't it?”

“You are really pushing it tonight, I hope you know.”

“I know, I know. Yeah, let's do homework, I guess.”

Marinette took out her books as her text tone went off.

From: Chat

See you tomorrow night, Princess. Same time as usual, outside the Agreste mansion?

She smiled, and suddenly, all the anxiety about sniffing out Hawkemoth was gone.

To: Chat

see you then, chaton. Well make sure it isnt all work and no play.

She wondered how he would take the text and he responded quickly and simply.

From: Chat

??

She texted him back with a simple smile emoji before opening her math book and planning out the next evening in her mind.

oOo

The minute he got home from lessons, Adrien was on his balcony, pacing. He was thankful for another akuma-less day, but the way the air felt made him on edge, like one could come at any time. It was different when Hawkemoth had been away – on vacation, they had called it. Considering the fact that he had been it Tibet only made him more anxious. There was something, or maybe even someone, in Tibet that he was going for. And there was a chance that his visits were not moral.

The best chance he had for his sanity was to detach his father from Hawkemoth and ignore that they were the same. At least until he was brought to justice. He had to detach himself as Adrien from his duties as Chat Noir, which felt horrible, seeing as he had been working towards getting Marinette to do the opposite.

The night before, after getting home from Marinette's house, he snuck out of his bed again, bypassing the safe and bee-lining to the morose portrait at the top of the staircase. He had checked once more to see if it was, in fact, a door to what he expected. After all, his father seemed to have a knack for hiding secrets behind painting. The safe was behind one, as was their security system lock down button, and various other safes containing design plans and jewels were hidden throughout the mansion. The morose portrait was a door, but truthfully, it could have been a door to anything. The fact that Adrien had known about all the doors before, sans the one with the safe behind it, convinced him that maybe it contained the truth after all.

When he had made it to the portrait, his heart was pounding so hard he feared he might throw it up. There was certainly no danger of his father walking around that late at night and catching him, but...that was Gabriel. Maybe Hawkemoth was the kind of person that needed to walk around at night and get things done. Still, he knew it was his anxieties that caused the thoughts. He knew, just as he and Chat were one, his father and Hawkemoth were one. Even if he didn't want for them to be. And he had already determined that Hawkemoth worked to Gabriel's schedules and not vice versa. Hawkemoth worked when Gabriel wasn't busy, so what reason did Hawkemoth have to be walking around in the dead of night when Gabriel needed to be up for work early the next day? That's why there were less akumas. The fashion season was busy. Having a miraculous couldn't stop his father from being a natural workaholic.

Wasn't there a Bee miraculous? Adrien had thought. That's the one Père should have gotten.

He creaked the portrait door open, praying the hinges wouldn't squeak or that an alarm wouldn't go off. Thankfully, with a house that had a lock down system like theirs did, alarms inside were hardly necessary.

He didn't climb into the room that was revealed. After all, knowing Gabriel's secrecy, he thought for sure that it might close and lock behind him, and Adrien could only imagine the end result of that scenario. Stuck in the cold, round room until morning...or until whenever his father decided it was time to make another akuma.

He did peer in, however, best as he was able. The room was fairly large ; large enough to be another bedroom if need be, but perhaps not big enough to realize there was something additional on the house. Adrien himself got lost in his own mansion in certain wings – particularly where his father's offices were located. He knew where Nathalie's bedroom was for when she stayed with them, and where his father's office and bedroom were, but there were countless other rooms he had never set foot in. He knew his home had thirteen bathrooms in it, and he had only ever used three of them. It was extremely likely that there was a room he never knew about. There were several.

Looking inside the room that he had just uncovered, he had tried to commit it to memory as quickly as possible. There really was not much in it – and by thinking that, he realized he was giving the room more credit that it deserved. There was nothing in it. As far as Adrien knew, though his home had more rooms necessary for a home (of course, it was partially an office and fashion studio and entertaining space as well), none of them were completely empty. Even his mother's old rooms, of which she had more than one, were completely untouched. All of her belongings had been largely left alone. Some rooms seemed to serve no purpose except to showcase exotic and expensive art pieces, or retired fashion collections. But no room had ever just been empty.

And this one was. There was nothing on the walls, which really was more shocking than the fact that the room had no furniture to speak of. Adrien knew his father well enough to believe that he would own a room with no furniture to speak of and consider it fully functional, but those kinds of rooms generally had fashion sketchs on the walls, or Adrien's own photoshoots, or more portraits of his mother. It was especially odd, Adrien remembered thinking, that even though his greatest theory was that his father acted as Hawkemoth to get his mother back, there was no sign of her anywhere in the room.

What stood out the most, aside from it's sheer emptiness, was the large window in the back of the room. There were large windows in his home, yes, but there was something more about this one in particular. The roundness almost didn't fit in to the aesthetic of the rest of the mansion, and it took up the majority of the wall it was on. What was oddest though was that the window was definitely covered up. Granted, Adrien realized that he didn't pay much attention to the back of his mansion. He knew where his own bedroom window was, but the mansion was big enough and strange enough even to him that he paid no mind to the other windows on the exterior. Chances were anyway that he wouldn't even know what room they were connected to anyway. With the addition of an elaborate covering, it was no wonder he had never taken notice of such a large window on the outside of his house before.

From the inside, he was just able to make out the shape of the panes, however, and had to holdback from rolling his eyes. There was an unmistakable outline of a simple butterfly worked into the round fixture.

How ridiculous, Père, he had thought. And yet, so like you.

He could imagine his father having contractors and designers over, which was not an uncommon circumstance, serious as he was, asking for a butterfly shaped window. To feed his own aesthetic and ego. He would risk his identity and safety (because after all, his butterfly theme was widely recognized, almost as much as his own and Ladybugs were) for the sake of having a ridiculously large butterfly window in the room he did his dirty work in. Of course. Why wouldn't that be the case? I mean, I would have a cat window, Père, but that's because I'm a complete loser, despite what all the magazines say, and I probably would have gotten one before becoming Chat Noir.

As if, by that point, he didn't have enough evidence, the butterfly window in the suspiciously empty room cemented the fact entirely. His own father was his own worst enemy, now in more ways than one. What surprised Adrien most, in the end, was his lack of surprise. Of course, he did have the initial nausea in his gut, but he supposed he had always known his father was capable of that kind of behavior, and the ease with which he was able to accept the fact that Gabriel was Hawkemoth disturbed him. He wasn't pleased with the situation. It didn't make him feel good or comforted on any level. Still, there wasn't ever a phase of denial, and that was, perhaps, what upset him most. There wasn't even a remnant left in his body that even bothered hoping he was wrong about his father. Not a single part of him wondered it it was a mistake.

And now, he paced on his balcony, where his delectably named kittens danced around his feet. 

“Almond, what are we gunna do, buddy?” he asked, picking up the tanner kitten. “How am I gunna attack my own father?”

The cat mewed in a way that Adrien accepted as sympathetic.

“Adrien -,” Plagg started in the same tone.

Yeah, yeah, I know, he attacked me first. And second. And third. He's attacked us a lot, I know. But he didn't know it was me.”

The cat pawed at him, trying to reach his face.

“Adrien,” Plagg tried again. “I know you're his son, and I know it's hard to go after him because he's your father. And I know it's easy to try excusing him because he didn't know it was you. But be honest with yourself. Whether he knew it was you or not, is attack people and making villains the way he has been acceptable behavior for anyone? On any scale?”

“No,” Adrien said, knowing full well it was the truth. “For all I know, maybe he does know who I am. I'm the blind one, remember? It took me this long to recognize who he is, and we live in the same house. Maybe he's smarter than me and realize that I'm Chat a long time ago.”

Plagg sighed deeply while Almond rubbed himself into Adrien's chest.

“Again, Adrien, I know he's your father, but if he knew you were Chat, that ring would have been off your finger a long time ago, and he wouldn't need to attack you at all. In all honesty, you probably inherited your blindness fom him. He's not around enough to notice any patterns you've developed as Chat. Nathalie is probably the most likely to have noticed, and if she did, I really doubt she'd say anything. She seems to know pretty clearly which business is hers and which isn't.”

“Yeah, I suppose you're right,” Adrien agreed. “Still, this is going to be tricky, don't you think? Attacking him as Chat inside my own house? I mean, where am I supposed to be while Chat's here taking care of things? Don't you think Ladybug will notice that Adrien isn't home? You can't tell me after all...this, that she'd come back here and not look for him or try to keep him safe.”

Plagg shrugged. “Honestly, that's a really good question. This whole thing isn't going to be easy. You don't have to rush it, you know. I still think it's a slight suicide mission to run in there knowing nothing.”

“I know...I know. But as soon as we figure out how to do it, it probably is going to happen. I know you don't like it, but we have to try, Plagg. Ladybug and I were chosen because Paris needed help, yes, but Paris needed help because of Hawkemoth. We were brought in to deal with him. The akumas are just little battles. Beating them keeps Paris safe that day, and it keep the miraculouses safe, but it does nothing to push Hawkemoth back further. We have to at least scare him. We have to at least let him know that we're here.”

“If you say so, kid,” Plagg sighed. “I worry, though. I just worry. I don't want to see you hurt.”

“Most of Paris worries, Plagg. That's why we're here. The job has to get done sooner or later.”

He put Almond down and let him and the other two kittens into his room. They had gotten accustomed to their new living quarters, and been spoiled by Adrien so much that they'd never want for anything for the rest of their lives, but they still liked going back out to their balcony whenever they had the chance.

“Come on, Ladybug's going to be wait for us, and I don't want her to see me hopping down from here.”

He transformed to Plagg's slight reluctance. The kwami had definitely improved his attitude towards the more frequent transformations, but this time, he felt that this particular meeting with Ladybug was only a part of the siege he disapproved of so greatly.

“Good evening, My Lady,” Chat greeted with a kiss on the hand. His habit of giving them out had decreased – particularly during the time when he believed she didn't want him at all – but he had picked it back up recently, and because the hand kisses were now more spaced out, they seemed to mean more. Rather than playing it off, as she had countless times before (and Chat liked to think he remembered every single jilted kiss), Ladybug blushed attractively, as though he had never done it before in his life. In fact, as if they had never done anything more before in their lives. Chat couldn't help but think how ironic it was that the simple gesture now made her turn red when she could just as easily grind against him with a devilish look in her eye and do so calmly, like she was born to do it. It was kinda of funny and kind of confusing, but mostly adorable. I guess she puts a new spin on Lady in the streets phrase, then.

“Good evening, Chat. How's your day been?”

“Can't have been too much different than your own,” Chat laughed truthfully. “I've only been to school.”

“I still had time to catch up on homework and go to the movies. Which was nice. I don't feel like I've had time to do much like that recently, you know? Even if a slot of time seems to open up, I feel like I have to keep it free, for...something. I don't know. I've been on edge.”

Really? Time for movies, too? Well, I guess fencing takes up a good chunk of time. And evidently, so does pacing...

“Huh. I suppose my after school activities take away a lot of my free time than I realized.”

“Extra curriculars. Chat does extra curriculars. Well, now, the plot thickens. What kind?”

Chat laughed honestly. “No, no, no. I believe you are badgering the witness, madame.”

Badgering the witness? That is not what that means. That would mean I'm being unnecessarily hostile to you. I'm just asking a simple question to you.”

“...Oh. You know, I don't think that's the definition I was thinking of. Still. You knew what you were doing. It's too invasive of a question.”

“Fine, fine, you win. Still. The idea of Chat Noir taking extra curriculars is quite entertaining. I hope it's something really great. Like theater. Or...ceramics.”

“I'll have you know that I take more than one. They do eat up quite a lot of my free time. And, this may come as something of a shock to you, but I don't take them in my suite. Just because I have to hang around you, looking like a crazy idiot in black leather -”

“Your suit's made out of leather?

“No, of course not. I'd never be able to move. Come on, you're a designer, you should have been able to tell.”

“I know, that's why I was being skeptical.”

“Plagg says it's magic material and left it at that. My point is, I look like a crazy idiot in black leather, whether I am or I am not, whenever I'm a around you. That doesn't mean I walk the universe looking like that all the time.”

“You have to kill my joy like that?” Ladybug asked, fake pouting.

“Hey, with that attitude, you'll really never find me, looking out for a black clad cat boy at all times.”

“I suppose you're right. But you have to admit, the image of you sitting around making pottery or debating heated subjects with a group of kids while you're always wearing that is delightfully amusing.”

“I'm glad you think so.”

“So your day, then?”

“Normal, I guess. Lots of thinking. Yesterday was...different.”

“Oh?”

“I did some scouting around the house.”

Ladybug look around, mildly confused. “Around...? Around this house? Around the Agreste mansion?”

“Well, yeah, what else? I decided to get prepared, I guess. After I left your house. I just...wanted to make sure.”

“Weren't you sure enough?”

