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Smoulder

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Smoulder

Adrien Agreste was used to doing everything the right way. Not because he was overtly talented but because he couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong. It simply wouldn’t do to be the son of Gabriel Agreste and be anything less than sheer perfection in the eyes of the media and, therefore, the world. He did his job as son fairly well, he thought, at least enough to make sure his father left him well enough alone.

So he wasn’t used to failing so utterly and completely.

“I hate you Nino, I hate you soooo much,” the eighteen-year-old whined into his phone. The sound of his best friends cackling ruffled his metaphorical tail and his scowl deepened.

“Hey dude you lost the bet! Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” His best friend shot back and Adrien could hear the smug grin in his tone. It had been such a stupid bet too, to go a whole week without making puns or else do an embarrassing photo shoot. Adrien had been so sure of himself when he’d taken Nino’s bet, no way would he lose. He did pretty well all things considered, making it until Thursday morning when (after a long night fighting a ridiculously evasive Akuma) he’d made a pun about homework in his sleep deprived state. One look at Nino’s childlike glee and Adrien had known he’d lost fair and square. “So what’s the problem? You got a cookie pouch or something? Is that why things are going wrong? I keep telling you to lay off the Dupain-Cheng cookies!”

“What? No that’s not it,” Adrien frowned resting his head against the door to his dressing room, where he’d all but collapsed after the photographer insisted they take five. He cringed inwardly. Out of the list of all the shoots he had been offered, the only one that seemed remotely embarrassing was this one. Although he’d tried hard to get Nino to choose the fancy dress photoshoot, one look at Adrien’s blushing and squirming and the DJ decided that this would be the most hilarious. For a model, Adrien’s poker face was abysmal, particularly when a certain blue-haired peer crossed his path, and that had started getting him into trouble more often than not. “It’s just that I suck at this. Really, really suck. The director says I look like a kid going underwear shopping with his mother.”

Adrien had to hold the phone away from his ear as Nino roared with laughter.

“Oh...man I just…. I can’t WAIT for these photos to come out,” He wheezed.

“Glad to know my total humiliation is so annoying to you buddy,” Adrien snapped, spreading his legs out on the floor in front of him with a huff. When a knock on the door interrupted their conversation, letting him know he was due back on set in a few minutes, the best friends ended the call. Reluctantly, Adrien dragged himself off the floor and was just about to open the door when Plagg interrupted him.

“Hey, I got an idea!” The Kwami cried, black ears up and on-full alert “to help you with the shoot I mean.”

Adrien shot his Kwami a suspicious look, fumbling with the waistband of his dressing gown.

“Since when do you want to help with my modelling career?”

“I don’t,” Plagg shrugged “Honestly I just want to go home. This is taking far too long and I am starving. You couldn’t have requested cheese be sent your dressing room?”

Adrien ignored the last part, instead choosing to inquire as to how Plagg of all people could possibly turn him into a perfect underwear model. The Kwami grinned in response, a tiny tooth poking out from the corner of his mouth.

“Act like you’re Chat Noir,” The Kwami explained and when Adrien raised an eyebrow at him, he elaborated further “think about it. What if Ladybug was here right now and you wanted to seduce her? Would you really want to look like a- pfft- a kid going underwear shopping with his mummy?”

As Plagg laughed, Adrien proceeded to turn beetroot red. If Ladybug were here? Seeing him in his underwear? If he was trying to seduce her?! Oh sweet jesus…

“Hey, hey, hey don’t go all horny teen boy on me!” Plagg cried, sticking his tongue out in disgust “and stop blushing! See this is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re eighteen, stop acting like a love sick puppy or you’ll never get anywhere with the ladies no matter how good looking you are.”

For a moment, Adrien looked at the fluffy belt around his waist and seriously considered using it as a murder weapon. Either on himself or on his Kwami companion. He didn’t know which was worse, Plagg acting like a wingman or the awkward birds-and-the-bees talk he’d had with his father a couple of years ago. Both were equally as cringe-worthy he decided.

“Alright, ok. Be Chat Noir. Try to seduce Ladybug. Got it,” Adrien nodded. Glancing one last time in the mirror, he ruffled the front portion of his hair loose from the wax. Closing his eyes, Adrien took a deep breath.

Imagine she’s here. Imagine everything you’ve ever wanted. Imagine her wanting you just as much as you want her.

A pair of blue eyes swam in his version. A nervous giggle. A shy adjustment of dark blue hair. Beautiful. Smart. Sweet. Not Ladybug. His eyes snapped open, a guilty weight pressed against his chest, burying him under a sea of questions each more confusing than the last. Why did he just picture Mari… no he didn’t have time to think about that. The assistants were calling him again. Adrien closed his eyes once more, picturing the red and black suit, the curves his partner had formed over the past year, the competitive grin on her face when they practiced sparring together on uneventful patrols. He opened his eyes once more.

Chat Noir stood up straight, a small smirk quirked the corner of his mouth. He laughed once, low and seductive. Reaching a strong hand out to grasp the door handle, he stepped forth to meet his lady…

From that moment on, the shoot went off without a hitch, and Plagg got his cheese far earlier than expected. It was only the next morning, when Nino received a copy of some of the photos and commented “Dude! I honestly didn’t think you had it in you! I can’t believe you made the embarrassing photoshoot cool, like seriously this is a completely different side to you!” that Adrien realised (with an awkward, loud laugh) that he’d probably gone too far into character.

 


 

The magazine slipped out of Marinette’s grasp and straight onto the ground. She didn’t notice.

“Umm Marinette?”

She was vaguely aware of Tikki nudging her but nothing in her body responded. Her eyes had glossed over, the older teen had surpassed the realms of reality and travelled to a completely different level of existence. Either that or her soul had left her body and she was now experiencing what it was like to be a zombie. She wouldn’t be surprised by either thing happening. Not after what she had just seen.

“Oh sweet Jesus…” did she say that? Were there words that had actually managed to form in her mouth?

Tikki giggled.

“And here I was thinking you were over your crush on your classmate. At least that’s what you told me!”

Marinette snapped out of her (trauma? Amazement? Horror? Wonder?) she couldn’t quite decide, and buried her face in her hands.

“I was! I mean, I am!” She cried, kicking her feet out petulantly as she leant back on her desk chair. She’d meant it, she’d truly meant it. Yes, Adrien was hot, yes he was kind and caring and yes, he would always have a special place in her heart. But after three years of friendship and little else, Marinette had decided nothing was ever going to happen. Despite Tikki’s belief that Adrien had started having crush on her too (HA! Yeah sure), she knew it was for the best and she was proud of her decision. It was mature, reasonable, grown-up.

And now this- this affront to her calm resolve had attacked her when she’d least expected; beating any thoughts about no-longer loving Adrien into a bloodied pulp, throwing them back into the corners of her mind, and burning the remains. She groaned even as she reached back down for the magazine to stare at it once more. Tikki shook her head and floated away to give Marinette some time to her thoughts, muttering something about teenagers under her breath in an endearing tone.

Marinette traced her fingers down the smooth lines of the magazine, a blush creeping to her face. It wasn’t just his toned, muscular body that set her aflame, although that was certainly a bonus. It was his eyes. The way his body appeared, languid like a summers day. His body said relax but his eyes said devour. From the pages of the advertisement, Adrien smouldered in a way that he’d never done during any of his other numerous photographs, and yet she was struck with a familiarity that made her skin tingle, made her swallow with sudden and surprising nervousness. She was sure she’d seen that expression somewhere before. A pair of green eyes looking at her like that, with an unknown question in his hungry gaze. She’d seen that smoulder before.

Maybe Adrien and I were lovers in a past life she thought wildly.

The day was torturous, the only solace being that it was a Sunday and she had time to collect herself before she had to face Adrien the next day. Still, the final day of the weekend passed more quickly than it normally would have. All day her thoughts were permeated with those arms, the confident smirk, the shoulders (oh my god his shoulders). But more often than not her fantasies went back to that smoulder. It wouldn’t leave her alone to the point where she didn’t know if she was fed up or turned on.

By the time Ladybug escaped from Marinette’s balcony and went to meet her partner for patrol, she was mentally drained, completely exhausted. And late.

“Well, well,” Chat Noir grinned at her as she set down next to him, snapping her yo-yo back into place “are you sure you aren’t secretly a white rabbit my lady? Because you are most certainly late for our very important date.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes.

“You wish it was a date Chat Noir,” She shot back, traipsing past him and completely missing the way his eyes roamed down her body as she surveyed the area “but I am sorry I’m late, I got…caught up. Anything out of the ordinary?”

“Aside from your extra ordinary beauty? No. Nothing,” Chat sighed, sliding up to her, his tail wrapped around her shoulder and Ladybug yanked it playfully.

“Jeez did you wake up and have an extra order of Flirty-o’s for breakfast or something?” Ladybug giggled as the light from the city caught her hair. Chat couldn’t help himself.

The laughter died on Ladybug’s lips as she felt her partners fingers boldly reach out and sink into her hair, brushing it away from her face. Her eyes widened and she turned to face him, ready to rebuff him as per their usual routine.

But then she saw it, and all the questions she’d asked herself throughout the day were answered in a way she’d never ever expected. Not in a million years.

The smoulder.

It’s Chat.

That’s who Adrien reminded me of.

Chat, oblivious to his partner’s metal record-screech and boldened by her lack of rejection, stepped closer. Ever since the photo shoot, his whole being had burned with the need to be close to her in a way he’d never experienced before. Heat flushed his skin, making him breathless as her leaned towards her.

“I don’t need to eat anything to flirt with you my lady,” He murmured, his voice low and husky “if anything, it’s the other way around. It’s thoughts of you which consume me,”

 It took a few moments for Chat to register the implications of his words and, fearing he’d gone too far, he took a step back, burning for a completely different reason. What the hell was that?! He asked himself.

“Well we should probably get started on that patrol! Paris isn’t going to protect itself!” Chat laughed far too loudly for it to be genuine as he hopped up onto the side of the roof, ready to bound off into the distance. When Ladybug didn’t respond, he turned to face her with rapidly growing concern.

 “LB?” Chat stepped off the wall and walked towards his partner tentatively. This wasn’t how it worked. This wasn’t the way things went with them. Just how badly had he screwed up? “Are you ok?”

Gently, Chat Noir reached out to place a hand on the polka-dotted heroine’s shoulder. Ladybug’s eyes snapped upwards to meet him, wide like saucers, before sliding away to glance at the floor. A blood red blush danced across her cheeks. Chat’s arms dangled limply at his sides, his mouth dropped open. Did she just-

Ladybug was rooted to the spot, her mind simultaneously shutting down and clicking everything into place. The flirtatiousness, the devouring gaze, the seductive grace of his body. Adrien had reminded her of Chat Noir, CHAT NOIR. And she’d found it hot. Ridiculously, catastrophically, undeniably hot. It was Chat. It was all Chat. Oh no she thought, as all the breath she had left her in one shuddering gasp No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no…

I cannot be this attracted to Chat Noir.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Paris glowed in the night. A million golden lights sparkled for miles in all directions, the sky above was cloudless and a crescent moon smiled like a Cheshire cat. It was a lazy summer night. Everything seemed muted somehow. Below them fewer cars drove past, there were less people on the streets and even the Eiffel Tower itself seemed to shine sleepily. How utterly jarring it was for the city to be so at peace when its two saviours were anything but so.

Ladybug wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them tightly as she stared at the city before her without truly seeing it. She couldn’t stand to glance to her side and see Chat Noir’s curious, confused expression again. They’d come to the end of their patrol, resting atop the building of one of Paris’ many famous restaurants. Although they were fairly certain Hawkmoth wasn’t going to attack that night, both were reluctant to leave in their current state of…whatever the hell this was.

Awkward Ladybug decided with a sigh that barely passed whisper levels, but Chat had heard it and she fought not to cringe as the strangeness stretched on that’s what this is, awkward.

Truth be told, Marinette had the urge to run. Run fast and far from this new found attraction, deny she felt it. But the confrontational Ladybug side of her told her to face the situation somehow. Neither side of her won completely so she was stuck, frozen in a wordless limbo which seemed to expand into a painful eternity, all the while knowing she was attracted to Chat Noir and all the while having absolutely no clue what to do with the fact.

Chat, meanwhile, was having his own nervous breakdown. Ladybug had been acting strange throughout their entire patrol. He’d tried to keep things normal at first, flirting, joking, challenging her. Nothing worked. She seemed to withdraw, stammer, look away. He hadn’t caught her eye once since their encounter on the roof where they’d met for patrol. I was too weird earlier, I freaked her out. Damn it Agreste! He mentally kicked himself.

“H-hey, Ladybug,” Chat swallowed, leaning back on his hands and allowing his legs to swing over the edge of the roof. Hopefully he looked nonchalant, he certainly didn’t feel it “about earlier, when I was flirting. I’m sorry if I went too far. You know I’d never mean to upset you right?” His eyes flicked over to where she sat in order to gauge her reaction. Nothing. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. What was different this time? He’d flirted with her numerous times and never gotten this from her. Was it the way he said it? Was it the specific words? He reached over and placed a shy hand on her shoulder. Maybe he’d been too sincere, revealed too much of his heart.

Although it didn’t appear as though Ladybug reacted, inside a storm raged. Her lips thinned slightly as she fought a sudden urge to scream. Of course. Of course he’d be sweet and sincere in this situation. She’d been the one acting like a freak all evening, and he was the one saying sorry?! He was the one being kind, so very kind, so like- like-

Adrien.

Ladybug stood up, furious with herself for making the comparison, and marched away to stand at the corner of the building. She missed Chat standing up behind her. It wasn’t right, she thought. Just because some stupid, sexy underwear ad had made her compare the two in her mind, it didn’t mean Adrien and Chat Noir were the same person. It just meant that Adrien was good at his job and Chat was his usual playboy self. It was totally and completely horrible and unfair to compare the two. The similarities ended there…didn’t they?

“LB?”

Ladybug spun on her heel and, for the first time in hours, looked at Chat Noir. They stood about a metre apart, the crisp night air blowing around the two pillars that held the city of Paris upright. Both of them felt the breeze might topple them at any moment. Ladybug’s eyes trailed the smooth lines of Chat’s torso, his shoulders, his arms. Well he certainly had the same body type to Adrien, or very similar at least. The parts of Chat Noir’s face that lay uncovered radiated in the light of the city below them. Marinette sucked in a breath. He was gorgeous. Why had she never noticed that before?

Stop it brain- I don’t want to think of Chat that way. He’s a flirt, a playboy, he’s never ever going to be serious about me. Ladybug is a fantasy to him. The same way Adrien is a fantasy for me. It’s never going to happen.

“Chat...” She began, her voice strange and quiet, almost as though she’d forgotten how to use it.

“Yes?” Chat started, his body electrified by her voice. He wanted to close whatever weird chasm his blunder had caused, but was reluctant to move one step further. Especially considering, moments before, his hand on her shoulder had caused her to practically leap from his touch. He clenched his fist. More than anything, he didn’t want to lose her.

“Have you had- you know- lotsofgirlfriends?” Ladybug mumbled, staring back down at the ground and praying to all the gods in the known universe that she truly glad for the low light so that Chat couldn’t see her face matched her super-suit. God why was she asking this question? What point did she have to prove, really?

“What was that?” Ladybug glanced up again. Chat’s head was tilted to the side quizzically, one of his ears pointed down, the other up, and Ladybug had the strangest urge to touch them- to see if they responded to her fingers.

“Do you,” She inhaled through her nose, her chest heaved “I mean have you had lots of girlfriends? Or you know, seen other girls?”

Chat blinked a few times, unsure of why she was asking such a question, but completely sure of his answer.

“No.”

Ladybug’s eyes snapped to his, growing wide and impossibly blue. Her hair ruffled in the breeze, the ribbons from her twin tails fluttered almost as fast as her eyelashes, almost as fast as his heart. For perhaps the millionth time, Chat Noir wondered how anyone could be so beautiful.

“No?” Ladybug spluttered. Subconsciously, her head shook side to side in little jittering movements. That wasn’t what she’d wanted to hear at all! That couldn’t be right! No way had Chat Noir never dated anyone.

Chat deflated at her disbelief.

“Yeah, I know. Totally pathetic huh? Even the hero of Paris can’t get a girlfriend,” He chuckled humourlessly, reaching up to scratch the back of his head “I have kind of a busy life, even outside of being Chat, and my father…” he trailed off awkwardly, not wanting to seem like a bigger loser than he already was.

Ladybug stared, slack jawed.

“But you’re such a- such a- such a flirt!” She all but spat out the words. “You flirted with Marinette the time you teamed up with her. S-she told me…. a-and you’re always flirting with me!” Chat wanted to die right then and there. His partner felt much the same.

“I am not a flirt!” Chat spluttered somewhat indignant “I mean- I am with you- but the other me, I couldn’t ever do that. As for Marinette. Well it was the first time I’d ever teamed up with a civilian and I just wanted to make an impression. I guess I kind-of went overboard, god she didn’t think I was flirting with her right?” Great, this is just great. Both Ladybug and Marinette probably think I’m the biggest playboy in the world, and Plagg is going to rip me to shreds later. He could already hear Plagg’s mocking laughter. His fists clenched tighter. Never in his life had he wanted to travel back in time and smack his idiot fifteen-year-old self, there was a first time for everything it seemed.

Ladybug was silent.

“So, you’ve never dated anybody.” Chat winced, her words seemed so far away even though she herself was standing right in front of him.

“And you don’t really flirt with anyone either.” Ladybug’s heart was racing. There was a question on the tip of her tongue, one which she was unsure she wanted the answer to, so she decided to keep it to herself. At least for now. Guilt settled on her shoulders like disturbed dust. She was making him feel awkward. That much she could tell, so she decided to put his mind at rest “me neither.”

Chat stopped cringing. Now it was his turn to feel slack-jawed. He looked as though someone had beat him with his own baton.

“You’ve never had a boyfriend?”

“W-well it’s like you said!” Ladybug threw her arms up in the air in self-defence and Chat finally caught sight of her flushed cheeks, the slightly embarrassed craze in her eyes. He didn’t know why he found it so funny, he supposed it was the relief which came from the realisation that maybe she didn’t see him as a complete and utter loser after all. “Being Ladybug keeps me pretty darn busy, plus all my schoolwork and work-work to boot, plus how could I tell a boyfriend the reason I sneak out every night isn’t because I’m running around with other men or something, it’s to stop possessed people from destroying the city and- and- STOP LAUGHING CHAT!” Ladybug stomped her foot in frustration as she watched Chat Noir crease over in laughter, his eyes closed, his shoulders shook-

And in turn, so did her world.

Had she had her hand on her yo-yo, she would have dropped it.

That laugh…

No. She thought firmly even as visions of a three-year-old, overly romanticised memory filled her mind. An image of her and another blonde, standing in the rain.  He’s not Adrien and the more you compare the two, the worse you are. Chat was her partner and she decided that he deserved more respect than that. Why was she even bothering to compare the two? Because of the smoulder? Because she realised she was attracted to Chat and felt guilty because of her lingering feelings for Adrien? A boy she’d never had and never would? She needed to get a grip on herself.

“I’m sorry My Lady,” Chat gasped, stepping closer to her before he could stop himself “I just thought, technically you would be running around with another guy. Just not in the way your hypothetical partner would infer. Well… I suppose we could run around in that way,” his voice dropped low and Ladybug took a step backwards, one of her feet came dangerously close to the edge of the roof “that would certainly make this cat purr.”

Come on Marinette! Say something! It’s your turn to turn him down, it’s all part of the game.

Her mind screeched at her as she stood stock still, much the same way she had done at the beginning of their patrol. Nothing would respond. His eyes were burning her again. There it was. The smoulder. Her heartbeat seemed to triple its speed, her legs quaked beneath her.

It wasn’t a game anymore.

“I don’t think it would Chat,” She whispered as she bit her lip “you don’t know me- the other me as you called it. There’s another reason that I’ve never had a boyfriend. Boys don’t tend to really look at me, and if they do…I’m a let-down.” She turned her head to the side, scrunching her face in what Chat assumed was a bitter memory. Even though the city illuminated them in its warm honey-gold colours, the light no longer reached her eyes. Outside of battle, Chat wasn’t really a violent person, and Adrien was the complete opposite of confrontational. But in that moment, he really wanted to hit whoever made her look that way.

“I don’t buy it.”

Ladybug didn’t look back at him, but the shift of her shoulders indicated she was paying attention so he continued.

“Whatever guys you hang out with must be idiots, to not see what I see in you.” And he meant it. How could the girl underneath that mask have such little confidence in herself? How had he known Ladybug for three years and never noticed this? If he had, he would have spent every day telling her how amazing she was, in every way, until she believed it.

“Oh really Chaton?” Her voice wobbled as she shuddered, “and what do you see, except a girl in a mask who can save the day and banter with you? The other me could never live up to whatever fantasy you have in your head.” Why was she trying to convince him to not flirt with her? She tried to stop herself, but deep down she wanted him to fight for her, to prove that his affections were true even if they were just affections and not something more. That scared her more than anything.

Chat was having an almost out-of-body experience, one where he wondered how they’d even gotten to this point in the first place.

“It’s only a fantasy because I don’t know who the girl on the other side of that mask is, so I had to fill in the gaps somehow. And you know, I see far more than a girl in a mask who can save the day and banter with me,” he repeated her words, more tenderly than she had said them, and took a shy step towards her “I see a girl who likes sweet things more than savoury, who hates liars and will always do her best to do the right thing. A girl with a strong moral compass who always tries her best. I see someone smart, someone funny, I see a girl looking at me who’s brighter than all of the lights of this city combined. I see a girl with a furious, and sometimes scary temper, I see a girl who rushes into things headfirst which isn’t always a good thing. I see you. I admit…I don’t see all of you. But I want to. I want to know everything about you. Like your favourite colour, what your dreams are, if you- if you like me flirting or you secretly wish it would stop- I want to know all of that. I just don’t know where to start.”

Ladybug looked at her partner, looked at Chat Noir, and for the first time in three years she truly believed she was seeing the boy behind the mask. Behind the flirty lines and silly puns. Here stood a boy with a lopsided grin, with tenderness in his eyes, as though she were his gateway to heaven.  And suddenly, like the thunder that had shaken her in the rain years ago, she was struck again. She stopped walking backwards, the little pebbles from the slab stones skittered as she tentatively stepped forward instead, towards her partner. What started as a metre gap, became mere inches.

“My favourite colour is pink,” She answered, feeling a smile stretch across her own face. Chat was frozen as she stepped closer to him. His smile wavered. She closed the gap. Heat began to creep up his neck, towards his ears, once again he wondered how they’d gotten here but at the same time, he found himself too involved in the moment to really care.

“I dream to work in fashion one day.” She placed a splayed hand on his chest, looking at the red against black. She’d always liked those two colours together. Black and red. Desire and Love. Night and Fire. Contrasting and complimenting, creating the perfect balance. Just like they did. She felt his chest grow tight and looked up. When had he gotten so tall? When had she grown so confident? It must be the mask. It must be him.

“And no, I don’t want you to stop flirting with me,” She finished and stood on tip toes, feeling something completely new stir in her chest at how wide his eyes were, at how adorable the blush on his cheek was as her lips brushed against it. His skin was as warm as his smile.

I guess I am this attracted to Chat Noir.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Adrien stared at the vast ceiling above him, rubbing his eyes for what seemed like the millionth time. The clock on his phone showed it was long past midnight, but that he already knew. He’d been tossing and turning in bed for hours now but couldn’t forget his last conversation with Ladybug. Such a stuck record was his mind, that he couldn’t focus on anything but the way she’d spoken to him, the way she’d looked at him, the way she’d kissed him.

With a long-suffering sigh, Adrien slipped out of his sheets and padded barefoot towards the window. Leaning his arm against the cool glass, and resting his sleep-deprived mind head against his skin, he closed his eyes. His muscles screamed at him to lie back down and rest, but his thoughts continued to taunt him into wakefulness.

A yawn which was not his own snapped Adrien out of his torment.

“Whatcha doing up so late?” Plagg floated to him. The black Kwami appeared to have just woken up, as his flight-pattern was irregular and his eyes looked as dazed as Adrien’s probably were. Plagg floated into the light of the moon which beamed down on them, his eyes glowing in that cat-like way for the faintest of seconds. Adrien wondered if his eyes did that when he was Chat Noir. He’d have to ask Ladybug…

…Ladybug.

Never before had his Lady kissed him on the cheek. In the three years they’d been partners, she was always the one to keep the distance between them. He was the one to pry and test the waters for any chance to get closer to her, as long as didn’t make her uncomfortable or step over the line. Oh sure there were a few times where she’d hugged him, but only after fierce battles when they’d only just managed to escape. She’d been scared, worried she’d lost him. From that and so many other unspoken things- he knew she trusted him, cared for him, and that had been enough. Now, because of a simple gesture which probably meant nothing to her, his head was reeling. His heart twisted in his chest. For god’s sake, he was practically pining under the moonlit sky like a lovesick kitten “I think I’m probably the most pathetic person in all of Paris” Adrien thought with a grimace.

He loved Ladybug. He’d loved her for three years, would continue to love her beyond his dying day. And sometimes that love was as painful as it was wonderful. A wonderful pain. That’s how it was tonight, when he’d finally caught a glimpse of something new in her. Her vulnerability, a gentle side of her, one who stood captivated by his honesty enough to show him more affection than anyone had in years. Adrien wanted to know that side of her more, wanted the girl behind the mask as much as the girl in it. He yearned to know the person who liked pink, who wanted to be a fashion designer, who didn’t want him to stop flirting with her.

All of that would have been enough to keep him awake, but there was something in the way Ladybug had been acting which had yet to click inside his mind, driving him further from the realms of sleep. A stirring familiarity which he couldn’t figure out. He didn’t understand it, why he was suddenly drawn to the shyness in her countenance. She’d reminded him of someone, and for whatever reason it had made him love her even more? How was that possible? What did it mean?

“Um, HEL-LO? Earth to Adrien! What’s going on with you kiddo?” Plagg’s scathing question snapped him out of his reverie and Adrien shook his head, fixing his companion with an apologetic look.

“Sorry Plagg, I just can’t sleep. Thinking.”

“About your love?” Plagg teased in a sing-song voice, his grin sardonic. Adrien rolled his eyes turning towards the window once more.

“I want to find her Plagg. I’m going to find her. I’m going to prove to her just how much she means to me,” He whispered his declaration, staring up at the smiling moon. Adrien wondered if she was staring up at it too. He knew she was out there somewhere, but that wasn’t enough anymore. They shared the same sky, the same destiny. They’d both been chosen to protect the city of Paris. But more than anything Adrien wanted to offer her his heart and ask her to protect it in return for hers, which he would guard more fiercely than any miraculous. He knew it was a big ask, but couldn’t they share their souls too?

“What if she doesn’t want to be found?”

Adrien stared at his Kwami as though he’d suggested kicking a kitten.

“Don’t look at me like that kid, I’m just getting you ready for the fact that some Supers never want to be found. Not all Ladybugs and Chat Noirs have known each other’s identities. And to be honest those were the easy ones. No drama. No stupid hormones. No kissing whilst they were transformed ugggh-”

Adrien slumped against the glass, suddenly feeling more exhausted than ever.

“-but you know,” Plagg continued, nodding his head from side to side, “they were also the most boring ones too. And really most of them didn’t know each other’s identities because they were too scared. All of them regretted it later on. Tough luck and all, too little too late.”

“So what are you saying?” Adrien ran his hand down face, dry and itchy from lack of sleep, and turned to stare back up the sky “that I should forget it and hope she one day has the courage to tell me herself?”

“Ugh, are you even stupider at night or something? That’s not what I’m saying at all you knucklehead!” Plagg grumbled, coming to rest on Adrien’s shoulder. The model decided to ignore the Kwami’s slight. “I’m saying you need to prove to her you’re someone she can trust in and out of the mask. However you do that is up to you.”

Adrien ran his hands through his hair, his mind once again going a million miles an hour. It was clear he wasn’t going to get much sleep that night. Though he hadn’t thought it possible, his Kwami had given him even more to think about than before. Quite suddenly the high walls of his bedroom closed around him like a cage, the rumpled bedsheets behind him seemed to mock his wakefulness. He needed freedom, he needed lightness.

He needed to be Chat Noir.


 

Sunday nights were always the quietest nights in Paris. Even at the Trocadero- where people from all walks of life came to spend time, take photos, marvel at the Eiffel tower before them- there were no souls to be seen. Marinette was able to count the number of cars that had driven by in the past half an hour using just her fingers. A smart car, a handful of fancy black cars probably on their way home from some diplomatic dinner, even a man on his bike delivering what looked like takeout. Aside from that, nothing.

She leaned back on her hands and stared at the tower before her, silently asking it to give her answers which it could not give. Sprawling her legs on the steps below her and wiggling her slightly numb toes, she glanced down at her sketchbook. It lay beside her, blank and untouched.

“You sure you don’t want to talk?” Tikki asked, tucking into Marinette’s jacket. Despite it being the start of Summer, the middle of the night provided little warmth and Marinette had only changed into a simple pair of leggings, a vest top and a light hoodie to shield her from the cold. It turned out that wasn’t quite enough to protect them both from the brisk breeze.

“Not now Tikki. Maybe in the morning. Just get some rest for now, I’ll wake you up if there’s trouble,” Marinette said, trying to reassure her Kwami as best she could. Honestly she wasn’t sure how she could talk about it, she couldn’t even find the right words in her head to describe what she was going through.

So she made a list.

Number one: She loved Adrien Agreste. She’d tried to forget her love for Adrien Agreste several times and every time he drew her back to him for a vast number of reasons.

Number two: She knew nothing would ever happen with Adrien. If it hadn’t happened in three years what was the likelihood it would ever happen?

Number three: She had a new found…something towards Chat Noir. It was too early to define it, but it went deeper than friendship for sure. On their patrol he’d shown her such kindness, spoken to her in a way he never had before. It was like someone ripping off a blindfold after years of sitting in a dark abandoned warehouse, and suddenly seeing the sun in all of its golden glory.

It left her completely dazed, utterly lost, and awfully awake into the night until she couldn’t take it anymore. She’d thrown the bedsheets off her flushed body, grabbed a flask of hot chocolate, and walked her city as her civilian self to try and find some inner peace.

“Marinette?!”

Though it seemed like inner peace refused to find her.

The aforementioned girl craned her head over at the sound of her voice being called. Her eyes widened when she saw Chat Noir approaching. As if to embarrass herself, her own mind betrayed her with images from their last encounter. Her eyes flicked to his check. She’d kissed him there.

With a short squeal which sounded not unlike a strangled car horn, Marinette turned back towards the Eiffel Tower. Of all the people to show up in the middle of her crisis, it had to be one of the boys causing her insomnia…and she looked TERRIBLE! Her hair was down, she didn’t have any makeup on, and the lack of sleep meant any semblance of beauty was far from her clutches. When Chat came to sit beside her she seriously considered hurling herself down the stairs. She might knock herself unconscious, get a good night’s sleep, the added bonus being that she wouldn’t have to have a conversation when she definitely didn’t want one. Especially not with Chat right now.

“What are you doing here?” It was a question, but it was laced with disapproval, and that made Marinette angry before she realised she was just a civilian to him. He didn’t know he was speaking to Ladybug in disguise. That calmed her down a little, but only a little.

“I don’t know really,” Marinette sighed. For a moment she thought about acting the way she had with Chat before, pretending to hero-worship, being silly, acting the fangirl. The second the thought came into her head she squashed it flat. It was too late and she was too tired to keep up that charade. That game was well past its issue-date.

“It’s not safe, you know, to be out so late. Does anyone know you’re here?” She wanted to be mad at him for questioning her safety, but she actually found it rather pleasant, and oddly funny. So much so that Marinette was surprised to discover she was fighting a smile.

She gazed into his eyes. Without Ladybug’s mask she felt exposed somehow, like he could discover who she really was at any moment. A shiver went through her, the urge to smirk went away. He was so handsome, and she was so transparent.

“You could say that,” Marinette mumbled coyly, “I couldn’t sleep so I decided to go for a walk. Besides it’s so quiet out here tonight, I’m not worried. Anyways, if anything did happen you’d be there right? Chat Noir? Hero of Paris?”

He smiled at her then.

“You bet puurincess! I-” He stopped mid-pun. A dark cloud descended over his face and he glowered down at the steps below them, his cat ears drooped and Marinette couldn’t help but think it strangely cute.

“Chat?” Marinette implored, worried despite her musings as to her secret partner’s attractiveness, “Is everything ok?”

“You don’t think I’m a flirt do you?” He blurted out the words so quickly that Marinette almost didn’t catch them. When they registered (having waded through the muck of her sleep-deprived state), she wanted to both laugh and hug him.

“No,” she giggled, recalling their earlier conversation, “I used to think you were a bit of a flirty playboy, but I don’t really anymore.”

“Why not?” Chat tilted his head to the side, his belt-tail flicked out. Marinette’s heart flipped in her chest much like it did when she was with Adrien. But this was different. She wasn’t shy, she wasn’t freaking out. If anything he made her feel safe.

‘There I go again comparing them both. Why don’t I just jump in the Seine now and put everyone out of their misery?’ Marinette chided herself. Yes, Adrien occasionally made her stammer, made her trip over herself, made her feel awkward and sometimes scared of rejection. But she’d gotten a lot better around him the past few years and she knew it was only because she cared about him so much that she continued to be such a hopeless dork around him. The fact that she was able to be calm around Chat proved that whatever attraction she had to him was less intense, however sweet her partner was.

Chat waited for her answer on tenterhooks. He was prepared to offer her a hundred apologies, and then some, for his blunder three years prior.

“I guess it’s because you called me Princess and you were flexing in front of me. You’re a real show off you know,” Marinette grinned and Chat felt he was going to burst into flames. It was the second time she’d gotten him to blush that night, and Marinette was thrilled that she could get such a reaction from him, as both herself and Ladybug. It made her consider things…dangerous things. Those things, she decided stubbornly, could wait until morning for her to think about. The hour was late, the night was beautiful, and the Cat-boy beside her was remarkably better company than she’d first thought he’d be. His presence was soothing.

“You want some hot chocolate?” She offered him her hot flask, “we’ll have to share, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. As long as you don’t have rabies or something.”

Chat blinked, before smirking and taking the flask from her.

“Thanks,” he responded “and you don’t have to worry. This cat is clean.”

Marinette burst out laughing and, after a few second, Chat caught onto the accidental implication of his words. The blush on his face grew tenfold.

“Oh come on! I didn’t- I didn’t mean it like that!”

“S-sure you didn’t!” Marinette doubled over, clutching her stomach. It honestly felt so good to laugh. The confusion and the tension she’d been experiencing all day, the emotions and the doubts, all floated out of her mouth in a light melody of merriment. Chat stared, mesmerised by it. Behind the mask Adrien wondered why he’d never realised her laugh was like an ode to joy. Had she ever laughed like that around him? He wanted her to, and he wanted to be the one to make her laugh like that again and again. He tried to deny the swooping feeling in his stomach.

When Marinette finally stopped laughing, she looked at him with a smile he found himself returning.

“So I guess you couldn’t sleep either?” She said, wiping a wayward tear from her eye, a remnant of her giggle fit. Taking the flask from him, she too took a sip from its contents, letting them warm her.

“No, too much to think about.” Chat responded “Besides cats are nocturnal anyway, and who can resist a walk under the moonlight and a talk with a pretty girl?”

“That right there. That’s why people think you’re a flirt,” Marinette explained with a roll of her eyes even as she felt a rush at him calling her pretty.

“Right, sorry. Force of habit I guess.”

“Could be worse I suppose. You could be addicted to catnip.”

“I’d repeat the fact that I was clean, but you’d laugh at me again.”

“I’ll probably laugh at you again regardless.”

“Me-ouch Marinette! You’ve got some claws yourself, anyone would think you’re the cat!” Chat waved his hands dramatically, flexing his own clawed fingers, and Marinette shook her head. He was so completely endearing. In an annoying way. But also a funny way. He was a harmless kitty-cat really.

Maybe it was the late hour, the lack of people, the moon’s light shining down on them but, as Chat Noir and Marinette Dupain-Cheng sat beside each other and settled into comfortable silence, they felt an inexplicable need to tell each other all of their secrets. Chat felt the overwhelming urge to tell her how torn her was, how much he wanted to find Ladybug, how much he wished he’d seen how amazing Marinette was before. Now he was stuck pining after two girls, both of whom he didn’t have a fur ball’s chance in hell with. As he stared up at the blinking lights of the Eiffel tower, Marinette watched, wanting him to turn around and see her. She longed to know if he really was Adrien, even though she knew he wasn’t and she really had to give that ridiculous theory a rest. It was her way of absolving her guilt from liking two boys at the same time and it was, quite simply, cruel to all three of them.

“I want to find her.”

It was the second time he said it and it was even more true this time around.

Marinette batted her eyes at Chat, confused. Her heart beat wildly. All the inner conflicts she’d been facing had been facing went quiet very quickly.

“You want to find Ladybug?”

“It’s not just that I want to,” Chat cried standing up, he spun around to Marinette. The light of the moon created a sliver of silver against his jaw, made his suit shine and his eye glisten as he stretched one arm out, the other cradled against his heart “it’s that I have to! I have to find her! Somewhere out there is a girl who doesn’t know how amazing she really is, and it feels like everyone is telling me that maybe we should stay hidden, or what if it goes wrong, or what if we’re not everything we want each other to be and I’m sick of it! She doesn’t know it but I’m just as scared as she is. I’m terrified that she’ll take one look at the real me and think I’m a fraud, but I don’t want to run away. I don’t want it to be too late before we both have the courage to do what has always felt right to me. She’s out there somewhere, just as scared as I am, and I want us to be scared together. I want us to conquer that fear together.” He turned his back on Marinette’s incredibly blue eyes, the expression on her face startlingly similar to Ladybug’s. The familiarity hit him in the chest like a freight train. The term ‘wishful thinking’ came to mind and he sneered at his own hopefulness.

All Marinette could do was stare at the back of his head.

 ‘I’m here Chat. I’m here. Look at me. See me. I’m right here. I’ve been here this whole time.’ Her mind called out to him, her soul searched for any sign that he could truly see her. But he didn’t turn around. She sighed, her head hanging low.  ‘who am I kidding? He cares for Ladybug so much; he’ll never see me through the mask. No matter what he thinks, I’ll be a disappointment.’

She took a few moments to gather herself. When she looked up again, a fake smile was stretched across her lips.

“I’m- I’m sure everything will turn out fine Chat Noir,” Marinette stood up, stretching and trying to cover the slight warble in her voice, “but for now I think both of us could do with some sleep.”

Chat’s shoulders seemed to droop but, when he looked over at her, it was with a smile. She couldn’t tell if it was real or fake like hers.

“You’re right.” He agreed and offered to walk her home, purely in the interest of making sure she got home safe of course. The pair settled into another calm silence, putting aside their turmoil once more and enjoying the way the moonlight reflected on the Seine, and the stars twinkled in the cold night’s sky. “so you never got round to telling me what kept you from the sandman’s grasp.”

Marinette tapped her nose as they wandered back along the riverside across from the bakery.

“Sorry Chat, even civilians have secrets the wish to keep,” She said as the pair crossed the road and came to stop outside her door, “maybe some other time I might tell you, if you’re lucky. But…thanks. For keeping me company I mean. It was nice.” She inwardly groaned at her own sudden awkwardness, but for some strange reason it felt like the end of a date.

“No problem,” the corners of Chat’s mouth tilted upwards and his eyes glinted in the glow of the streetlamps “I guess I’ll see you around?”

“Y-yeah,” Marinette nodded “see you around.”

Neither of them was quite sure what to do. Chat scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

“You know your hair,” he said “it looks nice like that, down I mean.” ‘what? Why did I say that? That was the stupidest thing I have ever said’ Adrien fought a shudder.

Although Marinette was surprised by his sudden compliment she grinned and ran her hands through her hair. Chat didn’t know if she was teasing him or not. Either way the simple gesture seemed to drive him crazy ‘stop it’ he thought ‘stop it right now’.

“Thanks.” She repeated.

The pair stared at each other for a moment, silent and waiting. It was if they were on the precipice of something. Something as terrifying as it was tempting. Without a word, they shyly moved in to hug the other. It should have been awkward, a superhero and a civilian randomly hugging each other after a random late-night encounter.

But it felt right…

Too right.

Puzzle-piece levels of right.

And that, more than anything, petrified them.

The hug lingered far past normal hug lengths, and they leaned back to look at each other, searching. Marinette felt light and breathless under his gaze. Chat felt warmth and comfort in holding her, a sort of protectiveness he’d only ever felt with one other person before.

They leaned in. Only a fraction of a second, but both of them saw the other move. Watching the other’s lips get closer to their own seemed to snap them out of the spell. Both of them simultaneously remembered the other people who held their hearts.

“T-THANKS for the nice talk Chat!” Marinette yelled far too loudly for it to sound natural. Recovering from their almost-whatever to pull him into a weird squeezing hug, and stepping away from the embrace as if he were a jagged knife, “I’ll see you soon! Goodnight!”

Before he could respond, Marinette practically leapt into her building, slamming the door shut behind her and leaning against it. Her legs began to slip out from under her and the back of her head thudded onto the door frame. She put a hand to her forehead, ignoring the nails digging into her flesh.

“Oh no,” she whimpered.

Outside, Chat Noir stared at the closed door with wide, unblinking eyes. He lifted his own hand to his chest. Even through his super suit he could feel his heart thundering in his chest. His jaw clenched.

“Oh no,” he rasped.

Needless to say, neither of Paris’ superheroes got any sleep that night.

Chapter Text

“Adrien,” Plagg rasped, his cat ears flat against his head, “I’m begging you kid, turn off the damn phone or I’m going to cough a fur ball on it.”

The alarm continued to pierce the air with its cheerful jingle and Plagg hissed, burying his head further into the pillow. Adrien screamed back a muffled response, lying flat on his back. He seemed to be attempting to smother himself.

“KID!”

“I almost kissed her!” Without a warning, Adrien sat bolt upright. Pillows flew everywhere, including the one which Plagg had been using. The poor Kwami went soaring half way across the room with a very cat-like screech. Adrien didn’t notice. “I almost kissed Marinette! Plagg what do I do? This is so bad! I almost- My Lady- and I just- this is so messed up. I am the worst.”

He had the sense to turn off his alarm before flopping back onto the bed, the mattress mocked him with a pathetic fwump. Somewhere in the room he heard Plagg cursing under his breath, but his brain didn’t quite register it. All night long he’d been tormented, imagining his last meeting with Marinette over and over again; the way she’d teased him, laughed with him, listened to him whilst he rambled like a love-stricken fool. The crumpled blankets creased further as his nails sunk into them. He had to admit that it wasn’t just how relaxed she’d been around him which set his heart racing; it was the way her eyes caught the reflection of the moon, the sudden shyness as she’d played with her hair, how her freckles had blurred as he leaned in to kiss her, and she’d leaned in too…

In the same night he’d declared how much he wanted to know Ladybug, the same night Ladybug had kissed him on the cheek. He’d all but declared his love for one girl and all but kissed another.

He was disgusted with himself.

“I can’t do this,” He whispered, covering his face with his hands “I can’t. I’m not a play-boy and I have to prove that to Ladybug or she’ll never take me seriously again.”

“Would you please give it a rest? It’s too early in the morning for this. I haven’t even had breakfast yet!” Plagg grumbled, “and anyways, if you’re so set on not being a play-boy, why’d you go to kiss Marinette?”

“I don’t- I don’t know!” Adrien cried, flinging the bedsheets off him in frustration. Slinking into the bathroom, the tired teen splashed some cold water on his face. The iciness of the water was a jolt to his skin, making his foggy mind more alert, but it couldn’t save him completely. It was a mere plaster against a gaping wound. He glanced up from his bent position above the marble sink. A tired, conflicted reflection stared back at him, with dark circles under its eyes and scruffy hair. His shoulders slumped as though they had the weight of the world on them. Adrien sighed. He’d never looked less like a model in his life.

Why had he wanted to kiss her?

He let his thoughts wander to her. Marinette. After that fated day in the rain, he’d always considered her a friend, although sometimes he worried that she didn’t return those feelings. After all she’d always been so shy around him and seemed to be a lot brighter and talkative around others, particularly Alya. Yet no matter what, she’d always been kind to him, sweet, and so bright and optimistic. In the past couple of years, she’d appeared to warm up to him more too, to his immense (and unusual) good luck. The times they spent together, playing video games with Alya and Nino or watching movies, had always been fun. In fact, those rare times he could sneak away from the Gorilla and just be a normal teen, she’d always been there. So much so that he couldn’t really picture his civilian life without her. She was as strong a figure in Adrien’s life as Ladybug was in Chat’s.

The realisation shot through him like a bullet.

And then there was last night. There had been a moment where she’d been staring at him whilst he talked about Ladybug. She’d been hanging off his every word. Why? Why had she looked at him like that? In the very same way Ladybug had looked at him on their patrol, provoking a journey down a path which was the very definition of playing with fire.

“What am I going to do?” He whispered to his reflection, finding no comfort in the fact his mirror-self looked just as lost as he did.

“We could start with breakfast,” Plagg suggested, landing on his shoulder, although it was more of a demand than a request. Adrien jutted out his jaw petulantly. He himself had absolutely zero appetite however, knowing what the Kwami was like, if he didn’t feed Plagg then it would be yet another thing to add to his ever-growing list of stresses.

But Adrien wasn’t a scared-y cat. He was determined to face things head on, and maybe apologise to Marinette later (as Chat of course), providing he could figure out just how to begin to say sorry. First things first, though, was considering how in the heck he was going to survive meeting Marinette as Adrien, and play it completely cool. It was lucky he had years of modelling to train him, but even then he didn’t think it would do much good. Especially if she laughed the way she had last night. Not even an Oscar winner could hold a straight face when she laughed, of that he was certain.

“She almost kissed you back you know, maybe you don’t have to say sorry,” some small, hopeful, and utterly inappropriate part of his brain whispered to him. He growled, acidic abhorrence churned in his stomach at his wayward thoughts.

It was going to be a long day.

***

“Marinette,” Tikki chided softly, “if you don’t stop brushing your hair you’ll be late to school!”

The young girl gave a soft hum in response as she sat in front of the mirror. Her entire world seemed to be in a haze and she wasn’t sure if it was good or bad thing. So she made another list. She was getting rather good at them.

Number One: She had kissed Chat Noir, as Ladybug. It was a cheek-kiss but that didn’t really matter. A kiss was a kiss and the meaning behind it was abundantly clear, to her at least.

Number Two: She had met Chat Noir as Marinette later that evening. Fate had drawn them together like the thread in her beloved sewing machine, and she’d listened to his passionate cry to the heavens, his plea to find Ladybug, his desperation. To know he was just as scared as she was had moved something in her, had made her want to cry out and rip away the barrier their masks provided. The words had died before they even reached her lips. Which was probably a good thing because of-

Number Three: The fact they’d almost kissed. And she was most definitely not Ladybug when they’d moved in towards each other.

“Tikki,” She whispered, delicately placing her hairbrush on the desk, “I’m so confused. What do I do? I almost kissed Chat.”

Her Kwami flew to her side and Marinette was surprised to see Tikki’s bright violet eyes light up with joy.

“Yes and he almost kissed you too! It’s so romantic,” She sighed, clutching her tiny paws to her chest.

Marinette wrinkled her nose, shuffling off of her chair to grab her school bag. “Romantic? I wouldn’t exactly call it that.”

“No but it is, Marinette! Don’t you see? Chat Noir likes both sides of you! Otherwise he wouldn’t have almost kissed you last night,” The Kwami sighed, spinning around in excitement, “Isn’t it wonderful? You always said you were worried about how he’d feel if you revealed your identities, but now you have proof! He’s drawn to both sides of you!”

Despite herself, Marinette smiled. At first, after the initial shock, she’d been angry. So much for not being a play-boy, and all that. But truth be told she couldn’t find it in her to think Chat would really play two girls at once. He wasn’t like that, and he’d seemed just as shocked by his actions as she had been by hers. It took two to tango.

And yet…

“What about Adrien?”

The smile on Tikki’s lips froze, as did her enthusiastic twirling. Marinette had known Tikki for three years and inwardly groaned. “Lecture in three, two, one-”

“Didn’t you say you wanted to forget your crush on him? Smouldering advertisement or not, Marinette, you said you wanted to leave things as they were, and, not only that, but that you were happy to stay as friends too!”

Marinette huffed feebly, reaching one arm across herself. The idea of giving up on Adrien completely always made her feel broken inside somehow. It wasn’t like she couldn’t get over him; she was sure in time she could. After all she was Ladybug, and heroes always made it through dark moments. Time healed many things. She’d heard all of those clichés before. But, like a delicate piece of china, a part of her heart chipped away whenever she truly considered it. There was a closeness in loving Adrien, a secret one which pulled her to him, filled her with warmth and safety.

To sever the silent bond she’d made with him, that distant closeness, would be a terribly sad thing indeed. Heart breaking even.

“Marinette,” Tikki touched her arm, sisterly worry poured from every line of her soft pink features, her antennae drooped, “All I’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy. I just don’t want you to miss what’s right in front of you. I’m not saying you should definitely give up on Adrien, or totally give your heart to Chat Noir. It’s your decision at the end of the day. I just want you to be okay, and please don’t make any rash choices. Be patient.” She smiled then, and Marinette felt a rush of affection towards her companion. She leaned down to kiss Tikki’s forehead. Really, she’d be completely lost without her.

Patience. Marinette wasn’t particularly skilled at being patient, which had made her three-year crush on Adrien absolute torture. But it was a blissful torture, with an equal amount of highs as lows. Perhaps Tikki was right, perhaps patience would be a good thing. Mariette had to admit, she was stuck in the thick of things right now. If she waited, maybe things might become clearer. Particularly after a restful night, one which she was determined to get even if she literally had to do what she’d thought of last night, and throw herself down the steps of the Trocadero.

But first she had deal with the minefield that was school. However, she thought as she gripped her bag tightly, she was resolute in her belief that she could handle it. She could handle seeing Adrien. She could handle ridding her mind of Chat Noir and their almost kiss.

That’s right.

She could totally handle it.

***

“I can’t handle this.”

As it turned out, Marinette hadn’t quite considered just how popular Adrien’s first underwear photoshoot would be.

From the moment she’d stepped onto the school grounds, she’d seen his photos everywhere. There wasn’t a room in school she could go in where people weren’t talking about it or sharing the photos on their phones. Some had even ripped the pages out of the magazine itself to bring to school, along with cries of “oh my god! Have you seen this?”

Marinette felt like she was being suffocated. Suffocated by a smoulder. By a look of all things. It was impossible to escape. Adrien’s eyes, Chat’s eyes, Adrien’s smile, Chat’s almost-kiss, Adrien’s body, Chat’s body.

Either she was going to hell, or she was already in it.

Her first class of the day was History. Just when she was on the brink of deciding if she wanted to make herself history, and vanish from the building forever, she caught sight of Alya and Nino waving from their usual seats at the back. It was a welcome sight, and she felt herself relaxing almost instantly. This was one of the few classes they took together and if she needed anyone right now, it was her best friend’s quiet emotional support. Marinette took two steps into the classroom before squinting in the direction of Alya’s phone, which the reporter was waving and pointing at. The superhero’s heart sank.

Alya was mouthing something about Adrien’s photoshoot, her eyes blazed with a fire that surpassed the redness in her hair, and Marinette reversed her walking as if she were a character being rewound on an old-fashioned cassette tape. The decision to visit the school nurse and go home, was cemented in her mind and it would take a miracle to remove it. Yes, she was supposed to be a hero and face things straight-on, but she was pretty sure whoever made that rule had never been assaulted with about a thousand images of their secret crush’s practically naked body, in the space of five minutes. A woman could only take so much.

It was as she was spinning around, preparing to flee like so many frightened cartoon mice before her, that she ran straight into her metaphorical cat.

Her nose collided straight into Adrien’s chest and she leapt backwards with a yelp of pain, hands instinctively flying to her now throbbing face.

“Oh my god Marinette are you ok?”

Adrien was mortified to say the least. All morning he’d worried about meeting her, what he’d say and how to act normal. Not even the anxiety, twisting painfully in his stomach, had been able to prepare him for this colossal screw-up. Marinette was wiggling her nose, or at least that’s what he thought she was doing, as her hands were still covering her face. Her eyes were watering and he prayed to every last deity he could think of that is was just the shock, and that he hadn’t made her cry. She’d yet to even look at him.

“I’m fine,” She smiled and waved her hands in his direction as a gesture of reassurance. When she looked up at him, the smile instantly dropped from her face “I just- I- I- I- uhh, ah-huh, A-Adrien. Good morning! The nose thing? I’m fine. It’s broken so it’s all bad. I mean, it’s fine because it’s NOT broken!”

Adrien had stopped listening. Not because he was being rude, he honestly hadn’t meant to stop. But there was one small, tiny detail about her, revealed only when she’d taken her hands away from her face, that had sent his brain hurtling out the back of his skull and straight into the part of the universe where rational thought was simply not allowed.

She was wearing her hair down.

It would probably take a few hundred years for Adrien to be able to explain, coherently, why such a simple thing had made him nearly pass out. All he knew was, in the three years he’d known Marinette, he could scarcely recall a time when her hair wasn’t up in one fashion or another. Now, the night after he (“Chat”, he reminded himself, “Chat Noir”) had complimented the style, the night after they’d almost kiss, she’d decide to let hair loose, brushing against her shoulders like a delicate curtain of ink and midnight and oh god he was losing his god damn mind.

“Adrien! ADRIEN!”

“OH MY GOD ADRIEN!”

“HE’S IN HERE GIRLS!”

The pair were brought out of their respective freak-outs by the sounds of squealing in the hallway outside. At least ten girls had crowded around the door, blocking the way and were now begging for Adrien to autograph their photos of his underwear advertisement. One quick glance told Marinette they were in the lower years. She frowned. Most new students quickly learned (some the hard way- through Chloe’s wrath) not to ask Adrien for autographs and, from what Marinette had seen, he hadn’t been badgered at school for a while. It appeared as though his new advertisement had scratched any modicum of decorum off the record. Her frowned deepened into an outright glower. Honestly, how inappropriate!

Adrien was attempting to turn them down with a flustered, nervous chuckle, but there were so many of them his voice was being drowned out. He peered over his shoulder at her, his eyes wide and pleading. She’d never seen him quite so panicked before, and her heart glowed. It would have been adorable, were it not for the situation.

Still, she was Ladybug, and she wasn’t about to let someone down when they needed her. His look was a cry for help if ever she’d seen one.

“Hey Adrien, Alya needed to speak to us before class, which starts in just a minute,” Her last few words were acidic as her focus locked onto the girls, sending them a poignant look and making a mental note to get Nino to talk to them later on. He was always the best at protecting his self-professed bro. Ignoring the whining which inevitably started, she led Adrien away from the girls, who at least had the sense not to follow them inside the room. Marinette almost forgot how completely panicked she’d been mere minutes before. Then Adrien had to whisper quietly into her ear, his breath tickling the nape of her neck.

“Thanks for the rescue there, I owe you one.”

When the pair collapsed onto the seats opposite Nino and Alya, the latter practically jumped them both. She was so excited she seemed to be vibrating in her seat. Marinette had the sense to be wary.

“Guys, guys, you will NEVER guess what’s happening. It’s amazing!”

“And it has nothing to do with the underwear thing,” Nino interjected with a smug grin. Adrien scowled, the pair sharing a silent conversation which Marinette couldn’t quite fathom. Nor did she have any energy to. Her eyes were fixed on Alya simply because if she looked at Adrien, whilst recalling his photoshoot, her brain would most likely collapse in on itself.

Alya had the sense to ignore Nino, even as she shot Marinette a secret glance over the top of her glasses, one which clearly meant they’d be discussing it later. Once again Marinette fought the urge to run home, she could already imagine the her-shaped, cartoonish hole in the wall. If she transformed into Ladybug, such a feat would certainly be possible.

It turned out Alya’s news was actually something to celebrate. Her cousin was opening a sports centre and day spa about an hour’s drive from the city. It was supposed to be a place that only the super wealthy (aka Adrien) could afford to go. They’d known about it for ages, and talked excitedly about getting free day passes. Now it appeared that day had finally arrived, and the grand opening was at the weekend. Alya had managed to secure them all spot on the tennis court and some time in the basement Jacuzzi pool, which all four of them had reacted to with glee and eagerness.

There was only the matter of deciding the tennis teams.

“Ok so it’s clearly doubles. How about girls against boys? Do things the old fashioned way?” Alya grinned, resting her chin on her interlaced fingers.

Nino blanched, leaning back in his chair as he twirled the straw, from his early morning frappe, between his teeth.

“No way babe, I’m not going against you two together. I’d like at least a chance at winning,” He said solemnly, shuddering at the thought of going up against the two girls “you two are a force of nature together and you know it.”

“Fine have it your way, chicken!” She shrugged, setting her sights on Marinette and Adrien. The pair simultaneously felt like gazelles gazing into a lionesses waiting jaws, “So what do you say you two? Feel brave enough to take us two on? Not that you’ll win of course!”

If there was one thing that Marinette couldn’t resist, it was a challenge. Especially not from the likes of her best friend. She sat up straight, flicking her loose hair with a scoff.

“Please,” She shot back confidently, “Adrien and I will wipe the floor with you two.”

“Oh you’re so sure of that huh?” Alya said, her smirk growing wider. Marinette shook her head, surprised at the confidence in Alya’s countenance.

“Absolutely,” She replied, resting her arm on Adrien’s shoulder, “the fact that you think otherwise proves you don’t know what you’re in for!”

Halfway through her sentence she realised what she’d done.

Like a dying girl in a horror film, Marinette’s head turned slowly to the side. Adrien was watching her with thin lips and wide eyes. He’d looked like he’d swallowed a lemon whole, and the bitterness was slowly unfurling on his tongue. She might as well have slapped him.

Marinette almost tore her arm clean from its socket with the speed at which she removed her arm off his shoulder. Wondering just how exactly she could recover from such a magnificent faux-pas, she was miraculously saved by their teacher, who marched into the classroom yelling something about moving to the computer suite. Her blunder seemed blissfully lost in the confusion of fumbling for bags, notebooks and phones, and the ensuing rush to the exit in order to secure the best computers.

“I can’t believe I did that.” Marinette thought dazedly “I can’t believe I treated him like Chat Noir. Earth to Mari, ADRIEN IS NOT CHAT NOIR. You saw how he reacted! That’s all the proof you need for god’s sake. Get a grip.”

“I’m not gonna lie hon’,” She heard Nino say as he and Alya walked ahead of her towards the hallway, “you’re hot when you’re all competitive.”

As Marinette rolled her eyes she noticed Adrien had yet to follow them. When she found him she was surprised to discover he hadn’t moved from his spot, and was staring at seemingly nothing. His eyebrows knitted together, giving the appearance that he was deep in thought.

“Adrien?” She called nervously, “Are you coming?”

He shook his head like a wet dog and Marinette caught the random giggle that almost escaped from her lips. Ok so that had been a little Chat-like. But that didn’t mean anything! Everyone shook their head in surprise from time to time, it didn’t mean-

“I’m coming, sorry for making you wait!” He cried with a smile, jogging to catch up with her, and the pair made their way towards the computer suite. “Say, Marinette, this is going to sound kind of like a weird question-”

Her heart clenched. Oh god here it came. He was going to ask her what the hell she thought she was doing earlier by touching him so strangely.

“-But…what’s your favourite colour?”

Adrien was a few paces ahead of her before he realised she’d stopped walking. Instead she stood stock-still, gaping at him. He couldn’t tell it if was fear or confusion which caused the tension in her brow. Her lips formed a delicate o-shape and he had to fight to look away from them. He didn’t trust himself anymore. Even as Adrien.

“W-why?” She coughed, “Why do you want to know that?”

He didn’t know if her reaction was telling or not, he didn’t know if what he was searching for could possibly be found. All he knew was, whatever was happening was absolutely, completely and wonderfully insane.

“It’s a surprise.” He said with a wink.

For a moment the pair stared at the other, wordlessly. Marinette recalled the night before, when all she’d wanted was for Chat Noir to look at her, to see and understand who she truly was. Could she really dare to hope that her wish was coming true? Could she really hope that Adrien’s eyes were Chat Noir’s, searching for his Lady? No. It couldn’t be true. It was crazy. Beyond crazy, it was impossible.

Yet, even so-

“Pink,” She whispered, “My favourite colour is pink.”

Chapter Text

The words rang his ears, reverberating through his mind like the sound of a bell, until all Adrien could do was stare.

Pink. Her favourite colour was pink. That’s what she had said. That’s what Ladybug had said too.

It couldn’t be possible. No way would his Lady give him such a big clue, would she? But then, Ladybug didn’t know he was Chat Noir. He sighed inwardly. It was probably just a coincidence. Plagg was right, he really needed to get his head out of the clouds.

“Adrien?” Marinette was staring at him. Evidently, gaping at someone like a brain-dead koi fish was something to cause concern. He shook his head for the second time in mere minutes. ‘concentrate, Agreste’

“Ah- yeah, sorry. Pink, right,” He stammered, but smiled in the hopes of reassuring her, “it’s a good colour. I should have figured actually; you wear it a lot.”

Only when she crossed her arms over herself, did he realise what he said could be seen as an insult. Marinette turned away and, in his haste to correct himself again, Adrien all but leapt forward to place a hand on her shoulder.

“No-not that that’s a bad thing! Actually I think you look great in pink. It’s really suits you,” Adrien grinned, aware that he sounded like the biggest idiot on the planet but too worried about Marinette’s feelings to care. He was starting to think that he didn’t think when he was around her. Maybe he was like that when it came to sweet, smart, pretty girls. Maybe he was like that with just one sweet, smart, pretty girl. Maybe- in his wildest dreams.

All the systems in Marinette’s brain seemed to close up shop for the day, even though it was only nine in the morning. She was pretty sure she was going to start drooling if she didn’t snap herself out it soon. Silence loomed on the horizon, ready to descend upon them and make the situation a million times awkward. If only she could open her mouth and say something. If anything the longer it took, the angrier she became at herself. She was no longer a pathetic middle schooler with a silly crush. She was a pathetic high schooler with a silly crush thank you very much! ‘I should be able to deal with things better by now.’

As luck would have it, their conversation (or lack thereof) was thwarted by a high pitched squeal and the pair simultaneously leapt into fighting stances at the sound. Neither of them noticed the others reaction. Hurrying towards the pair were a gaggle of girls, the ones from earlier, all holding Adrien’s underwear photos up and screaming about wanting his autograph.

Adrien blanched, stepping back slowly, his face growing pale at the sight.

“Shouldn’t those girls be getting to class by now?”

Suddenly feeling a warm grip on his hand, Adrien barely had time to register Marinette’s fingers locking instinctively in his own, before she turned heel and yanked him away from the girls. The pair raced down the hallway, echoes of their thundering footsteps bounding off of the walls. Other students whipped their heads around at the bizarre sight of the two being chased by Adrien’s rabid fangirls. A few took out their phones but didn’t quite manage to hit record on time, or only managed to snap a few blurry pictures.

When they’d gained a good distance from the screaming girls, Marinette wheeled around a corner, opened an unassuming wooden door and leapt inside. Without a second thought, Adrien hurried in after her. The door slammed shut behind them and Marinette collapsed against it with a sigh.

Dried paint and chalk were the smells that filled the air and, as Adrien’s eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness of the room, he noticed Marinette had hidden them in the art cupboard. Cupboard being a loose term, as it was more of a small room than anything. Metal shelves contained an array of art supplies from acrylics to clay. A broken kiln, door half-off its hinges, resided in the corner. He sucked in a breath, trying to regain air, but found himself near choking on the layers of dust they’d disturbed by entering the room in such a dramatic way.

“Are you ok?” Marinette asked gently and Adrien could hear the light breathlessness of her voice, his heart flipped at the sound. He cringed, remembering why they were hiding in the first place.

“I’m fine. Sorry about that. That hasn’t happened in a while.”

They stared at each other again, wordlessly, before a giggle burst from Marinette’s lips. In an attempt to cover her laughter at the absurdity of the situation, she held her hands over her mouth. But Adrien could see the amusement sparkling in her eyes. His lips stretched into the kind of thin smile that only occurs when you know you probably shouldn’t laugh, but are about to regardless.

“Shh! Shh! They’ll hear us!” Marinette waved her hands even though she continued to laugh.

“I’m sure we can run off again, we make a pretty good team I think. We should consider joining the running club,” Adrien chuckled pressing his palm to his forehead. In any other situation he would have been pretty annoyed by this turn of events. She’d somehow made it fun and exciting, like an adventure. The two intrepid explorers running from the jaws of the frantic jungle cats.

Marinette glowed, too high on adrenaline to feel a sense of shock and awe, too amused to stammer at his praise.

“Adrien!” She gasped, chortling still as she sank further against the door, and Adrien forced back a very impulsive, highly ungentlemanly impulse to press against her in a similar fashion. He blushed and averted his gaze, the smile almost gone from his face. Heat seeped through his blood, darting in-and-out of his arms, his face, his ears. The way she said his name…

‘Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip, get a grip!’  Ignoring the dust in the air, Adrien inhaled through his nose. His thoughts raced, yelled, screamed at him to keep it together and remain calm. But he had a feeling the second he looked into her eyes he’d be lost again. He remembered what she looked like when he was about to kiss her as Chat, the way her favourite colour dashed across her cheek bones and her eyes fluttered lazily, how her lips had parted in anticipation. Against his better judgement, he knew he wanted to see that look again. God what was happening to him?!

The door clicked open and Marinette, oblivious to her companion’s inner turmoil, craned her head out to check if the coast was clear.

“Ok so it looks like they’ve gone. I think we lost them. We just have to act nonchalant,” She whispered peering over her shoulder at him with a smile, wondering if her sudden calm around him had anything to do with their misadventure, or the guilt-ridden comparisons she made between Adrien and Chat. Either way she was thankful for it, despite the fact she knew it wouldn’t last.

“Nonchalant. Got it,” Adrien’s voice sounded slightly strangled and Marinette felt self-reproach clutch her chest from dragging him into the stuffy cupboard. But, in her haste, it was the first place she could think of to hide. There weren’t any classrooms or lockers in this small part of the school, so not many students came here and thus, had no clue the art cupboard even existed.

The duo crept out into the deserted hall, plastic tiles squeaking underfoot. Adrien placed his hands behind his back whistling a carefree tune as he went. Marinette stared at him, dumbfounded.

“I don’t think that’s what nonchalant means,” She bit her lip, trying hard not to laugh again.

“Hey haven’t you ever seen old cartoons? Whistling means you’re innocent!” He argued with a lopsided, childish smile, one which Marinette had seen only a handful of times. Adrien had such a model-like smile, but she knew it wasn’t his true one. He was just polite, and friendly. Only when he was truly relaxed did he grin properly like the way he was now, and Marinette thought it was the most adorable thing in the world. Adrien twirled away from her, restarting his merry whistling, even bobbing his footsteps as he walked in time to the beat.

It was in that moment, Marinette Dupain-Cheng had one of the greatest revelations of her life.

“You’re a dork.”

For the second time, Adrien stopped and stared at her. This time, however, the smile was gone from his face. He frowned and shifted from foot to foot as he promptly stopped whistling.

“Is…that a bad thing?” He asked and oh god he looked so cute, glancing at her through lidded eyes, his chin lowered. There was such vulnerability in his voice that he could have been asking her if Hawkmoth was bad and she’d deny it, say that Hawkmoth was the best person in the world, that he probably rescued stray kittens in his down time.

In order to reassure him as best as she could, Marinette smiled warmly, shaking her head from side to side.

“No. It’s not bad. It’s not bad at all,” She replied, “I happen to know quite a few dorks. I’m a dork myself actually. I like dorks.”

It was worth it, Marinette thought, to sound like a complete fool; for her short-lived calm to disappear like the sun behind stormy clouds. It was worth the thunder now raging in her heart and the lightning in her veins. It was worth the rain in her lungs making her breathless. It was worth it to see the beam lighting up Adrien’s face at that moment, the summer in his eyes and the spring in his step at he made his way back to her. For a second he hesitated, making a half-movement towards her before jittering to a halt. Marinette watched him curiously as he eventually lifted his hand and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“Thank you Marinette,” He breathed.

The bell for first class rang and both of their faces dropped. Though neither of them were strangers to being late, Madame Bonnet was strict and didn’t take too kindly to those whom she considered slackers. Forgetting everything about being nonchalant, the pair took off down the hall once more, making their way across the school towards the computer labs.

“Oh Adrien, Marinette, so kind of you to join us,” The half-British history teacher glared at them over the top of her round spectacles. The pair grimaced. Madame Bonnet was a great teacher, but everyone feared crossing her, “I’ve already explained your new assignment to the class, perhaps if you join Alya and Nino, you both might gain a sense of promptness and responsibility.”

She dismissed them with a sharp flick of her hand and they both hurried through their apologies as they settled into the seats by their friends, who shot them looks of both curiosity and sympathy. Nino leant across Alya (much to her chagrin) and bumped fists with Adrien. Marinette sighed, she still hated getting told off, but at least they were grouped together.

“So what’s the assignment?” Adrien asked curiously, looking at Alya and Nino’s shared computer to see what they’d been researching.

Alya rubbed her hands together with excitement.

“Only the best assignment in the world!” She cried gleefully, “we have to research a Ladybug and Chat Noir from any point in history apart from the current pair, and make a presentation on their contribution to their society, as well as how their presence was a benefit.”

Despite every muscle in his body clenching at once, Adrien managed to keep his face straight. Marinette was less lucky, her mouth quirked before she could control it. ‘Of course,’ they both thought.

“I wanted to do these two,” Nino said, spinning the monitor around to face them. On screen was a black and white photograph of a Ladybug with short wavy hair, a long sparkling flapper dress, and a confident smirk. Beside her was a tall Chat Noir with dark hair and pointed teeth, broad shoulders and kind eyes from beneath his mask, despite a more serious expression. The pair stood close together, Ladybug’s head tilted backwards almost as if she were about to rest it on her Chat’s chest. Marinette stared at the picture as though she was having an out of body experience. It was so strange, to see a past Ladybug and Chat Noir, like glimpsing into a past life. She wondered who they could be. Her eyes flicked over to Adrien, but his expression gave nothing away.

“So what’s so special about those two?” Marinette asked, forcing a smile through her teeth, and starting to feel more than a little ashamed that she hadn’t looked into her legacy beforehand. Tikki had told her some things, as had Master Fu, but those were more about her powers and where they came from, not about the previous owners of the Miraculous.

Nino bounded up and down in his seat like a little kid watching an action movie for the first time.

“Oh what’s NOT special dude?! They lived in New York during the Jazz age AND they shut down a whole crime syndicate. It’s so cool! Like, there were mobsters and awesome fashion and the MUSIC of the era. Can’t you just picture these two cool-cats running around, dodging mafia bullets and making Jazz-puns?”

“I, on the other hand, wanted to research these two,” Alya interjected, cutting her body across Nino and wiggling the mouse until a different page popped up. Subconsciously Nino began playing with the loose strands of her hair. Adrien glanced longingly at the action. His friend made it look so easy.

This time it was a sepia toned image of a militaristic Ladybug and Chat Noir which filled the screen. Both were more serious in nature. They stood straight and posed for the camera with proud looks on their faces. Ladybug was light haired and petite, Chat Noir was tall and lean. Both of them had haunted eyes. Wartime eyes.

“This is the Ladybug and Chat Noir from the second world war,” Alya explained, not even bothering to cover the awe in her voice, “to date they’re the only Ladybug and Chat Noir whose identities became public after their sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice?” Marinette asked, tilting her head to the side. Something stabbed at her heart, like a painful memory long forgotten.

“Yeah, they died on a mission together and were awarded medals for their sacrifices after the war,” Alya continued shifting to look at Nino, who wrapped his arm around her shoulder in comfort, “I haven’t read all the details yet but it looks like they sacrificed themselves to the Gestapo in order to save a legion of spies they led across Europe. It was awful. They were tortured and executed, but giving themselves up not only saved a whole bunch of spies, who continued working and collecting highly valuable information for the Allies, but it also meant that the mission they were ambushed on was still successful. Something about coordinates to a secret Nazi hideout which the English R.A.F then blew up.”

“That sounds…really depressing,” Marinette wrinkled her nose, her heart clenched. She glanced down at her closed purse, knowing Tikki had heard every word. Suddenly, she felt the urge to cry.

“It is but isn’t is also a fantastic story? The brave and valiant Ladybug and Chat Noir, going up against Nazi’s, surrendering their lives for the good of the whole world!” Alya clutched her heart, “It’s so admirable and just proves how worthy they were to own their miraculous!”

“Yeah but EVERYONE’S gonna do them babe and you know it!” Nino argued “So there’s nothing surprising about it, and we might not get the best marks ‘cause we don’t stand out.”

“True,” Alya nodded and the pair continued debating, trying to find a common middle ground. Marinette sat rooted to her seat, hating her active imagination in that moment. All she could picture were the sounds of the past Ladybug and Chat Noir being tortured, refusing to give up information until the Nazi’s just decided to kill them instead. She felt sick, bile bubbled in her throat, scalding.

She felt someone squeeze her leg and looked up. Adrien had gripped her knee and was now gazing at her, searching for something in her eyes. He looked rather pale.

“Are you all right?” He asked, having to bite his tongue to prevent himself from calling her Princess. Truth be told he was quite unnerved at Alya’s tale; he couldn’t help but imagine his Lady in that situation. How helpless must that Chat Noir felt, knowing he had to give himself up to the Gestapo, knowing it was the only way. He couldn’t bear to think about it more, especially when Marinette looked so upset by it herself.

She gave him a weak smile and looked down at where his hand rested on her leg. Only then did Adrien realised what he’d done by instinct, and pulled his hand away, mortified.

“I’m ok, I just…you know…hate violence and stuff,” She reasoned quickly, covering her true reasons, “I don’t like the thought of people so good dying in such a horrible way. It doesn’t seem right.” She shuddered.

“It’s another reason to hate the Nazi’s for sure,” Adrien agreed, feeling a rush of affection for her then, almost as though she were empathising with him instead of a Chat Noir long gone.

Marinette excused herself, letting them know she was heading to the bathroom, and hurrying out of the room once she got a snappish response from their teacher. To her immense relief, the bathroom was empty and she opened her bag to see her pink Kwami trying to rid herself of the tears in her eyes.

“Tikki,” Marinette said reaching for her companion, but Tikki shook her head, floating out of her purse to land in Marinette’s waiting hands.

“It’s ok Marinette, it was a long time ago.”

“But it still hurts doesn’t it?”

Tikki looked away without a word.

“Tikki you’ve always been a shoulder for me, let me be one for you too, let me be the one to-” Marinette’s words of encouragement were stopped short by the sounds of screaming and, for a wild moment, she thought Adrien’s fangirls were back in full force. When the screaming continued, however, Marinette rushed out of the bathroom to see what she really, really didn’t want to see at that moment in time.

An Akuma victim was stomping around the school, litter picker in hand, zapping everything in sight until they turned into bits of litter. Including people. The foul stench of garbage filled the air and Marinette gagged, pinching her nose as she darted back into the bathroom.

“Our conversation will have to wait I’m afraid,” Tikki said, even as her voice still trembled.

Marinette nodded with a scowl, oh she was going to kick this Akuma from here to the fourteenth arrondissement! Despite the sadness evoked by the subject matter, she’d been thrilled to be grouped with Adrien for a project. Just once, could she not have a moment of peace to be a normal idiot teenager in love?

“You’re right,” She replied. Thrusting a hand into her purse to retrieve two hairbands, she threw her hair back up into their usual twin tails, “Tikki spots on!”

Her first thought after she transformed, was to dash into classrooms and tell people to run and hide from the Akuma. Luckily, there were now Akuma-drills across all the schools in Paris and her declaration (and appearance) didn’t cause too much of a panic. Instead panic filled her at the thought of her friends getting turned into literal trash, and she raced back to the computer labs.

“Ladybug!” Adrien leapt to his feet at the sight of her, “what are you doing-”

“No time to explain!” She cried pointing to the second exit opposite to her, which would hopefully lead them out of the way of the garbage-man’s path, “all of you get out of here right now! There’s an Akuma!”

Satisfied when she saw her class hurrying away, Nino having to literally scoop Alya up in his arms as she tried to get away and film the scene, Ladybug turned and began hurrying out to find Garbage Man when a cry reached her.

“Wait!”

To her dismay, Adrien was rushing toward her. Her eyes bulged. ‘No, no, no, no, no!’

“Ladybug, my friend is out there!” Adrien gasped. Regardless of any inklings or crazy ideas he’d had over the past day or so, the thought that Marinette was stuck somewhere, alone and scared, was making him frantic, “You know her, her name is Marinette!”

“Adrien-” She soothed, even though she herself felt an ever-growing sense of dread squeezing her chest and twisting her stomach. She needed to reassure him. Fast. The longer he was here the greater danger he was in.

But whatever she could have said was drowned out by an enraged growl. The revolting smell filled the air once again. The Akuma was close.

Grabbing Adrien by the arm, she pulled him down to the ground and they crawled under one of the computer desks. Their bodies pressed together as they tried desperately to stop breathing, stop moving, stop making a single sound. The Akuma victim stepped into the room. Ladybug could hear his light footsteps as he surveyed the area for more people to turn into victims, more bait to lure Ladybug and Chat Noir out of hiding. Instinctively Adrien wrapped his arms around Ladybug as she rested on his lap. Surprisingly he felt her squeezing him back, equally protective. One polka-dotted arm was strewn across them both, acting as their first layer of defence if they were discovered.

They both jumped at the sound of a nearby desk being zapped into a large crate of rotten banana peels. Just when they thought they’d been discovered, Garbage Man turned around and marched out of the room, mumbling angrily to himself.

When they were sure he was out of sight and earshot, Ladybug and Adrien crawled out from their hiding spots. Ladybug held out a hand to him and pulled him up to his feet. Both were reluctant to let the other go.

“Adrien you need to get out of here, find somewhere to hide now!” Ladybug cried, looking at him with wide blue eyes.

Adrien clenched his fists, knowing she needed him in a different way, knowing she needed Chat, but in the time it would take for him to hide and transform Marinette could-

“I promise she’ll be safe, I promise!” Ladybug stepped forward, aware of more screams as Garbage Man found more victims, “I never break my promises. I won’t let anything happen to her. Just get somewhere safe, please. Trust me, please,” She whimpered and for the faintest of moments, Adrien wanted to pull her into his arms, reassure her that he’d be fine, that her Chat Noir was right in front of her, that nothing bad would happen to him.

As if she’d read his mind, Ladybug threw her arms around him, pulling him in to a tight embrace. Adrien could barely comprehend what was happening, but wrapped his arms around her nonetheless. Love and fear were a dangerous combination, he decided as he felt her tremble and found himself shaking too. It should have been strange. He remembered being Chat and holding Marinette in his arms. That should have been strange too. Chat and Marinette hadn’t had many interactions together, Adrien and Ladybug less so. So why did it feel like they did this every day? Like they’d always done this?

“Please? Please get somewhere safe,” She repeated, whispering into his chest and Adrien leapt out of his musings, jumping straight back into the moment. Now wasn’t the time to be thinking such things!

‘As you wish My Lady’ He almost said it out loud.

Almost. How horrible a word.

Stepping out of her arms, he nodded to her and that was all Ladybug needed. She turned around and hurried out of the room into the awaiting battling, but not without one last lingering glance towards him.

As soon as she left he ducked down low and ordered Plagg to transform him. He allowed himself a moment, just a moment, to breathe, to calm his racing heart. It wouldn’t do to enter a battle with a messed-up head.

His Lady needed him, and so did his Princess.

Chapter Text

 

“I’ll message your father and let him know you’re home early.”

“Thank you Nathalie,” Adrien replied, tossing his bag onto the bed as he trudged towards his desk. He had the feeling his father’s personal assistant had a few more questions on the tip of her tongue, but had the good sense to recognise he wasn’t in the mood to talk. Adrien was thankful for that.

“Well, in any case, it’s good that this wasn’t a more serious incident. I’ll ask the chef to fix you an early lunch.” He heard, rather than saw, Nathalie turn on her heels and head out the room.

As soon as the door was shut, with a gentle click, Plagg flew out of his pocket to the already waiting plate of cheese beside Adrien’s monitor. He grabbed a slice and began to devour it with a lot more savagery than usual, to the point where little flecks of cheese and spittle began flying everywhere. Deciding to ignore the repugnant sight, and sound, Adrien settled in his desk chair, leaning back with a huff.

“Ya knowh,” Plagg thought aloud, his mouth full to the brim, “We shoul’ try an make the Akumah come by the schoo’ more of-en, if ih gets us a day off!”

Adrien didn’t agree. He liked school and didn’t want his friends getting hurt, even if he knew Ladybug could save them after the fight. Sure Garbage Man had been easy enough to deal with; a janitor, fed up with how he was treated, deciding HE was going to be the one to make a mess for a change. However, he’d never felt such a startling inner conflict in the midst of a battle before and didn’t wish to repeat the experience. Knowing he couldn’t ask too much after Marinette without seeming suspicious, he’d been distracted and clumsy. However, he managed to snap himself out of it by forcing himself to remember Ladybug’s promise. His Lady would never let him down and, once again, she’d proved it as she cleansed the Akuma and sent the little white butterfly on its merry way.

After the battle, he hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to either Ladybug or Marinette. The former had hurried off with a quick wave and the latter had been swarmed with classmates once she reunited with them. The teacher hadn’t been pleased that Adrien had snuck off during the Akuma-drill but he was adamant he’d found a good place to hide. She was a bit more forgiving towards Marinette, who claimed she’d tried to get back to the classroom when she heard the commotion but, once she saw the Akuma, decided to hide in the bathroom instead. Alya had dragged her off, asking questions about what she’d seen, not knowing that Adrien had had a full conversation with Ladybug.

And that had been that.

Quietly, Adrien leaned back in his chair, staring at his Kwami. Plagg had been acting strangely ever since their history class. Not that he’d had much of an opportunity to talk with him, instead Adrien was going by instinct, a vibe he was picking up. Something just felt off.

“Plagg?” He asked.

“Don’t start,” The Kwami snapped uncharacteristically, causing Adrien to sit up in surprise.

“I just wanted to know if you were ok,” Adrien retorted, keeping his tone soft and fighting the urge to bite back, “It couldn’t have been easy to hear about the Ladybug and Chat from World War Two.”

“Who? Catherine and Edward? Look I get you’re worried but I don’t want to talk about it. What’s the point? It’s in the past, can’t be changed,” The words came offhandedly. Adrien might have believed Plagg’s words, might have given up on the whole endeavour, were it not for the fact that the Kwami’s little black ears were plastered against his head and he was staunchly refusing to meet Adrien’s eyes.

“I know but, sometimes talking helps doesn’t it?” Adrien inquired gently, tilting forwards. Nervousness crept up his arms and across his neck. They rarely talked like this, and whenever they did it was always Plagg listening to Adrien go on about his problems. At that moment, sitting in his cavernous room, his loneliness and fears seemed trivial. Adrien had known Plagg was ancient for quite some time, but now the weight of that history descended upon him, as something he couldn’t quite fathom but could feel. It was sharp and raw, like picking at an ageing scab. He watched the Kwami sadly. How many Chat Noirs had Plagg watched die over the years?