“Well, yeah, but I wanted to see if we were wasting our time looking around here. If I didn't see anything, we could have started to look around the rest of Paris.”

“You still should have waited for me. Just in case something happened.”

“I was fine. Trust me, it was...dark.” Which was true. It was dark. And nothing happened. She didn't need to know that it was because he scouted from the inside of the house. As Adrien. Late at night. And nothing happened or was going to happen because he lived there and could play every little thing off as an accident.

“Still...”

“You don't even want to know if I found anything?”

“Oh! I...did you find something? I just assumed...”

“I know you did. But yes, actually I did find something, and I'm pretty sure it means we won't have to search all over Paris. Come on.”

Ladybug followed after him, jumping up onto the tall fence surrounding the estate. As always, there were countless unspoken secrets between them. She feigned nerves, but Ladybug did not tell Chat that she had already scaled the fence before, making it all the way up to Adrien's room. Chat did not tell her that his wild confidence wasn't because of his suit, but because he was comfortable with the surroundings of his own house to a fault.

“Don't you think we'll be seen?” Ladybug asked.

No, Chat thought to himself. No one's there to care.

“I don't think so,” he said out loud. “There's not too many lights on inside, and I'd say we're in a bit of a blindspot to what would probably be the main rooms. I doubt there's hardly anybody home. Look, the lights to Adrien's room are off.”

“How you know which is his room?” Ladybug half laughed.

“We were here before, remember? Jackady? I traipzed around the whole damn place. I just remember I was told to look out for that window.” Not true, but again, something Ladybug didn't need to know. They were apart enough that day that he could have been told anything and she would never know. “Also, it was photographed once in one of those young people tabloids. Grainy picture, big red circle around the window, excited arrows and all. How could I miss it?”

“Young people tabloids?”

“Yeah, you know, like those ones for teens that usually have the fresh faced YouTube stars and boy bands on them, talking about what it's like to kiss other starlets? Not quite as trashy as a real tabloid, but definitely more embarrassing?”

Ladybug stopped still on the fence. “You...read those?”

Chat turned to look at her. “Well, of course, My Lady. How else am I going to get my news about One Direction?”

Ladybug cocked an eyebrow at him, wordlessly.

God, I'm joking. It's something to do at the doctor's office. Theyre kind of funny, to be honest.”

Both were untrue. His bedroom window had been photographed and submitted to one of those brightly colored magazines, but he only saw it because Nathalie had dropped the magazine, folded over to the exact page, onto the dining room table during breakfast one morning. It had been to warn him, and rightfully so, as there were flocks of obsessed teen girls as close to the outside of his bedroom window as they could get for two weeks straight. He had, eventually, thrown the magazine in the trash, after taking a ludicrous quiz for fun titled Which Hot New Hairstyle Should You Try This Summer? (He had a hard time denying that he was disappointed that every one of the quiz results required a ponytail).

“Fine, then. I suppose you're right anyway. It doesn't look like anyone's home, does it?”

Chat admitted to himself that that seemed to be the case. He didn't generally take much notice, but now it clearly seemed that the limo was not parked anywhere around the mansion. Made their work easier.

“It's...back here, I think.”

“You think?”

“Come on, give me some credit, here. I just need to be sure.” Honestly, Chat just hadn't checked on the outside. It had to be at the back of the house, but it would be covered. “Okay, careful.”

Chat vaulted up the roof on the back side of the house and looked behind to make sure Ladybug was following. After all, she had proven once before that she couldn't land very gracefully on his house.

“Okay, I think it's right around here...”

“What exactly are we looking for, here?”

Chat lowered and sat on the roof where it was rounded and patted the spot next to him, inviting her to join. She sat down carefully, looking around to check if she had missed something.

“Alright, so I saw something strange, but it's covered up, which is the problem. There's a big window. A big window. It's round, and I was just able to peer inside, and it leads to a room. Just a big, empty room.”

“How empty is empty?” Ladybug asked. “I mean, it could be a studio, don't you think? Gabriel is a designer, after all. It couldn't be a work room, you don't think?”

Chat shook his head slowly. “No...no, I don't think so.” The bright side was that there was no way Ladybug could be too suspicious about him at that moment. He wanted her to figure things out, but that second did not seem to be the most appropriate time, and there was no way that she would think that Adrien knew nothing about a room in his own home. “It's empty. Not almost empty, or seemingly empty. It's as empty as empty gets. Even the walls. The walls have...nothing. I don't...I don't even think that they're real walls.”

“What do you mean, you don't think that they're real?”

“Well, they aren't...covered. You know? You can see the beams and everything. It's like metal or something. It's not just that they aren't painted or wallpapered. It seems...it seems like an addition to the house. Or a renovation. It seems...new.”

“Right...okay, I see what you're getting at. And the window is covered, you said?”

“Well, yeah, but not in the way that you would think. It's not with like...blinds or curtains. It's like...well, you'll see. If I can find it.”

He got on all fours and started crawling around the roof, realizing it would be far easier if it were not night and the lights of the mansion we're off for the most part.

“Here!” he exclaimed finally, gesturing for her to crawl over to him. “This is it.”

The window was not protruding or indented in away way, but rather, completely even with the rest of the roof, accounting for part of why it was hard to immediately spot, and the covering was the same color as the rest of the house's exterior. Now that they were on top of it, it stuck out like a sore thumb, but it was not something that would easily stand out if it wasn't being looked for. It was even angled in such a way that it definitely wasn't easily noticeable, if it was noticeable at all, from the street view. Chat forgave himself silently then for not ever having noticed it before.

“Can you see the panes?” Chat asked Ladybug as they inspected it. They were more difficult to see from the outside somehow, and Chat had to admit that he was unsure how the window worked, exactly. It was covered in a way similar to the way his other windows got barricaded during a security lockdown, but if it were exactly the same, the window would be entirely covered and the panes would not be visible as they were on the inside. He determined that there were likely two sets of panes – one on the outside and one on the inside – and the window barricade went through the center. Or, even more likely, perhaps the window had no glass whatsoever. There was either a barricade, where the glass should be, or the window was open altogether, and then the black metal that formed the design of a butterfly, was there purely for décor. Yup, just like my father.

“Well, I can see the shape they would be...,” Ladybug said, curiously. “There's a butterfly. A butterfly shaped window. That much is obvious. Honestly, how egotistical can you get, to risk your own identity but putting it on the a window on your actual house?”

Exactly. How egotistical can you get? Though I'm not sure that's the word I would use. More like needlessly extravagent and more money than he knows what to do with. But there's little difference at that point. If Pére wasn't Hawkemoth, we might have an easier time. Anyone else wouldn't be able to hide so well. He got unlucky with his son, but I guess I've got enough bad luck for the whole mansion.

“I don't think, though,” Ladybug said, “That there's any glass in it.”

“I was just thinking that. I think you're right.”

“I mean, there couldn't be. Not with the way this little...barricade is set up.”

“I didn't notice the first time...,” Chat said truthfully. “I didn't think about it.”

“You know what it looks like?”

“What?”

“The James Bond...swirl.”

“The James Bond swirl. You mean the gun barrel thing? Like...Goldfinger?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Huh...I see what you're saying. You think it opens in a swirl like that?”

“Probably. Look at how it's shaped. And I mean, it's pretty common for a round shaped window, don't you think?”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

“How did you see inside the first time?” Ladybug asked genuinely.

“It was earlier in the day,” Chat lied. “So it was lighter. I'm also not entirely sure if the barricade was a little bit open, or if it just doesn't close vaccuum- tight. I just peaked through the cracks. I think it's too dark now to even attempt.”

Apparently, the lie was convincing enough, because she continued. “I suppose if there was no glass at all, it would be easier to send out the akumas, don't you think?”

“Yeah...makes sense. I guess it's pretty set in stone that it's him, then,” Chat said, though the fact had now been known for a while.

“So how are we going to do this then?” Ladybug asked, bringing back up the same topic she had discussed with Alya.

“What do you mean?” Chat asked. “Like...well, we come after him.”

“Okay, but how is that going to work? The window is closed now, obviously. We can't just waltz through the front door and get to him whenever we want, either,” Ladybug said.

Well, you can't.

“We pretty much have to do it while he's active. As far as we know, we only know he's active when he's sending out an akuma. How else will we know when he's suited up? We can't attack him when he's just Gabriel.”

“...Damn, that's risky. Attacking him when there's an akuma loose.”

“Yeah...yeah, we'll figure that out. Besides, we've got Alya. She may not be able to do all the things that we can, but having her know still makes her a good ally. You staved off the Evillustrator pretty well as yourself. And Princess Fragrence for a while, now that I think about it. Alya's resourceful, and she might damn well be more clever than the both of us, when she needs to be. You think we can recruit her?”

“Are you kidding me? She's be ecstatic. It'd probably be a dream come true for her.”

“You know...Plagg told me this was going to be a suicide mission.”

“Yeah?”

“He's really worried, but...I mean, no one else in Paris can do this, and it is what we were meant to do. We might as well try to make a start. We can't be Ladybug and Chat Noir and know who and where Hawkemoth is and not do a thing about it as soon as possible.”

“I know, I agree, that's what I told him,” Chat said. “Still, he doesn't seem keen on the idea. Doesn't think we're ready. We can only do our best, I suppose.”

“Well, if it's going to be a suicide mission, I suppose there's still things we have to do.”

“Oh?”

“Yup. Now you've got to follow me. Come on.”

“Where to?” he shouted after her as they jumped from the rooftop.

“I told you!” she shouted back as they bounded onto the next roof over. “We'd have to make sure it wasn't all work and no play!”

“Doesn't really answer my question!” he replied, but Ladybug said nothing further, and so he continued to follow obediently.

“The Eiffel Tower?” he asked. There trip wasn't as far or as mysterious as she seemed to want him to think it was. His home was, after all, directly across from the landmark.

“Yeah, come on!”

She swung up the tower and he followed behind her as he had done on countless occasions for the good of the city. Now, he had no real idea as to what the point of the trip was, but he was willing to bet that it had nothing to do with justice.

“How far up?” he asked, which Ladybug answered by going to the very top. He had not been that high up since Jagged Stone had been akumatized and there was meant to be a concert performed from that height.

“Are we supposed to be up here?” Chat asked.

“Honestly, I don't think anyone's ever supposed to be up here,” Ladybug said. “But who's going to get us down? If anyone even saw us come up here, they were civilians, and they couldn't get up here or see us if they wanted to or tried.”

Chat looked out over the city. “It's kind of nice...you know? This view.”

Ladybug laughed. “You've been up here before. A few times. You're just now noticing?”

Chat shrugged. “We've never not been busy doing something. And I've never seen it lit up quick like this. It's usually too light. It's just nice to appreciate when I can do so just for the sake of appreciating it.”

Ladybug appeared next to him. “Yeah...you're right. I didn't even think about about it.”

They stayed looking for a while before something caught the corner of Chat's eye.

“What in the world...?”

He turned as Ladybug smiled cheekily and walked to where he saw a scarf, tied to the grate of tower, blowing in the light breeze.

“What the hell...how did that get up here?”

Ladybug shrugged. “Well, I dare say I don't have the faintest idea.”

Chat turned. “You put it there?”

“Of course, I did, silly.”

“Suicide mission, my ass, you were going to bring me up here one way or another,” Chat said.

“Of course I was!” Ladybug exclaimed. “I texted you last night that we were going to find a way to balance work and play, didn't I?”

“Well, yeah! But I though you were just...I don't know, being cheeky, I guess. You tend to do that.”

“You're right, I guess I do,” Ladybug agreed. She supposed even without the influence of the Ladybugs before her, she had always had a hefty amount of that sass in her. It was part of what made her and Alya such good friends from day one.

“But what good is a scarf?” Chat asked innocently.

What good is  scarf...Oh, Chaton...Who was it that came up with the scarf idea in the first place?”

“What scarf idea? What are you talking about?” he mumbled still, and Ladybug gave him time to collect his thoughts. “You mean...oh.”

It had been Chat's idea to tie something around Marinette's eyes when she was naked and he had detransformed. She had, at first, seemed to be opposed to the idea, but they worked it out in the end. And now she was offering one up as a suggestion for...more? Once again, though all the hints were there, he was cautious about jumping to any conclusions. Maybe she was just hinting that she wear a scarf to detransform and...talk. Play cards. It was possible that her definition of play was literal, wasn't it? If it was possible that she had more on her mind, then anything else was possible, he supposed. Then again, she was the one that had initited things two nights prior. Chat had simply decided that it was in his best interest not to assume anything ever. Even if it caused him to seem terribly dense at times, it was an acceptable price to pay. He could only imagine the horror that would ensue if he began to strip when all she really wanted to do was play chess.

“Are you okay, Chaton? You seem confused,” Ladybug asked patiently.

“No, no, I'm definitely more than fine. I'm just...making sure that your idea and my idea are the same ideas.”

Ladybug smiled and tossed Chat's bell, which seemed to be a sure sign that they were on the same page. There was something in the way she did that that always seemed to be so suggestive.

“I'm sure that our ideas are the same. You don't have to be so cautious. Though I do appreciate it. It's quite chivalrous of you. If I was so innocent, though, I wouldn't bring you all the way up here, out of the public eye, just to play cards. Are you good with that?”

“More than good with that,” Chat smiled. Still cautious, he reached out for her hands and pulled her to him before putting his hands behind her head and tilting it up to kiss him softly. It was less animalistic than their kisses had been two nights before, but that night, she had definitely been on a mission. She meant to get him excited, and do it fast, and leave him wanting more on purpose. It had been her intention to end up on top, and she had succeeded without a doubt. Now, they seemed to be even. He had teased her, and she had teased right back, and though they eventually had ended each night in ecstasy, they had each been left wanting more. Now they could take it slower. There was no need for either to get ahead, and it was now clear that, as far as desire, they were on equal footing.

“I felt so bad,” Ladybug whispered close to his lips.

“Bad about what, My Lady?”

She pulled back just enough to look in his eyes. One day, she realized, she'd be able to look into them and they wouldn't be entirely green. And she would know him.

“Well, you sent me that picture, you know, and you said you had to help yourself. I just felt bad that I made you do all the work, I suppose.”

“Oh, I didn't do all of it. You're the one that got me there, don't forget,” he replied accusingly, though he was blushing. “I forgot I sent you a picture, though.”

“I appreciated it greatly,” Ladybug said. “I'm looking forward to...to being with you without your suit on. The picture only made the temptation greater. You're entirely to blame for the scarf, you know.”

“Oh, am I?”

“Like I said, it was your idea in the first place. You planted all the ideas. I'm just following them through. Now, tell me, did you remember whispering my name? Or did you forget about that, too?”

Chat darkened further. “No, I didn't forget. I could never forget.”

“That's what really got me, you know,” Ladybug said, letting her head fall against his chest. “When you told me that you said my name.”

Chat looked down to look at the top of her head. “Really? That's the part that got you?”

“Well, I don't know...,” Ladybug continued, still against his chest. “It's just that...you said my name. You know? I was suited as Ladybug when I teased you. And I wasn't there at all when you finished. You said my name all on my own and chose to tell me about it.”

“Well, of course I did. Still, did it really mean that much?”

Ladybug now lifted her head, her chin resting gently against him, and looked up at him.

“Well, yeah. You still thought of me. You don't separate me and Ladybug. At least not now. That much is clear.”

“Of course I don't. You're the same person. Ladybug is just Marinette in red. Your name is the only name I can say. It's the only one I want. I just have the bonus of knowing that my princess is also the hero of Paris. It's the best of both worlds. You're all I've ever dreamed of, and now I have your name.”

Ladybug was quiet for a moment, looking at him. And she believed him. Finally, he knew her and wanted her and loved her the way she always hoped someone would. He loved both sides her of her, but he loved her as though there was only one side of her. There was no longer any separation, and she wished there was a way she could love him as equally without knowing who he was.

“You really do love me, don't you? The real me.”

“Don't you know that by now? I absolutely do.”

“And I love you, too. No matter what. Whoever you are, I will love you no matter what. You have done me the honor enough of seeing me as one person, that whoever you are won't change a thing. Do you believe me?”

He smiled down at her, and he thought of how she thought of Adrien. It seemed so long ago that she had come to his balcony, but she had come. He loved her then, and he thought she might have loved her too. It turned out to be true, after all, and he had gone and made things complicated for himself. Still, it turned out the way he had hoped in the end. He thought she was wrong about one thing; knowing who he was would change things. It might give her a heart attack, if anything. His own reaction to finding out who she was had been quite extreme, and he didn't have history with Marinette quite the same way she had with Adrien. It would change her mindset, probably, because it was evident that there was no way she believed that they could be the same person, or she would have guessed immediately. He had thought he was giving her too many hints, and that the only person that could be as lame as Chat was Adrien, but either she was in denial or that was not the case at all. It would change some things, but he knew it would not change the fact that she did love him. He knew that she did. She must, or there would be no way she would be up there with him in the first place, scarves billowing nearby.

“Yes, I do believe you. And I believe you'll find out soon.”

She kissed him again, more enthusiastically, but only to convey how much she appreciated him and how much she promised to really look for him and love him. It conveyed just how much, in that moment, she really wanted him. And she didn't have to rely on instinct or animal magnetism, or even past spirits, because she had every intention of following through and giving him everything, and her actions would prove all of that to him.

“Wait, wait,” Chat said, pulling away though clearly not wanting to. It was all he could do to keep his lips from hers. “The scarf? How is that going to work?”

“Almost forgot,” Ladybug murmured. “I'll grab it...Chat?”

“Yeah?”

“You need to let go of me for me to be able to go get it.”

“Right, sorry.”

She went to the grating where the scarf were tied and removed them, and then flipped over a crate where she had hid small pillows and a blanket and carried them over as well.

“What in the world? How long did...when did you have time to bring all of this up here?”

Ladybug shrugged. “I didn't actually go to the movies. Alya helped carry stuff and I made two trips to bring it all up here.”

“Alya helped? So she knows all this stuff is up here? She knows about your devilish schemes?”

“She helped me plan them, in fact. She seems very invested in my ability to get laid, as it were. As Marinette or as Ladybug. To top it off, I'm supposed to be spending the night at her house tonight.”

He cleared his throat nervously. “Well...thank God for Alya, then.”

“What about your friends?” Ladybug asked, casually spreading the blanket and pillows on the ground. “Do they help at all?”

“He...they don't know,” Chat confessed. “Unlike Alya. I have to be...pretty vague about things unfortunately. But I've been trying my best to describe my ambiguous girl issues. I think it frustrates him more than anything.”

Ladybug smiled. “Well, when I know who you are and we can be together for real, I'm sure it'll be easier for everyone, because we can walk around together at school, and as Chat and Ladybug in public, and there won't be a care in the world.”

He pulled her to him again, overwhelmed with affection towards her, and kissed the top of her head before tilting her chin up and kissing her pout again.

“Help me tie the scarf?” Ladybug asked, considering herself appropriately kissed. “Let me detransform first.”

She did so, and now that she was Marinette again, her hair fell back down, making it easier to tie the scarf around her eyes. She turned back around and smiled at him.

“Well, despite the obstruction to your eyes, you look gorgeous,” he said truthfully. She was wearing a new, white pleated skirt that she had bought with the occasion in mind, and she had adored how it made her hips look in the changing room.

“Thank you, Chaton.”

“Can you see anything?”

“Not at all,” she replied with complete honesty. “Which means you'll have to guide me.”

“I have no problem with that. I'm going to detransform now, I'm dying.”

He did so, and immediately pulled her in tight.

“What do you mean you were dying?” she asked, taking subtle notice again of the change in his vocal inflection and the soft fabric of the t-shirt he was wearing.

“Now that I've held you without my suit on, there's just no comparison anymore. I can't feel your warmth the same way. That, and you're so adorable I can't help but want to hold you all the time anyway. Besides, at times like this, a constricting suit isn't the most comfortable.”

She had no response but a blush, and she let herself be lowered down to the blanket by him. From that moment, they didn't seem to need any more words. It was easy to kiss him, despite being blinded. She could feel the heat of his mouth near her lips and she continued to gravitate it. For every small tilt of his head, she followed him, desperate not to move apart from him again. Already, there had been too many instances of pulling apart to speak, and she wanted to be sure that that would not happen again.

They were sitting up on their knees, and though Marinette was able to follow his kisses, she found that she still needed to be supported by him, and he held one hand on the small of her back, holding her up, while the other hand tangled itself in her hair. He wasn't too forceful with her – the desperation was a different brand than it had been two nights before. Now the desperation was simply of needing each other, but speed did not have to be a factor. No one could interrupt them, not even the incessant beeping of a miraculous running out of time.

Adrien tilted his head to bite softly at Marinette's bottom lip, so gently he might as well have been caressing her with his teeth. Still, despite his careful hold on her, she made no attempt to move away from him. Her blindfold caused an irrational fear that, were she to move away from his teeth, she might never find her way back to him again. Instead, she tilted her chin up, as if offering her mouth to him even further, and Adrien bit harder, just enough for her to notice and make a barely audible hum in the back of her throat. He heard the noise, however, and the sound went directly to his groin. Filled with want as he was, he used his hold on her head and back to lower her directly down onto the blanket, carefully as he might place precious crystal. She made no objection whatsoever to being placed on her back, smiling softly, but she raised her hands cautiously to search blindly for him. He let his cheek fall against her palm, and she willed him to lower his lips to hers again. He obliged immediately, but her teeth against his own lip sent another throb of desire to his groin, and before he knew it, his free hand was at the top button of her blouse. Marinette's own free hand met his to help the blouse come off quicker and her enthusiasm only made him want to get the job done quicker.

Adrien couldn't wait for the shirt to come off all the way. As soon as the buttons were undone to her bellybutton and her bra was peaking through, his hand gave up on the buttons and his hand was on her breast. Marinette responded with a more enthusiastic kiss and another hum in her throat. With his hand still at her breast and just slipping under her bra, she undid the remainder of the buttons on her own and shrugged off the shirt, pushing it to the side.

Adrien lifted away from her and she could only assume he was taking in the view of her in just the bra and new skirt. She decided to do him a favor, and arching her back slightly, she popped the clasp of her bra and shrugged that off as well.

“Thanks,” he whispered, and he was back over her again. She waited for his lips to touch hers again, but they never came. Instead, she felt his warm breath on her neck just before his lips touched her there instead. The contact was matched with his hand on her now bare breast and caused her to release a soft gasp of surprise. She had gotten cold quickly on the tower, but his hand was radiating heat, and the mixture of hot and cold, her nipple pressed up against his surprisingly smooth palm, gave her instant goosebumps.

“You cold?” he asked, his breath still hot against her neck. Marinette could feel his lips pull into a mischievous smile.

“Not anymore,” she breathed in reply, and arched her back slightly more, pressing her breasts further against him. He responded by bringing up his other hand to her neglected breast, causing her to fall flat to her back again with a satisfied hmph. Now, both hands kneaded at her breasts, his thumbs giving occasional stroked to her hardened nipples. He peppered kisses down to her collarbone where her skin was still cold, though his hands were causing heat to radiate through her body.

When his lips met the tops of his fingers, they replaced his hands on Marinette's breasts. He stroked his fingers downward, down her sides to the top of her skirt, and he could feel the muscles of her abdomen tighten from the tickling sensation. His fingers crawled back up to play with the breast that wasn't receiving attention from his mouth. Marinette, blinded as ever, continued to respond by simply lifting her chest as much as possible to convey her enjoyment and how much she wanted him to pay more attention to her breasts. Every time he flicked his tongue against her nipple, or even grazed his teeth lightly against it, she responded with another hum of satisfaction, and every time, desire throbbed between his legs again.

By her fifth hum, Adrien could hardly contain himself, all the pain and desperation from two nights before coming back in full force. It made no difference that he had taken care of himself afterwards, even if he had said her name. He had an itch that needed to be scratched and only she could satisfy it.

He kissed down the center of her abdomen, and Marinette's hands slapped over her own breasts, if only to keep them warm from their sudden exposure to the night air once again. He kissed below her bellybutton and at her hip, until he was sure he's leave a lilac colored mark, and his fingers stroked at the hemline of her skirt where it rested against her pale thighs.

Her hands finally came down to meet his, encouraging him to hike the skirt up higher, and he took her guidance gladly. His lips found her there, and she parted her legs slowly and carefully, just so that he could focus on the softer skin on her inner thigh. He couldn't help but suckle at the skin there, and if he had not left a mark on her hip, there would now definitely be a flower of a bruise blossomed between her legs. Her skirt was now hiked up enough to reveal the bottom of her panties, and he kissed as far up as her legs went. He fingers had been there before but this was still new to him. His lips had never touched the lily white skin of her leg, and he hadn't even seen her panties last time. He now took excited notice that they were a soft blue lace. Still, he was almost unsure how to progress, except for that he knew what he wanted, and he knew what she was sure to like. Marinette wasn't protesting a thing. In fact, her fingers were still at the hem of her own skirt, holding it up for him. Between that, and the blue between her legs, her bare breasts being caressed by the night air, and her blindfolded face, illuminated by the tower lights, he was sure he had never seen anything more enticing or tempting in his life.

“Is this okay?” Adrien asked, so close to her thigh that he was sure he would have to repeat himself.

“Of course,” Marinette replied, her voice noticeably heavier. “I want this. I – I want you, Chaton.”