“Well what do you want me to tell you kid? What’ll make you happy? What will help?” Plagg questioned, spinning around to fly up to Adrien’s face. Anger darkened his eyes, “You want me to tell you about them? You want me to tell you how Fu had to cut them open when we found their bodies because they both swallowed their Miraculous, just so the Nazi’s wouldn’t discover their secrets? You want me to tell you how Edward made me hide as he was tortured for eight whole days, until he barely had enough life to lose? You want to me to tell you about how Catherine’s screams were the last thing he heard before the Nazi’s shot him in the head?”

Adrien leapt up, his stomach lurching. He stomped away from the desk.

“Stop it.”

“Well what do you want?” Plagg repeated with a violent jerk of his body, “Like I said. The past is in the past, and those two…those two were the biggest idiots I’ve ever met. Even more so than you.”

Ignoring the sudden faintness in Plagg’s voice, Adrien span back around. A wave of anger rose up in him and he faced Plagg with a scowl.

“They were heroes! They sacrificed themselves for the good of the whole world. How can you call them idiots?” He cried, clenching his fists, “Why are you being like this? Didn’t you care for them at all? Don’t you care for any of us?”

The silence was deafening. It made it seem as though Adrien was trapped in a concrete box with no way to join the outside world, slowly suffocating as the box grew smaller and smaller. He sighed. Why did he bother? He should have known something like this would happen. Since when did Plagg EVER talk about his feelings?

“They loved each other, you know.”

Adrien looked up, not daring to speak. Plagg was still in the same spot, floating by the desk, but the anger was gone. He looked so far away.

“Neither of them wanted to admit it. They didn’t want to tell each other because of the war, because of what it might mean. Chickens- the both of them. And look where it got them. Heroes, thrown to the bottom of some river in the middle of nowhere, their bodies left to rot, never knowing how much they cared for the other. Like I said. Idiots.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Adrien wondered, unsure of what to do, but knowing that Plagg had never looked more like his age than in that moment. He looked ancient and sad, and so very tired. Adrien swallowed the lump in his throat. How could he even begin to comfort someone who’d been through so much, and lived through more than he ever would, even if he lived until he was a hundred years old?

“Because the world is different now Adrien, it’s been better but it’s also been a hell of a lot worse too. And I don’t want you to be an idiot like Edward. Especially when you don’t have to be.”

He didn’t say anything else but Adrien got the meaning behind it anyway. Stepping towards his sofa, he laid down on it with a sigh, suddenly exhausted. Flipping onto his back, Adrien stared into space, thinking, feeling. He stayed that way for a while.

“You wanna play some foosball?”

A smile began forming in the corners of Adrien’s mouth. Same old Plagg.

“Plagg you don’t have fingers.”

“I still kicked your butt last time though,” The Kwami shot back and Adrien sat up, leaning on his elbows. Plagg was in front of his face again. They shared a look.

“Yeah. You did,” He agreed.

Plagg floated to the table, picking up the miniature football and placing on the plastic field. Adrien swung his legs over the sofa and watched.

“Hey,” He called and Plagg glanced up from beside the plastic foosball characters. Adrien had to admit, there were times when his Kwami looked rather cute. Sitting on one of the metal bars, his black paws kicking out absent-mindedly, was definitely classified as one of those times, “I’m sorry. For what I said. I know you care.”

Plagg snorted.

“You wish kid, now are we playing or not?”

***

Marinette lounged back on her pillows, allowing the cat cushion to curl around her comfortingly. She sighed and wiggled, knowing she was fidgeting but too nervous to say or do anything else. Beside her, Tikki sat on the mattress, staring at some indiscriminate spot on Marinette’s blanket. Marinette bit her lip, not sure where to start.

“Her name was Catherine,” Tikki whispered.

Marinette shifted up slightly so that she had a better view of her Kwami. A part of her didn’t want to hear, was scared to hear, because that made it real. Yet, despite that, she shoved her fears to the base of her stomach and promptly ignored them. Tikki needed her.

“Catherine’s a pretty name,” She said and, as soon as she’d uttered the words, felt incredibly stupid for saying them. Mentally crossing therapist off of the list of undiscovered talents she might possess, Marinette waited patiently for Tikki to continue.

Tikki smiled warmly, staring up at the ceiling as if it were a projector showing memories of the life she was forced to remember earlier that day. ‘How can a smile be so sad?’ Marinette thought as her heart tightened in sympathy. Her hands reached up to play with her hair, but stopped as she realised she’d put it up again before the fight with the Akuma.

“She was beautiful, Marinette. I wish you could have met her,” Tikki replied, “She was small and quiet. Most people thought she was reserved and a little cold. But she loved. She cared so deeply; for England, for her family, for her team. Everyone. But she loved Chat Noir, Edward, the most. She loved him so much.”

Marinette sunk lower into her mattress, pulling her legs towards her painfully constricting chest. To know a Ladybug had loved a Chat Noir…

“Did he love her?”

“Oh yes,” Tikki nodded, landing on Marinette’s knee, “They loved each other. It’s not always that way. There have been times where Ladybugs and Chats have worked against each other, and the world always suffers because of it. The Black Death, Spanish Influenza, the Great Flood, the First World War. And sometimes the partnership between Ladybug and Chat falls apart, and there are terrible consequences, like with Joan.”

“Joan?”

“Joan of Arc.”

“JOAN OF ARC WAS A LADYBUG?!” Marinette sat up, knocking Tikki off her knee. She squeaked and bent forward, picking her up and cradling the dazed Kwami in her hand, apologising repeatedly.

“It’s alright Marinette. No harm done!” Tikki chirped back. She then paused, twisting her head away and looking down. Without using her hands, Marinette shuffled backwards again. She pulled her knees back up and rested her open palms on her lap. It was as if her legs created a barrier between them and the outside world. Their own little bubble. Marinette felt dazed by how much she didn’t know, but for the first time she felt the Ladybug legacy stretching before her, the spirits of all the past Ladybug’s converging in her mind’s eye. It was daunting but also made her feel proud.

Not that she deserved to stand beside any of those amazing people, what had she done that could possibly compare to the sacrifices of Joan of Arc, or Catherine?

“Though it’s not always bad. In fact, it’s usually amazing,” Tikki carried on, “Most Ladybug and Chat’s love each other you know, and not just in the romantic way. Some have loved each other as friends, others like siblings, some have even been married. I wish that Catherine had gotten the chance to tell Edward how she felt, they never told each other before they died.”

It was odd how crushed one could feel without being physically injured.

“So they never got to be together?” Marinette whispered, her voice quivering. Even though it was summer, she felt ice gnaw at her skin, as though she were walking outside in the midst of winter, with nothing to shield her from the bitter wind. Her thoughts went to Chat Noir before she could stop them and she winced inwardly.

When she heard a sniffle, she forced her thoughts away from her own fears and instead concentrated on Tikki’s.

“I’m sorry it ended that way, I wish I could do something to make it better,” She said helplessly, letting out a shaking breath.

Tikki smiled.

“You are making it better! Just by being you Marinette,” She replied, “Like I said, it was a long time ago. And I like to think that wherever Catherine and Edward are now, they’re together and at peace.”

Marinette smiled, lying down in a foetal position. Without saying another word, Tikki nestled into her stomach. Despite the fact that it was the early afternoon, and the sun shone brightly through her windows, Marinette felt the tiredness from last night seep into her. She closed her eyes, surprised by the wetness she felt behind her lids.

“Tikki?” She said. The Kwami hummed in response, lazily, and Marinette could tell she was falling asleep too, “I know I won’t always be around. I know I’m just another Ladybug in the long list of ones that came before me, but…I really, really love you, you know. And you’re always going to be part of me.”

It was a while before Tikki spoke, but when she did Marinette could hear the emotion laced in every word.

“Oh Marinette, I love you too.”

***

When she woke, it was dark outside. Her parents had gone out on a date and left her some dinner, which she ate unceremoniously. Tikki was still upstairs, asleep, which left Marinette alone with her thoughts.

She found she didn’t much like being alone with those thoughts. Not when they filtered through her mind like a plague, impossible to remove no matter how hard she tried.

Pushing the half-eaten dinner away from her, Marinette leant forwards on her elbow, tugging at her hair. Her earlier interactions with Adrien (both as Marinette and Ladybug), and her frank conversation with Tikki were taking their toll. The extremes highs and lows she’d felt, the rush of love, the weight of sadness, the coils of fear, all of that and so much more, flipped her world upside down, then upright, then upside down again.

Quite frankly, she was getting fed up of feeling like she’d been stuck on a spinning-top for hours on end, with no way to get off. So really, it should have been nice to finally get some peace and quiet.

But it wasn’t.

Taking her plate to the sink and resting her hands atop the metal surface, Marinette stared at her distorted reflection. Adrien had been worried about her, had come back for her when nobody else had. He’d even gotten in trouble for it. But she was sure he’d do the same for any of his other friends. He was just like that. It didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean anything! And she was sick of hoping that it did. It hurt too much.

Which is why her thoughts kept wandering back to Edward and Catherine.

Climbing back into her room, she prodded Tikki awake gently, giving the Kwami a cookie and a question. Tikki smiled at her and Marinette sighed in relief at just how well the Kwami knew her. She didn’t even need to give her reasons. Tikki just knew, and transformed her without a second thought.

Ladybug looked at her phone. Knowing her parents wouldn’t be back until midnight at least (they were trying salsa dancing for the first time, at the insistence of their other married friends), put her mind at ease. She opened her yoyo to search for a familiar green paw on her tracking system, finding it strangely stationary in a place which piqued her interest. Something about going to see him, when she shouldn’t be, thrilled her. It wasn’t quite fear or excitement, but an invigorating in-between.

The night air was crisp against her face as she swung towards her destination, admiring the few stars and the way the waxing moon bathed Paris in its tranquil glow. It seemed dissimilar to the night before, despite looking much the same. Maybe it was because Marinette was seeing things differently now.

It wasn’t long before her feet landed gracefully on the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The front face lit up like a beacon of hope, but the Cathedral itself had long since shut its doors for the evening. Ladybug checked her yoyo again, and saw that Chat hadn’t moved from his spot, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. Surely he hadn’t gone inside?

An unlocked door, which looked like it had been picked open by a clawed finger, told Marinette that he had. Cautiously, Ladybug began the long journey down the spiralling narrow staircase, her fingers brushing against the old stone walls as she went. She found herself wishing she had Chat to guide her, or was at least granted his night-vision. The staircase was precarious and if she’d been Marinette at the time, there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that she would have tripped by now.

When she arrived at the base of the stairs and looked at the vastness of the cathedral before her, she felt a sense of calm befall her as though she’d been doused with warm water. Notre Dame was dark, quiet and soft despite its size. The light of the moon shone through the stained-glass windows, giving the place an otherworldly blueish hue. Her eyes lingered over the flying buttresses, the statues which were comforting as opposed to scary (like they’d been when she was a child), the alter which loomed unthreateningly in the night.

And then her eyes rested on a mop of messy blonde hair, and a pair of broad shoulders hunched forwards in his seat. She let out a breath she’d been holding. Chat was there, he was real and he was sitting right there. He wasn’t dead in a Nazi prison; he hadn’t betrayed her or abandoned her. He was there, sitting in the front row of the second seating section, right at the cross between one half of the cathedral and the other. She smiled, watching him.

“You know I know you’re there right?”

Ladybug was pretty sure she lost a year of her life as Chat’s voice echoed off the capacious walls. Leaping back, she clutched her chest, trying to re-start her heart. Him and his damn super-hearing cat ears!

After a few moments, she walked to Chat and crossed by him to settle on his right hand side. She raised her eyebrow at him.

“So what brings you here when you should be patrolling? Slacking off to go and pray? I never had you pegged as a religious man,” She teased, simply because it felt good to tease, to feel some sense of the normality she’d lost over the past couple of days.

“I’m not. It was quiet tonight. And might I ask what brings My Lady here on her night off? Couldn’t wait to see me?” He retorted playfully, flicking his hair in his usual show-boating fashion.

“You shouldn’t flirt in a church,” She chided, dodging the question entirely, thankful the semi-darkness hid her reddening face.

He grinned, sitting back and looked at her then. Chat’s gaze glowed, not in that unsettling cat way, but in an entirely different, deeper way. Ladybug bit her lip and suddenly Chat was felt both empty and filled at the same time.

“I’m glad you’re here,” He breathed, moving closer to her without knowing he was doing so, “It’s been a rough day.”

“So serious, Chaton,” She replied, leaning her head against his shoulder, his whole body flushed with the contact. His Lady was touching him, his Lady was touching him, oh god what should he do? “But, I’m glad I’m here too. I didn’t have the best day myself.”

“And…you thought I might cheer you up?” Ladybug expected his question to be teasing in nature. But his voice was rough and unsure, filled with hope. She closed her eyes and smiled, letting the warmth from his shoulder seep into her skin.

“Perhaps.”

She missed the little fist pump he made.

“Well I am always at your service, My Lady,” He said, sighing at the weight of her head on his shoulder. It was so perfect. Why couldn’t they stay this way forever? “How might I make you smile? A joke maybe? I have several stored up that I haven’t used yet.”

“I will leave,” She warned, but there was no trace of threat in her voice. He chuckled lowly.

“Ok. No puns or jokes, what then? Shall I serenade you?”

She giggled at the thought, turning to burying her head in his shoulder, and Chat thought he might die of happiness right then and there.

“No, I was actually thinking of something quite simple Chat,” She replied, tilting her head back to a normal position, “Tell me some things about yourself. Like what your favourite colour is, what your dreams are. I already know you like flirting with me, so that makes us even on that question,” The warm humour in her voice trickled through him like honey and he fought the urge to purr, “But you know my answers to the other questions and I don’t know yours. It hardly seems fair.”

Chat paused, thinking.

By instinct, he’d probably tell anyone his favourite colour was green. But, now that he was really thinking about it, a different colour filled his head; the colour of the sky the first time he’d become Chat Noir, the colour of freedom and peace, the colour of her eyes.

“My favourite colour is blue,” He said, already knowing the answer to the next question, “And I really want to be a stay-at-home dad.”

The absence of Ladybug’s head on his shoulder felt more like missing a limb, and he turned to stare at her surprised expression with worry. His arms pinned closer to his sides and his shoulders stiffened in defensive of her reaction.

“Really?” She said and Chat couldn’t tell if she was judging him or not.

“Well- I don’t have much of a family,” He rushed to explain, “So it would be nice, to stay at home and look after any children I had. I don’t care about careers or anything like that. I could work if I needed to, of course, especially if money was a problem. I’d do whatever it took. But, my dream is to be able to stay at home with them, make my house nice and warm for when my wife gets back from her probably incredibly successful job. Of course I’d still take the odd mode- the odd job here and there so I could spoil the kids.”

Ladybug wrinkled her nose at that.

“You shouldn’t spoil children, Chat, that’s how they become rotten.”

Chat chuckled, leaning down to meet her gaze with a sly grin, “Don’t worry,” He replied, “I’d spoil you too you know.”

It took approximately three seconds for Chat to realise what he’d said.

He wanted to die.

“I- I mean- errm, I…” He spluttered, not daring to look at her, “That is, I’d spoil my wife, n-not that I think that you’d be my wife or anything. I didn’t mean to presume that was in our future I-”

“Really? Spoil me?” Her voice cut across him and, to his immense disbelief, she laid her head back on his shoulder. When he refused to say another word, not trusting himself to speak for fear of further damnation, she continued “Tell me more Chat.”

Was he dreaming? He had to be dreaming. No way was he awake right now, no way was Ladybug asking him to tell her more about his imagined future with her.

“W-well,” He began, leaning his head against her and taking in a deep breath to calm himself, spurred by the fact she wasn’t rejecting their closeness, “I want a house that’s cosy but big enough that it’s not a chaotic mess. I’ve always thought there might be a lovely garden with roses and maybe an apple tree, and a swing set.”

“That sounds lovely,” She sighed and was she nuzzling into him? The urge to die had gone, mainly because he was sure he was already in heaven, “What else?”

Was he trembling? He thought he might be, but wasn’t quite sure what was real anymore. “Recently I added a room, with lots of fabrics and sketches. Your room.”

“My room?”

“You said you wanted to work in fashion, I thought you might like a room,”

From the corner of his eye, he saw a red-gloved hand lift up from her lap and, for the wildest moment, thought Ladybug was going to slap him, that she’d finally come to her senses and realised what accepting his dream actually meant. Instead her hand slipped across the lingering space between them, and into his own, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“I would like a room,” She whispered before standing up, leaving Chat to sit up straight, dazed, confused, and incredibly afraid, “Now that all sounds perfect Chat Noir, the house, the garden, everything. It sounds wonderful, but there’s a bit of a problem you see. B-before you can make that dream come true, there’s something you have to do.”

She wasn’t lying. Something deep and fresh, something beautiful and real, like an opening bud in spring, bloomed in her heart as she’d listened to his earnest words. They were music and song and hope, hope for a future not tarnished by fear and doubts. She stepped into the light from the North Rose Window and it bathed her in all of the colours of the rainbow. All at once she felt exhilarated and at peace as her next words bubbled nervously in her chest, ready.

Chat gazed at her. Wonder and adoration filled every inch of his expression, his heart, his soul, as he watched the colours dance across her body, the light of the moon kissing her hair. She was so very beautiful and he yearned for her the way cherry blossoms yearned for spring, the way birds yearned for the sunrise, the way waves yearned for the shore, even though she was right in front of him. So close. So far.

“What do I have to do?” His voice was quieter than a whisper, but it reached her and Ladybug smiled, tilting her chin up toward him, knowing what she was about to say would change their dynamic forever, and for the first time in three years, not caring one bit.

For now, she was done being scared.

“You have to find me first.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

“You have to find me first.”

As soon as she let the words slip from her tongue, Ladybug felt a rush of anticipation spread from her toes, through her stomach, all the way to her lungs. She let out a quivering breath but stood her ground nevertheless, watching and waiting for Chat Noir to react. She hoped he would say something soon. After all, she didn’t regret her words…yet. That all depended on him.

Except Chat didn’t seem to be moving at all. The night stilled. The world fell away until it was just him, gazing at her with eyes of creeping moss, and her, standing in the reflections of a giant stained glass window. Her in the light, him in the shadows. Ladybug bit her lip, suddenly feeling shy in this isolated space her words had created. Surely he wouldn’t reject her now? Surely she hadn’t misread the signs?

“Don’t worry,” he had said, “I’d spoil you too you know.”

No. She hadn’t misread any signals. She couldn’t have. They were as clear as the moonlight shining down upon her. So why wasn’t her cat jumping for joy like she’d expected? He’d always wanted to know who she was; it was her who had denied him, for so many reasons that seemed so unimportant to her now.

“Um, Chat?” She inquired, leaning forwards in concern. She didn’t quite know what else to say, she felt she’d said all she could. But waiting for him to reply was-

“You want me to…find you?” He stood up, shaking from head to toe. His eyes never left hers. The awe in his voice, the promise, made her heart swell and a smile split her face. If she wasn’t sure before, she was now.

“Yes,” She said and a nervous giggle escaped her lips, which she attempted to cover to no avail. Her hands remained at her mouth as she watched Chat Noir cross into the light to stand before her, tall and handsome. As her heart raced pleasantly, Ladybug was caught by surprise at her own thoughts. Just a few days ago he’d been Chat Noir, her partner and dear friend, someone she trusted with her life, someone who she cared deeply for. Now he was Chat Noir, her partner and so much more. The man who dreamed of a future with her, the man who wanted to find her…

The man whom she very much wanted to kiss right now.

Such feelings were so contrasting that Ladybug was surprised she hadn’t gotten whiplash. It made her realise that perhaps she’d always felt this way about him, deep down, and hadn’t realised. After all, since the day they’d met he’d always been this way; charming and selfless, and so very kind to her, even when she doubted her ability to be Ladybug. He was always there. Without fail.

She stepped closer to him, so that they were almost chest to chest. There was a fire inside her now. A fire which burned for him and him alone, and she couldn’t douse it even if she used all of the waters of the world combined.

“Find me Chat Noir,” She repeated, breathless and almost completely unravelled as he placed a hand on her cheek. His fingers seemed to act in accordance to their own wishes, and they reached to tuck a wayward strand of hair behind her ears. The urge to kiss him intensified, pulling at her insides until she thought she might be torn apart if she didn’t act, didn’t do something, anything.

And so she turned on her heel, stepping out of the light to traipse down the aisle of Notre Dame, her fingers skating against the empty seats. Tilting her head back towards him, she laughed once, low and warm.

“That is of course, if you’re up to the challenge?”

The teasing tilt of her voice kick started his brain and he followed her footsteps with a sly grin.

“For you? Anything,” He responded with a bow and, though they were back in semi-darkness, she could see the seriousness behind his flirtatious remark. Her heart skipped when he peered up at her, winking, “and I do mean anything, even fight Zeus himself, a shocking as that may seem to you.”

“Is that so?” She replied casually, deciding to ignore his awful pun for once. Walking backwards up the steps of the alter, so that she could face him as she spoke, Ladybug encircled the table on which the large cross resided. Her hand now traced the delicate white tablecloth. He followed like she was the light guiding his lost soul through the unknown, mesmerised. In this beautiful universe they’d concocted for themselves, Chat felt both nothing and everything; a numbness, which could only come from a moment so intense, it felt as though it couldn’t possibly be happening. Yet, somehow, it was. It truly was, and Chat had to fight every urge in him to not drop to his knees and proclaim his love for her in its entirety. Not now. Not yet.

“It is, My Lady,” He nodded, gazing at her from her spot opposite from him. A child-like playfulness crossed both their features as they tried to hide their faces from the other, behind the altar cross and around the unlit candles, before Ladybug shook her head in mock-exasperation. With a sigh of surrender, she walked back to stand by his side at the front of the altar.

“Hmm…that does make me wonder, Chat,” She pondered, tapping her chin light heartedly, “Would you still call me your lady after you find me?”

Chat felt something deep and dark stirring within him, something akin to walking into a still ocean in the dead of night. She was so sure he would find her, she wanted him to find her. A part of him once again wondered if it was true, if it could really be happening, if she could really be staring up at him in that way. He knew that she was trusting him with their future, she was giving him the key to it and he’d be damned if he didn’t search every lock in the city, every lock in the world, if that’s what it took.

He would find her.

“That depends, of course,” He grinned, “If you like me calling you my lady?”

She tilted her face up to him then, glancing at Chat confidently, hands on her hips. Without thinking, she leaned in closer.

“I do,” She replied.

Chat gulped.

“I do too,” He whispered, feeling every bit as shy as she didn’t.

“Well then,” Ladybug poked the edge of his nose, flicking her index finger upward as she darted back down the steps with a chuckle, “That settles that.”

Before she left, she turned to face him once more, and all traces of teasing left her as she watched him remain at the altar. Her face, her words, her entire being softened with the promise that tomorrow would bring.

“I look forward to meeting you again, Chat Noir,” She said, the corners of her mouth tilting upwards as she lingered for just a few seconds more, not wanting the moment to end, for the spell to break.

And that was the spark that ignited Chat’s heart, filling his soul with gold dust and starlight. Though the air was cold in the vastness of the cathedral, he’d never felt so warm, so full, so utterly and completely alive.

“I look forward to meeting you too, My Lady,” He nodded to her, beaming and placing emphasis on his favourite nickname for her. Although he was sure once he found her, it would be replaced by her name. Her true name. He felt giddy, “but I must forewarn you, you’ll probably be whisker-ed away by how handsome I am.”

He waited for her to roll her eyes, to scoff, to repeat the rebuffing words she’s said time and time again. But no such words came. Instead she shrugged, her bluebell eyes sparkling, her dark hair shining, her cheeks rosy with laughter.

“I don’t doubt it.”

Adrien didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the night.

***

Marinette felt Alya’s eyes burning her as she doodled idly in her sketchbook. Her feet were propped up on the desk of the only good computer left in the common room. Anyone else might have withered under the reporter’s gaze, but Marinette was slowly getting used to it. In any case, she was far too busy reliving the previous night over and over. Her head swam pleasantly, her chest glowed and her fingers tingled as she twirled the 2B pencil between her fingertips.

I wonder if it IS meant 2B she thought, outwardly pulling a face when she realised Chat was having an effect on her in more ways than one.

“Ok, that does it. Spill.”

Looking up from her sketchbook, Marinette came face to face with Alya’s scrutinising scowl. She watched as hazel eyes analysed her, one eyebrow raised in what would have been a funny way, were it not her being so diligently studied.

“What?” Marinette placed her feet back on the floor, frowning as she played nervously with the edges of her twin-tails. She’d decided to wear them again today.

“You’ve been acting weird all day; I mean weirder than normal anyway,” She replied. Resting an elbow next to the keyboard and tucking her hand into her ombre waves, she fixed Marinette with a hard look which made her shift uncomfortably. Still, Marinette refused to back down.

“I- I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

“Oh really?” Alya grinned wickedly, pushing her glasses up her nose in her signature ‘I caught you out’ pose, “Because you’ve been doodling love hearts in your book for the past five minutes.”

Marinette gazed down and, sure enough, there they were. The incriminating love hearts dotted all around the edges of the rough art paper, like a written and signed confession. She groaned, placing her head in the palm of her hands whilst Alya cackled beside her. Honestly she hadn’t even realised she’d drawn them.

“So what is it? Back on the I-Love-Adrien boat again? I thought that ship had sailed girl?” The smirk on Alya’s face was infuriating. Marinette tried hard not to match it, she held in a sigh of relief. Alya had just given her a perfect alibi.

“Yeah. I guess I’m just hopeless,” She replied nervously, waving her pencil in defeat.

“Uh-huh, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with this now would it?” Without any warning, Alya shoved her phone inches away from Marinette’s nose, far enough away so that the image didn’t make her eyes blurry, but close enough so that it was the only thing she could see.

Adrien’s underwear shoot. His face, his body, his smoulder.

“W-why would you show that to me again?!” She spluttered, covering her eyes with one hand and pushing the phone away with her other. Marinette’s whole face burned and she kicked her legs like a child having a tantrum. All of this was old hat to her. After all, how many times had she stumbled and flustered over Adrien’s appearance? But now, there was a new emotion, one which struck white hot in the centre of her lungs, one which burned so unlike the happy little candle that set her heart aflame the night previous.

Guilt.

Alya burst out laughing, unaware of Marinette’s face turning to stone, as she graciously tucked her phone back into her jeans pocket. 

“It’s just fun to hear your reaction is all,” She shrugged carelessly, checking the clock on the monitor with a frown, “and where are those two clowns at? We don’t have long together so they better hurry it up already.”

Since they hadn’t had enough time to decide on their history project the day before, what with the Akuma attack, the foursome were meeting in the only free-study period they shared that day. All of them were determined to at least make a decision on which Ladybug and Chat they would be researching. The problem was there were so many and, as historians gained more and more knowledge on the appearances of Ladybugs and Chat Noirs across history, the longer the list would grow.

However, Marinette thought as she tried to rid herself of that sudden slap of an emotion, she was pretty darned sure Alya had made this little study session to analyse how Marinette and Adrien reacted around each other. A part of Marinette hoped that their lateness meant that been held up somewhere, maybe Adrien had been pulled out of school to do a last-minute interview or something. That occasionally happened. Maybe she would be lucky.

“Dude I’m telling you!” Nino’s voice sealed the deal on her unlucky fate, “There’s no way Ladybug would defeat Chat Noir if he was Akumatised! He has that Cataclysm power! He could literally destroy her. Not that that would be a good thing, I’m just saying-”

Adrien contained a growl which attempted to rise up through his chest. Both hadn’t realised the girls watching them with curious stares.

“Don’t just say,” Adrien shivered, “It’s a horrible thought isn’t it? The idea that either of them could get Akumatised.” Adrien waved his hand, trying to not sound as defensive as he wanted to, but inside he was outraged at his best buddy, “And anyway, Ladybug would still beat him! She could easily get rid of Chat’s Akuma.”

“That’s ridiculous!” He heard someone shout and turned to see Marinette stand up furiously, with a glower directed right towards them. Heat rushed up to his face, coupled in intensity with his sudden sense of sadness. His hand dropped limply at his side. Does she think Ladybug would lose to me too?

“Chat Noir? Get Akumatised? Nino really? Are you drunk?!” She cried, flailing her arms. Both boys stood stock still and at full attention, as if she were their commanding officer.

Adrien hung off every infuriated word, eye widening in every passing moment as he watched her cheeks go red, her freckles darkening.

It felt as if he was trying to recreate a puzzle in his mind, remembering how each piece fit together, but he couldn’t quite remember one part of it.

Freckles... blushing… red. Ladybug.

 “Chat Noir is one of the bravest, most honourable and self-sacrificial people in all of Paris!” Marinette continued, getting more and more outraged by the second, “He’s kind and noble, and he’d never do anything to hurt ANYBODY unless they moved to hurt someone else first! He’d NEVER be an Akuma, and he’d NEVER use Cataclysm on anyone! Especially not Ladybug. To think otherwise is just insane and you know it!”

Nino blanched, awkwardly stepping backwards with a nervous chuckle.

“You know, you’re right. I’m sorry Mari. I forgot you worked with him that one time,” He acquiesced, waving an invisible flag in surrender. Marinette huffed once and threw herself back in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest with a pout. Alya watched her wordless, visibly shocked by her friend’s outburst.

Adrien, meanwhile, was having a miniature nervous breakdown. Marinette had defended him so righteously, had called him brave, kind, noble. He almost wondered if he had attracted an Akuma, or two, because butterflies seemed to be fluttering in his chest with no way to stop them. She thinks I’m selfless, she thinks I’m honourable…

“Bro? Hey, are you ok?” Nino was calling to him, having already made his way towards the girls. Adrien started, but did not look at his best friend. Instead his eyes took in Marinette’s curious bluebell eyes, her hair as dark as night, her signature hair style. No… no way.

“Ah y-yeah. I’m fine. Just forgot my notebook in my last class. I’ll be right back!”

But Adrien didn’t go back to class. With every heavy footstep his mind replayed all the hints he’d gotten over the past few days, all the moments that they shared, and now this too? His mind and heart fought furiously, logic against his hopeless romanticism.

-This is insane.

-But what if it’s true?

-I could never be this lucky.

-But if there’s a chance…

-It’s just a coincidence, there are a million girls in Paris.

But, maybe, just maybe…

Slamming the door to the empty locker room shut, he pulled his jacket open to allow Plagg to fly out. His Kwami looked at him incredulously. However, Adrien was in no mood for Plagg’s usual brand of sass. He needed answers and was prepared to buy the whole worlds worth of cheese in order to get them.

“Plagg,” He said, helpless with anticipation, “I need to ask you a few questions.”

Chapter Text

Smoulder

Chapter 8

His legs felt as though they might give out at any moment. As he gazed pleadingly at Plagg, Adrien leaned on a locker for support. Breathing was difficult, his heart thrummed erratically as blood raced in his ears. Just once, he prayed, just once let Plagg be easy to deal with.

“What’s the matter with you? You just rushed out of there without saying anything! And your girlfriend said such nice things about you too,” Plagg shook his head with an exasperated sigh, ignoring the embarrassed stutter from his companion.

“I just told you I need you to answer some questions.  A-and she’s just a friend!”

The scathing glance in his direction was enough to remind him Plagg was, in fact, a deathless magical being who’d lived for thousands of years. It was a look that stabbed him straight through his core and he shuddered, standing upright. Hopefully the guilt he felt would erase itself if Plagg confirmed his stupid, crazy, totally-never-going-to-happen-in-a-million-years theory.

“When are you going to wake up, Kid?” He heard Plagg grumble under his breath and Adrien’s eyes snapped up to him.

“I’m trying to wake up, in case you hadn’t noticed. Ladybug wants me to find her!” He cried, throwing his arms up in the air, “But there are millions of girls in Paris. Regardless of any suspicions I could have, I…I need your help.”

Hurrying towards him, Adrien didn’t give Plagg the chance to bite back a retort, to deny him or make any jeering comments. His nerves had had about all they could take.

“You told me once that Ladybug has a Kwami too. Couldn’t you, I don’t know, find her Kwami somehow? Couldn’t you sense him or her somewhere?” His voice lilted upwards as he allowed himself to hope, “If I have such a strong bond with Ladybug, yours must be even stronger towards her Kwami right? You must have known each other for thousands of years, it should be easy for you to find them again right?”

Plagg rolled his eyes.

“What are you suggesting? I go find Ladybug for you?” He sneered, shaking his head up to the sky, “And just what’ll happen if an Akuma attacks whilst I’m out doing the job your supposed to be doing? How will you do your job of protecting Paris?” Plagg didn’t need to call Adrien an idiot, it was implied in every acidic word.

Burying his face in his hands, Adrien tried hard not to scream.

“Look,” He cried, his voice strangled but muffled by his hands. Inhaling, he withdrew them and shrugged his shoulders heavily. When he spoke next, his tone was much calmer despite speaking through gritted teeth, “I’m not asking you to find her for me. That’d be cheating. Just answer two questions for me. Just two?”

“What’s in it for me?”

Adrien tried not to grin and failed miserably. He’d hoped Plagg would ask that question. Leaning towards him, Adrien fixed Plagg with a Chat Noir smirk. Finally, he had a chance to play the card he knew would win Plagg over for months. It was something he’d discovered after a late night of browsing random things on the internet, avoiding sleep. As soon as he’d seen the advertisement, he’d known that he needed to save it for a rainy day. Adrien took his phone from his pocket, quickly bringing up a screenshot of the website he had saved.

“There’s an international wine and cheese festival happening in a few months’ time,” He said, holding up the front page of the festival’s website so that Plagg could read it as proof, “Answer my questions and I’ll take you there.” He waved the phone around, which Plagg followed in a trance, tiny mouth open in awe, a little pool of drool collected on his chin. Adrien’s grin grew wider in triumph, “Think of all that cheese Plagg. Real Swiss, Italian mozzarella, English cheddar, and of course your precious camembert. If I were you, I would hate to miss such an opportunity.”

Plagg shook his head like a wet cat, less transfixed but still unable to look away. He at least regained enough of his mental capacities to say to Adrien, “You’re a real smug asshole you know.”

Adrien chuckled, “Hey I learned from the best.”

Plagg grinned, rolling his eyes in surrender. It was amazing, how such a simple gesture could make Adrien feel like leaping into the air for joy.

“Oh fine, fine. But you have to SWEAR you’ll take me there. Swear on the miraculous.”

“I swear,” Adrien replied immediately, nodding his head numerous times so that Plagg wouldn’t doubt his sincerity. His whole being lit up at the prospect of getting closer to knowing Ladybug’s identity. A wonderful warmth spread through him at the thought, his nerves electrified with an energy which surpassed the vigour he gained whilst transformed. He swayed on the balls of his feet.

“First question,” Plagg barked, startling Adrien out of his daydreams. He took a deep breath and looked straight into Plagg’s eyes, wiping the smile off his face as he did so.

“Is it possible for you to sense Ladybug’s Kwami?” He whispered in a hurry, aware that the time spent away from his friends was dropping into suspicious levels.

“Tikki.”

Adrien blinked, “Huh?”

“Tikki,” Plagg repeated, more annoyed this time, “Ladybug’s Kwami is called Tikki. Also yes, I can sense her. I don’t know where she is exactly, I’m not one of those GPS thingies but… I can feel her presence if she’s close or if she’d distressed…” He trailed off, his eyes glazing over as he grew lost in thought. The locker room grew still and silent.

When it became clear Plagg wasn’t going to carry on, Adrien continued with his second and final question, his voice shaking.

“And- and have you ever felt her close by? You know, in school?”

“Hmm?” Plagg responded with a callous shrug, “Oh yeah. Lots of times.”

“Lots of times…” Adrien felt his soul lighten at Plagg’s words. Lots of times. That’s what his Kwami had said. Lots of times. He laughed, staggering backwards until he slammed into one of the lockers. Clutching at his hair, he gasped through his laughter as his thoughts and suspicions finally clicked into place. There could be no denying it now. She’d been right under his nose the whole time!

Ladybug went to his school.

That’s what it had to mean! It was the only thing that made sense. If Plagg had felt Tikki’s presence lots of times…

Lots of times.

Lots of times?

Lots. Of. TIMES?!

“Wait.” The laughter died on Adrien’s face. He threw himself off the lockers and fixed Plagg with a hard stare, mouth agape, “You knew didn’t you? You knew that Ladybug went to this school! This whole time you’ve known?!”

“I’m sor-ry Adrien,” Plagg replied with a smug smirk, floating lazily, his back to the floor like a lounging Roman emperor, “But I believe we only agreed on my answering two questions.”

“Plagg-”

“Although I guess I’ll say this-”

Plaaaag,”

“You really are oblivious!”

“You- YOU BASTARD!” Adrien exploded, swearing as his civilian self for the first time in a while whilst he swiped at Plagg. The Kwami expertly dodged his grasp with a cackle, rolling in the air, “You total bastard! I should ban camembert from ever crossing my home ever again!”

Plagg snorted, which only enraged him further.

“Yeah good luck with invoking the wrath of a god, Kiddo,” He shot Adrien a toothy grin to which Adrien responded with look that, in all honestly, would have killed a mortal being. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Adrien span on his heel and marched out of the room, trusting Plagg to hide in his bag but too annoyed to check. Leave it to Plagg to ruin what should have been one of the happiest discoveries of my life, next to actually finding out who Ladybug is.

As he hurried back to the common room, Adrien took a few deep breaths to quell his anger. Really he had more important things to think about. Ladybug went to his school; he was sure of it. Now he was even more convinced they were destined to be together. A million girls, hundreds of schools, and she just happened to be here all this time? Adrien smiled softly to himself as he thought of all the girls it could possibly be, but one girl stood miles ahead of the rest.

He needed to be sure. He needed some sort of proof, more clues at the very least. But, for the first time, he allowed himself to hope about her identity. He hoped it was her.

He hoped it was Marinette.

With all his heart, he wanted her to be Ladybug.

The thought made him stop dead in his tracks.

Before he had a chance to process those thoughts, someone came barrelling straight into his shoulder. Leaping back with a start, Adrien blinked out of his surprised daze, as if someone had poured water over him whilst he slept. Whoever it was had clearly not noticed they’d collided into him, or simply didn’t care, as they’d continued to race down the hallway without a word. Adrien gave himself a few seconds to take in the bowed shoulders, the lowered head, the dark blue twin-tails bobbing frantically, before his brain jumpstarted.

“Hey! Marinette!” He called chasing after her. Something didn’t feel right.

When Marinette ignored him, Adrien broke out into a light jog to catch up with her, still calling her name.

“Marinette! Hey, it’s me,” He puffed as he reached her, clutching her shoulder. She stilled at the sound of his voice and he reached to hold her other shoulder, gently spinning her around to face him. Horror struck him when he saw the tears clinging to the corners of his eyes.

Marinette bent her head down low, cursing her rotten luck. All she’d wanted to do was hurry away, as quickly as she could, knowing she couldn’t hold in her tears. She just wanted to find a place to quickly cry, wash her face, and go back pretending nothing happened. Of all the people to catch her, it had to be him. She tensed every muscle in her body, every nerve, every organ. Air did not enter her lungs, nor did it leave, as she concentrated all her willpower on not crying.

And then Adrien had to ask her “What’s wrong?” He had to ask, in such a caring manner, his words a soothing lullaby which twisted and pulled her apart at the seams. She scrunched up her face, willing, praying, but it was all for nothing.

Waves of tears spilling out of her eyes like an overflowing sink. She clutched her arms, shaking her head. Snapping her eyes shut, she tried to breathe, tried to calm herself.

“Alya,” She choked and for a split second, Adrien’s heart dropped to the floor. Had something happened to Alya? Is that why Marinette was so upset?

Marinette dipped her head lower, her fingernails leaving crescent moon shapes on her bare arms. She breathed some more, and found her voice.

“Alya tried to convince Nino and I- to- to research more about the World War II Ladybug and Chat Noir,” She explained, her voice wobbling, “In the end she gave up but- but she told us some things about them. They- it was just so sad.” She couldn’t fight back the sob and hated herself for it. In front of Adrien of all people; And she knew what she looked like when she cried. It wasn’t a pretty sight, “After- after the war the German’s gave back a box of the belonging they’d t-taken from Edward and Catherine. There was a ring. An engagement ring.”

Adrien felt his insides turn to ice.

His grip on Marinette’s shoulders slackened. She didn’t notice.

“According to the teammates they sacrificed themselves to save, Edward was waiting until after the war to confess his feelings. He was going to propose to her. He wanted to- to marry her,” She brought her arm up to her eyes, wiping the tears away. It must have seemed so pathetic. Crying over people who, outwardly, had no relation to her in any way, “I know I’m probably being really stupid right now, I’m sorry. But it’s just…so awful. These were real people.”

Despite the shock he’d just received, Adrien felt himself soften at her words.

“You don’t have to apologise,” He said and, before he could think about it, reached to play with a loose strand of her hair. Adrien wondered if it was the same strand of hair that he’d played with last night… in Notre Dame, with Ladybug. Marinette stilled the instant he touched her and, when he realised what he’d done, Adrien snapped his hand back towards himself in embarrassment. Smooth, Agreste. Really smooth. How many more times are you going to touch her without thinking it through? He gave her an, admittedly weak, smile “I think it’s really sweet actually, that you care so much about them. You’re right, they were real people.”

He thought about Edward then, his past counterpart. There might have been other Chat Noir’s after him, but Adrien didn’t know about them. Edward though? Adrien felt a connection with him, made even stronger by the tragic reminder of his predecessor’s fate.  It made him want to find Ladybug even more, made him want to make Edward proud.

Taking his hands away from Marinette’s shoulders he gave an awkward cough. Only then did she look up at him. Her eyes were glassy from the tears, tragically beautiful and indescribably deep. The tip of her nose was red. Adrien’s tongue found itself stuck to the roof of his mouth, which he had opened to say something. Now he found himself unable to formulate a word, let alone a sentence. All he knew was his Princess was hurting, and he needed to make it better any way he could.

Taking his arms wide, he lowered his head to her humbly. Willing himself to give her the warmth she needed, he fixed her with a smile sincerer than the one he’d previously given.

“Nino says I give good hugs,” He suggested shyly, aware he was probably making himself a fool but not caring in the slightest, “It might help?”

She stared at him for a full five seconds and Adrien tried not to fidget under her gaze. After what seemed like an eternity, she stepped forward. Her head leaned into his chest first. Instinct lead his arms to her waist and around her back. Quite suddenly he felt as though he was watching a cold winter storm blowing outside, knowing he was perfectly safe from its clutches. An unbelievable sense of calm caressed his soul. Adrien’s mind was filled with images of comfort, of sunlight breaking through those storm clouds, of rightness. Wasn’t I supposed to be the one comforting her?

Eventually Marinette lifted nervous hands and wrapped them behind his back, shuffling closer towards him. He fought every urge in him not to burying his lips into her hair. She’s just your friend. You don’t know if it’s her yet.

The unmistakable sound of a phone click snapped the silence in half like a broken bone. Marinette and Adrien pulled apart to see Alya standing in front of them with a smug grin. Her phone was clutched in her hand and she took another photo.

Before either of them could splutter out a protest, or denial of anything which her raised eyebrow seemed to imply, Alya shook her head exasperatedly. Spinning around, she skipped back towards the computer labs, laughing as Marinette hurried after her.

“YO NINO! YOU OWE ME TEN EUROS!”

***

 It was unusual for Hawkmoth to strike two days in a row, though it happened occasionally. Of course, Ladybug thought bitterly, such a rare unwanted moment would occur on such an emotionally draining week.

Ladybug grit her teeth as she dodged another attack from the latest Akuma, The Trainer. She was a short woman, white haired with black hellhound eyes and a metallic track-suit. Ladybug could only watch as The Trainer blew on her blackened whistle, and another round of dogs came bounding down the empty street towards her. Growling, slobbering, mindless beasts, frenzied by the influence of their mind-controlled master.

Throwing her yo-yo to a lamp post, Ladybug swung herself upwards, barely missing the gnashing, snapping jaws of the rabid animals below. Chat had yet to arrive, and for the first time ever, she hoped he wouldn’t. Her mind had been playing tricks on her all day.

Ladybug raced for cover across the rooftops, ducking out of sight so that she could surprise The Trainer with an attack from above. The infernal sounds of dog barks, at least twenty of them, filled the late afternoon streets, echoing off walls so that it felt like there were hundreds of them. Ladybug sniffed angrily. All she wanted to do was reach into her brain and pluck out all thoughts of Chat Noir. Thoughts of him were tainted, tainted by a dead man… a dead man and a never-worn engagement ring.

Just as she was about to throw her yo-yo down, she heard the unmistakable sound of her partner landing beside her.

“Dogs! Why did it have to be dogs?” He mumbled as her heart sank. He crouched beside her, smiling, “What do you say LB, time to take this Akuma to the pounditentiary?”

“Sure,” She bit through gritted teeth, ignoring Chat’s startled expression at her tone, “Akuma’s in the training whistle around her neck. She uses it to control the dogs.” With that, Ladybug leapt from the building without a moments pause, more determined than ever to finish the fight quickly. She swung down and delivered a swift kick to The Trainer’s side, sending her flying across the road to smack into the wall of an apartment building.

Ladybug landed heavily, marching towards the knocked-senseless Akuma victim with a furious stare.

“Woah! Down you mangy mutts!” She heard Chat hiss and looked to see him standing on top of a car, drawing the mind-controlled dogs attention away from her. He used the height to his advantage, swinging his baton to knock the dogs out of his reach. But more swarmed around the car. Terriers, poodles, Chihuahuas; any dog in the area that had fallen under The Trainer’s control was now trying to attack him.

Ladybug felt a sense of panic flood through her, images of Edward consumed her. Chat. Edward. Death.

No!

She hurried towards him, ready to fling her yo-yo out and drag him away, but caught herself just in time. Shaking her head, she let reason come back to her. Her Chat wasn’t Edward. This was not a war zone. She had to trust him. He’d never let her down before, and she knew he could handle himself.

Spinning back around, Ladybug rushed towards the Akuma victim and yanked the whistle from her neck, crushing it beneath her heel. Without even pausing to breathe, she caught the purple Akuma and cleansed it, watching the newly metamorphosed white butterfly disappear into the sky. She threw he hand up in the air and cried “MIRACULOUS LADYBUG!” As the victim turned back into an ordinary dazed citizen, Chat made his way towards her, beaming.

“We did it! And we didn’t even have to use our special attacks for this one!” He grinned, practically jumping for joy. He stopped to pose, “You might say we pawsitively rocked it!”

Chat lifted his fist up to her, which she bumped feebly.

Ladybug gave Chat a flimsy smile, wrapping her arms around herself. The air was brisk and hunger struck her with a ferocity that matched the blood thirsty dogs from earlier. She’d lost her appetite for much of the day but it was coming back to haunt her now. In the aftermath of the battle, Ladybug felt exposed, like she’d de-transformed without her knowledge. A crowd had started to gather and she turned to face the approaching police officers.

“I’ll handle this,” She mumbled, ignoring Chat’s concerned gaze, “I’ll see you tomorrow night for joint patrol.”

Before she had a chance to turn away, Chat reached for her.

“Wait,” He called cautiously, stepping around her so that he could read her expression more. Her brow crinkled and she refused to meet his gaze, “Is everything ok? You seem upset.”

She shrugged him off gently, waving her splayed fingers in the air.

“Fine, fine! Don’t worry about it! See you later!” Without letting Chat say another word, she ran away, knowing she was being a coward but unable to face the fact at that moment in time. As she spoke to the police officers, offering words of comfort to the Akuma victim, Ladybug noticed Chat linger for a few seconds. She could feel his eyes on her but was steadfast in her refusal to look at him. Eventually, from the corner of her eye, she watched him leave.

She didn’t know if the sigh which escaped her was one of intense relief, or indescribable sadness.

***

Adrien was restless.

It was as if he was waiting for something to happen, but the thing he was waiting for refused to arrive. Like watching a kettle boil, having forgotten to turn it on at the plug socket. He tried distracting himself from the feeling by playing some video games, reading a book, hell he even tried doing homework. The Ladyblog made him feel worse, and the longer he sat in his room the worse it became. Minutes became hours, hours became days. The troubled teen sighed.

The niggling feeling in the pit of his stomach had been easy enough to ignore during a short photoshoot, had only made him off-key a few times during his piano lesson. But now he was alone with his thoughts, Adrien found himself lying on his sofa, toes curling and uncurling, fingers drumming against his chest, eyes staring at the ceiling.

Something was wrong.

He didn’t know what it was, but something had been off about Ladybug during their last fight. She’d been brisk with him, more aggressive towards the Akuma, and then afterwards there’d been a sort of heaviness in her eyes which he couldn’t put a finger on. Adrien felt the first bloom of anxiety unfurling in his lungs, its petals like tiny daggers poking him sharply.

After an hour of trying to figure it out, he groaned and ran a hand down his face, fed up of getting nowhere. There was nothing left to do, if he wanted any peace of mind he had to find Ladybug and talk things through.

Relieved that Plagg was in a sleepy mood, and agreed without too much of a fuss, Adrien transformed into Chat Noir and disappeared into the night sky. The air was colder than previous evenings, a chilly breeze swept the city, making the hairs on Chat’s neck stand up as he raced over rooftops, prowling and scaling up buildings using his trusty baton to help him. He didn’t need to use his tracker to know where Ladybug was. He knew where she always went after her own individual patrol.

Ladybug sat perched on the ledge of the Eiffel Tower, close to the top. Her legs dangled heavily over the ledge. Chat was sure she’d heard him land further inside the jungle of ever-rising steel beams. For a moment he watched her, wondering if this was how she’d looked at him the night before. She looked so small, curled up and deflated, a light shiver running through her as the breeze ruffled her hair. Chat swallowed.

“Well good evening My Lady!” He chirped, inwardly cringing at how forced his cheer sounded even to his own ears.

Ladybug sighed, leaning back on her hands. She didn’t look at him.

“You know there’s not much point in separate patrols if we’re going to show up to each other’s anyway,” She mumbled as Chat came to sit beside her. When he tilted his torso forwards, she turned her head away from him. The jagged knife of anxiety grew ten times sharper, dug into the space between his ribs.

“You started it,” He retorted and bumped her shoulder playfully. When she still didn’t respond, his smile finally faltered. The wind picked up, the coldness from his metal seat crept through his legs, down to his toes, up his spine and through his blood.

“Ladybug,” He whispered, “I know there’s something wrong. I’ve known you for years. I can tell. Please don’t hide it from me. I want to help.”

Ladybug said nothing.

“Is it something I did?” His voice trembled and he found he could no longer look at her. Instead, he stared down at his lap, at his clawed fingers gripping his suit. Still, she did not speak. Chat closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he tilted his head back and watched the spotlights pierce the darkness of the blanketed night sky, the orangey-brown glow of light pollution, ugly yet oddly beautiful at the same time. His lips parted.

“Do you regret it? What you said last night, I mean?” Please say no, please say no, please say-

“No!” The cry from Ladybug startled him and he jumped, gazing back down to note her panicked face inches from his own. Ladybug shook her head frantically, “No that’s not…” She trailed off, leaning away and allowing a puff of air to escape her lips. Her shoulders hunched forward once again. When she spoke next, her voice was lower, further away, “You haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve just- I’ve just been thinking.”

Ladybug stared out at the city below her once again, watching the cars drive past, the headlights looked about the size of her miraculous from so high a vantage point. She hated this feeling, the feeling that she was free falling off of the very tower on which she sat, with no way of stopping. As guilty as she felt for thinking it, a part of her wished she’d never found out about Edward and Catherine.

“I’d give you a penny for those thoughts, but I left my wallet in my other super-suit,” Chat bopped her side once more she smiled despite the turmoil she felt, “I could give you an I.O.U though.”

She turned to him then, noticing the sincerity of his words and expression, despite the lame joke. Two feelings were warring in her, causing her insides to churn and twist and bite. She worried her lip and picked up her knees, getting to her feet.

“Chat, I’m not sure I’m strong enough,” She admitted in a gasp, walking away from him.

It took a few seconds to register her words.

Chat leapt to his feet, panic hitting him harder than any Akuma ever had.

“What do you mean?” The words left him in an almost painful rush.

Ladybug wrapped her arms around herself tightly. Maybe it might protect her from the hurt in his voice. She tried to find her inner strength, forced herself to face him.

“It’s not that I don’t want you to find me. I was serious about that, I meant every single word I said,” She trembled.

Chat blinked, his head swimming with mixed messages.

“Then-” He began but Ladybug held up a hand to stop him.

“Please, let me finish?” She asked gently. His lips slammed shut and he gave her a half-nod, his jaw almost vibrating as his teeth pressed heavily into each other. She sank a hand into her hair, the same spot he’d caressed the night before, the same spot he might have touched earlier that day. No don’t think about that now.

“I guess I’m scared,” She confessed, “Ok I’m terrified.” She sighed once again, this time completely surrendering to the helplessness she felt. Ladybug shrugged, her palms turned outwards as she frowned, “Chat what are we doing? This is crazy! Beyond crazy- and I feel so… I don’t know, and you’re standing there with that look on your face and I know I sound like a freak, I know I’m not making any sense. I’m just scared of how deep my feelings run for you. And if you find out who I am, what happens then? What if I feel for you more than I’ve ever felt for anyone, and then I- and then I lose you?” She looked down, “I don’t think I’m strong enough for that.”

Ladybug felt him step forward and gazed up into blazing eyes.

“You don’t think I’m scared too?” He replied, his voice rough with emotion. She didn’t say anything, remembering how he’d admitted to her other self just how nervous but determined he was. Her heart thrummed, her chest rising and falling in time to its quick beat, which doubled as he reached out and placed a shy hand onto her hip. She moved closer to him, and the hand at her hip gripped her tighter, but still gently. His other hand reached up, and the backs of his fingers trailed down the length of her face, “We can be scared together you know, but we can also- you know- not be scared.”

He paused, imploring, staring deep into the depths of her being. When he spoke next, every word was heavy, he wanted the promise to root in her mind, take away all the doubts she felt.

“It could be good you know. It could be amazing. No- it will be amazing, once I find you. You’ll see. I’d stake every single one of my nine lives on that fact.”

Ladybug couldn’t help the upward tilt of her lips if she tried.

“We’re playing with fire, Chat Noir,” She whispered, dropping the smile as he lowered himself so that their eyes were level with each other.

“Then let me burn,” He replied heatedly, “For both of us.”

And that was the moment her doubts stilled, like a lake after the rain had ceased falling. That was the moment she realised what she felt for her partner ran far deeper than she’d previously thought, like there was an ocean inside her that she’d only just discovered. It was a quiet symphony, a silent burst of fireworks, a splash of paint strewn across a previously blank canvas, and it left her completely breathless.

Love.

She loved him.

She loved Chat Noir.

Stepping even closer towards him, Ladybug wrapped her arms around the back of his neck, one hand on top of the other. Her body pressed into him and, for the faintest of seconds, she watched his eyes widen as she threw away one of the few remaining barriers to her heart, tossing it to the wind which blew around them. It didn’t bother her any more, the cold breeze, in fact not once could she ever remember being so warm.

“Never,” She whispered, waiting until the last second to close her eyes, wanting to commit every feature to memory; the gentle blush across his cheeks, his luminous eyes going from wide and surprised, to heavy and lidded, the softness of his hair as it brushed against her own, tickling her forehead.

When their lips met, her eyes were shut.

Whether they went down in a blazing glory, like Edward and Catherine, or rose from these brand new flames like Phoenixes dancing in starlight, one thing was absolutely certain. That night, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking over the city they protected with almost the same amount of love they felt for each other, both Ladybug and Chat Noir came to a joint realisation.

Whatever happened, whatever trials or triumphs they faced, it would be together.

Chapter Text

It was a simple kiss; sweet, timid, gentle. Though it only lasted a moment, it seemed to last an eternity as Adrien lost himself in it. How many times had he thought about this? Dreamed about it? How many times had he looked at her lips and wondered what it would be like? Now it was happening, and it was almost too much for his heart to handle. She was kissing him. Ladybug was kissing him. They were kissing.

Adrien was pretty sure his brain had short-circuited.

A few seconds. A few seconds of breathing in her scent of cinnamon and something uniquely her. A few seconds of indescribable calm juxtaposed with the burning fire Ladybug had mentioned moments before. A few seconds of her lithe body lightly pressed into his.

A few seconds. That was all it took for Chat to know he would never, ever let her go. Once he found her, once he knew the other side of her. If she would have him, he would give his everything to her for the rest of his days. He’d known that before, but only now did he truly understand what that meant. Thus, with that understanding came a wonderful rush of something Adrien couldn’t quite explain, simply because he’d never experienced anything like it. All he knew was this was the closest feeling to perfection, to rightness, he had ever known. He wondered if she felt the same.

Ladybug broke the kiss first, stepping backwards with a shy glance in his direction. She drew her lips inwards, as if she wanted to giggle. The blush across her cheeks had deepened. Chat would have found it adorable if his brain could fathom anything beyond the words ‘kiss’, ‘Ladybug’, and ‘hngrhh.’

“Ah, s-sorry,” She stammered, moving away from him further until he was no longer touching her hips. As his fingers brushed past them, gloved hands now exposed to the colder night air, his brain kicked back into gear. He blinked a few times, to be sure he was still alive. Flexed his fingers, he realised he missed her warmth already.

“Sorry?” Chat frowned. His heart had completely stalled whilst their lips met, and now seemed to be making up for that lost time. He swallowed, “Why are you sorry?”

“I- well I just kissed you and we don’t know each other’s identities yet and you know…I…yeah…” Ladybug trailed off, glancing to one side. Looking down at the Seine below, Marinette could hear its inky depths calling up to her. Maybe she could dive into it from here, if she used her yo-yo to help. Yup, that sounded like a perfect plan. Jump in the Seine, get swept away, start a new life under the sea. Fantastic plan. She knew how to survive under the sea, she’d watched The Little Mermaid thousands of times. All she had to do was watch out for sharks and sea witches. It certainly seemed easier than having to have this conversation.

Panic stifled every thought as Chat shuffled towards her. Her eyes widened, but remained transfixed on the Seine. Even as she felt his hand curl into hers, she didn’t budge. It was only when Ladybug felt his lips against her hand that her head whirled back towards him.

“I kissed you back you know,” He replied, and there was that damn looked again. The look which had made her notice what had been there all along. Except now it was accompanied by a grin so smug and downright arrogant that, all at once, her panic left her. She wrinkled her nose and pushed their joined hands up to his face, lightly pushing his cheek.

“I noticed Cat-boy,” She replied breathlessly, annoyed at how flustered she was. She’d wanted to roll her eyes, but they were too busy being lost in his gaze. This wasn’t fair. This was Chat. Chat Noir. Sure she had just realised she was in love him, she’d probably always loved him in a way, but Ladybug was determined not to make the same mistakes with him as she had with Adrien.

She would not be a stuttering, incomprehensible fool. Not this time.

Dropping their entwined fingers towards her, Ladybug glanced up at Chat through heavy lidded eyes. She returned the hand kiss he’d given her moments before with one of her own. Her eyes never left his. A sultry smile played on her lips.

You may have a smoulder hot enough to melt glaciers, but I bet mine is good enough to ruffle your tail at least a little bit.

“Did you like it Kitty? Our kiss, I mean,” She purred against the back of his palm. Her smirk grew as she watched his shoulders stiffen, his nostrils flare as he inhaled sharply. Her insides tickled with the, admittedly twisted, pleasure she was getting from seeing him so unravelled by such a simple gesture. Encouraged by his muddled state, she hummed, stroking his hand with her thumb. It was amazing how easy it was, to do things like this with Chat, things which she could scarcely even dream of doing with Adrien.

“Buh,” He replied and she felt like back flipping. Yes! Finally! She wasn’t the stuttering idiot for a change! “I mean, y-yes. I mean it was great, super r-really. Top notch.”

Ladybug couldn’t hold it in any longer, laughter burst from her like a dam. She clutched her sides, wheezing at how much of a dork her partner was. There was a lightness to her now, one which he had given her. Him. Her wonderful, silly, amazing Chat Noir. How could she even begin to tell him the ways he’d plucked her troubles from her shoulders, like they were feathers instead of the chains weighing her down all day? How could she ever tell him what she felt? Before, she’d told him she was afraid of how deep her feelings were for him. That was still the same. She was still scared. But it was a good scared, more of a thrill really, like the first time she’d truly gotten a grasp of swinging through the city with her trusty yo-yo.

Now it was Chat’s turn to distance himself. With a groan that would have risen the eyebrows of even the hammiest of actors, Chat Noir twirled around and began stomping towards the edge of the tower.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Kitty calm down,” She chuckled, grabbing his tail. Yanking him back towards her, she couldn’t help teasing him as she placed comforting hands on his shoulders and twisted him back around to face her, “I thought it was top notch too.”

He ran his hand down his face, “I’m never going to live that down am I?”

Ladybug shook her head, tears of merriment pearled in the corners of her eyes like dew on morning grass. Despite his embarrassment, Chat smiled in response. It was impossible to feel bad in her company for too long. In fact, he was sure there was a joke in there somewhere, about her presence being a present, and made a mental note to fine tune that particular pun at a later date.

For now, though-

“But I’m glad you enjoyed our kiss my Lady,” He replied with a bow, trying to compose himself once more, “I have plenty more for you if you wish for them.”

Drumming her fingers against her chin, Ladybug gazed up at the sky with a playful sigh. The clouds passing over the moon were orangey brown, swiftly moving from one side of the city to another. She briefly wondered if it was going to rain.

“I would like them,” She agreed, softening when she saw Chat light up, his happiness radiating more than all of the spotlights on the tower combined. Warmth spread through her chest, a pleasant feeling of love and home. She edged closer to him, her playfulness making way for bashfulness. It wasn’t as if she were losing confidence, her reservations did not mean she would revert to being a spluttering mess. On the contrary, she quite enjoyed it, how quickly her emotions could shift from burning desire, to light-hearted teasing and quiet shyness.

Chat leaned towards her again. Reaching up to her hair ties, he began to play with the ribbons idly, like a lazy cat on a hot day. Adoration poured from every fibre of his being. He kept his mouth shut, for if he began to tell her how much he loved her, he would never be able to stop. Waiting until he knew the girl under the mask was his first priority. He needed her to know it wasn’t just Ladybug who held his heart, but who she was beyond that name and mask. As much as he needed to breathe, he needed her to understand that.

Ladybug reached up to his outstretched arm, her index finger trailing a slow line from the inside of his wrist up to his shoulder. Her hand wrapped around the nape of his neck again, and she let her fingers settle against his hair. It was all at once enthralling, exciting, and utterly enchanting, to know that she could do this. That they could do this. It was an open door, a leap into the unknown, a daring discovery. Chat left her ribbons alone, choosing to caress her cheek whilst his other arm circled her waist. Small gestures, light touches, shy but reassuring glances at each other, each one crossing another little boundary, each moment bringing them closer to something unknown.

At last, Ladybug found her voice.

“We should probably wait though,” She breathed, reaching up to play with the bell around his neck. Even in its shiny gold surface, she could see how pink her cheeks were.

“Yeah,” Chat replied, his chest rising and falling in a lullaby so mesmerising that Ladybug couldn’t resist resting her head against it. Instinctively, Chat pulled her in closer, nuzzling against the top of her head and thanking whatever god out there had granted him with last year’s growth spurt. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself completely to the feeling of her in his arms.

Who am I kidding? I surrendered myself to her the day I met her.

“Yeah,” He felt Ladybug nod against him as she repeated his response, and he smiled. When she leaned back, she had her own small smile on her lips. Chat found it incredibly difficult not to stare at them, especially whilst the memory of their kiss wove like a tapestry in his mind. He knew what they felt like, what they tasted like, he knew what it was like to kiss her. He knew now, and there was no undoing it, “Wait until you find me at least.”

“Sounds like a purrfect plan,” Chat rumbled, pushing her fringe away from her face. They stared at each other.

“I guess it is.”

“Uh-huh.”

Silence.

It would have been impossible to say who moved first. Both were drawn to each other like magnets. Reaching up on tip-toes, Ladybug pressed herself flush against him. Chat’s other hand swept up so that both hands were on her face, holding her like he was afraid the moment might disappear if he let her go. They kissed again. Gentleness was forgotten as their lips pressed heavily against each other’s. Tighter, needier, hungrier, their kiss burned. Flames licked their insides. Embers whirled inside their lungs. Simultaneously, they realised the pull towards each other was unstoppable now. They’d opened the floodgates and jumped headfirst into wild currents. Where their first kiss was a soft ballroom dance, this was a tango. A heady kiss of passion and intensity, a culmination of years of lingering glances and flirty touches, of toeing the line but never crossing it. It wasn’t perfect, and yet it was; clumsy sometimes, noses tapping as they moved from side-to-side, rhythms not always matching, but they would learn in time.

They broke apart to breathe, only for the briefest of seconds before their lips were back on each other, much more in sync this time. Ladybug stepped backwards, almost stumbled, but Chat’s arms went to her waist to steady her. Eyes still closed, both of them moved until Ladybug felt the cool steel beam against her back. She pressed against it, as Chat pressed into her. A coil of desire jolted her insides, electrifying her, making her crave. Both of them wanted more, to kiss more, to touch more, to feel more. Yet, even as they lost themselves in the passion of their embrace, they knew that there were certain boundaries which were not yet to be crossed. As much as Chat wanted to run his hands over every inch of her, caressing and stroking, loving and learning all the parts of her his eyes has memorised over the years, he couldn’t. Not until he knew just who it was he was kissing. He respected her too much for that.

Even so-

“Tell me something else about you,” Chat whispered, pleaded, begged, against her skin, burying his head against the crook of neck. For a moment, only the sounds of their ragged breathing filled the night air. He felt her chest rising and falling in tandem with his own. Once again, he closed his eyes, hearing her, feeling her, needing her, “Please. Give me another clue. I have to find you; I have to find you.”

To his surprise he felt her giggle. When he looked up, wonder struck him like a bolt of lightning straight through his heart. Ladybug’s hair was slightly mussed, loose strands had fallen out of their hairbands, rebelliously framing her flushed face. Her lips were a darker shade of pink, her expression languid and yet seductive. Lazily, playfully, she scratched him under the chin, a gesture she’d repeated many a time, but never with such tenderness. It almost completely undid him.

She’d never looked so lovely, and that was saying something.

“What’s the matter, Kitten? Can’t figure it out on your own? I must say I’m surprised,” She teased, ending the taunt with a light flick to his bell.

Chat blinked, compelled and befuddled by her teasing, her mock sigh of disappointment, her competitive ‘come-and-get-me’ stare.

Oh he realised it’s like that is it?

He huffed confidently, shaking his head from side-to-side.

“Oh My Lady, you doubt me?” He leaned in, waiting for her to join him, waiting to know it was ok to kiss her again. When she pushed herself away from the steel beam and back into his arms, his whole being sang. Now he understood what it meant to dance among the stars, to leap across the milky way and float peacefully amongst the inky blackness of space. He placed a chaste kiss on her lips, fighting the smirk as he pulled away and she briefly remained in place, as if she’d expected more. When he didn’t go back to her lips, they formed a slight pout. He caved instantly, offering her another kiss, and another, and another, until she was giggling again and he found himself laughing along with her. God it was too much, it wasn’t enough, it was just right. It was everything.

“B-because,” He continued, no easy feat as his mind had turned to love-sick mush, “I’m pretty sure you go to my school.”

Ladybug froze.

Placing a hand across his chest, she gaped up at him. Nope, his expression was serious. He wasn’t joking. She felt her mouth drop into a shocked o-shape as she waited, fixating on every minute detail of his masked face, searching for any sign that he could be teasing her. No such sign came.

“…What?” She gasped, “You think we? We go to the same school? But…but how?”

He smiled gently, lowering his forehead to hers until they touched. Bopping his nose against hers in a kitten kiss, Chat tried with all his might not to kiss her senseless again. It was much more difficult than it had been just minutes before, when all he’d had were meagre fantasies and passing thoughts as to what kissing her might be like.

“My Kwami, Plagg,” He explained, “He says that he’s sensed your Kwami lots of times whilst we’re civilians. I figured we must go to the same school if he’s able to sense err- Tikki was it?”

Was she about to pass out? Ladybug was quite confidence that she was. It was a lot of information to take in thirty seconds. To be completely honest after his confession, coupled with their kisses, she was amazed that she was still upright. If she’d been Marinette, her legs would have turned to jelly long before now.

Her mouth had gone completely dry; she was only able to nod dumbly in response.

Chat buried his hand in that familiar place, his favourite spot just above her ear, caressing it lovingly.

“So you see,” He said, his voice suddenly rough, “We could have been under each other’s noses the whole time.”

Just like that, Ladybug’s heart and mind exploded. This was not what her poor soul needed. This wasn’t part of the plan. She’d just about gotten over her flimsy comparisons between Chat and Adrien. Now fate had thrust a rusty hook into her ideas to move on from those dangerous thoughts, so that they were sharper than ever before. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move.

Ladybug didn’t know which was worse. The idea that she’d spent years pining after someone she’d never have, blinded to the knowledge that her Chat was so close, or the idea that Chat really could be Adrien. If that was the case, then they’d been silently rejecting each other for years under their various guises.

No it has to be the first one, she thought witheringly, no way could destiny play such a cruel trick on us.

“LB? You ok?”

She hadn’t realised how intently she was staring at his chest, her brow furrowed in a frown of confusion and shock. When she looked up at Chat once more, she found her partners gaze to be so tender, so kind, that it rendered her utterly helpless. But it wasn’t her usual brand of pre-Ladybug helplessness. Instead, it was a comforting sort of helplessness, like jumping out of a plane with a parachute safely pinned to ones back. A safe, loving, perfect helplessness.

She wet her lips with her tongue, watching as Chat’s eyes flicked down to watch, an unreadable expression in his gaze. She shivered.

“How can you be so sure?” Ladybug uttered.

“I’m not totally sure,” He responded immediately, his eyes still not leaving her lips, “But I’m pretty confident.”

A smile bloomed on her face then, all the nerves in her body seemed to spark with anticipation, and she nudged her way past him, making her way to the same edge she’d pulled him back from. She pulled her yo-yo from its home at her hip.

“Ladybug?” Chat’s voice from behind her was shy, a trace of fear laced through it, and she stilled. Peering over her shoulder, her smile widened and she caught his gaze, letting it tell him nothing was wrong. She saw his shoulders slump in relief and her heart almost burst out of its chest. He really was adorable, “Are you leaving?”

She nodded coyly, her smile turning coquettish.

“Yup, have to go to bed,” She thought for a moment, considering her next words, “Aren’t you coming too?”

“Wh-what?!”

I really, really like making him stutter, she chuckled inwardly, does that make me a bad person?

“I meant to your own bed, silly,” She giggled, knowing full well she’d twisted her words to imply the exact opposite, “We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“We do?”

“Well yes, of course!” She chirped, spinning back around, “We’ve got to see if you’re right, don’t we?”

If swallowing your tongue was possible, Chat was sure his would be halfway down his oesophagus by now. Was she suggesting what he thought she was?

“Do you know where the art cupboard is?”

He nodded vigorously, wordlessly, heartbeat pounding in his ears.

“Meet me in there tomorrow, ten minutes before the end of lunch? Masks on of course. If you’re really right, if we do go to the same school, I’ll give you another clue about me. Deal?”

She held out her hand to him, her other arm resting casually against her lower back, and waited for him to respond. Watching as his face went from shocked to downright roguish, she bit her lip. Ladybug remembered his joking from the night before, about how handsome he apparently was under his mask. She thought about Adrien, and only resented herself a little bit for it this time.

“Deal,” He replied shaking her hand, not letting it go. Instead, he chose to press another kiss to her hand, relishing in her acceptance of it, “I’ll see you tomorrow then, my Lady.”

What he didn’t expect was her to leap into his arms, placing a brief but excited kiss to his lips. He’d barely had enough time to respond before she ended it, spinning away from him as he swayed on the spot, completely drunk on her.

“Good night Chat Noir,” It was supposed to be teasing, but it came out much more loving. Ladybug found she didn’t mind one bit.

“Good night Ladybug,” He replied, watching until she swung out of sight, completely frozen on the spot.

He didn’t realise she could hear his whoop of joy from several streets away.


 

“This is useless,” Alya grumbled as she brushed her irritated fingers against the school books, “No wonder we rely on the internet nowadays.”

“Madame Bonnet say we have to find physical sources and not just rely on the internet though,” Marinette reminded her for what seemed like the millionth time, whilst idly checking the clock on her phone. It was the middle of their lunch break, and she and Alya had decided to spend it searching for any books which might help their history project. Nino was busy working through lunch with his music group, as they’d been stuck on one irritating part of their final piece (mainly because, he’d angrily proclaimed, that their singer was a real piece of work, he then tried to drown himself in his cap once he realised he’d made an Adrien-style joke). It was one of the few times Marinette had seen Nino so stressed. Adrien had had to go home early for lunch, as his Chinese lesson had to be pushed to forward in the day due to a rare scheduling mishap. Nevertheless, both boys promised to buy them coffees to make up for it.

The day before, and after much deliberation, the group had eventually decided on a compromise with Alya. They wouldn’t do a presentation on a WWII Ladybug and Chat, but they would do a wartime Ladybug and Chat Noir if they had less of a tragic ending. In their research, they’d discovered the Elizabethan Ladybug and Chat Noir, a pair who defended England during their war with the Spanish. Nino was drawn to the Shakespearian era, wondering if the pair had been fans of the playwright. Marinette was obsessed with finding out what their outfits looked like. Alya wanted to uncover any conspiracies or secret allegiances with the crown, and Adrien was excited by the prospect of his predecessors sneaking aboard various vessels of the Spanish Armada, romanticising swash-buckling adventures, and inserting himself and his Lady into those fantasies. They hadn’t gotten much further with their study of the pair though, hence the girls’ noble sacrifice.

“I know that,” Alya snapped back with a huff, “It’s just a pain in the butt is all, they have books online you know, and we’ve been here pretty much all lunchtime and found diddly squat!”

“Yeah but most of those are academic books, and you have pay for them or be a university student,” Marinette repeated idly, once again checking the time. The morning had been torturously slow, the only solace being she’d had time to get completely lost in her memories from the night before. Remembering the feeling of Chat’s body against her own, how she’d listened to his heartbeat as he’d held her, how soft his lips were…

Oh Mari, you’ve got it bad.

“Ok girl what is with you?” Alya prodded her arm and Marinette jerked awkwardly with a cry that sent the librarian glaring in her direction. Her phone clattered to the floor, but its protective case meant it lived to fight another day. She turned to Alya with a nonchalance so phony it wouldn’t fool a toddler.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve been looking at your phone most of the time we’ve been in here. You haven’t been helping at all,” Alya folded her arms across her chest, with a humph of annoyance, “So what’s going on?”

Luckily for Marinette, in the seemingly endless hours of the morning, she’d been able to come up with an excuse for her poor behaviour. Regardless, she still had the decency to feel guilty, tilting her head to the side.

“I’m sorry Alya,” She replied sheepishly, “I guess I’m sort of distracted. I have to meet my art and design teacher before the next class and she didn’t tell me why. I’m sort of nervous about it. Sorry if I’ve been a bit absent-whilst-present.”

It was luckier still, that her nervousness could be mistaken for guilt. Alya seemed to accept her answer, her features softened sympathetically. Her arms unfurled.

“Oh Mari, why didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have suggested doing this if I knew you were worried about that.”

Marinette felt a real pang of guilt at the totally undeserved sympathy, and vowed to make it up to Alya in a random act of kindness at a later date. She shrugged.

“I don’t know; I guess I was sort-of in denial. I didn’t want to think too much about it,” Marinette admitted, before her alarm (set to vibrate) went off in her pocket. Her heart flipped. She’d set it to go off ten minutes earlier than they’d said they’d meet, that way she could make sure she looked nice for the moment.

I don’t know why I’m bothering so much; he’s not going to be there. No way.

Or, another part of her brain argued, he could be there and you’ll profess your love to each other. You’ll reveal your identities and live happily ever after, become a famous fashion designer with a wonderful stay a home Chat-Noir-dad and a sewing room, and your Kwami’s will have their own little den to snuggle up in.

Shut up nerd, replied the first part of her brain.

“Gotta go now?” Alya inquired gently.

Marinette fought hard not to squeal in excitement. Schooling her expression in to one of fear and trepidation (which to be honest were also emotions she was currently experiencing, so it wasn’t a total falsehood), she turned away from Alya with a nervous farewell, and practically raced out the door-

Only to be assaulted by iced coffee.

At first all she’d seen were the plastic cups. By then it had been too late, and they came barrelling into her chest, lids bursting as the freezing contents jettisoned straight onto her top. She squealed and leapt back, hands flying to her now soaking shirt.

“Oh god Marinette I’m so sorry!” It took a few seconds for her brain to realise that it was Adrien’s mortified voice, Adrien’s spilt coffee on her shirt and puddled around her converse. She barely had time to register this fact before he’d carried on, reaching to stroke the back of his neck, “I’m so sorry, god I keep running into you like this huh? N-not that it’s bad to run into you, I just meant that I keep running into you literally and that’s bad.”

Marinette stared.

“I’ll- I’ll get you some napkins. Wait right there, I’ll be back right, I mean, right back!”

It was official, she was in a parallel universe, Marinette realised as she watched his retreating form, hurrying away to get some tissues for her. He barely missed crashing into Alix, and bumped into the wall as he rounded the corner out of sight.

“Mari, is everything ok?” Alya poked her head from the door to the library. Surveying the damage with wide eyes, she raced towards Marinette with a start, fire in her eyes, “Woah, what happened? Did one of Chloe’s minions do this? I swear if they did-”

“No,” Marinette interrupted her before Alya got a chance to start an angry rant, “Adrien did. It was an accident though.”

Alya raised an eyebrow, placing an investigative finger against her chin with a quiet hum.

“Adrien huh? You know Nino text me earlier saying he’s been acting weird all day.”

Marinette tried to keep calm. She really did.

“Really?” She squeaked, fighting not to face palm at her own lack of cool.

“Yeah, he’s been tripping over things, he got told of for daydreaming in physics, and he’s just generally been spacing out all day.”

“Oh.”

“I know, it’s weird. I mean I know Adrien’s sort of out-there at times, aren’t we all, but I’ve never known his to act so much like- like-” It was then that Alya snorted, covering her mouth in glee. Marinette felt her suspicions rise, but decided to take the bait anyway. Her throat tightened.

“So like?”

“You!” Alya burst out laughing, “He’s acting like a total space cadet! Just like you whenever you’re around him. Ha! I wonder what’s got him so ruffled? Find out for me will you? Thanks, you’re a babe, ciao!”

Marinette attempted to pick up her jaw from the floor as Alya winked at her, retreating back to the library when she noticed Adrien’s return. In the five seconds Marinette spent alone, she tried to compose and collect all the new information she’d gathered, the pieces stubbornly connecting no matter how much she didn’t want them to.

Adrien.

Flustered.

Kissing.

….Chat?

“I’m sorry I’m such a grade-a dorkasaurus,” Adrien wheezed, holding up napkins and patting her chest. Marinette squeaked at the contact and, once he realised exactly where he was touching her, he stumbled away from her, beetroot red, “Ah sorry,” he apologised once more, handing her the rest of the napkins. As Marinette absently padded at her sodden top, he carried on, “Honestly I don’t know what’s gotten into me today. I’ve been like this all morning. I think I’ve even freaked Nino out!”

“It’s ok,” Marinette replied faintly, unable to stop herself, “You must be tired from last night right?”

The silence that followed was thick and suffocating. She watched Adrien’s jaw clench, his eyes widen, his back stiffen. Marinette wanted to breathe but found her throat had now completely seized up.

“Last night?” He choked.

“Y-yeah,” She replied, chickening out at the last minute, coward “You- you know, with that modelling job you had? That had to have been hard.”

Never before had she wanted to kick her own ass as badly as she did in that moment. Coward, coward, coward, coward, COWARD!

“Oh, right,” Adrien nodded, his frown melting away into a partially relieved look that was neither a smile or a grimace, “Yeah, I guess that could be it.”

Her alarm rang once again, letting her know she had five minutes before she had to meet Chat Noir. For a brief moment, she wondered if she’d already met him that day.

They stared at each other for a few seconds longer, both of them searching for something in each other but unwilling to be the one to make the first step. There were too many complications, too many what-if’s which held them back. For now, at least.

“Shoot I’ve got to go, meeting my teacher before class. Wish me luck!”

“Good luck M-Marinette,” He stammered as she hurried away. She missed the catch in his throat, missed the way his gaze lingered on her…

Missed the way he’d almost called her ‘My Lady.’


 

She burst violently into the art cupboard, thanking all of her lucky stars (or spots) that it was empty for the time being, and that she’d beaten Chat. If he was going to show up at least.

Throwing her bag to the floor, she rummaged in the pockets until she found some hair ties. She’d deliberately chosen to wear her hair down again today (couldn’t make it too easy for him after all, where would the fun be there?), but now she needed it up. Frantically, she checked her reflection in her compact mirror, making sure her hair was ok and her make-up was still fresh looking.

From behind her, she heard Tikki chuckling.

“You look fine Marinette, cute as ever, stop fussing!”

“I can’t find my damn lip gloss!” She cried, digging deeper into the bottomless pit that was her bag, “Tikki have you seen it? Will the lip gloss even show up after I transform? Oh god I’m running out of time,” Her phone buzzed again, one minute to go until they were supposed to meet.

“Marinette seriously, you need to calm down!”

“I’m PERFECTLY CALM!” She yelped, leaping to her feet and accidentally knocking a few watercolour palettes from the shelf as she did so.

“Yeah, I can see that,” Tikki replied with a wry smile, shaking her head. The Kwami flew towards her face, stopping inches before her nose, “Just breathe, and transform, it’ll be ok.”

Heeding her Kwami’s wise words, Marinette inhaled deeply. Closing her eyes, she transformed into Ladybug, kicking her bag into the corner where it was hidden from sight. She opened her eyes, staring at the closed door opposite her, and waited…

And waited…

And waited.

With every passing minute she grew both more anxious and more deflated. Ladybug didn’t need to check her phone to know he was late. Or maybe he wasn’t coming at all.

Idiot! She cursed herself, furiously wiping at the tears she refused to let fall. The closed door mocked her, and she turned away from it, unable to stand looking at it for a second longer. She wilted, arms wrapping around herself. Oh how she’d tried not to hope, tried not to believe it, but against her better judgement she’d done it. She’d hoped his deductions were correct, she hoped that they went to the same school.

Looks like we were both wro-

“Ladybug!”

The door burst open and, at first, Ladybug panicked. Wheeling around in a fighting stance, Ladybug threw her arms up, ready to fight whatever crazy fan or Akuma had managed to hunt her down.

Instead she found herself face to face with a very haggard, wild eyed-

“Chat Noir?!”

Chat Noir closed the door behind him much more gently than the way he’d opened it. He leaned against it with a sigh of relief. She was here, she was here! She was looking at him like he was insane, but she was here. Beautiful and real, and right in front of him. He’d been right!

“I’m so sorry,” He rushed out an explanation, suddenly aware that he’d apologised more in one day than he had in all the previous years at school combined, “But I’ve only ever been here once and I got lost, I thought it would be too suspicious to wonder around in costume. So I had to find this room again, and then go find a place to transform, and Plagg was being a nightmare, and oh I’m just so sorry I kept you waiting here, were you worri-”

His rant was cut off as Ladybug launched herself at his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around his middle. For a moment he froze, before completely caving into her embrace. The sigh that escaped his lips melted away the madness of the day and he relaxed into her. It felt like an eternity since he’d last held her, and he couldn’t believe his luck that he’d been able to do so again so soon.