It was all the consent he needed. He could feel heat radiating off of her as well, now. It was all he could do to keep himself from reaching into his own pants, but he had every intention of focusing on her first. He finally allowed his lips to go up further than her leg and he pressed them gently between her thighs, against the lace fabric. He had hardly done anything at all and he could already feel her legs tensing in anticipation. She willingly lifted her skirt all the way up, so that the hem was now falling around her hips, and it was clear what she wanted him to do from there. His fingers shakily found the waistband of the panties and he slowly slid them down, holding his breath.

Immediately, he decided that he had been wrong before. This was the most enticing thing he had ever seen in his life. Her legs were parting more and she held the skirt up, and he could now see that he was blushing just under the scarf. He wanted to give her no reason to think that he was scared or apprehensive. In fact, he wanted her now, more than ever, and she had no way of seeing the yearning on his face.

“You're gorgeous,” he said, hoping it might calm her visible nerves. She subconsciously bit her lip, driving him wild, and thanked him. With that done, he could no longer hold himself back from her. He parted her between her legs with his fingers, and his mouth was on hers again, warmth mixing with warmth. She was wet against him, which he expected, but more so than the first time. He licked against her slowly, taking it in, how wet she now was for him. She said nothing, but he could feel a slight tremor shake through her body. Something about the way she tasted reminded him of summer and orange cream, and he never wanted to let that feeling go. He wanted to drink her and all the summer that she was made of.

His tongue found her clit, where he knew he should focus, and stroked it softly. The hum in her throat was louder now, and with it, he slipped a finger inside of her. Her hips jumped slightly and he looked up, but she nodded for him to continue, so he did. He flicked his tongue twice more before sucking as gently as he could, the finger inside of her stroking to the same rhythm. Marinette parted her legs further, giving him as much room as possible. Her fingers were suddenly in his hair again, and she lifted a leg, draping it over his shoulder. She did all she could to invite him in, and he lapped at the taste of summer as though his life depended on it.

He could practically feel her dripping against his mouth and hand, and he didn't want a drop of her to go to waste. He sucked again, and her hum turned in to a more conscious mewl of ecstasy. It inspired him to add a second finger which slid in without a problem, though Marinette's hips bucked again slightly. She maintained her hold in his hair still though, and pushed him down further against her. He licked the length of her slowly, still crooking his fingers inside her, until she yelped satisfactorily.

“Ch – at,” she managed to say, though she was trembling again. He lifted his head, keeping his fingers just inside her.

“Yes, princess? Need a break?”

“N – no, please...”

“Please, what?”

“Please, I need you in me.”

Excitement pounded in his heart at the way she was speaking, softly, but with so much desire. He obliged by inching his fingers further inside her, to which she gasped in response.

“N – not like that,” she said. “I need you in me...all of you. Please, Chaton.”

Her legs were shaking slightly still, partially from excessive pleasure, and partially from further anticipation.

“You sure?” Adrien asked, his own voice shaking now, though he was already working at the buckle of his own pants. “Is it...”

“It's safe,” she said, sounding nearly out of breath. “I have a pill.” She didn't have the patience or clarity of mind to describe her entire birth control regimen to him, but he got the gist as he finished stripping. For once, he was almost glad for her blindfolded eyes. They were able to skip his side of shyness at being naked and continue without a hitch.

He found her hand and brought it against himself, her hand tensing slightly when brought in contact with the hardness of his erection. He was further glad that she was unable to see his size, which, though no record-breaker, he knew was on the bigger side of average. He was glad for her that there was no apprehension.

Marinette knew what she wanted him to do. She parted her legs even further and helped to guide him. She felt what she could only describe as a jolt of lightening shock her body from the moment she felt him against her, and she held her breathe as he slid in.

She released the breathe she was holding once she could feel him inside her, as deep as he could go, and she heard him release his breathe as well in a pleasurable sigh. His itch was finally being scratched. He took one of her hands and held it up by the side of her head, his other hand propping himself up. From there, instinct took over.

He was tight within her, and there was an intense pressure, but Marinette found that she was prepared enough and wanting him so desperately, that she could describe no part of it as pain. She was filled with him, in every sense of the word, and only wished there was a way to envelope him further. She was as close to him now as she would ever be able to be, body and soul, and she wanted to live in that kind of existence.

After he was sure she was alright, he pulled back slowly for the first time and re-entered, just as slowly as the first time, getting a feel for the motion and for her body, warm walls wrapped tight around him. He could hardly tell where her body ended and hers began. Sliding into her only made him feel more like they were two halves of the same whole, meant to fit together like that. As he pushed into her the second time, her rosy lips parted slightly, though she didn't make a sound. Holding her hand above her head with her lips parted, breasts laying softly against her body and the white skirt still around her hips, he couldn't help but thinking, once again, how beautiful she was, and he only wanted to ravage her further and exist in summer forever. The vision inspired him to thrust into her a third time, quicker and harder than before, unable to restrain himself. The thrust forced a sharp moan from Marinette's parted lips, and her breasts bounced gently. She jerked her hips sharply to match his motion and he did it again, desperate to hear another moan, which she willingly gave to him.

He was now rocking into her, finding the same rhythm he had found with his fingers, and she rocked her hips to match him. If she had tasted like summer, than she felt like spring – pure and blossoming, with a combination of a cool breeze and a stormy rain. He would not have been surprised it it was her body that made the flowers grow.

She was whimpering steadily now, and he couldn't hold himself back any longer. He continued his rhythm as she attempted to keep up with him, but she eventually gave up, letting her hip relax. The relaxed position, it seemed, only seemed to enhance the feeling, and he continued further as her hands grasps at the blanket beneath her and her thighs tightened around him.

“Ch – Ch - ,” she started, trying to say his name, but was cut off by her own gasp. She tried a second time as she felt her walls closing around him.

“Chaton,” she said heavily, her thighs nearly spasming and her core tightening up again. She was panted and would sell her soul to him for release.

He was panting as well, and felt a droplet of sweat snake down his spine. He's rhythm was slowing again, and he felt himself twitch twice inside her. He groaned huskily as he fell down against her again. Their skin was sticky and soft against each other, and Adrien wanted nothing more than to hold her against him, leaving kisses on her candy sweet collar. He was still inside her, but neither of them made any immediate action to part from each other. They were still as close as they could possibly be, and until either of them found another way to be that close, they were in no hurry to give up that one. They had created a fictional median between summer and spring between themselves up on the tower, and they were hardly eager to return to the dying winter of reality.

 

Chapter Text

I'm not a crybaby, I'm the crybaby
A caterpillar that got stuck
Mr. Moth come quick with any luck
- Tiffany Blews, Fall Out Boy

oOo

The moments that followed their intimacy felt like hours; to Adrien, they felt like months of spring and bliss inspired by Marinette's very existence. If acting casual around her in class was hard before, he assumed it would now be damn near impossible. It was lucky that he sat in front of her because he wasn't sure how he would keep from staring at her, longing for her to give him spring again, otherwise. He prayed to everything he knew that she would figure out who he was soon. He had thought more than once over the past few days that it couldn't be that difficult, but then again, it had been that difficult for him. There really was something magical in place holding one back from figuring it out for certain. She just needed evidence that was impossible to deny, like he had with her notes, or like he had for his own father. He needed her to find it soon, because he was entirely unsure how he'd even go about the next day resisting the temptation to grab her hand and kiss her neck and let everyone – in school, in Paris, in the world – that she was his.

The feeling of eternal spring, long though it seemed to last, was killed quickly by the chill. They were both still naked, except for Marinette's skirt, which was helping her in no way, and drenched in sweat that they paid absolutely no mind to whilst in the throes of ecstasy. The cool midnight air, even colder at the top of the Eiffel Tower, showed them no mercy and reminded them once again of how abnormally long the winter was drawing out.

“Can't we just...stay here?” Marinette mumbled into Adrien's neck. He was no longer inside her, but she was still blindfolded, and they were huddled together in a warm embrace, their legs intertwined and Marinette resting just above the his collar.

“I'd love nothing more,” he replied truthfully, lips just meeting the top of her hair. “You know that. But you need to get home, Princess.”

She groaned softly. “But I'm not even going home. I'm staying at Alya's, remember?”

“Mm, but you still have to go back eventually. She has parents, too, I'm sure, who can easily send reports to your parents.”

“I guess,” she said, cuddling closer into him. “And what about you, huh? Don't you have someone that will notice you're missing?”

“It won't be a problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I won't let it be a problem.” There was little reason it would be. Nathalie might reprimand him, but he didn't even think that Nathalie would be there that night, and it was very unlikely that his father would need him. His father hardly checked on him at all that late at night. Even if he did, Adrien wouldn't let it be an issue. He had a Get Out of Jail Free card. Anything he could do, it was certain now that his father was doing worse.

“If you say so,” Marinette replied, concern lacing her words. “Hey, Chat?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, Marinette. Everything okay?”

“Mhm.”

“No regrets?”

“Not at all.”

“Good,” Adrien smiled. “Me neither.”

“Help me get dressed?” she asked, still hopelessly blinded.

Adrien grabbed for her bra and shirt, taking notice now that her bra was blue lace, too, and actually matched the panties she had been wearing. She really did plan it, little minx. Not that he was complaining. Not that he hadn't hoped she was planning something. He handed the clothing to her which she eventually found and grabbed.

“I can do it,” she assured him, somehow aware that he was moving awkwardly to try to help her put on her bra. He watched, impressed, as she clasped it in her own, blind, and began to button her own blouse. He shook his head out of it and began dressing himself, now painfully aware of how cold the night was getting. He was also painfully aware of how often he was dressed by other people. His own fingers worked clumsily at the buttons that he could actually see, and Marinette was sitting prim and dressed, waiting to remove the scarf from her eyes.

“Plagg, uh...wherever you are? Claws out,” Adrien said. Marinette giggled softly.

“Seems like something you'd say before the fact, not after.”

When she was sure that it was safe, she took off the scarf and blinked hard.

“Geeze, it's bright up here...this is weird, you know? It's almost like you never changed at all. Hard to wrap my mind around, I guess.”

“I can't imagine,” Chat said honestly. He had never really been overly intimate with Ladybug without knowing her identity. The fact that they were the same person as their superhero personas was well established, but there was still an undeniable strangeness to feeling a body you had never seen.

“Tikki? Where'd you go?”

“I'm here!” she said, appearing. “Plagg and I were sitting a few beams down. It was nice to catch up and be out of your way.”

“Well, thanks for that.”

“I wouldn't have teased you, you know. I told you it doesn't bother me.”

“Yeah, well, I think it might still bother me.”

“Fair enough.”

“Spots on, please?”

“My Lady,” Chat said, giving her a confused half-smile. “I...I know who you are. I'm looking at you. You don't need to transform back.”

Ladybug stared him down. “You know...sometimes you are entirely brilliant, and you deserve more credit for that. But Chaton...mon amour, please. How did you think I was going to get off the tower?”

He blushed, embarrassed. “I...sorry, I'm an idiot. My brain is still...”

“Trust me, I know. I know.”

Chat coughed. “Well, maybe I wanted to carry you down.”

“Chat...I trust you...but I don't know about that.”

“I was joking. I'd be too afraid to do that. So...what are you gunna do about the pillows and stuff?”

Ladybug looked around at them and shrugged, not having given it much thought. “Well...how about this – we leave the scarf here. Tie it and leave it...kind of like how they put a flag on the moon. Except...we claimed this territory in other ways.”

Chat snorted. “I can't believe you said that. But I like it.”

“And the blanket and pillows...well, I guess we can carry them down with us?”

“That's not suspicious, you don't think?”

Ladybug tapped her chin sarcastically. “Hm, the superheros of Paris that everyone thinks are a hot couple, that everyone is trying to photograph in some risque way for evidence, carrying pillows and a now sexed-upon blanket around the city late at night. Not suspicious at all. You're right, I see the point.”

Sexed-upon?

“Well, how would you refer to it?”

“It's still just a blanket, Buggaboo.”

Fine. But you know the city would get the wrong idea, and it just so happens that this time, the wrong idea is the right one, and I'm not sure I can live that down.”

“What about the crate?” Chat asked. Ladybug looked over to the crate that had originally been concealing the bedding.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess we can put it in there. Better for the city to think it's...I don't know, moving day than to think we were up to illicit activities.”

They filled up the crate and Chat insisted that he carry it down, seeing as she took so much time to carry and set everything up.

Fuck,” she groaned as they got to the edge of the top where they were set to drop down from.

“What? Don't tell me you're afraid of heights now.”

Ladybug looked at him like he was insane. “I was naked, blindfolded, on the top of this damn tower this whole time. No, I'm not afraid. It's just...I'm gunna be so sore tomorrow, I just realized.”

Chat took a minute before his eyes got wide. “Oh my God. I...I am so sorry. I...fuck, I should have gone slower. I...I am so sorry.”

Chat, it's okay. You could have gone at a snail's pace and I'd probably still be sore. That was...well, I'm pretty sure my first time was going to be sore anyway. And maybe the second time, too. It's okay. I...had a good time getting sore, and I regret nothing. If that's the price I pay, then it's fine with me.”