I was right! I was right! I was RIGHT!

Ladybug leaned back, beaming up at him, and Chat was entirely certain that her expression of complete and utter joy matched his own.

“Hi,” She said, with a giggle that went straight to his heart.

“Hi,” He replied, leaning down to kiss her nose, “So…about that clue?”

Chapter Text

“Clue? What clue are you referring to?”

Ladybug slid out of their embrace with a mischievous smirk. The previous worries she’d held were all but gone; shrinking into a whisper which disappeared with one last, relieved sigh. No. Instead, the knowledge that Chat Noir went to her school began to seep into her mind like a warm drink on a cold day. At first his presence felt like an apparition, a trick of the light, wishful thinking getting the better of her. But, as he stalked towards her, an expression of mock disapproval painted on his handsome features, Ladybug surrendered to the utter giddiness she felt. Her mile-a-minute mind stilled, for once the ifs and how’s were silenced. She let herself breathe in the reality of him.

“Ladybug,” Chat’s voice was a low, deep, completely unthreatening warning. He leaned his torso towards hers in a half-bow that was unfairly seductive. Finding it difficult to hold herself upright, Ladybug let out a nervous chuckle. Damn it. It wasn’t fair. A week ago, she wouldn’t have given a gesture like that a second thought (ok maybe a second thought, maybe even a third thought, but DEFINITELY not a fourth thought!) A week ago, she would have rolled her eyes at his silly attempts at flirting.

But this wasn’t a week ago, and his attempt was entirely successful… if her now boneless legs were anything to go by.

“Yeees?” she drawled, her mouth covered by her fingers, as she tried to hide the effect he was having on her. Instead she fixed her attentions on the broken, front-loading kiln in the dusty corner. Attempting to calm her racing heart, she focused on memorising every rusted feature. The last thing she needed was his boasts ruining the moment. Yet, as the seconds ticked by, she began to find the heat of the windowless room evermore stifling.

“You promised you’d give me another clue,” he whispered, ending his bow and crossing the remaining space between them. From her peripheral vision, she noticed shy fingers moving toward her hair, but his hand stilled before it came into contact with her. This caught her attention and she lifted her eyes up to his. In them she saw a question, a wait for permission. Ladybug would have found this funny if it weren’t so incredibly sweet. After all, they’d kissed last night, she’d just thrown herself at him (literally), and he’d just kissed her nose. It seemed, now that the more extreme emotions and adrenaline had passed, he was almost shy in his advances.

The thought surprised yet pleased her. She’d always thought Chat would be a more aggressive suitor, and was glad she was mistaken in that assumption. The feeling in her stomach was comparable to every akuma she’d ever cleansed fluttering inside her simultaneously. She softened, moving forward ever-so-slightly. Chat took the hint, and rested his hand against her, twirling her hair around his finger. His thumb brushed alongside her cheek faintly. Sighing in content, Ladybug closed her eyes and leaned into his touch. Had she kept her eyes upon him even a second longer, she would have seen how much he loved her. She would have seen him melt at her reaction, his head dipping lazily to one side as he regarded her.

“Did I?” She mused faintly.

“My Lady,” he whined, but it was gentle whine. More pleading than pouty. She grinned and opened her eyes once more, poking her tongue out at him. This proved to be somewhat of a mistake, however, as Chat’s attention was immediately drawn to it. When he looked back up to her, his pupils had widened, his lips parted in hunger she realised only she could satisfy. She was about to do as much, her eyelids half shut, when Tikki’s reminder about patience screamed at her from the deepest corners of her memory. Not now, not now, I have SOME self-control.

Ladybug had to dig her nails into her palms to prevent herself reaching out and pulling him towards her, to continue what they started last night. They didn’t have much time before next class, and if she was going to kiss him again she was going to take her damn time learning every inch of him. That plus she really couldn’t afford to be late to any more classes. She could just hear her excuse now:

“Sorry I’m late Monsieur Pellon, I was busy making out with Chat Noir in our art cupboard.”

Yeah. Maybe not.

“Hmm, and whose fault is it that we only have a few minutes before we need to leave?” she teased, arching her eyebrow. He wasn’t pouting before, but he certainly was now. Right on cue, the warning bell rang, alerting the students of the need to make their way to afternoon classes, “I’ll tell you the clue on patrol tonight instead ok?”

He sighed, giving a resigned half shrug, but smiling at the idea of their meeting that evening. Sunsets were much more romantic than art cupboards after all. That, and the knowledge that she was definitely going to give him another clue, made his heart turn over happily in his chest. Tiny pinpricks of electricity flittered through his veins. He wrapped an arm around her waist, stalling when he heard her gasp. This was so new and, though a part of him relished in finally winning Ladybug’s affections, another part of him was desperately worried that he was going to screw it up somehow.

His doubts were dashed when she shuffled towards him, pressing her body into his and shyly tilting her chin up. God he loved her- this powerful, adorable, dazzling woman- and wanted nothing more than to kiss her again.

But they were out of time.

“At least I was able to see you today,” he conceded. Their eyes met, both of them thinking the exact same thing. Perhaps they had already seen each other.

Quite suddenly, a look crossed Ladybug’s face which garnered Chat’s curiosity. She seemed both nervous and excited, like a particularly dangerous idea had crossed her mind and she didn’t know whether or not to act on it.

“Hey,” she whispered, “You know I trust you right?”

Of course he knew that, but her saying it still had the same effect as a swift blow to the back of his head. Chat blinked at her, half-dazed, half love-struck. He nodded dumbly.

“Close your eyes.”

Still not catching on, he did as Ladybug requested, finding it endlessly endearing when he felt a rush of air tickling his face. She’d obviously waved her hand in front of his eyes to check that they were closed. Chat was about to ask her what she had planned, when she spoke once more. Her voice was small, her closeness heightened now that he had one less sense to rely on. The feel of her in his arms, warmth passing between them, the smell of flowers in her hair, the sound of her light breathing. It was too much and not enough.

“Don’t open them, promise?”

Chat froze. Realisation of what she was about to do hit him like a bullet.

He kept his promise.

Even as he felt the rush of energy, saw the bright pink glow of her transformation from behind his closed eyelids, he still refused to open his eyes. Every ounce of his will was concentrated on not doing the thing he so desperately wanted to do; to gaze upon her, to see who she really was underneath the mask, to confirm or dash his suspicions.

As Tikki floated wordlessly to Marinette’s discarded purse, Marinette surveyed her partner. Outside of her mask Chat looked the same, yet completely different. Hers, yet not hers. Ladybug’s, not Marinette’s.

She hoped they’d fix that someday soon. She wanted to be his, she wanted all the sides of him as much as he wanted all the sides of her.

As if to reaffirm that promise, Marinette lifted herself up, placing a hand on his shoulder to balance herself, gently brushing her lips against his own. She heard him inhale sharply, felt his eyes squeezing tighter, and her resolve almost gave out. Pulling away, she swallowed the words which threatened to escape her lips “open your eyes Chat, it’s me.”

It wasn’t the time for that.

However, she couldn’t fight the alternative words resting on her tongue.

“I’m a final year student,” she confessed, trailing her hand up to one of his cat ears to give it a loving scratch. She heard him groan unintentionally (if the sudden burst of colour on his cheeks was of any indication). Having to fight to ignore the coil-like sensation in her stomach, which made her whole body shudder in response to his groan, was harder than fighting any akuma. “See you tonight, mon minou.”

The feeling of calling him such an endearing pet name, outside her transformation, was enough to make them both euphoric. Unable to help herself, she swooped in for one last kiss (this time on his cheek). Grabbing her bag, she ran for the door, sprinting to her next class.

Back inside the art closet, a de-transformed Adrien stared at the closed door, fingers at his lips. His eyes were wide as he turned her clue over in his mind. He barely heard Plagg’s teasing comments, it was as though there were layers of sound-proof glass between them. The final bell rang, but Adrien ignored the fact that he was now late to class. There were far more important things to consider.

She’s in the same year as me. She just kissed me outside of her mask. TWICE.

“See you tonight, my lady,” he whispered.

An involuntary squeal erupted from the back of his throat. Plagg rolled his eyes in disgust.


 

Maybe some of her Ladybug-luck had lingered, because Marinette managed to stumble into class just as the final bell rang. Her legs still felt detached from her body after her encounter with Chat. It was a miracle she hadn’t fallen down earlier.

Monsieur Pellon sat at his desk, drinking coffee from a comically large mug. If he’d noticed Marinette’s squeak as she face-planted onto the paint stained floor, he certainly didn’t give any indication. The rest of the class were used to her falling or tripping by now, so they remained unfazed. Scrambling to her feet, she hurried over to her table and collapsed into the hard plastic stool. A puff of air burst from her lips and she buried her face in her hands.

“You ok Marinette?”

Peeking out from behind her fingers, she spotted Nathanael smiling sympathetically at her from his spot by her side. Lowering her hands, she nodded faintly, and set to work unpacking her sketch book and pencils.

Monsieur Pellon stood up from his desk, ancient bones creaking as he did so. He shot them all a wry grin, scratching his wiry, silver hair. Marinette was always reminded of an owl whenever he looked at them with his round, yellowish eyes.

“Well I should think you’re all ready to hear what your final project titles are,” He wheezed, a beam spreading across his face as he rubbed his wrinkled hands together. That was the funny thing about Monsieur Pellon. Although he was old (having come back from retirement after his wife died) he never seemed to lose enthusiasm for his subject, and always found something good in his students’ work. In short, he was the type of teacher who earned the respect of his pupils by being honest, fair in his constructive criticisms, and by being a generally caring person. Marinette adored him and, trying to actually be a good student for a change, wiggled towards the edge of her seat as he revealed the short list of potential titles to choose from.

She could freak out about Chat Noir later. She probably wouldn’t stop freaking out about Chat Noir later.

“This lesson is free for you to experiment with the different titles,” Monsieur Pellon explained, “If you need any advice I’m here to give it, but really at this point I’d suggest trusting your instincts. You’ve all done well for surviving this far!” The class chuckled, “So go on! Chop, chop!”

As Marinette set about making spider diagrams in her sketch book, brain storming ideas for the various titles until something stuck, she noticed Nathanael hadn’t moved.

“Nath?” She prodded his arm and he jerked backwards with a start.

“Wha- umm- oh sorry,” he stammered, causing her to frown. He hadn’t acted like this for years. Nath’s confidence had only grown as they’d gotten older. Yet, even in her blissfully brain-addled state, she could tell something was wrong. He kept glancing at his phone.

Suddenly, something in Marinette’s mind clicked. She wanted to kick herself.

“You don’t find out today do you?” She asked quietly, biting her lip in suspense. For the past year, Nathanael had gone on and on about a foundation year at a prestigious art college in London, and how much he wanted to go there. It would mean that he and his boyfriend Louis (a first year history student at ENS Paris) would have to go long-distance but neither of them seemed to fret too much over it. London was only a couple of hours on the train and, as Nath had explained one day, it could be very cheap if you knew how to look for the right deals.

The thing causing him the most anxiety was the final stage interview. A couple of months ago, he’d had go to the university itself, dragging his massive portfolio across the channel to present it in front of a dreaded committee. Marinette shuddered at the very idea. He was due to find out if he’d gotten a place soon but, in all the extra-excitement of her life since Sunday, she’d completely forgotten about it.

“Any day now,” Nathanael uttered, swiping a finger across his phone with a jittery huff, “My mum’s on standby waiting to see if I get an acceptance letter through the post. She said she’d call me if we get anything.”

He rested his chin on the table, staring at his phone with a gaze that burned almost as red as his hair. Marinette giggled.

“You know a watched phone never rings.”

“That’s not the saying Mari, and you know it,” he complained, burying his head onto the table completely.

“Oh come on, you know you got in. Just relax and do your art stuff, Evillustrator.”

The nickname had its intended effect. He shot up, ram-rod straight.

“Mari… that’s not funny,” but he was smiling nonetheless.

Marinette grinned and tapped his nose with her pencil, grateful they’d been able to get over the awkwardness of last summer. Louis has helped a great deal in that regard.

“Although I guess my old powers could have come in handy at the interview,” he mused, finally setting to work. Marinette had to bite down on her lips to prevent herself from laughing outright. She didn’t want to disturb her fellow artists after all. However, the image of Chat and herself travelling to London on the Eurostar, to fight a re-akumatised Nathanael, tickled her. That would certainly be an adventure.

Her mind, of course, couldn’t leave well enough alone. It had to extrapolate further, and so- for the next few minutes- Marinette’s mind tortured her with several fantasies. A de-masked Chat Noir, leading her around London. He’d drag her to all the famous landmarks by day, and revisit them with her in the dead of night. Masks on, they’d find a secluded spot amongst the arches of Westminster Abbey, or maybe the London Eye, or sneak inside Tower Bridge…

It was just as her thoughts lingered on a particularly racy image of her and Chat atop Big Ben; cold night air whipping their faces, tongues tied, bodies tangled, did she hear her phone buzz.

A firework might as well have exploded right in front of their faces, Marinette thought, at least judging by Nathanael’s reaction. He immediately abandoned his pencil, swan dived across the desk towards his phone, and almost dropped it several times. About three seconds after this spectacular display, he turned to Marinette, who waved her phone at him with an apologetic chuckle. He groaned.

“I’m not really sure I can survive the week,” he mumbled, getting back to work, although Marinette noticed his lines were a lot shakier now. Making a mental note to bring him something from the bakery for their next lesson, Marinette busied herself with checking her messages. A notification had popped up from the group chat she had with Alya, Nino and Adrien, and she smiled as she opened the message.

Nino: AAAAH GUYS! Free house for the evening! Parents are going to meet-the-teacher evening at bros school and then a date after that!!! Bro is at his buddies house. Your all coming around after school.

Soon after, a message pinged up on her screen from Alya, and Marinette added her own response.

Alya: *You’re ;) and hell yeah that sounds like fun! Count me in babe! But bad news guys, still was able to find sweet fa in the library. Study sesh was a total bust, shoulda gone to Starbucks or something :(

Marinette: I’m in! Sounds like a fun time. Can’t stay all night though- gotta get this new art project started T__T Also I need to change my shirt before we go.

(Of course she wasn’t doing any homework tonight, as it was patrol, but making out with Chat Noir counted as art right?)

Her phone buzzed again. Nathanael looked as though he was about to have a coronary, so she decided to be merciful and put her phone on silent mode.

Alya: Oh yeah how was meeting the teacher?

The memory of wrapping her arms around Chat Noir, bodies lightly pressed together, the gasp from his lips as she’d kissed him sans mask, forced her heartbeat to double its pace.

Marinette: It went fine.

She was pretty sure she was going to hell. Yup. Definitely going to hell.

Finally, a message from Adrien popped up on the screen. Marinette had assigned a little heart next to his name and she beamed at his message, peering over her sketch book at her phone.

Adrien: I’m in! I have a few hours to kill before my piano lesson. I’m still so sorry about your shirt Marinette! Do you want me to get it dry cleaned for you? He’d attached at least three crying emoji’s to his message, each one causing Marinette’s stomach to try and escape through her oesophagus.

Marinette: It’s ok! Nothing that a quick qwash can’t fix.
Marinette: *wash

Why do I STILL stumble over words, even in text form? Marinette sighed.

Nino: Dude what did you do to her shirt?!

Adrien: I bought the girls iced coffee to say thanks for their study session, and I accidentally spilled them both on Marinette outside the library.

Nino: BWAHAHAHA! Oh man! I love you bro but you have been seriously bugging today. Anyway guys, will meet you at the front of school at final bell. HUGS!

Alya: <3 Quiet now, I’m sleeping. XXX

Nino: Aren’t you in English?

Alya: You try staying awake during your third read-through of Macbeth. I dare you. Unless you can keep me awake? ;)

Marinette: Save it for your PMs you animals!!!! :O

Marinette scoffed at Nino’s odd choice of words. Bugging. It was definitely one which he’d picked up from spending so much time around Alya. Still she couldn’t help but feel lighter at the prospect of sharing some down time with her favourite people in the world…

Excluding Chat of course.

Well…

She shook her head; however, the comparisons were stronger than they’d ever been. Adrien and Chat. Marinette highlighted one of the art titles as she finally decided which one to pursue, ideas springing forth almost as rapidly as her thoughts about the two (or one?) blonde boy in her life. She could scarcely make sense of it. She knew Chat Noir went to her school now. That narrowed down who Chat could be by a significant margin, but it still wasn’t enough to determine his identity exactly.

But what if the two were one and the same? Marinette chewed her pencil, staring at the clock above as it ticked by slowly. The sounds of low chatter and granite pencils against rough sketch paper surrounded her, calmed her even as she dared to truly consider the possibility for the first time. What if Adrien Agreste really was her partner? What if he really was Chat Noir?

Did she want him to be?

Not once, in the entire time she’d known him, had Adrien ever shown the slightest interest in her as more than friends. Could that have been because he had feelings for Ladybug? Marinette knew Adrien had once had a little crush on her superhero alter-ego, but she’d always thought it was a simple celebrity crush and nothing else. Hence why she’d never completely freaked out over it. Lots of boys crushed over Ladybug, and Chat had a large group of fans that had only grown in years since his growth spurt. Adrien became adorably reserved whenever Nino would tease him about it so Marinette had never considered it further. She was also quite sure Adrien had never had a girlfriend (Alya or Nino would have found out and told her surely?) But still what if his crush on Ladybug was more than a crush? What if it was because he was Chat? Maybe she’d have felt more secure about the idea, if she’d know Adrien was even remotely attracted to her in some way.

‘Don’t you see? Chat Noir likes both sides of you! Otherwise he wouldn’t have almost kissed you last night!’ Tikki’s voice reminded her. Despite her doubts, a faint smile began to blossom on her lips. Her heart glowed almost as warmly as it did when Chat’s arms enveloped her.

Truth be told, she didn’t quite know how to feel. Terrified, amazed, dubious, awe-struck by her own daring thoughts, the list went on and on. Regardless, she definitely knew one thing; if she kept mulling such crazy ideas over, without making another list, she was going to get a migraine. Resigning herself to forgetting her inner conflict, at least for now, Marinette set her phone down- determined to get a head start on her project, now she’d chosen a title...

That was until her phone lit up once again. She peered over curiously, she’d assumed the group chat had been put to rest for the time being.

Marinette stopped chewing her pencil. It dangled limply from her lips, eventually clattering to the table top. Nathanael glanced curiously at her. She didn’t notice.

It wasn’t their group chat.

It was a direct message.

From Adrien.

 

Chapter Text

Marinette slammed her phone onto the table, startling Nathaneal.

“Mari, everything ok?”

Her lips thinned until they almost disappeared, her brain had completely flat-lined. After a few seconds of stone-faced silence, she face-planted onto the desk, a high-pitched whine escaping her lips. Nathanael leaned over to peer at her screen. He chuckled.

“Huh. Looks like I get to say told-you-so to Alix,” he smiled to himself, returning to his work as Marinette sat bolt-upright. She hadn’t heard a word he’d said. A million questions flooded her mind, swirling like a vortex until she felt lightheaded. Her hands gripped the table, skin digging deep into the worn pine edges.

Why was Adrien sending her a direct message? He’d done it before, and it always threw her into panic-mode, but all he’d ever asked were questions about homework or school. He also had a habit of sending memes to people in a mass text. It was as endearing as it was annoying. She’d lost count of the amount of times she’d had a heart attack over what turned out to be nothing but a silly joke.

It’s probably another meme, it’s probably one of his mass texts, it’s nothing major…it’s definitely not because Adrien is secretly Chat Noir and he’s figured out I’m Ladybug. That would be totally insane. That’s never going to happen. Adrien isn’t Chat Noir. He isn’t.

Marinette repeated the mantra over and over in her head, aware that she was losing her mind, but unable to help the shiver that went straight through her. Trembling fingers reached for her phone. However, she left Adrien’s text unopened, deciding to consult the one person who she knew would help set her head right.

Marinette: Alya

No response. Marinette typed out another text. This time more forcibly, as if the added pressure of her fingers would increase the speed at which Alya replied.

Marinette: ALYA

After thirty seconds, Alya still hadn’t text her back, and Marinette was ready to hurl her phone into the sun.

Marinette: ALYA, either wake up or stop sexting your boyfriend for ONE SECOND! THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!

At last, Alya responded.

Alya: I am doing neither of those things. I am a good and upstanding student
Alya: ;) ;) ;) what’s up?

Marinette: ALYA ADRIEN IS TEXTING ME! HE SENT ME A DM! I haven’t opened it yet I’m too scared to. What do I do?!??!?

Alya: ;) eyyy

Marinette: ALYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Alya: Ok ok calm down. We’ve been through this before xx
Alya: Just open the damn text. It’s Adrien. It’s not like he’s sent you a dick pic or anything. It’s probably just another meme.

Marinette let out a low whistling noise from the back of her throat, which sounded rather like a puppy being denied his favourite chew toy. Honestly, she was having trouble deciding who was more likely to kill her first. Would it be Adrien, Chat, Alya, or Hawkmoth?

She made a note to give Nino extra cookies from the bakery. He never put her through this. Nino was like her cuddly, supportive brother. But she couldn’t text him about this. Adrien was his best friend. It was bad enough Nino knew about her crush to begin with. She didn’t want to put him in the middle of things, or risk Adrien finding out how much she was freaking out over him.

Deciding to ignore the dick pic comment (and the mental images it entailed- the very bad but also very good, but also VERY BAD mental images), she instead focused on summoning her courage enough to open the text.

Fixing the phone with a stare so intense it could have melted the protective case, Marinette inhaled through her nose. So much for being a good, focused student (she made a vow to make the time up later, boys be damned she was NOT going to screw up her final grade).

Well, here goes nothing-

She opened the text from Adrien, her breath baited, arms pinned to her sides.

He’d sent her a photo of cute little otter. That was all. Just an otter. A very sweet otter, but an otter nonetheless. Its tiny paws covered its eyes and its head was dipped low, as if it were shy about something. Marinette breathed a sigh of relief tempered with disappointment, and typed out a text to Alya.

Marinette: You were right. It was just a meme. I take it you got it too?

Alya: Nope. Guess it was a meme made specially for you ;) awwwww he likes you! See? I knew it! About time too cause I have SO many double date ideas planned you have no idea.

Marinette blushed, her heart racing as she went back to the image. In her haste to open the message, she’d missed the text at the bottom of the photo. A meme just for her? It was disgusting how happy that made her. Not for the first time did she consider seeking professional help. She was clearly out of her mind.

The text underneath the cute otter read: ‘Sorry I’m so otterly silly!’

Marinette puffed out her cheeks with the effort of trying not to laugh. At least now she knew why he’d sent her a direct message. To apologise again for the iced coffee on her shirt (which wasn’t going to stain thanks to her father who, after years of working in a bakery, was a master of removing various stains from clothes). It really wasn’t fair. He was too cute, making goofy puns, being gentlemanly and silly. She’d long ago decided to stop putting Adrien on a pedestal, during the first time she’d tried to forget her crush on him, and moments like this helped.

After all, she’d told him she liked dorks. She hadn’t been lying.

Humming to herself, pink tongue poking out in concentration, Marinette responded to Adrien’s text.


Five minutes.

It had been at least five minutes since Adrien had sent that text to her and she hadn’t responded yet.

Idiot, idiot, idiot! He cursed himself, you should have been sincere and offered up a proper apology instead of a joke- she probably doesn’t think you’re seriously sorry about ruining her shirt. Good one Agreste. Really top notch thinking there.

He tried concentrating on the tricky maths sum his teacher had given him, as an extension for finishing his other work, but it was impossible. The numbers and symbols switched places as he blinked heavily, focusing and unfocusing. He ran an irritated hand through his hair in frustration.

Truth be told he’d just wanted any excuse to talk to her. Marinette.

It could be her.

Marinette and Ladybug both went to his school. Both wanted to work in fashion. Both liked pink. Both were beautiful, smart, funny. Both had dark hair and blue eyes. There were a few other girls it could be, but his mind kept going back to her, and promptly melting into a puddle of goo when he recalled all of the kisses he’d shared with Ladybug.

…The idea that he could have been kissing Marinette.

Adrien felt heat rise in his cheeks and pressed his palms into them, squishing his face. He was thankful he’d had the foresight to hide in the back corner row of the class. At least there nobody could see the utter fool he was making of himself. No, only Marinette currently held that luxury.

Just as he was about to snap, and send a text apologising for his apology, his phone buzzed.

It was Marinette. She’d replied.

Adrien opened the text, bracing himself for the angry, the incredulous, the disappointed response. Really he deserved it.

Instead, she’d sent a photo of what looked like an adorable dolphin, but with a squishy face. A different type of dolphin-like animal maybe? It looked like it was smiling. Adrien frowned. This wasn’t what he’d been expecting at all. What did she mean by it?

His phone buzzed once more, another text from Marinette.

Marinette: That’s ok! I know you didn’t do it on porpoise ^_^

Adrien read the text. And re-read it. And read it again.

He slumped back in his seat, his face redder than ever. The phrase ‘soulmate’ popped into his mind.

Woah, calm down Agreste. You don’t know for certain that she’s Ladybug yet.

Adrien thought for a moment. He didn’t want to seem stupid. These texts mattered. Putting a road block on any fantasies of Marinette being Ladybug aside, he considered his next words carefully.

Adrien: Really? Well I’m turtley in debt to you anyway! I’ll buy you another iced coffee on the way to Nino’s, and Alya too!

The reply was almost instant.

Marinette: Really? Thank you! You don’t have to though. But owl be very grateful if you do!

SOULMATE ALERT, SOULMATE ALERT. CODE RED THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Adrien: Wow Mari, I didn’t know you were such a punster. I’m pheasantly surprised!

He hoped he sounded casual in his responses, considering all he wanted to do was roll around on the floor and scream. Much like one of the fangirls who’d tried to mug him that summer he spent in Italy. Adrien’s cheeks were beginning to ache from how hard he was smiling, but he couldn’t rid himself of it if he tried.

He wasn’t accounting for Marinette’s response.

Marinette: Maybe there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.

The smile vanished from his face in an instant. His heart stopped. It felt as though he’d been rammed head-first into a wall (and he knew exactly what that felt like, as he’d experienced the feeling numerous times as Chat Noir). His breath whistled past his teeth as he sucked in oxygen, desperate for the air which seemed to get stuck halfway down his throat.

What could he say to that? Was he reading too much into it? He was probably reading too much into it. After all, it was true. There were lots of things he didn’t know about her, despite being friends for years.

Like if she was Ladybug, if she preferred coffee dates or movie dates, how she liked to be kissed…

Stop that brain, stop it right now. You’re jumping to conclusions. What if she isn’t Ladybug? How are you going to feel then?

Adrien spent a good three minutes typing, deleting, and re-typing a text before he eventually pressed send, debating the whole time. Should he send it with a smile emoji, or a winking emoji? Or no emoji at all? No- no emoji was too strange. Kisses? No. No way. Not until he knew for sure that she was his Lady. As much as his heart was currently beating for Marinette, his kisses were still reserved for Ladybug and Ladybug alone.

A shiver of anticipation shot through him like a bolt of lightning, jolting his senses.

Adrien: Well if it’s as good as finding out how well you pun then I’m looking forward to discovering more about you :)

She took five minutes to reply again. It felt like five thousand years.

Marinette: Haha! Well you’ll have to discover it after class! My teacher’s giving me a disapproving eyebrow raise right now, he’s seen me texting and not doing work. Don’t want to let him down, especially cause he hates confiscating phones but he will. He’s one of the cool ones! Sorry… :(

Adrien: Hey no worries! I should really be getting on with my work too. But my brain is all fried -_-

Marinette: Wow fried? I thought you were a model! You’re not supposed to have anything fried right? ;)

Adrien snickered, causing a few heads to turn in his direction. He dipped his own head low, sheepishly avoiding eye contact with everyone and ever-grateful his teacher was so laid back.

Marinette: Anyways, ttyl! Looking forward to Nino’s! ^_^

Adrien: Ttyl! :D

Thus concluded the greatest text conversation he’d ever had.


 

The sun blazed down on the beaten pavements, not a cloud in sight. Marinette’s iced coffee was severely watered down by the rapidly melting ice cubes, but it still tasted like the greatest thing in the world. Especially when it was so hot. She tried to savour every last bit of it, playing with the straw between her teeth and tongue, as the four made their way towards Nino’s house.

It was the kind of lazy summer afternoon that seemed to be a sweet dream; a haze of dappled light from the tree-lined streets, the sounds of tyres driving along hot roads, the screams of children playing nearby. Marinette smiled to herself, content, as she adjusted the straps of her newly replaced vest top.

Adrien, however, was going to have a mental breakdown if she didn’t stop doing that thing with her mouth and tongue soon.

“Ugh walking was a mistake,” Nino grumbled, wiping his brow with a huff, “we should’ve just taken the metro.”

“Oh come on hun, cheer up! It’s such a beautiful day!” Alya replied, stepping ahead of the group so she could twirl dramatically. The ice in her own coffee rattled against the plastic. Nino watched her, fondness softening his features as he chuckled. Marinette, too, began to laugh at her solar-powered friend. It was one of Alya’s most endearing qualities, how happy sunny weather made her. Even if it was just a glimpse of sunlight peeking behind clouds, she’d suddenly gain double the amount of energy, “besides we’re almost there!”

Nino hurried to catch up with her, slipping his hand into Alya’s and leaving the other two alone. When Adrien wasn’t watching, Alya turned back and quickly winked at Marinette.

Marinette rolled her eyes even as Adrien stepped closer to her, their arms brushing. She slurped on her coffee, trying desperately to ignore the sensation of his warm skin against her own.

It could not be ignored.

“Hey, I have a question for you,” Adrien said, his tone perfectly neutral. At least his question did the job of making her lips leave the straw alone for a moment. His heart could only take so much.

“Yes?” She replied with a curious gaze in his direction. Adrien coughed and turned away, remembering Ladybug’s words from the night before. He’d jumped straight from playing with fire to pretty much leaping into it headfirst.

“You seemed really defensive of Chat Noir the other day,” He began, despairing as he spotted her sucking on her straw again. He continued to speak, his voice a lot more strangled than before, “I was just wondering…are you a Chat Noir fangirl?”

Marinette nearly choked to death on said straw. She turned to Adrien with wild, shocked eyes. He tried to keep his face as blank and model-like as possible.

“A fangirl? Of Chat? NO!” And then she laughed, the kind of surprised, uproarious laughter that can only happen when you’ve been asked a ridiculous question. It wasn’t the delicate, ladylike laughter he heard at the events his father forced him to go to. It wasn’t soft, like a little tinkling bell. Marinette’s laughter shook her shoulders, had her wrapping her free hand around her stomach in-between snorts. Her eyes crinkled and her dimples deepened. Adrien felt like he should be embarrassed by his question, but he was too busy falling fast and falling hard.

Falling…

Oh god he was. He was falling for her. He was falling for Marinette.

And he didn’t even know for certain that she was Ladybug yet.

It’s just a crush, she’s cute, it’s just a crush, she’s cute, IT’S JUST A CRUSH, SHE’S CUTE.

“Ah s-sorry,” Marinette apologised, oblivious to Adrien’s inner freak-out as she wiped a wayward tear from her eye, “that probably sounded rude. No, I just really admire him that’s all.”

Adrien stopped panicking for a moment, his thoughts silenced themselves for once, and he tilted his head at her curiously. It was really strange, to hear her talk about him (Chat) like this. It was strange to hear himself talk about himself like this. His head was beginning to feel like he’d downed Marinette’s iced coffee himself in one big gulp.

“Admire him?”

“Well of course! You know we worked together one time right? When Nathanael was akumatised,” Marinette recalled, watching Alya kiss Nino’s cheek, the pair of them chuckling over some secret couple joke. Her heart flipped, yearning for something like that for herself. She sighed.

“Yeah, but you never really told me about it,” Adrien countered fairly.

“Lots of people tried to ask me about it, Alya even wanted to interview me when she found out, but I didn’t really want the attention,” She shrugged, swirling the remnants of her iced coffee absent-mindedly, before throwing it in a nearby bin, “I just told everyone what Chat was like, and left it at that. They seemed happy.”

Adrien swallowed, his tongue suddenly dry. He’d wished he’d bought himself something at the coffee shop.

“And…what did you tell them?”

A small, mischievous smile fought to control Marinette’s mouth. She tempered it before Adrien noticed the twinkle in her eyes.

“Oh you know, that he was a total flirt. Utterly shameless,” she started, elongating her syllables. Counting on her fingers, she listed all of Chat’s qualities, “playful, silly, kind of a goof you know.”

Adrien’s heart sank.

“I see.”

“But, and this part was really important to me,” Adrien’s ears quirked when Marinette continued, he watched her gaze at him softly, “he was also a perfect gentleman- he never went too far or pushed any boundaries you know- and he was a complete badass too, with that baton thingy of his. He was also brave, smart, and completely focused on making sure I was safe first and foremost. Basically he was the epitome of a what you’d expect a superhero to be. I wouldn’t admire him if he wasn’t.”

“I see,” Adrien said again, suddenly feeling as though his feet were treading on clouds rather than hard concrete. They rounded the corner and finally made it to Nino’s apartment complex. Nino unlocked to wrought iron doors, leaving them open for Adrien and Marinette to pass through once they caught up with him. The pair had lagged behind considerably. Adrien found himself wishing they could just keep walking, that this conversation, this perfect summer afternoon, would never end.

Nino’s apartment was spread over the top two floors of a large townhouse. His room was on the top floor, in the attic which his parents had converted once his little brother was born. He’d saved up enough to soundproof it, so his family could be spared from his constant music making. The room itself was an organised mess, a jumble of various instruments and comic books strewn about. His deck was in the corner and the off-white walls were adorned with posters from various concerts he’d attended.

Alya flopped down onto the large bed, arms spread wide as she peered up at the skylight, sighing with relief. Marinette kicked off her shoes and settled into one of the two bean bag chairs, crossing her legs as she did so. Adrien sat in the other one. The bean bag chairs were a gift from one of Nino’s cousins, after said cousin graduated from university. For some strange reason, they always smelled like cheese pizza, no matter how many times Nino had cleaned them.

“Anyone want any snacks speak now or forever hold your peace,” Nino said, leaning against the door frame, “because once my ass is on that bed, I’m not getting up again unless the ice cream truck rolls by.”

“I’m ok Nino, thanks!” Marinette replied with a gentle wave.

“Nah, the coffee did the job- thanks again Adrien.”

“No problem Alya, and bro you got any more of them biscuits from your uncle? Those were awesome,” Adrien asked Nino, rolling his shoulder back with a frown. Nino stared at him.

“Nah Julien ate them all, the pig that he is. What’s up with your shoulder?” Nino asked as Marinette stood up, padding across the room towards something which caught her eye.

“Hurt it at a shoot the other day from standing funny. Don’t worry, not the underwear shoot,” Adrien hastened to say, as a guilty look crossed Nino’s face. He knew Nino felt bad over the extra harassment he’d gotten since the underwear photos hit the public, and didn’t want him to feel worse. After all, he’d been the one to agree to the bet in the first place and it was his fault alone that he’d lost it.

“You want me to massage them for you?” Nino asked and Adrien instantly perked up, Nino’s shoulder massages were legendary. He’d heard that Kim had bought Nino lunches for a month, after the former had pulled a muscle during a hard-core gym session.

“Hey I’m the girlfriend!” Alya teased, sitting up with a playful pout, “I should get first dibs on shoulder rubs!”

Nino traipsed over to her shooting back a wolfish grin, in response to Adrien’s look of betrayal.

“Sorry dude. You don’t make out with me, she does,” He laughed, kneeling on the bed and gently brushing Alya’s thick hair from her shoulders. She smiled triumphantly.

“You never asked,” Adrien grumbled, standing up to stretch instead. He’d forgotten how weird it was to sit in a bean bag chair, especially with achy model muscles.

“Bro, just say the word,” Nino countered waggling his eyebrows. Alya giggled.

Marinette, on the other hand, chose to keep her mouth shut, wondering if kissing Adrien was really as easy as just asking. Like I could ask without getting tongue tied anyway.

“Maybe someday you’ll love me like that,” Alya said rolling her eyes as she peered up at Nino. He responded by leaning over to kiss her forehead.

“Nino,” Marinette called curiously, “what’s this?”

In her arms she carried a large, taped-together contraption. Several smaller nerf guns attached to a large one with a cross-bow nerf gun balanced on the top. It was so large Marinette could barely hold it.

Nino’s eyes widened.

“Mari, put that down. Seriously. I confiscated that from Julien, that thing almost took out mum’s vase. You have no idea what it can do,” He rasped, his hands stalling on Alya’s shoulders. Adrien eyed the giant nerf monstrosity. It looked like it could fall apart at any moment.

“Ok, ok,” Marinette giggled, clearly not taking his threats seriously, “fine I’ll put it down, just let me-”

It happened in slow motion. The guns slipped from her grasp and tumbled to the floor, bursting from their sticky-taped restraints. This set off the crossbow and one of the small pistols. Both nerf pellets went straight for Nino and Alya, who couldn’t duck out of the way quick enough. Marinette’s mouth widened in horror as one of the bullets hit Alya in the eye, the other landed squarely in the centre of Nino’s forehead.

The pair leapt backwards, clutching their faces with separate cries of shock and anger.

“Guys I’m so sorry I didn’t mean it!” Marinette yelped waving her hands in surrender. Her apologies fell on deaf ears. Alya scowled at her.

“Oh IT. IS. ON NOW!” She yelled, leaping forward to grab two guns, passing one of them to Nino. Both of them aimed straight for Marinette. She squeaked and stumbled backwards, bracing her arms to shield herself from the onslaught of bullets.

A strong hand wrapped around her bicep, tugging her off to the side. She looked up and saw Adrien standing between herself, and Alya and Nino, shieling her. Her breath caught as he looked over his shoulder at her.

“Run! I’ll get the guns! Find us some cover!”

She didn’t need to be told twice. Marinette ducked her head and dashed for the door, racing down the narrow staircase and searching around for suitable cover for herself and Adrien. From upstairs, she heard some playful shouts, which sounded like Nino and Adrien wrestling for the crossbow. Finally, she settled on leaping behind the living room sofa, holding her breath in wait.

The nerf war had officially begun.

Chapter Text

 

Adrien vaulted over the sofa, landing softly next to Marinette, a triumphant look on his face as he brandished his newly won crossbow. Marinette beamed up at him, quickly tucking back behind the sofa, crouching low. Her new partner followed suit. Every nerve in her body felt electrified. She shivered, half anticipatory, half wildly amused by their current predicament.

“I got you these,” Adrien whispered proudly, whipping two nerf pistols from his belt with all the grace and charm as a child playing tag. It was so hopelessly endearing that Marinette felt dizzy. Their fingers brushed as she took the guns from him, and her heart flipped traitorously in her chest at the skin-to-skin contact, remembering that she (for all intents and purposes, no matter what suspicions she held) had been kissing another guy earlier that same day.

Ignoring the guilt, Marinette chose not to look for Adrien’s reaction. Instead, she surveyed her new weapons.

“Duel wielding, I like it…thank you,” she replied, her eyes widening when she noticed an extra feature on the guns, “whoa are those laser pointers?”

Before she could test them out, Adrien’s hand snapped onto hers, gently preventing her from taking aim.

“Ah- let’s not use those,” he stammered, unable to control the slight panic in his voice, remembering Plagg was nearby in his school bag. He hoped he was asleep. Still, if the Kwami discovered the laser pointers (based on what happened the first and definitely last time he’d ever tried it) the cat would literally be out of the bag. He couldn’t let that happen.

When Marinette tilted her head at him, gazing at him with her large curious eyes, he became acutely aware of his hand resting on top of hers. He pulled it away, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly, “we- we don’t want to give our location away right?”

Marinette’s eyebrows crinkled and suddenly Adrien had the feeling he was being sized up. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence in his life; being a model, he was sized up every day. But this was different. It wasn’t his looks that were being picked apart under the gaze of another. This, the way she was looking at him, made him far more nervous than any top designer or photographers poking and prodding ever could. He gulped.

And then she smiled, a faint pink tinge to her cheeks. Marinette shuffled backwards, sitting back as she tried to listen for any signs of Alya and Nino.

“Ok, no laser pointers,” she agreed, and Adrien heaved a quiet sigh of relief. She tried not to giggle.

Cats go crazy for laser pointers she thought, then shook her head roughly, no stop that brain!

Adrien was about to ask what their plan of attack or defence was, when a loud battle screech echoed around the room.

“ATTAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!”

Nino and Alya had managed to sneak downstairs without them knowing. Adrien grit his teeth, heart leaping in panic at his friends’ triumphant poses on either side of the sofa. Without thinking, he hurled himself forward, rolling out of the way of the nerf bullets. He planted a palm on the floor and launched upwards, surprised (and yet not surprised at all) that Marinette was already standing by his side. All four of them turned their guns on each other; Adrien’s crossbow pointed at Nino, Nino’s large blaster gun at Marinette, Alya’s tri-strike at Adrien, and Marinette’s duel pistols at Alya. They stood stock still.

“Ok pals, we can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Adrien said, trying to keep the laughter out of his voice. Marinette smiled, her chest warming at his words, although she was unsure as to why.

“What’s the matter Agreste? You scared?” Alya mocked, holding her gun up higher, aiming at his head. Marinette, in retaliation, thrust her guns further in Alya’s direction.

“Give me a reason Césaire,” She growled a mock threat and, despite knowing it was fake- that it was just a game, Adrien’s heart fluttered at her protectiveness.

“You wouldn’t DARE hurt my girl Dupain-Cheng,” Nino warned, the worst poker face of them all, his face lit up with boyish glee. Alya rolled her eyes fondly.

Adrien watched the quick upturn of Marinette’s lips, the challenge in her stare, how she stood tall and confident. She laughed once, lowly, dangerously, her chin lowered. He wanted to turn away, he wanted to, every reasonable part of his brain telling him to stop ogling this instant. But there was something in her countenance that held him like glue, made his mouth open, made his skin flush hot. His fingers twitched on his crossbow, the grip on it slackening. Then she spoke, confidence oozing from her voice like golden honey, and Adrien almost forgot himself entirely.

“Oh? I wouldn’t dare Lahiffe? Let’s not forgot who the first one to pull the trigger was here hmm? And I’d do it aga-”

Mid speech, she was interrupted by a nerf bullet hitting her temple, and she leapt backwards with a jolt. Alya laughed victoriously, fist pumping. The standoff had officially ended.

It was pandemonium, chaos, insanity. The living room exploded with shouts and cries, grunts and squeals, laughter and yells of outrage. Nerf bullets shot everywhere. Limbs flew as Marinette launched herself at Nino, grabbing him in a headlock and shooting him in the stomach with one pistol, whilst aiming at Alya with the other. But Alya was quick, dodging the bullets in time, only to be in shot in the knee by a nerf dart from Adrien’s crossbow.

“I’M GONNA KILL YOU AGRESTE! PREPARE TO DIE BY NERF FIRE!” Marinette heard Alya roar, Adrien cackling with glee as she chased him around the room, screaming curses, harmless insults and nerf darts his way. Marinette laughed, shooting Nino in the stomach again.

“Sorry-not sorry Alya!” Adrien laughed, breathing erratic as he swooped down to collect some extra darts with which to reload his gun, “but I had to avenge my lady!”

Marinette’s heart stopped.

Her head snapped up to where Alya and Adrien were sparring, the pair of them laughing as though he hadn’t said anything unusual. Alya had a pillow which she was now using as a shield. The pair were using the coffee table as a barrier, circling around it like two birds of prey.

Marinette couldn’t breathe, her grip on Nino subsided, her limbs loosening as her thoughts tightened, digging into her mind like witches’ nails. Did he just say what I think he-no he couldn’t have- I must have imagined it-

“AHA!”

Nino pulled himself free, aiming and shooting at her arm without a second thought. She stumbled backwards, startled out of her reverie with a yelp, the moment forgotten as adrenaline rushed through her.

“REVENGE IS MIIIIINE!” Nino hollered, shooting at her again.

“NO!” suddenly, Adrien was at her side, shielding her like he’d done in Nino’s room, minutes before, “I’ll save you Marinette!”

“Dude what are you talking about? She’s doing a better job than you!” Alya ran towards them, reloading her gun and firing it straight at Adrien’s chest.

Adrien gasped, reaching one arm up to the ceiling, he stumbled backwards, eyes wide.

“Oh no! This is it!” He choked, clutching where the foam bullet had struck, as though he’d been shot with an actual bullet. Kneeling on the ground, and then collapsing entirely, he reached up towards Alya like Caesar to Brutus, “I’m dying! Alya, I thought we were friends!”

“Emphasis on the were,” Alya muttered darkly, even as she couldn’t help the small giggle that escaped her lips. She aimed again whilst Nino clutched his sides, roaring with laughter, “goodnight sweet prince.”

“NU-UH! That’s my prince- I mean PARTNER! That’s my partner you’re shooting at!” Marinette stammered through her threat, garbling the words as she turned progressively redder. She chanced to peek towards Adrien. Unfortunately, his fake-limp body was turned away from her. Curses. She couldn’t tell if he’d heard her. Now how would she know if she needed to bury herself for the next thousand years or not?!

Unbeknownst to her, Adrien had heard. He’d definitely heard, and was having a very difficult time keeping up the fake dead act as a result.

His mask was beginning to slip.

Marinette distracted herself by shooting Alya, who dropped her gun in shock.

“Marinette! You betrayed our sisterly bond! How could you?!” She laughed, falling to the floor to lie beside Adrien’s ‘dead’ body.

“Don’t act like you wouldn’t sell my organs for a chance to spend a day with Ladybug and Chat Noir!” Marinette giggled, “you’re no worse than I am.”

“She’s got you there babe,” Nino reasoned fairly, pointing his gun straight at the back on Marinette’s head “but it’s ok, ‘cause I’ve got her.”

He fired, and Marinette fell to the ground, squealing and laughing all the way down.

“YES!” Nino fist pumped, “I am victorious! I am king of my own house! ALL BOW BEFORE DJ NERF GOD! I-”

The sound of three nerf guns clicking stopped Nino’s victory speech in its tracks. Peering down, mouth slightly agape, his eyes widened at the sight of all three of his fallen friends pointing their guns at him. Nino barely managed a whispered ‘oh shit’ before three nerf bullets hit him at once.

“Well…you know what they say bro,” Adrien chuckled, his tone a very specific one as Nino came to land beside Marinette. It was his ‘I’m about to make a lame joke and I’m proud of it’ tone, which caused everyone to brace themselves, “pride comes before a fall!”

Marinette laughed, but was the only one to do so.

“I would hit you for that, but Marinette is blocking me and also I probably deserve it,” Nino replied, running his hand down his face in exasperation.

The four settled into a comfortable silence, regaining their breath and adjusting to more comfortable positions. Rolling onto their backs, they stared at the cream ceiling above them. The walls in the living room were high, the furniture mostly made up of light colours like Adrien’s house, but he always found it homelier here, more lived in. Like Nino’s room, the rest of his house was a little messy but in a way that made sense. It wasn’t dirty or unkempt, but rather lived in. Adrien liked that, wanted his future home to be like that. The home he’d told Ladybug about.

His eyes shifted to the right, where Marinette was lying beside him. She was staring out into space, lost in thought. Judging by her soft expression, her thoughts must have been pleasant ones. One of the things he liked most about Marinette was how lively, how passionate, how very alive she was. She was so animated, and energetic on a day to day basis that he’d never really seen her looking so calm and content. Not this close anyway. If only he’d had more chances to, because he couldn’t help thinking, however inappropriately, that she looked quite lovely in that moment. Adrien’s hand rested on his stomach, hoping that the warmth from his palm would quell his raging insides. No such luck.

Then, quite suddenly, Marinette’s head turned towards him. Their eyes locked and Adrien inwardly cringed at being caught gawking at her. Her cheeks turned a brilliant shade of red, as she seemed to realise he’d been staring at her too. Yet, she held her gaze firm. She didn’t look away.

Instead, she smiled at him again, warm and gentle, and Adrien’s breath caught at the sight of it. He wanted to return the smile, but found himself unable to do anything but stare at her.

He was wrong. He’d been wrong.

She wasn’t just lovely. She wasn’t just pretty, or cute. She was-

Beautiful, he thought, his eyes widening, truly beautiful.

“So,” Alya voiced from his other side, her voice (though relaxed) cut through the silence like jagged splinters. He blinked and the moment had passed, “now that we’re all dead, does that mean we don’t have to do our history project?”


Marinette clutched her cat pillow, pulling it closer to her chest along with her knees. The evening sun filtered through her room, the light turning low, but not so low as to need a lamp. She buried her lips into the top of the cat cushion’s head, thinking.

“Maybe if I wore it half up, half down?”

Tikki tutted fondly, shaking her head.

“He likes your pigtails; you don’t have to change them!”

“I know,” Marinette replied, suddenly rushing back down the ladder to her mirror. She ran her hands through her loose tresses, stressing herself out more as time went on, “I just want to look nice that’s all.”

“You always look nice!” Tikki countered, landing on her shoulder. Marinette turned to her, all sass as she placed her hands on her hips, channelling her inner Alya.

“Oh really? Even when I’m drooling in my sleep?” she quirked her eyebrow up at her Kwami, amused when Tikki looked away sheepishly.

“Ok it’s hard to look glamourous when you’re drooling! But it’s cute, and your ladybug pigtails will be fine.”

“Maybe just a little makeup?”

“Marinette,” Tikki chided, “we’re going to be late.”

“I promise I’ll be quick Tikki!” indeed she was already rummaging around her desk for a spot of light foundation and a little bit of her lip-gloss, before she remembered the shade she wanted was still in her purse. Dashing across the room, to the spot on the floor where her discarded purse lived, she popped the buttons open and was about to reach for the lip-gloss when she saw her phone.

Without thinking, she picked it up, her fingers skimming across her earlier conversation with Adrien. How daring her text had been…if he was Chat Noir. If not, she’d just sent a random cryptic text like a crazy person. That, surprisingly, didn’t bother her. After all, she’d made many a worse blunder in front of Adrien, in her eyes at least.

What a weird mess her life was becoming. Even more so than usual.

“Hey Tikki,” she called out across to her, “I should be patient right?”

“Yes I do believe that’s what my advice to you was,” Tikki replied, munching on a bit of cookie she’d left uneaten on Marinette’s desk, “why do you ask?”

Marinette gripped her phone a little harder, it shook in her grasp, she looked down.

‘Maybe there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.’
‘Well if it’s as good as finding out how well you pun then I’m looking forward to discovering more about you :)’

She closed her eyes.

Chat… she prayed, I really hope you find me soon. I don’t know how much more of this guessing game I can take. Even if it WAS my idea.

Later that evening, Ladybug stood watching the last rays of vanish over the city, the golden and pink hues of sunset making their way for the cool blues and indigos of twilight. Lights flickered on beneath her, cars and bikes zoomed past on the street below. She inhaled the cooling air, pressing her lips together, the lip-gloss gluing them together for a brief second. This was the evening where they were actually supposed to do a joint patrol, and Chat Noir had yet to show up.

He wasn’t late, she knew that, but the mere fact that she had to wait caused her insides to bubble unpleasantly. Yet another thing she had to be patient with, and honestly she was starting to worry how long it would take for her patience to snap. Shifting from foot-to-foot, she willed herself to take deep breaths, to calm down.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she spotted Chat Noir’s silhouette getting closer and closer.

He landed gracefully beside her, leaning against the chimney with one arm and twirling his belt-tail with the other. He winked.

“Good evening My Lady. You’re looking as lovely as ever,” his tone was light, playful, yet there was an underlying sincerity which made her body tingle. Even so, she still felt a lot calmer than she had before his arrival.

She flicked one of her pigtails, sauntering over to him.

“And you’re looking just as dorky as ever,” she replied fondly, flicking his bell, “come on, we’ve got a city to protect!”

Chat Noir beamed, hurrying to catch up with her. The air seemed lighter, Paris seemed to sparkle, everything in his world seemed to be connecting- a sense of rightness unfolding before his eyes. He stopped for a moment, watching Ladybug perch herself on the edge of the roof.

When she realised Chat wasn’t beside her, Ladybug turned back, briefly flustered by his adoring gaze. She’d seen it so many times, but had never really known the depth of it until a few days ago.

“You coming, Kitty?”

He shook himself out of his reverie, chuckling.

“Always, LB, always,” he said, slipping his hand into hers-

Only to be startled as she yanked it out of his grasp.

“S-sorry,” she stammered, avoiding his eyes, her face matching her mask.

Chat was mortified.

“No! No I’m sorry, I should have asked,” he apologised, kicking himself, “really I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed-”

“Oh, no,” she hastened to correct him, hating to see how he withered, how his cat ears drooped, “no it’s fine! I- I do want to hold your hand but…maybe not in view of the public? I don’t want our privacy to be invaded or anything.”

 Chat stood up taller, his head tilting to the side, his ears no longer drooping. She bit her lip.

“B-but, yeah like I said. I didn’t mind you holding my hand. I just don’t want photos of you holding it to be all over the Ladyblog. I guess I’m totally being selfish,” stop rambling Mari, stop it, “but I want whatever this is to be between us, at least for now, n-not because I’m ashamed of it or I regret it or anything! I just…oh god, I’m making no sense. I’m going to shut up right now.”

Although she could no longer see Chat, as she’d buried her face in her hands, she could certainly hear him chuckle, feel his warmth as he stepped closer.

“You know, it’s clawful that we don’t have a bit of privacy right now,” his voice felt as smooth as satin in her fingers, as soft as the woollen scarfs and hats she’d made last winter, and she peeked up shyly from behind her fingers, “because I’d very much like to kiss you right now.”

Her hands dropped back down to her sides, eyes flicking to his lips. Every fibre of her being screamed at her to close the distance, to kiss him again, publicity be damned. Love, love, love! You LOVE him! Kiss him!

Her voice of reason, the one which sounded like Tikki, told her to control herself.

“Well,” she swallowed thickly, “I’m afraid we’re both going to have to wait for that mon minou.”

Chat brightened.

“So there’s going to be more kissing?” he chirped, eagerly. God help her, why did he have to be so adorable?

“If you keep your tail out of trouble, yes.”

Grabbing said tail, he proceeded to wrap it around himself, offering her a solemn (and completely ridiculous) salute.

“Tail is secure my lady!”

Ladybug nodded, keeping up the act.

“Good, any more questions?” she teased. He shook his head, “then let’s head out!”

And they were off, racing across the rooftops, settling into the friendly banter that was common of their joint patrols. They challenged each other, scouted the streets for trouble, waved to passers-by (especially to children), laughed and made silly jokes. Once again Chat felt that sense of home, of the world slowly clicking into place.

He didn’t even feel guilty that he’d lied to her, for there was one more question he wanted to ask her.

But that could wait until after their patrol.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir was by her side before she’d even landed on top of the Montparnasse Tower.

“Let me see,” he said, voice low and serious, almost growling.

Ladybug brushed off his concern with a gentle, if flippant, hand wave.

“It’s fine Chat, seriously. The blade barely touched me,” she reassured, only to be caught off guard when he grasped her dismissive hand, hugging it to his chest. Her heart jittered to a halt at the way he looked at her, and she’d made her decision even as he pleaded again.

“My lady…please?”

Trying to hold back a sigh, Ladybug led him out of the shadows, where she proceeded to tilt her chin up. The Montparnasse was a tall tower, tall enough so that the street lamps could not illuminate them, however she knew he could use his night-vision if required, and her own eyes had adjusted to the semi darkness. Besides that, the light from the tower and the glow from the city was enough. Her cheek caught the light and, with it, the gash across the side of her face. A faint trickle of blood fell from the open wound. Though it stung a little, Ladybug hadn’t been lying when she said she was fine. The cut was shallow and, honestly, she’d had far worse injuries in her day-to-day life, from being her usual clumsy self.

They’d been in the middle of stopping a bank robbery when it happened. At first, the robbers had seemed compliant, as most are when they realise that Ladybug and Chat Noir are on the scene. However, one of the burglars seemed to miss the memo regarding their surrender, catching both Ladybug and Chat off guard by throwing a small pocket knife towards the former. Chat had been on the opposite side of the room when it happened, helping to cuff one of the other burglars, but he’d spotted the knife before Ladybug. It was a split second of gut-wrenching horror as he cried out a warning, as he watched Ladybug try to dodge the attack too late, as the blade sliced her cheek and clattered to the floor.

The burglar was tackled to the floor in seconds, Chat’s knee pressed into his back, and Chat had to fight every protective instinct within him to not break the bastard’s spine in two. He was a hero, after all.

Back in the present, Ladybug felt the warmth of Chat’s head as he rested against her, nose brushing against the side of her face as he sought out her comfort.

“You’re going to get blood on you,” she whispered fondly.

“Don’t care,” he grunted back, much like a moping child.

Ladybug chuckled.

“Kitty, you’re being silly. I’m ok, nothing that a little ‘Miraculous Ladybug’ can’t fix right up!” she closed her eyes against him, shuffling closer. Reaching up, she dug her fingers into his hair, hoping her cheer, along with her little ministrations against his scalp, might soothe him. However, her efforts were futile, as he continued to fixate on the non-issue. Stubborn kitty.

“I don’t like it when you’re hurt.” Yep. It was official. He was sulking.

“I’ve been hurt worse,” she replied with a hum of indifference.

“I know, and I didn’t like it then either,” he lifted his head away from her, a cute pout on his face. Sure enough, there was a tiny trace of her blood smudged across his cheek, “you’re a better fighter than me, you’re- you’re amazing. I know that. But I’m supposed to be the fall guy. I’m supposed to be the one who’s hurt. That’s how it works.”

Ladybug was silent then, his words slicing through her far more than the robber’s blade. Somehow the situation didn’t seem as funny or as silly as it first had. The truth behind his words was heavy, almost suffocating. After all, he was right. No matter how much she disliked it, he was the fall-guy. He had to be. They had no choice in the matter.

Right then and there, she could’ve told him how much she disliked him getting hurt too, how every time he threw himself in front her was yet another reminder of the colossal weight on her shoulders. The pressure to fix things, to make things right. In the heat of the battle, it was something she’d had to train herself to forget. But sometimes, in the quiet moments alone in her room, they haunted her- the shadows of Chat Noir’s numerous sacrifices. Tikki could only do so much to ease her troubled mind, the Kwami couldn’t stop the nightmares.

How had she not realised she loved him sooner?

Ladybug stole a glance towards Chat’s darkened expression, biting her lip. It was true, she could open her mouth and let forth all of the things which worried her, all of her deepest feelings towards him. But it felt wrong to do so. Right now he needed her, not the other way around.

Her insecurities could wait a little while longer, if it meant making him feel better. And she was positive he would soothe any of her worries in the future, if history was anything to go by.

Is this what a relationship is like?  She thought, suddenly giddy with the idea, her heart leaping as she took his hand once more. A smile stretched across her face as she contemplated the idea. A relationship. A real relationship. Ones which she heard people mention but had yet to experience herself; with communication and giving-and-taking, with talking things through and being there for each other. Was this what it was like? Was this the reality? With Chat of all people?

If it was, she found she quite liked it. The fact that it was with Chat, one of her best friends, made it even better.

“My lady?” Chat’s face was a vision of confusion, and her smile widened. She stepped forward, squeezing his hand lightly, leaning her chest towards him.

“Tis just a scratch… my lord,” she flirted, and then paused, waiting for his reaction.

It was near instantaneous- Chat’s face erupted into a furious blush, all traces of sadness forgotten, and she silently cheered, leading him to the edge of the rooftop. It was late now, and they were high enough to ensure privacy. The Eiffel tower gleamed close beside them and her chest grew warm despite the coolness of the night air. Their first kiss had happened there, only last night, and now here she was thinking about the two of them together- of having an actual relationship. Visions of Chat’s future dreams filled her head, of the house with the sewing room. It felt more real now than ever, as real as his hand currently entwined with her own.

“You know Kitty,” she said, sitting down cross-legged and tugging him down with her. The pair sat face to face and she smiled at his fumbling hands, “it’s really funny.”

“W-what is?” He asked, staring at his lap. She shook her head, completely smitten by his bashfulness.

“How you can dish out the flirting, but you can’t take it,” she goaded.

He snapped his head up then, a defiant smirk on his face as he leaned in close to her.

“I am more than able to handle your flirting, my lady,” he retorted and she arched her eyebrow at him, giving his nose a gentle jab for good measure.

“Oh really? Your blush says otherwise,” she giggled, relieved to see the intended effect of her little distraction techniques. The atmosphere was lighter, Chat’s whole body seemed to lift in response to her teasing. He curled further into her space, and she leaned back slightly, shifting her legs and suddenly very aware that they were nearly horizontal.

She didn’t mind, though.

“Am I not allowed to blush when a beautiful lady flirts with me?” He argued, his tone low again, but for an entirely different reason. A shiver passed through her, warm and soothing, yet somehow setting her insides ablaze.

“Only this lady,” she replied, wrapping her arms around his neck. They grew closer- heated breath mingling. Chat’s nose brushed against her own, and she realised he was still shy. Hell, she was too. She couldn’t help but wonder if it was right, if it was ok, if he liked what she was doing. It was absurd, but still so very new.

“Oh? Is my Love-bug getting possessive of her cat?” he replied and she scoffed, hating how much she liked the nickname. God he’s so corny. I love it. He can never know.

“Not possessive,” she replied seriously, and suddenly panicked, realising that explaining what she meant would back her into a highly embarrassing corner. She swallowed, looking everywhere except at him (making sure that the cut on her cheek was absent from his gaze, lest he slip back into self-blame), “I- I just mean, well you know- I would think you’d like just me flirting with you, but you know I totally get it that we’re not THERE yet, I mean we just k-kissed yesterday and I don’t own you so like yeah I didn’t mean to sound like a jealous girl or- “

A gloved hand cupped her chin, halting the shovel she was using to dig her own grave, and Ladybug fell silent.

“Look at me,” he whispered and she complied, seeing his warm smile and a glint of something in his eyes which caused her suspicions to rise dramatically, “now close your eyes.”

Again, she did so unquestioningly, thinking he was going to kiss her.

He did not.

Imagine her surprise when, instead, he continued to hold her face. Imagine her shock when he released his transformation, and the black gloves turned into skin, calloused fingertips softly caressing her. She gasped.

“What are you-” she began, shaking as he placed a finger against her lips.

“I wanted to say this out of the mask,” he replied, and she felt his forehead rest against hers, “is that stupid?”

She shook her head, eyes still firmly shut. There was something so extraordinary about the sensation of knowing her Chat Noir was now crouched in front of her, without his mask, as she had been with him earlier in the day. The notion was bigger than she could have ever comprehended previously- when the ideas of them together were freshly formed in her mind. Threads of a fresh kind of trust sewed themselves between the pair. Ladybug felt them, like flowing ribbons or strings of fate. It was a new level to their bond, a deeper, more intimate one.

For three years, they’d had each other’s backs. But this? This was an entirely different type of trust. In a way, it was scarier, more frightening than having faith in someone covering you in the line of fire. But it was also better. It was floating in a peaceful ocean, wrapping up in a warm blanket, huddling around a campfire.

It was home. He was home. They were home.

“Ah, good. That’s- that’s good,” the boy behind Chat Noir’s mask stammered, his fingers slipping into her hair. Adrien steeled himself, ready to ask the question he’d practiced for an hour in front of the mirror until Plagg had screamed at him to shut up. It was difficult, for he was so taken by her, her literal blind trust in him- how beautiful she was with her lips parted and her eyes delicately closed. His dream girl, “I just wanted you to know. You’re the only girl for me, Ladybug. And when I know who you are behind that mask, when we know each other, I just wanted to ask…can I- can I have you? When I find you, can I really have you, like you have me? Can we, you know, go on dates? Can we kiss without masks? Is it possible?”

For some strange reason, Ladybug wanted to cry. Blindly, she fumbled for the sides of his face; overcome with such emotion, such need for him, that she needed an outlet- and words could not possibly suffice.

“Well,” she breathed, “I certainly think we can. But we can test that theory now, to be totally sure. Close your eyes too.”

Adrien complied and there was a brief silence before he realised she couldn’t see to know he had. He would have found it funny, if the situation wasn’t so serious.

“They’re closed.”

That was all she needed to hear. As soon as she’d de-transformed, her lips crashed against his own.

A part of her felt, as her lips danced against his, that this was cheating somehow. The fact they were kissing as their civilian selves, without knowing their identities yet. It was a tiny part, however, and it was quickly squashed when the full weight of their kiss came down upon her.

It was like kissing him for the first time all over again. In a way, it was. With their eyes remaining firmly closed, the sensations were all touch, all scent, all sound, all heightened. Marinette had long since stretched her legs out, over the edge of the skyscraper, Adrien too- shifting to a similar, more comfortable position. Hands grasped real, non-superhero clothes, such an odd thing to focus on, to revel in. But revel Marinette did. He was wearing a hoodie, and jeans. Chat Noir wore hoodies and jeans, the boy behind Chat’s mask wore hoodies and jeans.

Adrien, meanwhile, was completely overwhelmed. He wondered if he’d ever get over the giddiness of kissing her. Kissing her, Adrien was kissing the girl behind the mask. The girl he vowed he’d love no matter what, the girl he’d continue to love even after the inevitable day when they gave up their superhero identities- whenever that day arrived. He was kissing her, and oh how he loved it. He loved the softness of her lips, the small noises of pleasure their embrace brought from her, he loved that he could hold her, touch her, learn her. But then she was doing things too, her hand brushing against his hip, fingernails scratching gently against his side.

Don’t groan, don’t groan, don’t groan- you’ll make it weird, he thought, settling for humming instead.

And then there was the fact that they were now gloveless, their fingers able to skim freely across exposed skin, the added layer of sensation was electrifying, dazzling. Adrien dared to deepen the kiss, swooping down to wrap his arms around her lower back, revelling in the gasp he earned when he lifted her t-shirt, feeling the goose-bumps against her spine.

He stopped.

“You’re cold, you’re shivering,” he stated, breaking their kiss and sitting upright.

“I’m ok,” he heard her reply, her voice small and breathless and oh god did he love her, “Chat?”

“Hold on, Love Bug,” Adrien replied, heart skipping. It was the first time anyone had addressed him as Chat Noir, sans mask.

After a brief pause, Marinette felt something heavy and warm drop into her lap. She frowned, taking in the cotton, two strings, her hand reaching into a large pocket, before realising what he’d given her. Her jaw dropped.

“Kitty no, you’re going to be freezing!” She admonished.

“Rather you than me,” he replied, shuffling back towards her, now clad only in his t-shirt “and you can keep it.”

“But-”

“It’s not one I wear at school,” he hastened to add, amusement creeping into his voice “so you can’t cheat by identifying me with it.”

“I wouldn’t cheat,” she grumbled, causing him to laugh. Marinette caved, throwing the hoodie on. The thick fabric hugged her, baggy and comforting. It smelled like fancy soap and something else, something familiar- yet she couldn’t quite place it. Whatever it was made her stomach twist into little knots, “there, it’s on, are you happy? Now you’re going to become a pawpscicle and it’s all your fault.”

“I love it when you talk punny to me,” she felt him grinning against her temple as he pressed a gentle kiss to it.

“I love it when you stop talking,” she shot back, tilting her head up to find his lips once again. It was much less clumsy than the night before, and maybe (she thought) it was because they didn’t have masks in the way. Maybe it was because- when all was said and done- this is how they should be kissing. No barriers, no secret identities, nothing hidden between them.

It would have been too easy to open her eyes, to find out who he really was. But he was supposed to find her, not the other way around. That, and it would break the trust he held in her. She couldn’t do it. No matter how tempting.

Besides, as much as it was causing a storm of emotions in her- it was fun, it was thrilling- this little chase they’d set up. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“UGH! This is sickening.”

“Plagg!” Adrien growled, breaking the kiss, “I’m going to murder you.”

Marinette laughed, leaning forward to bury her face in his chest, briefly startled by the t-shirt fabric she felt as opposed to the light leather. Her shoulders shook- she’d never heard Chat sound so offended.

“Yeah, yeah, well I’m cold ok?” Plagg moaned, and Adrien felt the weight of the Kwami as he settled onto Adrien’s head.

“So go cuddle Tikki,” Adrien spat.

“We were cuddling!” The pink Kwami piped up cheerfully, from somewhere beside Marinette’s ear, “it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other!”

“TIKKI!” Plagg cried, mortified, whilst Adrien cackled- knowing he finally had something on Plagg. He’d never let him live it down.

“Anyway, I’m really sorry to interrupt, and I’m sorry Plagg got there first- he’s less tactful,” Tikki said, ignoring Plagg’s splutter of indigence, as well as Adrien’s jeer, “but it’s getting late and I don’t like you two being up and out in this cold night air- you’ll catch a cold.”

After a few sighs of discontent, the pair transformed again, opening their eyes.

Ladybug smiled, looking away shyly, and Chat thought it might be the most adorable thing he’d ever seen. Both of them shared similar thoughts, on how things seemed the same- yet completely different. Better. Greater. Closer.

“Well, the Kwami’s have spoken!” Chat chirped, playfully shrugging his shoulders, “alas we are to be parted!”

Ladybug slid into his personal space, with an eyebrow raise and a twinkle in her blue eyes that one could only describe as devious.

“They didn’t say anything forbidding a good night kiss,” she argued slyly.

“Oooh, my lady is a rebel! I lo- like it. I umm, like it-” he replied, stammering, and covering his flub by catching her in a sweet goodnight kiss. It was brief, but tender and filled with promise. This time, Ladybug was the first to break it, brushing her nose against his in an eskimo kiss.

“Goodnight Chat Noir, and thank you for the hoodie,” she said, stepping away from him and pulling out her yoyo much more slowly than usual.

“You’re welcome,” he smiled back, bowing low, “goodnight, Ladybug.”

She offered a casual wave, cringing at how dorky she was behaving, and made her way to the other side of the building, facing the direction of her home.

Just as she was about to throw her yoyo, a hand gripped her wrist. Startled, she turned around to see that Chat had dashed after her, and before she could say anything, he pulled her towards him gently. Her feet left the floor as he lifted her, kissing her, twirling around on the spot, and she squealed, laughing against his lips.

After two spins he set her down, beaming.

“Ok, now goodnight!” he said, moving away from her, but she shook her head.

“Nuh-uh,” she smirked, grabbing him by the collar and yanking him down for another kiss, and another, and another. When she stopped, he looked practically drunk, swaying from side to side, “NOW goodnight!”

The dazed guffaw that escaped Chat’s lips had her silently convulsing- silent only because she didn’t want to burst out into shrieking levels of laughter and ruin the moment. Oh she HAD to find a way to make that look appear on his face more often. It was gold.

“Do we have to?” he said, his voice faint and completely besotted.

“Oh my god!” Ladybug cried, twisting him around and pushing against his back until he began walking, unable to hold back the laughter as she did so, “just goooo! If you keep being so cute, I’m going to want to kiss you all night, and Tikki will never stop lecturing me about it. Besides we have school in the morning!”

“Ok, ok, ok! But I’m keeping a mental note of the fact that being cute means you want to spend more time kissing me!” he surrendered, looking over his shoulder at her and wiggling his eyebrows. They came to a stop at the opposite side of the building, and Chat stilled, his expression serious, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Love bug,” it wasn’t a confession, but he hoped the emphasis on the word love would reach her heart somehow.

Ladybug felt all the breath rush out of her in one fell swoop.

“Yeah,” she gulped, nodding, a spark of hope dancing in her eyes so that Chat had to press his lips to her forehead fondly. He pulled away, winking, before turning and springing from the building.

As she watched him do a spectacular triple spin mid-air, Ladybug couldn’t help but think he’d done it to show off.

She couldn’t roll her eyes though. He’d earned it.


 

The next afternoon found Marinette in the senior common room, cheek completely healed- no trace of the injury to be found. Supposedly, she was using her free double-period to share art ideas with Nath. It had been a long morning, no lessons with any of her four closest friends to goof off with. The day always seemed to go by more slowly when Alya wasn’t around causing mischief and (weirdly organised) chaos in her wake. However, Marinette was deep in procrastination mode, and staring even deeper into the depths of her bag.

“Are you Mary Poppins or something?” Nathanael asked, after the third time looking up from their table to see Marinette staring into the aforementioned bag.

Marinette jolted, sitting upright with a start.

“Ah n-no what do you mean?” she stuttered incriminatingly.

“Well, it’s just you seem weirdly fascinated by your bag, and your phone is on the table, so I thought maybe your bag was magic- like Mary Poppins,” Nath said innocently, grinning at her from across the table, in a surprisingly good mood considering he still hadn’t heard if he’d been accepted to his university of choice.

“That’s a brilliant deduction, Sherlock,” Marinette replied, hoping her dry tone would cover the fear in her voice. She kicked her bag under the table and the pair settled back into a comfortable silence. The small, cluttered room was quiet. There was low hum from the ancient microwave someone had donated, the smell of soup filling the air (why anyone would want soup on such a hot day was beyond Marinette’s reasoning). The room was taken up, mostly, by a mix between circular and square tables. A few computer desks were shoved into the sides- the one they’d crowded around the other day to research was currently being used by a science student. Opposite her and Nath were a group of music kids, heads in hands, a cloud of despair circulating from their table, probably due to the test they had the next day- if Nino’s whinging had been anything to go by.

It was peaceful, cool despite the hot weather outside, yet Marinette couldn’t concentrate if her life depended on it. Her mind seemed to focus on anything but her work.

I should have left his stupid hoodie at home, she thought, cursing herself and her poor decisions. Her leg jostled against her bag subconsciously, Chat Noir’s hoodie buried deep in its depths.

It was nothing remarkable, yet at the same time it was. Plain red, her colour, with a little stain on the sleeve which looked like it could be coffee. Marinette opened her sketch book, doodling idly, thinking about Chat Noir- cuddled up in the hoodie, browsing the internet, huddled up in bed on cold nights with it. For what seemed like hours after their patrol, she had clung to the innocent lump of fabric, had refused to take it off until the heat in her room became too much. It was proof that things between them weren’t a dream.

The temptation to wear it was far too great. She really should have left it at home. The red would stand out like a sore thumb, a beacon calling Chat Noir to her. Marinette pressed a little harder than necessary with her pencil, giving up on doing any real work for now (she’d actually done quite a bit before bed the night before so it wasn’t as though she was falling behind). Instead she drew a familiar mop of messy blonde hair, a pair of cat ears, a cheeky grin.

She sighed, sketching a few rough love hearts around her Chat Noir drawing, pretty sure she was going to dispose of the doodle as soon as she’d finished it. If Chat saw it- she’d never live it down.

“Hey Marinette!”

She screeched, almost falling out of her seat, and twisted around to see Adrien standing behind her. Nath watched the scene with a raised eyebrow of amusement, catching Marinette’s warning scowl.

Suddenly she remembered what she’d been drawing, remembered their conversation yesterday- Adrien’s question about her being a fangirl. Her brain did some quick mathematical calculations of doom:

Doodle of Chat with love hearts + Adrien seeing doodle= THE END OF DAYS, OH MY GOD COVER IT- COVER IT NOW.

She jumped backwards, sitting on the table, stretching her arms wide in a fake yawn. The series of actions might have looked casual, were it not for the fact that Marinette did them at the speed of a cheetah on red bull. Adrien blinked at her. From behind her, she could hear Nath snorting. Traitor.

“Er, h-hi Adrien! What brings you here?” her voice was a bit too shaky to pass for nonchalant, but Adrien didn’t seem to notice. His eyes were glazed over and, for a second of unrelenting panic- Marinette thought he’d seen the doodle-  her crime.

His eyes adjusted back into the present and he beamed at her. She looked down, not wanting to feel any guilt for her stomach flipping.

“I just sent an assignment to the printer. Need to grab it before last class- my printer at home stopped working last night,” he explained, something oddly tender in the way he spoke to her. She still refused to meet his eyes.

“Oh. Yeah, printers are like that aren’t they? So unreliable!” she huffed nervously, wiggling in her seat.

“Wait,” Nathanael piped up from behind her, “what’s the time? Oh shi- I didn’t realise it was almost last class!” After throwing all of his possessions back into his bag, Nathanael began to run out of the room but stopped abruptly, dashing back to offer Marinette a half-hug, “thanks for the cookies Mari- you’re a hero.”

“Of course, anything to stop you being such a nervous tomato!” she chuckled, ruffling his hair fondly, and- after a quick goodbye to Adrien, Nathanael dashed off.

The common room became a lot busier as students came and went, and Adrien coughed awkwardly, making his way over to the printer to collect his assignment. As soon as his back was turned, Marinette snatched her sketchbook up and turned it to the next blank page- burying her nose close to the paper and furiously sketching a quick dress design.

After a minute or so, she felt Adrien’s presence, and lifted her head up when he coughed awkwardly.

“Well I guess I better get going! I don’t want to be late either,” he said and, when she smiled softly at him, he was the one to turn away, cheeks pink.

“I hope your assignment gets a good grade!” Marinette replied, “not that it wouldn’t or anything, ‘cause you’re, you know, smart, have you ever gotten a bad grade in your life?”

“I don’t think my father would allow it,” Adrien said, only half joking.

Silence hung in the air between them, only for the length of a heartbeat, but it was noticeable enough for both of them to feel awkward.

“Well- see you!” Adrien waved, closing the door to the common room behind with a bit more force than necessary.

“Yeah, see you…” Marinette whispered at the closed door, before slumping backwards in relief. That had been close. Too close. She really needed to stop drawing such silly things at school, what if someone caught her? Gossip in their school was insidious, and she didn’t want any rumours flying around that she was dating or in love with Chat Noir (no matter how true that may or may not be).

Taking in a deep breath, Marinette settled down onto her seat again. Now that she was alone, she felt a greater sense of calm than she had before. Settling down to her work, she felt safe in the knowledge that her secret love had remained that- a secret.

On the other side of the door however, things were a much different story.

Adrien leaned against the door frame, clutching his chest with trembling fingers. He was trying to breathe but everything in his body seemed to rush. His blood, the air in his lungs, his nerves, every fibre of his being was alive and dying at the same time. He stole a glance at the closed door, not caring that his odd behaviour could be attracting looks from his peers.

Marinette had drawn him.

But she hadn’t just drawn him, she’d draw him as Chat Noir. She’d drawn him with love hearts. Love hearts!

But she’d told him yesterday that she wasn’t a fangirl, that she admired him because-

Because-

Because they’d worked together that one time. The one time Ladybug hadn’t been there, had been on a ‘top secret mission’ instead. Because-

Because it was her.

Because she was Ladybug.

She was! She had to be!

Marinette was Ladybug.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” he wobbled, stepping forwards, the good subconscious student in him taking control of his legs, forcing him to go to class. He couldn’t talk to her now. As much as he wanted to burst straight back into the common room and pull her into his arms, as much as he wanted to yell and run and shout. As much as he wanted to kiss her and declare he’d found her, after three long years, he’d found her at last- he was very much aware of causing a scene.

No. He would suffer through the next class. He would run outside as soon as the bell rang, would catch up with her. He’d take her aside and explain how he needed to speak to her privately. They could run off together, he could transform and sweep her off her feet, carry her to the scene of their first kiss. There would be tears of joy, laughter, hugging and (he hoped) more kisses.

Class was torture, as to be expected, his leg endlessly bobbing up and down, his pencil twitching in his fingers. He was told off for daydreaming more than once but he didn’t care, this was so much bigger than any maths lesson ever could be. Elation, awe, and wonder filled him. He’d found her! He’d found Ladybug!

After the bell rang Adrien bolted for the door, bumping into Nino in the corridor as he emerged from his music lesson.

“Woah, dude, easy! You almost took me out!” he cried, readjusting his cap.

“Sorry, sorry, have you seen Marinette? I need to talk to her- it’s important!” Adrien replied, breathless, giddy, his cheeks red and his head spinning. Nino blinked.

“Err, pretty sure she’s heading home,” he replied, stumbling back as Adrien hurried past him. Nino huffed at his friend’s retreating back, “nice to see you Nino, hope you had a good day Nino…” he grumbled to himself.

Adrien didn’t hear, he was sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him, never before had he felt such lightness, such freedom, not even as Chat Noir. All this time, all this time they’d been there for each other, under each other’s noses. The whole time he’d been blind, been foolish.

But that ended today. This was the first day of the rest of their lives! As he raced toward the front steps he felt on top of the world. Nothing could stop him. Nothing!

Hold on my lady I’ll be there soon!


 

Marinette yawned, stretching out and lazily stuffing her sketchbook into her bag, stopping only to lightly graze her hand against Chat’s hoodie, which Tikki was currently bundled up, asleep in. A warm smile played at her lips.

Maybe tomorrow she’d have the courage to wear it.

She made her way out of the doors, her eyes briefly blinded by the dazzling light of the sun, the sudden rush of heat which greeted her. Taking a deep breath, she pottered down the steps, eager to get home and spend a lazy afternoon lounging in her room. It was too hot to do much else, and she had a lot of emotions she still needed to sort through.

However, as usual, fate had other ideas for her.

“MARINETTE!”

Someone was yelling her name, desperately, dramatically, and for a second she tensed- worried there was something wrong.

Before she could fully turn around, she was enveloped in a bear hug, scooped up off the floor and span around until she was dizzy. For a brief, absurd moment, she thought it was Chat Noir- after all he’d done something similar the night before. Whoever lifted her was laughing, joy pouring from their soul and she couldn’t help but smile despite her confusion.

When she was set down she looked up to see a pair of shimmering green eyes, almost on the verge of tears, and her breath caught.

“Nathanael,” she gasped, her heart leaping when she realised there was only one thing that would cause him to laugh like that, “you didn’t-”

“I did!” he cried, shaking “I got in! The foundation year- I’m going to London!”

“Oh my god!”

“oh MY god!”

She threw her arms around him in a bear hug, burying into his shoulder as she squealed in delight.

“Nath I’m so proud of you!”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” he replied, pulling away and grabbing her hands, his own were trembling.

Marinette blushed, pulling one hand away to scratch her shoulder sheepishly.

“No, that’s not true, you did it all by yourself.”

Nathanael wouldn’t hear any of it. Gripping her free hand, he began to pull her down the street.

“Who encouraged me to apply? Who stayed up late and helped me check all my portfolios were organised correctly? Come on!” he laughed, tossing his head back to the sky. His triumph was infectious, Marinette had never seen him so happy.

“Where are we going?” she asked, giggling.

“I’m taking you for a coffee, it’s the least I can do to say thank you for all your help,” he breathed, practically dancing down the street. Marinette chortled, allowing her friend to steer her toward the nearest coffee shop…

Neither of them noticed Adrien Agreste, watching them go from the top of the steps; his once light limbs heavy, his insides turned to ice, his heart dropping like a stone in the sea.

Chapter Text

The first thought to cross Adrien’s mind was don’t panic.

Well, that was a lie. It was the first coherent thought. The ones which came before had been a cacophony of tangled emotions and questions, half-formed in his mind. Jumbled words such as Marinette, Nathanael, holding hands, walking away- together?

As he fought the crushing waves of panic, the nausea settling in the pit of his stomach, the shadows which coiled around his limbs, all of which telling him something was amiss- he tried to rationalise what he’d just seen. Even as he felt the rug pulled out from under him. The rapid change from liberating joy to suffocating dread was like running head first into an invisible wall. Helpless, defenceless, he was left watching the scene unfold before his eyes, with only his warring rationalisations for company.

They looked at each other with such joy.

Friends. They’re just friends.

He picked her up!

Maybe he was just excited about something?

They held hands, they looked like they were going on a date.

Stop jumping to conclusions.

Adrien swallowed painfully, hands curling into fists as he watched the pair walking away- still hand in hand. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sight, no matter how much it unsettled him. Frozen in place, all he could is let Marinette slip out of his sight, get further and further away just as he’d believed she’d been so close.

“Oh man,” a voice appeared at his side and it took all his will to pull himself together, to place his model-mask on. Nino had caught up to him, was standing by his side. He, too, was watching Marinette and Nathanael as they rounded the corner and disappeared from view, “I hope those two aren’t an item again.”

A funny thing happens when you hear something you don’t want to. It’s not quite time standing still, instead it’s almost like the words filter through slowly- deliberately- as though to cause maximum damage. Because, until that final word lands next to the others to form a complete sentence, there’s hope. The hope is wrung out, stretched and twisted, disfigured but there. And then that last word, that damned last word, settles, and the hope is all but snuffed out.

That’s how Nino’s words struck Adrien. He could scarcely comprehend what he’d just heard.

But his heart clenched, oh how it clenched, reminded him how he was still very much alive. It squeezed in his chest until he thought it might burst from fear. No it couldn’t be possible. It couldn’t… his Lady wouldn’t lead him on unless…

Unless he’d been wrong?

Unless she wasn’t Ladybug.

But he’d been so sure!

“Wh-what do you mean ‘an item’?” He didn’t want to know. God, he didn’t want to know. Don’t tell me Nino. Don’t tell me what I know you’re going to tell me.

Adrien was vaguely aware he was trembling, but Nino wasn’t watching him. Instead, his friend had two fingers massaging the crinkle between his eyebrows, his eyes scrunched together tightly.

“Those two. They dated last summer- sort of. When you were in Italy with your dad.”

Adrien looked down at his stomach, he was so sure he’d been physically stabbed there. Bile rose in his throat. Even if he’d tried, words would have failed him. In the back of his head, a memory was trying to resurface- a memory he really didn’t want to recall.

“But it was such an awkward clusterfudge! UGH!” Nino’s hand abandoned his brow, thrown up dramatically instead, “They didn’t even last that long, so what the hell?”

“Maybe,” Adrien swallowed again, trying to stitch his voice back together. In the corner of his eye, he saw his car pulling up to the curb. “maybe they’re trying again?”

“God I hope not. Marinette was really upset when they broke up,” Nino wrinkled his nose in distaste, turning to face him, and Adrien schooled his features into what he hoped was casual concern instead. He had no right to feel what he was at the moment, and he would never- ever- put it on his friends. So, with thin lips and a tiny frown as his mask, he nodded casually. The pair made their way down towards his car. Nino sighed, scratching the back of his head, “don’t get me wrong, I love them both. I just worry, you dig? I wonder if Alya knows about this.”

Adrien shrugged, an angry impulse racing through him like a towering inferno, telling him to put his fist through the window of his car. It startled him, frightened him. He ignored the urge, settling on gripping the door handle rougher than necessary as he opened it.

“You want a ride home?” he asked Nino, hoping (for perhaps the first time ever) that he’d decline. The thought of his empty, silent bedroom beckoned him. Perhaps there he could sort through things more thoroughly. Perhaps there it wouldn’t seem like the world was closing in on him. Perhaps not.

Luck actually seemed to be on his side in this instance, which seemed particularly cruel given the circumstances. Nino was meeting Alya for a study date. The pair briefly wrapped themselves in a hug tighter than usual, both seeking a brief flash of comfort for entirely different reasons, before parting ways.

Adrien was as silent as ever on the drive back home, his hand resting idly on his bag as he stared out of the window. Absently, he drummed his fingers against the half-open zipper, until a small, warm weight rested on his hand. He stilled, not needing to look down to know it was Plagg’s paw resting against him.

It was then that the memory he’d tried to supress cracked through his barriers with all the subtlety of a raging bull, destroying his carefully crafted mask.

 “You’ve never had a boyfriend?”

“W-well it’s like you said!” Ladybug threw her arms up in the air in self-defence and Chat finally caught sight of her flushed cheeks, the slightly embarrassed craze in her eyes. He didn’t know why he found it so funny, he supposed it was the relief which came from the realisation that maybe she didn’t see him as a complete and utter loser after all. “Being Ladybug keeps me pretty darn busy, plus all my schoolwork and work-work to boot, plus how could I tell a boyfriend the reason I sneak out every night isn’t because I’m running around with other men or something, it’s to stop possessed people from destroying the city and- and- STOP LAUGHING CHAT!”

He wasn’t laughing anymore.

Marinette had had a boyfriend before. Ladybug had not.

Adrien blinked, wondering why the view of the outside world had suddenly become so blurry.


 

“Are you sure you need coffee?” Marinette teased as they stood in the queue, waiting to order their drinks. It was a small coffee shop, not a chain. Apparently Louis had discovered it a few weeks ago, chosen it because it was a place amateur artists could ask for their art to be displayed. The coffee was incredible and ridiculously strong, but they didn’t judge you for putting extra sweet things in your brew of choice, as so many artisan coffee places did.

It was an eclectic place to say the least. The furniture was a mix between antique and Ikea. Magazines and free newspapers were littered everywhere, as customers left them for others to enjoy. Post-its filled with doodles lined the silvery-grey walls, where artists of varying degrees of professionalism (from amateur to famous cartoonists) had stuck them.

Nathanael bounced on his feet still wearing a near face-splitting grin.

“Of course! Why do you ask?” he said, perusing the menu boards above the cashier’s head.

“Well, you’re vibrating with energy,” Marinette shrugged, having already settled on ordering an iced tea, “I’m just worried if we add coffee to the mix then you’ll transcend to the fourth dimension.”

“I went to the fourth dimension for a holiday once,” a voice chirped from behind them, “the soufflé was odious.”

The pair wheeled around just in time to see tanned arms enveloping them in a bruising hug.

“Louis!” Marinette cried, smiling as Louis kept one arm wrapped around Nathanael, planting a firm but loving smooch on his boyfriend’s lips as he did so, “I didn’t know you were coming too!”

“Nath called me as soon as he heard the good news from his Mamma,” Louis replied, settling on linking his fingers through Nathanael’s own and kissing his knuckles, his golden eyes were practically glowing with pride, “I was the one to suggest coming here. I’m so glad you’re here to share mi amore’s success also. Art isn’t my forte, so it’s good to know he has a talented friend for support.”

“But you were fantastic moral support,” Nath blushed, “I couldn’t have done it without either of you. That’s why drinks are on me!”

Louis looked as though he’d be slapped. Never one to do things by halves, he clapped a mortified hand to his forehead.

“Absolutely not! This is your day, bello, I won’t have you spend a cent!”

As they shuffled down the line, getting closer to the cashier, Marinette started mentally placing bets on who would win this particular battle. Her money was on Louis.

A few minutes later she was proved right, although at a cost (well- not really). In the muddle, she’d hoped to pay for her own drink and promptly faced the concentrated wrath of both Nathanael and Louis. She withered, vowing vengeance for their generosity. She would pay them back next time.

“A toast then,” Louis raised his small espresso, and Nathanael and Marinette raised their drinks in kind “to my dearest boyfriend. Mi tesorino. In fact-” he stood up.

Nathanael’s face fell.

“Lou, sweetie, what are you doing? Louis!” he hissed desperately clutching Louis’s t-shirt (a plain white affair with the phrase ‘history nerd: I’d find you more interesting if you were dead’ plastered across it in big bold lettering). Louis grabbed a wayward spoon and began tapping against it, clearing his throat. When it was clear his pleading was falling on deaf ears, Nathanael turned panicked eyes on Marinette, who settled back in her armchair, crossing her legs with a smirk.

This will teach you to laugh at me in front of Adrien, you butt, she thought with a giggle.

“EXCUSE ME EVERYONE!”

“Oh god on high, kill me now please,” Nath looked like he was trying to hide in his own torso, but Louis grabbed his hand and yanked him up to stand by his side. Most people turned their heads curiously. The coffee shop wasn’t full, but Marinette could tell this didn’t ease Nath’s embarrassment one bit. She had to bite her cheek to keep herself in check.

“This wonderful, glorious, talented man just got accepted to one of the BEST art colleges in Europe for a year!” Louis boasted, loudly and completely without shame, “May I please ask you to give him a round of applause?”

The cashiers and baristas were among the loudest to cheer, the other customers were good enough to clap along- amused by the scene. One older gentleman (although he barely warranted the name in Marinette’s opinion) fixed the clearly in love boys with frown. Marinette met his eyes and glowered, her smirk gone, daring him to say or do anything. Her fingers sunk into the arms of her seat.

As the man rolled his eyes and left, tucking his tablet into his backpack as he went, Marinette slumped back, glad nothing had escalated. It appeared the boys hadn’t noticed the little altercation, Louis was still lit-up with admiration, Nathanael still looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole. He sat back down on the loveseat opposite Marinette, trying to disappear in the plush cushions.

“See if I’d died, I wouldn’t have to had to live through that,” he whined, his face a wonderful cherry-red, “don’t worry- it was…nice,” he hastened to add as Louis opened his mouth to apologise, “I’m just not used to attention, you know that hun.”

“Well, you will change that now I’m sure,” Louis replied, handing Nath his drink and then draping himself over his boyfriend like a scarf in winter. A powerful ache, which felt rather like longing, consumed Marinette as she watched them act so- so- normal. Like a normal couple in love.

She glanced at her bag, which still had Chat’s red hoodie in it. Her phone was buzzing, but she couldn’t be bothered to scoop down and check it for now. Whoever it was could at least wait until she’d finished her iced tea.

Marinette willed the emotion away, smiling as she looked at Louis- who winked conspiratorially at her. Instead, she chose to change the subject.

“How’s university going Louis?”

“Ah university. You’ll see how wonderful and torturous it is this autumn-time,” Louis nodded whilst Nath’s face regained its usual pallor, “Some of my lectures are fascinating, others are like the black death has returned in the form of boredom. You should hear my professor drone on and on about the Elizabethan era. It’s an era I’m particularly fond of, and yet he delivers his lectures with all the flair of a cheese grater in a washing machine.”

Pushing past that odd comparison, Marinette frowned.

“Wait, you’re studying the Elizabethan era?” She asked, making sure she’d gotten that right and also kicking herself. She’d known Louis was studying history for ages, how could she have missed such an opportunity when it was staring at her right in the face? “If so do you think you could lend us some books about the Elizabethan Chat Noir and Ladybug? My friends and I are doing a project on them but our library is woefully empty. Our teacher is insisting we have at least some physical resources.”

“That I am, and of course I can help you there. I can sneak you into the library if you want- that would certainly be an adventure. I even have my own personal book about the pair which you can borrow if you’d like,” Louis nodded and then wrinkled his nose once he took a sip of his coffee, “my espresso has gone cold!”

“Well you should have drunk it instead of chattering away,” Nathanael nodded, “it’s karmic justice.”

Louis clutched his chest as though Nathanael has physically struck him.

“You break my heart, mi amore! Never get between an Italian man and his coffee. You know this.”

“Fine, fine. But you can’t stop me from buying you a replacement this time,” Nathanael countered, grabbing his wallet, “Maybe you’ll treasure it more.”

“You are the only treasure I need, tesorino. And, whilst that gesture is lovely, I meant what I said,” Louis wagged a disapproving finger his way, “you’re not spending a cent today.”

“You can’t stop me!”

“You can’t catch me!”

As the pair raced each other to the counter, shrieking childishly as they went, Marinette decided it was as good a time as any to check her phone in the brief peaceful lull. The first thing she thought of doing was to text the gang and let them know about this new development in their history project.

Fate, it seemed, had other plans for her.

Alya: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HOLDING HANDS WITH NATH?!

Oh jeez.


 

“Adrien,” Plagg chided, “I thought rich kids are taught not to play with food? Especially not someone else’s food! Where are your manners?!”

Adrien ignored him, continuing to build a tower out of Plagg’s camembert. It smelled like he felt.

“Would you stop sulking already? You don’t know if Marinette is dating Nathanael or not!” Plagg snapped, snatched a piece of cheese from Adrien’s grip and swallowing it whole, “you could just ask her- or get Alya to do it for you.”

Adrien pushed his chair away from the desk forcefully, turning away from Plagg with a defeated grimace.

“I was so sure,” he whispered, “so sure it was her.”

“It could still be, you don’t know. There’s lots of signs that point to her, you said so yourself right?” Plagg replied, landing on Adrien’s head, “nothing’s changed that.”

“But, Ladybug would never date Nathanael and kiss me at the same time,” he sighed, “and even if Marinette isn’t dating Nathanael- it looked like she likes him. They have a history. It’s not my place to get in between that Plagg. It’s not my place to ask about her romantic life. I’m just- just her friend,” he didn’t expect the words to sting quite as much as they did, “besides I’m not nosy, like you.”

“Cheap shot!” Plagg’s voice was an offended snort, muffled as he buried his mouth in Adrien’s hair. Adrien had the decency to feel guilty.

“Sorry, I’m just, ARGH- I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do,” he cried, flopping backwards onto his bed with a frustrated groan, “one part of me says that Marinette is Ladybug- so many signs point to it. But another reminds me how she looked at Nathanael, how she held hands with him, how she laughed as he held her,” he fought the urge to smash something again, angry at himself for allowing his emotions to get so far, “Ladybug said she’s never had a boyfriend, but Marinette and Nathanael were together. But…then why would she draw Chat Noir with love hearts? Maybe it’s just a crush and she really loves Nath. Or maybe she thinks I’m- I mean Chat- is Nathanael and that’s why she almost kissed me back the other night?”

He buried his face in his hands, feeling a headache coming on. It was though he had a one-thousand-piece puzzle, and just as he’d about to put the final piece into place, the pieces mutated beyond recognition- and he was stuck, more lost than he’d ever been. Nothing fit, nothing made sense.

“I’m going to die alone,” he decided finally.

“Oh would you stop being such a drama queen already!” Plagg yelled, dropping down onto his chest. Adrien peered up at him warily. “You aren’t going to die alone. You’re a model, and I’m only going to say this next sentence once so commit it to memory,” he closed his little green eyes, inhaling as he did so, he looked physically pained, “you’re a pretty ok guy alright? Ladybug will be lucky to have you, no matter who she turns out to be and you guys will be happy. So just chill out ok? You’re making ME nervous just looking at your face.”

Adrien felt the beginnings of a smile teasing the corners of his mouth. Feeling a rush of affection towards his Kwami, he sat up on his elbows, and dared to scratch Plagg under his chin.

“Thanks Plagg,” he said.

“Ugh I’m going to be sick,” Plagg retorted, fighting the lazy-cat look which crossed his face at Adrien’s ministrations. Oh well, it was nice whilst it lasted.

“You can’t be sick, it’s our turn to patrol tonight.”

“Yeah, whatever. Just do me a favour?” Plagg replied, swatting Adrien’s hand away with his paw, “don’t obsess over this tonight.”

Adrien reverted back to silence, sliding off the bed to his window, where a ghost-like reflection glanced back at him. His shoulders slumped.

“Yeah, Plagg, sure,” he conceded feebly, meeting the Kwami’s eyes with a half-hearted grin. All the comfort Plagg had given him earlier was seeping out of him- like he was in a rapidly cooling bath. Adrien turned away guiltily from Plagg’s sceptical look, biting his lip. Once again the image of Marinette looking at Nathanael like he was the sun played in his mind, looping over and over again. Now he was the one feeling sick.

He rested his head against the glass.

Plagg didn’t say anything. Neither of them did. For both of them knew he was lying. He wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it if he tried.

Chapter Text

Marinette cringed, pulling her phone away from her ear at Alya’s screech, fairly certain she’d never hear properly again.

Across the room from her, nestled amongst the cushions of her chaise longue, Tikki shot her a look of sympathy. Marinette frowned back at her.

“Where were you? I was trying to message you for ages!” Alya was yelling, almost beside herself, before Marinette heard a deep intake of breath. When Alya spoke next, her tone was a lot calmer, “I just want to know what’s happening.”

Marinette grabbed the back of her swivel chair, spinning it around absent-mindedly as she carefully considered her next words. The problem was, she was a bit stuck.

Not a lot of people knew that Nathanael was bisexual. It’s not, he reassured her, that he was ashamed of it. Rather, he was just a shy person and felt weird broadcasting his sexuality for the whole world to hear regardless of what gender he was dating. “Straight people,” he argued “never have to run around telling people they’re straight.”

Of course if anyone asked him about it, he never denied it; If you knew him well enough- he would gush for hours about his amazing, smart, funny boyfriend until you wouldn’t know whether to gag on the cotton-ball fluffiness of his words, or cuddle him into oblivion. He and Louis were the most physically affectionate couple Marinette knew (even more so than her mother and father). They had no qualms about PDA, and were even talking about going to London Pride next year during Nath’s stay.

Nath was also appallingly bad at social media (something Marinette had been pestering him to get better at), only ever using it to upload photos of his drawings and paintings. He hardly ever posted selfies. No, that all went on Louis’ accounts. So, even if people were following Nathanael, they wouldn’t know what his eye colour was, let alone he had a boyfriend. Added to the fact that, because Louis didn’t attend their school and his university schedule wasn’t complimentary, most people were simply unaware that he existed.

Which led Marinette to her problem. She’d mentioned Louis before, in passing, but nothing which would indicate the nature of Nath’s relationship with him. It would have been all the proof she needed to tell Alya, to convince her that she was not- in fact- going out with Nathanael again. But she refused to out Nath without his consent, no matter how blasé he was about the whole thing.

Of course she could have said she was Ladybug, and she’d been making out with Chat Noir the past couple of nights, as proof that her and Nath weren’t a thing. But that would probably invoke a nuclear explosion somewhere in the vicinity of Alya’s apartment, so she decided against that.

“I’m sorry Alya, I should have messaged you back earlier but I was busy! And NO not on a date ok?” she hastened to add when she heard Alya breathe as though she was about to interrupt her.

“Then why were you holding hands?” if she were here right now, Marinette was convinced she’d be receiving a prod on the chest courtesy of Alya’s index finger.

“You and I hold hands all the time! I hold hands with Nino sometimes! We’re EUROPEAN for god’s sake,” Marinette whined, spinning her chair around one last time so she could collapse into it with a huff of irritation, “you’re making it seem like I- I- had sex with him in the middle of the street or something!”

“Ok, number one: thanks for the reminder of our cultural heritage,” Alya retorted, her tone dry and humourless, “And number two: yeah we’ve held hands, you’ve held hands with Nino too, but- to counter your point- neither of us have had our tongues down your throat! Our hand holding has always been strictly platonic.”

Marinette hit her head against her monitor, wondering how her life had come to this, how she could be stuck arguing with her best friend about the difference between platonic and non-platonic hand holding.

“We never made out!” she defended, indignant, “we didn’t even get to that point before it went to hell. And I’m telling you now, Nath and I were holding hands platonically,” she knew Alya would be able to hear the quotation marks she’d just made, “he was just happy that he gets to go to London, and wanted to thank me for helping him.” Her face slipped further and further down the computer screen- leaving a shiny imprint as she went. “It was platonic drinks between friends. Even Louis was there!”

“Oh,” Alya replied, mildly surprised by the new nugget of information “Louis is Nath’s friend right?”

Marinette was silent for a moment, casting a sideways glance at Tikki, before she hung her head with a sigh.

“Yeah. His- friend,” she lied, “look you and I, and Nath for that matter, know that last summer was a mistake. Neither of us want to go back there, there’s no feelings like that ok? When I say we’re just friends, that’s all we are. I proooomise. Ok?”

When the pressure of the computer screen became too uncomfortable, Marinette lifted her head away from her computer as she waited for Alya to respond. She waited a while.

“Ok,” Alya replied softly, “I just don’t want to see you hurt. Either of you. You were so upset when it didn’t work out.”

“I know, I know,” Marinette recalled with a wince, “but I think… I think that was less to do with Nath and more to do with myself.”

“Totally. I get it girl. I was there,” Alya agreed, when suddenly a loud crash echoed through Marinette’s speaker, accompanied by a loud squeal and a curse from Alya, “shit look I gotta go, the tweebs are fighting again.”

“Good luck,” Marinette nodded gravely, understanding just how much trouble Alya’s twin brothers could be.

After they’d said their goodnights, Marinette crawled up to her bed with a sigh, sketchbook tucked warily under her arm as she went. She wanted to get a few good sketches in before dinner. Her thoughts wandered to her beloved ‘Mecha Wars VIII: Mega Redemption Battle’, opting to be responsible for a change, and not show up to Chat’s patrol. A good night of rest, and kicking the ever loving crud out of the evil space robots from her favourite fighting game, seemed like the best recipe for relaxing. As much as she wanted to go and see Chat, a part of her knew that she couldn’t neglect herself because of her new-found love.

“Are you alright Marinette?” Tikki questioned, landing on her knee. Marinette nodded, humming. As much as she loved Tikki, she didn’t feel like speaking at that moment in time. Tikki caught on to her mood, and floated away to give her privacy.

Twenty minutes later, Marinette tossed her pencil away angrily, a frustrated growl escaping her lips. The pencil landed at the edge of the bed, where it bounced unsatisfactorily. She sighed, flopping backwards, until her back rested against the mattress. Grabbing her sketchbook, she held it above her head, at arm’s length, wrinkling her nose at the smudged remains of drawings she’d erased. No good. Nothing was coming out like she wanted to.

Just as she was about to put the sketchbook down, it slipped from her grasp and smacked her in the face. For a moment she just let it lie there, the remnants of her artistic failure against the failure that was her face.

That was how her mother found her to call her to dinner.

Her parents picked up on her sulking, and dinner was uneventful and awkward because of it. Marinette could tell her parents wanted to ask what was wrong, but knew better than to pressure and prod for an answer. She’d never been so grateful for that.

After dinner she sat against her chaise, head lolling to the side as she stared unblinkingly at the skyline beyond the round glass window. A dull ache resonated in her chest, an old wound that hadn’t quite healed. She sighed, closing her eyes…

It wasn’t that she didn’t love Nathanael, she did. She loved him so much. The same way she loved Alya, the same way she loved Nino; a deep bond that could only be formed from a choice- the choice to let these people into your heart. Of course she loved Nath, he was one of her closest friends, her art buddy, the only one that could sympathise with her fashion struggles- who was also awake at three am when inspiration struck. He’d help her with wrist exercises and she was his model when he was stuck on a pose. They shared each other’s successes, supported the other when they doubted their abilities (which was often). He was a huge part of her life, a part separate from saving Paris, or sharing gossip with Alya, or singing in the car with Nino…

And last Summer she’d almost irreversibly screwed that up.

Adrien had left that summer, touring Italy with his father, Chat Noir was off visiting family. Alya was busy looking after her siblings, and Nino had a part time job at a pharmacy (which he utterly loathed). The days had blurred, one lonely boring day after another. But Nath had been there, just as bored as she’d been…and her thoughts had turned dangerous.

Why, she’d thought, was she wasting time pining after Adrien? She was angry, furious, disappointed with her years of longing. It was pathetic, she’d thought, she was pathetic. But Nathanael...  Nathanael was always there for her, always making her laugh, always there to cheer her up when she was feeling down. They had so much in common, and she knew he’d had a crush on her a while back, and he was pretty darn cute too.

It was on a mid-August night, that Nathanael had come to hang out after the bakery had closed. They were out on her balcony; Nathanael was laughing at a snarky remark she’d made. The night was warm, Paris looked fondly upon the pair, the lanterns wrapped around her chimney made it seem like some sort of fairy-tale. All she could think about was how easy it seemed, how she didn’t have to doubt and worry about Nathanael’s feelings, how she never stuttered around him…

So she’d kissed him.

Marinette groaned into her hands, the memory had replayed over and over in her brain for months afterwards, as one of those moments she wanted to go back and scream at herself- yank herself away from Nath’s lips.

It was such a nothing kiss too, sweet and chaste, but her heart was slamming against her ribs, her breath short and shaky from her own daring.

But he’d kissed back. He’d been surprised, but he’d kissed back.

What followed was two weeks of confusion, of trips to the movies, of coffee lunches which neither of them were a hundred percent sure were dates because both of them were too nervous to talk about it. They kissed a bit, they held hands, they did everything a normal new couple did. But it just felt off. Their once easy conversations seemed stilted, forced. It was like missing a step climbing up stairs, or waking up to find all the furniture in your room had been moved an inch to the left. Their relationship was off-kilter and there was only one way to fix it.

It had been the most awkward talk of her life. Marinette was no stranger to awkward encounters, but this one left her feeling hollow, like a chunk of her heart was carved out.

They decided to stay friends. Both of them agreed it was too weird and they were better off the way things were.

Marinette wasn’t being hyperbolic when she'd said to Alya that it had been the worst summer of her life. All she’d wanted was to forget her hopeless, pointless crush on Adrien, all she’d wanted was to feel like someone wanted her for her. Someone who didn’t want her Ladybug self, but Marinette- her silly side, the one that could afford to make mistakes and made them often. The side who could swear and make daring jokes, the side who could be a silly teen with spots and bad hair days. The side of her away from the scrutiny of millions of eyes. But she didn’t just want to be loved, she wanted to love too.

Sure she loved Adrien, but she loved him from afar. She wanted someone to dote on, to make cookies and compliment, to tell them they were doing a great job, to shower them with praise and kisses. To make them feel better on bad days, to have silly arguments with.  She wanted it, to love and be loved, to be cherish and be cherished, she wanted it so badly that she physically ached. For a brief flash of time, she’d unfairly forced these goals onto Nathanael’s shoulders, grasping at straws, desperate for someone to look at her, really look at her.

It had been a mistake. She didn’t love Nathanael that way, she never had and never would, and it was her fault that they didn’t speak for months- until Alya finally gave up and locked them in the art cupboard so they could talk things through. That moment, coupled with Nath meeting Louis, had finally brought some semblance of normality back to their relationship. Somehow, miraculously, they had survived the awkwardness and come out stronger.

Somewhere in the midst of her recollections, Marinette had fallen into a fitful sleep. She woke up around midnight, drained and frustrated with herself for feeling down. Really, she reminded herself, she had a lot to feel thankful for. The past was the past and she had to stop beating herself up for mistakes she’d been too naïve to realise she’d been making at the time.

Tikki was asleep on her bed, and she didn’t want to wake the Kwami, so she decided to go for a walk as her civilian self. The Trocadero was calling to her and, despite it being unreasonable, a part of her hoped she’d find a certain someone there.

Before she left, she wrote Tikki a note explaining where she was, in case she woke up and wanted to find her. As her hand lingered on the latch to her room, she glanced at the red hoodie hanging up on her coat rack. She swallowed, staring it down for a few moments, before thinking better of it and climbing out of her room, closing the latch shut behind her.

With every footstep her heartbeat thundered. She felt herself pulled, like a dream, through the calm otherworldly presence of Paris after midnight. A part of her regretted not showing up to surprise Chat on his solo patrol, too wrapped up in her own self-pity to appreciate what she current had. It’s not like she had gotten any work done- regardless of how responsible she’d tried to be.

She hoped he’d be there, but why would he be? His patrol was long since finished, he was probably back in his home, asleep like any normal human being. She was ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. Besides, she mused as she subconsciously quickened her pace, even if he wasn’t there- at least the Trocadero might offer her some inspiration.  Lord knows she needed it, the page of her sketchbook was still as blank as ever.

Without realising, Marinette had practically broken out into a sprint. The reasonable part of her mind was asking why, what purpose did this serve? He wasn’t going to be there, it screamed as she rounded the corner and dashed up the stone steps, he wasn’t-

The world stilled as she came to a halt, the flat marble plains of the Trocadero glinting against the lights of the city. As quickly as her heart had been beating, it fell quiet. She gave a small gasp.

It was him, sitting in the exact same spot where he’d found her earlier that week.

Marinette wanted to rub her eyes, to pinch herself, to check if she really was dreaming.

But she wasn’t.

After a couple of breaths, it truly sunk in.

He was there.

Chat Noir was there.

Chapter Text

A cold breeze danced across the exposed expanse of the Trocadero, its low hiss the only sound save for the muted traffic in the distance. Marinette and Chat Noir faced each other, silent, shocked, wondering…

Marinette was panting, breathless, unable to fully comprehend the fact that Chat was there, his glowing eyes boring into her. Why? Why were they staring at each other this way? Or rather- why was he looking at her like that? Like she was an apparition come to ease his troubled soul, like he couldn’t quite believe she was really here.

A heady sense of attraction settled at the top of Marinette’s mind, like a hand pushing against the crown of her head. She felt herself treading towards him before she’d consciously decided to do so. Wrong, she thought, this was wrong. She wasn’t Ladybug right now; she was Marinette. Thus she had to feign indifference, pretend she hadn’t (to borrow a phrase from Alya) had his tongue down her throat.

Ok so that wasn’t exactly how they kissed. How she kissed Chat was far nicer than that, not that there was anything wrong with having someone else’s tongue down one’s throat but- oh god she was getting off topic.

She swallowed thickly, determined to keep a mask of ignorance on her face (the irony was not lost on her). Still, Marinette couldn’t deny the intangible strings of fate which seemed to constantly tie herself to her green-eyed partner, constantly force each other into each other’s lives, constantly remind her of how they were two halves of the same whole.

Marinette wondered if there was someone like that at school, if she was constantly tripping over the boy behind Chat’s mask- both metaphorically and literally. Someone she was drawn to the same way as she was to Chat Noir. Another pair of green eyes, a mop of blonde hair, and a kind smile swam into her mind’s eye.

Despite inwardly shaking her head, the image remained. Once again she had to remind herself that the only reason Adrien crossed her path so often was because she was so ridiculously, pathetically hung up on him.

Knowing her, she’d missed all the signs, any little moments between Chat’s alter ego and herself; passed through them like a ghost traversing through walls. Knowing her luck, she’d completely missed what was right in front of her whilst she’d been busy pining after Adrien- trying to make links between the two boys who held her heart.

She really was something else, in every negative sense of the word.

“You’re here again?”

He’d spoken first, his voice deep, like he was speaking for the first time in years.

“It was my spot first, Chat,” she reasoned, moving to sit beside him, surprised by the emotionless calm in her own voice. Lord she was tired, “you can’t come here and scent mark my territory.”

Chat chortled and she glanced up, surprised to see a layer of heaviness past his mask. He was smiling though.

Marinette didn’t quite know what to make of that, so she didn’t address it. Maybe Ladybug might’ve, but it wasn’t Marinette’s place to do so.

“Apologies, I didn’t mean to suggest I was taking the Trocadero and marking it as my own,” he acquiesced, waving a hand of surrender to her, “this is your sleepless domain, not mine.”

“Glad we’ve settled that, Alley-Cat,” she nodded, unsure if she should have used such a nickname, but too tired to really care. The scars from her earlier musings, the reminders of her romantic failures, were still quite raw. Truth be told, she’d give anything at that moment to be Ladybug- to transform and take his hand, run carefree across Paris, laughing and kissing all the way.

She smiled, small and warm at the thought, as the pair settled into a silence that was halfway between awkward and comfortable. It would come, she thought- she hoped. One day they’d know each other, hands and lives fully entwined as they transformed in front of each other. A part of her knew they were close, so close, inches away from that time. For once, she actually didn’t feel the need to rush. Patience coursed through her, where it would normally prod and provoke. Maybe it was the tiredness, she couldn’t find it in her to feel impatient, or perhaps it was the fact that she was- in a weird way- enjoying the ride. There were so many possibilities, so many outcomes, and where Marinette usually felt overwhelmed when there were too many paths ahead of her, he was one of her constants. The pathways were paved differently, some rough, some smooth, but they all led to the same destination. A damned good destination, she was certain.

In the small space she’d begun to carve out for herself in the world, she had a few constants; her parents, her friends and now she’d chosen him- Chat Noir- as one of them.

Subconsciously, she flopped against his side and where that should have been awkward, it wasn’t. For the first time in hours, her soul felt calm. Sure she’d made some bad, ill-informed choices in her eighteen years, but he wasn’t one of them. Of that she had no doubt.

Chat Noir would never, could never, be a bad decision.

In fact, her challenge for him to find her might just turn out to be the best decision she’d ever made. Marinette folded her fingers into her lap. Wrapped in a blanket of contentment, she hummed sleepily.

Chat Noir, on the other hand, was on the verge of a heart attack.

“S-sleepy?” he squawked, his voice reaching pre-pubescent pitches, and he fought the urge to bludgeon himself to death with his own baton, “I mean, you sleepy?”

Marinette nodded, thankfully not drawing attention to his faux-pas, “sorry for using you as a human cushion.”

“Don’t you mean cat cushion? A lot more comfortable than a pin cushion and at least four times as cuddly!” he joked, feeling more like himself than he had all night.

He hadn’t meant to come here, but a part of him didn’t want to go home after his patrol was done. His thoughts would be the same, locked up in his room with no escape, and they would still keep him up into the early hours. So, he’d reasoned, there was no sense in returning when the city, when his alter-ego, gave him a reason to exist outside his own troubled mind.

Before he’d known where he was heading, he’d arrived at the steps of the Trocadero and boy didn’t that just sum up his life in general? He hadn’t even been here for five minutes before she’d shown up; the girl who haunted his being, who he couldn’t let go of even before he’d realised the full depth of his feelings.

The girl for whom his feelings refused to switch off; despite Ladybug, despite Nathanael, despite himself. His hands clenched, hating how much he enjoyed having Marinette lean against him, having her trust him so much, how his heart called to her.

Then she giggled and it was though he’d been punched in the gut. The tremors of her chuckle echoed in his bones, settled in his heart like stardust, and he knew. He was a total, complete, goner.

Oh god My Lady, I’m so sorry, he thought closing his eyes, I’ve fallen for the girl I thought was you.

He’d been so sure it was Marinette, but one wretched moment earlier that afternoon had plunged him into an ocean of doubt. With every passing second he felt himself sinking, deeper and deeper, away from the surface, where the light from the sun above couldn’t reach.

“Ok, ok,” she sat up, yawning, and god help him he missed her being by his side- the side reserved for Ladybug.

He wanted to kick himself. Three years. Three years this girl had been right behind him in class, right under his nose. Why, only when he couldn’t have her, had he realised he wanted her? Did he only want her because he couldn’t have her? Were his feelings really so selfish? Was he, himself, so selfish? Especially when he had Ladybug. He loved Ladybug, not Marinette! He had no right to feel this way!

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Adrien, he chided himself, you’re a model. You aren’t allowed cake.

“What about you Mister? Don’t you have a home to go back to?” she asked curiously, quirking her eyebrow at him, completely oblivious to his inner conflict. Chat was determined to keep it that way.

“Yeah, but I seem to be a night-cat for now. I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep even if I’d taken a heavy dose of catnip.”

“I know the great superhero, role-model, and Parisian Prince, Chat Noir didn’t just suggest he did-” Marinette pretend to gasp, throwing her hand up to her lips as she whispered the remainder of her sentence “- drugs?”

In spite of the crushing weight against his chest, Chat Noir laughed, ignoring the horrifyingly pleasant swoop of his stomach when she’d called him ‘Parisian Prince.’

Kill me.

“No, not at all! Haven’t you seen those posters at school?”

Marinette snorted then, reminding herself of the cheesy anti-drugs posters the police department had asked the pair of them to model for.

“Of course, of course,” she nodded, standing up and posing playfully, the same way she had on the posters, dropping her voice low as she mocked her alter-ego, “after all ‘Ladybug wants YOU to stay Miraculous, by saying NO to DRUGS!’”

Marinette relaxed her pose, giggling uncontrollably at how absurd her life was. To think that she was the face of anti-drugs campaigns for her peers! Chloe would probably die of shock if she ever found out. She distinctly remembered her spoiled peer running up to her to demand an autograph, despite trying to lock Marinette in an empty classroom earlier that day.

When Chat Noir didn’t laugh along with her she glanced down, finding him staring at her with wide eyes, like she was the sun and he was the moon. Like she was Ladybug.

She winked.

Chat coughed, turning away, and Marinette didn’t miss the pink tinge of his cheeks. A part of her internally screamed at her own boldness, at the sheer impertinence of it all.

For God’s sake Marinette, you aren’t supposed to be seducing the poor cat as yourself, he doesn’t know you’re Ladybug yet, a part of her- which sounded rather like Tikki- yelled, stop testing his loyalties.

She threw herself back down beside him, ungraciously sprawling her legs down the steps and leaning back on her palms.

Well, she thought, at least I know he’s attracted to both sides of me. Or at least it kind of looks that way...maybe.

After another moment of silence, this time one-hundred-percent awkward, Chat tried to change the subject.

“What about you, Marinette? What brings you out here on another sleepless night? I’d say you should go home and get some beauty sleep but you don’t-” he was halfway to finishing his flirtatious remark before he realised to whom he was speaking, and promptly snapped his mouth shut. Adrien cursed the lack of a filter he seemed to possess when he was his alter ego.

Astoundingly, Marinette didn’t seem to mind, shrugging non-committedly at his remark.

“Oh I gave up on beauty sleep a long time ago,” she chuckled, hovering a hand over her face, “I’d need a beauty coma to fix this mess.”

Before Chat had a chance to even begin stating how insanely wrong she, Marinette continued to speak. A frown crossed her face and Chat watched, curious.

“I’ve just had a lot on my mind recently, and it’s kind of causing an art block in my brain. I can’t design any outfits up to my usual standard. Which sucks. Like- it super-duper sucks,” she sulked, puffing out her cheeks, and it was only then that Chat realised how much her face had changed over the years. Her cheeks were still rounded, especially when she was deliberately making them so, but she was less like the fifteen-year-old he’d met all those years ago. Her features were more defined, dainty and cute, yet worryingly attractive. He had no doubt that she could look every bit of a model as he did if they ever did a photoshoot together. Chat swallowed, the phrase ‘puberty done right’ slipped into his mind before he could stop it and he tore his eyes away before they had a chance to roam any further. He could almost feel the flames of hell licking at his heels, ready to drag him down at a moments notice.

We’re playing with fire Chat Noir Ladybug’s voice piped up from the back of his mind.

He’d told her to let him burn. She said she never would.

She didn’t account for her idiot cat to single-handedly douse himself in oil and light the match on his own.

“That sounds like an annoying purr-oblem,” Chat nodded sympathetically, refusing to give into to his rebellious thoughts. He was eighteen, nearly a grown man. Above all things, he prided himself on being respectful, a gentleman both in and out of the mask, and so he forced himself to concentrate on the conversation at hand, “although I can’t sym-paw-thise completely, I am not creative in the slightest.”

“Seriously? Two puns in a row? You’re hopeless, Chat Noir,” she sighed, shaking her head fondly at him, “but really? Not creative at all?”

“No, I’m more into science, tech, those kinds of things,” he replied, running a hand through his hair, a playful smirk stretched across his features as he preened, “besides I’m more of a model than a designer, wouldn’t you say?”

He expected her to roll her eyes, to giggle at his silliness. When she did neither, he looked over to her, surprised to see her staring. Before he had the chance to analyse the look in her wide eyes, however, she’d turned away.

A wild thought entered his mind, taking root and sprouting several branches before he had a chance to stop it. Once, long ago, Master Fu had told him that Ladybug and Chat Noir were two halves of the same whole, two sides of the same coin. In a way, Marinette complimented Adrien similar to the way Ladybug complimented Chat Noir. Ladybug was analytical where Chat Noir was the type to rush in head-first, creation and destruction, good luck and bad.

And Marinette and Adrien? She was fire where he was water, designer and model, creative and scientific. They balanced each other out just as much as Ladybug and Chat Noir did.

But those comparisons, he thought gritting his teeth, were forbidden now. Yet every second, he drew another line between Marinette and Ladybug, and every second he despised himself for it.

She’s not Ladybug, and she’s not yours he thought bitterly, reminding himself of the things he’d seen and heard earlier that day. He remembered Marinette and Nathanael hand-in-hand, him spinning her the same way he’d twirled Ladybug the previous night. Chat could feel his cat-ears drooping, and he stared at his lap, trying to ignore the little twist in his gut. Marinette’s had a boyfriend, Ladybug hasn’t. Ladybug wouldn’t lie to you about that. Those are the facts you know for certain. So get it together Agreste, and move on.

Whilst this was going on in his head, he realised Marinette had yet to reply. Chat swallowed at Marinette’s silence, worried. Had he crossed the line with his model comment? It was probably too flirty. That reminded him, he still needed to apologise for their…moment earlier on in the week.

“Eh well I guess you are a model, right?” Marinette said quietly, after a pause.

His heart stopped, his head snapped back to her, mouth agape- only to find her staring up at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Slowly, her eyes slunk back to him. He could only stare, frozen.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, his mind offered helpfully.

Marinette frowned before gesturing, with a non-committal arm, to the air around them.

“The anti-drug posters?” she offered and Chat had never felt the urge to collapse in on himself with relief, never knew he could feel something akin to a collapsing star, until that moment. He didn’t let it show, putting all his years of modelling experience into leaning back casually.

“Oh. Right. I never thought of that as modelling, but I guess you’re right,” and then he decided he desperately needed a change of topic- if only to let his poor heart recover from the shock it had just received, “so how about you tell me about your art? If you talk about it, it might un-block you?”

Although he was unsure if the advice was sage or not, he found himself curious when she stood up, walking a few steps, her head bowed in thought. Chat wondered if she was about to take his advice, or berate him. Honestly, Marinette was quite unpredictable, he’d never fully been able to figure her out. But that’s what he liked about her. She kept him on his toes.

A vision of Ladybug crossed his mind and he had to fight not to bury his face in his hands.

Looks like I have a type.

“The title for my final art and design project is ‘fusion’, so I had the idea to create a dress inspired by my heritage,” she began, brows furrowed, and Chat had to admire how quickly she seemed to switch into artist-mode. He’d been around enough designers to know she certainly sounded like one, “I guess that sounds kind of vain, making a dress revolved around my own identity, but once I got the idea I couldn’t let it go. Does that sound stupid? It probably sounds stupid. The idea sounds better in my head.”

Ah. There was the ramble-y Marinette he knew. He fought the smile which made the corner of his mouth twitch, though he lost to the fondness blooming in him, surrendered himself to it. She was just so…cute.

“The point is,” Marinette continued, pacing, and Chat was quite sure the world had fallen away for her- that he could be swapped with a lamp-post right now and she wouldn’t notice. It was far too endearing, “I know it’s not particularly original, fusing cultures in fashion. Designers do it all the time, especially with Chinese couture, but this is different. It’s me. It’s personal. It’s like I want to show the combination of cultures in me, French and Chinese. I wanted the personal touch to create this sense of…I don’t know, home? That sounds weird I know, how can a dress look like home?”

She fixed him with a worried stare then, biting into her lip.

“You want it to represent who you are,” he replied, thoughtfully twisting his fingers around his belt-tail, “because you yourself are a fusion of different cultures?”

The smile on Marinette’s face rivalled the Eiffel tower shining behind her and, before he could fully recover from the shock of it, she’d rushed forward and grabbed his hands excitedly.

“Yes!” she cried “Yes that’s exactly it!” and she dropped his hands as quickly as she’d picked them up, leaving Chat’s heart in the dust as she resumed her pacing, more energetic than he’d ever seen her. It was a sight to behold.

For a brief moment he was struck by a memory. A warm room with a nostalgic, sun-lit glow; of happiness and measuring tapes teasingly twisted around a blonde ponytail, of two figures playfully throwing fabric scraps at each other, of laughter at glasses misplaced on a mannequin. Home.

Before he could help himself, Chat winced, caught off guard by the sting of the memory. That… that was a long time ago. It had been many years since he felt home in the place he lived.

No. Home meant something different entirely now.

The thought calmed him and he glanced back up to where Marinette was still ranting on- feeling both guilty and thankful she hadn’t caught him mid-reminiscing.

“…and every time I tried, the Chinese influence was too forceful. It consumed the design and made the French influence near non-existent,” she waved her arms in frustration, pacing faster, back-and-forth. Chat was reminded of a yo-yo, “you would think that it would be the other way around, having lived in Paris my whole damn life! But noooo, nope-ity, nope, nope! My brain has to be difficult!” she huffed, slowing down, “I just need some kind of spark, you know? A bit of inspiration, something to get the ball rolling in favour of the French side of me. But I got distracted today, and it was kind of hard to concentrate. So I haven’t figured out how to find that spark yet.”

Marinette deflated then, her movements stalled, her shoulders slumped. Her once vivid blue eyes dulled as she stared out at seemingly nothing.

Chat, very determinedly, decided not to press her about what distracted her; he had a fair idea and he was enjoying her company too much to pull at that thread quite yet. He knew he’d need to tug it loose eventually, but for now, he dug his heels into denial and refused to budge.

After all, his Princess (she’s not your Princess!) was frustrated, upset. He regarded her quietly, the light bouncing off her delicate features, the freckles across her cheeks huddled close together as her face scrunched into a pout, her loose hair messily tumbling around one shoulder. He thought about the passion she had for her craft, her wit and intelligence-

And was suddenly struck by the greatest idea he’d ever had in his entire life.

“Chat?” Marinette enquired as he leapt to his feet, peering over at him with a curious tilt of her head.

“I know a place that might help you,” he breathed excitedly, his smile widening with every passing moment, “it will take a little while to get there but I really think it might give you the inspiration you’re looking for, that is- umm- if you want to go?”

She blinked, letting the words sink in for what seemed- to Chat- like an eternity. That is, until her mouth twisted into a teasing smirk which had his hand half-reaching for his heart, as if he could calm it that way.

“Are you asking me out on a date?” she drawled, leaning her torso towards him, the very picture of a siren.

Even before the last word slipped from her tongue, Chat Noir felt his face violently bursting into flames. Stumbling back, he waved frantic hands in her direction.

“D-date?! No! No not a date, I didn’t mean anything indecent, I swear on my Miraculous, no I- well Ladybug- and- you see it’s not that-”

She saved him from his floundering with a loud snicker, shoulders shaking with mirth.

“You’re a good friend, Chat Noir,” she chuckled, “and entirely too easy to tease.”

Chat exhaled, short and sharp, through his nose.

“Marinette,” he said, only to frown when her eyes widened, his earlier blush transferred to her, but he was too busy glowing at her calling him a friend to put too much thought into her reaction, “one of these days you’re going to make me faint.”

“Now that I’d like to see,” she nodded, skipping down the steps- humming tunelessly as she went. Glancing over her shoulder at him, she raised a curious eyebrow in his direction, “So, Chat Noir, where are you taking me?”

There was something challenging in her gaze which made Chat Noir stand up taller, and he followed her down the steps to stand by her side. Pulling his baton from its mini holster, and spinning it a few times around his fingers for good measure (not to show off, of course) he fixed Marinette with a wicked grin.

“Don’t worry,” he replied, and now it was his turn to wink, “you’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Marinette blushed, swivelling on her heel and walking a few more steps away from Chat Noir, hoping the lack of eye-contact would calm her racing heart. Damn him. Damn him and his winking- and his confidence- and his…just him-ness!

You hypocrite, she inwardly admonished because, honestly, she’d been teasing him not even one minute before! She had absolutely no right to feel as flustered as she did, or as annoyed. Marinette huffed, glancing out at her favourite place in all of Paris, trying to relax the sudden aching tension in her muscles.

It was impossible. No matter how much the Eiffel tower flickered its reassuring lights at her, or the low hum of traffic passing by attempted to ground her back to reality, she still felt his eyes on her. He might as well be setting her whole back on fire.

Damn smoulder.

“Marinette?”

She sighed. There was absolutely no way her heart could relax when he said her name. That, she mused, was not his fault. He didn’t know he was addressing his lady by her real name, after all.

Marinette turned around to find Chat staring at her, his ears drooping again, as he shuffled awkwardly from one foot to the other. She tilted her head, perplexed at his sudden change in demeanour, and was about to question what was wrong when he lifted his chin to speak.

“Did you change your mind?” Chat asked as he scratched the back of his neck, his tone so shy and gentle that it made Marinette positively melt. Her fingers flexed instinctively, wanting to reach for him, but her arms remained squarely at her side, “It’s fine if you did, it’s late and I understand you might not want to go travelling across the city with a guy whose identity you don’t know.”

At his selflessness, Marinette went from melting to completely boneless. Honestly how could one person be so endlessly kind? So thoughtful? Unconsciously, like fingers trailing through the surface of a still lake, she floated back towards him, missing the way his eyes bulged at her approach.

For a split second she forgot that she wasn’t Ladybug.

“You know I think I understand why you have that miraculous now,” she hummed, fixing him with a loving gaze. It was only when he gaped at her, when she saw his face turn a brilliant shade of scarlet, that alarm bells sounded in her head, and she backed off sheepishly. Well done Mari, he probably thinks you’re some insane stalker fangirl now.

After Marinette moved away Chat realised how close she’d actually been to him, and his body cried out in protest. He wanted her back. He wanted her close- something he shouldn’t be desiring at all. He glanced down at his feet, guilty but unable to quell the feeling her sincere praise inspired. Her words wormed their way into his protesting heart and made themselves home there. He wouldn’t be able to remove them if he tried.

Soon, both of them realised she’d yet to answer his question, and they simultaneously snapped their eyes back to each other.

Marinette attempted to wash away the awkwardness by offering an insincere chuckle. She raised a feeble hand and gently poked his shoulder. That was a mistake.

“You’ve been a superhero for, what, three years now? And you helped when an akuma was after me! How could I not trust you?” the ‘you silly cat’ was left unsaid, it was too much of a Ladybug thing to say, “We’re friends, right?”

Chat tried hard not to flinch at the memory. Yet another reminder of Marinette and Nathanael’s relationship. Another reminder that Nathanael had had feeling for Marinette for a long time now. Feelings which (judging from this afternoon), hadn’t died down despite their relationship not working out. In fact, Chat realised, Nathanael’s feelings were so strong that Hawk Moth himself had been able to sense them, take advantage of them. Yet, even after he’d been given all that power, Nathanael had been nothing but kind to Marinette- when another akuma might have just kidnapped her outright. He’d only gotten angry when Marinette revealed her betrayal.

Chat’s fists clenched. How could he even begin to get in the way of feelings that ran so deep? Especially as, he reminded himself for the millionth time, SHE WASN’T LADYBUG. He’d been wrong and he had to snuff out the candle he held for Marinette before it became a wildfire.

“Yeah,” he nodded, forcing a smile, “we’re friends,” and that’s all we’ll ever be.

Marinette retuned his smile, though hers at least- appeared true.

“I was actually wondering how we’re going to get to this mystery place?” she inquired gesturing to the traffic below with a snicker, “it’s not like we can just get a taxi with you dressed up like that. Although I suppose we could say we came from a costume party or something, but even then I don’t have my purse on me.”

Chat shook his head, determined to snap himself out of his depressing thoughts and live in the moment. Regardless of what he was feeling, Marinette was struggling with her art, and he wanted to help her, as her friend. In a way, it was a silent apology, for feeling things towards her which he shouldn’t.

“Oh, I was just thinking I could carry you,” he shrugged, before he realised what that sounded like and he blanched, “I mean on my back, like a piggy back ride, not like Spiderman and Mary Jane,” though I wouldn’t mind carrying you like the princess you are his rebellious mind offered, and he fought an urge to groan at his own hopelessness.

Marinette snickered, burying her lips into her palm. Spiderman and Mary Jane huh?

“Ok, that’s fine,” she said “although wouldn’t it be more of a kitten-back ride?”

Why does that sound dirty? Why, why, WHY does that sound dirty?! I hate myself Marinette yelled internally, unaware Chat’s thoughts were along the same lines.

Chat laughed nervously, before kneeling down so that Marinette could step forward and wrap her arms around his shoulders. Slowly, her hands linked across his chest and wow- even with how much she’d kissed him recently, she hadn’t realised how broad his back was until she was pressed flush against it. Chat’s hands slid down to her thighs, wrapping his fingers around them protectively as he stood up and her feet left the floor. Instinctively, Marinette pulled her arms tighter around him, tucking her chin into his shoulder. Even through his suit, he could feel her breath tickling the nape of his neck.

Both of them were ever-thankful the other couldn’t see their expression.

Bad idea, Adrien thought, sure Marinette could feel the heat from his face, sure people in China could feel it. Heck, he wouldn’t be surprised if Martians could feel the heat rising from him. If the world woke up tomorrow to discover the polar ice caps had melted, and all the polar bears were extinct, it would be his fault. This was the worst idea you’ve ever had in your entire life Adrien. This was a horrible, terrible idea.

Actually, another part of his brain piped up this is pretty great.

It was amazing, he mused, how he just kept finding new lows to hit.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Yeah,” he heard Marinette reply, her voice small, her hair tickling him as she nodded. He’d half-closed his eyes before he remembered that this was supposed to be a friendly way to carry someone, not romantic, “am I holding you too tightly? Your voice sounds kind of strangled.”

“I’m fine!” he choked, “I mean, don’t you worry about your chat-riot. He’s fine.”

He heard Marinette giggle and cringed in embarrassment. Ok so maybe he’d dropped his voice a little too low, to try and convince her he was all right. But at least he was out of the woods in that regard.

“Ok,” she said, wiggling against him to get more secure. The friction between his suit and her legs, wrapped around him as she moved, sent violent jolts of electricity through him. He was starting to reconsider bludgeoning himself with his own baton. It was such a simple plan, and would prevent him from self-sabotaging any further, “don’t- don’t drop me ok?”

Marinette’s heart thundered, creating a violent drum-beat against her ribcage, the vibrations of which were felt throughout all her extremities. A part of her knew it was due to how very close they were, but another part of her couldn’t help but feel a worried. After all, flying through Paris, with no Kwami powers to guard her from a fall, was more than a little daunting.

Underneath her, Chat shuffled, reaching for his baton and trying exceedingly hard to ignore the fact his heart turned into mush at her apprehension.

“I won’t. I promise,” he replied, unable to control the tenderness in his voice, “hold on tight.”

He launched them into the sky and, for a second, Marinette’s stomach seemed to flutter into the heavens. She was weightless, feather-light, and the only thing preventing her from floating into the moonlit sky was her partners hand wrapped around her- the other using his baton to propel them forwards. The air up here was colder, and she was only wearing her t-shirt. So that (she reasoned) was her reason for pressing tighter against his warm body. That- and safety of course.

Once the initial shock had died down, and Marinette became used to the occasional jostling when Chat landed on a new building, she had a chance to breathe, a chance to feel, a chance to simply be.

It was like the first time she’d truly gotten the hang of swinging through the city using her yo-yo. It was thrilling, exhilarating, wonderful. But it was also different, unlike anything she’d ever felt before. The air whipped into her eyes, making her vision blurry, and Paris’ lights turned into fireflies, glowing like they were in their own enchanted world. The buildings vanished and instead they were flying, soaring through the air, twisting and turning, floating in a sea of orange starlight and silver moonlight.

A laugh bubbled up in her chest, escaping her before she could help it. For once she chose not to care. Who did she have to impress? What did it matter if she sounded like an idiot? Up here, it was only her and Chat. Uninhibited, unguarded, unrestrained, Marinette laughed and soon heard Chat laughing along with her, her mirth contagious. She didn’t ever want it to stop.

Marinette knew that this is what love was like. Real, endless, love. Between the safety of Chat’s hold on her, the dream-like sensation of flying through Paris, unaware of the destination, and the utter freedom she felt flowing in and out of her like ocean waves, she knew. The locks on their future had all but fallen to the wayside, and only one remained.

I hope he figures it out soon, she mused, suddenly realising they’d come to a standstill, but if waiting means more moments like this, I guess I can wait a little longer.

“Ok,” Chat said, “we’re almost there. Can you do something for me?”

It took the length of a heartbeat for Marinette to find her voice. Her head was spinning.

“Umm sure?” she replied with uncertainty.

“I want it to be a surprise, can you close your eyes?”

Marinette had to bite her cheek to keep herself in check. Really, how many times had they asked each other to close their eyes recently? It was quite adorable, though Marinette looked forward to the day both their eyes were open.

“Can do Alley-Cat!” she complied, closing her eyes and dipping her head, so that her nose brushed against the place where his neck and shoulder joined. She didn’t miss the small gasp which escaped him, and her ego purred as a result, “eyes are closed.”

The rest of the journey was silent, Chat concentrating on wherever they were heading, and Marinette calm enough to enjoy the simple feeling of being by his side. With her eyes closed, her other senses took over. She could hear Chat’s breathing, steady and strong, could feel his muscles rippling as he jumped…

And allowed herself a completely, utterly shameless moment of giddiness. She couldn’t help it; this amazing specimen of a human being seemed to like her as much as she liked him- at least when she was Ladybug. Considering just under a year ago, she’d been standing in the ashes of her first grand romantic failure, wondering if she would ever be loved, it was a thing to behold. It was only fair she was allowed to celebrate it, revel in it. The thought alone made her want to dance and squeal like she was once again a fifteen-year-old girl.

That being said, if she went back and told her fifteen-year-old self that she would go on to kiss Chat Noir many times, because she wanted to and not because of an akuma, fifteen-year-old Marinette would probably have laughed herself stupid.

Fifteen-year-old Marinette, she decided as she felt them landing with a crunch which sounded like gravel, was a god-damned idiot.

Chat bent down and set her back on the ground gently. Before she’d even taken a breath, she missed feeling him around her. It felt unnatural, to be apart from him now, and her arms dangled uselessly at her sides. She suddenly wished she brought the red hoodie along, her t-shirt wasn’t doing much to guard her from the light chill of the night-time breeze. But then, that would have given the game away.

“Am I allowed to open my eyes yet?” she enquired, a cheeky lilt to her voice.

“That depends,” Chat replied, his tone matching her own, “are you ready to be inspired?”

“Chaaaat,” she whined.

“Ok, ok,” he laughed and she could sense him waving his arms in surrender, “you can open them.”

Marinette opened her eyes- and gasped.

He’d taken her to a place she’d been to a thousand times in her life. Sunny days lounging on the grass, autumn days sitting by the fountain with a cup of coffee, spring days making flower chains and tourist spotting, but she’d never seen it like this.

The Jardin du Luxembourg was silent, devoid of life except for the pair of them, and the Palace du Luxembourg stood silent and dark beyond. It was imposing, magnificent and mysterious as it loomed over the pair, making Marinette feel small. The moonlight, and a few spotlights, helped created an eerie contrast of light and shadows. But it felt safe somehow, secret, and hers to take and form into anything she wanted.

Marinette wandered, dream-like, down the gravel path, fingers brushing against the lavender, the poppies, and sunflowers which wrapped around the grassy lawns laden with solemn statues. She imagined what it might have been like in olden times, when it was home to Parisian royalty, before becoming a place for politics. Marinette imagined the Regent traipsing down the same path which she herself was walking, clad in nothing but the finest clothes her son- the King- could buy, before his downfall. She imagined the enchanting parties, the political intrigue, the opulence and the elegance.

She came to a standstill at the large fountain, remembering sailing toy boats across it with her father, her French-born father, and wondered if any of the former royals had done the same. Reality felt altered here, as though the things she was experiencing were half-fabricated. It seemed that, were she to reach out and disturb the stillness of the fountain water, that the whole thing might disappear in a wisp of smoke- as if it had never been there to begin with.

Chat came to stand beside her quietly, almost shoulder to shoulder, and she found herself gently nudged back into the real world. She glanced up at him, smiling a quiet thanks. He returned the gesture.

“So, do you like it? I could have taken you to one of the other historical places, but this one was the first to come to mind,” he said, hopefully, shyly, and Marinette fell even more in love with him, “My mother and I used to come here all the time when I was younger. I thought maybe something historical and beautiful, like a palace, might inspire you- to remember all those pretty old fashioned clothes.”

Chat picked up a stone from the ground and skimmed it across the fountain and Marinette felt a sense of empathy towards the ripples now forming against the surface of the water. He did the same thing to her soul.

“I love it, this is amazing,” she whispered staring at him in awe. He’d never talked about his family before, not even when she was Ladybug, and Marinette wondered if he’d meant to do it, “I can almost feel the spark.”

Chat tilted his head, a small frown of disappointment crossed his face.

“Almost?”

Marinette nodded, turning on her heel to skip across the grounds.

“Almost!” She called softly back to him, “I think I need a closer look.”

“Woah, woah!” Chat cried, rushing to catch up to her, and Marinette fought the urge to laugh at the sudden fear gripping his voice, “what do you mean a closer look?”

She reached a glass door, trying out the doorknob curiously, and it opened without much fuss. Her eyes widened as it swung back on its hinges, allowing her access into a forbidden world. Surely, it was a sign?

Just as she was about to take a step forward, a heavy hand was placed on her shoulder and she turned back to see Chat Noir staring at her, pleading.

“You can’t- we can’t- go in there!” he choked, the grip on her shoulder tightening in his desperate need to keep her from her sudden urge to break the rules.

Marinette, for all intense and purposes, was a good, law-abiding citizen. She always did her best to do things right, be honest (apart from fibs to guard her secret). She always endeavoured to get her homework done on time, do her chores, be nice to her elders. Outside of her civilian life, Ladybug had to be the pinnacle of justice, the physical embodiment of everything good and right, she couldn’t afford to put a step wrong and prove to the world that she was a mere human, capable of making mistakes.

Maybe it was Tikki’s absence, maybe it was the adrenaline still careening through her veins from their fight across the city, but tonight- just for tonight- Marinette felt an insatiable need. The need to do something reckless, the need to be mischievous, the need to rebel.

“Well you wanted me to be inspired right?” she argued with a smirk, almost feeling sympathy for the way Chat’s lips trembled in disbelief, “and if they didn’t want us going in, why did they leave the door unlocked hmm?”

“They probably forgot to lock it, or maybe not all the guards have left for the night! Besides that’s not the point. I want you to be inspired, but I also don’t want you to be arrested!” he whispered, his breath hitching as she slid out of his grip, “what if you’re caught?!”

“Then I’ll be with you right?” she countered, taking a step backwards into the building, “you can say you saw me breaking and entering, and will be taking me to the police station. But really, you’ll just take me back home right? You wouldn’t really arrest me, would you?”

She wiggled her eyebrows, giggling when Chat gaped at her.

“Marinette please,” he begged, “don’t go in there!”

“I’m going,” she sang, taking a few steps more.

“Marinette!”

“You can’t stop meeee.”

“Marinette!”

“Come and get me Chat Noir,” she challenged before turning tail and racing through the halls, up a small flight of stairs, not stopping to see if he followed. Tapestries and regal portraits whizzed by her as she ran, the eyes of the painted following her movements. Her blood was pounding dangerously, her body felt as though a million volts had struck her, the soles of her shoes squeaked on the shiny floors as she ran and ran, having no idea where it was she was actually going.

Eventually she came to a halt, panting for breath, in what appeared to be a huge ballroom. She burst through a golden archway and came to a stop on top of a grand swirling staircase. The room was long and narrow. Three chandeliers hung low, at her eye level from where she stood at the top of the stairs. The walls were covered in gold arches and, wherever gold was not to be found, magnificent portraits hung in their stead. The polished floor below her was dull where the light did not reach, and lustrous in the places it did. Her lips parted in amazement.

The whole place felt like a movie set, like she’d stepped back in time and was a but a shadow to witness the history carved out before her. Finally, she understood why people used the expression ‘if these walls could talk’.

Her reverie was not to last, however, as a figure dropped down frown the ceiling- and Marinette bit back a yelp when she came face to face with a pair of luminescent green eyes.

“Oh my god!” she hissed, clutching her chest as she glared at Chat Noir, “are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Are you trying to give me one?!” he shot back, blinking, and his eyes returned to normal, “can we leave now?”

“Honestly Chat,” she rolled her eyes, gently pushing past him so that she could look at ballroom again, her mind’s eye painting pictures of fantastic parties, and she could see the dresses sewing themselves before her eyes, “anyone would think you’ve never been rebellious a day in your life.”

Chat remained silent and, when she looked back, she saw him glancing at the wall with an adorable pout. She chuckled.

“It’s all right, we don’t have to stay long. I promise,” she soothed, “I’m getting ideas already, I think the spark is well and truly alive.”

His cat ears perked at that and he tilted his chin up at her, the picture of eagerness and delight.

“Really?”

She nodded vigorously, walking down a few steps, her hand resting against the wide bannister.

“Absolutely, gosh this is so inspiring!” she jumped a little, burying her fingers into the front of her shirt as ideas flooded into her brain, “to think we’re in a place where so many parties occurred, so many tragedies- weddings, and affairs and history. Our history, my history, France’s history,” she sighed, turning back to Chat Noir “it’s incredibly romantic, don’t you think?”

Chat blinked, meeting her eyes- illuminated by inspiration- and felt his mouth go dry.

“I do,” he rasped.

“You should bring Ladybug here sometime,” Marinette mused and, because her back was now facing him, she missed him wince.

“I- I guess I could,” he agreed, staring at her back. Suddenly Marinette felt, to him, as though she were a lifetime away. He took a step back, tearing his eyes from her, as if distance might help stem the dull ache in his chest. It only made it worse.

Suddenly, Chat was reminded of Plagg’s earlier advice, about how he might have been jumping to assumptions. A small part of him dared to hope, wanted what he’d seen between Marinette and Nathanael to be something unromantic. He wanted, so badly, to be wrong, to have misread the situation somehow. But how could he begin to ask her? It’s not like he could just march up to her at school and prod her for information about her romantic life. He was adamant about his earlier words, he had no right to demand that of her.

But even so…

“What…about you?”

Marinette glanced over her shoulder at him, a curious gaze flickering across her face.

“What about me?” she asked, her tone so innocent that Chat felt guilty even asking the question. He felt like he was being ripped in half, one side screaming at him to ask her- to finally know if he’d been right or wrong, the other side questioning who on earth he thought he was, sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.

Before he could make a decision, he saw her eyes flutter in understanding and she turned away sharply.

“Oh,” she whispered, “oh, you meant-”

“You don’t have to answer, sorry, I was just curious,” he hastened to add, mortified, “it’s none of my business.”

“No, no it’s ok,” she breathed, wrapping her arms around herself.

Silence fell on the pair again as Chat waited for her to answer. In the space he now hovered, visions of earlier tormented him. Nino’s words, Marinette’s smile as she hugged Nathanael, their hands- it always went back to their hands… how they wrapped around each other.

Marinette sighed, conflicted. She couldn’t very well say that the person she would bring here was already beside her. That would open a can of worms that she wasn’t quite ready to face, particularly as he was supposed to be the one finding her. Once upon a time she’d had an awkward date in the gardens with Nathanael, although she could hardly say she wanted to bring him here now.

No. Aside from Chat, there was only one other person she could possibly think of bringing here.

“There is someone,” she replied, staring out at the chandeliers, imagining what it might be like to be here with Adrien by her side, how it might be to dance with him under those chandeliers. Before she knew it, her mouth was running away from her, “someone I’ve tried to forget. Someone I shouldn’t have feelings for. At least, not anymore. Maybe he might like it here, but…he doesn’t see me that way. Sometimes I think that maybe he could, that maybe what I think might be true, is. But it’s not fair of me to place my silly fantasies on him. Three years,” oh god why did she feel a dampness behind her eyes? What was wrong with her? “three years I’ve had feelings for him, and they’ve only gotten stronger, no matter how many times I tried to dismiss them. So you see Chat Noir,” she turned around, meeting his eyes sadly, one of the victims of her crime, “I’m a bit of a hopeless case.”

And there it was, Chat thought, the final nail in the coffin. It was a nail that shot straight through him, that ripped apart his insides. The reality was colder, lonelier than he could have ever fathomed, and the truth was far worse than what Nino had described. That was it then. Now he knew for certain.

Marinette was in love. With Nathanael. Chat could see it, it poured from every fibre of her being. She was in love, had been in love, for three whole years. Nathanael might have returned those feelings, but something had happened which meant they weren’t together anymore, and that had caused Marinette to wonder if Nathanael had ever loved her back.

Well, from where he was standing, the answer was obvious, and it made him feel broken inside. His hand balled into fists and he stared at the ground, trying to force the lump out of his throat.

“Chat?” he heard her speaking, but it was muffled, as if there was a wall between them, but he felt her step towards him regardless, “are you-”

Chat heard her stop short, her breath suddenly intake sharply, sensed a spike of fear in her. His head snapped up just in time to see her falling backwards, and his stomach lurched.

“Marinette!”

Without thinking he darted forwards extending a hand out to grab one of her flailing arms. In his haste, he stumbled, finding himself falling towards her instead of pulling her to safety. In the space of a second, he tugged her into his chest, instinct propelling him to protect, protect, protect, as he landed first, hard, on his shoulder. His hand wrapped around the back of her head as they went tumbling, plummeting, all the way to the bottom of the stairs, where they landed in a pile of bruised and tangled limbs.

Chat groaned, having landed on his back and taken the brunt of the fall. Although he was mostly unharmed, super-powers taking credit for that small miracle, he was still disorientated. It took a while to realise the pressing against his chest was Marinette, whose head he was still cradling. She wasn’t moving.

“Oh my god Marinette are you ok? Are you hurt?!” he cried, terrified to move in case she’d broken something. His hands left her head and he craned his neck, scanning for signs of injury, “talk to me, please say something!”

She didn’t say anything, instead, a loud snort echoed through the ballroom. Oh god was she crying?!

Just as his panic was about to turn to mild hysteria, Marinette rolled off him, lying by his side as she clenched her eyes shut. That’s when Chat realised, she wasn’t crying, she was laughing.

“Oh my god, why do you put up with me Chat Noir?” she hooted, gasping for air, clapping a disbelieving hand to her forehead, “I told you I was a hopeless case!”

Chat, for the life of him, couldn’t tell you why he started laughing too. But he did. He laughed with her, lying on the floor of a grand ballroom, in the middle of the night. He laughed even as it felt his world shattering around him, he laughed until he couldn’t say what the tears in his eyes meant. He laughed with her, laid by her side, knowing he’d probably never get the chance to do so again.

“WHO’S THERE?!”

They stopped laughing, and Chat felt the blood drain from his face. Marinette’s own face turned pale, her eyes widened larger than he’d ever seen them.

“Oh shit!” she hissed, sitting up, Chat following suit. Across the other side of the room he could see little white flecks of light bouncing around. Torch light.

He agreed with Marinette.

Without saying a word, the pair took off, the same way Marinette had run before. Chat lead the way with his night vision, checking for any other guards who might try to ambush them. Somewhere behind him, he thought he heard footsteps. He was unsure if the sounds were from someone trying to catch them, or the echoes of their own footfalls as the thundered out of the palace, bursting through the small door and into the cold night air.

Marinette rushed towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck, and Chat barely had time to register that he’d ended the night carrying her Princess style anyway, before he’d catapulted them into the sky.

He didn’t stop once they were away from the palace, he didn’t stop when he knew they were safe from the guards, he didn’t stop until he’d landed squarely on Marinette’s balcony, where he promptly collapsed against the railing.

Stepping out of his grasp, Marinette tottered into the centre of her balcony, fixing him with a sheepish grin. The pair of them were breathless, heaving, neither of them quite sure that what had just transpired was real.

After a minute of silence, Marinette spoke, her lips tight.

“Well,” she shrugged, “we weren’t caught!”

Chat pressed a hand to his mouth, tying to stifle the laughter that was more due to shock than anything.

“No, we weren’t,” he agreed.

As time went on, the creeping feeling of sorrow came back, wrapping around his heart like decaying vine leaves. His smile vanished.

“We should…you should, probably be more careful. Please, don’t do that again? At least if I’m not there,” he said.

“I won’t, I promise,” she replied sincerely, “and thank you, Chat Noir, for taking me there to begin with. It really did help me.”

And then she was hugging him. He felt her arms wrap around his shoulders, and his whole body stiffened. This was wrong- he couldn’t- he shouldn’t want to-

The last shred of willpower he had, broke within him, and Chat crumbled into her, wrapping his arms around her waist tightly, burying his neck into her shoulder. Just once, he thought, just this one time he allowed himself a moment of indulgence, a moment to embrace her like they were meant to be. Just once he’d allow himself to pretend this afternoon had never happened, that he’d instead caught up to her like he’d meant to, that they’d confessed to being Ladybug and Chat Noir, that they could really be together, that he’d not been so horribly, terrible wrong. Just once.

It was over too soon, and Marinette left his arms for good, innocent to the ways she was breaking his heart. But it wasn’t her fault, he thought miserably, it would never be her fault for being so wonderful, for being so her, that he’d put the weight of his hopes and dreams on her presence. No, the blame laid entirely with him, and he was fully prepared to take the consequences. She could never know.

“Well, goodnight Chat Noir!” she called cheerfully, “I’ll see you around?”

He smiled at her, felt it stretching across his face like a scar, and bowed low so that she couldn’t see how false it was.

“Of course!” he replied, voice too jovial, too insincere, “goodbye Marinette.”

He didn’t wait to see the way she frowned at his retreating back, was unaware that she watched him until he disappeared from her skyline. He couldn’t have known how close she’d come to kissing him moments before.

He couldn’t bring himself to look back even if he tried.

  

Chapter Text

Smoulder Chapter 18

“What were you thinking?”

Marinette winced, leaning away from Tikki’s furious expression. In all the years she’d known the Kwami, she’d never seen her so angry.

Tikki flittered around the room, mumbling under her breath. Unfortunately, of perhaps fortunately, she was talking so quickly that Marinette was having difficulty deciphering what she was saying. It couldn’t be anything good. Tucking herself under her blanket, Marinette proceeded to hide her face in guilt. After all, it was her fault Tikki was as frantic as she was.

It turned out that whilst Marinette had been on her midnight adventure, Tikki had woken up. She’d read the note Marinette had left her, and promptly lost her mind with worry when she’d flown to the Trocadero to discover it empty.

“What if something had happened to you? You could have been kidnapped! You could have been hurt- and I wouldn’t have been there to transform you! Marinette you KNOW there’s been a spate of muggings around the area recently,” Tikki flew up to her covered face, her anger melting into sadness, and Marinette’s guilt grew tenfold, “what if you’d been mugged too?”

It was true, there was a bit in the local news about the spate of robberies in the area. According to witnesses, the culprits were two large men. They’d been using their threatening size to intimidate their victims into handing over their valuables. They were clever too, often striking when an akuma was causing trouble, so they’d attract less attention and not be caught by Ladybug and Chat. It didn’t stop the pair looking out for them during patrols though.

Still, Tikki had a point.

“I’m sorry,” Marinette said, forcing herself to look Tikki in the eyes, “I didn’t mean to make you worry. I really was going to go to the Trocadero and stay there. But I promise I was ok. Chat Noir was with me. He took me to the Jardin du Luxemburg to help me with my art. I- in a platonic way! Nothing romantic or anything. He still doesn’t know I’m Ladybug.”

And I broke into the Palace but you’ll probably have a heart attack if I tell you that, Marinette thought, relieved to see Tikki calming down a bit. The Kwami deflated, descending until she nestled against Marinette’s cat cushion with a sigh.

“I’m glad Chat Noir was with you,” she replied, her voice small, seemingly too relieved to address the fact that Marinette had run off into the night with her superhero partner, “I don’t think I could bear it if something happened to you too.”

Suddenly Marinette remembered their conversation from earlier in the week, remembered Catherine, Joan of Arc, and countless others of fallen Ladybugs. Her heart clenched, as though she’d been the one to experience loss after loss. The weight of her responsibilities pressed against her chest, returning with a vengeance after her hours of delinquency- of freedom. It was as if the combined exhaustion of all previous Ladybugs converged in her mind. Her bones felt heavy, her eyes were itchy and dry. She fell back against the headboard, closing her eyes.

“I promise I’ll do better next time. I don’t want you to worry,” Marinette promised, “I never wanted to upset you. You know that right?”

“I know,” Tikki whispered back to her.

They were silent then. Marinette stared up at her ceiling, thinking back on how strangely her evening had turned out, and how complicated her life seemed to be becoming.

She still held a candle for Adrien, but she loved Chat Noir. She was a superhero, but she was also a normal girl trying to get through the last month of school before university…

She was a mess, to be honest.

Marinette groaned, flipping onto her side and delving deeper under her duvet, cringing when she remembered that she’d almost cried about another boy in front of Chat Noir.

Then panic hit.

She sat up straight, limbs flailing, eyes wide, ignoring Tikki’s shriek of surprise.

“Oh my god, what if he asks me about that?!”

“Asks you about what?” Tikki moaned, rubbing her forehead in exasperation.

“Asks me about WHO I was talking about when I said I’ve had feeling someone for three years! Chat’s going to figure out who I am eventually, and then he’s going to know that Ladybug has feelings for another guy aside from him!”

“Marinette it’s two in the morning.”

“-And then what if he questions if my feelings for him are real? Of course they’re real! Adrien is just a- just a crush now. I have to let that go,” Marinette carried on, ignoring Tikki’s disapproving murmurs, “I mean I have to right? I guess there’s still that crazy possibility that Adrien could be Chat because, you know, they both go to the same school as me and everything. But that’s insane, he couldn’t ever be- could he? ARGH to hell with it.”

She threw her bedcovers off, stomping down to her desk and pulling out her sketchbook.

“What are you doing?” Tikki peered down at her with a withering glance.

“I need to draw, I’m just too tense to sleep. I need to unwind.” Sure enough, as soon as she’d sat up her shoulders had twinged in protest. When Tikki opened her mouth, no doubt to argue against her decision, Marinette shot her a reassuring smile, “It’s ok, it’s Friday tomorrow. I can afford to be tired on a Friday, besides I’m always tired. That’s my secret Captain,” she joked, posing dramatically, “I’ll be all right, I just need to de-stress. All these boys crowding my brain need to get out for a bit, and I’m sick of arguing in my head about Adrien and Chat. I’m sure I’ll have a better idea of what to do in the morning.”

“You just have to be patient,” Tikki repeated her sage advice for perhaps the millionth time, hoping that this time might be the time it stuck, “maybe let things happen instead of trying to figure out solutions to problems that don’t exist yet.”

“Yeah and maybe I’ll sprout ladybug wings and fly naked across Paris. Both are just as likely,” Marinette snorted, the truth behind her words too painful to not make light of. The need for action festered in her, where a few hours before she’d been content to let the chips fall where they may.

She just HAD to make an ass of herself in front of Chat Noir, didn’t she?

Marinette shifted in her seat, pencil in her mouth, anxiety creeping through her lungs like poison ivy. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake the image of Chat Noir’s face before he’d left.

He’d tried to hide it, but she knew him too well.

She’d seen his frown, the hurt in his eyes. That, coupled with their near-kiss from earlier in the week, had Marinette’s mind reeling. What did it all mean? Had she hurt him when she’d talked about her love of a boy from school? Or perhaps he’d been thinking of Ladybug, maybe he’s feeling apprehensive?

Something felt wrong. In all honesty she’d had a wonderful time with Chat, until she actually stopped to think through all the little moments she’d missed at the time. The sadness in his eyes, the tension in his whole body, she could have sworn she’d seen tears too- though those could have been from laughter.

Marinette yawned, idly sketching the beginnings of a new dress; a new dress which Chat Noir had helped inspire. Tikki was right, Tikki was always right. As much as she hated it, she had to be patient. The hour was late, and she was too tired to connect the dots. Whenever she tried, the connections short-circuited, flickering into nothingness.

Once again she found herself thinking that the sooner Chat figured out her identity, the better things would be. If all else failed, she’d probably snap and de-transform in front of him to get it over and done with.

***

“Will you take that stupid thing off? You look like you’re going to boil to death!”

Marinette glanced down at the red hoodie adorning her slim frame, resigning herself. She’d worn the darn thing all morning and, so far, no Chat Noirs had revealed themselves. The early afternoon sun beamed through the window of her history classroom. No air conditioning meant that the temperature inside was at least five degrees hotter than outside. Coupled with the fact that there was no breeze, meant that Marinette was currently feeling as red as the hoodie she wore.

Taking Alya’s advice, Marinette peeled the hoodie off her sweating form (her bare arms thanking her) and sighed in a way that was half-relieved, half-sad. She stuffed the hoodie back into her bag, and tried not to look too despondent about the whole affair, lest Alya become curious.

Had she seen the real Chat Noir at all today? Had he seen and ignored her? Or had the silly cat not realised the red hoodie she was wearing was his? It was pretty generic.

You haven’t seen Adrien today.

The little spark of hope, which lived in the dark recesses of her mind, came out to play. For the faintest of seconds, it illuminated her, causing her doubts to run hissing into the shadows. She forced a smile away from her face. Don’t go there again for God’s sake.

Whilst she continued to argue with herself, Nino arrived. Collapsing into a chair between Marinette and Alya, the poor DJ looked as tired as Marinette felt. Pushing aside the few Ladybug and Chat Noir research books Alya had found at the local library, he slammed his face against the desk and let out a low whine.

“I swear,” he grumbled, his voice muffled against the surface of the desk, his glasses askew, “group work with people you don’t want to work with is, like, the worst form of torture there is.”

“Music gang still giving you trouble?” Marinette inquired, patting his back in sympathy. The look Nino sent her way reminded her of a kicked puppy.

“Just tell me who I have to kill hon, just give me the word,” Alya shot back darkly, sending a shiver through Marinette. Once again she reminded herself how utterly terrifying her best friend could be when she wanted to be, “but I think you can handle the torture for now right? You’re strong, you can do it! Besides, there’s worse forms of torture, like thumb screws, or that stretchy thing they did to Gollum in Lord of the Rings-”

“Babe I told you I’m not into that Fifty Shades shit,” Nino huffed, but he’d sat up whilst Alya was mid-rant, his eyes softening. He seemed to be fighting a smile.

“Nobody asked you to be,” Alya replied, eyebrows wiggling.

“I swear whenever I get a boyfriend, sometime in the next billion years, I’m going to get you back so hard for this,” Marinette groaned, picking up two books and using them to shield her ears.

"I thought you were seeing- OOF!" Nino began, stopping only when Alya swiftly elbowed him in the side. He doubled over and, were Marinette not so curious, she would have felt another stab of empathy for Nino. She herself had been on the receiving end of Alya’s elbow jabs. They were deadly.

As it was, Marinette frowned at the both of them.

"Thought I was seeing who?" she asked, squinting in suspicion. When the pair refused to meet her eyes, instead having their own silent conversation, Marinette decided to leave her questions for later. She could always text Nino, he'd crack under pressure if she badgered him and bribed him with enough cookies.

Before the awkward conversation could continue, a bag was dropped next to her and Marinette squeaked in shock. She jumped sideways with a start, jostling Nino's shoulder as she did so.

Nino was the first to discover the culprit behind Marinette’s shock, and his eyes widened in surprise.

"Adrien, bro, what are you doing here? I thought you were leaving for a shoot."

"I am," he replied.

Marinette frowned, avoiding staring at him. She'd been up half the night torn between thinking about Adrien and Chat Noir (so much for distracting herself). As a result, she felt far too embarrassed to steal a glance in his direction. How could she dare face him after she’d spoken about him in such an embarrassing way the night before? Her face burned once again, more due to embarrassment than the heat of the day.

Looking past her own worries, however, something in Adrien’s voice caught her off guard. She stayed silent, waiting, her mouth inexplicably dry.