Chat still gave her a sympathetic look. “I...look, I'll do anything you ask me to. I can make it better.”

Ladybug laughed. “No, you can't. Because, I think you more than made up for it anyway. What are you going to do? Carry my books around school?”

“Yeah! Anything! It's not fair that you have to be sore.”

“I made you sore like, two nights ago!”

“Yeah, and I took care of it that night. And then you took care of it again. It wasn't a bad problem to have.”

“And neither is mine, Chaton. I mean, wow. I'm going to be a little achy because I had sex with the coveted hero of Paris on top of one of the most famously romantic landmarks in the world. Damn, what a hard life I have.”

“...Wow.”

“What?”

“I don't know. It's just hearing you say it out loud...Talking about it. I almost can't believe it's real. I can't believe I'm so lucky. I never thought I'd get to...thank you.”

Ladybug gave him a small push but smiled demurely. “I know...that's why I keep saying it. I can hardly believe it myself. I...I'm glad it was you. But, uh, yeah. You can definitely carry my books tomorrow. I'm not sure how I could ever manage all that on my own after the night you gave me.”

Chat turned dark red. “A-absolutely! I'll carry them all day!”

Ladybug rolled her eyes. “Right, and you'll follow right behind me in school, and I won't turn around all day because then I'll know you're identity.”

“...Oh.”

“You really don't have to do anything. Maybe you'll be sore tomorrow from holding yourself up, or moving too much, I don't know. Trust me, it was an equal, mutual exchange. I love you, Chat. Love isn't about getting even, or equal, or always trying to make up for something. That would never work. Love is greater than that.”

He smiled, because he already knew that somewhere within himself, but it was still as though she had revealed a great truth to him. He knew how it should be and how he wanted it to be, but he had never truly known a love like the one she gave him. It sounded like such an over the top romantic cliché, but it was true. Until her, he had not experienced the kind of love she showed. As far as female attention, Chloé was the only one he personally knew that had expressed explicit romantic interest in him, and if her kind of love wasn't based on a lot of give and a lot of take, he didn't know what was. His own father still seemed to think that a mistake could be made if the gift of an expensive pen on his birthday could be given to rewrite that mistake. Even if that were true, there were too many mistakes now to be undone.

“I love you, too, Marinette,” he replied. He mouth gaped slightly, never expecting him to use her real name when she was suited as she was. Her heart picked up double time.

“Come on,” he said. “You need to get back to Alya's.” He propped the crate under one arm as he extended his baton, and they jumped down together.

oOo

Parting with Chat that night seemed to be harder that it had ever been on any other night. It felt wrong somehow that she didn't stay on the tower all night with him. Of course, stepping down on the ground felt infinitely more natural and comfortable, and as romantic as she made it out to be, she would have been far more comfortable in a bed. The experience and story, she told herself, would definitely be rewarding one day, and as a whole, it was, but the physical structure of the tower itself was not so welcoming. She had a hard time thinking of the woman who, apparently, married the Eiffel Tower itself and, somehow, consummated the marriage. She couldn't think of being any more intimate with the sturdy structuring than she had already been.

But despite the strangeness of the tower, Marinette still felt that it was wrong that she had not stayed up there with him. Or anywhere with him for that matter. He had gotten to sleep in her bed when he was at her house, and it was only following his hand getting in her pants. Now, they had connected entirely, and she'd go so far to say that they had become one soul. They were, after all, two halves of a whole now. There seemed to be something more powerful to their coupling than the basic biology of it. It felt as though they belonged together like that.

And now the cruelty of the world was going to keep them apart after such a night and experience as that.

Marinette realized with a dull ache that the problem might be slightly remedied were she to just figure out who he was, but that process seemed to be slowing the more desperate she was to figure it out. Tikki had even suggested once that Marinette was trying on purpose not to learn the truth, which only shamed her more. It couldn't be entirely her fault that he was so impossibly illusive to her.

Finally at her destination, she made sure the coast was clear before throwing pebbles up to Alya's window and climbing up the ivy lattice to be let in.

Girl,” Alya gushed, pulling into her bedroom as quietly as she was able as she transformed. “Tell me everything.

Alya had been sitting up all night, hardly able to focus on anything. She couldn't go out for Hero Watch because she had to stay home and cover for Marinette, but even if she were able to, she knew where the heroes were going to be and what they'd be doing, so it was useless anyway.

“Um...are we staring with...what happened on the Eiffel Tower? Or what happened before?”

“The tower, obviously! That's the part I helped with.”

“Well, technically you helped with the other part, too, but we'll definitely get to that.”

“I...did?”

Marinette shot her a look.

“Right, right, we'll get to that. Okay, tower first. And don't be afraid to give me all the details.”

Marinette dove into the retelling of the intimate night that she and Chat had just shared, and though she was sure she was going to be able to get through it without a hint of shyness (it was Alya after all), she found herself blushing more than once, realizing that admitting the acts out loud made it all feel so much more real.

“It almost just...feels dreamlike, you know?” Marinette said. “I mean, I couldn't see anything the whole time. I might as well have been dreaming.”

“Yeah, well, I'm sure you'll think it was a dream when you get up hardly able to walk tomorrow.”

Alya!

“What? You are going to be sore. But trust me, it really isn't that bad, I swear, and it hurts even less the next time. It won't be any worse than when we go back to playing Volleyball after not having played the whole year. And besides, you're used to leaping and jumping and getting thrown around in all kinds of positions.”

“Yeah, but the suit kinda does a lot of the work for me there, honestly.”

“Sure, and I'm sure that Tikki spray painted those abs on you, too.”

“Okay, fine,” Marinette admitted stubbornly. “I do get worked out a ton. But I mean the suit kind of absorbs the pain I'd feel otherwise.”

Alya put her hands on her friend's shoulders and looked her in the face. “Marinette. You're a big girl. You'll be fine. The worst part's over, and from what I hear, kitty-boy had a decent idea of what he was doing, and the worst part wasn't even that horrible. It didn't hurt you too bad, did it?”

“You mean...during? A bit of pressure, but I wouldn't call it pain.”

“Good, I'll have to give the kid a lollipop.”

“It mostly just felt like we were supposed to be together. And I don't just mean that in a lame romantic stereotype kind of way. I mean, like...Chat and I are meant to live that close together. We're two halves of a whole, and being that close together almost felt more natural than being apart.”

“I have to get me some of that magic jewelry, then,” Alya said. “Sounds like the best sex toy on there is.”

“I'm serious!”

“I know, I know you are. I believe you. And I was joking. But if you want my opinion at all, I do think you and Chat really were meant to be together like that. Romantic or not. Just...together through life. It's weird.”

“Tikki said that, too. I asked her if she still thought that even knowing Chat's identity.”

“Well...yeah. Of course. Maybe even especially knowing his identity. I wouldn't think my best friend was meant to be with someone I only half approved of. It just seems like when you two are close, suited or not, even yesterday when only he had his suit on...I don't know. I don't want to sound crazy, but it was like I could practically see the magnetic force pulling you two together. Like you're two puzzle pieces that I know are supposed to fit together, and it's painfully obvious when you're sitting right next to each other, but you're just...not fitted. I'm sure that will change when you also know his identity and you're together for real with no hold backs. But knowing what I know, and with you two just...this close, it's like that invisible magnetic force was always there, and I'm just not aware of it because I know for certain who you two are.”

“That's...wow.”

“You think I'm crazy?”

“No! No, I believe you. But...well, I bet that force between us always has been there, and we really are just becoming more aware of it the more aware of each other we are. But maybe it was between us even before we got our miraculouses.”

“I bet it was,” Alya said with absolute certainty.

“I bet it was, too,” Tikki chipped in.

“Tikki...do you think the Master saw it? Before he gave us our miraculouses?”

Tikki nodded. “Yes...I do think that.”

“So he saw that we were connected...so he saw we were Ladybug and Chat before we were at all. So why even test us? Why ask for your and Plagg's approval if it was already set in stone?”

“Well, it's not like that exactly,” Tikki said, explaining to Alya as well, who was now equally intrigued. “The force means that you're soulmates. Oh, don't give me that look, Marinette. You're yin and yang. After all you've described? You know that you're soulmates. You're made for each other. Anyway, the force means that you're soulmates, but it does not necessarily mean that you have to be Chat Noir and Ladybug. Soulmates are rare. Not everyone has one. In fact, there are far less people with soulmates that without them. There are certainly more than one pair of soulmates within Paris, but not many. The Black Cat and the Ladybug must be soulmates, but it didn't have to be you two. You just happened to be the best suited pair in the city for the job. And soulmates aren't always romantic. Sometimes they're twins. Sometimes they're best friends. Sometimes, when Plagg and I get assigned a Chosen, our Chosens have never even met, and they're destined to become romantic partners. All Black Cats and Ladybugs are soulmates, but there are many potential pairs. It's just a matter of choosing the right pair. So the selection pool is still fairly bare, but it wasn't like you two were...predestined. Just...right.”

“I guess he's gotta be good if he's my actual soulmate,” Marinette said.

“You think?” Alya said, before Tikki was able to have the exact same reaction. “The stars lines up to decide you two were literally perfect for each other, and Tikki just said that people rarely have one person at all that perfect for them in this whole world. You had sex on top of the Eiffel Tower. And all you can say is that he's gotta be good. Well, it's a damn good thing your expectations aren't too high, Marinette. It'll just give you a fucking heart attack when you learn who he is and realize that, wow, your best friend and your kwami and some ancient master and the universe were right – he is perfect for you.”

Okay, fine, damn. It just...always feels like a dream to me, I guess.”

Alya sighed and then perked up. “Wait...why can I see their connection then? I mean if it's a soulmate thing and not a knowing who they are thing?”

Tikki's eyebrows furrowed. “I...don't know. I mean...you are clever. And intuitive.”

“But this is a literal invisible force. And I am...more than aware of it now.”

“Right. A literal invisible force. Well, I can't honestly say I know why,” Tikki said. “But I know that not everyone can see it.”

Alya appeared taken aback. “Well. Alright, then, I suppose. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it then. So, what was all this you did before the tower then? I didn't miss out on anything too big, did I?”

“Not unless you consider finding Hawkemoth's hideout big.”

“You what? Where? How?”

“Chat found it at the Agreste mansion before I met with him and he showed me.”

“Huh, not surprised.”

Marinette's eyebrows rose. “Really? Why is that?”

Alya attempted a casual shrug. “He's resourceful. And sneaky, I suppose. And not afraid to pounce around the mansion.”

“What? You think I'm afraid? I practically broke into Adrien's bedroom not too long ago!”

“Ha! Yeah, then. How quickly would you jump around there now?”

“...Fine, I guess you're right.”

Marinette proceeded to explain the window they had found to Alya, including it's location and camouflage, to the spiral covering and the design within it. As Marinette expected she might, Alya busted out with laughter when she heard that the window was fashioned into a literal butterfly.

God, how egotistical can you be?”

“That's what I said!”

“Well...I guess it is Gabriel Agreste.”

“So, what are you gunna do that? Hop into the window? You know what you should do, Marinette? You should play Agreste Window Bingo. How many windows can you get into unconventionally?”

“Adrien let me in, you know. It wasn't like I was breaking and entering. And anyway, yes, that is what I'm planning on doing.”

“Are...are you serious. Tikki...?”

Tikki sighed deeply and shrugged. “That's kind of the only way to do it, Alya.”

Alya tried to laugh. “I...I was just joking. You...you can't be serious, Marinette. You can't just walk into the dragon's lair.”

“Why not? They did in The Hobbit.”

“Oh my God, Marinette! This isn't a novel! It's not a fairytale! Despite all this magical, mystical shit with soulmates and demons and kwamis and power...it's still real life. You're just going to walk into his hands?”

Marinette began to turn red and felt a heaviness in her throat. “Well, what do you suggest we do, Alya?” she asked, close to tears. She had not yet fully expressed her apprehension and didn't realize how much she had been holding in before. “We already talked about not being able to attack him in the open as Gabriel, and...well, how can we possibly attack him as Hawkemoth if we don't go to him? Why else did we look for his hide away if not to go there and ambush him.”

Alya put a comforting arm on Marinette's shoulder, worried she upset her. “Hey...I'm sorry, okay. I just...well, I didn't realize how serious it was that you were going to go gallivanting after him like that. I just thought that knowing who he was would help out and you would get him another way. Like...Well, can't you draw him out somehow? To you? Breaking into his personal hiding place is...well, it gives him a lot of an advantage.”

“We can't draw him out Alya. He doesn't need to come out to get us. That's what his akumas are for. That's what his entire miraculous revolves around is sending out other people to get us so that he never has to. He's never going to be drawn out. We...we have to go.”

Alya pursed her lips. “I mean...I guess I did know. I just always thought...well, maybe there was a better solution so that...it didn't have to happen this way. I just...don't like it, I guess. It makes me nervous.”