“I just wanted to give you all these books I bought from Amazon, before I left. It’s the least I can do, seeing how MIA I’ve been throughout the project,” he explained and Marinette could sense the rustling of his bag as he rummaged through it, producing at least three more books to add to their research pile. Her heart beat faster, but it wasn’t due to a rush of affection, or embarrassment, or fear.

No, it was her instincts again. The same ones from the previous night, the ones telling her something was wrong. I’m being paranoid, I’m imagining things.

“Oh dude I could kiss you!” Alya squealed.

“Not if I get there first,” Nino laughed, waiting for Adrien to come back with a witty retort.

He said nothing.

“Adrien are you ok?” Nino asked, and suddenly Marinette felt as though three sets of eyes were watching her. She busied herself with her phone instead, pretending her ears weren’t on fire.

“Hmm?” Adrien responded, and Marinette couldn’t help but realise just how…emotionless he sounded. Her blood ran cold, “yeah Nino, I’m fine. I have to go is all,” he paused, only for a second, but it was the longest second of Marinette’s life, “talk soon.”

Only when she was sure Adrien had left did she look up, glancing at the door which he’d walked out of moments before.

Alya was the first to speak up.

“What was with him?”

Nino was quiet, and Marinette peeled her eyes away from the door to look at him, her own worry mirrored in his expression. She bit her lip, not noticing how quickly Nino diverted his attention elsewhere.

“I don’t know,” Nino said, frowning and flicking through his phone calendar, “it’s not anything to do with his mum I don’t think. The anniversary of her disappearance isn’t for another five months or so,” he looked up at Marinette again, a hint of a sparkle in his eyes which made her believe he’d figured something out, “Mari- you wanna go check up on him before he leaves? If you hurry you can catch him.”

“Me?!” Marinette squealed, curling her lip in disbelief and earning a glare from their teacher, “why me? What could I say that you couldn’t say better?”

“I don’t know, you just- you just, have a way of calming people down I guess,” Nino hurried, continuing despite Marinette’s scoff, “it’s true! You’re really good at making people feel better.”

“He’s right you know,” Alya argued fairly, tilting her head to the side. Suddenly Marinette was reminded of the pep talks her parents used to give her, “go quick or you’ll miss him! Get the scoop, then come back and tell us what’s up with him already!”

Marinette stood up, not entirely sure why she was agreeing (damn peer pressure) and hurried out the door. Her thoughts were still valid ones, after all what could she possibly say to Adrien to make him feel better?

Only when Marinette was gone did Nino turn to Alya. Pulling his hat lower down his face, his lips pulling tight in fear, Nino braced himself for his girlfriend’s inevitable wrath.

“Babe,” he whispered, “I think I fucked up.”

***

His footsteps echoed around the empty hallways, blood roared in his ears, every ounce of his will concentrated on not falling apart at the seams.

Adrien sighed, head bowed low. He’d done it. He’d survived his first meeting with Marinette- and he’d only thought about their night time adventure eighteen times. His heart had only wanted to explode sixteen times. Granted he’d wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear in shame the entire time. Nevertheless, it could have gone a lot worse.

In a way he knew he was running from his problems, although not intentionally. Still- he couldn’t help feeling glad about his modelling appointment taking him out of school for a change. The less he saw of Marinette, the better handle he could get on his feelings. The less he saw her, the less likely it would be that he’d hurt everyone; Marinette, Ladybug, himself.

What a coward he was.

“Adrien!”

He kept walking, throat seizing up as he realised who was calling his name, allowing himself to believe he was hearing things, even as a creeping sense of doom loomed over him like a shadow.

“Adrien!”

He stopped, his hands curled into fists against the strap of his bag, and closed his eyes. He steeled himself. Inhale. Exhale. Get ready. He turned around.

Her eyes pierced his heart like an arrow. Not even the heaviest armour could have protected him.

God I’m doomed.

“Hey Marinette!” He chirped, smiling wide and raising his arm in a friendly greeting. It sounded fake even to his ears, “What’s up? I didn’t forget anything did I?”

Marinette caught up to him, slightly out of breath, her cheeks a delightful shade of pink. She shook her head, and his eyes lingered on her hair style. Why, of all days, had she decided to wear her twin tails? It was like destiny was deliberately trying to rub his face in it.

“No. No you didn’t forget anything, I was just- you know- wondering,” she looked uncomfortable, and for a wild second of blinding panic, Adrien thought she might know the truth about him. It was a thought which caused him to take a step back, caused his stomach to revolt. The idea that she knew he’d been pining after her- had thought she was Ladybug- and was about to renounce their friendship because of it, caused the blood to drain from his face. He brushed the panic aside angrily, realising that Marinette was far too kind to hate him for something like this. Even if she did know, which she most likely didn’t. “I was just wondering if you were ok?”

Adrien blinked, slow to comprehend the meaning behind her question.

“Errr, yeah?” he replied, confused as to why she’d followed him halfway out the school to ask him such a question. Nevertheless, he continued to smile reassuringly, “I’m fine!”

Marinette squinted, her nose wrinkling in a way that sent his brain cartwheeling down the hall and left him a brainless love struck zombie- and Adrien hated zombies. His favourite games involved blowing their brains out, the kind of games his father was unaware he played.

Well you know how the saying goes: You die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

“Are you sure?” Marinette pressed, disbelieving, “you’re wearing your model-smile right now.”

Adrien froze.

“My what?”

Marinette blanched, looking as if she’d divulged a great secret, her shoulders raised and she angled her body awkwardly.

“W-well you know!” she replied, her voice loud and her tone somewhere between airy and anxious, “W-when you’re upset and you don’t want people to know, you give them your model-smile. I’m not saying you’re fake or anything, I’m sure you don’t want us to worry about you but,” she exhaled then, lowering her arms, and all Adrien could do was gawk. When she spoke next, her tone was a lot softer, and she smiled encouragingly at him, “we’re friends Adrien. You care so much about us and help cheer us up when we’re down. You won’t be bothering us if you tell us what’s wrong ok? Friendship is a two-way street. You don’t seem like you’re feeling the best, but we understand if you don’t want to tell us why. Just know that we- that- that I’m here for you. If you want to talk…ok? I’m here.”

Adrien barely registered the sound of his bag clattering to the floor, its contents spilling out around their feet, his phone buzzing in the front pocket. He ignored it, ignored it all, ignored everything. It didn’t matter.

Nothing mattered except the girl currently in his arms.

He clung to her, felt her warmth, closed his eyes against it. Her body was stiff in his arms, and he almost pulled back, worried he’d stepped over the line. But then she wrapped her arms around him. She embraced him, comforted him, and he was undone.

“Adrien,” she began, so gently that it almost ripped him apart. He trembled.

“I like you.”

Adrien heard her gasp and wondered if he should stop, but her words had unlocked the last of his restraint. He couldn’t stop. Not even if he tried.

“I like you, Marinette,” he repeated, pressing his chin deeper into her shoulder, glad he couldn’t see her face, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be doing this. You deserve- you deserve more than this,” his scrunched his eyes shut, took a steadying gulp of air, “I have feelings for you, more than friendship, and it’s not right. You’re so amazing, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t realise it sooner but, I can’t. I can’t have feelings for you. Marinette I- I don’t want to lose you too. I don’t want to hurt you. It’s not fair.”

He pulled back, noting the blankness of her face, the way her lips had parted and her eyes glazed over, unblinking. Stepping away from her, Adrien began to collect his belongings. Reality pulled his spirit back to Earth- it slammed back into his body violently. He couldn’t breathe.

What have I DONE?!

And Marinette simply stood there. Not reacting. Not even a little.

“I promise,” he continued, trying not to crumble further, “I promise I’ll get a handle on these feelings. For you, for me, for- for others. I won’t let this ruin our friendship. You mean too much to me.”

When Marinette continued to stare, silently, and his phone kept ringing- he realised he could stand it no longer.

“I’ll see you later,” he mumbled, no longer able to stand looking at her.

He fled.

***

“Marinette,” Sabine asked, “don’t you think that many cookies will make you sick so soon after dinner?”

“We don’t have any ice cream, I need something,” Marinette replied dully, stuffing her face with the eleventh cookie. Even Tikki was glancing at her worriedly from her hiding spot.

Sabine sat on Marinette’s desk chair, surveying the burrow of blankets and cushions Marinette had made and was currently curled up inside of.

“Is this about a boy?”

“NO!” Marinette yelled, near-hysterical and now on her twelfth cookie, “Never! I’d never over eat because of stupid guys and their crazy feelings and confessions and I’d never cry about the fact that THERE’S NO ICE CREAM IN THE HOUSE because of a BOY!”

“Ok so that means yes,” Sabine confirmed with a sigh, standing up and lifting the edge of Marinette’s blanket burrow, “can I come in?”

“There are crumbs,” Marinette warned feebly, but shifted until there was room enough for two, ignoring the fact that one of the pillar-pillows fell against the back of her head. When Sabine crawled in, she wrapped an arm around her daughter and pulled her tight against her side, stroking her hair.

Marinette fought a fresh wave of tears by shovelling the thirteenth cookie into her mouth. She hiccupped.

“Oh sweetheart, you really are your father’s daughter,” Sabine smiled fondly, “so worried about whether things will turn out well.”

She paused, tilting Marinette’s chin until their eyes met.

“Is any boy being cruel to you? Deliberately hurting you?”

Marinette shook her head.

“No, but… it’s Adrien,” she said, finally speaking the words that had been shut tight in her head all day. She’d been tight lipped, returning to their history lesson with a face so pale Nino was sure she’d been about to faint. Alya had pressed her for info, but backed off after Marinette snapped at her uncharacteristically. The pair of them had been texting her non-stop since the end of school, but she asked them to leave her alone. Mariette knew she was making them worry, but she couldn’t face them. She refused to tell them what had happened between her and Adrien in a quiet hallway. It wasn’t her place to, “he told- he told me he liked me.”

Sabine clapped her hands together, a beam spreading across her face.

“Oh wonderful! He’s such a nice boy, and you liked him so much when you were younger,” she lowered her hands in response to the look on Marinette’s face, “so why aren’t you happy?”

Marinette ate another cookie.

“I- well he said he couldn’t have feelings for me. He said that he shouldn’t have feelings for me, he doesn’t want to hurt me.”

“Perhaps he’s afraid of ruining your friendship? You two have been good friends for years,” Sabine reasoned, absent-mindedly picking up crumbs with a tut of disapproval, “how did you leave things, after he confessed?”

“I kind of- sort of- froze,” Marinette cringed at the memory, burying her face in her knees and letting out a small screech of frustration. Why could she never act appropriately in the moment? Ladybug was great in an emergency! Marinette, on the other hand, would be great about ten years after an emergency, when there was nothing left but dust and rubble, “and then he had to go because he had a modelling shoot.”

“Oh dear.”

“Mama!” Marinette yelped, snapping her head upwards so quickly she gave herself whiplash. Whilst Sabine rubbed the back of her throbbing neck for her, Marinette carried on “you can’t just say ‘oh dear’, if you lose hope then I know I really have messed up!”

“No, no, no,” Sabine soothed, “you haven’t messed up dear. Not at all. This is just a blip. But it’s a blip that can be un-blooped, do you see?”

 “So how do I un-bloop it?” Marinette mumbled, pouting, and Sabine chuckled.

“Talk to him. Talk things through. Whether you still return his feelings or you don’t, he needs to know. He’s a good friend to you, Marinette, don’t hurt him by leaving him to question where he stands. Uncertainty causes pain, especially in matters of the heart.”

With that, Sabine shuffled out of the blanket burrow, allowing time for her advice to sink in.

“Are you going to be all right by yourself tonight?” she asked, patting down her sparkling navy dress with one hand and clutching cookie crumbs in the other.

Marinette nodded.

“Yeah, thank you Mama. I hope you have a good night dancing, what are you trying this time?”

“Ballroom!” Sabine cooed, “oh! I love your father dearly but salsa dancing wasn’t his forte, and truth be told I’ve always found ballroom to be more romantic,” she lost herself, her eyes clouding in a pleasant daydream before bending back down to kiss Marinette on the forehead, “call us if you need anything.”

“I will, and Mama? You look lovely,” she smiled. The smile dropped the instant Sabine left and she fell backwards into her blanket burrow, which collapsed on top of her. Her brain felt like it was going to burst.

After she sensed a cushion rustling above her face, Marinette fumbled around, creating a small hole amongst the cushions so that Tikki could join her.

“Your mother is so wise! She said exactly what I was thinking.”

“I still can’t believe it though Tikki,” Marinette sighed, sitting up gracelessly, her twin-tails askew, “Adrien has feelings for me?!”

She frowned, pressing her fingers to her temples.

A small part of her, the part which used to have Adrien’s photos plastered to her wall, was in a constant state of squealing in delight. But it was a small part of her compared to the utter storm raging through her conscience.

Why? Why now?! After years of dreaming about it, why did Adrien have to confess his feelings the second she’d realised she was in love with Chat? Why did she not outright reject him? She should have done!

You know why you didn’t, the happy side of her taunted.

Marinette wanted to scream.

“Tikki I don’t think I can be patient anymore,” she said, her tone final, “I think I need to do something. I just need to figure out what I’m missing.”

“I actually agree,” Tikki surprised her by bowing her head seriously, “the only thing is, what do you think you’re missing?”

“I don’t know,” Mariette replied, voice growing faint as she lost herself in her memories, “something about Adrien’s confession,” CONFESSED! ADRIEN CONFESSED! ADRIEN AGRESTE LIKES YOU! “it just didn’t make sense. He said he couldn’t have feelings, but the way he said it- I don’t think he was only worried about ruining our friendship. He mentioned other people.”

“Maybe he’s worried about ruining your friendship group?”

“Maybe,” Marinette repeated, tugging a blanket until it was tucked under her chin, “I think I’ll take a nap. I’m so tired, maybe I’ll be able to figure it out with a clear head.”

“Oh no missy! We have a patrol to do!” Tikki piped up, tugging the blanket out of Marinette’s hands, “you wouldn’t be so tired if you and Chat Noir didn’t keep showing up to each other’s patrols! It’s your own fault, so up, up, up!”

“Ok, ok!” Marinette couldn’t help the half-smile which graced her face at Tikki’s obnoxious cheerleading. Some things, at least, never changed.  

As she transformed, disappearing into the night, she wondered how she might feel if Chat showed up to her patrol. Could she forget the troubles of the day, allow them melt away as she pressed her lips against his? Could she tell him about another man confessing to her? How would he react to such news, she wondered?

It was a moot point. Chat Noir didn’t show up, and her patrol was as dull as ever because of it. Paris, it seemed, was behaving itself for once. Ladybug trudged across rooftops with a pout of displeasure.

It’s not that she wanted there to be crime, far from it, but she needed something to distract her mind from it’s nervous, intrusive thoughts.

Towards the end of her shift, she made her way across the city slower than ever, as if she were an ordinary pedestrian in an extraordinary place. She paused briefly, staring out at the storm clouds on the horizon. Ladybug hoped it might rain soon. It was long overdue.

Rain, umbrella, Adrien, UGH!

What the hell was she going to say to him when she saw him at the weekend? Alix was having a birthday party tomorrow and she was fairly sure that was the worst time to talk to him about this whole mess. Then there was the spa-and-tennis day on the Sunday, which was probably an even worse time. It seemed, she thought, that the world was trying to throw Adrien Agreste at her, and yet there was no time suitable to tell him…to tell him…

To tell him what exactly? What was she going to say?

Sorry Adrien, I loved you for three years but I can’t return your feelings anymore because I’m in love with my superhero partner and we’ve kissed- like- a lot so I’m pretty sure my wanting to go out with you would count as cheating even though a massive part of me totally wants to like the giant butthead I am.

Yeah THAT would go down well.

Without realising it, Ladybug had wandered to the other side of town and she stood, frozen solid in shock at the sight in front of her.

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me?” she wailed, smacking her palm against her face, letting it flatten against her mask. She’d been worrying about Adrien so much she’d actually made her way to his house, “what did I think this would achieve? Yeah LB, excellent! Fantastic idea idiot! Let’s just show up at Adrien’s house as Ladybug and try to cheer him up that way! YAY!”

She frowned, scuffing her feet against the roof tiles of the house which stood across the street from Adrien’s. She was facing his room, and light pooled from his open windows. He was home.

For a moment she allowed herself to peer in through the windows, as something caught her attention. It appeared to be a larger version of her blanket burrow. Scratch that, this was one-hundred percent a blanket fort. Music blared out the window, at a decent but low volume, she could just about make out the tune.

Adele?

Does he- does he make blanket fort when he’s upset too? She wondered and, despite her inner turmoil, her heart warmed at such a peculiar thing to share in common.

As quickly as the smile appeared on her face, it vanished. Wherever Adrien was under that vast expanse of a fort, he was hurting just like her. She was, for lack of a better word, spying on him. Intruding on his pain. It wasn’t right, and she was going to fix it one way or another. Perhaps it was the fact that she was currently Ladybug, but she felt strength growing within her, and she made a silent vow.

She would not let this fester, she would address it, she’d talk to him. They’d straighten this whole mess out.

For now, however, she decided to leave Adrien alone. Turning on her heel, Ladybug began to slink away into the night.

 “WILL YOU PLEASE TURN OFF THAT GODAWFUL MUSIC?!”

Ladybug stopped, half-frozen, as a furious voice pierced the night air. A voice which came from Adrien’s room. A voice which was decidedly not Adrien’s.

She turned around once more.

***

“Plagg!” Adrien scolded, chasing after the Kwami, who’d left the fort carrying the remote to his speaker system, “don’t yell so loudly, what if someone hears you?”

“Nobody’s home, and even if they were, I don’t care. I can’t take a second more of this death-inspiring music!” Plagg snapped, chewing on the remote until the music muted, “there much better.”

“Give that back!” Adrien growled almost tripping over as he ran to his window, which Plagg was currently attempting to throw the remote out of. After dodging Adrien’s hand, Plagg ducked under his chosen’s armpit and twirled around to face him. Adrien almost ran head-first into the window, but quickly turned to scowl at his Kwami.

“Kid you’ve gotta stop this. It’s not healthy, and if you mope too much I won’t get dinner,” Plagg argued and, although his voice indicated that he was fed up and irritated, his expression told a much different story. It made Adrien soften his stance a little, in fact he outright wilted.

“I know,” he agreed quietly, “I know. I’m just angry at myself. I tried to do the right thing, but it looks like I’m digging a deeper grave for myself,” he tilted his head until the back of it thunked against one of the white window panes, “I have to talk to Marinette properly, tell her that I don’t want to stand in the way of her and Nathanael, and then- and then I have to tell Ladybug,” that part caused him more fear than anything he’d ever experienced before, “I have to tell her everything, and hope she forgives me. I can’t stay quiet about this can I? It would be dishonest. Even if- even if she ends up hating me… do you think I’m doing the right thing Plagg?”

When Plagg didn’t respond, Adrien peeled his eyes away from the ceiling, frowning.

“Plagg?”

But Plagg wasn’t looking at him, instead he seemed to be fixated on a spot just above Adrien’s head, his eyes focused on something beyond the window panes. For a moment, the Kwami’s eyes were wide, his mouth drawn into a thin line of shock-

-And then he smirked.

“Plagg?” Adrien repeated, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He began to twist his head around, curious as to what had caught Plagg’s hard-won attention so easily, “what is it?”

“What it is, is I’m about to break this remote into little pieces!” Plagg cried with a sudden burst of vigour which caught Adrien’s attention, making him forget about whatever Plagg had seen. It was probably just a stray cat or something, “THAT’S what it is!”

“Oh no you don’t!” Adrien cried, giving chase to the Kwami, who’d began darting and dodging back into the pillow fort. Adrien dived back in, scrambling for the remote as Plagg cackled.

Whatever had momentarily distracted the Kwami was soon overlooked, all but forgotten amongst the fort which came crashing down on the both of them.

Chapter Text

Marinette didn’t go home.

She ran.

She ran, she leapt, she swung through the streets. Away, away, away. Though she knew Paris was safe, she pretended that the city needed her, that she was swinging towards an akuma. The thought of being alone in her house, with the knowledge of what she’d just seen, was too much to stand.

Try as she might, Ladybug could not outrun her memories. Old and new ones were dotted around the city, like markers on a treasure map. A bench where they’d laughed here, a bridge where they’d fought an akuma there. A lamp-post, a rooftop, a tree lined street. It was everywhere. He was everywhere. They were everywhere. It was impossible to escape.

Like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, reminding her of the time her and Chat snuck into the fancy white-and-gold Mc Donald’s as a joke. At first, Chat had been worried about eating the junk food, saying he wasn’t allowed it at home, but he’d come around when the cashiers gave them food for free.

Of course he wasn’t allowed junk food dummy! HE’S A MODEL! He’s THE model! THE MODEL YOU HAD PLASTERED ON YOUR WALLS WHEN YOU WERE FIFTEEN.

Tossing that thought to the ground, Ladybug continued on her midnight race around the city. It led her past the Trocadero and the gardens beyond. The place had once been hers and hers alone, but now it was theirs. A liminal space where they were only just something to each other, and yet everything at the same time. Marinette and Chat. Ladybug and Adrien. Separate. Yearning. Pining. Blind. Oblivious.

Ladybug ended her mad dash by swinging up to the biggest marker on the treasure map of their lives. The sight of their first true kiss.

Ladybug climbed. She climbed without thought. She climbed with the ferocity and fierceness of someone trying to leave something behind. Instinct and panic guided her. The need for comfort merged with the need to be away, to hide out of sight, to remain unseen and untouched by all.

When she was thoroughly entrenched inside the mesh of steel beams and wire cages, Ladybug finally, finally came to a rest. Her back slammed against a beam and she sank down, slowly, her hair tangling itself, her face crumpling. When she reached the floor, her arms wrapped around her knees and she buried her face in them, her world becoming dark.

She needed to breathe.

She couldn’t breathe.

She was lost.

She was found.

She knew everything.

She understood nothing.

There could be no denying what she saw, what she’d heard. Adrien had called the little black cat-like creature “Plagg”. Plagg was Chat Noir’s Kwami. She’d seen Plagg in Adrien’s room, and Plagg had seen her. Although she couldn’t make out their conversation, she’d noticed enough of their mannerisms to know the pair were familiar with each other. It couldn’t be that Plagg had randomly shown up in Chat’s house which, admittedly, was one of her initial denials- just before the internal screaming had begun.

Ladybug knew a partnership when she saw one. That was a partnership. Plagg was Adrien’s Kwami.

Chat Noir was Adrien Agreste, Adrien Agreste was Chat Noir, and Marinette was Going. To. DIE.

This is your own fault, she thought as she clutched her hair, letting out a short shriek, you saw it! You saw it and you denied it! How many times did you ignore your instincts for STUPID reasons because you’re a STUPID GIRL with STUPIDITY in your STUPID STUPIDNESS of a STUPID BRAIN? What the hell did you think was going to happen Marinette you GRADE-A DORKATRON FREAK?!

“Oh god,” she whispered, “oh god, oh god, oh god, what am I going to do?”

She remained still, silently panicking, for a long time. Ladybug listened to the faint sounds of her city below her, allowed the newfound knowledge to break through her trembling frame and settle deep inside her. Her question, however, remained unanswered. What was she going to do?

She couldn’t rest for long, and soon she was standing, pacing. Her breathing evened out but her mind was still reeling. All of the little moments she’d shared with Adrien and Chat, not just the week but from the past three years too, flew through her mind in rapid succession. Each one was like a puzzle piece, firmly slotting into place. Things she’d missed, things she’d dismissed, things she’d vehemently denied.

Adrien Agreste was Chat Noir. She’d been kissing Chat Noir and Adrien Agreste at the same time. Because he was the same person.

Chat Noir was Adrien Agreste. She’d been listening to Adrien Agreste and Chat Noir professing his need to find her, his dream of sharing a life with her, at the same time. Because he was the same person.

Chat Noir was Adrien Agreste, who’d confessed to liking her- Marinette Dupain-Cheng, earlier in the day.

“I have feelings for you, more than friendship, and it’s not right. You’re so amazing, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t realise it sooner but, I can’t. I can’t have feelings for you.”

The beginnings of a smile played on the corner of her lips, butterflies fluttered through her chest, and she wrapped her arms around herself. As the smile grew, Ladybug took a few tentative steps out of the shadows, to the edge of the tower where the lights glowed. The spotlights swirled and, when Ladybug looked at them, they were pointing towards Adrien’s home.

Her chin wobbled, her feet swayed, she leaned against one of the beams. The sob escaped her lips before she could stop it. Her vision went blurry…

… and then she laughed. As the tears spilled from her eyes, she laughed. Through ragged breathes and trembling fingers, which brushed her tear-soaked cheeks, she laughed. Ladybug closed her eyes, tilted her head back, crying and laughing; full of joy and shock, promise and possibility, but above all things full of love. Her song of melancholic joy was lost to the wind, like scattering leaves in the autumn time. It was her moment, and hers alone.

She hadn’t realised her miraculous was beeping until the pink flash of surrounded her. But she was safe, the steel beams were wide, and she always carried cookies on her patrols for this very reason. Not that it mattered.

“Marinette?” Tikki’s voice was gentle and Marinette felt, rather than saw, her touch her arm in concern.

“It was him,” she choked, awed, enthralled, baffled, “it was always him. It was- it was him Tikki! This whole time. I’ve been such an idiot!” And with that she descended into a fresh wave of laughter and sobs. Honestly what a mess she’d gotten them both into.

“Yes, but are you ok?”

“Ok? OK?! Of course I’m not ok!” Marinette beamed as tears continued to spill down her face- a raging torrent of confusion and elation. She began to hiccup; her nose became stuffy. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but she couldn’t care less, “the guy I love and the guy I like are the same person. They’ve been the same people the whole time I’ve known them- and I’m a total and complete moron- and they BOTH- I mean he both- I mean he likes me!”

“Marinette, please breathe. I know this a lot to take, but you need to calm down,” Tikki soothed, landing on her shoulder. Taking a cookie from her jacket pocket, Marinette unwrapped it from the cling-film and handed it to Tikki, still sniffling. Nevertheless, she did heed Tikki’s words. Once Tikki had taken the cookie, munching it absent-mindedly, Marinette closed her eyes. Her hands clenched, and unclenched as she took in a few calming breaths. In her mind’s eye, she pictured all the things which calmed her; a sunlit afternoon of sewing, the smell of her parents cooking, Alya’s confidence, Nino’s eyes lighting up when he showed her a new piece of music…

A moonlit cathedral, a boy holding an umbrella, a kiss or two, or three. A future home. A promise.

Her tears were silent now, steadier than before and, when her eyes peeled open, she found Tikki had finished the cookie. The pair stared at each other for a moment. Marinette offered her a wet smile. Tikki tilted her head to the side, nuzzling into Marinette’s cheek.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.

There was the question again. But, coming from someone else made Marinette strangely more at ease. She could answer other people’s questions far easier than she could answer her own. Reassuring others was something she was actually good at, even if her own mind was a hot mess.

Marinette paused, turning her head to face towards the city- stretching out like a sea of starlight before her fingertips.

Ladybug was, if nothing, a girl of action. It was her actions, her words, which had started the pair down this long path of discovery. It was her actions which caused her to discover Plagg in Adrien’s room-

It would be her actions, she realised, that mended the cracks in Adrien’s heart.

“I have to tell him,” she whispered, spinning back to Tikki with a face full of fire “I have to. Tomorrow night, when I see him at Alix’s party. It’s not the best time, but I can’t stand by waiting for some perfect romantic moment when I know my partner is out there hurting.”

Marinette found strength in her words, used them to lay a foundation of solid stone. She stepped on them, let them lift her into the light of determination. Did it disappoint her, that he hadn’t realised Marinette was Ladybug yet? A little, she realised shamefully, but only a little. After all, she’d be a hypocrite if she was truly upset by it. No. The thing that mattered was Adrien liked her, both sides of her, just as Tikki had said before.

Her wonderful, caring, sweet cat was so desperate not to hurt anyone that he was hurting himself instead. Suffering in silence. Marinette shook her head, refusing to allow him to be in pain for something she knew she could fix.

“I told him I’d never let him burn,” she whispered, “I meant that.”

“Marinette,” Tikki gasped and, when she met her Kwami’s eyes she was surprised to see them watering, “I’m so proud of you.”

Marinette blinked in confusion.

“Huh?”

“You’ve grown up so much,” Tikki explained, wiping her eyes, “I don’t know if you would have been able to handle finding this out three years ago. But here you are, ready to face up to your partner! Ready to take responsibility. You really do love him and it shows. I’m proud of how strong you’re being.”

Unable to take the praise, Marinette dropped her gaze to the floor, her cheeks flushed.

“I guess? I can only do what I think is right. Besides,” she snapped her head wide, fear flooding through her at her sudden realisation, “what if Plagg tells Adrien I saw him?!”

“Nope. Not going to happen.” Tikki’s expression was distinctly unamused, her lips lined in a half-grimace. Before Marinette could question her, Tikki continued, “I know Plagg. He’d find it funnier if he didn’t say anything, plus he wouldn’t consider it his… business to interfere.”

It appeared as though Tikki was skirting around the issue that Plagg was simply a trouble maker. Based on the brief moments she’d seen (or heard) the Kwami, she could believe it. That actually reassured her more than anything.

“Well,” she said, lifting her chin skyward, “I guess it’s up to me then.”


 

“What do you mean he’s not coming?!”

Alya’s shrugged her shoulders, her indigo-sequined dress sparkling in the light, and Marinette felt her stomach drop in disappointment. All the tension throughout the day, the extra preparations she’d made to ensure she looked her very best, the words she’d practiced in front of her mirror time and time again, all of it was for nothing?

Really? REALLY?!

Despite her initial trepidation towards confessing to Adrien at Alix’s party, it had actually turned out to be a pretty romantic setting. Alix’s house was huge, as the way things go with old money, and Rose had helped her family decorate. Being hosted on a warm summer night, the party was in the garden. A wooden dance floor had been built specifically for the event and there was a large white marquee in case it rained. The décor was black and pink, Alix’s favourite colours, and small lanterns hung around the dance floor. Most of the old gang had managed to make it, along with Alix’s huge family. Marinette couldn’t imagine it being very relaxing, to host such an event. In fact, she’d barely seen Alix, apart from when she’d said hello and told them where the food was.

That was where they’d migrated to, the edge of the dance floor where the food was. Large white tables were festooned with flutes of champagne, bottles of beer, mini sandwiches and other light snacks which Nino was already stuffing his face with.

Marinette grabbed a flute of a champagne, chugging it with absolutely zero grace. Yeah, this’ll solve your problems Marinette.

“Yeah, I know right? Total bummer,” Nino shrugged, tugging at his stiff shirt collar, “he got dragged to a dinner party one of his dad’s partners was hosting or something- last minute thing. He seemed pissed about it. Well about as pissed as my boy gets anyway- you know the little puppy scowl thing he does?” Nino paused, trying to imitate his best friend’s pout as best as he could. Were the world not crashing around her, Marinette would have found it hilarious, “Like that. So I know he’s in super-mad territory.”

“The woes of the mega-rich eh?” Alya grumbled, rubbing her eyes, “god if I was rich the first thing I’d do is get laser eye surgery, I hate these shitty contact lenses.”

“You know what would be even cooler?” Nino replied, the pair of them totally oblivious to Marinette’s obvious mental breakdown, “if laser eye surgery actually gave you laser eyes.”

“We could help out if an akuma attacked,” Alya agreed, browsing the beer selection with a wrinkled nose.

“Exactly,” Nino nodded, slipping an arm around her waist, “literal laser eye surgery. It’s the future.”

I wonder if they’d notice if I crushed this champagne flute over my head? Marinette mused with a sigh, oh well- I guess I could always tell Adrien tomorrow, at the spa.

When Alya suggested they record a short video to send Adrien, hopefully to cheer him up, Marinette panicked. She couldn’t exactly say no, but she didn’t want her first words to him (since discovering his identity) to be a recorded message. Her heart thrummed in her chest as Alya began recording, shooting a peace sign at her phone camera as Nino poked his head around to get in the frame. What was she going to say?!

Before she knew it, Alya was swinging the camera around to her- prompting her to give Adrien a message- and suddenly she felt like a stuttering, shy fifteen-year-old all over again. She tried to ignore Alya’s raised eyebrow.

Alya finished the recording with a signature, self-mocking, Ladyblog salute. She switched the camera off, turning accusingly towards Marinette. However, she didn’t get the chance to say anything before a voice called out to them from across the dance floor.

“Oh! There you guys are!”

Marinette turned just in time to see Nathanael making his way through the crowds. Despite her annoyance at the Adrien-less (and Chat Noir-less!) evening she had ahead of her, she was glad to see Nathanael smiling and at ease. He usually disliked large crowds.

“Hey!” she grinned enveloping him in a hug, “how’s it going?”

“Ok I guess,” he replied waving to the others, “you all look great!”

“Aw shucks,” Marinette chuckled, waving her hand, her short pink dress sashaying as she did so, “you clean up good yourself my buddy! Want a beer?”

Nino raised his eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest. Alya shot him a stern look. Marinette missed this little interaction.

“Not even if it was chocolate flavoured,” Nathanael pulled a face, “anyways have you seen Alix? I need to give her her birthday present.”

“She’s talking to the DJ I think,” Nino replied curtly, and Marinette fixed him with a curious stare. Nino ignored her, instead staring at Nathanael, eyes ever-so-slightly narrowed. She’d never seen Nino so…protective? Was that the right word? Or maybe he was still sore that Alix’s family had chosen a professional DJ for her party.

Nathanael frowned, looking about as confused as Marinette felt, and fidgeted nervously under Nino’s gaze.

“Err thanks? Well I guess I better head that way then,” and before Marinette could say anything else, Nathanael turned on his heel and dashed away.

Marinette wheeled around to face Nino, a scowl crossing her face.

“That was rude,” she accused, clutching her champagne flute tightly, “what’s your problem with Nath?”

Alya, for some strange reason, groaned and sat down on one of the white garden chairs- stuffing a mini éclair in her mouth. Nino at least, had the decency to look sheepish. He reached up and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

“Sorry, I guess ever since I saw you two the other day, I’ve been kind of worried. I didn’t mean to be so- you know- grrr. I just don’t want to see you get hurt again.”

“What do you mean?”

Nino glanced over at Alya, who waved a hand at him. He gulped.

“Well, you know you’ve been acting pally-pally with Nath recently?”

Following in the footsteps of Alya, Marinette groaned.

“This again?!” she cried, glaring at them both, her arms waving in protest. A small amount of champagne flew out of the flute and landed on Nino’s cheek. “I told Alya nothing was going on and I meant it. Wait-” she paused, her eyes narrowing further, “so you were the one who saw the stupid holding hands thing, and told Alya about it? Jesus Christ Nino-”

“Oh boy she’s mad at that,” Nino’s voice warbled, his shoulders tensed. His eyes scanned the garden, mapping out an escape route.

Marinette froze, her eyes widening, her heart jittering to a halt.

“Nino,” her voice was low, dangerously low, and Nino gulped again, “what did you do?”

Nino shuffled backwards but Alya, who wasn’t even looking at them, reached up from her spot and grabbed his sleeve, tugging him back towards Marinette’s wrath.

“Errr…. See, it’s kind of funny when you think about it?” he chuckled feebly- though it petered out quickly when Marinette’s expression darkened and she became a vision of death in pink.

“What. Did. You. DO?!”

Nino gulped a third time and Marinette was surprised his mouth wasn’t bone dry at this point.

“Ok, ok. Well when I saw you, Adrien was there too and- and- andImayhaveaccidentallytoldhimaboutthetimeyouandNathdated.”

Marinette dropped her champagne flute, its contents spilling around the floor around them, the glass smashing into a million pieces as it landed on the makeshift wooden dance floor.

“WHAT?!”

“I’m sorry!” Nino hasted to say, holding his hands up in surrender, “I was thinking out loud, I was worried! See the thing is I think Adrien- I think he has a crush on you- I think he has for a while but I didn’t want to say. It wasn’t my place to you know?”

“You think he-” Marinette spluttered, face turning redder by the second.

“But I think I fucked up because now he’s, like, super sad because he thinks you and Nath are a thing.”

“HE THINKS NATHANAEL AND I ARE A THING?!” Marinette screeched, stepping closer to Nino. Nino stepped backwards again, frantic.

“Babe help!” he cried to Alya, who was busy checking her nails, “I think she’s gonna kill me!”

“Shame hon,” Alya replied carelessly, crossing her legs and browsing her phone “Would you like orchids or lilies at your funeral?”

“BABE!”

“Nino Lahiffe!” Marinette yelled, not caring that her fellow party goers were staring, not caring that Nino’s face had turned a unique shade of mottled green, “you have about three seconds to explain what the hell you were thinking before I bludgeon you to death with a turntable!”

“Guys?”

As if the moment couldn’t get any worse, Nathanael came strolling back over, concern laced in his tone. Marinette buried her scream in the palms of her hands, her makeup smudging as she did so. Adrien liked her, Chat liked her, but he thought she liked Nathanael. Which meant if she revealed herself he was going to think LADYBUG liked Nathanael- whilst she’d been kissing him!

Yup. I’m fucked. My life is over. Goodbye maturity, sorry I’m not as grown up as you think I am Tikki. I’m going to go live in the Alps and befriend mountain sheep. I’m sure I can make coats out of their wool or whatever. If anything it’ll get me lots of Pinterest followers.

“Is everything ok?” Nathanael asked, “I heard my name called and I was-”

But none of them got to hear the rest of Nathanael’s speech. As he came to stand by Marinette’s side, his feet slipped out from under him- skidding in the pool of Marinette’s dropped champagne. He tumbled backwards with a startled yelp, reaching out for something which could stop his fall. Unfortunately, the thing he grabbed happened to be Marinette’s elbow, which only proceeded to make Marinette crash down right on top of him.

They landed hard on the floor.

I thought it was supposed to be adding insult to injury, not injury to insult, Marinette thought dizzily.

“Holy shit,” Nino scrambled forwards whilst Alya leapt from her chair, “are you two ok?”

Marinette felt something warm against her shoulder, which was lying on top of Nathanael’s arm. She moaned, feeling a small ache where she’d landed roughly, but was otherwise fine.

“I’m all right,” she grumbled, letting Nino help her up, “what about you Nath?”

Nathanael didn’t reply but, even from where Marinette was standing, she could hear his breathing coming out in short ragged bursts. It was then that she noticed the small wet patch on her shoulder was blood. Nath’s blood.

“Nath?!” she called, spinning back around to face him. His eyes were screwed shut in pain, he was sitting upright, cradling his left arm.

“Ouch,” was his only response.


 

Adrien slammed the door to bathroom shut, leaning against it with a huff.

This had to be, without a shadow of a doubt, the most boring evening of his entire life. It was made even more unbearable by the knowledge of where he should have been. He should, in fact, have been at a party with his friends, he should have been having fun. Instead he was stuck making nice with boring business people. For once, he and Plagg seemed to agree on something. This sucked.

Honestly he’d lied about going to the bathroom just so he could gain a moment of reprieve from the sheer exhausting monotony of it all. The grey suits and the greyer voices. At least the manor house his dad’s business buddy lived in was huge. He could pretend he’d gotten lost, which gave him at least a few extra minutes of browsing on his phone. His father wouldn’t be pleased, if he even noticed he was gone. But right now, Adrien actually didn’t care.

Plagg flew out of his pocket with a long-suffering sigh.

“Please don’t become a business man,” he grumbled, “I don’t think I can take another evening like this.”

“Me neither buddy,” Adrien agreed, handing the Kwami a well-deserved lump of cheese whilst pulling out his phone.

His eyebrows darted up in surprise.

“Alya sent me a video!” he gasped, astonished she’d even thought of him. Here he was believing they’d be off having the time of their lives without him. He was touched.

“So play it then, dummy,” Plagg replied, his mouth still full. Adrien shot him a reproachful glare. Honestly, it would be a miracle if his Kwami resisted being a pig for more than five minutes.

Choosing not to dignify the insult with a response, Adrien opened the video and waited for it to load.

The video itself was fairly dark, and Adrien had to pause to adjust the brightness of his screen before playing it again. His chest ached when he saw Alya’s face come into view with a cheerful greeting, heard the faint sounds of music blaring in the background. He wanted to be there so badly.

“Yo duuuude!” Adrien laughed as Nino burst into his screen, pulling silly faces, “sorry you couldn’t be here bro! Miss you!”

“Totally!” Alya nodded, “Get your ass over here! Sneak outta that boring dinner party! That’s what he should do, right Mari?”

Adrien’s breath caught as Alya swung the camera around to Marinette. Marinette, who yesterday Adrien had confessed his feelings for. Marinette, who was wearing an adorable pink dress. Marinette, who was looking into the camera lens with a shy smile which made his heart melt into warm goo.

“Umm, w- well I don’t know about that Alya- we don’t want him to get in trouble with his dad!” she chuckled nervously, playing with her loose wavy hair, “but…”

Marinette took a deep breath as her gaze relaxed, gentle and so very lovely that Adrien instantly felt heat creeping up his face. How am I going to get over her if she keeps being so cute?

“I really wish you were here, Adrien.” Her voice was low, almost a whisper, and Adrien inched closer to the screen to hear her better, willing himself to fall through the screen, to be there with her, to grant her wish, “everything is less fun without you around. I don’t want you to feel bad about missing the party though, so I guess I’ll say- umm- see you tomorrow! I’m looking forward to playing tennis with you. We’re. we’re going to be great partners. I can feel it.”

Adrien’s mouth dropped open. If he wasn’t blushing before, he certainly was now.

Was she- was she returning his feelings?

“You’ll catch flies like that,” Plagg cackled as Alya finished the video with a cheery salute.

Adrien snapped his mouth shut and buried his face in his hands with a pitiful whine.

“You know,” Plagg mused, ignoring his chosen’s plight, “if the whole thing with Ladybug doesn’t work out, you should date Marinette.”

Removing his hands from his face, Adrien threw Plagg an incredulous (and highly suspicious) glare.

“What?” Plagg shrugged, “I’m just saying. She seems cute, and anyone who gets you breaking the rules is ok in my book. I still can’t believe she got you to break into a building!” he chuckled, “girl’s got style.”

“Plagg why would you be pointing me towards Marinette when you know who Ladybug is?” he scowled, “you saw her the other night!”

Plagg froze mid-air, looking like a cat who’d been caught with the cream.

“Huh?” he replied, voice unusually high pitched. Adrien crinkled his brows, confused.

“The other night when Ladybug and I were kissing without our masks on. You came over and interrupted us- which by the way I still haven’t forgiven you for,” Adrien explained, crossing his arms with a pout, “you must have seen who she is right?”

Plagg let out a puff of air.

“Oh that? Nah I didn’t bother looking,” Plagg replied.

“You didn’t bother?!” Adrien cried, shooting upright. Honestly, where on Earth were Plagg’s priorities?

“No why would I?” Plagg shot back defensively, “unlike you- I actually don’t care who Ladybug is as long as she does a good job.”

Adrien didn’t buy that for a second but, before he had a chance to respond, his phone buzzed with a text from Nino. Scowling at Plagg one last time for good measure, Adrien diverted his attention to Nino’s text.

Nino: Dude this night got craaaazy!

He’d attached a photo to the message, which Adrien opened curiously to get a closer look. It appeared to be a photo of a large white building. An ambulance was parked outside.

Adrien panicked.

Adrien: OH MY GOD IS THAT A HOSPITAL?!?!?!?!

Chapter Text

“It could be worse!” Nathanael reassured, smiling as he clutched the temporary bandage wrapped around his forearm. “They could’ve cut my arm off.”

“Yeah totally,” Nino nodded encouragingly. “Stitches are cool, and you get a scar. I heard girls like scars. Is that true, babe?”

“Yeah because all girls are a hive mind!” Alya shook her head. She crossed her legs, lounging as much as she could considering the hospital chairs were as hard as frozen rock. “Although I guess scars are cool? They add an element of intrigue to a guy. But then again I wouldn’t want to know how the Joker got his scars.”

“I guess the guy has to be hot,” Nathanael chuckled, smiling sheepishly despite the fact he still looked a little pale.

Nino beamed, throwing a cautious arm over Nathanael’s shoulder.

“Then you’ll have no problems, my guy! Any girl would be totally interested in you and your scars.”

Marinette buried her face in her hands, not wanting to disturb any of the poor sick patients, but needing to scream nonetheless. She picked up her feet, not caring that she was wrinkling her dress (it already had a small blood stain on the collar anyway) and hid her face in her knees. Truth be told she couldn’t tell whose ass she wanted to kick at that moment in time but, judging by the insurmountable amount of guilt blackening her veins, she herself was on the list.

She needed a blanket fort. Stat.

“Marinette?” Nathanael’s concerned voice permeated through her self-made gloom cloud, and Marinette shied away from it. She heard him shift in his chair, make his way over to sit by her side. “Oh come on, it was an accident. How many times have I accidentally gotten paint on your work or your clothes?”

“That was DIFFERENT!” Marinette yelled, immediately throwing her arms out and shooting him an incredulous look. She missed a passing nurse giving her a disapproving scowl. “That was a mild blip, this is a MASSIVE BLIP! A CATASTROPHIC BLIP! Paint doesn’t put you in the hospital Nath! I put you in the hospital!”

“Actually,” Alya countered, throwing up her index finger as though it would emphasise her point, “The tweebs would prove you wrong about that. They ate a bit of my aunt’s acrylic paint because they thought it was cherry sauce. That was a fun day.”

“Honestly,” Nathanael assured, bumping her shoulder with his good arm, “I’m fine. I mean it stung a bit at first but it’s not hurting as much anymore. It was an accident. Marinette please don’t feel bad about this ok? I wasn’t looking where I was going and I slipped. That’s all there is to it. Just because you spilled the drink, it doesn’t take away the fact I wasn’t looking. When you think about it like that, I guess we’re both idiots.”

Marinette paused. Allowing his words to sink in, she slowly unfurled her body and dared to meet his eyes. In response, Nathanael smiled warmly. There wasn’t a trace of anger in sight.

“Err, guys? Can you… add me to the list of idiots?”

The pair looked up, equally startled to see Nino avoiding their gaze.

“Nino.” Alya stood up from her spot opposite him, burying her fingers into his short brown hair. He glanced at her briefly, before casting his eyes downward once more, his face crumpling.

“No I’m serious. If anyone needs blaming here, it’s me.” He swallowed, closing his eyes briefly as he inhaled. After he’d readied himself, he sat upright and fixed both Marinette and Nathanael with a look full of remorse. “I’m sorry. I made some assumptions about you two being a couple again. I saw you two together and I was worried. I jumped to conclusions I shouldn’t have, before asking you about it. It’s not my business anyway, but all I wanted was for you to be happy. I was worried and stupid, and- god- I just hope you can forgive me?”

Marinette shifted uncomfortably, and not because the hard waiting room chair was making her lower half numb. Now that the shock of Nino’s revelation had worn off, she had the grace to be ashamed of her earlier outburst. Sure, she was still annoyed that an already complicated situation now turned out to be one jumbled knot of misunderstandings, miscommunications and misinterpretations, but she couldn’t find it in her heart to be angry with Nino.

She did, however, seriously thinking about hunting down a syringe of morphine large enough to put her in a coma, (could morphine do that?) when she’d realised that Chat probably thought she’d been talking about Nathanael at the Palace Du Luxemburg. That revelation in particular, seemed to turn her brain to undignified, screeching mulch.

“It’s ok, Nino,” Marinette sighed, fumbling with the skirt of her dress, trying to undo the creases she’d caused.

“It is?” he gasped, and Marinette realised that (whilst Nino thought Adrien had a puppy-scowl) his puppy-dog eyes were in full effect. Her heart could only take so much. She had no idea how Alya dealt with them on a regular basis.

Quite suddenly, Marinette was struck dumb by how sweet all the boys in her life were.

“It is,” she nodded. “I promise. I know you didn’t mean to make Adrien sad, or cause a misunderstanding. You were only looking out for me and to be honest, we were already misunderstanding each other. We’ll fix it though.”

“You thought we were a couple?” Nathanael blinked slowly, his lower lip jutting outwards. “You mean me and Marinette?” He gestured between them with his thumb, looking utterly perplexed.

“They don’t know about Louis. I didn’t think it was my place to tell them,” Marinette mumbled under her breath, hoping Alya wouldn’t hear. Alas, her reporter-ears were out in full force and her eyes glistened curiously.

“Who’s Lou-” she began, but was interrupted by a yell so loud it shattered the air like a bullet through glass. A blur of a human raced down the hall towards them, and Marinette had only a second to realise that it was the man in question before Louis dropped to the floor in front of his boyfriend. To say he was beside himself was an understatement.

Nathanael turned the same colour as his hair.

“God, Lou, did you run here?” he spluttered, as Louis began touching his face, dark eyes scanning every last inch of Nathanael’s body, seemingly searching for life threatening injuries.

“I dropped everything as soon as I got Marinette’s message,” Louis huffed breathlessly and Marinette had no doubt that he actually had run all the way to the hospital. His dark curly hair was plastered to his forehead, his eyes were glassy and watering. “But I don’t care about me! What about you mi amore? Are you well? Are you hurting?”

Uncaring of the onlookers, Louis reached up to rest a hand against Nathanael’s cheek. He genuinely looked as though Nathanael’s pain was his own.

Nathanael smiled, shyly leaning into the touch and fixing Louis with a loving gaze. Not wanting to disturb this private moment, Marinette peered over to gauge Nino and Alya’s reaction, fighting an onslaught of laughter when she saw their matching expressions of shock. Both of them looked as though they’d been smacked in the face with a ten ton of bricks.

“I’m ok, they gave me some painkillers and a little bandage to stop the bleeding. But I’m going to need stitches.” The idea seemed to make Nathanael nervous. From her spot beside him, Marinette could feel Nathanael shudder.

Louis wasted no time in comforting his boyfriend.

“I’ll be there. Right by your side. You don’t have anything to worry about, just hold my hand and look into my eyes and it’ll be over before you know it.”

Marinette chuckled.

“He’s getting stitches, Louis, not giving birth.”

Louis looked up at her as if he’d only just realised that she was there, as if he’d only just noticed a universe outside of himself and Nathanael. He recovered quickly, and raised his hand in greeting. Marinette waved awkwardly in response. Nino and Alya continued to gawk in silence but, as Louis’ back was to them and Nathanael’s attention was diverted, their silent mental breakdowns remained unnoticed.

Marinette thought about comforting them, but was taking too much pleasure in the fact that it wasn’t her having the mental breakdown. It was a welcome change.

“You are quite right, yes, but I will still be there,” Louis agreed, having calmed down now that he knew Nathanael would be all right. He stood up, stretching out his long legs.

It was then that Marinette noticed the collar of his shirt (a black t shirt with the words ‘the Roman empire was cut in half by a pair of Caesars’ printed in bold yellow letters) was drenched in sweat. Her eyes widened. He hadn’t just run here; he must have sprinted. Literally.

“Are you sure honey? I know how you are with hospitals, you don’t have to come with me!” Nathanael leaned up in his chair, looking more worried for Louis than himself.

It was as if his words were a light switch in Louis’ brain. All at once, the usually tanned man turned grey and he swayed on his feet.

Nathanael stood up instantly.

“I’m fine,” Louis hastened to say, despite the fact he looked anything but. “I’m fine, truly. I just need to vomit and then I’ll be well again. Excuse me.”

Marinette could not believe how civilised Louis sounded. He even bowed as he spun on his heel and hurried away to the nearest bathroom. He kind of reminds me of Chat sometimes- I mean Adrien- I mean both. UGH!

Now that she thought about it, Adrien had bowed to her countless times, when he was feeling at ease and his more playful side came out. She’d thought it was something Adrien had copied off Chat Noir because he was a fan. In the years she’d come to know Adrien, she’d noticed he was a bit of a sponge when it came to TV shows or comics he liked, and would occasionally take on the mannerisms of his favourite characters. So Marinette had assumed the bowing thing was a symptom of that and hadn’t given it much thought beyond that.

Once again she found herself wondering how she’d denied what she’d known deep down for so long.

Nathanael sighed, staring after Louis with a worried frown, and the silence which followed Louis’ exit was painfully long. It was as if he were a hurricane instead of a person, leaving chaos and confusion in his wake.

Eventually, however, it was Nino of all people who found the courage to speak.

“So…err…that was your boyfriend?”

Nathanael looked back at him with an awkward blush and a nervous chuckle.

“Yeah.”

Nino slumped backwards in his seat, placing his fingers on his temples. He looked so downbeat that Marinette made a mental memo to bring him an extra batch of pastries from the bakery. He clearly needed it.

“I. am. an. IDIOT,” he whispered, aghast.

Alya gripped his arm, having sat down in order to be closer to him. She was showing remarkable restraint, Marinette thought, considering she was normally the first to ask for every little detail about her friends’ relationships. It looked as though she was too busy trying to comfort Nino to be too intrusive. He was good for her that way.

“You didn’t know, it’s ok, none of us did,” she shot Marinette a patient look of understanding, and Marinette breathed a silent sigh of relief. She’d been worried that Alya would be angry with her for telling white lies about Nathanael’s sexuality and relationship status. She should have had more faith in her best friend.

“Yes, and if I’d been a bit more open about it- Adrien and Marinette might not have had this misunderstanding,” Nathanael groaned, gripping his injured arm tightly. “I’m going to ask Louis to help me change my Facebook status or whatever it’s called, as soon as I get home.”

Marinette whirled around, shooting Nathanael an incredulous stare.

“You can-NOT blame yourself for this!” she cried. “Absolutely not. You shouldn’t have to out yourself in order to fix my love life. No this is something I messed up, and I’m going to fix it.”

Alya had had enough.

“I swear to god if one more person tries to martyr and blame themselves for this clusterfuck, I’m going to scream,” Alya cried, throwing her arms up in the air with exasperation. “Look. NOBODY went into this situation hoping they’d hurt anyone did they?”

Everyone shook their heads, lips fused shut against Alya’s wrath.

“Exactly! For God’s sake it’s a misunderstanding, it’s not like anyone is dying- despite Nathanael’s earlier attempt.” She offered Nathanael a wry smile, and Nathanael gave her a kind look in response, looking more relaxed. “It’s a bit of a shit situation, sure, but we can fix it. It’s easily fixed. So everyone needs to calm the fuck down ok? God, you all exhaust me. I am EXHAUSTED.”

Marinette couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“Yeah, but you love us,” she replied as Nino kissed Alya’s cheek. In response, Alya rolled her eyes fondly, “But what I’m most worried about is Louis. Is he going to be ok?”

The frown was back on Nathanael’s face, and he threw himself back into his own chair with a forlorn sigh.

“He’ll be ok. He throws up every time he goes to hospital. He- he had a bad experience here when he was kid,” Nathanael explained, his impossibly bright eyes darkened in sadness. “His father was a police officer, and he died after getting shot on a routine patrol. Armed robber. Ever since then, Louis can’t go to any hospital without being sick.”

Nobody had time to react, all silent in horror, before a nurse came towards them. He ushered Nathanael away, to the well wishes of the three he left behind, and Louis came out of the bathroom just in time to meet Nathanael at the end of the hallway. They rounded a corner and disappeared from sight.

The remaining three sat still in the waiting room, wrapped up in their own worlds. Marinette didn’t know if it was the bright, luminescent lights, the cheap plastic floors or the odd hospital smell which flooded the air, but her life didn’t seem real. She honestly considered, for a moment, whether or not she was living life as a character in The Sims or if she was a figment of someone’s hallucination after they’d drunk too much cactus juice.

“Dude, if anyone has any other secrets speak now or hold your peace,” Nino warbled out one of his favourite sayings, looking as shaken as Marinette felt. “I can’t take much more of this. I mean, like, how many secrets, tragic backstories and weird coincidences can one group have? It’s like we’re in a comic book or something!”

Marinette, brushing her fingers against her miraculous, chose not to respond.

“Poor Louis,” Alya said, playing with the strands of hair which had escaped from her bun amidst the chaos of getting Nathanael to the hospital. “That sucks about his dad. I mean don’t get me wrong, my dad’s an asshole and everything, but he’s still alive. There’s still a chance for him to not be an asshole sometime in the next million years. I can’t imagine what that must have been like, and as a kid too.”

“Hey, I know we haven’t seen much of him, but he seems ok. And he has Nath. They both look like they’re totally into each other. ‘Sides Nath is cool so Louis’ life can’t be all bad,” Nino replied, lacing his fingers with Alya’s so that he could pull her hand up to kiss it comfortingly. “Anyway, I’m going to try and find some snacks, I’ll grab some chocolate for you guys. You look like you could use it.”

“You’re a blessing, babe,” Alya grinned, hearts in her eyes as Nino traipsed away with a prideful salute, happy to provide for the pair of them.

Once Nino had gone, Alya whipped out her phone, no doubt to check how the party was going without them.

“Unbelievable,” she chuckled, shaking her head, “Alix has already uploaded to photos of Nath’s cut to her Instagram. That girl…”

“Well at least she isn’t mad, and at least we didn’t ruin the party,” Marinette said, recalling the look of glee on Alix’s face when she realised one of her party guest had to be taken to hospital. She’d considered it a badge of honour.

“Wonder how Adrien’s doing right now?” Alya thought aloud, grinning wolfishly at Marinette as she answered her own question. “I bet he’s not as good now as he will be when he realises you aren’t dating Nath hmm?”

“Alya,” Marinette warned.

“Hey I’m just saying!” Alya’s grin grew wider as she folded her arms, oozing confidence. “The only reason he could’ve been so downtrodden about the whole Nath situation was because he’s likes you! I’ve been trying to tell you for months now, but would you listen to me? No-pe!” She popped the last syllable, her grin turning to an outright told-you-so smirk and, if Marinette hadn’t had a trump card, she would’ve been infuriated.

Leaning back in her chair, Marinette stretched her legs and tried her best to look casual.

“Oh yeah, I know he likes me,” she said, pretending to check her nails, “he- he told me yesterday.”

Alya scrambled upwards in her seat, limbs flaying, eyes flashing.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!

“Young lady, this is a hospital,” a nearby doctor hissed, glaring at Alya like a teacher towards a disruptive student. Alya sat back down, hanging her head until the doctor passed by, mumbling something about today’s youth under her breath. When the doctor disappeared, Alya snapped her head towards Marinette (who was finding it very hard not to bust a gut laughing) and glowered.

“How could you keep something like that from me?” she accused, looking more hurt than angry, and Marinette felt a twinge of guilt, inwardly wincing.

“Sorry, it was just a lot to take in you know? I needed time to process it on my own. It wasn’t as if it was like a happy confession. He basically told me he liked me, even though he felt like he shouldn’t ‘cause we’re friends,” Marinette rambled, playing with her dress again. “Then he disappeared before I could reply. It all happened so fast I’m still kind of wondering if it actually DID happen or if I’ve finally lost it.”

It was just as she finished her rant that a loud buzzing filled the air. The pair looked at each other, confused, before Alya glanced down at the chair next to her. The devilish look on her face caused a shiver to run up Marinette’s spine and she knew she was in trouble. She didn’t know how, but she was. Everything about Alya, from the tip of her raised eyebrow, to her heels tapping curiously against the hospital floor, screamed that Marinette was totally, and utterly, screwed.

“First of all,” Alya crooned, picking up what appeared to be Nino’s phone, “You never had it to begin with. Second of all-” she held the phone up to Marinette, “-you wanna find out if it was real or not?”

Before Marinette could respond, Alya hit the answer button and threw Nino’s (thankfully protected) phone straight at her. Marinette made a sound like a chicken on helium, and lunged forward to catch the projectile.

The blood drained from her face when she saw who was on the other side of the phone.

Adrien.

Chat Noir.

Oh god she was about to talk to Chat Noir’s civilian self (knowingly) for the first time. On the phone. In a hospital waiting room. Huh. Looks like I’m going to have a mental breakdown here after all.

It wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind when she pictured this moment finally occurring.

She froze, phone clutched tightly in her hand, her eyes bugging out in horror.

 “Hello? Nino?” Adrien’s voice called out from the speaker, and Marinette clapped a hand to her mouth. From the corners of her eyes, she could see Alya making silent encouraging gestures. They didn’t help at all. Alya had no idea. No idea.

Calm down.

No, no, no, no, no.

CALM DOWN. You were going to talk to him tonight anyway.

“Nino? Please answer!” Adrien cried, his voice sounding strangled and panicky. “Dude I’ve only just got home from the dinner thing and my dad was dragging me around getting me to talk to all of the investors for his new London headquarters and I was a mess, I could barely remember my own name but all I could think about was that picture you sent. Was that really a hospital? Come on man, you have to be ok. Or is it someone else? Is it Alya? Is she hurt? Is it MARINETTE?!”

At the sound of her name, Marinette squealed and placed the phone up to her ear, nearly dropping it twice.

“Erm, h-hi Adrien.”

The phone went so quiet that Marinette briefly checked that she hadn’t accidentally ended the call. She bit her lip, curling up into a ball once again.

When it had gotten past twenty seconds, and Adrien still hadn’t replied, Marinette steeled herself. Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes, reminding herself there was nothing to fear. Sure she was nervous, but this was her Chat Noir she was speaking to- even though he didn’t know she knew.

As the image of Adrien with Chat’s cat ears filled her mind, Marinette smiled, finding her inner strength.

“Adrien?”

“Yes!” He squeaked, a noise which Marinette found highly endearing, and she snuggled deeper into the chair, silently promising herself to try and get that squeak out of him again. “Yes- Adrien. That is my name. That’s me. H-hi.  Um. This is Marinette right?”

Marinette couldn’t help the giggle which escaped from her lips.

How the hell was I ever so nervous around this dork that I could barely speak?

“Yeah, it’s me,” she replied fondly. “And don’t worry. None of us are hurt. Well, not badly. Nathanael and I fell over a broken champagne glass at Alix’s party so now we’re at the hospital because he needs stitches.”

“Oh,” he replied sharply, but not angrily. It seemed as though he didn’t know what to say. Marinette blanched when she realised he probably thought that she’d gone because she was with Nathanael romantically. He surprised her with what he said next though, “But Nathanael is going to be ok isn’t he?”

Marinette felt like melting. This sweet cat of hers cared so much about other people- even though Nathanael was someone he probably considered a love rival or something ridiculous like that.

“He’ll be fine,” she said casually.

“Good, that’s um, that’s-” Adrien coughed self-consciously “-that’s good.”

Marinette wasn’t sure how many more of these awkward silences she could take. But what was she to do? As much as she desperately desired to talk to him, to tell him everything, she couldn’t exactly come clean in the middle of a hospital waiting room. Not with Alya there. Especially not with Alya there.

But, maybe there was something she could do? She hated the idea of Adrien thinking he had to let her go, or that she didn’t like him back.

Well, to be fair, she didn’t like him. She loved him, and it was that thought alone which gave her the courage to say what she felt she needed to.

“Adrien?” Oh how she wanted to call him Chat too, to finally confirm the truth out loud, to make good on that promise they’d made in a moonlit church what seemed like a lifetime ago. But she couldn’t. Not just yet. Not quite. “I think we should talk.”

Marinette could practically feel the panic radiating from the other end of the phone call. She was pretty sure Adrien had made a weird sort of strangled noise, and so she rushed to reassure him.

“It’s nothing bad! But, you ran out so quickly yesterday,” her voice softened as she spoke, trying to make a point of letting him know she wasn’t angry with him, “and I don’t blame you for that at all. But I do think we need to talk about it.”

“Y-yeah, yeah we do,” Adrien’s voice was wobbling, strained as if he were forcing it to remain steady and failing miserably. “I guess a phone call isn’t the best time to talk things over. Especially if you’re still in the hospital right?”

“Right,” Marinette agreed, gulping. Here goes nothing, “But Adrien?”

“Yes…Marinette?”

Oh god her lungs were going to either burst or melt. He said her name like he didn’t think he was allowed to. Chat Noir had just called her name that way, her true name. She slunk so far into her chair that she almost disappeared in her skirt.

“I wanted you to know,” she whispered, “even if we can’t say everything we need to right now- just know that I’m not with Nathanael ok? We’re not a thing. Nino said you were with him when Nathanael took me to the coffee shop the other day. That- that wasn’t anything romantic ok? We’re just friends. He was happy because he got accepted into his first choice university.”

Adrien was quiet, but she could hear him breathing deeply. She was only just aware that she was trembling. Still, she fought her fears. She had to. For him.

“And,” she let out a shaky breath of her own, “a-about what you said yesterday? Umm- well- no matter how much you’re worried about that,” she paused to swallow the sudden lump in her throat, “you won’t ever lose me. As a friend or anything. You’d never lose me because of your feelings. I promise ok? I’d never, ever, ever, turn my back on you because of them. So don’t worry ok? It’ll make sense tomorrow, when we can talk in person.”

She held back on revealing too much in regards to her feelings. However temporary, she didn’t want him to feel like he had to choose between Ladybug and herself. Even though Ladybug WAS herself.

Her head hurt- and Adrien had yet to reply.

“Adrien?” she called his name, suddenly a lot shier. Had she said something wrong?

“I’m here.”

His voice was deeper. It reminded her of nights spent dancing around each other, reminded her of the years wasted because they’d both been so blind to what was in front of them, reminded her of the way he looked at her just before he kissed her. There was no mistaking that voice. It was the voice of her other half. The yin to her yang. Just as Master Fu had told her years ago, as Tikki constantly told her. She finally got it. She finally understood.

Her heart fluttered and a love-sick smile almost split her face in two. Hope bloomed in her chest when she remembered how they’d kissed without masks, eyes closed, as Adrien had vowed to find her and be with her.

Tomorrow was an eternity away.

“Sorry, I was letting what you said sink in,” he explained. “It meant a lot… thank you.”

Nathanael and Louis appeared from the corner, both looking rather peaky but relieved nonetheless. Nathanael was still cradling his arm, but looked distinctly less agitated. She supposed it was due to the worst being over.

“Any time!” Marinette replied, trying to sound cheerful and alleviate the tension of the situation somewhat. “I have to go now; Nathanael’s finished getting his stitches so I guess we’re all heading home.”

“Okay,” Adrien sighed, and was it her imagination or did he sound disappointed?! God he was going to be the death of her.

“G-goodnight Adrien,” she stammered. Damn it. She’d done well to not splutter like an idiot so far.

“Goodnight Princess.”

There was a brief moment of silence where all the breath in Marinette’s body seemed to hide away, her muscles clenched, her mind shut down business. The world turned black. She didn’t think she could move if she tried.

Had she really just heard that? Had he really-

“I MEAN GOODNIGHT MARINETTE!” The yell which came from the other end of the line was so loud that Nathanael and Louis turned to stare, Louis raising a honeyed eyebrow at her amusedly, “I didn’t mean- I- umm- jeez I’m sorry that just slipped out- I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“It’s- it’s fine!” How Marinette was able to speak when her brain had fled to Venezuela, she had no idea, “I don’t mind.”

“I’m going to hang up now- if- if that’s ok.” Adrien whined, his voice muffled so much that she was pretty sure he’d buried his face in a pillow or something similar, “If I keep talking to you I’m going to make things worse.”

“It’s ok,” she soothed, trying not to laugh and call him a term of endearment she’d usually reserve for his superhero alter-ego. “Like I said I have to go too. Should we try again?”

“Yes please,” Adrien begged and Marinette couldn’t help it. She had to laugh at how desperately dorky he sounded.

“All right, goodnight, Adrien. I’ll tell Nino you called.”

“Thank you. goodnight… Marinette.”

She hung up the phone, silently staring out into space as she hugged it to her chin. Her body simultaneously felt as though it was floating and had collapsed at the same time. Princess, she thought hazily, he called me Princess…again.

If Marinette hadn’t been certain she’d get some sort of fine for disorderly and disruptive behaviour, she would have screamed and cartwheeled down the hospital hallway. Her heartstrings were being played like a ukulele on steroids and she loved it.

“So that was the almost-lover Nathanael told me you were having some communication problems with yes?” Louis asked, breaking through her little world. She came crashing down to Earth with a flustered start, blushing from head to toe. Alya was grinning triumphantly.

Marinette nodded.

“Well you know, Louis and I were thinking,” Nathanael said, playfully rolling his shoulders, “that we ought to help you sort this mess out. It is partly my fault for not being more open about my bisexuality and before you start,” he quickly added when he saw Marinette’s open her mouth as if to argue, “I don’t care who knows I’m bi. I don’t care if the whole world knows, and it’s about time I let the world know how much I love this guy right next to me anyway.”

Louis beamed at him.

“So what did you have in mind?” Alya asked, crossing her legs again. Marinette could see she was fighting the urge to rub her hands together in glee.

Nathanael and Louis looked at each other once, in a silent conversation, before Louis turned back around to face Alya.

“Nathanael tells me you are all going to your cousin’s spa tomorrow, yes?” Louis asked and, when Alya confirmed this with a nod of her head and a glint in her eyes, Louis continued, “Well, we were wondering if you might be able to help us secure passes for the spa, and perhaps our passes might coincide with your own?”

Catching on to their plan, Marinette smiled. She really did have the best friends in the entire world.

“That,” Alya replied, “can most definitely be arranged.”

Chapter Text

“MOTHERFUCKER!”

Marinette didn’t expect to be woken up by a screech, or a pillow hitting her face. But then again, she hadn’t expected a lot of things that had happened to her recently. A pillow was the least of her problems.

She groaned, sitting up in Alya’s bed as the fluffy weapon tumbled onto her lap. After they’d left the hospital, Alya had insisted that Marinette needed some girl time- to get her head clear of boys. Marinette heartily agreed. Amongst the drama of her love life, her seemingly never-ending studies and the regular stream of akumas, Marinette’s down time with her best friend had severely declined. So she’d sent a quick text to her parents when they’d left the hospital, saying goodbye to Nathanael and Louis in the process, and Nino had walked them back home before heading to his place.

They, of course, had stayed up far too late watching dumb movies and painting each other’s nails, and the talk had turned to boys before they could help themselves. One boy in particular. Between them, they came up with a plan of action for the spa. Alya called it ‘Operation: Dork Love’ and Marinette had deliberately messed up painting one of her nails in retaliation. She’d fixed it though…eventually, after enough pouting from Alya.

“What?” Marinette managed to mumble, never one to be a morning person despite being a bakers’ daughter. “Wazzamatter?”

Alya was frantic, racing about the room and cussing under her breath. Marinette tried not to look directly at her, she was making her dizzy.

“What? WHAT? Look at the time butt munch!” Alya squawked, throwing another pillow at her. Marinette managed to dodge this one, ducking under the projectile and grabbing her phone to check the time.

Her eyes widened in horror and she let out an unholy squeal, scrambling out of the bed, only to get tangled in the bedsheets and hit the floor with a dull thud.

Alya didn’t even look at her, let alone check she was ok.

Getting ready was a hectic affair, and waking up late was not in their best interests considering ‘Operation: Dork Love’ (damn why did the name stick?) and besides, Marinette was already nervous enough as it was. She needed time to make herself look good. Why did life constantly throw her best laid plans under the bus?

After a brief wrestling match over the bathroom mirror, which Alya won, they hurried around the apartment, making sure they had everything they needed. Alya would be driving them to the spa, using her mother’s rarely-used Love Bug (a name whose irony was not lost on Marinette); a beat up, mid-noughties Volkswagen Beetle- red of course. None of them wanted to catch the train after a day of spa bliss, it seemed counter-productive.

Before picking up the boys, they needed to drive to Marinette’s place so she could change clothes and grab her spa things. Alya seemed want to make up for lost time by attempting to break the sound barrier.

“Would you SLOW DOWN?!” Marinette yelped as Alya sped around a corner at almost Tokyo-drift levels of insanity. “I’d like to live today you know! I don’t need death getting in the way of my love life too!”

“Do you want time to make yourself look nice?” Alya yelled beeping her horn and cussing out a student driver. “What are you doing?” she asked, looking over at Marinette making, who was making the sign of the cross.

“Praying,” Marinette replied, ending the sign by closing her eyes. She was grateful they hadn’t had any breakfast yet, as she was certain she would have lost it by now. “Eyes on the road, I’m begging you.”

“You aren’t even religious!” Alya cried, affronted, as she narrowly missed a cyclist. “My driving isn’t that bad.”

“EYES ON THE ROAD!”

When they finally reached the bakery both girls were stressed, frazzled, and on the verge of murder.

Tom, of course, laughed as soon as he saw them.

“Rough morning ladies?” he teased, offering them a few pastries.

“Don’t Papa,” Marinette moaned as Alya grabbed a croissant, shovelling it stressfully into her mouth, flecks of pastry flying everywhere. “Just don’t.”

The rest of the morning, thankfully, went a lot smoother after that. Fresh croissants and some herbal teas worked wonders on their nerves. It also helped that Nino texted, offering to hop on the metro and meet them at Marinette’s before they picked up Adrien, which saved them a lot of time in the Sunday traffic. Thanks to his generous gesture, they were no longer running late, though Marinette had to put up with a lot of gushing from Alya about how awesome her boyfriend was. She couldn’t blame her though, after all how many times had Alya been there to support her through the mess of her own love life?

As a peace offering for their earlier nonsense, Alya offered to do Marinette’s makeup. Light of course, and waterproof, as they’d be going into the Jacuzzis after playing tennis and Marinette would rather not look like her face was melting off when revealing that she was Ladybug.

The realisation smacked her in the stomach with a rusty knuckleduster.

Today.

It was TODAY.

The day they’d finally know each other. No more secrets. No more misunderstandings. Adrien and Marinette. Chat and Ladybug. Separate no more.

She felt like she was going throw up. In a good way. The whole night before she’d been plagued with dreams of rejection, of Adrien turning away from her with disappointment in his eyes. But Marinette knew better that to let those insecurities take a firm hold. Like any girl that firm fear of rejection was deeply engrained. Still, she refused to let them overwhelm her. She knew Adrien. Adrien…her Chat Noir. Her sweet, kind, loyal kitty. As nervous as she was she knew he’d never turn his back on her, knew what she’d said to him last night was reciprocated. She just had to keep reminding herself of that every time her anxieties flared up and she felt the urge to abandon ship.

“If you don’t stop fidgeting, you’re going to have panda-eyes,” Alya warned as she did Marinette’s mascara, her tongue poking out in concentration even as it tutted in disapproval. “It’s ok though, I get it. You’re nervous right?”

Marinette smiled, looking around her room but keeping her head still, lest she ruin Alya’s efforts. Tonight she’d return here. Her bed would be waiting for her, the same as always. Photos of her friends would smile up at her, the cat cushions would be ready for cuddles, a pile of laundry would still be there for her to wash. Everything would be just as she left it.

Everything would be the same, and yet completely different.

“You have no idea,” she whispered.

It wasn’t long before Nino joined them and, after saying a quick goodbye to her parents and grabbing an extra box of cookies for Nino- proof that she’d definitely forgiven him- they were on their way. The journey was a lot smoother now they weren’t in a rush and Alya was concentrating on the road, no trace of her road rage in sight.

“Oh by the way Mari,” Nino asked as they stopped at a red light, a few minutes away from Adrien’s house, “did Adrien ever talk to you?”

Marinette frowned, mostly because it was difficult to understand what he was saying. His mouth was stuffed with at least three cookies (“more flavourful that way”).

“Try that again, babe, in French this time,” Alya chuckled tapping her fingers against the steering wheel and keeping eagle-eyes on the traffic light.

Nino swallowed the cookies and repeated his question, causing Marinette’s frown to deepen. Had Nino known that Adrien was going to confess to her? That didn’t seem right. Adrien’s confession seemed so out of the blue, not planned at all. It still made her stomach dance the waltz with her appendix, but that was beside the point. How could Nino have known about it?

“What do you mean?” She asked cautiously, playing with the hem of her white tennis dress.

Nino twizzled around in his seat, shotgun of course, to look back at her curiously. He pulled a face, arms pinning to his sides as though he was unsure if he should say anything.

“Last night, you said Adrien talked to you on the phone right? Did he mention the thing he wanted to speak to you about?” He asked eventually, deciding it was safe. “Now that you sort-of cleared up that you aren’t dating Nath, I thought he would. I don’t know what it was, but I figured he must’ve forgot ‘cause of all the craziness of the past couple of days. I guess from your reaction that he hasn’t said anything. Maybe you should mention it today when you guys talk, to make sure everything is super-cleared up? Or maybe it was something dumb I don’t know… I just want to make sure you guys are really ok.”

“My nosiness is rubbing off on you,” Alya chuckled, starting the car with a lurch when the light finally turned green. Marinette briefly wondered how Nino knew about the plan, before realising duh, Alya. “I love it. Hope he tells you the thing he wanted to tell you Mari.”

Marinette did not miss Alya wiggling her eyebrows at her in the rear-view mirror. She blushed in response, losing herself to the nagging feeling in the back of her mind.

“Wait,” she said, recalling a memory and sitting up straight, “when did you say he wanted to talk to me?”

“It was Thursday after school, right before we saw you with Nath,” Nino replied, wiping some cookie crumbs off of his chin. In order to get to Marinette’s on time, he’d had to skip shaving. As a result, there was a thin, dark layer of stubble on his jawline which he rubbed impatiently. “Now that I think about it, it definitely looked important. He almost knocked me over trying to get to you- acting all excited and stuff. Why?”

“No reason,” Marinette whispered, breathlessly slumping backwards in her seat and looking out of her window.

Inside she was screaming.

No… it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be possible. Could it?

The thoughts raced around her head, the possibilities.

She knew Chat Noir was smart, that Adrien was smart. Heck, he was insanely intelligent. It’s one of the things which made him such a good partner, that he was able to understand and read the situation on a different level to her. Despite the fact that she was the strategist of the two, it took someone with a lot of mental cunning to understand and follow her ideas so readily.

So could it be? Could Adrien have figured it out? Had he discovered who she was, only to have the revelation mired by misunderstandings? As they drove closer and closer towards Adrien’s house, Marinette’s mind became more frantic. Raking over her memories as though they were a map leading to a long-lost treasure, Marinette searched for any clue during that Thursday which might indicate he’d found out who she was. He’d certainly acted normal when she saw him in the common ro-

Wait.

The drawing.

He must have seen her doodle of Chat Noir. She’d tried to cover it, however obviously, but it seemed to no avail.

It wasn’t that much of a stretch was it? He’d figured out that they went to the same school, he’d asked her what her favourite colour was even before that. It made sense that things would finally click into place. Especially after she’s denied being Chat’s fangirl yet drawn a picture of him surrounded by love hearts.

She knew that she was jumping to conclusions- but the evidence before her eyes was overwhelming, especially recalling Chat’s visible sadness at the end of their midnight adventure. Still, if it was the case, if he’d really figured out who she was, and his first instinct was to almost knock Nino over in his excitement to find her…

She wanted to cry. She wanted to talk. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted him.

“You ok back there Mari?” Nino asked as the pulled to a stop at Adrien’s house, and Marinette let out a loud gasp. “It’s going to be ok you know that right?”

Somehow, incredibly, Marinette found the strength to shoot Nino a wobbly smile. Perhaps it was the encouraging, if dorky, thumbs up her shot her- the way he seemed to radiate confidence on her behalf. She was lucky to have a friend like him.

“So who’s going to ring the bell of doom?” Alya asked, with a shudder. “I did it last time.”

“I’m not doing it. Never again. The last time I did, Adrien’s dad almost banned me from the house a second time,” Nino argued, his face turning a sickly shade of green at the memory. “That secretary woman is badass, but terrifying.”

The pair of them turned around to face Marinette in the back seat, and Marinette was strongly reminded of her parents. She knew the looks they were sending her way, and sighed.

“Ok I’m going.”

“Be nice to lover boy!” Alya teased. Marinette responded by slamming her door harder than necessary and, in further retaliation, Alya beeped the car horn several times in a taunting tune.

Marinette chose to ignore it. Traipsing towards the large gates of the Agreste Mansion, Marinette took a deep breath to steady herself.

It was no good. Nothing could quell the trembling of her fingers as she reached up to press the intercom.


 

“Plagg, hurry up and get in the bag, they’re almost here!”

“In a minute, I haven’t finished my breakfast.”

Adrien stopped checking the contents of his bag to run an exasperated hand through his hair. He shot a pout Plagg’s way, which the kwami ignored, and was about to scold him for being a pain when he heard it.

The intercom.

In an instant, he grabbed an unsuspecting Plagg and shoved him in the bag with the rest of the cheese. Ignoring Plagg’s curses, he pulled the strap over his head and dashed out the door towards Nathalie’s office, hoping to stop the interrogation she knew she’d give one of the three friends.

He burst through the door just as Nathalie pressed the button in response. The monitor faced away from him, so he was unaware who out of the three had lost the battle in facing his father’s ruthless assistant.

“Who is it?” she asked, her voice dripping with ice, making Adrien wince for the faintest of seconds, before a voice responded from the speakers and his heart almost gave out.

“Um- h-hello, it’s Marinette! Adrien’s… umm friend?”

 Nathalie glanced over at Adrien, eyebrow arched. Adrien flushed red in response, embarrassed by everything that eyebrow quirk implied. Were they- was he- that obvious?

Once upon a time, Adrien might have been giddy over Marinette calling him a friend. But now that giddiness was replaced with something else. A yearning for something more. Especially after last night, especially with the knowledge which kept him up at night with a hopeful smile and a timid fluttering in his heart.

Maybe he hadn’t been wrong?

Well, it looked like he was going to find out soon.

He marched forwards, pressing the button to open the gate before Nathalie could stop him, and pressed the button for the intercom.

“Hey Marinette, it’s me! I’ll be down in a second.”

As he ran through the house, he felt a wave of rebelliousness sweep through him. Needing to get at least some nervous energy out, he leapt forwards, sliding down the bannister with a laugh.

He could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and no matter where the journey took him, he had faith. Faith in his friends, faith in his miraculous, in himself, and most importantly- in Marinette.

After the past few days, it was a welcome relief, to feel such utter trust in her comforting words.

“You’ll never lose me.”

And there she was. The world seemed to float away as Adrien strolled through the front entrance of the mansion, Marinette waiting right there for him as the gates parted to let him through.

Adrien was, first and foremost, a romantic. He owed it to many years of loneliness, with nothing but his imagination and a myriad of tv shows to accompany him through his dull, grey life. As he approached her, he knew the world wasn’t really slowing down, that time didn’t stop to allow him a moment to truly appreciate this kind, wonderful girl in his life. He knew this. But it didn’t stop him feeling it. It didn’t stop his heart beating so hard he thought it might explode at her impossibly blue eyes, made even bluer by her adorable white, tennis outfit.

He knew souls couldn’t really call out to each other, but that didn’t stop his own singing for hers.

“Hey,” he said, breathless, hoping, knowing.

“Hey,” she replied biting her lip, her eyes searching, blinking slowly. He grinned in response, unsure what she was searching for but appreciating her looking regardless.

He was, however, completely unprepared for the beam with burst onto her face like the sun poking through the clouds- eliminating the last of the shadows plaguing his mind in one fell swoop. For a moment he was sure the Earth had tilted, that he was standing in the sky.

Before he could do what he fully expected (which was pass out), she reached forward, eagerly taking his hands in her own.

“Come on!” she cried with a giggle that would surely end him, tugging him towards Alya’s parked car. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can kick Alya and Nino’s butt, right tennis partner?

He did not miss the way she said partner.

Adrien was glad he had her hands grounding him to the earth, for he was sure that he would float away without her. So he followed her lead as she spun around, almost skipping down the pavement, her twin tails bobbing excitedly.

Twin tails…

Adrien smiled.


 

As they walked into the spa, all four of their jaws hit the floor.

Alya was the first to speak.

“Holy shit,” she uttered, in absolutely awe. “I know my cousin said it was going to be a fancy spa but this? This is another level of swanky.”

“I feel so poor right now.” Nino gasped, his glasses dropping towards the tip of his nose as he gazed at the chandelier decorating the vast entrance hall.

Marinette couldn’t help but agree. The entrance hall alone was pristine white, shining marble as far as the eye could see. Plush sofas and a roaring fireplace served as a waiting area, they even had a bookshelf filled with everything from classic novels, to the latest fashion magazines. The sheer amount of glass tables festooned with flowers was bordering on obscene and, despite the number of people, everyone was quiet enough to hear what Marinette could only describe as ‘plinky-plunky’ music.

She was about to ask Nino what the style of music was actually called when a young man, roughly their age, approached them with a hospitable smile.

“Welcome to Medina Spa,” he greeted, pale hands neatly folded behind his back, “my name is Sebastian and I’ll be taking care of your check-in for you. Please. This way.”

Adrien, used to these types of situations, was the first to react. Stepping forwards, he glanced over his shoulder and peered at the others with a curious frown, innocent as to why they were rooted to the spot.

Marinette shook her head, snapping herself out of it, and hurried forwards to the check-in desk. In her haste she almost tripped over her own feet but was saved as Adrien’s arms came flying out to steady her.

They shared a look, both of them lost in memories. Marinette didn’t miss the way Adrien’s arms tightened around her. It was only for a second, but she knew.

“Ok love birds, break it up,” Alya chuckled, cutting her own arm through the pair of them in a karate-chop motion. “There’ll be plenty of time for goo-goo eyes once we get checked in.”

They approached the imposing desk, which stood almost up to Marinette’s neck in height, as Alya presented the spa-pass codes to Sebastian.

After a few minutes of awkward mumbling, Sebastian looked at them with a nervous smile.

“Ah s-sorry,” he stammered, as though he expected them to start yelling, “I’m not used to this system and it’s been acting up all day. Please bear with me.”

Watching Sebastian flounder, Marinette felt a wave of sympathy wash over her. She, too, had had her fair share of troubles when it came to registers and computers.

“It’s ok!” she reassured, standing on tip toes to make sure he could see her face. “I know what it’s like, my parents own a bakery and you seriously did not want to be there the day the card reader stopped working. It was chaos. Take your time.”

Sebastian’s shoulders slumped and he let out an exhale, his brown eyes glossy with relief.

“Thanks,” he replied, eyes raking over her and Marinette was unsure if she should feel uncomfortable or not. The moment passed and Sebastian was back to typing away at the keyboard. “You wouldn’t believe the number of people that have zero patience. You’d think everyone would be calm, because it’s a spa and all, but apparently not.”

“We’re with you my guy,” Nino added, leaning on the counter with an ease which his height could grant him. “I worked at a pharmacy last summer and boy did that suck. Some of those little old ladies have a great throwing arm.” He shuddered at the memory.

Sebastian glanced over at the group, for reasons Marinette couldn’t understand, before offering a quick smile. After a few more taps, his computer pinged cheerfully.

“There you are, you’re all checked in!” He said, also letting them know where the changing rooms were as well as the tennis courts and Jacuzzi pools. “I’m afraid you’re a little early, so you’ll have to wait about ten minutes for your court to be free. It’s expected to rain later on, so everyone booked the early slots for the tennis courts. I hope you can understand.”

When they all reassured him that it was fine, and none of them minded the wait, he breathed out another sigh of relief, running his hands through his carefully combed hair.

“Excellent, enjoy your stay. I hope you two couples will leave today feeling happy and relaxed.”

Marinette didn’t need to see Alya and Nino to know the smug looks they were sending her and Adrien’s way. However, she did see Adrien turn at least three shades of red, and was sure she wasn’t that far behind.

“Oh- that’s- we’re not quite-” Adrien stammered, “thanks though.”

“Y-yeah, it’s not like that,” Marinette denied, uncomfortable with divulging the odd line her and Adrien were toeing and a little annoyed at Sebastian’s assumptions. She was sure he didn’t mean any harm in it though.

Sebastian rubbed his jawline curiously, looking at her again.

“Really?” he said and it was less of a question, more of a statement. His welcoming, professional smile was long gone, replaced with a flirtatious smirk as he leaned his torso towards her. “Well regardless, I hope you have a pleasant day.”

Adrien frowned.

“H-hey, Mari,” he stammered, tugging the sleeve of her tennis dress lightly whilst trying to ignore the sudden unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach, “we should go find a spot to wait for our court.”

Grateful for the excuse to get away from Sebastian’s sudden creep-factor, Marinette left with a friendly goodbye. Alya, excited to finally get onto the court, linked elbows with Marinette, dragging her ahead of the boys, who lagged behind.

When they were out of earshot of Sebastian and the girls, Nino turned to Adrien with a miffed expression.

“Did you see the way that guy was looking at Mari? Like she was some sort of object, it was super gross. Maybe we should report him?”

Adrien shrugged.

“Nah, I doubt Marinette would want us to make a scene like that. Besides she didn’t seem too bothered by it,” He replied, attempting to un-grit his teeth.

You were bothered by it though, his brain supplied helpfully. He ignored the thought.

“That’s true I guess,” Nino countered with a bob of his head. “We should keep an eye on the guy though. I know Mari can handle herself better than a lot of us, but still. Can’t hurt to make sure things don’t get weird right?”

Adrien agreed and the pair followed the girls out of the large automatic doors. Sebastian hadn’t lied about the spa being busy. The entrance building was set on top of a hill, offering panoramic views of the countryside on the left and the city centre on the right. He couldn’t even blame Sebastian for assuming Marinette and Adrien were a couple (hoo boy), as there were couples everywhere. Couples holding hands, couples laughing, even one or two couples that looked annoyed with each other- the spa day clearly not working out for them.

Feeling a brief sense of guilt, Adrien searched for his phone in his tennis shorts. It hadn’t buzzed in a while, and he hoped it wouldn’t. They weren’t too far away, the car journey only long due to the traffic, but he still hoped no akumas would make an appearance today of all days. He really needed this spa day.

A loud holler snapped him out of his worrisome thoughts and he turned towards the source of the noise.

A tall, tanned man, in bright orange tracksuit bottoms and a white tank top, was hurrying over to Marinette and Alya. He was running up the hill towards them, bounding over the cobblestone steps in his haste, and knocking a few lavender plants. Following close behind was… Nathanael?

Adrien’s heart sank.

No, he thought with a rough shake of his head and squashing his impulsive anxieties flat, Marinette said there was nothing going on between the two of them. I trust her. Completely.

“Marinette you are finally here!” the mysterious man smiled, and it seemed as though he was smiling from his very soul, grabbing Marinette’s hand and shaking it tight. “Nathanael and I have been wondering where you all were!”

Alya swivelled around, wiggling her eyebrows at Adrien. Meanwhile, as Nathanael caught up and the group began exchanging greetings, Adrien felt as though he’d skipped a chapter or two of a story he’d been reading.

Was he missing something?

When the tanned man noticed Adrien, nervously fidgeting on the fringes of the group circle, he stepped forward. Throwing a friendly arm around Adrien’s shoulders, the stranger gave him a friendly shake, laughing heartily.

“Ah so you must be Adrien Agreste no?” he asked, puffing out his chest. For some strange reason, even though Adrien was completely lost, he couldn’t help but smile back at him. He was obviously a friend of Marinette’s, and seemed (very) friendly, so Adrien offered a shy nod.

“This is Louis,” Marinette said, a faint blush against her cheeks, and once again Adrien thought that he was missing something- that Louis was someone important.

“Nice to meet you,” Adrien supplied, remembering his manners.

Louis’ smile became wider in response.

“Oh how polite. You chose well Marinette! A model with manners,” he threw his head back and chuckled, arm tightening around Adrien- who had turned rather red at his insinuation. Louis peered over at Adrien with a sly grin, “but speaking of models, don’t you think Marinette would make a splendid one herself? She looks so cute!”

Alya had to bite her fist to stop herself from bursting into laughter as both Marinette and Adrien stammered, unable to form coherent sentences. Nino, ever the bro, pretended to be on his phone (unbeknownst to Adrien, he was actually taking photos of Adrien’s bemused expression for later blackmail purposes).

“Lou you are so extra today,” Nath replied with a shake of his head, yanking Louis away from Adrien and linking his fingers through his own, the stitches on his forearm clearly visible. He turned to Adrien with an apologetic smile. “Sorry Adrien, my boyfriend has zero boundaries.”

The record-scratch in Adrien’s brain was so loud, he was surprised nobody else seemed to hear it.

“Your boyfriend?” He replied with a tilt of the head. If he wasn’t confused before…

Louis nodded eagerly.

“Yes!” he replied and, as if to prove it, he brought Nathanael’s hand to his lips to give it a brief kiss. Nathanael giggled, honest to god giggled. “We have been dating almost a year, but it feels as though we’ve known each other for an eternity- Marinette introduced us! It’s all because of her that we’re together.”

Marinette frowned, and was about to open her mouth to correct them when Alya kicked her ankle- shaking her head. After a second of two, she caught on to what they were doing, and turned to Adrien with bright eyes of understanding.

“Yeah, I introduced them,” she said, feeling a little guilty for the white lie. It wasn’t like she’d introduced them in the traditional sense, but she had asked Nathanael to accompany her to a university open day, which happened to be where they’d met Louis- who’d been volunteering to show potential students around the campus. So she supposed it was sort of true. “I knew they’d hit it off.”

Adrien swallowed thickly, the cogs in his brain finally clicking into place as Marinette fixed him with a knowing glance. It was as if she was trying to get him to understand, trying to reach into his heart and sew it together again after the events of the past few days.

It was working. It was working too well.

Is this what a stroke feels like?

“Bro?” Nino was waving a hand in front of his face, “Adrien? You in there?”

Alya couldn’t help it anymore, she burst out laughing.

“I can’t- this is too much for me,” she said in between snorts. Turning to Nathanael and Louis, she offered them a salute, “I’m gonna go grab our tennis court before they give it away, ciao buddies!”

“Ciao!” Louis replied as Alya made her way down the steps, Nino close behind. “Now that I think about it, we don’t want to be late to our couple’s massage! See you later, lovelies, and try not to get frisky in the Jacuzzi.”

Before anyone could respond to his outrageous remark, Louis swept Nathanael off his feet. Nathanael squealed, his legs flailing.

“LOUIS!” He cried, mortified.

“Out of the way people we have an injured man coming through!” Louis replied, marching back into the building.

“Louis it’s my arm that’s injured, not my leg!” Nathanael’s whole body seemed to turn red, but he was the laughing nonetheless. Louis ignored him, and continued to carry Nathanael as though he was as damsel in distress.

Marinette waved as the pair disappeared from sight, her ease fading once she realised her and Adrien were alone. Once again she compared Louis to a human hurricane, how Nathanael had any energy left after a day with him- she’d never understand.

Despite the fact she could barely look at him, she felt Adrien shift closer to her, his chest almost bumping against her shoulder.

“So…um,” he began, awkwardly clearing his throat, “that was Nathanael’s boyfriend.”

Marinette nodded, taking a deep breath.

“Yeah,” she replied, “I’m really glad he found someone. It helped us get over what happened.” She turned to Adrien, inwardly cringing at what she was about to say, but reminding herself that she was talking about her past, and facing her future. She wrapped a shy hand around her bicep. “We sort of had a tiny thing last summer, but it wasn’t like we were dating or anything. It was so awkward that whatever it could have been ended before it began.”

“Oh…” was all Adrien could say in response, feeling more like an idiot by the moment.

“You know,” Marinette piped up, leaning closer to him, “if you were wondering about it, you could have asked me. You can talk to me about anything.”

Adrien shuffled awkwardly, hanging his head, and Marinette watched him- seeing more and more of Chat in his mannerisms by the moment. She fought the impulsive part of her, the part which wanted to ruffle his hair, make it messy and Chat-like. There were more important things to attend to.

“I- I didn’t think it was place to,” he admitted bashfully, still not meeting her eyes. When she giggled nervously, however, his heart fluttered and he found the courage to look up at her. “I didn’t want to offend you. B-but, I promise I’ll talk to you from now on about this stuff.”

Your tongue’s been in my mouth, and you didn’t think it was your place to ask me about someone I may or may not have dated, she thought, trying not to shake her head in exasperation. Despite her amusement, she couldn’t deny the warmth which spread through her chest at how sweet he was being. Besides, he didn’t KNOW his tongue had been in her mouth. For the time being at least.

Operation: Dork Love had a secret route, one which Alya didn’t know about, and it wasn’t time for that particular reveal yet- not when the tennis court was waiting for them.

“That’s good,” she replied with a playful wink, and Adrien blushed again, “but right now I think it’s about time we go kick Alya and Nino’s butts right?”

Marinette turned around heading down the steps with a spring in her step, but stopped when Adrien called out to her.

When she turned around, he was fumbling for something in his bag, almost slipping down the steps as he caught up to her simultaneously.

“Um, I got this for you,” he mumbled shyly reaching his arm out towards her.

In his hand was a tennis racket.

Marinette blinked, slowly taking the racket from him. Their fingers brushed. An umbrella came to mind.

She turned the racket over in her hands, admiring its weight. Marinette wasn’t one to know much about sports equipment, but it looked and felt expensive. The racket itself was black, the handle adorned with pink swirls and little flower patterns. In the centre of the handle was an engraved looping letter- the letter M.

“You told me your favourite colour was pink,” he stammered as Marinette continued to gape at his gift, “and I wondered if you had your own racket or not, so I- I bought this at the start of the week just in case. Look. I have my own. So we- umm- match.”

He brought out his own racket, black with blue swirls and the letter A in the same style as Marinette’s. If she hadn’t known Adrien was Chat Noir, she might have died at this gesture. But it was different now, she was different. Was she flustered? Yes. Did she have to clutch her chest just to double check her heart wasn’t going to give out? Of course. But she was strangely at peace too.

Crushes, Marinette mused, are heady. They’re dizzying, electrifying, they’re up and ready to go all the time. Crushes, she thought, are breathless, boundless, like downing ten espressos in a row.

She knew she had a crush on him, and the crush would never go away even if it faded over time. But she loved him too, and love was calming and eternal, love was the steady rock against the crush’s stormy sea. It was a delicate, ever changing balance, leaving her standing perfectly steady one moment and dancing on jelly legs the next.

She wouldn’t swap the feeling for anything.

Although that didn’t stop her briefly panicking, before remembering that she had said she liked pink both as Ladybug and as Marinette. She hummed, relieved her revelation was still going the way she’d planned.

What was it she’d told him the night this had all started? She mused before remembering. She told him she liked pink, that she wanted to work in fashion, that she didn’t want him to stop flirting with her.

She couldn’t help herself. Forgetting that she wasn’t supposed to know he was Chat, Marinette leaned up on her toes, pressing her lips against his cheek. Just as she’d done the night she’d given him those first three clues.

He leaned into it her touch, closing his eyes.

When she pulled away, the crush side of her feelings came back in full force as his green eyes lit up, both embarrassed and thrilled. Her lips tingled, and she fought the urge to kiss him properly. Later.

“Thank you,” she said, grabbing his hand and calling him partner for a second time that day, leading him down the steps towards the tennis courts. Once again he followed her unflinchingly. “Come on, we’ve got a game to win.”

Chapter Text

Smoulder Chapter 22

“I can’t believe you won!” Nino sulked, taking off his cap to wipe his brow angrily.

Twirling his racket in his hand, Adrien shot Nino a triumphant smirk which was only thirty percent sheepish. It was a brief look, and Nino pouted in response. The pair of them hung back, wiping sweat from their faces, whilst the girls went to fill their water bottles at a fountain on the other side of the courts. The cloud coverage made the heat more stifling, the air more humid, and Alya’s hair had doubled in volume as a result.

When Nino teased her about her hair ‘hulking out’ she’d thrown a tennis ball at him.

Adrien dropped his towel back into his bag, earning a disgusted look from Plagg. If they’d been alone, Adrien would have argued that camembert smells as bad as sweat anyway, so the Kwami shouldn’t be judging him in the slightest.

“What can I say?” Adrien began, staring after Marinette with a dopey smile on his face. The girl in question was laughing at something Alya had said and, though they were well out of earshot, he still felt slightly boneless at the idea of Marinette’s laughter. “I guess we’re just lucky.”

Nino rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, lucky you won considering how much of a perv you were being,” he proclaimed, placing his cap back on his head and sliding up to Adrien. He placed an arm on Adrien’s shoulder.

Adrien jerked away from Nino’s touch, as if the accusation had given him an electric shock. It was true. He had to admit. The fact that they’d somehow won the match astounded him. Marinette had carried him through it whilst he’d been constantly distracted.

Her skirt was hypnotic, and he’d tried so hard not to look. But it kept shifting when she ran.

She ran a lot. Adrien, on the other hand, had managed to hit himself in the face with his tennis racket twice because his eyes had been focused on Marinette in a way they really, really shouldn’t have been.

Huh. So this is what rock bottom is like.

“What- what are you talking about?” he said, looking everywhere except Nino. His shoes, in particular, were fascinating.

Nino pinched his lips together, snorting through his nose. Busying himself by searching his bag for his water bottle, Adrien tried not to picture the teasing look on his best friend’s face.

“Oh man, remind me to play a game of poker with you some time,” Nino chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “Get my hands on some of that sweet trust fund money.”

“Is that all I am to you?” Adrien flopped sideways, dramatically raising a hand to his head in a pitiful attempt at distraction. “A pretty blonde with a trust fund?”

“Uh, duh. You know if we were gay I would have married you in a heartbeat. Alya would understand,” Nino nodded sagely, causing Adrien to laugh in response.

“Dude, we’re about forty percent married already. You know that.”

As the pair continued to argue over the percentage of which they were married, Alya was using the time away from the boys to tease Marinette to heaven and back again. Waiting in line for the water fountain, Alya repeatedly jabbed Marinette in the side.

“Did you see how much he was staring at you girl?” she all but shrieked, stabbing Marinette with her deadly elbow once more. “You have this in the bag. Operation: Dork Love is going to be a success I can feel it!”

Rubbing the sure-to-form bruise, Marinette smiled shyly. Adrenaline pumped through her from her earlier victory with Adrien, and the idea he’d been staring at her throughout their match made her want to dance through the spa singing at the top of her lungs. But that would probably have a counterproductive effect on their plans. Still, Alya was so excited for her that she didn’t even feel bad at losing the match. That was true friendship right there.

Before she was able to reply, someone tapped her on the shoulder. Alya’s face formed into a frown and Marinette turned around to see Sebastian, the receptionist, giving her a friendly smile and waving a bottle of water at her.

“Hey there! I noticed you were waiting for water so I grabbed you a bottle,” he said cheerfully, nudging the water towards her. “On me of course.”

Marinette smiled politely, taking the bottle off him with a cautious thank you, desperately hoping his act of kindness didn’t have an ulterior motive. The fact that Alya’s back seemed to be mimicking a steel pipe didn’t do much to reassure her.

Sebastian seemed pleased by her reciprocity, glancing down bashfully. Marinette relaxed, allowing herself to give him the benefit of the doubt. He probably wasn’t interested in her like that, he was just being nice. Surely-

“So, umm, I probably shouldn’t be doing this-” he began.

Her heart sank, her stomach turned to stone. She felt Alya shift so she was standing directly next to her, shoulder-to-shoulder. Her presence was calming, as well as the product of previous experiences.

“-but I was wondering if I could get your number? You seem really nice and was kind of hoping I could get to know you more.”

Marinette steeled herself, the joy from her earlier triumphs somewhere far in the back of her mind. Of course, she was going to say no, but that didn’t mean she didn’t feel bad. After all, he seemed like a perfectly nice guy. Having been on the end of rejection before, she inwardly winced at the fact that she had to be on the delivering side. She bit her lip.

Alya linked her little finger with Marinette’s, out of sight from Sebastian. It grounded Marinette as she took a breath before she met his enthusiastic gaze.

“Um, I’m really sorry Sebastian but I don’t think I can give you my number,” she admitted softly, her face apologetic. Waving her hand sheepishly she hastened to add, “It’s nothing to do with you though! You’re nice and everything, but I’m not exactly available.”

The shift was near instantaneous. Dark clouds settled in Sebastian’s expression, his cheerful demeanour vanished. In one swift movement, he snatched the water bottle from Marinette’s hands.

“Oh. I see. You’re one of those,” he growled, his lips curled up in disdain, his fingers leaving dents in the plastic bottle.

Alya pounced.

“Just what is that supposed to mean?” she snapped, placing her hand on her hip and pointing an accusatory finger at him. Marinette herself felt the sympathy she’d previously held replaced with indignation and disappointment.

Sebastian barely gave Alya a glimpse, before shaking his head and heaving a sigh. It was the most condescending sound Marinette had ever heard and she was pretty sure, were her water bottle not empty, its contents would have been over Sebastian’s head right now.

“Nothing, nothing, you wouldn’t understand even if I did explain it to you,” he replied, all the anger replaced with an upturned nose and air of moral superiority so egregious it made Marinette wish she was Ladybug so she could give him a good beating.

Your powers are supposed to be for good, not for beating insufferable men, the voice of Tikki appeared in her head to chide her.

Yeah but it would feel really good, she countered.

“Fine then, don’t explain it. I think it would be better that way,” she sneered, linking arms with Alya and pulling her away, “come on Alya- I’m sure we can find another water fountain.”

When they were a few paces away, and Marinette was right on the verge of calming down, they heard Sebastian call after her.

“You know he’s just going to leave you after he gets what he wants!”

It was though Marinette’s blood had been replaced with gasoline, and Sebastian’s words were a lit match. Quicker than Alya had time to react, Marinette was back in front of him, her face close to his. The Cheshire smile stretched across his lips made her fists clench, her throat tight.

“Ok allow me to educate you, because you clearly have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” she hissed, her anger the quiet, terrifying type which gave her the satisfaction of seeing the smug grin completely wiped off of Sebastian’s face. “My love life is none of your damn business. If you were a decent guy, you would have accepted my refusal with dignity. But you didn’t. You chose to insult my friends based on what exactly? What the hell do you know? Do me a favour and leave your petty jealousies at home, I don’t have time to deal with them. I’m here to have a nice day at the spa and your shitty attitude isn’t going to ruin it for me. Goodbye.”

She didn’t allow him to respond, didn’t want to give him the time of the day beyond that. As she marched away from him, her feet flattening the grass with the weight of her righteous indignation, she saw Adrien and Nino approach. They came to stand by Alya at the same time as Marinette, their faces full of worry.

“Is everything ok?” Adrien asked when he noticed Marinette’s grim expression, how stiff her arms were. Glancing over her head he noticed Sebastian shooting him a murderous gaze before he stomped away. Dread filled him. “That guy, he didn’t give you any trouble, did he?”

“It’s nothing,” Marinette replied, but the way her voice trembled indicated otherwise.

“Girl, please! You handed that guy his own ass!” Alya cried in delight, rushing towards her to wrap an arm around Marinette’s shoulders. She turned to Adrien and Nino, beaming with pride, “He tried to hit on her and, when she let him down easy, he showed his true colours. Nothing we haven’t seen a million times before.”

“We should report him for harassing you.” Adrien offered his suggestion lightly, wanting to comfort her. “It’s not right that he should get away with behaviour like that. He should be held accountable.”

“Or, you know, we could kick his ass,” Nino counter-offered, making a threatening gesture with his fists as the four made their way back inside the spa. “Just saying.”

Adrien smiled.

“Yeah that too,” he agreed, bobbing his head. He looked back at Marinette again, relieved to see her shoulders relaxing. Subconsciously, he moved towards her, placing a hand on her free shoulder. “What do you think? It’s your decision.”

Marinette thought about it for a moment, looking between her group of friends as they crossed through the automatic doors, breathing separate sighs of joy when they felt the cool air inside.

“I kind of want to forget about it,” she sighed, “I guess we can report him at the end of the day, but right now I want nothing more than to get into that giant jacuzzi pool and feel like I’m melting in a good way.”

“Hell yes!” Nino sang, grabbing an (admitted dazed) Adrien and tugging him away to the changing rooms. “Jacuzzi pool first, bringing fuck boys to justice later!”


 

When Adrien had first heard that the spa had a jacuzzi pool, he’d expected it to look like the average indoor swimming pool. The only difference would be that the water was hot.

He’d been completely wrong with his assumptions.

“Woah,” Nino gasped as he exited the mandatory shower section, his jaw growing slack.

The jacuzzi pool was huge and almost devoid of people, allowing it to sparkle in all its calming glory. The lighting slowly changed from a calming sea-green, to a deep blue and back again, making the water appear almost mystical in quality. The pool itself was shaped like the body of a guitar, the larger end of which had a small mini hot-tub bubbling away inside. On the other end of the pool were a row of what appeared to be lounge chairs separated by small bars, which looked as though they could be used so you could lie down without having to leave the warmth of the water.

Adrien could smell the minerals hanging in the air. It felt like they weren’t just purifying his skin, but his troubles too. He sighed in content, closing his eyes as he felt his shoulders sink in relaxation.

Then Nino gripped his arm tight.

“Dude,” he whispered, “the girls.”

Adrien looked up, his mind fully grasping Nino’s words at the very same moment his eyes came to rest on the opposite side of the pool, where the ladies changing rooms were.

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

It only took one look at Marinette to realise he was in serious, serious, trouble. He’d thought it had been bad on the tennis courts, with her grunting and swishy tennis skirt. Glancing at Marinette now, her beautiful athletic figure, the Chat Noir-styled bikini, the way her skin seemed to glow under the ever-changing lights, he realised that he’d barely begun to scratch the surface of rock bottom. Torn between his gentleman sensibilities, and his inner fifteen-year-old screaming about cleavage, it took everything in him to tear his eyes away.

Honestly his mind could have been replaced with a series of exclamation points and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

“Nino,” he uttered, voice strangled, “you’re cutting off the circulation in my arm.”

“You’re lucky I’m not ripping your arm off! Holy shit dude I was UNPREPARED!” Nino gasped, his fingers digging into Adrien’s skin. “It’s either grab your arm or pop a boner.”

Dude-”

“Do you want me to?!”

“I don’t want either of us to right now!” Adrien panicked as the girls spotted them, and Marinette waved cheerfully.

“Then let me grab your arm for the love of god,” Nino pleaded, his voice a low hissing whine.

“I thought you and Alya had already-” Adrien dropped his voice lower “-you know.”

Nino, thankfully, came to stand in front of Adrien- effectively blocking view of the girls (who were finding a spot at the side of the pool to drop their towels) and making sure that he himself couldn’t see them. It was a welcome relief, yet at the same time Nino raised an eyebrow at him.

“And you’re saying you’d get used to Marinette’s body, even if you’d already seen it naked?”

Adrien was too shocked to reply, the idea of Marinette naked not doing much to help him climb back up from rock bottom. He shook his head, trying to calm himself down. After all he’d seen hundreds of semi-naked women in his time as a model, he should have been used to it by now.

But this isn’t some random model, it’s Marinette! It could be Ladybug too!

Ladybug… the idea that Marinette could be her had returned after the revelation that Nathanael had a boyfriend. Not only that, but the fact that Marinette had confided in him regarding a subject that was clearly embarrassing for her, showed that she trusted him deeply. Adrien was proud of that. Proud, but still a little gun shy. Despite the fact that it was a misunderstanding, he still remembered the hurt from believing he’d been wrong. He recalled the guilt, the shame. The wounds were still fresh. And yet, Marinette seemed to be going out of her way to reassure him. Whether that was because she was Ladybug, or because she was simply a wonderful person however, he was unsure.

Once again he found himself cursing his home-schooled past. Maybe if he’d been allowed to go to school, he wouldn’t be such a hopeless case.

Adrien took a deep breath, fists furling and unfurling. Picking his tongue up from the floor, he vowed to stop looking at Marinette as if she were a piece of meat. She was stunning, of course she was, but if he continued to leer at her he was no better than that Sebastian guy. It was different for Nino, Alya was his girlfriend, he could appreciate her because- judging from the way Alya was making eyes at Nino- the feelings were consensual and reciprocated. Marinette wasn’t his girlfriend. Even if Marinette was Ladybug and he had spent the past week kissing her (the exclamation points in his head grew larger at the thought), that didn’t mean he had the right to look now. He wouldn’t.

“Hey handsome! Looking good,” Alya crooned, winking lasciviously at Nino.

Nino blushed, and stammered out a compliment in response. The pair linked hands, declaring they were going to try out the jacuzzi-beds. Alya whispered something in Marinette’s ear before sauntering away. Whatever it was made Marinette turn as red as Alya’s swimsuit.

Thanks for feeding me to the wolves, bro, Adrien thought as he and Marinette settled into an awkward silence. Awkward on his part, of course, because Marinette looked a picture of confidence.

He, of course, had no idea that the reason why Marinette looked so confident is simply because her brain had ceased to exist.

It wasn’t fair, she thought, she’d been prepared. She’d practiced her lines, even gone as far as to actually wear a Chat-inspired bikini (at Alya’s request though, as Alya was wearing a matching Ladybug one-piece). For once, just once, she wanted to be sexy, to be the desirable one making someone else drool- and no, she wasn’t talking about the creepy guys on the internet. The ones who talked about Ladybug as if she were some sort of sex tool.

All she wanted was for Adrien’s brain to explode. Was that too much to ask?

And she’d tried, oh how she’d tried, to ready herself for this moment. Of course, she’d been fully aware of the fact that Adrien would be in a swimsuit too, and she’d tried to school her reactions. Her copy of Adrien’s underwear photoshoot should’ve had holes in it with the amount she’d stared at it, trying to get used to it enough so that the sight of his actual body wouldn’t turn her into mush.

But no. It was not meant to be. No amount of staring at an airbrushed, stationary photograph could make up for seeing the living, breathing, man in front of her. The double shock of it being Chat Noir, the guy she’d been making out with for the past few days, half-naked in front of her and she was a goner.

For god’s sake Marinette pull yourself together! You have a plan! You can’t be undone by muscles…or shoulders…or arms…or- FOCUS!

Using the pool to drag herself back into reality, she tried to concentrate on finding a spot to climb in.

“I think I want to try that little mini-hot tub thing,” she declared loudly, cringing when her voice echoed around the room. Alya’s muffled snort echoed back.

“Oh, yeah that looks cool,” Adrien breathed, shuffling from side-to-side. “Mind if I join you? I don’t want to disturb the love birds.”

Marinette smiled, relieved that their conversation held some semblance of normality. She could pretend the deep v of his Apollo’s belt wasn’t causing her tongue to go fuzzy. She could survive this.

“Of course!” she chirruped, finding a small set of elegant steps which led down to the depths of the pool.

As soon as she sunk in, she gasped. The water washing over her was so wonderfully hot that it felt as though she’d been wrapped in a million blankets, been given new skin. Sighing, she kicked off from the edge of the steps, letting herself float towards the middle of the pool.

From beside her, she heard Adrien sigh too. Peering over, she couldn’t help but giggle at what she saw. Though the pool itself wasn’t very deep, Adrien had dipped his whole body in until the lower half of his face was submerged. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes which made Marinette’s nerves sizzle like freshly lit sparklers.

“What are you up to?” she asked, her tone jokingly wary.

Without warning he attacked, launching himself out of the water and splashing her with one large sweep of his arm.

For a second she stood there, shocked, before her chin jutted out. Her twin tails drooped with the weight of the water and she looked at Adrien as though he’d kicked a kitten.

“I- why did you do that?” she whimpered, hurt, and twisted away from him, wrapping her arms around her body defensively as she shrunk into herself. “That was so mean.”

Adrien’s eyes bulged out of his head and he dived towards her so quickly that he almost caused a mini tidal wave.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry Marinette, that was meant to be a dumb joke!” he apologised, panicking as he reached for her shoulder and tried to delicately turn her back around, “I didn’t mean-”

He stopped dead in his tracks when Marinette’s wicked smirk caught his eye, pink lips puckered in glee. He reacted too late and, all of a sudden, he too was covered in water as Marinette splashed him relentlessly.

“I can’t believe you fell for that!” she chuckled as he stood stock-still in the middle of the jacuzzi pool, shocked to his very core and soaked from head-to-toe. From the edge of the pool, Adrien could hear Nino roaring with laughter. “That’s the oldest trick in the book!”

Although embarrassed at falling for such a trick, he couldn’t help but swim up to her, leaning towards her and relishing at the fact that this seemed to make her stumble somewhat. Her laughter faltered.

“You don’t play fair,” he purred, unable to help himself from flirting. It was ok to do so, right?

Marinette recovered quickly, clearing her throat with an awkward cough, she reached up on her toes to lightly bop him on the nose.

“Sometimes, it’s fun to play dirty,” she replied, letting her words carry double-meaning and flirtatiousness in equal measure. It was easy, remarkably easy, to flirt with him now that she knew it was her partner flicking water at her, her partner visibly blushing, her partner who liked her even outside of her superhero persona.

It felt like wrapping herself in a fluffy towel, like slipping into a pair of well-loved shoes, like walking into her bedroom after it had been freshly decorated. Everything was new and exciting, but at the same time comfortingly familiar.

Once the pair of them were settled in the miniature hot-tub, the bubbles attacked her aching muscles with such wonderful ferocity that Marinette had trouble considering anything else. Yet the urge to tell him was growing more urgent.

She glanced around the room, annoyed that a larger group of people had joined them now, swimming around the outskirts of the hot-tub. They could easily be overheard here. No privacy. Damn it.

It looked like she would have to revert back to Tikki’s motto of patience, and stick to her original plan. After the jacuzzi session was finished, they were going to grab some food in the café before heading home. Operation: Dork Love had an entire portion dedicated to finding the most secluded corner. Alya would ensure they had privacy. It was there that Marinette wanted to confess everything, including letting him know that his guess was right- that she really was Ladybug. He’d found her.

Marinette’s stomach bubbled in time with the jacuzzi at the thought of it.

As she shifted to sit upright, she felt her hair tug painfully, and she gave a sharp yelp, her hand flying to the back of her neck.

Adrien, who had been sitting opposite her, was by her side in an instant.

“Are you ok?” he asked, voice muffled by the noise of the bubbles.

She nodded, the back of her neck still stinging, and she felt around with her fingers.

“I think some of my hair is caught in my bikini,” she groaned, “but I can’t tell where exactly.”

Adrien was silent for a moment, his eyes glazing over.

“Oh, umm,” he faltered, lowering his head, “do you- do you want me to take a look? Or maybe I can get Alya?”

One quick, painful, glance in Alya’s direction and Marinette came to a decision that she really ought not to interrupt them. Nino and Alya alike looked deep in conversation, body language facing together, sharing the occasional kiss. She didn’t want to get in the way of that.

“Do you mind taking a look?” she asked shyly, “It’s just my neck. It’s not like you’re seeing me naked or anything.”

As soon as the word vomit slipped from her mouth, and she watched Adrien’s cheeks turn the same colour as his eyes, she realised the implications of what she’d said.

She wanted to dip her head under the water and never come up again.

Adrien laughed nervously, not sure what to do with his hands.

“Sure- no- I mean- yeah, naked. No,” he blabbered, also feeling the urge to drown. Smooth Agreste. You’re a real Casanova.

Not trusting herself to say another word, Marinette turned around so that her back was facing him. She tentatively lifted as much of her hair out of the way as she could, shrinking when she felt the caught hairs snag even more.

Adrien shuffled forwards, trying to control his fingers, but it was as if they were set to vibrate-mode. He edged toward her, and the bubbles chose that exact moment to turn off, leaving them in silence.

His eyes wandered the expanse of her adorably freckled shoulders, admiring her toned arms, before he deliberately snapped them back to her neck. But that didn’t help either.

Perhaps he’d been a vampire in a past life, because there was something about the back of her neck that was just itching for his lips to be on it.

“A-Adrien?” Marinette called out gently and Adrien blinked, suddenly realising how close his mouth was. Without thinking, he’d leaned in. “Can you see anything?”

Holy shit.

He’d leaned in! Just like the night he’d walked her home when he was Chat. Only this time, she hadn’t even seen him do it, couldn’t have reacted enough to let him know it was ok.

Get a GRIP before you do something stupid! You’re a grown man, stop acting like you have no control over your actions!

“Um yeah,” he choked, concentrating on what he was actually supposed to be doing. “It looks like your hair is caught on the clasp, if you undo it, it should come loose.”

“Oh, thanks,” she replied, reaching down to undo the clasp at the base of her neck.

The little clicking sound the clasp made when it was undone was almost the death of him.

“Ouch!” Marinette whined as she tugged the two free ends of her bikini top up, “it’s not coming loose, I think I’m making it worse.”

“I can help you,” Adrien replied quickly, cringing at his own eagerness, “that is- if it’s ok.”

“Oh, yeah sure,” Marinette agreed, her voice squeaking as the bubbles turned back on. Both of them heaved separate sighs of relief. The sound of the bubbles covered the slight panic in their voices.

Adrien’s fingers brushed against the back of her neck, pausing when he felt Marinette stiffen. Because of the bubbles, he hadn’t heard the breath whoosh out from her parted lips, hadn’t felt the quiver which shot up her spine. But when his fingers touched hers, tangling together in an attempt to fix her hair, his stomach muscles clenched, his heart thudded painfully. Once more he had to remind himself that they weren’t alone, that she needed his help.

Together they managed to free the rebellious strands of Marinette’s hair from the clutches of her traitorous bikini top.

Marinette offered a weak thank you and twirled back around to face him.

Adrien hadn’t dropped his hands. The tips of his fingers were now resting against her collar bone, lingering there longer than he should have let them. He wanted to move them away, to prove he was a gentleman, but Marinette’s wide-eyed stare held him captive. The lighting shifted to a blue and he was reminded of Ladybug, standing in the reflections of the stained-glass window in Notre Dame. A pearl of water skimmed across Marinette’s forehead and down the side of her face. He reached up, following its movements.

“You, you were really great out there today,” Marinette whispered, her lips parted in awe.

“Y-yeah,” Adrien agreed. “You too. Amazing. Top notch.”

If it were any other situation, Marinette would have burst out laughing. In fact, she had when he’d said the same thing a few nights previous. But the mood didn’t feel right for teasing. Later. Later she’d remind him.

“We make a good team.” Marinette leaned towards him as his hand reached up to tuck a few wet strands of hair behind her ears.

“The best,” he nodded, swallowing thickly. “I like your bikini, by the way.”

Either the jacuzzi pool had gotten several degrees hotter, or she was about to self-combust. She didn’t want to wait anymore. It was too much; he was too tempting. Chat Noir’s tender, if slightly seductive, expression on Adrien’s face was to be her undoing.

One kiss wouldn’t be too bad, would it? Just one, little kiss.

“Thanks,” she whispered edging closer to him until their thighs touched. This time, neither of them missed each other’s reactions. “It was Alya’s idea.”

“Alya’s a genius,” he declared, his voice rough, his nose almost touching hers.

“Amazing,” she said.

Just one kiss…

Of course, it was not meant to be.

For right at that moment, the peacefulness of the jacuzzi pool was shattered. Several screams pierced the air, breaking the spell over Adrien and Marinette, and they looked out of the huge windows, startled.

Both of them grimaced when they saw it-

The sight of several people, running and screaming, as blackened roses fell from the sky.

Chapter Text

Smoulder Chapter 23

All was quiet in the Madeline café.

Few people milled about but, for the most part it was empty. Those who had chosen to eat were out on the patio enjoying the last remnants of heat before the supposed summer storm. The café itself was small, yet still sleek and modern. One wall was nothing but glass, offering spectacular views of the countryside and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Plush chairs and round, mahogany tables were dotted evenly around the room and small booths lined the walls.

Nathanael tucked into a cosy corner booth, a contented sigh escaping his lips as he waited for Louis to join him. His fingers absently skimmed the edges of his stitches, awkwardly shifting his arm so they weren’t touching anything. Although the stitches weren’t on his drawing arm, they still got in the way- he couldn’t wait to get rid of them. The fact that Louis insisted on going with him to the hospital again was something he looked forward to less.

“I know I’m not seeing a frown on that gorgeous face after such a relaxing massage, hmm?” The man in question slid into the seat opposite, placing a tray of desserts and herbal teas on the table.

Nathanael shook his head.

“No, I mean I guess? I was just thinking.”

“Thinking? On a spa day?” Louis tutted in disapproval, handing Nathanael his tea cup with a teasing smile. Leaning back, he started on his tulipes and sorbet, licking his spoon with a brief look of utter bliss. “Really Nathanael can I ever get you to switch your mind off and enjoy the moment?”

Poking his tongue out at Louis, Nathanael took a sip of tea and thought for a moment. Louis, too busy falling in love with his dessert, didn’t notice the mischievous look on his boyfriend’s face.

“Well, you see, it’s so hard to enjoy the moment with these stitches, they keep getting in the way!” Nathanael began, quickly moving in for the kill before Louis panicked and carried him fireman style to the infirmary. He leaned forwards, careful not to knock anything off the table. “So why don’t you give me a taste of that dessert, honey?”

Louis almost choked on his spoon.

His cheeks turned darker, his chest bent over the table as he hacked and spluttered in shock. Nathanael wrinkled his nose in delight, quickly skimming over the room to check they really were out of earshot of anyone. When he was certain that the coast was clear, he dropped his voice.

“What’s the matter love? You don’t want to give me something sweet?” He jutted his lower lip out in a pout.

Louis snapped up, his body ram-rod straight, gripping the table tight. Nathanael pretended to ignore this action by busying himself with his tarte. It looked delicious.

“You are evil, mi amore,” Louis rasped, a slight tremble in his voice. “Evil and wicked, and quite honestly- it’s entirely too hot.” He looked at his dessert with a frown that was only half serious. “My sorbet has almost melted and I blame you.”

Nathanael rolled his eyes.

“You love it really. You’re the only one who gets to see this side of me after all,” he argued gently, breaking his tarte into little pieces with his spoon before eating it. As he did this, Louis stood up and stepped towards his side of the table. Nathanael looked up when a warm hand was placed on his head, trailing through his hair.

“I love you,” Louis replied huskily, ending his caress at the base of Nathanael’s neck, clutching the strands of his bright red hair and softly tugging backwards until Nathanael was looking straight in his eyes. “And, mi amore, if you want something sweet, allow me to oblige.”

Dropping his head, Louis pressed a soft, slow kiss to Nathanael’s lips.  Moving his hands to capture Nathanael’s face, he used his thumbs to caress Nathanael’s cheeks. Nathanael, in retaliation and mainly because he knew there was nobody looking, gripped Louis’ collar and pulled him down to deepen the kiss as his eyes closed lazily.

It was just as Nathanael got into the kiss properly that Louis slipped out of his grasp. With a graceful sweep, he glided back to his chair with a satisfied hum.

Nathanael crossed his arms, about to chide him for being a worse tease than he could ever hope to be-

But he never got the chance.

Louis noticed it first, being in the seat facing the window. His eyes widened at the sounds of screams, the people running past, the black objects falling from the sky.

Nathanael span around, gripping the back of the booth and using it to prop himself up. People outside were abandoning their tables and lounge chairs, some even forgetting their belongings in the process of getting away from the unseen threat.

His stomach twisted. Though there could be many reasons why people were panicking and fleeing, there were only two possibilities in his mind. He didn’t know which one was worse.

Louis’ hand was in his own in an instant, tugging him back to reality.

“Let’s go,” he said, voice uncharacteristically serious.

Nathanael didn’t need telling twice. Allowing Louis to pull him from the booth, he followed him out through the patio doors and down the same path the others were running. Neither of them could tell what they were running from, but they were amongst those who had seen. Their yells confirmed what Nathanael thought, and it did nothing to calm his nerves. His grip on Louis tightened as they ran, as they heard people cry out a warning-

“AKUMA!”


 

Nino launched himself out of the water as soon as the lifeguard declared there was an akuma and they needed to evacuate. Grabbing Alya’s arm, he helped her out of the jacuzzi, shaking his head in fear.

Adrien and Marinette pushed themselves out of the pool, Marinette widening her eyes in disbelief. Dread made poison out of her insides.

Of course, there was a possibility that the akuma wasn’t who she thought it was, but her gut feelings were never usually wrong about these things.

She had a fair idea about who they were dealing with.

Before either of them could sneak off to transform, Alya and Nino joined them amidst the chaos. What was once a peaceful nirvana had turned into a scene from a disaster film. The sounds of thrashing water as people frantically swam to the edges of the pool, the stampeding footstep of people thundering out of the room, the sounds of the screaming outside- an endless echo drowning out the faint calming music until only terror remained in its stead.

“We’ve gotta go,” Nino yelled over the din as Ayla fled to grab her bag from the side, making sure she had her phone. “Come on!”

“Damn it, I can’t see shit without my glasses! How am I going to see when Ladybug and Chat Noir show up?” Alya bemoaned, as Nino ushered a protesting Adrien out of the room. Alya linked arms with Marinette, a silent gesture of worry. Nobody seemed to care that they were in their swimsuits, as everyone was too busy trying to get to safety. “And- you know- know where the hell I’m going.”

“Babe, don’t worry, I’ll be your eyes!” Nino cried. He was short sighted, sure, but nowhere near as badly as Alya. Guiding both his girlfriend, and preventing Adrien from sneaking off again proved a difficult task for Nino as the four of them made their way through the men’s locker rooms. Marinette looked over her shoulder wistfully, struggling against Alya’s grip. They were getting further and further away from Tikki and her heart seemed to be shrinking as a result.

But over the years it had gotten harder and harder to escape Alya’s attention when an akuma struck. Apparently, Marinette’s excuses for sneaking away were an indication of how reckless she acted. Whenever she tried to argue how hypocritical that was, Alya always brushed her off.

Marinette’s mind was working a mile a second, trying to figure out ways to get back to Tikki in order to transform. Daring to cast her eyes to a thin-lipped Adrien (whom she knew was having similar anxieties), she realised where exactly they were passing through.

The men’s locker room.

His bag would be in here.

Plagg.

“Ouch!” Marinette cried out as she pretended to trip, stumbling into Adrien’s side and landing in front of Nino- effectively separating the pair as they continued to run. She’d timed it well, as a family of five forced their way past them, followed by a storm of men from the steam rooms, clad only in their towels- the sight of which would have been funny in any other situation.

Marinette hid her smirk of triumph as she caught sight of a flash of blonde hair disappearing behind a row of lockers. Go get him, Kitty.

She could stay with Alya a little longer, let Chat Noir show up, and escape in the ensuing battle. It would be fine. She trusted him to hold his own for a little while.

It was only as they converged in the entrance hall that the others noticed Adrien missing.

Nino cursed up a storm, more from distress than anger, whilst Alya tried her best to grab a passer-by, a potential witness, in order to know what Ladybug and Chat Noir would be up against. But it was pandemonium, and she quickly gave up with a frustrated huff.

“Marinette!”

Marinette wheeled around at the sound of her name being called, relieved to see Louis and Nathanael hurrying towards them. The pair of them were breathless, their eyes reflecting Marinette’s own sense of unease. She looked over her shoulder, hoping Chat would make an appearance soon and she could escape Alya’s vice-like hold.

“We’ve got to evacuate as soon as possible,” Louis said, his face sterner than Marinette had ever seen it and she blinked- taken aback at his seriousness. “There’s an akuma.”

“Yeah, bro, we know. Have you seen Adrien?” Nino asked, his face a grim line. “Man needs a tracking device I swear to god…”

They were interrupted with the sound of a young girl screaming, the five of them snapping their heads towards the sound.

It was a girl, no older than nine, crying on the floor as a fresh surge of spa-goers ran towards her. Marinette’s eyes widened.

Before the little girl could be trampled, Marinette dashed forwards, scooping the girl into her arms and pulling her back to the side- where the rest of her friends were.

“Are you alright?” she asked the girl, checking for any injuries as she leaned down to the girl’s eye level. Nino and Alya backed off a little, making sure the girl didn’t feel too crowded. Nathanael kept his eyes glued to the door in case the akuma victim came their way.

The girl nodded through her tears, blonde ladybug-style pigtails bobbing as she did so. Her chin wobbled as she fought to calm herself down.

“My sister is trapped, p-please ask Ladybug to help her! All of them are stuck in the day-care- the lady just left us! She left us, and I can’t find my mum or dad anywhere, then- then I fell,” the girl warbled, trying to be strong despite her obvious distress.

Marinette glanced over at the group, watching their stunned, horrified and downright angry reactions to the news. The people in charge of looking after the children had abandoned them just like that?

“I’ve got to find my cousin,” Alya growled bitterly, “you would have thought we’d see her today anyway but apparently, she’s too busy.”

Nino clicked his tongue.

“Yeah, too busy hiring useless cowards!”

Louis stepped forwards, fist clenched as he laid his other hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“I’ll go,” he said, “I’ll get your sister. I’ll get them all.”

It was then that Marinette remembered Louis’ father was a policeman. Indeed, though he’d lost his father at a young age, he seemed to have learned a thing or two from his example.

“What? Louis no!” Nathanael cried, rushing towards him and leaning into his line of vision. “You don’t know what this akuma is. They’re dangerous! Trust me, I know.”

Louis smiled reassuringly.

“Someone has to do something, someone has to get those children,” he reasoned, “these people haven’t done their jobs, and the police and Chat Noir and Ladybug aren’t here yet. Who else is going to help? I am not my father, Nathanael-” he stood taller as he said it “-I will come back.”

“You’re not leaving me like that,” Nathanael shot back, his face grave, “I’m coming with you. We’ll do this together.”

They shared a silent conversation which lasted no longer than the speed of a lightning bolt. Louis nodded.

“Guys are you sure?” Nino replied, his voice dropping as the sounds of the screams subsided. Marinette hoped that meant the akuma had chosen the opposite direction to strike. It would mean they were safe for the time being…

But that could also mean Chat was already fighting him and she would have no idea.

Damn it! So much for my brilliant plan.

“We’ll meet you outside!” Nathanael called as the pair began to head back, following the signs towards the day-camp. They rounded a corner and disappeared from sight.

As Nathanael ran after Louis, he wasn’t quite looking where he was going, and managed to smack straight first into a small, Chinese man, sending them both tumbling to the floor like bowling pins. He blinked, dazed for a second, before pushing himself off the man, horrified by his clumsiness.

“Are you alright? I’m so sorry!” He gasped, pulling the old man to his feet and ignoring the pain in his arm as he did so. The man was so small; Nathanael was surprised he hadn’t broken all his bones with the force of his fall.

The man brushed his colourfully patterned shirt and fixed him with a reassuring smile.

“I am fine, young man, and tougher than I seem,” he said, his voice the kind of quiet calm which can only be achieved through age and wisdom, even amongst such widespread panic.

“Nathanael!”

Louis was dashing back towards him, having only just realised Nathanael wasn’t close by.

“You have to stick by my side!” He cried, “If we’re going to get the children together, you can’t leave me without saying. We’re a team.”

Nathanael nodded.

“Yeah, I know hun, I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going and I tripped” Nathanael apologised, turning to look at the old man- who was gazing curiously at Louis. “Are you sure you’re ok Sir?”

“Positive,” the old man replied as Louis tugged Nathanael away. “Good luck on your quest gentlemen.”

The pair didn’t stop to bid the man a proper goodbye, didn’t notice the way he continued to stare as they hurried off down the path towards a smaller building and the sounds of children’s cries.

Back in the entrance hall, Marinette was doing her best to sneak away, but it was to no avail.

“Go back and get your phone later!” Alya snapped as she dragged her towards the exit, Marinette trying desperately to dig her heels into the ground. “Come on, if we don’t hurry we’ll miss Ladybug and Chat Noir arriving! I want to see where the action is!”

“Can’t I just catch up with you? I need my phone to message my parents! They’ll want to know we’re safe!” Marinette argued, getting more and more at her wits end. God if she’d left Chat alone with the akuma when she knew she could help…

“Just borrow mine and use it before the action starts!” Alya shot back with a cry of exasperation. “So you don’t have your phone, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“Alya’s right,” Nino agreed, placing his arm around the young girl (whom they now knew was called Tina) and grinning at her in what he hoped was an encouraging way, “we’ve got to go now. Ladybug and Chat Noir will be here soon, and they’ll beat that akuma before you know it. Don’t worry Marinette, it’s gonna be fine!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”

Marinette’s insides turned to ice.

The four of them turned at the sound of the dark, deep voice, and subconsciously moved closer together for safety.

Heart dropping when she realised she was right, Marinette gazed at the akuma with fear in her nerves and fire in her eyes. She wouldn’t let him know she was terrified. She wouldn’t let him know how vulnerable she felt outside of her transformation, as his eyes fixated on her and she realised he’d been searching for her.

She wouldn’t give Sebastian the satisfaction.

“There you are beautiful,” he said, traipsing towards her, arms linked behind his back. Sebastian’s akuma form was clad in a dark grey suit with an ugly pinstriped vest. His face was a pale, sickly grey. “I’ve been looking for you. You see, I have powers now, I’m better than all those other guys. We can be together.”

Nino marched in front of the group, spreading his arms to block the girls from the akuma.

“Run. I’ll hold off this fuckboy until the LB and Chat get here,” he murmured, tilting his chin back towards them so that they could hear him, but Sebastian couldn’t.

Unfortunately, Nino didn’t account for the akuma’s heightened senses, and blanched when Sebastian laughed- a horribly forced sound which sent shivers through all of them.

Tina whimpered.

“Hold me off? Typical white knight nonsense, same as that idiotic Chat Noir,” Sebastian sighed, shaking his head. Marinette’s eyes widened in alarm.

So, he and Chat had come to blows already…

She couldn’t let herself think the worst. Her Chat was stronger than that.

“You girls are lucky to be in the presence of someone like me,” Sebastian continued with a smirk that could only be described as slimy. He bobbed his head towards Nino. “This guy would drop like a fly, I’m the only one who can protect you here so choose wisely despite what your baser instincts might tell you.”

Nino snorted, shooting Sebastian a scathing look.

“Really laying the nice guy thing on thick eh my guy?” He scoffed, rolling eyes. “What’s next, hiding a fedora under there?”

Sebastian glared.

“Enough of this,” he growled, removing his hands from his back and placing a small grey hat on his head. The hat glowed black and he pointed his arm straight at Nino.

Nino simply gaped at the fedora now resting atop Sebastian’s head.

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” He shrieked, half hysterical, his arms limp at his sides and his jaw slack.

“NINO LOOK OUT!” Alya cried, elbowing Nino out the way just in time for a blackened rose to materialise from Sebastian’s hand, shooting straight towards them.

It struck Alya in the chest and she fell to the ground with a heavy thud.

“Alya!” Nino cried, darting towards her to help her up, even as he trembled from head to toe. “Babe are you ok?”

Alya shoved Nino off her, glancing at him with curled lips, her eyes now turned a steel grey colour.

“Get off of me you douche!” she sneered. “We’re over. I can’t believe I ever fell for a guy like you in the first place.”

Nino’s tried to cover the hurt on his face, and Marinette moved to shield Tina, who was now clinging to her arm. She whispered instructions to the girl to run towards the exit and wait for them just before the entrance to the car park. In the ensuing panic of Alya’s bewitchment, Tina was able to sneak away unnoticed, which made Marinette breathe a little more easy- at least for a second.

“Don’t you see?” Sebastian was imploring to her now, getting closer as Nino was distracted by a snarling Alya, trying to scratch her way out of his desperate hold on her shoulders. Marinette stepped backwards, swallowing thickly. Where was Chat? “I have all the power here. I’m the best choice for you. These types of guys seem nice but they’re weak, and where’s that pretty blonde of yours? Abandoned you at the first sign of trouble I bet. Typical, but you females never see it until it’s too late.”

“He didn’t abandon me!” Marinette found her inner anger, her inner Ladybug, and her fingers clenched, itching for a fight. “And what did you do to Chat Noir, Sebastian?”

“He’s distracted right now, by my girls,” Sebastian replied with a wave of his hand, fixing his gaze on Alya and clicking his fingers. Alya immediately stopped struggling against Nino, instead she stood straight like a soulless tin soldier awaiting her orders. It was a sickening sight. “They actually listen to what I say. They’re busy getting his miraculous for me.” He chuckled, “And my name isn’t Sebastian anymore, it’s Nice Guy.”

Marinette stopped worrying for Chat enough to force down a shriek of laughter. It was the worst akuma name she had ever heard. But she had to hide her amusement. It wouldn’t do to make the akuma angrier, and she had to think of a way out of the stupid situation she’d gotten herself into, find a way to transform and get to Chat Noir before it was too late.

“Come with me, Marinette,” Sebastian said, his voice taking a smooth, seductive stance which made bile rise in her throat. She hated the way her name sounded on his tongue, it didn’t belong there. “Let me prove that my name isn’t for show. I am a nice guy, I promise. I’ll treat you right.”

“You know,” a voice from behind Sebastian called out and Marinette’s eyes lit up. Her heart felt like it was going to burst in relief, “there’s a saying about nice guys.”

Chat Noir extended his staff, swiping it to side until it struck Sebastian and sent him flying into the marble counter. The force of the impact cracked the marble, sending clouds of dust in the air.

“They finish last,” Chat smirked triumphantly, twirling his baton with pride.

“Chat!” Marinette cried, stopping herself from rushing towards him and throwing her arms around him. Nino was here. It would raise questions.

Chat locked eyes with her and leapt over to them. Nino used the time to try to snap Alya out of her trance, calling her name over and over, waving a hand in front of her face. But whatever Sebastian had done with that click seemed permanent, at least until Ladybug used her Miraculous Cure.

“We’ve got to get you out of here, safe,” Chat said seriously, eyes sparkling behind his mask. “He’s after you.”

“Chat Noir, you’ve gotta do something!” Nino span around, desperate. “My girl, she’s under his spell and I can’t- I can’t- she’s- I don’t know what to do.”

Marinette felt a wave of sympathy at the helplessness in Nino’s voice, but pride rose in her at Chat’s confident, reassuring gaze. She noticed the brief glimpse of worry as he looked at Alya, his friend, but he quickly masked it.

“We’ll fix it, I promise,” He replied. “See if you can carry her out of here and I’ll-”

But they never got to find out what Chat was going to do. The force of several blood red roses hit him as though they had the weight of boulders behind them, and he smacked into the opposite wall.

Marinette turned to Nino and screamed at him to take Alya and run to where Tina was. She ignored Nino’s protests, already half way towards Chat by the time he’d realised what she was doing. Instinct guided her. Chat needed to be ok, needed to cover her whilst she snuck away to transform.

Just before she got to Chat she felt something heavy tackle her from behind and she fell hard to the floor. Still in her bikini, she winced as her exposed skin rubbed against the tiled floor, burning.

“I will have you! One way or another, you’re going to be mine!” Sebastian spat, the air around him seemed energised by his madness, and Marinette briefly saw the glow of a purple butterfly around his eyes. He lifted one hand up, using the other to press against her chest, pinning her.

Marinette struggled against his hold, trying to grab anything sensitive, anything which might give her a brief advantage. But then his hand began to glow, and Marinette saw the black petals forming in front of her eyes.

Her heart stopped.

Oh god.

He was going to-

“GET OFF ME!” she screamed. Miraculously wiggling her arm free, she slashed her fingers against his eye, making sure to bury her nails deep and not let go.

Sebastian howled in pain and Marinette was grateful akumas had some form of weakness outside of their akumatised object, even if they seemed invulnerable to most people. It was only a second, but it was a second she took full advantage of. Placing both her palms on his shoulders, she shoved him off her with all the force she had, and scrambled to her feet, where Chat was waiting.

She’d never seen Chat look quite so venomous as he did looking at Sebastian. He looked like he wanted to murder him.

Before she could say anything, Chat scooped her into his arms and ran towards the exit, only to be blocked by a wave of girls. One look and Marinette could tell they were the girls Sebastian had talked about. Their dead-eyed, obedient stares would haunt her in a way the Miraculous Cure would never be able to heal.

“Not these again!” Chat cried, spinning around and hurrying to the other exit towards the tennis courts. But that was blocked too.

“Chat, the roses!” Marinette warned as Sebastian sent a whole sea of blackened roses their way. She wrapped her arms tighter around his neck as Chat sprang into the air, almost to the ceiling, dodging every single one as he ran through the doors of the men’s locker room. Sebastian was close on his tail, screeching the whole way- all manner of false gentlemanly behaviour thoroughly gone from his countenance.

“YOU WILL BE MINE!”

Chat kicked the doors of the jacuzzi pool open, effortlessly breaking a lounge chair into pieces and wrapping the metal leg around the door handles to seal them shut. From the other side, Sebastian slammed against the door, the sound so loud that it seemed to make everything inside of Marinette jump a foot in the air.

As Chat looked for another way to hold the door until Ladybug arrived, Marinette turned heel and raced into the ladies’ locker room opposite them. She wasted no time searching for her locker, despairing at just how maze-like the dumb changing room was, how all the lockers looked the same. This was impossible.

She was just about to give up and trust that she was alone, that all the other women had fled, so that she could yell for Tikki, when a voice startled her.

“What are you doing?”

Marinette jumped, surprised to find Chat by her side, his face pale.

“Chat-”

“You can’t just run off like that, Princess,” he replied shaking his head. Whatever ideas he had, whatever suspicions, however sure he’d been a few days ago- it didn’t matter. Not now. “You saw what he almost did to you. He’s after you, Marinette!”

He stepped forward, clasping her hand in between his own.

“Please don’t leave my side, don’t leave my sight like that until I know you’re safe,” he begged, breathless and desperate. “I promise I’ll protect you from that bastard, I promise he won’t hurt you. You mean too much to me. So just stay by my side ok?”

It wasn’t fair.

As Marinette looked up at her partner, her love’s, face she realised just how desperately unfair the situation was. This wasn’t what she’d wanted at all. This wasn’t what she’d wanted for them.

But then, when had things ever gone her way? She should have known better.

God, it was so unfair. He didn’t deserve this.

“I won’t leave your side,” she whispered, throwing her arms around him. He caught her, body tense for a second before he relaxed into her embrace.

Marinette allowed herself a second to breathe. She knew the akuma was out there waiting, she knew he’d be coming to get her. But, just for a moment, she let herself drown in Chat’s comforting warmth, to feel the softness of the hairs on the back of his neck, to bury her cheek in his strong shoulder. She allowed herself to feel him, be comforted by the fact that- no matter what happened- she was so glad it was him.

“I’m not going anywhere Adrien.”

She heard Chat inhale sharply, and took a step away from him to meet his eyes, to see the look of shock and confusion in them, his lips parted.

“Marinette,” he choked, “what-”

She shook her head.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way. I didn’t want it to be like this, after you tried so hard to find me,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself. Marinette took a deep shuddering breath, and watched Chat’s eyes widen further as the realisation of her words struck him.

The final barrier was gone.

“Tikki!” she yelled, her voice echoing around the empty changing room. “Spots on!”

Chapter Text

There wasn’t enough time.

Chat Noir watched Marinette transform into Ladybug, saw the familiar pink glow he’d gotten used to seeing from behind closed eyes. His eyes were open now, gazing in wonder as light surrounded the body of one of his first ever friends, as she transformed into his first love and became a perfect blend of the two. Like two colours merging on a canvas to create a masterpiece, like the notes on his beloved piano blending into a chord unheard by anyone else, like the girl herself- the result of cultures combining, of distance and separation overcome in the name of love.

Indeed, his eyes were open, but he didn’t have enough time to truly take in what he was seeing.

Marinette had discovered his identity, and Marinette was Ladybug.

He’d been right.

He’d been right!

Ladybug stood in front of him, tilting her chin in defiance, as if she was worried about his reaction- daring him to disapprove. But, why would he? How could he possibly think anything was wrong about this situation?

Was he stunned? Yes. Did he have questions? Of course, he had a million of them. Was he about to have an aneurysm? Most likely.

Still, out of all the thoughts and feelings cascading through his mind like an endless waterfall, one emotion stood clear above the rest. It caused his heart to float to the sky, his body to feel as though it were dancing on the moon and his soul to glow with the light of stardust. It was stronger than fear, more powerful than the shock he’d received, a feeling that would outlast all the others.

His mouth was bone dry and, as his lips parted, he tried to speak and found that he’d forgotten all the words he’d ever learnt. He closed him mouth again.

Ladybug shifted her gaze, nibbling her lip.

“L-like I said, it’s not ideal,” she winced, peering around him as the sounds of smashing became louder. Sebastian (she refused to call him Nice Guy, it was too ridiculous) was almost through Chat’s makeshift door lock. Her stomach felt like it had been put through a spin-cycle, her face turned to stone with how hard she grit her teeth. “I’m sorry, and I promise I’ll explain everything once we beat this guy ok? Superhero hats on, as Tikki would say.”

Superhero hats on?! What the hell are you saying Marinette! She cringed as her face burst into flame. If only she’d been able to stick to Operation: Dork Love’s script!

She was going to kick Sebastian’s ass from here to kingdom come and she was going to enjoy every. Single. Second. Probably more than she should, being a hero and all.

Unable to understand a word Ladybug said, for he was too tangled in the web of revelation, Chat simply nodded in response and hoped for the best. His limbs moved of their own accord and, before he knew it, his hands were cupping her face- his lady’s face- his Marinette’s face.

His Marinette…

Ladybug hadn’t noticed him moving closer until his hands were on her. Her breath hitched and she found herself caught in her own web, but one of euphoria and adoration instead of shock and awe. His hands were acceptance. Whatever tiny doubts she’d had were obliterated the second his calloused fingers skimmed against her skin, sending whispers of love wherever they touched.

“Chat,” Ladybug’s voice trembled as they grew closer, alarm bells in both their heads. They shouldn’t be doing this. They had bigger priorities, more pressing issues, and here they were pressing up against each other instead.

“Marinette,” he whispered back, in utter reverie if he was to be completely honest. He watched as her eyes began to close, their breath mingled, their lips about to meet.

CRASH!

The sound of the door of the men’s changing room finally caving in caused them to jump, and their foreheads smacked against each other’s. Both of them cried out in equal shock and pain, grasping their wounded heads- the moment completely shattered.

When Chat looked at Ladybug, she saw her face consumed by the same colour as her mask.

Livid was an understatement.

“My- my Lady?”

Ladybug span on her heel, stomping away, her feet slamming on the tiled floor with almost enough force to shatter it. I have had ENOUGH of being cockblocked by this asshole!

 “Grab your baton and let’s finish this, Chat,” she growled and, when he didn’t reply, her darkened expression lightened. After all, it wasn’t Chat she was angry with. “The sooner we get rid of this akuma, the sooner we can- well- talk.”

Judging by the look she sent his way, talking wasn’t the only thing on her mind. At least he hoped so. God, he hoped so.

It was then that the realisation truly, truly hit him. His arms pinned to his sides, even his tail seemed to take on a life of its own- standing on end.

Oh my god I’ve been kissing MARINETTE. Oh my god I said ‘top notch’ in front of MARINETTE TWICE…and she STILL wants to kiss me!

Bad luck? What bad luck?! Bad luck could go suck it! He had the best lucky charm in the world and she was currently waving a hand in front of his face in total exasperation.

“Kitty, focus!” she said, torn between amusement and disapproval. A part of her couldn’t help but feel bad, at least she’d had some time to process things. “Bad guy first, remember?”

Chat erased the love-sick look from his face with a rough shake of his head.

“Yup. Bad guy first. Stuff after. Things. Yeah. No more Mister-Nice-Guy. Gotcha,” he nodded, his voice far away and his eyes somewhat glazed over.

His ability to pun, even in the midst of what appeared to be some sort of stroke, was truly something to behold. Ladybug was genuinely impressed.

Pulling her yo-yo out, and relieved to hear Chat close on her heels, Ladybug marched through the doors into the jacuzzi pool.

When Chat Noir spotted Nice Guy, standing on the other side of the Jacuzzi pool with an arrogant smirk, all the anger he’d previously felt came flooding back.

Maybe it was the fact he knew Sebastian was hardly what one could call a ‘good’ person, even outside of an akuma possession, but he’d never hated an akuma more. The image of Marinette using every last bit of her strength to break free of Sebastian’s aggressive hold, as well as the idea he’d dared try to possess her, awoke a fierce protectiveness in Chat which he didn’t know he had until that moment.

Ladybug glanced towards Chat Noir, surprised to hear the low growl in the back of his throat, to see his teeth bared. Judging by the way his gaze was fixated on the akuma, he seemed unaware he was even making the sound. It was positively feral-

-And it shot straight through her in a way that was definitely not unpleasant.

Focus Marinette!

“Oh, there you are, I was wondering if you’d ever show up,” Sebastian was looking at her, arms folded. “Where did you hide the girl?”

“Which one?” Ladybug spat, twirling her yo-yo as she prepared to attack or defend, whichever need arose first. “The one who rejected you because you’re a self-righteous loser? She’s somewhere far away, where you can’t get her.”

Sebastian’s scowl deepened, his hat began to glow. Ladybug’s eyes went to it instantly. She wondered…

“Fine! I’ll deal with the both of you first, but you can’t hide her from me forever. Your miraculous are mine, and so is Marinette!”

A sea of red roses shot straight at them, causing both Ladybug and Chat Noir to leap high into the air. They dodged them with ease, even as more roses flew out of Sebastian’s hand.

The hat continued to glow.

Ladybug grinned.

“You know, I’ve heard of being caught red-handed, but this is ridiculous!” she joked, landing by Sebastian’s side and sending a flying kick straight into his chest. Sebastian fell backwards with a grunt, but managed to roll away from a second attack. The smirk was back on his face. Although he sought to anger her, Ladybug only felt a greater sense of urgency towards ridding him of the smirk once and for all.

For what it was worth, the heat of the battle seemed to ease Chat’s anger somewhat, as the pair settled into the familiar back-and-forth they’d gotten used to over the years.

Some things never changed.

“Good one, My Lady!” Chat chuckled even as he was knocked off his feet by a rose the size of his torso. He quickly rolled back into a standing position, using his baton to pole-vault over the pool to where she was. “But try not to rose-t him too much, girls are clearly a thorny subject!”

“You can’t tame my puns,” Ladybug grinned, flicking her twin-tails confidently before placing her hands on her hips. “I was thorn to be wild!”

“ENOUGH!” Sebastian exploded. Without warning, a wall of red roses appeared, barrelling right towards them and covering the ceiling to the floor. There was no escape. In an instant, the pair were surrounded, the red petals swishing around like bloodstained feathers, the thorns narrowly missing their skin.

Chat stood with his back against Ladybug’s, gripping his baton tight as the roses closed in on them.

“We better nip this in the bud, love-bug!” Chat called over the fluttering of the rose petals. Swiping towards the roses with his baton, Chat attempted to make an opening through which they could escape, but was rebuffed as flowers began to attack him with the power of fists. He staggered backwards and Ladybug caught him by the shoulders. Suddenly, and as if they were angered by Chat’s escape attempt, the flowers circled closer- ready to squash them flat.

“We’ve got to get to his hat!” Ladybug cried, flicking her yo-yo out. She managed to knock a few roses out the air, and briefly caught a glimpse of Sebastian triumphantly making his way towards them before the archway closed again. “I’m sure the akuma is in there!”

“As you wish my lady!” Chat sheathed his baton, instead choosing to reach to the sky and cry out his signature Cataclysm attack. Forcing his hand through the hurricane of roses, Chat grinned as he watched his attack succeed. The cataclysm was like a plague, twisting and turning upwards. Every rose it touched withered and died, before disappearing in a burst of black orbs until, at last, the pair of them were free.

Ladybug grinned in triumph, but it was a feeling short-lived once her eyes met Sebastian’s. His face was a picture of calm and, in his hand, he held a single black rose.

A rose that would possess her, as it had done with Alya.

There wasn’t enough time to react.

Without saying a word, he launched the rose straight towards her heart.

Something wrapped around her wrist, tugging her backwards. She looked up just in time to see Chat shield her from rose. It struck against his spine and disappeared in a puff of dark smoke.

Her heart stopped.

“CHAT!” she shrieked, hoping, praying.

By some miracle, Chat pulled out of the embrace with a lopsided grin and a wink. Ladybug wanted to collapse against his chest in relief, but that could come later. Right now, she was thankful the rose had had no effect on her beloved partner.

“That was not meant for you!” Sebastian roared, pointing a wild, accusatory finger towards Chat.

Chat Noir laughed, completely humourlessly. The sound made it feel as though someone had slipped an ice cube down Ladybug’s back, but she wasn’t afraid- for herself anyway.

“So you don’t like it when people take what isn’t theirs?” Chat growled back, retrieving his baton as his ring began to beep. “You know there’s a word for people like you, but I’m too polite to use it in my lady’s presence.”

Before Sebastian could send another flower-based attack at them, Ladybug called forth her Lucky Charm. It appeared as a fishing rod, and she jumped to catch it, narrowly missing a wayward red rose.

“No matter,” Sebastian dismissed Chat with a wave of his hand, turning to Ladybug as she attempted to find a use for the polka-dotted fishing rod.

Her eyes flickered up towards the pillars around the corners of the room and she smirked. She had a plan, a hook, and Sebastian’s hat had a wide enough brim…

“You don’t have to do this Ladybug,” Sebastian implored, taking a different approach as he leant towards her with a bow. “Ditch that fur-brained loser and join me instead. I’ll treat you right, M’lady.”

For a moment, there was silence.

Despite the fact that Chat was furious, every fibre in his being wanting nothing more than to kick this akuma’s ass, that was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to how Ladybug reacted.

Forgoing her previous idea, Ladybug threw the fishing rod to the side. It clattered to the floor by Chat Noir’s boots. He glanced up, ears on full-alert as he watched his partner’s eyes grow dark, her nostrils flare. Turning to look at Sebastian, Chat couldn’t help but feel smug as the akuma’s grey face paled under the weight of Ladybug’s wrath.

Sebastian stumbled backwards, lifting a hand in preparation for an attack but it was too late. He’d gone too far.

Honestly, no matter how angry he was, Chat had half a mind to pull up a chair and grab some popcorn. Oh, this is going to be good.

With a speed Chat very rarely saw her use, a burst of adrenaline usually reserved for the direst of situations, Ladybug flicked out her yo-yo, lassoing it around Sebastian several times and yanking him towards her. She ignored the panicked yelp which escaped his lips. Mercy was a long-gone option for this particular akuma.

“Listen here, you insignificant tool,” Ladybug snarled as Sebastian landed at her feet. Gripping him by his collar, Ladybug pulled him towards her so that they were almost nose-to-nose. “There’s only one man who can call me his lady, and you are not him.”

She missed the way Chat downright swooned at her words. He hoped she wouldn’t drag this out, because he wanted nothing more than to kiss her senseless. It surly wasn’t possible to love her more than he already did, and yet somehow, he found himself falling even more.

The fact that it was Marinette saying those words made him briefly check his pulse to make sure he hadn’t died and gone to heaven.

Ladybug seemed to share the same thoughts regarding ending things quickly. Without further delay, and with no need for her lucky charm after all, she swiped the fedora off of Sebastian’s head and threw it to the floor, crushing it underfoot. A purple butterfly fluttered out and she released Sebastian from her yo-yo’s clutches so she could trap and cleanse the butterfly. Whilst she did this, Chat leapt over to Sebastian, grabbing him by the arm even as Ladybug called for her Miraculous Cure and the curse lifted off of him. It was better to be safe than sorry, and he didn’t want Sebastian anywhere near Ladybug- whether he was possessed by an akuma or not.

As the last remnants of the akuma faded away, Sebastian swayed. He brought a dazed hand up to his face and blinked, in the same way all akuma victims did when they were free of the curse.

“Where- where am I?” His voice was distant, as though he were waking up from a deep, disturbing dream. After blinking a few more times, his vision focused on Ladybug- standing opposite him wearing a stern look. He twisted his head down to his elbow, where Chat Noir held him.

The blood drained from his face and, before Ladybug could berate him, he stumbled out of Chat Noir’s grasp and fled.

“Should we go after him?” Chat asked curiously, bobbing his head towards Ladybug. His miraculous beeped again.

Ladybug sighed, wrapping her arms around herself as her own miraculous gave off a warning too. She shook her head.

“No let’s just leave him, he’s not a threat anymore and besides- we don’t exactly have enough time left.” She gestured to her earrings whilst she stared at the (now fixed) changing room doors Sebastian had disappeared behind.

“Of course,” Chat nodded, suddenly very much aware they were alone. Groaning inwardly as his miraculous gave yet another beep, he wilted at the thought of waiting even longer before they could truly have a moment to themselves.

Ladybug, still looking at the closed doors, let out a short squeak of surprise when Chat swept her into his arms- one of his hands wrapped around the back of her knees, the other around her upper back. Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“What on earth are you doing, kitty?” she stammered, body tingling where his hands gripped her.

Chat blushed, trying to hold her as delicately as he could and making sure said hands remained in completely neutral areas. No matter how much they were itching to wander. Still living life in Rock Bottom eh Agreste?

“The last time Nino saw you, I was in the middle of saving you,” he explained, carrying her towards the men’s locker rooms as he made his way back to the entrance hall. “It would- err- it would probably look suspicious if you appeared by yourself, right? Is- is this ok?”

“Oh,” Ladybug replied, impressed by his forward thinking. Neither of them thought the carrying was particularly necessary, but neither of them cared either. Any excuse to be close. “I didn’t even consider that, and- and yes. This is ok.”

This is very, very, ok. This is my favourite mode of transport. Screw the Eurostar.

Ladybug de-transformed in front of his eyes, revealing Marinette’s still bikini-clad form. Chat refused to stare, his hold on her now so light that she had to wrap her arms even tighter around his neck to prevent herself from falling.

There was so much to say, and so little time to say it in, that both of them chose to remain quiet. Instead, they used their few remaining seconds alone to send silent signals, tiny gestures of love and comfort. Marinette snuggled into the crook of his neck, letting him know she trusted him, that she really was there. Chat pressed his cheek against the crown of her head, nuzzling against her, telling her it was ok- that he was happy with this- that he was so glad it was her.

Marinette grinned, lifting one hand away from Chat’s shoulder to idly flick the bell around his neck. It was such a Ladybug-like thing to do, Chat had another realisation that Marinette really, truly, was her. This was happening, and the beam which blossomed on his face threatened to rival the sun itself.

The moment was over too soon.

Pulling apart slightly, as to not raise any eyebrows, Chat Noir walked through the entrance hall and out towards the car park to thunderous applause. His eyes scanned the crowd for Nino and Alya as he helped Marinette onto her feet. The reporters had arrived, and they were ravenous.

“Chat Noir, what can you tell us about the nature of the akuma?”

“How did you and Ladybug defeat them?”

“Is this the girl rumoured to be the target of the attack?”

“Where is Ladybug?”

“Guys, guys please!” Chat chuckled, waving his hand out to stifle the endless wave of questions. He stepped in front of Marinette, aware she was in a bikini and probably not keen on the idea of all the cameras flashing in their faces. “I’d love to stay and gossip, but unfortunately I have to follow in my lady’s footsteps and bug out! But don’t worry, everyone is safe and the akuma’s well taken care of!”

Nino snuck over to Marinette, quietly tugging her away from the prying eyes of the media. When Chat Noir caught sight of this, he winked- offering one final salute towards the cameras before leaping away out of sight.

“Girl!” Alya cried, appearing from the crowd and rushing over to envelop Marinette in a squeezing hug. “I can’t believe you got rescued by Ladybug and Chat Noir! Once we’re back home and my phone is charged, you HAVE to give me the scoop.”

“You ok Mari?” Nino asked, offering her a towel to wrap around herself. Taking it with a nod of thanks, Marinette patted Nino’s shoulder.

“I’m fine, Chat and Ladybug made sure I was ok,” she reassured. “And yeah, sure Alya. I’ll tell you what happened once we get home. But right now, I feel like I could sleep for about a hundred years.”

Alya linked arms with her in sympathy.

“You don’t have to tell me!” she agreed vehemently. “That stupid akuma possessed me and even with that Miraculous Cure I still feel violated.” Alya shuddered. Shaking her wet hair, she turned to Nino with a guilty gaze. “I still can’t believe I said those things to you Nino. I’m sorry hon.”

Nino scratched the back of his head, shifting his weight awkwardly.

“It’s- it’s ok, babe,” he laughed feebly. “I know you didn’t mean it…right?”

Alya’s arms were around him in an instant, her eyes wide. Marinette turned away to give them some privacy. Pulling the towel closer around her shoulders, Marinette looked up at the greying skyline.

“Of course not!” Alya promised in earnest, her fingers stroking the spot on his neck she knew he adored. “I love you, and no stupid akuma is ever gonna change that, understand me? There’s not a man on heaven or earth who can get between us. Hawkmoth can bite my butt if he thinks otherwise.”

Recovering quickly, Nino wrapped his arms around Alya’s waist and pulled her in tight. He smiled, gently rubbing his nose against hers.

“Yes ma’am,” he breathed before kissing her ardently, the last of his fears fading at Alya’s eager response.

“Well, you two look cosy.”

To much jubilation, Adrien re-joined the group- feigning ignorance and claiming he hid when he’d been ‘accidentally’ separated from the gang. Nino and Alya accepted this without too much of a fuss, although he did earn a light punch on the arm from both of them for making them worry.

When Alya and Nino’s backs were turned, Adrien wiggled his eyebrows at Marinette. She stifled a giggle and wiggled her eyebrows back, earning a huge grin from him in response.

As everyone decided on what to do, and the police gave the all-clear for people to return to the spa, they all decided they’d had enough for one day. In fact, Nino claimed he’d had enough of a spa experience to last him a life time.

The group headed back into the entrance hall, ready to get changed and head home.

On the way, they were relieved to run into Nathanael and Louis- who had their belongings, along with a few additions.

“Please don’t go!” one little boy cried, clinging onto Louis’ arm as his parents watched on- both amused and grateful.

“Oh, little one we have to go!” Louis chuckled, ruffling the boy’s silvery-blonde hair fondly. “But don’t worry, you’re safe again.”

“We know we’re safe,” Tina drawled, her arms wrapped around a younger girl who Marinette assumed was her little sister, “but we still don’t want you guys to leave. You were heroes too you know! You need to have interviews and stuff.”

“Oh- no- we really aren’t those type of heroes,” Nathanael blushed, and Louis patted him on the back lovingly, laughing at his embarrassment.

“Pleaaase, Uncle Louis? Pleeeease?” a girl, around four years old, begged. Her wide puppy eyes bore into Louis’ soul and Louis clutched his heart, whimpering.

Burying his face in the palm of his hand, Nathanael groaned.

“Lou…” he warned, reading his boyfriend’s mind, “we’re not adopting any of them!”

“But they called me Uncle Louis!” Louis whined, wiping a tear from his eye as the parents began ushering their children away- most of them on their way to have a few angry words with the manager. All of them had the decency to stop and thank the boys for their bravery at least.

When the last of the children left, Louis lifted up his chin. His watery eyes met Marinette’s and the tears were gone in an instant.

“Oh! You are all alright! That’s good to see!” He chirped, rushing towards the four of them as Nathanael jogged to catch up. “I’m glad I got to see you before you all headed out, here-”

He reached into his duffle bag, pulling out four large book and handing them to the nearest person, which happened to be Nino.

“I forgot to give these to you before. Guard those books with your life, they’re from my university library. I thought they might help with your history project,” Louis elaborated with a grin which turned teasing. “Of course if you lose them, I’ll be the one to pay- and then I shall have to haunt you all once I die from inevitable starvation because I had to spend money on library books rather than food.”