“I don't like it either,” Tikki said. “But that is why Ladybug and Chat Noir were needed in Paris. They were needed to keep the akumas away, but the akumas are caused by Hawkemoth. And they'll never be stopped until he's stopped. And this really does seem like the only way, unless you two do attack Gabriel directly...which I think we can agree is not a wise choice. And he's probably never going to that room, or at least the mansion, while he's transformed.”

Marinette wiped away one of the tears that had started to fall silently. “I just...I'm scared, Alya. I'm kind of always a little bit scared of being Ladybug. I definitely was when I first started and I've gotten so much better, but there's always a fear of something. Maybe I'll fail. Maybe I won't know what to do with my lucky charm when I get it, or I'll detransform too early, or I'll hurt one of the victims. There's just so much to go wrong, and that's on a day to day basis. I've gotten so much better at showing the confidence I do have, but there's still...so much that can go wrong. And this is the mother of it all. What if...it just goes horribly wrong? Or we accomplish nothing except giving away that we know just too much?” She sighed deeply, rubbing hard at her cheeks with her sleeves.

“Marinette...you can't think that hard about it.”

“I can't afford not to. It's...my job. It's my job to keep Paris safe, and Chat and I didn't ask for it, but we accepted, and it's our job to do. If we can't do it, well...no one else is going to be able to. We have to at least try. And if we fail...then I guess we fail, and we'll find a way to try again. We'll...go a different direction. I know there's a good chance that it won't go perfectly. I don't have to think that hard about that. I just...worry that it'll go too wrong, I guess. But...Well, for now, this is the only way we have. It's the only plan we have at all, and I do not feel comfortable knowing who he is without trying to do something about it.”

Alya's face contorted into sympathy and she put her hand on Marinette's.

“Well...I'll be there with you every step of the way.”

“You'll...be there?”

“However you need me. I'm there somehow for every akuma attack. I'll be outside the mansion. I'll be anywhere you need me to be to help.”

Marinette smiled. “Thank you...You know, we...we might actually need you.”

“Anything. Tell me to jump and I'll say how high.”

Marinette cleared her throat, trying not to cry again. “You know what Plagg said? He told Chat that he thinks this is a suicide mission. He's really worked up about the whole thing.”

Alya had no words. She had no way to express that, all things considered, she was now thinking the worst and envisioned a suicide mission. She couldn't imagine a way everything might go smoothly, but she couldn't tell Marinette that. She couldn't tell Marinette because she was already aware of it, too. How exactly would it look if everything did go smoothly? Would they walk away with Hawkemoth's miraculous? What even was his miraculous? And where was it? What did Gabriel Agreste wear that could even pass for one? Ladybug and Chat got rid of akumas with purification and Ladybug's power. Hawkemoth wasn't akumatized. There was no akuma to purify at all. So how could everything go smoothly if the only way to go about that was purification? Alya thought of everything that happened to Paris and her people in the midst of an akuma attack – landmarks fell, loved ones disappeared and got hurt, structures were destroyed. It all got fixed when Ladybug purified the akuma. So what if Hawkemoth caused damage – truly terrible damage – and it couldn't be fixed because it wasn't as simple as saying a phrase and catching a butterfly?

But Marinette knew this and Alya could see it in her face and hear it in her voice. Alya didn't need to say that she feared a suicide mission because the same what-ifs were running through Marinette's head as well.

Tikki stroked a few strands of Marinette's hair. “Marinette...You have to understand...Plagg's had a long life. A long, complicated, and difficult life. He's worried, but he is exaggerating his worry to keep Chat as safe as he can. I...don't know if you know this, but Plagg has lost a lot of Black Cats. Accidents happen, tragedies happen...most often, sacrifices happen. Black Cats are bad luck, but they're more noble than they are unlucky, believe it or not, and they will take a bullet if the opportunity arises. Remember Valentine's Day, when he flipped you around and took that arrow? Chat didn't know what that would do. He took it mindlessly. It was second nature. Plagg knows that our Chat is like that, and he's afraid of what he might do. You want to know something? And I mean this with absolute truth. Nobody has more faith in you two than Plagg. Maybe Master Fu and I contest him, but Plagg has immense trust in you two. He doesn't always act like it, and I know you don't really know him well...but it's true. Plagg probably has the most confidence in this operation. But his confidence lies in you success, regardless of the cost. He knows that the cost will be high if your success is to be absolute. He thinks it will be a suicide mission because he's worried about the sacrifices. But that doesn't mean he thinks you won't be successful. He has so much faith in you, and Chat especially. He loves Chat deeper than you can possibly know, and even though he wants Hawkemoth gone as much as all of us, and he thinks you can bring him down, Plagg is going to say whatever he can to keep you two from doing this, because he is also terrified. And he has every right to be.”

Marinette frowned.

“He's...lost Black Cats?” Alya asked, voicing what Marinette was afraid to.

“It's horrible,” Tikki said. “They pass away in the line of work. I've lost a Ladybug or two, but more Cats get lost. It's the bad luck. Plagg has seen too much tragedy in his long life, and he's just worried. We talked about it tonight a bit on the tower. He's calming down. But he has more faith than he makes it sound.”

“I won't let anything happen to Chat,” Marinette said. “I won't let Plagg go through anything else like that if I can help it. I can't let myself go through something like that.”

“I know you'll do your best, Marinette,” Tikki said with a tone of somber pride.

“And I will be there every step of the way,” Alya said. “You brought me into all of this with you, and you can't get rid of me that easily.”

Marinette yawned. “Tomorrow, group text, we'll figure out how we're going to really do this. How and when.”

Alya got up and got back in her bed, where she had clearly already been when Marinette came back to her room.

“Come on, Mari,” she said, lifting up the comforter and patting the empty space beside her. Marinette gladly joined Alya under the covers. Alya wrapped her arms gently around her friend, hugging her tight,and Tikki curled up on the pillow next to Marinette's head. She hadn't been able to sleep with Chat that night, but her best friend was holding her close, and her kwami was nearby, and at that moment, it felt just as good. She hoped that somewhere, Plagg was keeping Chat just as warm and close.

oOo

Sitting in class the next day felt strange and wrong somehow. With so much on Marinette's mind, it seemed odd that life was continuing like nothing was happening. Hawkemoth lived in their city, and he was active, and now, there were people who knew who he was, and nothing was changing. She and Chat were going to ambush him and the next possible opportunity, and nothing was changing. She had just had sex at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and nothing was changing. In fact, so little was changing in regards to that, that her partner was in school somewhere, and she wasn't even sure where. She had slept with someone in her school, and couldn't even point out who he was with confidence.

Of course, she wasn't entirely bothered by that fact. She wanted to know who he was, yes, and she was still searching, yes, but that the fact that she slept with him and still couldn't point him out didn't matter. She knew who it was who she had slept with. It was Chat Noir, her partner. She knew him, and she loved him, and most importantly, she trusted him. If she wasn't already acquainted with the boy under the mask, he'd be able to remove it, and no difference would be made. She would be able to go out and date him publicly, but as far as knowing him, the only difference would be knowing his name. It was a circumstantial coincidence that she also, apparently, was acquainted with his alter ego, but that didn't matter. It wasn't as though she could find out who he was and suddenly not like him anymore. He was the same person, and it was certain that she was at least sexually attracted to him. She had noted slight differences in him when he was detransformed, but those were irrelevant. She was not currently bothered that she slept with someone that she couldn't now point out. She was only bothered by how much that day seemed so much like any other day.

No one knew. No one knew that she had slept with anyone, or that she was Ladybug, or that Hawkemoth was so close, or that she was having such a hard time focusing on math because she was planning what very well could be a suicide mission. Normally the fact that no one knew she was Ladybug was a comfort to her. Today, it only felt like extra weight, and she was thankful that at least Alya knew, because the weight wasn't one that she felt like she could carry on her own.

She stared at the back of Adrien's head in a daze. Despite everything, it was still a very attractive head. But of course she would think so. He was a model. She found him very attractive even when she thought that he had put gum in her seat in class. Everyone thought he was attractive. It was his job to be attractive. As a person, however, he had never felt so distant. They were friends, but even with the lack of apparent change that day in particular, Marinette knew that a lot had changed since the first night she went to his balcony. She wondered if maybe Ladybug should pay him a visit again, if only to mention that it was too late and he had not been able to find out who she was before Chat could. But that would be too cruel, maybe. And maybe one day, he would figure out who she was. Besides, his father was Hawkemoth, and what were the chances he even knew? Surely if he did know, he would find a way to warn her. She decided he didn't know. The kids seemed to be harboring more pain than he let on. Marinette knew he was much more than a model and celebrity, but even the fact that Hawkemoth was his own father would surely weigh on him more.

He was so good. So good. She had loved him for good reasons. In fact, she wasn't sure she didn't love him. It was a hard feeling to get over. She just loved Chat more now, and in a different way. People sometimes had crushes or remnants of crushes even when they were with someone else. It was just something that happened. She wasn't using Chat as a means to get over Adrien, and she didn't suddenly dislike Adrien either. It had happened how it happened. Still, she had to admit that she hadn't thought much about Adrien at all over the past few days, between her intimacy with Chat and their Hawkemoth research. Now, she just felt horrible for him. He had lost Ladybug, whom he had confessed real love to, and though she had blamed him and his odd behavior, he probably definitely wasn't avoiding the task of finding her. It was just weighing heavily on him when he had so much left to worry about. He had a busy schedule, after all. She knew from having memorized it from long before. She felt bad that there was hardly anything she could do for him, and she was about to make his life even more complicated.

For some reason, staring at the back of his head brought a sense of familiar comfort to her for reasons she couldn't exactly explain. Perhaps it was more leftover feeling from when her crush had been out of control and she stared at him all the time anyway, or many he just had a quality that caused him to bring comfort to those around him. Marinette had heard of pacifier people like that, who didn't have to do much to make people around them feel good and calm. Marinette hope that, if he was unable to make himself feel that way, too, he had his own good method of feeling comforted. He would need it soon.

Alya rubbed her temples, entirely aware of Marinette's staring. She was aware of it when she had been in love with Adrien, and she was just as aware or it now as she had been before. Now, there was a strange kind of tragedy to it. Alya knew she wasn't doing it because her feeling for Adrien were as strong as they had been before, because they definitely were not. She was doing it for ease and sympathy.

Poor kid, Alya thought, though she had the advantage of knowing that Adrien wouldn't be quite as hurt with the information his dad was Hawkemoth. He was still going to take it rough.

Alya was sure Marinette was also staring because of the impossible familiarity. She couldn't see how Marinette couldn't recognize him with certainty. Then again, she knew there was more to it than just recognization. There were unseen forces holding her back from realizing he was Chat, just as there were forces in place that had blocked her and Adrien from knowing who Ladybug was, despite the boundless evidence they had, until the answer was directly handed to them. There really wasn't much Marinette could do about the forces at that point. She would just need to get enough evidence to show to Adrien or Chat and have him confirm it, but her mind was clearly somewhere else. Alya almost wished something accidental might happen, like how she had accidentally seen Adrien transforming, but a lot of the point would be defeated if it were to happen that way.

Then again, Alya thought, the original point was for Adrien and Marinette to see their hero selves as the same as their civilian selves, and if Marinette is willingly sleeping with Chat, it's pretty clear at this point that she's accepting the civilian side of him as much as the hero side.

Alya knew that Marinette had made progress as far as understanding that the boy under Chat's mask was the same boy even when he didn't look like a cat, and now, she just wanted to plant the evidence she would need to stop being so thick and understand, but she couldn't. Up until that point, Alya had given herself countless pats on the back for the amount of discipline and self control she had been showing. Just being in the same room with them made her a little crazy. Soon, she knew it had to happen. Soon. Marinette was just getting hung up because the Hawkemoth situation was weighing so heavily on her mind. After that, surely, she would start to piece it together more quickly. Success or not, his identity would come back to the front of her mind. Alya had been teasing her along with Tikki that maybe Marinette didn't want to know, but Alya knew that wasn't the truth. Marinette needed to know, wanting aside, especially now that Chat knew who she was. That was just making her more stubborn about it. But her near future depended on her figuring out who Chat was. It would happen, Alya knew, and until then, she was just going to have to figure out how to keep up her discipline.

It had, of course, recently become so much worse for her to hold in, though. She had mentioned seeing a force between Marinette and Chat the night before, which was true, but in reality, the force was so much stronger than she let on. She couldn't recall when she had first been able to see it or feel it exactly, but Alya guessed it had to be around the time that Adrien figured out who Marinette was. Alya didn't think that that particular instance actually had anything to do with her suddenly being able to see the force, but it was a good indicator. The reason she was led not to believe there was a correlation was because she could actually see and feel the force between other people as well.