“The life of a broke student,” Nathanael rolled his eyes, grabbing Louis’ hand and ushering him towards the exit, ignoring his cries of protest amongst the groups separate thank-yous. “See you guys tomorrow!”

It didn’t take long for all of them to get changed. Nino and Alya seemed to be in a rush to get back to each other. From what Marinette observed, it seemed like the akuma attack had an impact on the both of them and they were in a hurry to seek comfort in each other. She couldn’t blame them.

In fact, Marinette was rather glad that the two were so focused on each other. It allowed for many secret, knowing glances between herself and Adrien and she enjoyed the butterflies in her stomach as a result.

Finally, they made it back to Alya’s borrowed car. The four of them collapsed against their respective seats (Nino and Alya in the front, Marinette and Adrien in the back), leaning against their head rests with separate sighs and groans.

Nobody spoke for at least three minutes.

“Well I don’t know about you guys,” Alya said eventually, her voice dripping in sarcasm, “but I’ve never been more relaxed in my entire fucking life.”

Whatever tension was still hanging in the air snapped at Alya’s well-timed joke. Soon the car was filled with laughter.

Marinette felt warmth brush against the tips of her fingers as she laughed. Looking down, she saw Adrien’s fingers tentatively touching her own.

Her cheeks burned, similar to the way Adrien’s were, and she closed the gap- gently wrapping her hand around his and daring to give it a squeeze. From beside her, she heard him sigh in content.

Wow. This is actually real.

Turning to stare out of the window, Marinette’s heart glowed with promise.

As Alya started the car, the first signs of rain pattered against the windows.

The summer storm, it seemed, had finally arrived.

Marinette smiled.


 

The rain pattered against the window panes, creating shadows on the floor of Adrien’s bedroom. He’d yet to turn on a light. Though the evening was only just beginning, the summer storm was well and truly underway. Dark clouds blocked out the sun, giving the appearance that it was much later than it seemed. It felt like night time.

Plagg was buried somewhere in the depths of Adrien’s bed, sleeping off the earlier akuma attack. If he strained his ears, Adrien could just about hear the faint purrs emanating from that corner of his room.

For the first time in a long time, he didn’t feel like checking the Ladyblog. He was too wrapped up in the emotions of the day, instead choosing to sprawl himself on his sofa, watching raindrops race down the windows.

Itchy. That’s how he felt. Every nerve in his body itched to go out and find his lady. He sighed. They usually cancelled patrols if it was raining.

Still, she’d promised they’d talk. But, once Chat had let Marinette go and disappeared to de-transform away from nosy reporters, they hadn’t had a second to themselves. Marinette’s parents had ordered her back to the bakery as soon as possible to make a fuss of her, Alya and Nino were together and he-

Well. He was alone. Euphoric- sure- but alone.

As soon as he thought it, someone knocked on his door, entering without bothering to check if he was indisposed.

Gabriel strode into the room, eyes skimming around for his son, and Adrien gripped the back of the sofa so that he could pull himself up. When their eyes met, Gabriel tutted and shook his head, flicking on the lights.

It took everything in Adrien not to hiss and shield his eyes.

“Adrien you shouldn’t sit in the dark,” he admonished sternly. “It will affect your eye sight.”

I’m fine by the way, thanks for asking Adrien thought bitterly, any brief hope that his father was actually worried about him disappeared in a flash.

“You’re right, I’m sorry father,” Adrien chorused dully, standing up and brushing himself down to look more presentable.

Gabriel adjusted his glasses, the action unnecessary and wholly awkward. All Adrien could do was stare, both curious and a little suspicious.

“I will be travelling to London, and then to Venice for a few weeks on business,” Gabriel stated in his usual clipped tone, but something in his eyes made Adrien tilt his head in confusion. It wasn’t like his father to tell him he was leaving in person. Usually, he left it up to his staff or sent him a message. “I trust that you will be sensible, and stay in the city. I cannot have you wandering off somewhere you might get hurt, especially when I am not in the country. That includes spas.”

Adrien tried not to wince, and failed miserably.

“I won’t leave the city,” he promised. “B- but to be fair, it was pretty unlikely that an akuma attack happened so far out of the city. And when I knew it was happening, I made sure to get to a safe area with my friends as soon as possible.”

Gabriel raised his eyebrow, saying nothing for a moment. Just in case Gabriel decided to fact-check his story, Adrien decided to ask his friends to cover for him. Not that it would be necessary, he was sure, but just in case. After all, despite his sometimes-suffocating overprotectiveness, Gabriel was surprising trusting of his son.

“Of course,” Gabriel nodded, “I expected nothing less from you. Whilst I’m gone I’m aware you will have many of your final exams, so I have cleared much of your schedule so that you may study and- perhaps enjoy the company of you peers before your time at school ends.”

Shock was an understatement.

“Th-thank you father!” Adrien gushed. Gabriel said no more, offering a short bow to the head and exiting the way he came.

As soon as he was gone, Adrien leapt back onto the sofa, whooping in delight. An open schedule meant more time with Marinette, more time hanging out with friends. Of course, he’d be studying too but still- freedom! Nino would be beside himself with joy.

He was going to ask Marinette on a date! Maybe she’d even say yes!

An open schedule meant more time for many things, could he dare hope kissing could be one of them?

“What are you squealing about?” Plagg grumbled, floating over and rubbing his eye sleepily.

Adrien ignored him, choosing instead to check his phone- which had just buzzed in his pocket.

When he saw who messaged him, he almost dropped the phone on his nose. Plagg snorted.

Marinette: I don’t care about the rain! Patrol? Xx

Adrien sat bolt-upright, texting back at speed of light.

Adrien: Not even a monsoon could keep me away from you... My Lady <3 Xx

As soon as he sent the text, Adrien stood up, pacing back and forth with a hand plastered to his forehead- making his hair stand up at funny angles. He didn’t know what to do with his limbs, he didn’t know what to do with himself. Giddiness wrapped around his brain, making him feel dizzy in the best possible way.

This was it.

A pearl of laughter escaped from his mouth, breathless, indescribable laughter.

“You’re being super-weird you know,” Plagg declared, landing on his shoulder.

“I know, it’s just- I finally know who she is! I was- I was right and… I can’t believe it!”

Adrien heard Plagg chuckle lightly. It wasn’t his usual brand or sneaky laughter, nor was he doing it at the expense of someone else’s misfortune. On the contrary, as Adrien looked down at the little Kwami, he was surprised to see him grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Yeah, yeah enough of the mushy stuff,” Plagg said, rolling his eyes fondly. “Transform already, and go get your girl. We’ve waited loooong enough. Three years too long.”

For the first time in a while, it seemed they finally agreed on something, and Adrien was happy to oblige.


 

Ladybug wrapped her legs around herself, sheltering under the small outcropping the roof provided. It was their usual meeting spot in bad weather. Though she was already drenched from the journey over, she pressed her back against the brick wall, watching the mist merge with the lights of the street lamps- which had come on early due to the darkness the storm provided. Pressing her lips together, she blinked slowly.

Somewhere in the distance she heard a rumble of thunder. It reflected in her heart.

She sighed, a wobbly, shaky sound which vibrated through her lungs and out towards her extremities.

Waiting was torture. Whilst she normally enjoyed watching the rain fall, took comfort in the hissing pitter-patter against the stone slabs and the smell of damp earth, it wasn’t enough to quell the anxiety pulsating through her.

Why did she have to arrive early? Why couldn’t she have been on time or late? Then she wouldn’t have had to wait for him to join her.

“It’s raining cats and dogs!”

Chat Noir’s head appeared, hanging upside down over the ledge. Fat raindrops fell from his pointed ears and he flicked them off subconsciously, spraying Ladybug with water. The edge of his tail trailed off the ledge, swaying from side to side.

As soon as she saw him her body felt like it combusted, then proceeded to slowly pull itself together again. One look in his shimmering, green eyes and her taut muscles liquefied. It was an awfully odd sensation, she realised, being so relaxed and yet so nervous at the same time.

“Really?” she questioned quietly. “I wondered why there were poodles everywhere.”

Tilting his head back with a short chortle, Chat hopped down to sit beside her. Even though his hair was waterlogged, it was still wild and spiky. It clung to the sides of his face and Ladybug stared, admiring without fear. As his jaw caught the light, she spotted a faint trace of stubble. Inexplicable, she felt the urge to stroke it. If only her arms didn’t feel like lead.

They were silent, each of them lost in their own thought on where to begin.

After what seemed like an eternity, they both turned to each other. Simultaneously, they both blurted out garbled words in their haste to clear the air.

“I can explai-” Ladybug began.

“I just wanted to-” Chat said.

They paused.

“Sorry you were-”

“Oh sorry what-”

That was all it took. The pair burst out laughing, Ladybug burying her face into her hand and Chat shuffling closer to her, looking at her in awe.

“We’re- we’re so, so- hopeless,” Ladybug giggled, shaking her head.

Yeah. Hopeless. Chat thought, watching her. Of course, he agreed with her. He was hopeless. He’d been hopeless since the day they met and would continue to be hopeless about her for the rest of his life.

He loved being hopeless. It was quite simply, the best feeling the world.

“Ladies first,” he nodded towards her, gave a mischievous little bow, and she bopped him on the nose.

Both of them were struck dumb by how easy it was.

It was scary, and uncharted, but it was easy.

So easy, in fact, that it almost seemed like they’d always been this way, that this had always been brimming under the surface, waiting to come out to play. It was as natural as breathing, as natural as the rain falling at their feet.

It made sense. They were, after all, two halves of the same whole.

Ladybug smiled, sighing in contentment as she rested her head on his shoulder. The same shoulder she’d rested on the night she’d issued her challenge to him.

“You found me,” she breathed, her voice so gentle Chat almost didn’t hear it.

But hear it he did, and oh boy if his soul wasn’t on fire before…

“You found me first,” he purred, leaning his cheek against her and linking his fingers with her own. Delicately, he lifted their joined hands so he could kiss her gloved one. She hummed in response.

“I didn’t mean to,” she confessed. “It was an accident. I swear. I saw you with Plagg the other day and I was going to tell you all about it at the spa- especially because of our misunderstanding and I just couldn’t stand to see you hurt especially because I’ve liked you forever and we got it all totally wrong but then the spa day went wrong too so I freaked out and-”

“Bugaboo,” Chat interrupted her with a kiss on the temple in an attempt to soothe her, “breathe. Of course you were going to find me first- you’re just- just that amazing.”

Ladybug slumped backwards against him, the last remaining remnants of tension wiped out by his words.

Closing his eyes, Chat rested his head on hers again, wrapping his arms around her middle and pulling her close. The whole thing seemed like a blissful dream to him, to be able to do this, knowing who she was behind the mask.

Had it really only been a week since he’d started his search? It felt like he’d been looking for her his whole life.

“I’m so happy it’s you,” he mumbled, kissing the top of her ear and admiring the little gasp which escaped her lips. “I’m so happy I was right.”

Ladybug curled into herself, silently squealing.

“Oh you were right, were you?” she teased, nudging him with her hip. “What makes you so sure Adrien Agreste?”

Chat’s toes curled. His stomach fluttered, and he was pretty sure his bones were non-existent. Though it occurred to him that he’d heard Ladybug say his name for three years (he just hadn’t known it at the time) he wanted her to say it again, and again, and again. He never wanted her to stop saying his name.

“Hmm, you’re right,” he bantered, tapping his chin curiously. “I guess one more clue wouldn’t hurt, would it?”

“Oooh I think you’re asking too much, Kitty!” she replied, reaching back to ruffle his rain-studded hair.

Chat lowered himself to her eye level, pouting.

“Purr-lease?”

Ladybug grinned, shuffling away from his grasp to stand up. Extending her palm out beyond the shelter of the covered roof, she felt raindrops smack against her hand. The rain was still coming down in torrents. She paused, thinking, hoping.

Well Tikki did say she was blessed with good luck. Maybe, just maybe, it could work. If she wished for it hard enough…

“Lucky charm!” she called up to the heavens. For a split second, pink light shattered the gloom of the evening. Everything froze as Ladybug prayed, concentrated, wished...

The charm fell into her hands and she clutched it to her chest, fighting back a cry of joy. From his spot on the floor, Chat watched her, mouth hanging open. Wondering what she was doing, yet trusting that it was leading somewhere special, he chose to stay silent.

Only after she’d cradled the lucky charm in her arms, making sure she’d truly gotten what she wanted, did she allow herself to speak.

“I didn’t always like the rain,” she began, taking her first steps out into the open. The rain attacked her instantly, but still she clutched her lucky charm in her hand, not using it. Not yet. “But three years ago I met this guy. We didn’t get off to the best start... it seems like misunderstandings follow us whenever we don’t talk to each other the way we should.”

She twirled around, back towards Chat Noir, who was staring at her as though there were galaxies in her eyes.

“I made some rash judgements about him, thought he was a bad guy. Do you know something, though? He proved me wrong. In the best, most amazing way, he proved me wrong. He was so kind and gentle, sweet and caring. How could I not fall for him? Especially after he leant me one of these…”

In one graceful movement, she lifted the lucky charm in the air, pressing the clasp so that the polka-dotted umbrella opened over her head.

Chat’s breath caught in his throat. He understood. So, all this time…

With quaking legs, Chat managed to stand up, his eyes glistening.

“It seems we’ve been dancing around each other a long time, my lady,” he confessed, softly treading towards her, his boots lightly skimming the shallow puddles which formed on the flat, grey rooftop, “for my heart has been yours since the day I met you.”

Ladybug blushed, unable to hide the shy smile even as her eyes gazed downward. Both of them wondered how on earth one person could be so adorable.

“W-well, perhaps we should start dancing together instead?” she replied, gripping the handle of the umbrella so tight that it shook in her hold. Or perhaps it was her who was shaking? She wouldn’t be surprised. “Although I warn you I have two left feet.”

“I couldn’t think of anything more meow-vellous if I tried, left feet or not,” Chat reached her, ducking under the brim of the umbrella so he could stand close. “I think I’ve had enough clues now,” he added, his voice low. Their eyes met; love, desire, need and hope hung between them- so palpable they might as well have been tangible threads, visibly linking them together.

“You have?” Ladybug breathed, tilting the umbrella so that it no longer blocked him from pressing up against her.

Chat leaned in close, gently kissing her cheek.

“Your favourite colour is pink,” he whispered against her skin, sending a wave of warmth through her. She nodded.

“My favourite colour is pink,” she confirmed, placing her free hand on his chest. Splaying her fingers, Ladybug used her thumb to caress the shallow crevices of his suit. There weren’t enough words in the world to describe what that did to him.

“You dream to work in fashion one day,” he repeated, echoing the words that had haunted his mind all week, words which had floated around his head on sleepless nights. Now he was here, more wide awake than he’d ever been, the girl of his dreams in his arms. He moved to press his lips against her other cheek.

“I do dream to work in fashion one day,” Ladybug’s head swam, she fought hard not to close her eyes against his tender caresses. Underneath her fingertips, she felt a purr vibrate through his chest.

“You don’t want me to stop flirting with you,” he remembered, his tone taking on a cheeky edge as he kissed her nose, and earned a giggle from her.

“No I most definitely do not,” she replied as her earrings beeped and Chat moved to wrap his arms around her waist.

He swallowed thickly, pausing and pulling away so that he could properly look at her. Behind the mask he saw the traces of the freckles he adored, those same bluebell eyes he’d never get sick of, the pink lips he’d kissed not nearly enough times.

“A-and you name,” he rasped, his voice thick and rough with emotion, “is Marinette.”

Ladybug beamed.

“And my name…is Marinette,” she admitted, finally, wonderfully, as Chat’s lips crashed into her own.

She threw the umbrella to the side, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down so that she could deepen the kiss. Their faces were slick with rain, hair flattened against them, but nothing- not even the chill in the air or the promise of the encroaching night time- could stop them from kissing until their lungs felt like they were going to burst.

It was incredible, indescribable. All the longing they’d felt, the nights they’d spent pining, the days they’d spent dreaming, all of it was over. After three years, it was finally over.

As Chat Noir lifted Ladybug into his arms, whispering her real name over and over again in between kisses, the polka-dotted umbrella rested by their feet, dancing in the breeze, content to know they no longer had any use for it.

They were together now.

 

Chapter Text

Smoulder Chapter 25

Adrien: Good morning beautiful! I can’t wait to see you at school today! XxXxXxXxXxXx

With his phone clutched in his hands, Adrien slouched until his chin rested on the desk in front of him. The glow of computer monitor irritated his eyes at such a close distance. He pouted.

Underneath his text to Marinette was the undeniable, damning little ‘seen 07:22’ which told him Marinette had gotten his text but had yet to reply.

He was aware he was being ridiculous, but couldn’t stop the downward spiral if he tried. Was he coming on too strong? That probably wasn’t the case. They’d kissed…a lot. They’d kissed until Ladybug’s transformation had worn off. They’d kissed some more when Chat had carried Marinette back to the outcropping of the roof, pressing against her body (to shield her from the rain of course- it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she was wearing a very wet, white shirt). They’d kissed again when the rain had subsided and he’d taken her home, ignoring Tikki saying she was recovered enough to transform.

So yes, with the rain had come clarity. In between kisses there’d been confessions, talking and laughing, sighing at how clueless they both were. He didn’t doubt her feelings; he couldn’t doubt them. She’d stayed up texting him into the late hours and, even when they’d just been friends, he knew how much Marinette valued sleep despite the fact she rarely got enough. He knew she returned his feelings.

However…

The whole thing felt like a strange, blissful dream. One from which he was sure he would wake at any minute. He was so happy, and with that happiness came an abundance of anxiety, guilt, and pressure. Could he really be so lucky, so content, without consequence?

You’re being an idiot, Adrien he told himself, physically shaking his head. It was no good. Love was in his grasp, love was here, it was his.

He felt on top of the world, standing amongst golden skies, arms wide as he embraced exhilaration, feeling the carefree breeze brushing against his skin.

But feeling on top of the world came with its drawbacks.

It was a long, long way to the ground.

He sneezed.

“Uh-oh, didn’t catch a cold did you, bro?”

Adrien glanced over at Nino, who’d entered the computer suite hand-in-hand with Alya. Still no sign of Marinette.

“Everything ok? Is an anime character having a hard time or something?” Alya asked, settling into a chair. In a swift movement, she pulled out the books Louis had leant them and pushed the keyboard to make space for them. They were all heavy, worn books with yellowing pages. Nino leaned back, wrapping an arm around her chair as he adjusted his cap and spread his long legs under the desk.

“No nothing like that. I’m ok guys. Just tired,” Adrien replied, shooting them a hopefully reassuring look before his eyes went back to his phone screen. The bell was going to go soon. What if Marinette was late?

What if she got hurt crossing the road?

What if she changed schools because she didn’t actually like him?

What if, what if, what if-

“ARGH!”

Both Alya and Nino jumped as Adrien hit his head against the desk, mumbling to himself. They shared a worried look, about to say something when Marinette ran in, collapsing into a chair with a loud huff.

Adrien almost leapt out of his chair in relief.

“Made it!” she gushed, throwing her head back. Her cheeks were flushed, her breath came in short rasps. “Sorry guys, slept in this morning.”

“So did we, no big,” Nino shrugged with a cheeky eyebrow wiggle towards Alya, who responded by kissing his cheek.

Neither Marinette or Adrien heard a word Nino said. As their eyes met, the world fell away. Were it not for the recognition shimmering in Marinette’s eyes, the red hoodie- his red hoodie drowning her body, the way her lips quirked, Adrien would have continued to question the reality of their night in the rain.

“Hey,” she breathed.

“Hey,” he breathed back.

Her presence soothed him. Though it didn’t eradicate his fears, she made sure his heart stayed in the clouds without his feet leaving the ground.

Marinette’s smile faltered and she scanned his face, undoubtedly reading him like a book. She shifted her chair closer to his, not commenting on it. Adrien didn’t know if he was grateful for that or not.

During their lesson, Adrien was able to forget his anxieties for a while. It was difficult when Marinette kept shooting him questioning glances but, eventually, the four of them got lost in research. Moments of silence were interspersed with extra knowledge about how Alya’s cousin was handling the extra publicity her spa had gotten (she’d managed to twist it into something positive), with interesting little factoids regarding the Elizabethan Chat and Ladybugs part in the war with Spain. Adrien found it odd how none of the research mentioned their relationship to each other. He supposed it was because it was so long ago and, unlike Catherine and Edward, nobody had discovered who they were. He’d have to ask Tikki about it- lord knows Plagg would never give him a straight answer.

Apparently, Louis had a theory that Chat Noir was William Shakespeare. He’d messaged Nino to tell him that, although he was certain, he hadn’t been granted permission view the primary resources he needed in order to see if such a theory was true. It was the cost of being, what Louis called, a lowly first year. Still they decided to add a slide about it, because it sure was interesting. Adrien adored the idea almost as much as Alya.

Still, no matter how focused he was, his mind kept going back to Catherine and Edward- to the Elizabethan Ladybug and Chat Noir, to all the others. His eyes wandered to Marinette, curled up on her chair with one of the heavier books open on her lap. She was chewing her pen. He wondered if she always did that, wondered if he’d get the chance to discover all her other little quirks.

The Ladybug and Chat Noir legacy was a huge one, one which they were now a part of. But the question remained- what would they, Marinette and Adrien, add to that legacy? What happened now?

That question was one which had plagued them all recently. The end of school, the start of university, wasn’t far away. Only a few weeks until the comfortable stability of young adulthood ended and they were off to make their own way in the world. Uncertainty was rampant, stress was the number one emotion amongst his peers, the anticipation that something great was around the corner, heading towards them faster than they really wanted it to.

Unless he had his mind fixated on it, Adrien didn’t handle change very well. His whole life had been one rigid routine, to the point where even he was aware he took his freedom as Chat overboard at times. Sure, he was excited about writing his own life song, one which he now hoped would duet alongside Marinette’s, but he was also sad about the things he was leaving behind.

He really needed to get more sleep. His thoughts, his emotions, were all over the place. Either that or he was coming down with a cold, his head was throbbing somewhat.

Marinette looked up from her book, eyes locking onto Adrien’s and, for a second, Adrien blushed at being caught staring.

She frowned, taking the pen out of her mouth. It looked as though she wanted to say something, but she remained tight-lipped. Adrien wondered if his fretting had been too obvious. He hated the idea of worrying her over his stupid thoughts.

The bell rang for the end of class and the four of them, satisfied by the amount of headway they’d made into the project, vowed to buy something nice for Louis once their exams were over.

As they packed up and left the classroom, Adrien felt a hand grip his bicep hard. He turned around, curious.

Marinette’s gaze was hard and focused, it bore into him and stripped his emotions bare, laid them out on a table for her examination. There was no masking his thoughts, no hiding behind a ‘model smile’ as she had called it. Even if he’d wanted to hide it, which he didn’t, he knew she would have seen past it in an instant.

He let her sneak him away from Alya and Nino, let her drag him across the school. She led him to a familiar corridor, the empty art cupboard, frog-marching him inside and slamming the door shut behind her.

When they were alone, Tikki and Plagg popped out of their respective hiding places.

“You aren’t going to do gross stuff are you?” Plagg whined.

“Plagg leave them alone!” Tikki giggled as the pair of them shifted and stammered in embarrassment. “It’s not like you’ve never seen ‘gross stuff’ before. Remember Heracles and Hippolyta?”

“Ugh, don’t remind me darlin’ I still have nightmares,” Plagg shuddered, shooting both Adrien and Marinette a glare. “If I see either of your naked behinds I’m going to make your lives hell do you hear me?”

Adrien opened his mouth to yell at Plagg but Marinette beat him to a response.

“Keep your eyes closed then,” she surprised everyone with her sly retort, including herself. It took a moment for her to realise what she said, and her expression turned into one which resembled a slapped tomato.

Adrien didn’t know what to do with his hands. Adrien didn’t know what to do with himself, and the suggestions his Chat Noir side was yelling at him were really not helping the situation.

“Guys?” Adrien squeaked at Plagg and Tikki. “Could you maybe give us some privacy for a bit?”

“And so it begins,” Plagg lamented, floating away with his tail low.

“Don’t forget about your classes!” Tikki teased, following after Plagg. “You don’t want to fail your exams because you’re so…umm…enamoured with each other.”

The two Kwami left. Marinette buried her face in her hands, leaning against the door. Silence rivalled the dust in the air.

Adrien was the first to speak.

“Are- are you ok Princess?”

This appeared to be the wrong thing to say. Marinette stood up straighter, whipping her hand away from her face angrily. But her fury wasn’t directed at him, for which he was eternally grateful.

“Am I ok- ugh! No I’m not! I wanted to help you, but here you are asking me if I’m ok?” she babbled, pacing in little back-and-forth steps. “The first thing I do is make a complete idiot of myself the day after- and I wanted to- gah!”

“Err… I see?” Adrien hadn’t a clue what she meant, but decided to nod along. Nevertheless, he felt a small smile creep onto his face. She was so cute when she rambled.

“No, you don’t see,” Marinette pointed an accusatory finger at him, then allowed it to flop back down at her side. Her eyes followed its movements and she stared at her feet, heaving a sad sigh. “I was worried about you.”

Adrien reached out to hold the hand Marinette dropped, giving it a light squeeze.

“Ah love-bug, you don’t have to worry about me!” he chirped, smiling brightly. “I’m ok!”

This time the glare, the anger, was focused on him- and Adrien fought hard not to step back and flinch. She really had no idea the power and influence she had, even outside her superhero persona. It was intimidating.

It’s also really sexy, his brain reminded him and once again he mentally kicked himself.

“Adrien,” Marinette said, her tone dropping low. It wasn’t a threat, but it was laced in solemnity, and it made Adrien pay rapt attention to her. She drew in closer to him, taking his other hand and nudging him down until their foreheads were resting against each other. “What happens when we don’t talk? What happened when the other Ladybugs and Chats didn’t talk? What happened when Edward and Catherine didn’t talk?”

He did flinch then, because he knew exactly what she was getting at.

“I know, I know.” He let out a shaking breath, closed his eyes against her. Her nose brushed up against his in a kitten-kiss. “And I promised myself I’d always, always talk to you from this moment on. It’s... it’s hard though, I don’t want you to think I’m stupid.”

“You’re not stupid, Kitty. I’ve never once thought that,” Marinette soothed, wrapping him in a hug, “and I never will. I promise. Tell me what’s wrong? I may not be able to help completely, but I can listen. My Papa always says a problem shared is a problem halved.”

God he loved her, he thought as he buried himself into her shoulder, as he felt the way her fingers flexed and stroked gentle circles against his back. Her tender touches sent ripples of calm through his body- permeating through his emotional isolation like she did time and time again.

He loved her. He loved her so much.

“I’m scared,” he whispered.

Marinette pulled out of their embrace, arms still locked behind his back, to look at him properly. She smiled.

“Why?”

Adrien shifted, forcing himself out of the quick-sand which threatened to pull him under, ignoring all his doubts about sharing his feelings. He made sure he was looking in her eyes.

“I don’t want to lose you,” he admitted, finally, and every single cell in him wanted to backtrack. Past experience yelled and screamed, told him to run away, to deny everything he said, that he was stupid- his emotions unfounded.

“Oh, well, I can understand that,” Marinette’s acknowledgement steamrolled over those doubts, squashed them into pulp and left them to rot. “I kind of feel the same, like you’re so happy you’re terrified of losing it?”

“Yeah!” Adrien felt himself brighten, his skin felt golden under the sunlight she was feeding him. “Yes! That’s exactly right and it’s so stupid because I feel like this should be the happiest time of my life. I found you, and you found me but I’m spoiling things because I’m being such a- such a fraidy cat. A part of me wants to hold you tight and never let you go but another part of me is worried that if I do that too much, I’d be overbearing and that would end up pushing you away. It’s a lose-lose situation in my head.”

He leaned over and placed his head on her shoulder, leaning up to kiss her neck to remind himself that he could.

“I’m ruining it.”

Marinette giggled, reaching over to scratch his head fondly.

“You aren’t ruining anything, you silly cat. Here I was, thinking I was the nervous wreck in this relationship!”

Adrien grinned against her skin, pulling her closer until she was pressed up against him.

“Oh? So this is a relationship now?” he asked, nuzzling her with his nose, his ego growing as he felt her shiver.

“Adrien,” she whined and he laughed, feeling better than he’d done all morning, she responded by nudging his head with her own. “At least I know you’re feeling better, right?”

“Yeah, but I get the feeling I’m going to continue to freak out from time to time,” he replied, moving to kiss her ear, then her cheek.

“That’s ok- we can freak out together. We’ll start a club- the freakout-a-holics. I’ll make the jackets,” Marinette teased, kissing his lips chastely. “Ladybug and Chat Noir, saving the world with the power of the miraculous, and crippling anxiety.”

Adrien burst out laughing.

“Hawk Moth doesn’t stand a chance,” he purred, his laughter falling at his feet as an entirely different emotion rose up to greet him, matching the sudden change in Marinette’s own demeanour.

She kissed him again. The air between them twisted, became heavy with want and desire, a quick yet natural transformation- a culmination of Adrien’s relief and Marinette’s comfort. He curled into her and she, too, shuffled so that she was as close to him as possible. She stood on tip toes, hands turning from gentle to greedy as they roamed his back.

Love, the fading remains of his worries, and a sudden insatiable hunger for the girl in his arms, created a powerful cocktail in Adrien’s brain- one which made him growl, made his hands wander. Lifting the hem of their hoodie, Adrien gripped the newly exposed skin of Marinette’s hips and pressed her up against the door. He’d wanted to do that the last time they’d been here, and now he could.

Third time lucky.

Marinette let out a moan which made him weak at the knees. So she liked being pressed up against things, he realised, if the way her fingers dug into his hair was any indication.

Panting and gasping for air, they broke apart before diving back in for more kisses. Light kisses turned into deep ones as they ravished each other’s mouths. Adrien drowned in her, loving how their once clumsy kisses had become more skilled. There was still the occasional nip, or meeting of teeth as their tongues sought each other out, but it was perfect to him, and bathed in the promise of learning each other- of becoming even more practiced in the art of pleasing the other.

“Marinette,” he whispered her name against her, kissing any bit of her skin he could reach. Her cheeks, her ears, her neck. The sounds she made were unreal, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight or- if he did manage to- his dreams would be filled with her, making the same noises in other, much more intimate scenarios. “My lady.”

Marinette stopped playing with his hair, stopped gasping against him and for a wild second he thought he’d done something wrong by calling her one of his favourite nicknames.

But no, all she wanted to do was lightly push him away by his shoulders. He obliged, meeting her glistening eyes.

What little breath he had left ran for the hills at the way she looked at him.

Softly, she reached out to caress his cheek, staring at him like he held the world for her on a silver platter. He wanted to, damn it. Forget the house, forget the sewing room, forget any pitiful promise he made her in the past. He wanted to give her the universe. He wanted to give her everything, anything, for her to keep looking at him the way she was now.

“Adrien,” she said his name like it was a gift but she was wrong. She was the gift. Not him. “This really is real, isn’t it, Kitty?”

His heart shattered, but not in the way one would expect. No. It wasn’t a terrible thing, to have it smashed into a million pieces as though it were glass. On the contrary, it was wonderful. With her words, she took his fragile heart and broke it, only to help him rebuild it into something stronger than it was before. It wasn’t like she was curing him with her love, but rather she was helping it grow, in the way water helps a sapling. He wanted to do the same for her.

“More real than the ring on my finger, Marinette.” As she spoke his name like a gift, he spoke hers like a vow.

She moved to kiss him again, when the doorknob jostled.

Panic blew both their eyes wide open, made their limbs stiffen. Adrien twisted around Marinette to press himself up against the door, Marinette copying his movements, and whoever was trying to get in bumped against the other side of the door with a thud.

“Huh?” came the muffled, feminine voice. She knocked three times on the door, “Marinette are you in here?”

“ALYA?” Marinette yelped, then slapped a hand to her mouth too late. Impending doom destroyed whatever passion remained between them, dropping over them like buckets of cold water, and they froze- unsure of what to do.

“Mari? Girl are you ok? I was wondering where you ran off to- thought you might be here. Why won’t the door open?”

Marinette turned panicked eyes to Adrien, her closed lips were a plea for him to remain silent. He agreed with her.

“Um- n-no not really!” she stammered, giggling nervously, “I’m- I’m- stuck, you see! I forgot to grab some art supplies but now this stupid old door is stuck! Ca- can you get help?”

Adrien’s eyes bulged further. She wanted to get more people involved in this sure-to-be disaster?

Marinette mouthed the words trust me and Adrien decided to do so. She’d never steered him wrong before.

“Oh crap! Don’t worry, I’ll go get the caretaker or something. Just wait there hun,” Alya’s voice was so reassuring that Marinette cringed in guilt. She hated lying to her friend, she hated lying full stop, but she also didn’t want Alya to find out about her relationship with Adrien like this.

“Ok!” Marinette called back, pressing her ear against the door to listen for the sound of Alya’s fading footsteps.

Adrien, at least, saw the funny side.

“How much do you think Alya would have bugged out over discovering us here?” he whispered, cackling under his breath. “Could you imagine if we’d been suited up at the time too? Scoop of the century.”

“Kitty, not now,” Marinette replied, running a hand down her face.

“Aww are you embarrassed?” Adrien teased placing a finger under her chin and tilting it up so that her eyes met his. “Don’t worry, Alya’s going to think us dating is totally claw-some, given the fact that you’ve had a crush on me for so looong.”

Adrien was pretty sure he could fry an egg with the heat radiating off Marinette’s face. Oh, he could get used to this.

“You had a crush on me too!” she shot back with a pout. He laughed and kissed her nose.

“Oh, I’ve had more than a crush, Princess, I-” he stopped, his sentence dropping like a stone. He bit his lip, refusing to say more. It wasn’t the time. It was so not the time.

Marinette blinked at him, confused for a second, before sighing and burying her face in her hands again.

“Get in the kiln.”

Adrien wasn’t quite sure he heard correctly.

“Huh?”

“You heard me!” she hissed twirling him by his hips and pushing against his back- towards the aforementioned broken kiln. “Get in the kiln!”

“My lady, don’t you think that’s-”

“Do you want the caretaker, and Alya, to find out that we’ve been making out in the art cupboard?” she argued and, when he shook his head at her, she grinned. “Then get in the kiln, kitten.”

“Is this payback for my teasing you?” he groaned as she wrenched open the ancient door, and a cloud of dust blew out like a puff of smoke on a cold day. Plagg and Tikki were already in the kiln, and gazed at them curiously.

“Hmm, a little,” she replied as he began to clamour into the kiln, sulking. “Don’t move until I text you. I’m going to let Alya know I ‘escaped from the art cupboard’”

“Then why do I need to hide here?” he sulked, “are you trying to get me all fired up?”

“I can do that without a kiln, especially a broken one,” Marinette’s voice was so smug, so silk-like, that he almost forgot what she was asking him to do. “Just hide in case she comes back!”

“My lady-”

“Byeeee!” she cooed, blowing him a kiss as she half closed the kiln door, making sure Adrien was blocked from view of anyone who came into the cupboard. He heard her cackling as she hurried out the room.

Once again, she’d one-upped him.

“Don’t you dare say a word,” he warned Plagg through gritted teeth, his cramped limbs already protesting.

It felt like an eternity but, eventually, his phone vibrated in his pocket. He almost fell out the kiln.

Marinette: Coast is clear. Sorry about the late reply! Was busy making out with a superhero in an art cupboard ;) XxXxXx

Love was a funny thing.

Chapter Text

The scream which pierced the café made several patrons heads’ turn in alarm.

When they discovered the source of the noise, most of them shrugged it off, though a few scowled in disapproval.

Alya, who’d been the one to scream, didn’t care one bit.

“I think I’m deaf,” Marinette grunted as she was enveloped in a crushing hug from her best friend. “Actually, I’m sure.”

“Don’t care! I’m so happy for yoooou!” Alya sang, in between squeals of delight, as she shook Marinette from side to side. Marinette turned her frantic eyes towards Nino and Adrien, who’d just fist bumped, and found to her horror that they seemed to be taking amusement from her predicament. “Adrien Agreste and Marinette Dupain-Cheng, finally boyfriend and girlfriend! We need a selfie to commemorate the occasion. Oh! And let’s put up a post-it too!”

The four of them were in the familiar post-it note café. The patio doors were wide open and inside was dark and cool. Most people were sitting under the canopy outside, soaking up the glorious late-afternoon sun the weekend, but Marinette had suggested sitting in a quieter corner- mainly because of the reaction she’d anticipated from Alya at her news.

In an instant, Alya snatched a pink post-it pad and the sharpie pot that was supplied on every table. Choosing a red pen, she immediately drew a heart with Adrien and Marinette’s initials and the date inside. After she’d finished she stuck the post-it on the wall, where it joined the ever-growing layers, and surveyed her work with proud hands on her hips.

As the shock died down, and enough selfies had been taken to celebrate Adrien and Marinette’s new relationship status, Nino gently tugged Alya back to their seats across the table from the other pair. Marinette mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to him in response.

“How? When?” The DJ asked, his smile turning to a beam when Adrien shuffled closer to Marinette and held her hand. “Dude-” He clutched his chest at the gesture “-That’s too cute! I’m so glad you guys finally got your act together.”

With a quick glance at each other, both Marinette and Adrien made the silent decision to keep their mouths shut regarding ‘getting their act together’. For obvious reasons.

Instead, Adrien turned back to their friends and decided to answer Nino’s questions as honestly as possible- something they’d discussed beforehand.

“It happened after the spa, last weekend,” he replied somewhat breathlessly. Truth be told he was still in awe of it. Glancing down at the beads of condensation on his plastic cup, Adrien fought the bashfulness he was suddenly struck with. “We got to talking and, I don’t know I guess dealing with that akuma and our…err misunderstanding, it helped. So now we’re here.”

Marinette squeezed his hand, and was about to respond when Alya’s cough of outrage disturbed the sweetness of the moment.

“Six days?! You wait a whole school week before you tell us? Hold up, have you even been on a date yet? Do your parents know?”

“Are you planning on being an investigative journalist, or an interrogator?” Marinette laughed, admittedly a bit sheepishly. It was true that, whilst they’d had many quiet and… intimate moments during their patrols (as well as after the two akuma attacks that had occurred the past week) they’d not been on an official date yet. Putting up her hand, Marinette began to check off the list of Alya’s questions as she answered them. “We waited this long because things were so crazy, plus Nino’s been super-stressed this week with his final group music exam. We wanted to tell you when things cooled down. Technically we haven’t been on a date yet but we plan to after our exams-”

When Adrien chuckled under his breath, Marinette jostled his ankle with her foot in warning. She knew exactly where his mind had gone.

Naughty cat.

“-And,” she added with a slight bite in her tone, “my parents know but Adrien’s dad is still in London so Adrien’s planning on telling him when he gets back. I think that answers all your questions!”

“Great! Can we finish our coffees and get this stupid presentation over and done with already? I’m so done with this whole school thing,” Nino whined, placing his elbows on the table.

The four had decided to meet up at a café to finalise their points for their history presentation and delegate the making of each section of it. They were in the home stretch and eager to get things over and done with.

Alya, however, had other ideas.

“Hey, you know what!” she said, mid-sip of her frappe, “I just realised I left a bunch of my notes at home. How about you guys head back to Marinette’s? Nino and I will meet you there!”

It boggled Marinette’s mind, time and time again, how her best friend could be so obvious and yet still so full of bravado. Alya had more nerve than Ladybug ever would.

“Subtle, babe. Really subtle,” Nino laughed.

“Well, you know what- shut up,” Alya replied, “and grab your frappe sweetheart, we’re leaving the lovebirds STAT.”

“Do the lovebirds get a say in the matter?” Adrien replied throwing his arm around Marinette and winking. “Not that this one is complaining.”

“Can’thearyoubye!” Alya cried as she grabbed her backpack and dashed towards the exit. Nino, ever the laid-back one, threw his own satchel over his shoulder with a look of amusement on his face. Shooting the aforementioned love birds a quick salute, he headed out the door after Alya- leaving the pair alone.

“Well, that went well!” Adrien chirped, swirling the contents of his iced tea with the long straw provided. “Pawsitively awesome, even.”

Marinette groaned, wiggling away from him to flick his nose.

“You know, if I’d known dating you meant twice the amount of obnoxious cat puns, I might have considered my decision more,” she teased, putting her notebooks back into her bag and whispering an apology to Plagg, whom she accidentally bonked on the head in the process. Since the identity reveal, the two Kwami’s had been almost as inseparable as Adrien and Marinette, so they’d taken to hiding in either Marinette or Adrien’s bag when the pair were together.

Adrien dropped his straw, choosing instead to clutch his forehead as if he were about to faint.

“Surely you can’t mean that, Love Bug!” As quick as a transformation, his tone shifted from wounded to sultry. The heavy gaze which made Marinette’s legs turn to jelly was back on his face. She rued the day she’d told him about it. “After all, how could you turn down the smoulder?”

“Stop-”

“Stop the look that made you fall for me? Never in a million years,” he purred, but that was all he allowed himself to do in public- out of respect for Marinette and his own reputation. Paparazzi tended to leave him alone but, knowing his luck, they’d be sniffing around on the one day he was canoodling with his girlfriend in public…

Girlfriend. Marinette was his girlfriend. He had a girlfriend.

“I will yo-yo you in the face,” Marinette grumbled, covering her own face with her hands and putting the brakes on Adrien’s romantic musings.

“Careful Princess, wouldn’t want to break the smoulder, now would we?” he replied, shifting in his seats so he was facing her. She was far too cute when she was flustered and now he knew the reason was him! All this time, he’d worried that she didn’t like him as much but really, she’d liked him more than anyone!

He was acting like a fifteen-year-old again, but he didn’t care. After their last akuma battle, a nasty thorn-themed villain, they’d had to talk through some boundaries. It was awkward, but necessary, to make sure their relationship remained private to the outside world. They couldn’t risk Hawk Moth finding out how much Ladybug and Chat Noir cared for each other, who knew what diabolical plans he could concoct with that knowledge in mind.

But that had inevitably led them to the conversation about what their relationship was.

To put it simply, it had been the most amazing conversation Adrien had ever had in his life and his feet hadn’t touched the ground since.

Adrien, far too wrapped up in his daydreams, missed Marinette’s scoff, missed how she stood up and placed her bag over her shoulder.

“Hey,” she called, poking his temple a few times for good measure, “pay attention mister daydream! If we don’t do what Alya says, we’re never going to hear the end of it.”

Adrien shook his head a few times, snapping himself out of it and fixing her with a smile. It was just as he was about to whisper something flirty in her ear that a teasing smirk crossed Marinette’s face. Her eyes filled with blue fire.

The look shocked Adrien to his core, rooted him to his seat.

Was this payback for his earlier comments? It had to be. She never did let him off easy (and he loved that about her).

Before he could even think of shielding himself from the incoming attack, she’d leaned down to his eye level- so that their noses were almost brushing. Her eyes were even brighter up close, and her freckles were blurring. In the past week, Adrien had learnt the majority of them gathered across the bridge of her nose, scattering out across her cheeks freely. He’d tried to kiss every one of them, but Marinette got ticklish too easily and when she was Ladybug the mask covered most of them.

Unfair- that’s what is was. It was hopelessly unfair how smitten he was.

“Race you home,” she challenged. “If you win, I’ll let you kiss me. For as long as you want.”

Adrien wanted to be suave. He really did. Out of all the times for his Chat Noir side to flee, tail tucked between legs, this was the worst. All he managed to do was form a short gurgling noise in response.

The laugh which slipped through Marinette’s pursed lips was near-on fatal.

“What’s the matter kitten, never played kiss chase before?” she winked, trailing her index finger across his jaw line.

Dangerous. So dangerous, Adrien thought- simultaneously praying there were indeed no paparazzi around to capture the moment.

“I- I was home schooled,” he gulped, hating how high his voice went, “I’m pretty sure the butlers wouldn’t have enjoyed that game very much.”

Marinette responded by closing the gap between them, kissing him on the nose…

And promptly running out of the café.


 

“I could’ve won if you hadn’t had such a head start,” Adrien pouted as they headed upstairs to Marinette’s apartment.

Though she was more breathless than she’d cared to admit, Marinette turned around gave him a reassuring look.

“Of course, you could.” Her tone indicated that she believed the complete opposite of her words.

“You know, I feel like you’re humouring me,” Adrien chuckled- thankful that he’d lost the race and Marinette was currently walking ahead of him, for reasons he was too much of a gentleman to admit.

It didn’t stop the blush from spreading across his face though.

“What gave you that idea?” she hummed, fiddling for her keys. When she reached the top of the stairs, she leaned back around in order to take Adrien’s hand, and was promptly caught off guard when she realised where his eyes were.

“Enjoying the view?”

She tried not to laugh at the way Adrien’s face went from scarlet to a sickly beige, or the way his head snapped up and his arms went rigid. Honestly, she did a good job at holding it in. But when Adrien squeaked out a mortified “sorry” and seemed like he was about ready to exile himself from the country, she lost the battle, and had to clutch her sides from laughing too hard.

“You know, you-  you’re allowed to look!” she gasped in between giggles. “But maybe think about the timing, my parents are hanging around.”

“Yeah, I know sorry, I wasn’t- you know- objectifying you or anything,” Adrien stammered, uttering the word objectify as though it were the worst crime he could commit.

Marinette halted before her keys reached the lock. Once again, she twirled around to face him, placing her hands on her hips. With an arched eyebrow, she poked Adrien’s chest, where his bell would be if he were in Chat Noir-mode.

“It’s still ok for you to like that though,” Marinette assured, “more than ok!”

“More than ok?” Adrien blinked, after a few seconds of timid comprehension.

“My hot model boyfriend is looking at me like I’m the hot one,” Marinette explained, grinning. “Like I said I’m more than ok with it.”

Adrien pressed a kiss to her forehead, his shoulders practically liquefying after the few moments of tension they’d just experienced. He sighed, breathing in her closeness.

“Well in that case,” he whispered, reaching up to bury his hands in her loose hair, “you’re far more of a model than I could ever hope t-”

The door to the apartment swung open. Marinette’s father stood on the other side of it.

“Kids, for future reference, we can hear everything you say.”

There was a brief pause, the type of pause that only comes from a level of embarrassment so deep it has you questioning reality.

Then the proverbial penny dropped, and the screeching began. Somehow Adrien and Marinette managed to stay as far away from each other as possible as they desperately implored for forgiveness.

“PAPA!”

“S-sorry Monsieur Dupain! I didn’t- we weren’t-”

“It’s not what it looks like Papa! I swear we-we were just-”

“Flirting shamelessly in the hallway where your dear old dad can hear you?” Tom raised his eyebrows, fanning himself as though he were a delicate maiden from the old musicals Marinette’s Grandmother used to watch.

“Papaaaa,” Marinette groaned, burying her face in her hands.

“Oh, relax Tom, it’s nothing we didn’t do when we were teens,” Sabine chuckled, coming into view from behind her husband’s large frame. The look she gave Marinette was both amused and sympathetic.

Apparently, hearing about her parents implied past exploits, on top of being caught out by them, was too much for Marinette’s mind to withstand. Spinning on her heel, she began marching back down the landing towards the top of the stairs.

“Ok, I’m done!” she cried, somehow sounding cheery despite her mortification, “Adrien let’s go find somewhere else to finish studying. I hear there’s a fabulous park bench nearby.”

How can she tease me about saying top notch when she throws around phrases like fabulous park bench? He wondered, finding it hopelessly endearing despite the contradiction.

“Oh?” Tom called after his daughter, brandishing an envelope in his hand with an excited twinkle in his eyes. “So you’re saying you don’t want to know if you got into ESMOD?”

Marinette floundered, gasped, then slipped backwards on the top step. With a painful thud, she landed on her back, shrieking as she went.

In an instant, Adrien was by her side.

“Marinette are you ok?” He cried, about to help her up, but Marinette was used to years of her own clumsiness. By the time he’d extended his hand out, she’d already scrambled up, running towards her father so fast Adrien was sure a little cartoon puff of smoke appeared as she ran. He blinked, dazed.

She stopped at the door frame, digging her heels  into the carpeted floor. In front of her father, she gazed at the envelope with a look of awe on her face.

“Papa? Is- is that what I think it is?” she said, her voice trembling as Adrien came to stand by her side, thoroughly confused by the whole exchange.

“You’ll have to open it yourself dear,” Sabine soothed, ushering them all inside to sit on the sofas. Marinette, at least, still had the presence of mind to drop her bag out of sight so that Tikki and Plagg could sneak off. “It’s yours. We haven’t touched it. We only noticed the seal on the back was the University’s one.”

Adrien sat beside Marinette, felt her shaking from head to toe. It was as she turned the envelope over in her hands that he caught sight of the ESMOD logo, and gasped himself, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Marinette, you applied to ESMOD?” he gaped in awe. The École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode (ESMOD for short) was one of the most prestigious fashion schools in Europe, let alone Paris, and was incredibly difficult to get into. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“I- I only told my parents because- because-” she trailed off helplessly, staring at the envelop which contained her future.

Sabine kindly stepped in, pushing a plate of cookies over to them. Marinette didn’t even notice. Deciding to show solidarity with his lady, Adrien opted against the tasty treats for the time being. He could wait.

“I think Marinette was worried about not being accepted. She didn’t want anyone but us knowing until she knew an answer for sure,” she explained gently.

Marinette nodded wordlessly in confirmation, leaving Adrien to squirm awkwardly in his seat, feeling as though he was intruding on the moment.

“Oh. Sorry,” he apologized, attempting to shuffle away.

Marinette placed a feather-light hand to his leg. The sweetness of the gesture, the timidity of it, made Adrien zoom back to her side instantly.

“No, I’m- I’m glad you’re here,” she inhaled shakily. “Even though I’m pretty sure I’m going to throw up.”

“I’ll hold your hair back if you do,” Adrien soothed, resting his palm in between her shoulder blades. Keenly aware of her parents watching, he decided against kissing her or caressing her the way he wanted to. He already felt he’d pushed his luck with the hallway flirting and didn’t want to come off disrespectful.

Marinette leaned into his touch regardless, and he felt a warm sort of pride filling his chest at the thought that his comfort was useful to her.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Marinette said and tore open the seal.

Though Adrien could see what the letter said from over her shoulder, he chose not to read it. The three of them waited for Marinette’s reaction with baited breath.

Nobody spoke. It seemed like a scene from a silent movie as they prepared for the incoming jubilation or lament.

Adrien hadn’t felt this tense in a while, and that was saying something. This was different to the miraculous, this was different to saving the day, this was their future. This was Marinette’s future, written on a piece of fancy parchment paper.

When Marinette hadn’t spoken for a while, her pale face frozen, and even her shaking stopped, Adrien leaned over to get in her line of vision. His face twisted into a frown.

“Marinette?” he implored, “Are- are you ok?”

“I got in.”

There were so many gasps Adrien was surprised there was any oxygen left in the apartment. Both Marinette’s parents leapt to their feet, Sabine covered her mouth in shock as tears sprang to her eyes.

“You got in?” Adrien clarified, his own mouth dropping open as he let it sink in.

The reaffirmation from someone else’s lips seemed to make Marinette’s brain click into place and she jumped up with a squeal.

“I got in!” she flapped her arms, pacing around frantically, not sure what to do with herself. “I got in WITH THE SCHOLARSHIP!”

“You got in!” Adrien laughed, following her “you’re so amazing!”

“Mama! Papa! I got in! I did it!”

With a quick spin of delight, Marinette leapt into her parents waiting arms. They scooped her in, sharing her elation. Tom’s large arms wrapped around both him daughter and his wife, and he squeezed them in delight.

Adrien watched from the side, his smile faltering ever-so-slightly, caught off guard by the sudden twinge in his heart.

“I’m so proud of you darling,” Sabine cooed, kissing Marinette’s cheek.

“My daughter, the future famous fashion designer! Look out Coco Chanel!” Tom boasted. Raising his arm, he turned to Adrien with a beam.

Adrien’s shoulders rose in shyness before he could help himself.

“Get in here, son,” Tom beckoned gently, yet somehow the words knocked Adrien sideways, filled his soul and reminded him of a yearning he usually let reside deep in the dark crevices of his mind.

Marinette opened her eyes, looking at Adrien in a way she’d never done before. There was a softness in the way her lips turned upwards, how there seemed to be another secret, another promise, weaving in the air between them- one that stood outside the realms of masks and miraculous, but seemed more magic than anything they’d ever encountered before.

Like a siren, she called him to her in a way that nobody else could.

He almost tripped over his own feet as he made his way over to the Dupain-Chengs, as they embraced him like he’d always been there, like he was supposed to be there.

A watery smile made its way on to his face. He hadn’t felt this in a long time, and he loved Marinette so much for giving him such a gift.

They hugged for a long time, laughing and singing Marinette’s praises. When Alya called, as predicted, to let Marinette know that her and Nino were unable to meet them for their study session- Adrien could hear the screams even from the other side of the room. They were quickly followed by Nino offering his own congratulations. After that Marinette called Nathanael, putting him on speaker phone (as he was with Louis), and got the same reaction from them both. Nathanael was upset he hadn’t been able to help her with her application as she had for him, but Marinette assured him it was fine.

It was chaos, beautiful chaos. Tom decided to treat them all to celebratory pizza before the married couple went out dancing again (Marinette insisted they didn’t miss their date, they could celebrate her acceptance letter any time after all). Sabine was on the phone to extended family, babbling excitedly in Chinese. She was speaking so quickly that Adrien couldn’t understand most of what she was saying (not that he was trying to listen anyway). Marinette was torn between texting and calling all their friends, reading her letter over and over again, and jumping into Adrien’s arms for cuddles.

And Adrien watched all the madness unfold with a smile, with a feeling of love and home.

He missed his phone vibrating in his pocket.

Later, when they’d calmed down and the pizza had arrived, talk turned to the future plans. Tom asked Adrien what he planned to study at University.

“Oh, I’m not going this year,” he explained after swallowing a mouthful of pepperoni. He never got pizza at home, and shoved the guilt to one side by listening to his inner Nino.

Pizza, man. Pizza is always worth it. ALWAYS.

“Adrien’s taking a year off to intern for his father,” Marinette explained proudly, and Adrien glowed under her praise. He fought back a Chat-like purr and instead chose to gaze lovingly at her instead. She returned the gesture, unaware of a splotch of tomato sauce on her cheek.

“Oh that’s exciting!” Sabine said cautiously. Adrien nodded.

“It is actually, we had a really good talk about it months ago,” He replied truthfully. It had been the most open and honest conversation he’d had with father in a while and since then, despite his father being his normal busy self, it felt like they’d begun to bridge a gap they’d left alone for far too long. “He says that he’d ideally like me to take over the company, but he’s aware that the company would suffer if my heart wasn’t in it. He also said he wants me to be happy, and forge my own path like he did at my age. So, we came to a compromise. If at the end of the year I feel like I don’t want to be his successor, we’ll discuss alternate options. But if I feel passionate about it then he’ll send me to a business school in Paris. Either way I’ll be starting university a year after everyone.”

Sabine and Tom looked at each other for a moment, conversing silently, before turning to him with an encouraging smile.

“As long as you’re happy with that decision,” Tom nodded.

“I am!” Adrien said keenly, and he meant it. “I really am. It’s a good chance to prove myself at the very least!”

“You’ve already proved yourself,” Marinette beamed, her eyes briefly flicking to the ring on his finger.

Adrien blushed, glancing at Tom and Sabine (who’d chosen to deliberately avoid eye contact with the pair for a moment). When he was sure they weren’t looking, he winked.

After dinner, Sabine and Tom went to get ready for their date, and Adrien and Marinette decided to get some hard studying in. By which, of course, they meant watching something silly on Netflix. It was as they settled back into the sofa cushions that Adrien finally checked his own phone.

“Huh. My dad’s coming back from London early,” he commented, casually flicking through his texts from Nathalie. “He’ll be back tonight.”

“Do you think you’ll tell him about us?” Marinette asked, unable to keep the nervousness out of her voice.

“Maybe, if I get the chance to tonight. I will as soon as I can get a moment alone with him,” Adrien mused. “But I’m sure there won’t be any problems. I mean hey, you won his hat competition AND you just got accepted into ESMOD! If anything, he’ll chide me for not dating you sooner.”

Marinette giggled, snuggling into his side and tucking her legs beneath her.

“I don’t think either of us will ever live that down,” she replied.

Chapter Text

He was watching her.

Marinette could feel it. Though her back was to him as she idly scrubbed at some of the leftover dishes from their earlier meal, Marinette could feel Adrien’s eyes burning holes into her back. Instinct lapped at her spine, sending shivers careening through her as she desperately tried to control her breathing.

She was unsuccessful.

Her parents had left a couple of hours ago, the remnants of the pizza they’d had for dinner were still on the table along with her acceptance letter, the credits of the movie they’d just watched were still playing in the background. Everything was so domestic, so commonplace, so normal.

So normal, in fact, that it was giving Marinette a heart attack.

What was wrong with her? She’d been fine earlier, giddy with the thrill of simply cuddling on the sofa, sharing the occasional soft nuzzle or gentle brush of lips, feeling Adrien’s chest rise and fall beneath her fingertips. They were used to such moments, had cuddled even before their post-reveal days. Such acts, whilst they had a new layer of depth to them, weren’t anything new.

But this feeling, snaking through her system, coiling around her veins and nipping at her lips, this feeling most certainly was new.

Ladybug and Chat Noir had had many rendezvous together recently; quiet ones, intimate ones, stolen seconds in between transformations and longer, languid moments during their patrols- where nothing mattered but entwined tongues and bodies pressed against each other.

Only now did it occur to Marinette that, whilst she’d had many of those times with Chat Noir- their civilian selves had been rather… chaste.

She’d yet to feel Adrien the way she’d felt him as Chat Noir. Aside from the lack of time to be together in a normal every-day context, masks made everything easier. The rooftops of Paris seemed like another world, one where she was brave and sexy, confident and wanton. After all, she was Ladybug, and Ladybug could be anything she wanted to be. Marinette, on the other hand, couldn’t be anyone except Marinette. Not that there was anything wrong with being herself, she mused, it was just different. More vulnerable.

His eyes were still on her, she could tell, and she could read the sudden heaviness in the air as though it was a sentence spelled out in the soap bubbles on her hands. But Marinette had been so wrapped up in her own thoughts, she’d failed to notice Adrien stepping towards her back until his arms slipped around her waist and his lips were pressed against her neck.

The glass she’d been washing almost fell from her fingertips so sudden was her pause. Yet it didn’t take long for her to become pliant against him. The real trouble was trying not to close her eyes.

Somehow, she found her voice.

“Can’t live without me for more than a few seconds?”

Adrien shook his head. The bridge of his nose was against her shoulder, causing his blonde hair to flutter against her exposed neck and cheek, and she giggled in response. Whatever nervousness she’d previously felt melted away. He made this all so natural.

“Nu-uh, no way, nope-ity nope,” he mumbled against her skin. “I got bored.”

“I’ve been washing dishes for five minutes tops,” she hummed, continuing with her chore as if to emphasise her point. Despite her teasing tone, she was certain he could feel her heartbeat throbbing. Ignoring the sudden twist of her stomach, she reached behind her and tapped a soapy finger to his forehead. “Needy Kitty.”

“Sleepy Kitty,” he countered, rubbing his wet forehead on her t-shirt sleeve and ignoring her tut of disapproval. “I’m sleepy, and sleepy kitties need kisses and cuddles from their girlfriends. ‘s a fact, Princess. A fact they put in books and everything.”

Marinette rolled her eyes fondly, imagining her fifteen-year-old self. If she could go back and tell her younger self that Adrien Agreste would be hanging off her like a literal cat, demanding kisses and cuddles, she would have laughed outright at such a ridiculous notion. Adrien Agreste? The perfect, sweet, charming model son, doing something so silly? No way! Not ever in a million years.

She smiled to herself, happy with the knowledge that she much preferred the real version of Adrien to the fantasy she’d concocted in her brain three years prior.

“If I kiss you now,” Marinette reasoned, wiggling around so that she was facing him instead, “will you let me finish washing the dishes like some 1950’s cliché?”

Adrien pulled his head away from her shoulder and nodded vigorously.

“Absolutely,” he agreed, his fingertips lightly brushing her sides, “but just so you know, I have no problems doing the dishes. In fact, when I’m a house cat, I’ll be doing most of the chores right?”

“Is that so?” Marinette asked, wrapping her arms around him. Adrien growled and tugged her impossibly closer.

“It is,” he replied leaning in, only to stop when Marinette’s fingers created a barrier between his lips and her own.

“One kiss,” she stated firmly.

Adrien grinned wickedly against her fingers, his eyes flashing in a deviously Chat-like way which made her tremble.

“One kiss is all I need, my lady,” he purred, grasping her hand and leading it gently away from their faces.

It was more than one kiss.

Of course- it started innocently enough, both parties sincerely meant it to be one kiss and leave it at that. But the kiss lingered too long, became a long, drawn-out symphony of lips and tongues. Marinette, as always, was the one to move first, to snake her arms around Adrien’s and pull him in to deepen the kiss. But Adrien was quick to break their agreement also, too wrapped up in her scent, the feel of her, the taste, intoxicated by her mere presence.

Soon they were moving away from the sink, stumbling through Marinette’s tiny kitchen into the open living room. The kisses became quicker, softer, more reassuring as half of their attention was paid to making sure they didn’t fall over or break anything.

Marinette was the first to hit the sofa, her hair pooling around her messily, her t-shirt riding high above her hips as she sank clumsily into the softness of the cushions. Grabbing the front of Adrien’s shirt, she pulled until he was comfortably nestled on top of her. Once again, their lips met, his crashing down on hers, and it occurred to Marinette that she didn’t feel nervous. Instead she was overwhelmed by need, by certainty and desire, by a sense of rightness. That Adrien’s hands were gripping her hips tightly, the weight of his body on hers, for the first time should have been scary. In some ways it was, but it was also a good kind of scary. It wasn’t fear, more like exhilaration. Like flying.

“Adrien,” she moaned as he kissed her neck, one of his fingers hooking onto her t-shirt to expose more of her skin. He’d kissed her neck so many times, but never out of the suit. She could feel his lips on her now, and it was driving her crazy. There were no barriers here.

The sound of her gasps seemed to do something to Adrien. Suddenly his kisses, his touches, became more frantic, more passionate than before. His hands, once lovingly caressing, now clung to her, fingernails scratching ever-so-slightly, and her back arched under such attentions. She felt dizzy, breathless, unsure of where to touch him but knowing she wanted to touch him everywhere, that she wanted to make him feel good. Her ministrations became just as quick, just as passionate as his and, when their lips met again, it was Adrien’s turn to moan when she softly bit his lower lip.

He broke the kiss like a drowning man bursting through the surface of the water at last, and Marinette didn’t have a second to register before he’d rested his head beside hers, his forehead against the sofa and his eyes shut tight. She felt him trembling but, without seeing his face, her anxiety spiked. Despite the desire fogging her mind and senses, despite the need for him making her limbs heavy, her gut instinct told her something was wrong.

“Adrien?” she panted, wishing that she could see his face. “Are you ok?”

The sigh she received in response wasn’t encouraging, however Adrien pushed himself onto his elbows before she had the chance to react. She frowned, tilting her head at him in confusion.

Adrien’s face was flushed, his eyes cloudy but resigned. Propping himself up with on hand, he used the other to find her own.

“I’m probably… probably saying this too late but I had to, before- before we… umm… you know we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to? You know that right?” he whispered, tangling his fingers with hers and pressing them to his heart. “I- I’m aware this is different, and we could get carried away but please, please tell me if it’s too much. I don’t care h- how far it is or how far we go. As long as you feel ok, I’ll be ok. Ok?”

Marinette stared up at him, admired the way the low honey-lighting of the table lamp made his hair shimmer and his skin glow. It made him seem warmer somehow, not just in temperature but in character too. His lips were drawn into a tight line of apprehension; his eyes bore into her own, deep and green and so, so desperate for her to understand the seriousness of his words…

At once, Marinette understood. Truly understood. She could be safe with him, she would be safe with him. Her heart, her body, her soul, would all be safe with him. That might have seemed boring to someone else, after all what was an ordinary love story compared to two daring superheroes finding love? But, to Marinette, it was more perfect than anything she’d ever felt in her entire life. The house Adrien had spoken of had never been clearer in her mind’s eye.

It was like falling in love all over again.

“We can take it slow,” she whispered, leaning up to kiss their joined hands, and then his lips. When she broke the kiss, she rested her forehead against his. “We’ve been friends for a long time but this is new for us, right?”

“Right,” Adrien said, the tenor of his voice sending calming waves through her body. She felt him smile and hum in content. “Besides I like the idea of taking it slow, I can romance you Adrien Agreste style.

Marinette chucked, kissing his nose before settling back down on the sofa. She could practically feel the knots forming in her hair, knowing that detangling them would be a labour of love.

Well, no pain, no gain.

“I look forward to it,” she hummed, gesturing for him to settle beside her, and fighting the urge to laugh as she used most of her strength to catch him off guard.

The next thing Adrien knew, was that the tables were turned, that he was now lying on the sofa and Marinette was straddling his hips.

“But just because we’re taking things slow, doesn’t mean we can’t do… stuff,” she said, her hands lifting his shirt so that her fingers could trail down his stomach, admiring the toned muscles and sun-kissed skin as they went.

“Stuff,” he spluttered, his voice cracking and his cheeks looking more sun-burnt than sun-kissed. Marinette smirked, jostling her hips and feeling an odd sense of power at the way Adrien gasped when she did so.

Without pausing to think on it further, she pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it to the ground.

“Stuff,” she replied, thankful that she was wearing one of her good bras that day (a light pink affair with little black ribbons and a touch of lace that kept it from being too innocent looking- she’d bought it online shortly after her first kiss with Chat Noir).

Adrien looked like his brain had vanished. His whole face seemed to glaze over as he gazed at her now exposed torso.

Her heart was racing, and she was pretty sure his was too. Either that or it had stopped altogether.

After a few moments of waiting, Marinette took his hand and gently placed it on one of her breasts.

“It’s ok,” she whispered.

Adrien looked in her eyes, uncertainty fading once he saw the look she was giving him- a look of reassurance, trust, and something deeper that he couldn’t quite fathom at that moment.

His thumb brushed against the curve of her breast, where skin and lace met, and it was like he’d reached through her chest and personally made her heart skip a beat. This was new ground for both of them, and they had a long night ahead of them to explore that new ground.

Adrien left her breasts alone for a brief second, sitting up to pull Marinette into a loving kiss. She trusted him so much, and he wanted to repay that in the love he poured into every action from now on.

But for now, he was content to match her, to pull his own shirt from his head and let it join hers on the floor.

He moved so that he was properly sitting up, one arm wrapped around Marinette’s waist to steady themselves, and they kissed again. Something about both of them being topless made the kiss more sensual than any kiss they’d ever shared previously. The new sensation of skin-on-skin, the heat mingled with yearning, created a rush of affection and unadulterated happiness as he recalled the last time they’d been this undressed around each other. The spa day.

He’d wanted so badly to look at her, to hold her, to touch and love her that day. Now that he could, now that she was willingly letting him do so, he was going to prove himself worthy of the honour. Because it was an honour, at least to him, that such an amazing girl had fallen for him, had chosen him.

Adrien was lucky. He had to be.

Chat Noir’s luck be damned.

Nobody with bad luck would be able to spend a romantic evening with the woman of their dreams. Adrien was sure of that.

And he intended not to waste a single second of it.

Chapter Text

Something was wrong.

Aside from the fact she’d barely heard anything from Adrien that day (she’d managed to reason that he was probably spending time with his father), Chat didn’t greet her the way he normally did for their patrols.

There was no cheerful wave, no playful wink, not a flirtatious comment in sight. Instead, Ladybug was greeted with the sight of Chat Noir’s back. With a growing sense of unease, she placed her yo-yo back on her hip and padded over to Chat, who was perched on the side of the rooftop, legs dangling down as he seemingly stared out into nothingness. She swallowed thickly. Maybe he hadn’t noticed her yet?

They’d made rules, set boundaries, on what they could deny as romantic to any lurking paparazzi. Kissing in any way was off the table, apart from Chat’s hand kisses as he’d been doing those for years. Still, Ladybug couldn’t help but feel as though rules were made to be broken in special circumstances.

She was probably being silly, but she needed to kiss him, even if it was just a brief peck on the cheek. She needed reassurance that she was just imagining things.

“Hello handsome!” she chirped, the false cheer grating even to her ears. “Ready to go?”

Chat didn’t look at her. If anything, he shrunk away from her kiss, the tender brush of her hand on his shoulder.

“Chat?”

Ladybug stepped backwards when Chat stood up abruptly, and he inhaled as though the mere notion of breathing pained him. This wasn’t right. Had something happened with his father? He usually became distant if the pair had fought. Even so, this was more extreme than usual.

“Chat if you don’t want to patrol tonight, it ok” she reassured, finding strength in reassuring him. Though he was making her nervous, though she hated not knowing what was wrong, she needed to let him know she was there for him. “If there’s something on your mind that you have to go deal with-”

“No.”

Ladybug’s head snapped up, only to find a hollow-eyed gaze and a forced smile on her partner’s face. She clenched her fists. The smile made her angry for reasons she didn’t quite understand, but she forced the anger to one side for the time being.

Chat sighed again, running a hand through his messy hair and glancing at a spot on the horizon. He looked so conflicted, so sad, that Ladybug’s anger vanished before she’d needed to deal with it. All she wanted to do was hug him, even if she was growing increasingly worried the more time she spent in the dark. What on earth was wrong?

“I promise I’ll talk to you later ok? I’ll tell you- I’ll tell you what happened but for now I just want to patrol with you. I want things to be normal, I- can’t we please just patrol like we always do?”

His voice was rough, shaking as he tried to sound cheerful- for her- she realised. He was trying to put on a brave face for her.

It was a funny feeling, to have your heart throb painfully even though your mind had no idea why. That was how it was for Ladybug, standing opposite Chat Noir, the night air separating them. It was ridiculous, after all he could be upset for any number of reasons. But her mind wasn’t clear, and her instincts were screaming at her. Her throat grew tight.

“Chat you’re scaring me,” she admitted, wrapping her arms around herself. “I want to be patient, I want to give you time but- but…” she didn’t know quite how to express herself without sounding demanding, and so her words petered out pathetically and she stared at her feet.

The instant she’d finished speaking, however, Chat startled her by grabbing her wrist and yanking her towards him, wrapping his arms around her in a desperate embrace that did nothing to ease her fears.

“Oh, god I’m so sorry. I’m being an idiot,” he mumbled, burying his lips in her hair. Somehow, Ladybug found herself smiling, wrapping her arms around him too as they clung to each other for dear life. “I don’t ever want to scare you.”

Ladybug had to fight every impulse in her, the bad ones which made her want to yell and demand him tell her everything right this instant- to soothe her worries. Instead, she kept her mouth closed, settling for burying herself further into his chest. She could hear his heartbeat and, despite the fact that it wasn’t enough to calm her own racing heart, she knew it would have to do for now. Whatever had happened between the time she saw him the previous night, thoroughly kissed and bodies newly explored, and tonight was something he needed her reassurance about.

But, she suddenly came to a stark and rather jarring realisation, that perhaps she wasn’t worried for herself, worried what his fear might mean for her- but was instead feeling his own sadness reflected in her own heart? It was confusing, dizzying, and altogether totally new. Is this what her father meant when he told her ‘their pain is your pain’ so many years ago, when the notion of love was a far-off fairy tale to her? Indeed, the emotions were rather alien to her, not born from herself but rather from seeing her lover so out of sorts. He was hurting, and she didn’t know why, and she wanted to fix it because damn it he didn’t deserve to hurt.

“It’s ok,” she repeated in a hushed tone, letting her hands run up and down his back in what she hoped was a calming way. “I just want to know that you’re alright, that’s all. We can patrol and leave whatever’s troubling you here for now, if that’s what you want.”

It almost killed her to say those words, but she would do it. She would wait for him no matter what, she wouldn’t push

Gently letting her out of his rough hold, Chat stepped backwards and placed a needy hand onto her cheek. Only then did she notice how watery his eyes, his smile, was. He looked at her like she was the only thing he had left in the world, like she was the moon and the stars were fading into nothingness around her. Ladybug’s chest tightened and she had to bite her tongue in order to not burst into irrational demands. She had to be patient, just like Tikki always said. She had to wait. But she wanted to know- what could have made him look like that?

“I’m leaving Paris.”

And now it was her turn to watch the world crumble around her, to watch the stars crash to Earth and decimate everything in their path- except for the horrible words Adrien had said. It was too late to take her wishes back. Chat may have looked at her like she was the moon, but he was the sun and he was going away. He was leaving.

She didn’t have time to react further before she was pulled straight back into Chat Noir’s embrace. Only this time, she didn’t hug him back. Her arms hung uselessly at her sides and she stared unblinking, unmoving, unfeeling.

Chat was shaking, of that she was aware, but it was like she had stepped out of herself. What was once a dream, was now a nightmare she was being forced to witness.

“You know how I got that missed call from my father last night? It was that he wanted to talk to me about- but I went to talk to my dad this morning and decided I wanted to tell him and I did. I told him- I told him about us. I was so happy because…because he was actually supportive. He wants to meet you, he remembered your derby hat and everything,” Chat’s voice croaked, the bitterness in it stung, reached through the iciness of Ladybug’s skin and something inside her began to crack. “I should have known-” his hold on her tightened- “I shouldn’t have trusted him. He was probably just saying it to placate me, like he always does, so that I wouldn’t be too upset when he told me- told me that we were leaving.”

“How long?” Ladybug startled herself by speaking. Her words sounded muted, like she was speaking underwater. “Why?”

Chat’s head moved from the top of her own to bury into the crook of her shoulder, his cheek pressed against hers. How was he so warm when she felt so cold?

But there was a dampness on her cheeks now, one which wasn’t there before.

“There’s something wrong with the new London headquarters. I didn’t really listen to what he said, but he doesn’t trust someone and it’s not going to plan. So, he wants to move out there for a while, and seeing as I’m supposed to be shadowing him this year he says that I need to go too. He said it might be for a few months but at most it’ll be for a- a… year. I thought about telling him why I can’t go… about who I really am. But I couldn’t bring myself too. B-besides he needs to know I take our agreement seriously, that I’ll work hard or else I might never get free enough to live the dream we talked about,” his voice became shakier, more distressed as he carried on. “I have to do this- I… I have to do it. I don’t want to do it but it’s for us. It’s…it’s for us.”

It was these words which finally shattered her and her arms crashed around him, holding him as tightly as he was holding her. She remembered the summer before, how Adrien had gone to Italy, how Chat had gone away too (yet another thing she hadn’t correlated in her mind at the time). She remembered the lonely patrols and the harder-than-ever akuma battles without him. He’d not been gone for very long, but it had been long enough.

The idea that he’d could now be gone for an entire year…

A wave of panic hit her harder than any villain ever had. Suddenly she was the fifteen year old  rejecting her miraculous all over again.

“I can’t,” she felt a retching sob escape her, screwed up her face to fight the onslaught of tears. “I can’t do this without you for that long. I can’t, Chat. I can’t. Hawk Moth…”

“Hey,” Chat pulled away from her, resting both his hands on her shoulders and staring at her with all the love and adoration he could muster. “That’s not true. I know you can, and you know you can too. I… I don’t want to leave you though,” Chat glanced away, his forehead crinkling and his jaw clenched. The hands on her shoulders slacked. “Not now, not when we finally-”

“If you think this changes anything between us you’re wrong, we can make it work no matter what,” Ladybug declared firmly, holding his chin and gently tilting his face back to meet her determined gaze. “And maybe I can find it in me to do this without you, but I don’t want to. If you’re really gone for a year we have to be realistic Chat, people are going to notice. Hawk Moth is going to notice. What if he uses that fact to come after me because he knows I don’t have a partner to back me up?”

Chat ran his hand through his hair again, his eyes screwing shut as angry tears fell out of his eyes. He kissed her then, rules be damned, and she returned it with fervour. It was the worst kiss they’d shared so far, desperate in all the wrong ways, mingled with their joint tears.

So much for having all the time in the world, Ladybug thought bitterly, so much for taking things slow.

“What are we going to do?” Chat whispered, resting his forehead on hers.

Ladybug was thinking the same thing. The fact that neither had a solution, yet both wanted desperately to reassure the other, was absurd in every way- so dumb- so them.

She had at least one answer though.

“Master Fu.”

Chat Noir blinked down at her as Ladybug wiped her eyes on the back of her gloved hands. The panic had gone now, and the dim spectre of the future loomed in its stead. She sighed, resigned and hating it, irrationally despising Gabriel Agreste and his stupid company in London.

“We should go speak to Master Fu about this, as soon as we can,” she elaborated, already feeling a bit of relief, a bit of the burden removed for now. “He’ll know what to do I’m sure of it.”

Chat nodded slowly, reaching up to caress her face, fingertips tracing the lines of her cheekbones. Ladybug closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. He said nothing else, his loving touches spoke volumes of his faith in her.

Patrol was cancelled that night.


“Hmm, this is a difficult situation indeed.”

Master Fu sat across from them, nursing a tea in his hands as was customary when Marinette met with him in his home. Behind them, the phonograph hiding the miraculous box sparkled in the sunlight which lazily pooled into the room.

Fu hadn’t been at all shocked to see them appear together, but rather a calm smile had graced his aging features as he’d ushered them inside. Sometimes Marinette wondered how Fu seemed to know everything, but she supposed it was probably a guardian thing. Even Wayzz, who was currently ignoring the fact that he was utterly adorable when sipping his own thimble-sized tea, seemed more mystical than the other Kwami.

“But it’s something that can be overcome, right?” Marinette’s voice shook and she glanced at Tikki worriedly. Adrien, who was kneeling on her other side, squeezed her hand in his own. She fought the urge to rest her head on his shoulder.

The Guardian of the Miraculous set his tea down on the small table which separated them, settling instead for running his fingers over his moustache. His eyes twinkled and, Marinette didn’t know why but the twinkle gave her hope.

“We can find a solution, of course,” Fu reassured and Marinette almost melted into the ground in relief. Now that she’d had a few days to come to terms with Adrien’s sudden move (their exams had prevented them seeing Fu straight away), she knew the things which worried her. Their relationship becoming long distance was something she hated, but something which they could work around. After all there were many couples that made long distance work, and it wasn’t like Adrien was the only one of their peers going to a different country (Nathanael himself, was even moving to the same city Adrien was). She had faith their relationship could sustain itself, after all what was a year compared to a lifetime?

The lack of a partner, however, had her up late with a tired Tikki trying to soothe her fears.

“I’m glad you two came to me with this issue, especially that you did so together,” Fu interrupted her inner musings with a proud smile and Marinette flushed happily.

“There must have been times where this happened before, Sir, surely?” Adrien politely prodded, sitting perfectly still whilst Marinette fidgeted and tried her best to get comfortable, but she couldn’t deny the pins and needles prickling her feet.

“Oh yes, of course. There have been many Miraculous wielders who have had to quietly withdraw from battle for a span of time, for a number of reasons. Some took time off if they suffered a loss, if they had to move or if their families were growing suspicious. Other miraculous holders were separated through wars and famines,” Fu’s hand stilled on his chin and his lips curled into a grin that might have been described as cheeky on a younger man. His eyes flickered down to Marinette and Adrien’s joined hands. “And of course, some had to take time off due to pregnancy.”

The speed at which Marinette and Adrien dropped hands should have been studied by scientists. Both staunchly refused to look at the other, but the heat pooling from both their faces was enough to make the already warm room several degrees hotter.

“Ah p-pregnancy,” Marinette stammered, having no clue why she repeated it, or why her tongue felt ten times too big in her mouth.

“Yeah,” Adrien coughed, “seems like a totally valid reason- totally… totally valid.”

Plagg snorted.

“Relax you guys geez,” he cackled. “If all humans were like you two, they would have gone extinct by now.”

“In any case,” Master Fu halted Adrien’s outraged retort with a quick wave of his hand, and Adrien settled for scowling at his Kwami instead, “the situation with you two is quite unique. Now I may be past what some may describe as ‘youthful’ but I do know that the world is a lot more communicative now than it has ever been.”

“You mean social media?” Tikki asked with a head tilt. “I didn’t really think of that. Whenever one of my bugs have had to step away from being Ladybug, they didn’t have the world watching them as rigorously.”

“Indeed,” Fu nodded, “it is quite a tricky situation. Back in olden times, a miraculous holder might have been able to take time off and have most of the world, and our enemies, be none the wiser. But the world doesn’t miss a beat nowadays, so it would be hard to conceal a period of long term absence- and should Hawk Moth hear of it…”

“That’s what we’re afraid of, Sir,” Adrien sighed, running his hand through his hair, “I know My Lady is strong-” he glanced lovingly at Marinette and Marinette couldn’t help but return the gesture “-and that she can handle herself without me, but if Hawk Moth knows I’m going to be gone for a long time-”

“-He might push me harder, attack my weaknesses, because he knows that Ladybug and Chat are a team and one of us can’t reach our full potential without the other,” Marinette finished, reaching her hand up to her earrings for reassurance. “He could try anything to get his hands on my miraculous.”

Fu stood up, sharing a silent conversation with Wayzz. He padded over to the phonograph and stared at it, his arms linked behind his back.

Adrien and Marinette looked at each other with matching worried frowns.

“What do you think we should do?” Marinette asked Fu, her voice quiet, and she played with a threadbare on the hemline her dress.

Fu still had his back to them, but was now trailing a wrinkled hand down the horn of the phonograph, humming to himself.

“I have a few ideas,” he replied.


 

It was late in the afternoon by the time they left Fu’s place. Neither of them had exams the next day, they only had their history presentation, which they’d fully prepared for. So they both decided to take a stroll to a nearby park.

Neither said anything, too wrapped up in their thoughts as they held hands and strolled down the sunlit path. Marinette admired the way the trees created a dappled light effect, how the leaves gently hissed in the breeze.

Adrien glanced at her, loving the way the light made her hair shine and her eyes sparkle. Summer suited her, and it was a fact that made his heart ache in both good and bad ways.

He was going to miss her so much.

Without saying a word, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Marinette looked up at him and he turned his face away shyly.

When he felt her hip deliberately bump into him, his eyes flicked back to her with a start, meeting her challenging smile.

He grinned back, bopping her side and trying not to laugh as she stumbled a little. She scowled, the tip of her tongue poking out, and bumped into him with more force than she had before. He countered, she retorted, and on and on it went until they were both laughing too hard to concentrate- uncaring that they were attracting stares from fellow park-goers.

Marinette marched a few steps ahead of him, spinning on her heel so that she came face-to-face with him. Like a young child dealing with their first crush, she grabbed him, giggled, kissed his cheek, then took off running between two trees, sprinting out into the open field.

Adrien laughed, giving chase, his heart lifting higher than it had done in days, all because of her. He delighted in her surprised squeal when he finally caught up to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and letting them both tumble to the ground. Though, of course, he made sure to hit the grass first.

As Marinette chuckled breathlessly, snuggling into his side and hugging his arm, he realised how incredibly lucky he was to have her. When he’d first heard of his father’s plans, he thought his world had ended. He’d panicked, thinking Marinette might even change her mind about dating him (to which Plagg had actually hit him around the head), his mind racing over all the worst-case scenarios.