Tikki had mentioned soulmates existed, but they were rare. She had also confirmed that soulmates did not have to be romantic. Alya knew this was true because she could see it. She supposed, perhaps, that she had been able to even a little bit before Adrien figured out that Ladybug was Marinette, but she had only then started to really notice it. Before that time, the pairs she now saw as soulmates had simply seemed to draw her in. She couldn't help but focus on them and realize that there was something more to their relationship. The pairs that now appeared as two halves of a magnetic force to her had before just seemed more than perfect for each other. They were always like two halves of some whole. They were the ebb and flow of the ocean. They were the right and left swings of a pendulum. They were the sun rise and the sunset and the sand spilling in an hourglass, as well as the empty half left behind. They could not exist without the other, and Alya had always seen this in those pairs and had envied it, because she knew that for every sibling and best friend and crush she had, such a symbiosis would be impossible for her. They were born with it. She had always passed it off as a special intuition, but because she could see it in Adrien and Marinette, as well as Chat and Ladybug, she had always just known that everything would work out. In all honesty, Alya supposed she kind of had known for a while that Adrien was Chat, since she knew who Marinette was, and the force was between Marinette and Adrien and Ladybug and Chat. It was only logical that if Marinette was both girls, then Adrien was both boys. Again, that was only more confirmation that even with all the evidence in the world, the truth was literally impossible to be known unless it was absolute.

The intuition that Alya had always just thought she had was now manifested in something that was actually visible to her now. It could only be the soulmate connection Tikki mention, and if Alya's vision was accurate, then Tikki was correct in saying that it was a rare phenomenon. In fact, there were only three pairs of soulmates in their entire school, and each of the three pairs were ones that Alya had previously seen as two perfect halves, fitting together better than each standing alone – Adrien and Marinette, Rose and Juleka, and a set of twins in the grade above them. Even without knowing the twins very well, Alya knew that they would never be apart. She couldn't even say if Rose and Juleka's connection was romantic or platonic, but either way, they were meant for each other. Their connection was too strong for that not to be the truth.

Though the force was technically invisible, especially to everyone who wasn't Alya apparently, she could still see it. It was like a current between the two people. Whatever particles the current was made of, Alya supposed, staring at the one between Adrien and Marinette instead of paying attention to the lesson, they we're really entirely invisible. Instead, the particles seemed more to be the color of what was behind them at any given time, like minuscule glass beads; difficult to see, but certainly there. They rippled and moved like a stream in midair, but they were certainly connected to the two halves in question. The connection between Adrien and Marinette continued to ripple, getting pulled more taut when either of the two moved further apart.

Subtly, Alya turned to look at Rose and Juleka. Their connection was similar as far as transparency, but it was wrapped around them, like an embrace, or a pet snake that they shared.

The connection did get thinner and more tired when the two were apart. The night before, Alya could see Marinette's connection pulled tight and depressingly thin, trailing out her bedroom window. Alya had wondered a few times now if there were more soulmates that just happened to be so far apart from one another that the connection was no more than an exhausted pebble trail. The idea immediately caused her to feel sympathetic towards those in long distance relationships that did happen to be soulmates.

The fact of the matter was that now that Alya could see the connections with this much clarity, which she had not been able to do before, it drained her in many ways. For those that were not perfect, like Rose and Juleka's already was, or the twins that she did not know well, the connection seemed to pull on her as well, as though she should do something about it. Adrien and Marinette's was far from perfect, for example. It rippled far too much, and though the ripples were mesmerizing, they caused the connection to be too chaotic. Alya knew that it should not be pulled so tight when they weren't side by side; it should be comfortable and loose. The way it was now reminded Alya of a happened to a dog's leash when the pet tried to run far ahead of its owner. It could not be comfortable. Marinette and Adrien weren't aware of the connection, or at least, exactly what it entailed, but Alya knew that they could feel discomfort in being apart, but also not being truly together as a couple, with Marinette not even knowing the name of who she was with. They were doing things backwards, so their connection was growing stronger and more chaotic at the same time.

For weeks, the connections had been growing to be more visible to Alya, and by now, she was getting used to them. However, the stronger they were getting, the more the imperfect ones seemed to pull at her. It was as though she were a third party in the pairing, and she had to have a hand in fixing the connection and making it better. It wasn't always her job, she knew. Once, she passed by someone who quite obviously had a soulmate in the supermarket, and it pulled her attention immediately, begging for her assistance. Still, it was just a man in a supermarket. She would likely never see him again, and it wasn't her place to fix him and his soulmate. It was only that she could see them and she had the ability to. With great power comes great responsibility, she knew and reminded herself, but this was a power she didn't even fully comprehend if it was considered power at all, and there were some responsibilities she simply could not take on, even if her power told her that she should.

The great problem was that she did have the ability to help Adrien and Marinette. She could tell Marinette everything, and she could edit the Ladyblog to naturally lead Paris into the joining of their heroes. She could prep her class to not make too much of a fuss (but still make appropriate fuss, because she knew they wanted to see their classmates together just as much as they wanted to see their heroes together). But she couldn't.

The longer they drew it out, the more the particles pulled and itched and tickled her. That was why she was starting to give herself two pats on the back for self-control. Being alone with Marinette for a night, and especially being together with a transformed Chat and Marinette in her bedroom, pulled at her excruciatingly. It did help, she noticed, to tell Marinette that she could see a physical connection, but just barely. The words she needed to say to let her knew who Chat was were camped out on her tongue for days, but Alya refused to say them, and it was all but killing her.

The lesser problem was the fact that Alya could see the connections at all. It was certainly a mystical situation, but it had come to fruition so gradually and slowly that she had not given it any serious thought until recently, when the transparent particles literally started to pull at her. It only started to worry her slightly when she felt the larger than life impulse to do something about the connections she saw. That, and the fact that Tikki knew it was possible to see the connections, but didn't know why Alya could see that. That was certainly something to think about. Who else could even see them, other than that Master guy Tikki had brought up a few times? The comfort was that Alya knew it was normal – at least normal enough that Tikki understood it was possible and wasn't totally baffled by it. In a world were miraculouses and akumas existed, that was the only amount of normal that Alya needed. Unfortunately it was the only real comfort, because she knew there had to be much more to it. It was like getting a diagnosis from a doctor; while there is comfort in knowing exactly what your illness is and what's making you feel bad, instead of living under a shroud of mystery, there is still the fact that you are ill, and that needs to be dealt with.

Just as Marinette was putting Chat's identity on the back burner in lieu of the Hawkmoth situation, it seemed, Alya did the same with her new vision. If Marinette could wait, then so could she. Dealing with Hawkemoth was, after all, a good reason to hold off on other tasks. Still, she hoped everything was resolved quickly. She wondered if it would help at all to just tell Tikki and Marinette just how strong the connects and her draws to them really were, but again, she felt it was something best left til after the ambush.

“...Alya? Everything okay?”

She turned her head up to see Marinette standing over her, bag already back across her body.

“Yeah, fine, why?”

“Class is out. You haven't budged.”

Alya shook her head, curls tossing everywhere. “Sorry, lots to think about, I guess.”

“You're telling me,” Marinette replied, and Alya supposed it was a bit insensitive to mention there being a lot to think about when, in that moment, it was apparent that much more was weighing Marinette down.

“I guess I must have been pretty out of it if you were asking me if I was okay. You were zoned out for a lot of that class period, too.”

“Yeah, well, at least I took notes,” Marinette said, waving her notebook in front in Alya. “Yes, you can copy them. I guess if you were that out of it, you didn't hear Adrien telling Nino about his dad being really busy with work right now?”

Alya's eyebrows shot up and she tossed her hair, hoping it was a gesture of frustration that wasn't too obvious. It was lucky that Marinette had heard, because the information was almost certainly directed at her. Since she had known that he was Chat, Alya had paid much more attention to him in class, and Adrien had passed her plenty of useful information that way, via speaking loudly to Nino. He was good at speaking in code, and she was good and interpreting it, which had allowed her to cause diversions when he knew an akuma was coming. Marinette had recently been paying a little less attention to Adrien, so it was lucky that she knew his dad was Hawkemoth or she might have paid no attention to the news anyway. It simply suggested that they shouldn't expect a ton of akumas any time soon, so any that did come should be jumped on immediately.

“Can you do me a favor?” Marinette asked Alya at their lockers during their break. “Can you get these to Chat?” She handed Alya a large paper bag, stamped with her family's Patisserie logo.

“You have got to be joking,” Alya said. “Can't the boy buy his own damn pastries?”

“Well, he can, but it's more special if he gets them as a gift,” Marinette said. “It's like our thing now.”

“Are you sure you aren't trying that gimmick again where you just try to look out for the boy hauling around pastries?”

“No, no, I promise,” Marinette said. “Besides, I'm sure he's too smart for that.”

“Well...you're right, he is. And you can't bring them to him during patrol because...?”

“Well, it's hard to do patrol carrying that much stuff around. And I wanted him to have them before our ambush, and for all we know, that could be before we have another patrol. Hell, it could be in five minutes.”

Alya sighed deeply. “Fine. I'll do you this favor. But I'm not happy about it. And they had better be damn good pastries. How am I even supposed to do it where you won't see?”

Marinette stuck her tongue out. “I don't know, you're more clever than all of us. I'll go into the girl's bathroom so you can do it.”

Alya rolled her eyes, not letting Marinette know that she really didn't mind the messenger work. The part that irritated her was more the fact that she knew and Marinette still didn't. It helped that Adrien knew now, but only barely, since he couldn't show it during school. It irritated her that she kept having to hold her tongue, especially because of their Soulmate Connection (which was what she had started calling it) was pulling on her so intensely. As a whole, though, she was coming to realize that she did enjoy being in between them on some level. They were ridiculous, yes. The entire situation was ridiculous. But she enjoyed it overall, she had to admit.

“Agreste!” Alya shouted to Adrien at their lockers once Marinette was far out of the way and in the restrooms. He turned to her and leaned on his locker, casual as anything. Nino was hovering nearby, and Alya realized that she had spent a lot more time dealing with Adrien lately while he was wearing his suit as opposed to not. He almost did seem like a different person – perhaps because she just knew Marinette better and the impressions that Adrien and Chat had given her separately were so different. The swagger with which he leaned against his locker validated his title as a model, especially with his increased height and filled out form, but she knew if she had seen he leaning in the same way as Chat, she would write him off as a dork. It largely came down to first impressions, and Alya applauded the way that Adrien was able to slip into his other persona with such ease. Nino, as well, seemed strangely out of place. Alya almost pitied him for being so out of the loop even though he had continued to offer his services all the while. He may be out of the loop, but he had no idea that there was even a loop in the first place, so it didn't matter too much. He knew that Adrien was interested in someone, apparently. He knew that Marinette was interested in someone, and that she found Chat Noir sexy. So maybe, as far as Alya was concerned, Nino was in the loop.

“How can I help you, Mademoiselle Cesaire?” Adrien asked with over the top formality.

“Please,” Alya said, rolling her eyes. She could tell, though, that he was being slightly less familiar with her in order to keep Nino from being suspicious, but he was still messing with her. “I've brought you a delivery.”

Woah,” Nino commented. “Who's sending that many pastries to my boy?”

Alya raised an eyebrow at Nino, who seemed to sound strangely more like his father that Gabriel did.

“It's...a secret.”

“A secret admirer?” Nino asked with an eyebrow waggle.

“...Sure. Yeah, sure.”

“Tell her thank you,” Adrien said warmly, his swagger melting. He stuck the bag in his locker and pulled out his phone, tapping out a quick text before the bell rang for class. Alya's phone vibrated in her pocket and she pulled it out to see a text from none other that Adrien. Now, it seemed natural. Unlike Marinette, she had him in her phone under his actual name, and seeing him text her while seeing his actual face felt far more natural. Still, she gave him a look of disbelief.

“Are you fucking kidding me? I'm standing right here,” she said, glad that Nino was suddenly distracted with his own locker.

Adrien shrugged with a simple smile. “It's a group text. Besides, it's something we need to discuss.”

“I can't believe this is real,” Alya said.

“I know, I know, being friends with celebrities must be so surreal.”

“That's not what I was talking about.”

Adrien smiled and waved at her as Nino pulled him in to a new conversation, most likely centered on swindling him out of a cheese tart.

From: Adrien
So, how is this going to go? He's only active when akumas are active. I know we've all thought about that aspect.

Before they met up again, Alya's phone buzzed with a reply from Marinette.

From: Mari
i say next akuma attack we go straight for him. no use putting it off.

Alya let them reply to each other a bit longer, knowing she didn't exactly have the right to much input on the situation, though she appreciated Adrien including her in the group. She was sure to angle her phone cleverly when she reunited with Marinette again so that she wouldn't see her screen.

“Did he like them?” Marinette asked as they started to walk to class.

“Of course, what do you think?”

“Are you...are you hiding something? You're holding your phone weird.”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Alya said. “I have his real name in my phone, you dork.”

“Oh. Yeah, keep angling then.”

From: Adrien
So, we ignore the akuma entirely then?

From: Mari
how else? HM wont wait around if we get out the akuma and no use wasting energy on an akuma if thats not the goal.

From: Adrien
That's a lot of clean up to do if an akuma is running wild the whole time we're dealing with Hawkmoth. We may be able to break the connection if we get his miraculous, but we can't fix any collateral damage unless we get the akuma purified.

Alya chuckled to herself at the difference in their typing styles. Of course Adrien would type a perfect paragraph at a time. Of course he would use the world collateral in a text. Alya herself couldn't even use the energy or time to type out the word you.

From: Mari
i guess we just have to hope its a small, not so messy one

Alya took a deep breath before finally jumping in, seconds before class was about to start up again.

To: Adrien, Mari
hey u guys wanted my help. Thats y im in this group txt so i can just hold off an akuma as long as I need to.

Marinette side-eyed her, concerned. Adrien was too wise to turn around and give her a look, too, but Alya knew that he was looking down at his phone with as much concern. Alya decided to add a follow up.

To: Adrien, Mari
do u 2 kno how many hero watch members there are? ill gather them. were not u but there is power in numbers. we dont have to kill it. just save ourselves for a bit.

Marinette audibly sighed and added to the conversation, unable to speak out loud as the class had just started.

From: Mari

Its not that I dont have extreme faith in you, Alya. I just want to be sure youre ok with this and know what youre doing. We can call it all off.


To: Adrien, Mari
i just refuse to let u 2 go off on a potential suicide mission while the city gets destroyed if I can at least help a little

Impressed by her own use of words that had more than four letters in a text (figuring it was a serious enough occasion), Alya decided to impress herself further and began to take notes casually. Marinette didn't respond again that seconds, though Alya was sure she would receive an earful later. Adrien, however did respond.

From: Adrien
We love you, Alya <3

Well, I clearly think highly of you two losers, too, Alya thought to herself, since I'm doing this for you. Though the thought was frustrated, she knew the frustration was still over their disjointed relationship; Adrien using the word we, which he knew to be accurate, when Marinette could not say for sure who we was, nor could she confirm the love Adrien had for Alya as a person rather than a heroic assistant. She loved them as a pair and as the pair that they would be in the future, even when they didn't know how much of a pair they would or could be. Her frustration was unfairly drawn from somewhere that couldn't be helped at all. In truth, she was extremely proud – not only to help her friends, but to help her city. She had run the Ladyblog for a long time now, and for a long time it had been considered the number one news source on all things regarding the heroes. It has grown from simple reports to having picture logs, forums, shipping debates, polls, exclusive interviews, a place to voice theories as to their identities, and a timetable of where and when to meet, when patrols were predicted to take place (now a far more accurate chart), and a log of all the akumas up to date. The Ladyblog was Alya's brain child; her pride and joy. It had helped her take off in the realm of journalism, most definitely. She was becoming a household name almost as quickly as the heroes were, as she had been seen at the site of nearly every single attack. It was time, she thought, to do something with the power that she had amassed. With great power came great responsibility, it was true, and it was also true that she could not carry every responsibility on her own, such as the responsibility of taking charge of every pair of soulmates that pulled at her being. The power she had gained through the Ladyblog was her own, though, and that was something she could use. It was now her responsibility to help with Hawkemoth and work against the next akuma that showed up. At this point, it didn't matter that the heroes were her friends. If she didn't know who either of them even were, she knew that this would be her responsibility. She was helping them as a favor and because she loved them, yes, but she would do it anyway because, in her own way, it was what she had been training to do. She had tracked the akumas and she had banded the followers together, and now they all had a role to play, too.

She had been given power for a reason. It had not come in the form of a miraculous. Instead, it came in the form of seeing the unseen; both in terms of the mystical, such as the soulmate connections, and in terms of reality. She had seen Chat and Ladybug's true identities, and she had offered Gabriel Agreste as a possibility for Hawkemoth first. Had Adrien not literally lived in his house, she felt sure she would have been the only one to bring it up. She had been gifted in bringing people together, somehow through her journalism. She had been gifted with cleverness, intuition, and ambition, and except for mystical sight, none of them where truly powers, as far as she knew. Still, it was insulting to herself, her friends, her city, and any higher power not to use the gifts. She was ready and willing, not only for love, but for pride, and duty. Her frustration was unfair, but she knew that it stemmed from something far more personal. No one was forcing her to help – she did so first and foremost of her own affliction.

Composing herself and fixing her posture, prouder now than before of the person she had grown to be through it all, she finish taking notes from the slide that was being shown on the projector and texted back.

To: Mari, Adrien
love you guys too
.

oOo

Adrien woke up on Friday filled with a faint sense of dread. The whole week had been fairly uncomfortable with the highlight easily being his gift of pastries at school on Tuesday. He wondered vaguely if Marinette had sent them over with hopes that he would haul the bag around school and cause him to stick out. Eventually he decided that she was too smart for that to be the case and simply reveled in the fact that she was thinking of him and that she had not given up on giving him his favorite food, even if she couldn't do it face to face.

Other than the treat of seemingly endless pastries, the air in the week had just felt wrong and stagnant. He missed seeing Ladybug. He saw Marinette in school, but without the ability to interact with her the way he want to, it gave his itch little relief. The itch that only she could scratch grew, particularly without talking to her as his true self as often as he wanted to, and it was near unbearable. He felt that it was an itch that didn't necessarily need to be cured sexually (though that was certainly one way to do it). Simply being with her, the way they were supposed to be together was good enough. With their upcoming ambush, however, they had mutually decided not to have any patrols that week. The fact of the matter was that the ambush was almost certain to happen that week. Adrien knew that his father was often inactive at the beginning of the week, and since he was in town and akumas had been sporadic lately, there was bound to be one any time. The lack of patrol saved their energy, they decided, but it also seemed unnecessary for the time being, if they were about to go for the mastermind of it all soon anyway.

During the week that Gabriel had been in Tibet, something did seem to feel different. Just as the air felt wrong now, it had felt pure then. At least on Adrien's part, he felt like he could really relax. It didn't seem as though there was any imminent danger. When Ladybug had suggested with a laugh that perhaps Hawkemoth was on vacation, he was ready to accept the notion immediately. It felt accurate. And now, the opposite was true. He felt as though he were in a balloon that was expanding too rapidly, and he was aware of the fact as well as the suffocating air within the balloon, and at any minute, that balloon would pop and trigger a catastrophic chain of events. He could not say for certain when the balloon would pop, but he was in the center of it with Marinette, and now Alya, and it was sure to pop at any second for how large and strained it had gotten. He could feel an akuma approaching, almost. It was long overdue, and his only option was to remain calm and ever vigilant.

What filled him with dread most, however, was the day of the week. It was Friday now. They were simply out of time. More often than not – especially recently, it felt like, he had been attacking during school days. Gabriel had things to do most weekends, and his Friday acted more as Saturday than his Saturday did. The percentage of akuma attacks on a Friday was higher than Adrien was comfortable admitting. He knew it was definitely the weekday that suffered the most attacks, because the teachers didn't have as big of a problem letting the students go home early after attacks if it was a Friday and that had happened also more often than Adrien was comfortable admitting at that moment.

His kittens made a kind of halo around his head on his pillow, as if they, too, could sense that something unsavory was in the air, and they wanted to protect him. The kittens had evolved from mysterious strays to comforting friends to family that doubled and loving therapy. He had reached a point where he could not longer remember what life had been like without them, but he was sure it was a far less pleasant life and he had no desire to recollect it.

Plagg had slept on his chest, holding to his collar, as he had done every day that week. The kwami had previously expressed a desire to have space to himself when it was time to sleep, but now he took every opportunity to be in contact with Adrien, as though it gave him energy and he was charging himself overnight. He had stopped frantically explaining how worried he was about the entire situation, knowing that Adrien wasn't going to offer a change of plans and knowing it was doing nothing but accelerate the anxiety that was already so present in both of them. He was still worried, though, and he expressed it in the way he kept Adrien closer than usual. He spoke more seriously, and though it was frightening in many ways, it was also endearing, and Adrien was drawn to keep Plagg closer to him as well. Dire as the circumstances were, Adrien knew they were drawing he and his kwami closer, which he felt was just as important as getting closer to Ladybug.

“Come on, Plagg. Time to get up.”

Plagg squeezed on tighter to his shirt, but did not complain, unwilling to risk adding more salt to the atmosphere. He rose, rubbed his eyes, and nuzzled each of the kittens that he, too, had bonded with exceptionally (“I always did prefer cats to people, anyway,” he had said).

“Here, have a tart,” Adrien said, offering Plagg the pastry bag as cheerfully as he was able. He had eaten through the bag quite often throughout the week, but had intentionally saved plenty for Plagg, and Friday in particular. “I have a feeling we'll need our strength today.”

“Don't say that, Adrien,” Plagg said, voicing concern for the first time since early that week. “We don't know that.”

“Don't we?” Adrien said. “It's been a long time since the last akuma attack, and today is my father's freest day, and probably will be for a while. Don't tell me you can't feel it in the atmosphere. The very atmosphere is filled with negative energy and every time it feels like this, an akuma comes shortly after. Negative energy builds, and when it does, it has to be released, and when it gets released, an akuma comes. Pére has lots of work tomorrow. It's either today, or we start the waiting again on Monday, but you know today is a possibility. We haven't talked about it, but this is the day we've been waiting for. You know it, and I know it's hard to look in the face. I know because I don't want to look at it either, and neither does Marinette, and neither does Alya. I don't want Hawkemoth to be my father. I don't want to ambush any dangerous man, let alone the one that was supposed to raise and nurture me. I don't want akumas to attack Paris, and I don't want there to be danger, but there is. And we're the only ones with any ability to do anything about it. It's our job, Plagg. We can't turn our backs on it because we're scared or asking the what-ifs. I'm asking them, too, believe me. But we can't afford to think like that.”

“We could have prepared more.”

“We've prepared the best we could have to this point. It would not be fair to everyone if we knew who he was and we didn't immediately do something about it. You know how we can prepare though? We can be alert, and we can be ready. We can expect it. And we can eat good food to keep up our strength and energy. We need transformations that can last as long as possible.”

Plagg sighed. “I...I know. I know...You know what? I'm proud of you, kid. I really am. I'm proud of you, Adrien. I've been doing this job my entire life. My entire life. Centuries. And I still don't know how to do it right. It's made me weak. It's made me scared. My job has made me afraid to do my job. But here you are, and this was thrust upon you, and you're taking it up like...like a true hero. You're not a fool, Adrien. You know what's right. I'm just scared. I'm a coward, and I'm selfish, because I'm thinking too much about what I have lost, and what I could lose, but this is bigger than me. It's bigger than you, and it's bigger than Marinette, and you can see that, and you can take it into account and do something about it. You're brave Adrien, and I'm proud of you.”

Adrien smiled and welcomed Plagg into his hands. “Thank you, Plagg. But you have every right to be scared. Your feelings are valid. You may be thinking about what you've lost, but you've lost more than anyone ever could in a lifetime. Two lifetimes, even. And it's valid. I know you know what we have to do. You haven't stopped me from doing that. You've only warned me, and that's all you could do. I suppose that's part of your job as a kwami. And it's my job as a Chosen to ignore you and save people anyway.” Plagg allowed himself to chuckle softly before Adrien could continue. “Maybe you're right, Plagg. Maybe I am brave. But you can't have bravery or courage without being afraid of a thing first, and I am. Don't think I'm running into this without understanding the possibilities. I understand them. And I'm afraid of them. But I also accept them. I guess that's where the bravery happens, but I don't feel brave, Plagg. I rarely do. So thank you for telling me I am. Maybe if I go into this thinking that I'm brave, my actions will show that I am, too. I love you, Plagg.”

The kwami smiled at him. On any other day, were the situation less somber and the danger less imminent, Plagg might have responded with something snarky. He hugged Adrien's finger instead. “I love you, too, kid. I really do.”

Adrien got dressed and ready for school, unable to ignore the bad feeling in the atmosphere. Its was like humidity, in a strange way, when the sky is too cloudy and everything feels uncomfortable and thick, and you beg for rain, no matter how heavy, just to feel relief. It was thicker than it normally was when they were expecting an akuma, and maybe that was his own imagination, but he couldn't ignore it. It wasn't a calm before the storm exactly – more like a thick stasis before the storm. The rain would bring relief in its own way, but it was the kind of relief that would just lead to another uncomfortable situation.

When it was just a regular akuma they were waiting for, he could ignore the thickness in there air. In fact, that was a relief that he could purely look forward to. He never felt nervous about akumas. He never felt as though they were something he and Ladybug couldn't handle, and it was his time to see her, get out, and be himself. He couldn't ignore this one, because after the relief, there would be more to deal with. What would happen if they beat him? What