He should have known really, that Marinette would be upset but resilient- determined to the core to make it work. Adrien smiled, kissing the top of her head. What a beautiful woman, he mused, inside and out.

The months without her would suck, but they would end, and they still had time together before he left. They still had many moments left to share, many dates, celebrating leaving school, the wine and cheese festival Adrien had promised to take Plagg to, and countless plates of cookies. Better still, was that Adrien knew, now more than ever, that whatever trials they came across they could work through together.

“So,” Marinette broke their comfortable silence by rolling onto her stomach and playing with the wild daises surrounding them. She began to pluck them, forming a small chain. “A new miraculous holder.”

Adrien placed his hands behind his head, staring up at the cloudless sky and trying to ignore the twisting in his gut.

“Yeah,” he replied with a non-committal sigh. The breeze ruffled his hair and he closed his eyes. When was the last time he’d done something like this?

After a few minutes of quiet, Adrien felt something tickling his head, and he opened his eyes to see Marinette placing the newly made daisy crown around his head, kissing his nose as she did so.

“You’re not worried, are you?” she teased.

“No!” he replied, sitting up too quickly, and Marinette raised her eyebrow at him. He looked at his lap, ashamed.

And he was ashamed, to be feeling worried about being replaced. He couldn’t call what he was feeling jealously, he trusted Marinette with his life and his heart infinitely. Still, the idea of Ladybug running around the rooftops and hunting down Akuma victims with someone else, with a new partner, upset him in ways that had him inwardly growling at himself.

“Because if you are worried,” Marinette’s voice was smooth, gentle with a knowing lilt to it which made him shiver in the best of ways, “it would be fine to feel that way. I’d be worried, if it were me. I wouldn’t want somebody taking my spot by your side.”

Adrien didn’t trust himself to speak, choosing instead to nod glumly, the daisy crown on his head went lopsided.

“But, you know nobody can replace you.” Marinette continued, reaching up to adjust the flower crown, her hands lingering in his hair as she shuffled closer to him. She came to rest in front of him, kneeling and he leaned forwards, his ears becoming increasingly red from her loving touches. Only then did he realise she was wearing a matching daisy crown to his, her hair falling loosely to her shoulders and her nose a delightful shade of pink to match her dress, her freckles darkening from the sun and her skin glowing from the sun screen she’d recently topped up.

It took everything in him not to stare, to actually listen to what she said next. But good god he could’ve stared at her all day.

She reached down to hold his face, similar to the way he often did with her, and he was mesmerised, spellbound by a simple gesture.

“How could you ever think I'd want anyone else to be my partner, that I’d consider anyone else to be mine?” she whispered, her eyes deeper, and bluer than he’d ever seen them. His heart leapt into his throat. “This new miraculous holder may be a colleague, for the time being, but YOU'RE my partner. You'll always be my partner. We could be surrounded by a whole universe of Miraculous users and I'd want you to be my partner every time. If all the Chat Noir’s that had been, and will be, were lined up and I could choose any one of them, you'd still be my Chat Noir. So, don't you forget it mister.”

Once she said her piece, she made to move away, but Adrien was having none of it. Grabbing her wrists, he gently tugged her towards him, until she was on settled comfortably on his lap-

And then he kissed her. He kissed her deeply, lovingly. Letting all his feelings for her out in one, simple gesture. It wasn’t enough, he mused as his lips moved against her and he heard her sigh in content. He could spend a lifetime holding her, kissing her, touching her, and it would never, ever be enough to convey just how much he cared, how intense and eternal his feelings were.

But he would still try.

“I love you.”

Marinette’s eyes widened, her lips parted into a faint little ‘o’ of surprise and god help him, Adrien had to kiss her again.

“I love you, Marinette,” he repeated, his voice low and breathless, his kissed her over and over again, “I love you my Princess-” kiss, “my love-” another kiss, “my Lady” and still another.

“Adrien,” Marinette pulled away from his embrace, her chin wobbling and for a second, Adrien was struck with fear. Oh, god, had that been too much? He’d let his emotions get the better of him, but she’d been so kind, so passionate with her declaration that he’d completely lost himself.

He needn’t had worried. As soon as he even thought to begin apologising, Marinette launched herself at him and the fell back onto the grass. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, peppering him with butterfly kisses all over his face.

“I love you too,” she replied, beaming so brightly that Adrien was flabbergasted that she hadn’t yet outshone the sun.

It took a few moments for her words to sink in.

“What?”

She laughed, playfully tapping his nose.

“I said I love you too, silly cat,” she repeated, kissing where she’d tapped.

Adrien smirked.

“Sorry I didn’t quite hear you, what was that Bugaboo?”

Marinette rolled her eyes, facepalming on his chest.

“I love you and you’re hopeless,” came the muffled response from somewhere inside the folds of his t-shirt. Adrien hummed in content, wrapping his arms around her.

How bleak his future had seemed not too long ago, and now he had this. It must be her. Whether it was through her outlook, or just the natural Ladybug luck which followed her, every negative situation they faced they seemed to pull through in the end- stronger and better than before.

“Again, Mari, I’m sorry, I guess my ears are blocked. You’re going to have to repeat that for the rest of our lives,” he replied, running his hands up and down her back.

“You’re so earritating,” she grumbled and Adrien couldn’t help but laugh uproariously at that. Her puns were like gold dust to him.

“Yeah but I’m also earresistible and you love me anyway,” he countered, still unable to believe the words they were exchanging were actually true. It seemed to good, to amazing, too perfect.

Marinette huffed, resting her chin on his chest and sticking her tongue out of him.

“You’re lucky I do,” she said, wrinkling her nose, though there was no trace of malice there.

Adrien playfully squeezed her around the middle, until the nose-wrinkle vanished and a smile formed on her lips instead. He didn’t need to say anything in response.

They spend the rest of the afternoon there, laughing and exchanging vows of love. The turmoil they’d experienced days before had all but been forgotten as they mused on which poor, unsuspecting Parisian would be next in line for a miraculous.


 

“Ah, my love, if your mother keeps spoiling me with her dinners, I’m going to get fat,” Louis complained as he pushed the door open to his student apartment. He titled his head, balancing his phone on one shoulder as he used his free hand to close the door and put his keys in the messy bowl his housemates shared.

“That’s only because she loves you, and your mum is no different!” Nathanael whined from his phones receiver, and Louis couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “She really wants you to come over tonight because she made extra by accident and doesn’t want it to go to waste.”

“Fine, fine. The things I do to keep your heart,” Louis sighed. “You must promise that you’ll love me even when my backside swells to the size of Switzerland.”

Nathanael’s laughter shot through his soul as Louis dodged around the messy piled of books and odd assortment of potted plants, until he reached the living room arm chair.

“I promise,” Nathanael giggled.

“Good, because this is definitely a thing which will happen of that I can assure you,” Louis stated firmly as he flopped backwards onto the arm chair, promptly leaping up again when his lower back hit something small and hard.

“Lou? Is everything ok honey?” Nathanael’s voice was distant, and only then did Louis realise that he’d moved the phone far away from his ear. He quickly placed it back to his mouth as he inspected the cause of his sure-to-form bruise.

“Yes, everything is fine,” Louis replied picking up the unassuming wooden box, “I think Tina’s been leaving things around the house again, looks like an old jewellery box. She’s out though, so I can’t ask her.”

Just to be sure it was his roommate’s, he opened it…

…Only to get the fright of his life when a bright light lit the room.

“Louis?!” Nathanael cried. “Lou?”

As the light began to fade, Louis’ mouth fell wide and he stumbled backwards, slipping on the living room rug and hitting the floor hard.

There was something floating above the jewellery box now. Something orange and fluffy and staring right at him.

“Lou?” Nathanael repeated and seemed like he was about to say something else- but Louis beat him to it.

“My- my love- I’m going to have to call you back.”

Chapter Text

Smoulder Chapter 29

It was just past nine in the evening. The streetlamps were beginning to flicker on as dusk fell. An orange skyline made it seem as though the sky was ablaze. Shadows were longer, streets became darker and the air was cool, refreshing on the skin after a sizzling day.

Louis loved sunsets. He loved sunlight and hot weather. Typical, he thought, for a half-Italian man though he couldn’t care less about conforming to stereotypes. The bright reds and golds of the setting sun used to remind him of his second house in Verona, his Zietta’s villa nestled in the hills overlooking the city, the smell of the marigolds and roses from the garden below the balcony. A place of love, of serenity, of home.

But now it reminded him of something else entirely. Or rather someone. A different kind of home.

Orange was a colour he fell in love with time and time again over the years. It seemed to follow him wherever he went. So, he supposed, his current predicament was inevitable.

“There he is!” Louis whispered glancing to the Kwami on his right with a beam. “Do you see him?”

Trixx peered around their corner hiding spot in the alleyway, her purple eyes fixated on Nathanael, who was ambling down the street with headphones thoroughly lodged in his ears. Though he and Louis were heading the same way, to meet up with everyone at Nino’s house, Louis had told a tiny fib about running late- so he could show off his boyfriend to his new Kwami…

…His new Kwami. His new powers. His new double life. God. His head was swimming. What was he supposed to do when gifted with more powers than he’d ever been able to comprehend? What was a history student supposed to do when it was his turn to make history instead of studying it?

“That’s your mate?”

Snapping out of his daydreams, Louis found himself growing hot, and oddly proud, at Trixx’s words.

“Yeah,” he sighed, resting his head on the side of the building dreamily, as he watched Nathanael round a corner and disappear out of sight. “That’s Nathanael. He’s wonderful, isn’t he?”

“He has a good scent, and I like his fur,” Trixx giggled and Louis launched himself off the wall to capture the Fox Kwami gently in the palms of his hands, cuddling her. Relief washed over him at her praise. He hadn’t felt so nervous to introduce Nathanael to anybody since his mother. A part of him should have thought it strange, to seek approval from someone he’d known for a day, but he’d always been one to bond with people quickly. “Of course, I’m biased. But I don’t care. Orange is a beautiful colour!”

To emphasise her point, Trixx floated away and fluffed her already fluffy tail, sticking her chin up in the air with a playful smirk.

“Perhaps, but not as beautiful as me,” Louis teased, trailing his fingers through his dark hair, just to get a rise out of her. He bit back a laugh as her tail dropped low, her long ears flattening, and she paused mid-flight. Her mouth dropped open, revealing little fangs inside.

Oooh you know that’s so unfair! I can’t disagree with you because all my cubs are the most beautiful,” she sulked, closing her mouth and wrinkling her nose. “But if you keep teasing me I’m going to-”

Louis never found out what Trixx would do. She froze mid-sentence. Her ears snapped up, her eyes wide and alert. Louis watched her, surprised by her sudden change in demeanour.

She sniffed. Once. Twice. Three times.

Then her hackles raised and a small snarl escaped her throat.

“Trixx?” Louis asked, alarmed by the viciousness in her countenance. Indeed, she seemed positively feral, and it made his blood rush to his ears. Was this it? Was this an akuma? Was he about to head into superhero-charged battle for the first time? “What’s wrong?”

“Your mate,” Trixx growled, losing a touch of her edge, her pupils dilating back to normal size as she explained herself to Louis, “he’s in trouble.”

“WHAT?”

Louis didn’t need to know any more. He was halfway out of the alleyway ready to race after Nathanael before Trixx pushed him back into their hiding place, shoving his chest with a shocking amount of strength.

“Woah, woah, woah, calm down Kit. Easy, easy,” she soothed as Louis struggled against her. “No need to rush in headfirst.”

“But you said-” Louis began but Trixx interrupted by flying up to his face, so that they were almost nose-to-nose.

“I know what I said,” she hasted to reassure him, paws up and ready in case he decided to run again, “and we don’t have much time- but remember you have me now.”

Louis stopped struggling and straining for a way around her. His arms dropped to his sides and the panic around his brain subsided like mist clearing- but only a little. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything, his mind a whirling siren of “Nathanael” “in danger” and “protect.”

Trixx smelt the air again.

“I can sense fear coming from Nathanael, there are two large males near him. They do not have a nice scent at all,” she wrinkled her nose and turned to Louis, who was now making terrified whining noises. “You remember the words? You remember everything I told you?”

Louis nodded.

“I do.”

“Are you ready then, Volpino?” Trixx focused on him with a smile that was half encouraging, half challenging. Her eyes glinted mischievously.

Louis gulped, the weight of his responsibilities hitting him for the first time. It would have been incredibly exhilarating, were it not for the circumstances. He met her challenging smile nonetheless.

After all, it wasn’t every day you got to save the love of your life as an actual bonafide superhero.

“Trixx,” he smirked, fingers brushing the fox-tail charm resting around his neck, “ears up!”

Orange was a colour that had followed Louis most of his life.

It was the colour of the Italian sunsets he remembered as a child.

It was the colour of the tie his father wore to work, defying uniform conventions for an inside joke they shared, the day he was shot. Louis still remembered the blood stains splattered on the bright silk.

It was the first thing he noticed about Nathanael, before his teal eyes had Louis struck dumb like a fool already half in love.

And now it was the colour which surrounded him as Trixx disappeared into the fox charm. The dazzling orange light engulfed him, transformed him into Volpino, miraculous holder and temporary hero of Paris.

Volpino took a moment to stare at his black-gloved hands, extending to his elbows, the flute attached to the belt on his orange and white hips, the extremely odd sensation of pointed ears and a tail that could move of their own accord. His dark, curly hair had grown wilder, and was now tickling the base of his neck.

It was, overall, incredibly surreal.

Only after he’d taken a large breath did his newfound heightened senses rush up to greet him, and he almost double over from the shock of it.

It was like drowning and learning how to breathe all at once.

Noise. So much noise. A car a few streets down, the pigeons on the roof, a child crying for sweets five meters away. And the smells. Smells from everywhere; food, flowers, pollution, even the air smelled different this way. It was too much, it was too much. He felt dizzy, sick, like the world had grown too big and was swallowing him whole.

“Ok, ok, ok, focus Volpe, focus,” Volpino let out a shuddering breath, closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, to find Nathanael, to fight those who would dare try to hurt his beloved.

He felt his ears, his tall fox ears, perking and twisting at his command. An odd sensation. He ignored it in favour of listening…of hunting.

Then he heard it. Ragged breaths and gentle stutters, mixed with threatening grunts. The words were garbled, his powers too new to be able to make sense of them completely, but Volpino knew he’d found who he sought.

Without thinking he launched himself upwards, feeling power spread through his body as he jumped unnaturally high, until he landed on the rooftop above. Adrenaline rushed through him as he hurried forwards, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, confidence growing more and more with every second. He grinned, newly-grown canines poking out from his top teeth.

When he reached the rooftop overlooking a quiet side street, he peered over the ledge, scanning the scene below.

The sun was low enough in the sky that the narrow street was dark, quiet and deadly. Except, of course, for three men. Trixx had been correct. Two large men, one decidedly bigger than the other, had Nathanael pinned into a corner. There was no escape in either direction.

“Is this all you have?” The larger man sneered. Volpino could just about see tattooed forearms, large pasty hands burying through Nathanael’s bag. Slowly, Volpino began to reach for his flute…

“Y-yeah that’s it, can I go now?” Nathanael asked, making to move away now the thieves had what they wanted.

“Not so fast! What about your phone?”

The smaller of the thieves (a pale, shaved-head type) grabbed Nathanael’s shoulder. He threw him with a force far greater than necessary, and Nathanael yelped in pain as his back smashed against the hard brick wall.

Volpino dropped his hand, foregoing his initial plan as he saw red. There would be time for testing his new powers later.

The larger thief began to march towards Nathanael, smirking as he loomed over him. But whatever his intent was, he didn’t get the chance to fulfil it.

Volpino hurled himself off the roof, bounced off the opposite wall, and flipped backwards.

His legs collided straight into the thief’s head, sending him flying halfway down the street where he landed like a ragdoll below as set of bins. There the thief lay, motionless, and completely out for the count.

“Wh- what the hell?” the second thief yelled, stepping away from Nathanael. When Volpino turned to face the thief, a sense of smug satisfaction spread through him at the fear and anger he could see on the man’s face.

Volpino frowned, fox ears lowering as he pressed two fingers to his masked temple.

“Ah I suppose I should have come up with some sort of super-quip about how crime doesn’t pay,” he chided himself with a slightly mournful sigh. “No matter. I’ll think of something next time.”

“Who the fuck are you?” The thief growled, pulling out a swiss army knife and fixing Volpino with a look which could kill a lesser being.

But, Volpino smirked and placed a confident hand on his hip, he was no lesser being.

“Don’t those things have corkscrews? I’m assuming you’re going to try opening me up like a champagne bottle, but not in a fun way. Woah!” Volpino darted out of the way as the criminal lunged for him, making sure to stand guard between him and Nathanael. No way in hell was he going to let the man touch a hair on Nathanael’s head. “Or perhaps you were offering to clip my nails for me? To which I say thank you, you’re too kind, but I’d rather a more sanitary experience for maintaining these bad boys.”

“Shut up!” the thief yelled, but his bravado was fading fast, his wobbling voice betrayed him. Yet, he still attempted to keep up the tough-guy act. He ran towards Volpino, arms raised, ready to strike.

Without so much as a flinch, Volpino ducked under the thief’s arm, grabbed his wrist and swung him around with all the strength he had. As the thief had done to Nathanael moments prior, Volpino shoved the man into the wall across the narrow street. The thief slipped on the cobblestones, head colliding against the wall with a sickening thud. He slid down the wall, thoroughly knocked out.

There was a slight pause- the kind of moment where one had to question if something really did happen. Volpino stared at the criminals, the first criminals he’d ever taken down, as though the battle had been an intense dream and now he was starting to wake up. His father’s face, clad in his policeman’s cap, entered his mind. A jumble of emotions coursed through him, protectiveness, pride, elation, disbelief, all swirled through him like something on Nathanael’s paint palette.

Speaking of Nathanael-

“Umm…”

The voice behind Volpino was small, but it snapped him out of his musings instantly. He mentally kicked himself for not attending to Nath sooner. Some boyfriend he was!

Whirling around, Volpino came face-to-face with Nathanael. Their eyes locked, and all the breath rushed out of Volpino in one fell swoop. He was starkly reminded of the first time they met, in that small coffee shop a lifetime ago, when his precious artist had splattered love onto the blank canvas of his heart.

“Are you ok?” he heard himself ask gently, scanning him for any wounds and relieved to see none.

Nathanael nodded wordlessly, brushing himself off. He looked annoyed as he picked up the bag one of the thieves had dropped when Volpino kicked him.

“First I have to get stitches and then I’m almost mugged,” Nath grumbled to himself as he pulled his bag over his head. “I guess the universe had to balance my good luck somehow.”

Volpino shook his head, willing himself to snap out of his reverie, and grinned.

“Well no matter! You know I’m always there to look out for you!” He chirped, stepping towards Nathanael, arms outstretched and lips puckered as he went to kiss him-

Only for his face to collide with Nathanael’s fist instead.

“OUCH!” Volpino staggered backwards, crying out instinctively despite the fact it hadn’t hurt one bit. At least physically.

He glanced upwards, bewildered to see Nathanael frowning disapprovingly at him.

“Look I know you just saved me back there, and thank you for that but you can’t just go kissing random people!” Nathanael cried, folding his arms across his chest, “I have no idea who you are and besides, I have a boyfriend!”

Volpino stared, his ears dropping flat, his heart sinking. Surely, he couldn’t…he didn’t…

But the seconds ticked by, and Nathanael’s face didn’t break out into a playful smile. There wasn’t even a hint of mirth simmering beneath the surface.

The realisation struck Volpino like cold nails stabbing through his chest, and he swallowed thickly.

“You- you really don’t know who I am, do you?” he whispered, feeling bile rise up his throat as Nathanael’s frown deepened.

“Are you a new superhero or something? Sorry I’m a little behind on the news,” Nathanael shuffled awkwardly, looking rather guilty as he glanced at the two passed-out criminals, “I guess it would makes sense, the way you took out those guys so easily, and your costume.”

As Nathanael’s eyes were focused elsewhere, Volpino did everything in his power to repair his crumbling emotions, to fix them quickly. Nathanael didn’t recognise him, didn’t have any idea who he was, couldn’t see Louis behind a stupid mask and orange superhero costume. Trixx had told him about how the glamour surrounding an active miraculous made it harder for people to recognise him. Harder, Louis had argued, but not impossible. He’d thought- he’d hoped-

He clenched his fists, fighting the tremors which threatened to shoot through him.

When Nathanael looked back at him, Volpino smiled widely, pretending nothing was wrong.

“Ah,” he coughed, looking at his black boots, and for the first time in a long time, he blushed. “Yes. Yes, I’m a new hero. I suppose I was a bit eager back there. Apologies, I didn’t mean to offend you teso- I mean- friend. The name is Volpino. It’s… nice to meet you!”

Volpino extended his hand, holding it out in a gesture of good will.

Nathanael looked down, surprised, and then shrugged, reaching out to shake Volpino’s hand.

Volpino fought to keep his face neutral, even as electricity pulsed through him at Nathanael’s touch. Memories of Nathanael’s hands flooded him, how they’d idly play with his curls, how they gripped his hips in more intimate moments, how they held hands as they walked down the street together.

The same hands now regarded each other as strangers.

“Nathanael Kurtzberg,” Nathanael replied, as if Volpino didn’t already know.

Volpino nodded, his hand subconsciously reaching out as Nathanael pulled his back. He stepped away, trying not to unsettle Nathanael further. For all Nathanael knew, he was almost mugged by two petty thugs and sexually harassed by a newbie superhero.

Volpino refused to make him more uncomfortable, regardless of how it made him feel to treat someone he loved so much as if he’d only just become aware of his existence.

“Well Mr. Kurtzberg, it was a pleasure to save you today,” he chuckled, the sound hollow to both sets of his ears, and he gave an overly-enthusiastic salute. “But I have to clean up the streets now-” he gestured to the two passed-out thieves- “should you ever need me, however, just gaze at the moon and scream. I’ll scream back and come running to your aid!”

Nathanael snorted at that, covering his mouth behind the palm of his hand.

“Don’t foxes only scream for their mates?” He replied, his tone suspicious but surprisingly teasing, despite what he’d just gone through.

Volpino smiled, a quiet, secret sort of smile, the corners of his dark brown eyes crinkling.

“Not always. Besides you have a boyfriend. You made that point very clearly and I prefer to learn from my mistakes,” he replied, rubbing his chin where Nathanael struck it. Before Nathanael could say anything else, however, he asked him “do you need any help getting home?”

“I’m not going home I was- OH SHIT!” Nathanael’s eyes widened and he gripped his hair in panic. “Sorry, I’ve got to go, I’m meeting my friends and my boyfriend. Louis will panic if I’m too late.”

It was an incredibly odd feeling, to hear someone talking about you to your face. Volpino didn’t quite know how to feel about it, except that he was oddly touched that Nathanael was worried about worrying him.

Superhero business was confusing to say the least.

“By all means don’t let me keep you,” Volpino replied, marching over to the first thief and hurling the scumbag over his shoulder. “I have to drop these two off at the nearest police station after all.”

“Ok, well, then, see you,” Nathanael waved awkwardly in response, halfway out toward the main road when Vopino stupidly opened his mouth.

Ciao bello!”

Nathanael froze. Volpino stood up straight, lips fusing together all too late, his insides turning to ash.

Porca vacca, I’m so dead.

Nathanael peered over his shoulder, fixing Vopino with a different kind of frown than his previous ones. It was more introspective, and there was a spark behind it which Volpino couldn’t read even with all his new instincts and heightened senses. Under Nathanael’s near-scalding gaze, Vopino felt like a fly caught under the paw of a particularly beautiful cat, knowing he could be devoured at any second.

The seconds passed and the spark in Nathanael’s eyes faded. A small smile bloomed on his face and he blushed.

Volpino stared, struck dumb by the pinkness in Nathanael’s cheeks.

C-ciao,” Nathanael stammered shyly and, before Volpino could make a greater fool of himself, his boyfriend hurried away.

Volpino clutched his hands to his heart, ignoring the fact that the thief had fallen off his shoulders and dropped to the floor in a pile of limbs.


 

“YES!”

Marinette leapt up from the sofa, Alya following shortly after, and the girls bumped hips in triumph. In front of them, the living room TV flashed white and their Nintendo team stood proudly on a podium.

“Why did we agree to this again?” Nino whined to Adrien, “Mario Kart is almost bad as Monopoly at ruining relationships.”

“It’s not my fault SOME people don’t play fair,” Adrien turned to Marinette with a pout. During their team match (Alya had finally convinced Nino to participate in a classic boys-vs-girl tournament), Marinette had kissed him on the cheek to distract him. He wasn’t proud to admit the trick had worked, as he’d managed to launch himself off Rainbow Road and land himself in last place.

Marinette poked her tongue out, flopping onto his lap princess-style.

“Aww don’t be sore losers,” she said, ruffling Adrien’s hair, ensuring instant forgiveness on Adrien’s part.

“I don’t know, we’re super sore,” Nino hummed, tapping his chin. When Alya settled down next to him, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close to whisper in her ear. Adrien just about heard the words sore, lotion and rub, to which Alya playfully hit Nino’s arm and laughed at him. Needless to say, Adrien got the gist of what they’d been talking about.

Suddenly he was very aware of Marinette’s bare legs pressed against his own. He coughed.

Luckily for him, he was saved by the bell, and Nino went downstairs to fetch what must have been Louis and Nathanael.

But only Nathanael appeared behind Nino.

As soon as the pair re-entered Nino’s apartment, Adrien felt the air shift. Perhaps it was years of superhero antics which had given him a sixth sense, but he just knew something was wrong. That, and the fact that Nino and Nath had faces like stone. Marinette, he could tell, felt the same way, as she’d stiffened in his arms. Before long, she was up and by Nathanael’s side-  he and Alya followed shortly after.

“What’s going on?” Alya asked. “Where’s Louis?”

Nathanael glanced around, fidgeting nervously with the strap of his bag. He looked about five seconds away from a panic attack.

“L-Louis isn’t here yet? Oh- yeah I forgot he was running late,” his voice was tiny, thoroughly shaken. Adrien and Marinette looked at each other worriedly. Adrien’s hand reached out to touch the ring on his finger.

“Guys come on, give him some air,” Nino scolded, taking Nath’s arm and lightly leading him to the sofa. He crouched beside Nathanael. “You need some water bro?”

Nathanael shook his head, but seemed better now he was sitting down.

“I was almost mugged on my way here,” he said as if he couldn’t quite believe it had happened.

There was a second of silence.

Adrien stared wordlessly as the girls collectively yelled in shock. Marinette ran over to sit by Nathanael, Alya cursed and immediately began to call for the police.

“Wait!” Nathanael cried, holding out a hand. “Don’t do that.”

Adrien frowned, confused. He wanted to go out, he wanted to transform and search for the culprits himself. He felt stuck, rooted to the rug beneath his feet and about as half a useful.

“What do you mean? Don’t you want the police to know?” He questioned Nathanael softly, not wanting to upset him further. Before Nathanael could reply, however, the bell rang again.

“Oh god that’s Lou. He’s going to freak I know it,” Nathanael’s eyes widened and he sank back into the sofa as if he were trying to get it to swallow him whole. Marinette placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“It’ll be fine Nath. I promise,” Marinette uttered, turning to Adrien again, her eyes pleading. Adrien got the message and nodded.

“I’ll talk to him, calm him down before he sees you,” Adrien volunteered, heading toward the door.

“Tell him I’m ok! I don’t want him to panic. He worries about me so easily.” Nathanael called after him.

Adrien nodded again as he closed the door behind him, making his way downstairs.

Sure enough Louis was waiting outside, smiling sheepishly at him.

“Sorry I’m late amico” he greeted cheerfully, “I have a new roommate and, err, there’s some things she wanted to talk about. I couldn’t get away politely.”

Adrien grinned back at him, offering a fist bump. Louis was a terrible liar, terrible enough that Adrien (who’d been named and shamed as the most gullible of the gang) didn’t believe him. However, it wasn’t Adrien’s place to question him further and besides, there were more pressing things at hand.

“Ok before I start, Nathanael told me tell you that he’s upstairs with everyone else and he’s ok. So, he doesn’t want you to freak out,” Adrien began gently, as if he was trying to convince a bomb not to explode.

“Somehow that doesn’t encourage me but… go on,” Louis replied, his expression unreadable. Adrien was surprised by the reaction, but he wasn’t dealing with any screaming so he took that as a good sign.

“Nath just told us he was almost mugged on the way here. Almost mugged. Not totally mugged. He was about to explain but then you knocked.”

Adrien flinched, braced himself for the explosion.

It didn’t come. He blinked.

“Right,” Louis nodded, his lips a solemn line. He looked like he was struggling a great deal. Adrien figured he was trying to comply with Nath’s wishes by not freaking out, but was finding it horribly difficult. He felt a wave of sympathy at that, and motioned for Louis to follow him upstairs. After all, he mused, Marinette had been in a similar situation at the spa, and it had shaken him to his core. He couldn’t imagine what that feeling must have been like for someone who didn’t even have a miraculous to protect those he loved. Louis was being incredibly brave, Adrien thought.

When they entered the apartment, Louis darted around him and hurried towards Nathanael. Marinette moved out the way so Louis could sit by his side.

“Are you alright tesorino?” Louis asked, again showing remarkable restraint.

Adrien watched the restraint fall to the wayside as Nathanael threw his arms around Louis and buried his head against his chest. Louis’ face scrunched up, disappearing in Nathanael’s shoulder, and Adrien looked away- not wanting to disturb their intimate moment.

Marinette came to stand by his side, slipping her hand in his for comfort he was all too happy to provide. Nino and Alya made their way to the open kitchen to grab some snacks, trying to gain back some semblance of normality. But Alya still kept her ears perked for any information.

After some time, Nathanael and Louis pulled apart and Louis brushed some hair out of Nathanael’s eyes, placing a chaste kiss on his lips. In response Nathanael shot him a watery smile.

“I was on my way here,” he explained to everyone, “when these two large guys wrapped their arms around my shoulders like they were my friends or something- they frogmarched me to the nearest quiet place and took my bag from me. I was going to let them, you know, because that’s what they always say to do- but I forgot my phone was in my back pocket and they wanted it- so they grabbed me. I think they were going to try and beat me up.”

“That’s horrible,” Marinette growled as Louis’ hands tightened in Nathanael’s. “I bet it’s those same guys that have been mugging other people recently.”

She shared another quiet, more urgent look, with Adrien. He knew what that look meant. They had to double their efforts to find the criminals and put an end to their spree. If they didn’t, someone was going to get seriously hurt.

“How did you get away?” Nino asked, bringing some bottles of fizzy drinks into the living room and placing them in front of the coffee table. “Did you kick their asses instead?”

Nathanael shook his head, laughing breathlessly.

“No- no nothing like that.” With his free hand, Nath ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes vacant, scanning memories. To Adrien, it looked like disbelief, like he couldn’t quite believe what had happened. “I was saved by someone though. A hero. They did the ass kicking and I was able to get away.”

“Ladybug?” Alya prompted, her lips quirking in the hopes of gaining a scoop.

Nathanael shook his head. Marinette’s hand gripped Adrien’s tighter than before. A shiver of anticipation ran up Adrien’s spine. The sixth sense-type feeling was back and stronger than ever.

“No. It was someone new. A fox. He called himself Volpino and I, I kind of- sort of- punched him,” Nathanael buried his face in his hands. “The guy saved me and I punched him.”

Louis, Alya, and Nino laughed. Adrien and Marinette remained silent.

“Oh my, there’s some thanks!” Louis chuckled, stroking his chin absent-mindedly.

Nathanael sat up, fixing him with an incredulous stare.

“He tried to kiss me! At least that’s what it looked like,” he defended himself hotly, “I didn’t want to cheat on you, even if it was with a guy that saved my life.”

Louis smiled quietly.

“This is SUCH a scoop!” Alya squealed, grabbing her phone. “The followers of the Ladyblog are going to totally bug when they hear this!” she gasped. “Do you think Chat Noir and Ladybug know?”

Well we do now Adrien thought, dazed. He hadn’t expected the new miraculous holder, if that’s who it was, to appear so soon or so dramatically. Fu really had had someone in mind.

“Wait Alya!” Marinette cried, holding up her free hand and waving it frantically. “What if Ladybug and Chat don’t know? And if nobody else knows, shouldn’t you give time for the superheroes to make an official statement. If you post something like this without proof, then it- it could-” she twirled around to Adrien, jutting her jaw out.

Adrien came to his Lady’s aid instantly.

“Yeah, it could give Hawk Moth an advantage,” he said. “Maybe they’re planning a sneak attack with more Miraculous holders, to finally get Hawk Moth once and for all?”

Alya lowered her phone, her face scrunched up in thought as she fought the two sides of her conscience.

“I guess so,” she conceded after a while. “It wouldn’t be good for the Ladyblog’s rep if I posted something like this without any photographic evidence. Besides you’re right, there has to be a reason a new miraculous holder has appeared. Only what?”

Once the initial shock of Nathanael’s story had died down, he regaled them with further details of his daring encounter with the new hero Volpino. The more he described, the more Adrien was sure they were really dealing with a miraculous holder, and not one of the copy-cats (akumatised or not) that had appeared over the years.

Louis remained a quiet support by his boyfriend’s side, and Adrien couldn’t help but feel as though Louis needed some support himself. He’d never seen Louis so muted, and vowed to give him a hug at the next available opportunity.

Later on, when the pizzas had arrived, he met Marinette in the kitchen. Out of earshot of the others, he leaned in close to her ear. To the others, it appeared to be a usual show of affection, but Adrien had other plans.

“Guess we can always tell them about me leaving another day. In the meantime, it looks like we’ve added a fox to our ranks, My Lady.”

Marinette gazed up at him and smirked, a trace of anticipation in her eyes which he was sure was reflected in his own.

“Seems that way, Kitty. We better greet out new colleague as soon as possible.”

Chapter Text

The words on his notebook blurred in tandem with his growing boredom. Adrien shook his head roughly, determined to get at least some studying in before patrol.

It took about a minute before he gave up again.

Who was he fooling, really, in trying to study on a night such as this?

Adrien flopped dramatically onto his desk with a grunt of annoyance. His hair fanned out around him and his nose was awkwardly squished against his pen, but he didn’t care. Between Nathanael’s mugging incident earlier that day, and the appearance of a new miraculous holder, trying to concentrate on studying was like trying climb up the Eiffel Tower upside down, blindfolded, without a miraculous.

He sighed.

“Are you giving up?” Plagg landed by his side, sounding hopeful. “Good! We can play games or watch TV instead. Homework is so dull.”

“You’re not the one doing it, fuzzball,” Adrien grumbled, making no effort to move. “So why are you complaining?”

“Because it’s boring watching you do it and even more boring hearing you complain,” Plagg shot back, floating up to nudge his head repeatedly. “Come on already, we’ve still got time before you and Ladybug go and meet the new hero. I want to watch that show with the American cops.”

“There are about a million shows about American police, Plagg,” Adrien rolled his eyes, but allowed the Kwami to push him away from his notes and towards the sofa.

“I mean the funny one,” Plagg corrected, urging Adrien to sit on the sofa whilst he grabbed the remote from the coffee table.

Adrien shrugged.

“Fine. One episode can’t hurt, it’s not like anything was sticking. I’m too distracted,” he replied, slinking down in his seat and propping his feet on the table. Nobody was around to judge or scold after all.

Or so he thought.

Knock, knock, knock.

Adrien and Plagg shared a confused frown at the sudden knocking. It sounded like it was coming from… his window?

The knocking continued and Adrien shifted to the left, eyes widening when he saw Ladybug hanging outside his bedroom- as if she did so every day. He blinked a few times, to check he wasn’t seeing things.

Nope. There she was, the light from his room bathing her in a golden glow, the darkness of the night providing the perfect backdrop for the mischievousness in her smile.

Oh, she was real alright, and she was giving him a heart attack.

Adrien scurried forwards, ignoring Plagg’s groan and almost tripping over the coffee table, to open the window Ladybug hung outside of. A rush of cool air hit him and he gasped, the glass barrier between them removed, and she became more vivid than ever before him.

“Ladybug! What brings you here?” he rested his arms against the window frame, leaning up to her. Once again, he found himself thankful he couldn’t go back in time to tell his fifteen-year-old self that something like this would actually happen. He would have died.

“Hmm, I was just swinging by. You know how it is,” she replied with a casual tone, but winked and placed a gloved finger against his chin, scratching him there. In an instant, Adrien was putty in her hands. “I’m actually here to pick up an incredibly cute kitty for a date with destiny. He’s tall, blonde, and puns too much for his own good. Have you seen him?”

“You can never pun too much, but I do believe I’ve seen the guy you’re looking for,” Adrien chuckled, standing on tip toes to kiss her softly, only to stand away and dramatically bow right afterwards. “It’s… me! The Princess has come to collect the Superhero!”

Ladybug rolled her eyes, even as she laughed. Still, now he was closer to her, Adrien did not miss the subtle tension in her jaw, how stiff her shoulders were. He frowned.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel. Your hair’s too short. So transform already, you utter dork,” she sang, and Adrien responded with more laughter. He turned to Plagg, who was still resting on the sofa cushions.

 To say Plagg looked unimpressed would have been a gross understatement.

“You two are made for each other,” he said, voice as deadpan as his expression.

“Aw, thank you Plagg!” Adrien replied earnestly, too loved-up to care.

“That wasn’t a compliment! You two are ridiculous and I can’t believe I have to put up with it,” he snapped, wiggling further into his cushion in protest.

“Oh don’t be such a sour-puss,” Ladybug sighed having made her way into the room without Adrien noticing, causing him to jump. She didn’t notice she’d startled him, however, having already traipsed over to Plagg to scratch his ear. “You know you like seeing Tikki again, and seeing Adrien happy.”

“I… like…nothing,” Plagg argued weakly, fighting not to close his eyes against Ladybug’s fingers.

Adrien thought for moment, then a wicked grin spread across his face.

“Plagg claws out!” he cried suddenly, and Plagg yelped, cursing him as he disappeared into Adrien’s ring.

When Chat Noir opened his eyes, he came face-to-face with Ladybug’s raised eyebrow. Her arms were folded and her hip jutted out as if to say “really?”

“What?” he smirked. “You think I’m going to stand by and watch you pay attention to another kitty? Well I’m afraid I’m a super jealous cat. You’re not allowed to stroke any other cats in my presence, or even look at them. I’m the only cat for you or else I’ll have to fight all the cats in Paris and-”

He was interrupted from his ridiculous tirade when Ladybug grabbed him by the collar and dragged his lips to hers. Instantly his arms wrapped around her, holding her gently, as he fought his inner amusement. She’d never kissed him this way before- in a way that told him, quite passionately, to shut up.

He loved it.

When she pulled away, red-faced and breathless, she shook her head.

“Are you done now?” she sighed, unable to fight the little quirk of her lips if she tried.

“With you? Never!” he pulled her back towards him, throwing an arm around her shoulder.

“I meant with the whole fake douchey-jealous act,” Ladybug replied, tapping his nose and wiggling out of his hold to march towards the window. He followed close behind, eyes trailing down her body. “It’s unbecoming of a gentle-cat like yourself.”

“Yup! Done and dusted, and de-douchified, My Lady,” he chirped, reaching for his baton.

Ladybug buried her head in her hands.

“You’re impossible,” she giggled, climbing out of the window.

“No, I’m distracting you,” he countered fairly as they left Adrien’s bedroom behind and disappeared into the night. “Is it working?”

“A little,” Ladybug replied faintly as she landed on the building opposite. She bit her lower lip, staring at their meeting place lighting up the Parisian skyline in the distance. “I hope Fu was able to get my message to Volpino. It was pretty last minute.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Chat reassured, linking his fingers with hers and tugging her forwards gently. “Come on, let’s go meet our new partner-in-crime-fighting!”

When Chat’s arm was met with resistance he glanced over his shoulder to see Ladybug staring at the ground worriedly. Her face was a thin line of fear and he wilted. She looked as if the ground was disappearing beneath her feet and she was helpless to stop it. It pained him to see her that way.

“Hey-” he started, voice soft, but she beat him to the punch, sharing her worries before he could ask about them.

“What if we don’t get along? What if I make a terrible first impression and he ends up hating me? What if we can’t work together and you come back next year and the whole of Paris is on fire and I’ve doomed the whole city because I make such awful impressions on people?!” she rambled, clutching strands of her hair as she worked herself into an explosion of anxiety.

“Bugaboo,” Chat grabbed her shoulders, tilting her chin up with his thumb so she was looking directly into his eyes. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Master Fu doesn’t make his decisions lightly. I’m sure whoever it is will love you because, honestly, you’re the most loveable girl I’ve ever met.”

Ladybug snorted.

“I’m serious! After all, I know a thing or two about bad first impressions,” he preened, as though this was something to be proud of. “Out of the two of us I think I win in that area, right?”

He lowered his face to her ear, nuzzling into her hair and kissing it keenly.

“Riiiiight?” he purred, lighting up when she began to chortle, “remember that?” he nuzzled deeper- “remember how much you didn’t like me? Remempurr?”

“Oh, my god Chat Noir, yes!” despite her exasperated tone, she was laughing fully now. Whatever strands of nervousness she felt disappeared as Chat continued his silly snuggling. “Quit it that tickles!”

Chat pulled away, grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Glad we got that cleared up!” He nodded, trying not to imagine the breathless way she’d just said his name in other scenarios.

Maybe he should pay her room a visit sometime, the same way Ladybug just had to his?

Take it slow, Romeo.

Whilst he was deep in that particular mind-hell, Ladybug snuck up on him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her head in his chest.

“Thank you, Kitty,” she whispered, vulnerable and so sweet that his heart beat slowed to a calm serenade. He purred, wanting nothing more than to take her home and hold her all night. He could really do with the rest and he had the feeling that he’d sleep so much better with her at his side.

Sleep was, however, a luxury only those without a miraculous could afford.

When Ladybug pulled away her face was fixed into one of determination and professionalism. She nodded, more to herself than Chat, and the pair vaulted over rooftops towards the Eiffel Tower, and towards their aforementioned date with destiny.


Well, at the very least, Volpino certainly looked the part of the superhero.

That was the first impression the pair of them got as they climbed to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, where their new companion was already waiting. There he sat, legs crossed, flute resting on his lap. The orange and whites of his costume blended in with the lights of tower and his darker complexion provided camouflage with the shadows. Though his body language appeared serene, almost yoga-like, there was a slight tensing of his jaw, a clenched cheek, which gave away his nervousness.

Of course he was nervous, Chat thought sympathetically, he certainly would be if he were in Volpino’s shoes.

When Volpino noticed them, his eyes widened and he scrambled to his feet, clutching his flute tightly.

“I’m not quite used to these heights yet,” he explained for some reason, shooting them a toothy grin. “Nor the knowledge that I can save myself from falling.”

Chat nodded.

“Yeah, I guess it was different for us, we were pretty much kids when we started so it was easy to get used to,” Chat replied.

“Speak for yourself, I spent the first month terrified,” Ladybug retorted dryly, stepping forward to shake Volpino’s hand.

As Volpino jerked his hand forward, beaming, Chat allowed his eyes to wander over the new Miraculous holder. Chat was shorter than him, but Volpino was lean where he’d gained some muscle mass over the years due to his model diet and exercise regime. Still, he looked in a good shape, around their age, and the way his dark eyes sparkled seemed to indicate he was eager.

“I’m Volpino, it’s a pleasure to meet you both, and I consider it an honour to be fighting by your side,” Volpino’s voice was loud, keen and full of light. As soon as he’d finished shaking hands with Ladybug, he turned to Chat and offered his hand to him with quirked lips. “The Guardian told me that I’m here to cover Ladybug if she needs it, because you’re moving away for some time. I’d much prefer I wasn’t needed at all, if it meant Paris keeping you, but I’m here so I will make the most of it! At least we will have the Summer to get acquainted.”

Chat smiled, shaking Volpino’s hand. It wasn’t trust quite yet, but his instincts were telling him Volpino would be a good balance for Ladybug in his stead. He seemed bright, and optimistic, which would help Ladybug in the rare moments doubt got the better of her. Still, he was glad they had the rest of the Summer beforehand to, as Volpino said, get to know each other. It made the transition less jarring for themselves as well as the public.

Turning to Ladybug, Chat Noir got her attention with a light, professional tap to her shoulder.

“Ladybug, could you please give Volpino and I a moment?”

As he’d suspected, Ladybug looked vastly taken aback by such an ask, and fixed him with a worried frown. Volpino chose to stay silent.

“Chat,” she began warily, but he waved his hands innocently.

“I promise it’s nothing bad ok? I just need to talk to him, not in a man-to-man way or anything gross. Promise,” he shot her his best, most trustworthy smile. If Volpino hadn’t been there, he would have held her hand, touched her in some reassuring manner, to convince her he had no darker motives. “Trust me? It’s something I have to say and I’m kind of embarrassed to say it in front of you.”

Ladybug didn’t seem completely convinced, and he could tell it annoyed her to not know what he wanted to say to Volpino, but she heaved a resigned sigh.

“Ok, I trust you, but be nice and don’t bite,” she replied with an eye roll, flicking her yo-yo out to her side. “Meet me at the top viewing deck when you’re done with whatever you have to say.”

With that she disappeared, dropping off the side of the tower and swinging out of view, leaving Chat and Volpino alone.

After a few moments of silence, Volpino broke the tension hanging in the air with a chuckle.

“Oh dear, is this the moment you tell me not to be too forward with Ladybug? Because trust me,” Volpino placed a confident hand on his hip, “you really don’t have to worry about that.”

“Huh?” Chat blinked, then promptly shook his head. “No, it’s nothing like that. This isn't me telling you to stay away from my girl or anything weird, that's not my style besides I trust her with every fibre of my being. No, the reason why I'm talking to you is, if you really want to stand by her side, if you want to step up and be a hero- then whatever you think is your best? Double it. Triple it. Becuase that woman is something special, and you're going to have to give it all you've got and then some, to be worthy to stand by her side. I should know-” he stood up straight, lips curling upwards in what he hoped was a serious yet friendly manner “-I speak from experience.”

Volpino was quiet, holding his flute in one hand and his chin in another. Chat watched him with a quizzical expression, wondering what was going on behind that slightly crinkled mask.

“Ah, I see,” he responded somehow airily and serious at the same time.

Chat’s shoulders slumped in relief, glad to have gotten what he’d been thinking off his chest. The fact that Volpino took his words seriously caused some part of the stormy cloud (the one which had been formed the second he knew he’d be leaving Paris) to dissipate. He sighed.

“You’re in love with her,” Volpino continued.

Chat wasn’t sure how someone could trip over air whilst standing still, but he somehow managed it.

Oh god Ladybug is going to kill me.

“W-what?!” Chat spluttered, trying to scramble back the professionalism which Volpino had managed to tear apart in record time. Was he really that obvious? “N-no it’s nothing like that! I just worry for my lady- I mean Ladybug- and we-”

Volpino threw his head back and laughed.

“Relax, amico, I’m not here to judge or reveal your love to the whole of Paris. We are a team now yes?” he grinned, patting Chat on the shoulder. “Besides I understand. I have someone I love too and I would say the same and more if we were in the situation you and your Lady-love are facing. But don’t fret! I promised to do my best and I will. Though it may not look it, I do take this seriously.”

Chat relaxed a little against Volpino’s hand, surprised his comforting words had such an affect. He couldn’t quite place it, but there was a certain manner in which Volpino spoke that was familiar, reassuring in a way. He ran a nervous finger through his hair.

“Is that all you had to say?” Volpino asked, taking his hand away.

“Yeah, for now, but if you have any questions you can ask us,” Chat replied, “but for now I think we’ve kept Ladybug waiting long enough.”

“Oh indeed! It’s never good to keep a lady waiting, my mother would be appalled if she knew,” Volpino laughed again, before launching himself off the side of the tower, using momentum and balance to propel himself. He didn’t have a yo-yo or baton like Ladybug and Chat did, relying solely on his miraculous to propel him down the tower, bouncing from one side to the other.

They made their way through a small gap to the upper observation deck, where Ladybug was pacing. As soon as she heard them, her head snapped up and her eyes narrowed, scanning for any semblance of tension or argument.

When she could find none, she ambled over to them.

“So Volpino,” she began cheerfully, “you ready for a night patrol? It might be good if you practice your powers for a bit, let us know what you can do so we can plan different methods of fighting now you’re part of the team.”

For some strange reason, Chat felt his heart swell with pride at her words. She really was a natural born leader. It was amazing to see.

“Of course, in due time,” Volpino agreed earnestly, breathlessly, and Chat was strongly reminded of a star about to go supernova with the amount of energy simmering beneath Volpino’s barely-restrained exterior. “However, before we get going, I suppose now we have the superhero introductions down, I should introduce my true self yes?”

Chat jerked his head up, completely snapped out of his thoughts. Beside him, he felt Ladybug start.

Scanning Volpino’s face for any semblance of teasing, Chat felt his stomach drop as Volpino ordered his transformation to disappear.

It was too late to stop him.

Even though time appeared to slow down, even as Chat made to shield his eyes and turn away.

They knew. It was to no avail.

“No wait!” Ladybug cried rushing forwards with frantic hands.

“Don’t!” Chat tripped over his feet for the second time that night, and Ladybug stooped forwards to catch him even in her shock.

A burst of bright orange light lit the observation deck, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. An orange Kwami floated out of Volpino’s fox tail charm.

In hindsight, both of them realised they simply could have turned away, shut their eyes and carefully explained to Volpino that they didn’t need to know his identity until they trusted each other. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and, in that moment, Chat and Ladybug found themselves to be frozen in befuddlement at how Volpino took five minutes to do something which had taken them a little over three years to do.

And then there was the matter of who exactly was standing in front of them.

“You know you really ought to have prepared them a little better! That was rather sudden, Kit,” the Kwami scolded lightly. Shaking her head, she turned to Chat and Ladybug with an apologetic smile. “I’m quickly learning that my chosen is a very unique blend of impulsive and thoughtful.”

Ladybug and Chat continued to stare.

“I don’t believe this,” Chat heard himself saying, shaking his head once more. It wasn’t that it was a bad thing, to have this person be Volpino, on the contrary, it was simply…a shock.

“Oh dio, I think Trixx might be right,” Volpino, or rather Volpino’s civilian self, replied as he ran his hand through his now ear-less curls. “I apologise if I startled you both, but I assumed that this-”

“LOUIS?!” Ladybug cried, her brain now caught up with her eyes.

Louis’ hands flopped to his sides, his eyes widened further than Chat had ever seen them, his jaw dropped much the same way Chat’s had moments before.

It occurred to Chat that he should be piecing all the puzzle parts together, that he should be reassuring Louis right now. Yet, through the madness, all he could think was-

Well at least I know why he said I don’t have anything to worry about now.

Chapter Text

“You…know me?”

Ladybug’s hands flew to her lips far too late. The damage had been done, and now not only did she know Louis was Volpino, but Louis knew that she knew too.

Panic attack in three, two, one-

Louis stepped closer to her, dark eyes frantically scanning her facial features for something he recognised. Behind her hands, Ladybug scrunched her lips together, frozen in fear.

“Louis, I err- well- err,” Chat stammered rubbing the back of his head with a nervous chuckle, “this is paw-kward.”

Louis immediately whirled around, light cotton t-shirt flapping wildly with the wind.

“Wait, you know me too?!” he cried, somewhere between amazed and befuddled. “Does that mean you both know each other? How fateful!”

Ladybug groaned, her hands moving from her lips to her forehead.

“Great, Chat! Now he knows we both know him!” she cried, throwing her arms up into the air. Honestly what was the point of secret identities? Why didn’t she just broadcast her address to the whole of Paris?! Why, Ladybug wondered in despair, did Master Fu choose two of the biggest idiots in the universe to wield unimaginable power?

“Um, pardon me,” Louis replied, gazing at his Kwami in confusion, “but I do believe this was the point? That we know our secret identities as a precaution? I’m unsure why this is a bad thing.”

There was a sharp inhale. Ladybug was unsure if it was from herself or Chat. Silence built between the three of them, and Ladybug bit her lip in agitation. How could she even begin to tell Louis how very wrong this was?

Instead she settled with turning on the fox Kwami.

“Didn’t you tell him the rules? You know, how we’re not supposed to know each other’s identities? No one must know? Remember that old mantra?” she frowned, back muscles so tense that she was sure they would have simply shattered under the pressure, were it not for her super-powered state.

Before her mind could combust, she felt Chat’s hand rest against her shoulder blades in reassurance. She sighed, relaxing a little into the touch, and allowed herself a moment to revel in how well he knew her. However, she couldn’t ignore the slight tremor of his fingers as they skimmed past her spine and back down to his side, knowing he was thinking the same thing.

How could they fix this?

Trixx wriggled her black nose, the base of her tail ruffled, and she fixed Ladybug with a stern stare.

“As much as I adore Tikki, we’ve both have very different opinions on secret identities,” she replied in a clipped tone, before shaking her head and allowing her expression to soften. “You two were much younger when you were introduced to your miraculous. It was a lot of responsibility to gain in such a short amount of time and it can be overwhelming. Adding in secret identity reveals to the mix can sometimes do more harm than good. I understand Tikki’s precaution, Plagg’s feigned indifference, but I don’t agree with it. I never have and never will- so I always leave it up to my chosen to decide after telling the benefits and drawbacks of each side.”

“Wait,” Louis interjected, pressing two fingers to his temple. “Are you telling me that you two don’t know each other’s identities?”

“We know,” Chat replied quickly, “I mean- we haven’t known for long…”

He trailed off staring at his boots as Louis gaped at him.

“I’m sorry, but that makes no sense to me! You two have always seemed to share such a close bond. Forgive me if I’m overstepping my bounds but, what if anything happened to either of you? What if you went rogue, not that you two would ever, but just in case? What if Hawkmoth found out who you were first? What if you were injured or worse? Who would have let your families know?”

Ladybug winced. With anyone else she might have been agitated at the accusations, but Louis didn’t seem angry or judgemental. On the contrary, he sounded downright distraught, and it stung all the more when she realised it was something she’d never considered.

With a great sigh, Louis wandered over to the railing, overlooking the city with his back partially turned, and Trixx went to rest on his shoulder- concern etched into her tiny features. In that moment, Louis was still, solitary, almost statue-like; the kind of statue that’s been worn by time, weathered by years, and is seconds away from crumbling. Ladybug could just about see his profile. It only took a brief glance to know that he was looking beyond the city limits, looking beyond what lay before him.

His eyes were in the past.

Chat was the first to walk forward, treading softly.

“Of course. I get it,” he uttered, leaning against the railing next to Louis, but turning his back to the panorama beneath them. “It’s because of your dad, right?”

Louis chuckled, but there was no humour behind it whatsoever. His head dipped low, the curls from his unruly mop of hair fell forward, too short to cover his eyes. The smile on his face was the saddest one Ladybug had ever seen. Now she understood what Trixx had meant about Louis’ introspective self, understood why quiet, introverted Nathanael had been drawn to him beyond the fire which seemed to exude from Louis’ soul.

“It’s weird to get a therapy session from Chat Noir you know? Especially when you know me but I am unsure who you are. But yes, it’s because of my father,” Louis sighed again, standing up straight, one hand gently resting against a steel beam as he looked between the two with an unreadable expression. “The day he- the day he died, his partner was away. He was out sick. So, someone else called us, someone who I didn’t recognise, and they came to escort us to the hospital so we could get there in time to say goodbye. I will always remember it- riding in a stranger’s police car, following a stranger to my father’s hospital room, being told by a stranger that my father did not have a lot of time left with us.”

He smiled again, his eyes crinkling, and the small dimple in his left cheek made a dent in Ladybug’s heart.

“My father’s partner, he was a good man, and he never forgave himself for not being there that day, to comfort us at the very least. Do you know he still sends my mother flowers on her birthday? Good man, yes… a very good man.” Louis inhaled sharply though his nose, for a moment he placed a hand over the top half of his face, his lower lip quivered. Ladybug moved towards him, instinctively reached her arm out to comfort, but the moment passed. When he removed his hands, the fragility was gone and in its stead, a quiet flame burned.

“Nothing is promised us. Not one day. Not tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. Nothing. All we have is hope. We had plans, my father had plans- and with one bullet, his hopes were silenced forever. You may not trust me with your identities yet, I have no problems with this. I can earn your trust. But my decision is my own. You have my identity, and my faith that you won’t allow my mother to be alone if I am a casualty of this war, and know that if you ever choose to honour me by placing your secret identities in my hands, that I will vow to do the same for you both.”

As Louis finished his speech, the air grew still. Indeed, it was so quiet that Ladybug was sure, were she to drop a pin over the ledge, she would hear it when it fell to the ground hundreds of metres below them.

Chat Noir peered over at Ladybug, their eyes meeting, conversing silently. Ladybug didn’t need words to know what he was thinking. Their shared gaze was a solemn one, and Chat blinked slowly at her before raising his thumb in the air, tilting his head in a question.

Ladybug nodded.

From beside him, Louis saw a flash of green light. Instinctively, his eyes trailed up to its source-

His face paled.

Adrien?” He spluttered, similar to how Marinette had cried his own name minutes before.

Adrien didn’t quite know what to do to comfort Louis. Standing awkwardly, he at least attempted a smile, but it seemed wrong somehow, as if he were mocking Louis rather than comforting him, like he was saying ‘haha gotcha!’ with a look.

From his spot beside Adrien, Plagg rolled his eyes at Trixx, but chose to stay silent for a change.

“You know,” Adrien attempted to break the tension as Louis stepped backwards, gripping the railing tight. Where Chat might have normally made some kind of witty comment, instead Adrien chose to speak from the heart, “the day my mother went missing, my father was out at work. It was supposed to be a normal day, but then they always are, aren’t they? The police showed up at my house to report that my mother hadn’t turned up at the charity she volunteered at. They should have waited until my father got home to say something. But they didn’t.”

Adrien placed a hand on Louis’ shoulder, and Ladybug wanted to turn away from the gut-wrenching exchange, but found herself unable to do so. Deep down she knew she shouldn’t feel guilty for her family, how close they were, how little they’d been marred by tragedy. But she couldn’t help it, couldn’t help but feel very much like the outsider in this scenario- this terrible, heart breaking conversation.

“I still, totally irrationally, loathe the policeman who told me. It’s stupid I know, I shouldn’t hate him. He was only doing his job, and it was a pretty sucky one at that,” Adrien sighed, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. “But in those first few weeks, it felt like he was the reason for everything bad happening, and that feeling never really went away. So, I guess, you might be right. It might have been easier to hear it from a loved one, or from someone who at least knew my mother beyond a basic background check.”

Louis turned to Adrien, then to Ladybug, his face full of despair again.

“You don’t have to- you didn’t have to do this you know. Either of you. I admit my path has flaws too, and I’m sure you had your reasons for not revealing yourselves right away. Your way wasn’t wrong, and neither is mine.”

Stepping forwards, Ladybug wrapped her arms around Louis in a fierce hug, unable to help herself any more.

“We know,” she replied, yanking Chat Noir down to hug her too. As the three embraced, Ladybug closed her eyes and imagined she could send a Miraculous Cure to their hearts, to help them heal. They carried so much sadness in their pasts, and all she wanted to do was make it better, whatever way she could. “But it’s not really fair, is it? That we know yours and you don’t know ours. Besides-” Ladybug opened one eye, fixing it lovingly on Chat Noir- “I’ve sort of warmed up to the whole identity reveal thing recently and if Nathanael trusts you enough to fall in love with you, then that makes you ok in my opinion.”

And without another word between the trio, Ladybug took a deep breath, and released her transformation.


“Well,” Chat whispered as he cradled the curve in Marinette’s back, “that certainly went unexpectedly.”

“Mmm,” Marinette replied, but made no further comment as she rested her head against his black-suited chest, making sure not to disturb Tikki, who was sleeping on the cushion by her feet.

He wasn’t wrong, about things being unexpected. When they’d left to meet up with the new miraculous holder, Marinette had anticipated awkwardness, maybe a few shared jokes to ease the tension, and then to show Volpino the ropes.

It was a little while before Chat spoke again.

“Do you think we did the right thing? Telling Louis I mean,” he whispered, snuggling closer to her. After the identity reveals, they’d decided to do a mini patrol, laughing and joking along the way. Volpino was still getting used to running and jumping across buildings and the trio had a wonderful time acting like it was a video game tutorial he needed to get past. But the hour grew late and, eventually, they decided to call it a night.

Chat had followed Ladybug home, mainly so he could get a kiss goodnight. He was pleasantly surprised, however, when she invited him in for a quick late-night cuddle. But then again, he didn’t know how much she needed to hold him, to comfort him, and Marinette felt a bit silly talking to him about it so he’d assumed it was strictly romantic.

The soft humming and gentle purr-filled breaths Chat was giving soothed her soul. To know he was content, despite the painful memories he’d brought up earlier, made her feel a lot better. She wished she could do more than that to help him, remove the pain entirely.

“Time will tell I guess, but I think we did the right thing. I mean he already told us, and I promised myself years ago that if I ever accidentally found out your identity, I’d tell you because that way it’s fair, right? If it wasn’t someone we’re friends with, I would have given it more time though,” Marinette replied, staring at her ceiling idly. “Although if Louis’ reaction to us being Ladybug and Chat was any indication, I think Alya especially can never find out.”

“Why’s that?”

Marinette twisted over, legs tangling with Chat’s, and she pressed one hand against his chest to prop herself up, giving him an incredulous stare.

“If Louis can squeal that much, when he’s barely known me a year, and has known you for like a couple of weeks, can you imagine what Alya would say? She’d never stop! It would be an endless garble-fest about how her besties are the best couple in Paris or whatever,” Marinette wrinkled her nose. “It’d be sooo embarrassing.”

Chat grinned up at her then, that sly cocky grin just short of his smouldering underwear-shoot look, and Marinette’s heart began to beat twice as hard, traitor that it was.

“But we are the best couple in Paris,” he whispered with a conspiratorial wink.

Marinette rolled her eyes.

“What? You don’t think we’re the best couple in Paris?” Chat asked, his tone dripping with honey as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back down, so she was half-sprawled across his chest.

“Don’t start,” she chided softly, tapping him on the nose.

“I never start anything my lady,” he replied, wriggling his nose where Marinette tapped it. “I’m a pro-furr-ssional.”

“Chat it’s like the middle of the night,” Marinette groaned, burying her head into the crook of his shoulder with a huff.

“Oh? Am I bugging you?” God help her she could practically hear his smirk. Were it not for the fact that his hand was currently playing with her hair, making her more than a little drowsy, she would have attacked his nose again.

“Chaaaat.”

“I’m not stopping ‘til you admit we’re the best couple in Paris,” he chuckled, “scratch that, we’re the most claw-some couple in Paris!”

“Oh my god, get out!” Marinette giggled despite herself, and leaned up to kiss his lips. He hummed against her, fingers coiling in her hair, as their tongues sought to deepen the kiss. His hands trailed down, to the base of spine, and further still. Chat felt a sense of bravery and triumph flutter in his chest- to be kissing her like this. At night. On a bed.

The fact that Marinette gave a little squeak when he squeezed his hands made it even better.

A part of him, a very obvious part, wanted things to go further, to spend all night letting his hands wander where they may. A quiet voice inside whispered that he didn’t have long, only a few months, to kiss Marinette as much as possible, before he left for London for a year.

But you have the rest of your lives after that, another part of him argued as he moved his hands back to her hair, earning a soft sigh from Marinette which made his heart melt. God, he loved the sounds she made.

Slow and steady.

Marinette broke their kiss to lightly press her lips to his jaw, then leapt upright with a slight yelp.

Chat immediately sat up with her, eyes wide.

“What’s wrong, Princess?”

Marinette had her mouth covered, her cheeks were visibly redder from their embrace, even in the darkness of her room, but she seemed to be unharmed beyond a brief shock. Furrowing his eyebrows in both concern and confusion, Chat reached up to brush his fingers against hers.

“Ah nothing sorry,” she soothed, taking her hands away from her lips with a sheepish grin. “You have stubble. It- it caught me off guard that’s all.”

Chat blinked at her a few times then, suddenly, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back onto the bed in what could only be described as a fierce cuddle.

“How are you so adorable?” he uttered, placing little butterfly kisses along her neck.

“I love you too,” she replied, settling down by his side again and closing her eyes, “but it’s late and you should get going. We’ve got a big morning, what with you telling Nino and Alya you’re leaving tomorrow. Besides we don't want you getting in trouble with Nathalie for staying out all night or worse, getting caught here by my dad!”

Chat pulled a face.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound too nice,” he agreed. “So, I guess you better hurry up and tell me we’re the most claw-some couple in all of Paris, right?”

“Can’t hear you, I’m asleep,” Marinette replied airily.

“Then I guess I’ll have to stay here all night, or at least ‘til you say it,” Chat countered, suddenly feeling the weight of their emotion-fuelled patrol pressing against his eyelids. He yawned.

“Well then…” Marinette whispered, her breathing slowing as she lazily tugged the blanket over them both, “I guess…you’ll be here…forever.”

“Fine.”

Fine.”


Whilst two of the current miraculous holders slept in each other’s arms, another was about as far from sleep as you could get.

Volpino hadn’t gone home after saying goodnight to Ladybug and Chat Noir. His mind was buzzing, overwhelmed by information, and that was saying something, considering how much he was used to his brain never stopping for a moment. So he allowed his feet to follow his minds foot prints (or rather paw prints), getting rid of an abundance of energy by practicing scaling walls, leaping, backflipping, practicing evasive manoeuvres just in case. He even snuck into a quiet alley so he could practice using his flute to conjure illusions. It was something he was slowly getting better at.

He sniffed, legs dangling off of the edge of the bridge he’d subconsciously wandered to, cradling his weapon in his hands. The glint of the street lamps caused the silver flute to reflect shadows across his thighs and the lights blurred together the longer he stared at them, lost in thought.

Better at conjuring illusions, better at lying, better at keeping secrets.

His gut twisted, and his hands tightened around the flute in solidarity with his writhing conscience.

Of course he was happy to be chosen. Of course he’d been amazed to find out that Marinette and Adrien were his partners of all people, that they were the ones who’d been protecting Paris all this time. Of course he was honoured that they trusted him enough to place their identities in his hands.

But Louis was never one to keep secrets, never one to hide things from his loved ones. It was true that everybody lies from time to time, and Louis was no exception to that fact, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. The lies he’d already told, the secrets he already had to keep, felt like black coal sitting in the base of his stomach, weighing him down with every passing moment. Yet he would keep them, the secrets, protect them with his life despite how much it burned him to lie.

Truth, honesty, forthrightness with one’s emotions, these were at the very core of Louis’ self-perception.

And yet he’d been chosen to wield the miraculous whose very power was steeped in deception.

“What are you doing here?”

Volpino almost fell backwards, off the bridge and onto the cold hard floor, but his tail managed to keep him balanced. He blanched, swivelling around with wild flapping ears, to seek out whoever had made him jump.

His heart jutted to a halt when he saw Nathanael standing there, pale skin almost glowing blue in the night air, sketchbook tucked under his arm, red hair standing up at awkward angles.

It seemed, to Louis, that fate enjoyed toying with him.

Chapter Text

In all honestly, Volpino had to blink hard before he believed Nathanael was truly standing before him, looking just as surprised to see him if not more.

It was then that he realised exactly where he was standing, where his feet had taken him when his mind had been preoccupied with other matters.

He could have kicked himself.

The thousands of padlocks, locked on each side of the bridge, sparkled and reflected in the city lights, each one telling their own tale- each one holding their own wish and hope for the couples who’d secured them. They trailed from one side of the river to the other, like urban fireflies, and their reflections shone in Nathanael’s eyes.

Louis would have laughed if he wasn’t so busy being utterly transfixed by the gaze his (somewhat) secret lover held.

Honestly, trust him to subconsciously wander to the place they’d met for their first date. Trust Nathanael to come here too.

But then, Nathanael liked this place, had always found comfort in the wooden planks beneath his feet and quietly inspired by the stories the love-locks told. He tended to come here when he felt stuck, when something was bothering him, or when he needed some time away from the world. It was one of the reasons why Nathanael had asked him to meet for their first date here, so he could arrive early and attempt to sketch away his anxieties before Louis’ showed up to turn his world upside down in the best of ways.

How the tables had turned.

So, there they were, in a world entirely their own, a world newly born, a world which took them both by surprise. Here, Louis was Volpino, and Nathanael was as he had always been except… no, Volpino corrected himself. Even Nathanael looked different here. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but there was something bold, yet gentle, in the air which Nathanael held.

“S-sorry?” Volpino couldn’t help the stutter as he swung his legs over the railing, disturbing perhaps a hundred love-locks as he hopped down onto the pathway and stood a respectable distance away. All the while he did his best to ignore the thrumming of his heart, the impulse to reach out and wrap himself around his boyfriend.

Nathanael seemed to snap out of the shock seeing his rescuer had given him, shaking his head and instead shooting Volpino a shy smile which did nothing to help the poor Fox’s heartrate. To say that it would have been counterproductive to his goal of calming down would have been a vast understatement.

“Um, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like I was accusing you of anything or like I’m not glad you’re here,” Nathanael replied, waving his arms frantically. “I was just curious as to why you were here. It’s late.”

Volpino did his utmost to keep his face neutral, but Louis had never been neutral about anything his entire life. Still, he thought as he turned to the side, looking out at the river shimmering below them like a ruffled satin bedsheet, just his luck that Nathanael had appeared before he’d come to any sort of decision regarding his secret identity.

It had been easy to decide to reveal himself to Ladybug and Chat Noir, they were on somewhat equal footing- being superheroes. This was different…

Not that he didn’t want to tell Nathanael. If fact, every fibre of his being was screaming to tell him, and the feeling was only getting more intense with every second he’d spent looking into Nathanael’s eyes. It was why he’d turned away.

No matter how much Louis loved him, Nathanael was a civilian. He had no powers to protect himself. If it got out that he and Volpino were together, who knows what Hawkmoth could do.

Volpino gritted his teeth, elongated canines grinding (he still wasn’t used to them). Hawkmoth had come after Nathanael once, and Volpino would rather die than let it happen again. Never. Never again. Not whilst he was still breathing.

But…

He didn’t want to lie. Nor did he want Nathanael to be caught completely unawares. After all what if someone found out his identity and went after Nathanael anyway? His precious, wonderful boyfriend would be totally unprepared. And what if, Volpino thought helplessly, what if something happened to him and he went the same way as his father before him? How would Nathanael feel to know Louis had not only left him, but had been lying to him the whole time?

The currents of the river swirled before his eyes, simultaneously hypnotising him and making him feel sick.

How could he even begin to make this decision?

“Hey, are you ok?”

Volpino jumped at the light hand on his arm, touching just above his elbow, and scurried backwards.

Nathanael was staring at him again. Why, why, why did he have to stare?

It was like the day so long ago, when their eyes had met and Louis had just known. A gaze like that- one which pierced his very soul so unwittingly, so perfectly, so haunting in its beauty. How could Nathanael not know what it did to him?

Because he doesn’t know that you ARE his boyfriend right now, stupido.

“I’m fine,” Volpino said, a little breathlessly, trying desperately to pull himself together. “But what are you doing here? You’re out very late for someone who was almost mugged earlier.”

Nathanael sighed, dropping his shoulder bag to the floor and leaning his hands on the railings, resting by Volpino’s side. Volpino swallowed. Their shoulders were almost touching. This was torture.

“I couldn’t sleep so I decided to sneak out to my boyfriend’s house. I know it’s late but I wanted to go outside on my own as soon as possible. Don’t tell my mum if you see her, she’s been fretting about me all day,” Nathanael’s voice was determined, but there was a trace of fear in it which Volpino didn’t like one bit. “I need to get over my anxiety that it’ll happen again.”

The idea that Nathanael had actually snuck out to seek his comfort made his guilt at lying rise tenfold.

Volpino held his arms behind his back, balancing on his heels.

“So soon though?” He replied, daring to tilt his head and stare at Nathanael, only to turn it right back onto the city horizon again when he saw Nathanael nibbling on his lip.

You are killing me here, Tesorino.

“As soon as possible,” Nathanael nodded earnestly. “I’m moving to a whole new city in a couple of months. I can’t be scared to go outside of my own home or I’ll never get anywhere in life.”

“I see, that’s very wise,” Volpino nodded in response to Nathanael’s nod, keeping his arms pinned to his sides, only managing to keep his fingers from reaching out by imagining they were glued together. Once again, he felt that familiar stab of pain at the mention of Nathanael leaving for a year- but they would manage. Louis was a great believer in love conquering all, even in the face of personal tragedy.

A year was nothing compared to the life of separation his mother faced every day.

There was a brief moment of silence. Volpino tried to think of every excuse to excuse himself that he could, but the truth of the matter was he simply didn’t want to leave. There was comfort in being beside Nathanael, like just being near him was a balm to soothe his troubled thoughts.

Suddenly he felt a tugging on his lower back and turned to find his tail, his OWN TAIL, moving to wrap itself around Nathanael’s waist.

“YOU STAY PUT!” he bellowed.

Nathanael leapt upwards with a startled yelp.

“I wasn’t moving!” he cried, clutching his chest as Volpino shoved his tail behind his back and hurried a few steps away in a full-blown panic.

“Ah no! No, no, no, not you dearest, I was talking to my tail! It- it has a mind of its own as I am recently discovering. Forgive me,” Volpino hastened to say, not stopping to consider his words as he glared at his now stationary tail for good measure. “I am not quite used to this whole superhero thing. It’s my first day after all.”

It looked like Nathanael was deciding whether or not Volpino was sincere with his words, or if he was simply out of his mind. To try to convince him of the former, Volpino grinned, waving for some inexplicable reason.

What is the matter with me? Why am I acting like a schoolboy with his first crush?

He needn’t have fretted too much, for Nathanael’s expression relaxed and he turned back to staring at the river, bright hair ruffling in the breeze.

“Your first day huh? No wonder I couldn’t find anything about you when I looked online,” Nathanael said, more to himself than anyone, before grinning at Volpino. “I guess I was your first rescue then?”

Something about the way Nathanael said those words sparked something deep inside Louis, a primal, instinctive, protective feeling- perhaps the kind his ancestors must have felt towards their life partners (or ‘mates’ as Trixx called them, Louis had to admit he was warming up to the phrase- it was adorable). The feelings churned inside him, speaking to his heart and moving his muscles before his brain had a chance to step in.

“Mmhmm,” he replied, leaning towards Nathanael with a pointed smirk. “And, well, you know what they say. You never forget your first.”

It was as the last few words dropped from his mouth, like warm caramel, that his brain finally caught up. Volpino only had to take in Nathanael’s blank stare and rapidly reddening cheeks before he launched himself backwards and away for the second time that night.

“I mean,” he cried, wishing his entire being would set on fire instead of his face, “I didn’t mean- ah I’m sorry, I realise how that sounded- I apologise- I’m Italian, we’re flirts you know?” Volpino laughed awkwardly. “I know you have a boyfriend, I don’t want to overstep my bounds and I know you punched me for it and I hope you don’t punch me again. Or if you are going to punch me, please don’t punch my face- I actually like my jawline. My own boyfriend kisses me there and I like it a lot and do you see? I have a boyfriend too and I love him very much and I wouldn’t- but then you’re- oh I’m just going to shut up now.”

He buried his face in his hands, pondering his new life as some sort of sexually-charged bridge troll. He knew it was entirely his fault for getting into such a situation but couldn’t help himself! Flirting with Nathanael was as natural to him as breathing- and it was incredibly hard to learn how to stop breathing.

An involuntary shiver jolted through him, straight up his spine. When Volpino took his hands away from his face, he immediately wished he hadn’t. He almost had a heart attack at Nathanael’s suddenly close proximity.

“Ah w-what exactly are you doing?” he asked, voice trembling as Nathanael held his tail between his hands, then proceeded to drop it, stepping back around Volpino so that they were now face-to-face.

Volpino was shaking from head-to-toe as Nathanael reached up and began to touch his fox-ears with a tiny frown of concentration. It felt like his insides were jelly and Nathanael was the plate deliberately shaking beneath him.

“Nathanael?” he tried again when he received no answer- Nathanael simply continued feeling his ears. Closing his eyes, Volpino came to a horrendous realisation that he really liked his ears being touched. He really, really, liked it.

“Hmm?” Nathanael asked, stepping back. Volpino opened his eyes, only to discover a mischievous glint in his boyfriend’s eyes. “Oh. I was looking to see if your superhero costume had an ‘off switch’, you know, for your flirting. But I couldn’t find one.”

At that, Volpino burst out laughing, head tilting up to the sky. Lord did he love the man standing before him.

When he calmed down, he found Nathanael watching him curiously, a calm but amused expression on his face. Volpino smiled back.

“If I discover an ‘off switch’ you shall be the first to know of it,” Volpino chuckled.

The pair settled into a strangely comfortable silence once more. Yet, once again, it was Nathanael who broke the silence. How curious, Louis thought. Out of the two of them, Louis was usually one to initiate conversations, simply because (he fully admitted) he hardly ever stopped talking. It was oddly thrilling, to see Nathanael in this new light- even if it was the dead of night.

“So… where is your boyfriend?” he asked, playing with the collar of his light jacket and not looking directly at him. Volpino wished he had something warm to offer him, it looked like it was getting chilly. “I’m sure he has to get used to you being all nocturnal now- right?”

Running his fingers through his curls, Volpino stared at the love locks on the bridge in front of him. Many had the initials of the partners etched into them; ‘G.L + R.R’,Y.K + V.N’, ‘M.D-C + A.A’…they helped him concentrate.

“Not at all,” he uttered, tracing his fingers over a silver padlock. “He doesn’t know. I haven’t told him yet. It’s not like I don’t want to! I want to tell him so badly-” it was here that he looked into Nathanael’s eyes, almost praying that he would figure it out and save him from his wretched inner turmoil- “I am quite certain that I’m a terrible boyfriend because I didn’t tell him when I had the chance to, and I’m not telling him right now. I’m standing here, and it feels quite like I am lying the longer I don’t say anything. Even so…even so-”

“You’re worried about telling him because, if you do, his safety could be at risk if anyone finds out Volpino loves him?” Nathanael hit the nail on the head, and Volpino had to force himself to close his mouth. Instead of rolling his eyes at the goofy expression on Volpino’s face, Nathanael simply smiled softly. “Don’t worry. I get it. It must suck- to be in that situation.”

“What would you do?” Volpino blurted out, desperately. “If you were me, if it were your boyfriend. What would you do? Honestly I’m not sure I’m cut out for this, my powers are based around deception but I cannot handle keeping a secret in the slightest. Especially not from him. I feel that I’m the worst person for this miraculous- even if I am proud to have been chosen.”

“I don’t think you’re being very fair on yourself,” Nathanael countered levelly, his head bobbing to-and-fro for a moment, “and doesn’t the fact that you’re such an honest person mean that you’re the best person for powers like that? It means you’re less likely to abuse them.”

Volpino had never wanted to kiss Nathanael so badly as he did right then and there.

“Oh. I’d not thought about it that way,” he breathed, dazed, his vision turning hazy as Nathanael stepped closer to him, so they were almost chest-to-chest.

“You should have,” Nathanael replied and oh no he was biting his lip again. Volpino prayed to every god in existence to keep his impulses under control. Was it his imagination, or was Nathanael leaning closer?

I am not a horny teenage boy, I am not a horny teenage boy, I am not a horny- oh fuck it Nathanael just end my life already.

“Besides,” Nathanael carried on and, at such close proximity, Volpino could hear the breathlessness in his voice. His heightened senses could practically feel the apprehension pouring out of Nathanael, the sudden change in his demeanour, “If it weren’t for you I’d probably be seriously hurt right now, or even worse. So- thank you.”

And then Nathanael was kissing him, lips brushing delicately against his cheek. The moment was over too soon and the redhead stepped back, staring at his feet and gripping the hem of his jacket.

Volpino had never felt so lost and yet so found.

“I used to hope that one day I’d be a superhero, when I was younger I used to draw really bad comics where I used to save the day and people loved me,” Nathanael was talking, and Volpino had to violently pinch himself to snap out of his reverie- so that he would listen to what his love was saying. “I once drew a comic similar to the situation you were in, but I never finished it because honestly? I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d do. I guess… you just have to follow your heart? Sorry that’s kind of lame huh?”

Volpino reached up, fingers brushing the spot on his cheek where Nathanael had kissed it. The action earned him the pleasing picture of Nathanael’s face turning redder. Honestly, when had his precious tesorino grown so bold?

“No. It’s not lame. It’s not lame at all,” Volpino whispered, gazing at Nathanael will all the love his heart contained and then some. Secret identities be damned.

Then, it seemed, whatever spell of bravery that had a hold of Nathanael broke with an almost palpable snapping sound.

“I should- I should go,” he stammered, almost tripping over his bag in his haste to pick it up. “I’m- I’m sorry about punching you earlier.”

“That’s alright,” Volpino smirked, “your kiss made up for it. I guess kisses really can make pain go away.”

The nervous, embarrassed giggle which escaped his lips almost made Volpino burst out laughing again. Too cute. It was too cute.

After saying a brief goodnight, Volpino stood, watching Nathanael hurry away to the other side of the bridge. He leaned against a lamp post, smiling warmly and hugging his arms around himself- feeling more at peace than he had in hours.

But the feeling was not to last as he remembered Nathanael’s destination.

His house.

The house he was currently not in.

Because he was out.

Being a superhero.

“SWEET SANTO FRANCES!” Volpino roared, catapulting himself off the bridge towards the nearest building and disappearing into the night.


Marinette was hovering somewhere between the land of the living, and the land of fantasy.

Wherever she was, it was a place of total contentment. There were meadows and flowers dancing, the smell of baked goods, children’s laughter. Everything felt so perfect, so cosy. Warmth consumed her soul, and a heavy blanket was wrapped around her shoulders. Pleasant imagery crossed her eyes, one after the other, telling a story in a way only her dream-self could truly comprehend.

The heavy blanket was moving (or was it falling?) off her shoulders and she reached out to grab it with a groan.

“Princess.”

“Since whenda blankess tahk?” she mumbled, snuggling deeper into the mattress with her eyes firmly shut. Her dreams were fading as she was dragged into wakefulness, but she wouldn’t leave without a fight.

“Bugabooooo-”

“Whiney blanket. Shh…”

“Marinette,” her shoulder shook a little, a hand pressed on her shoulder, and she stirred. White hot anger shot through her at the one who dared disturb her slumber.

The feeling was short lived when she opened her eyes, shooting a death glare at Adrien’s face- which was half illuminated by the early light of dawn.

Adrien’s face.

Adrien.

ADRIEN WAS IN HER BED.

“OH MY GOD!”

She leapt up, accidently hitting Adrien in the nose and he cried out in pain. This was bad, this was so bad. They’d actually done it. They’d fallen asleep. Sure, it has always been a fantasy of hers to spend the night with Adrien- but this was NOT what she’d had in mind when they eventually crossed that bridge.

And if that wasn’t bad enough…

“Marinette?”

All the blood drained from Marinette’s face and judging by Adrien’s terrified expression, he’d heard it too.”

“Was that-” he began, whispering in terror.

Marinette hopped out of bed without thinking, climbing down the ladder to the main part of the room as she hissed at Adrien to hide behind her pillows. Adrien complied, frantically upturning Marinette’s duvet, making it rumpled enough to hide under, and tucked himself into the corner least likely to be seen from the ground level.

Just in time for Sabine to poke her head up through the trap door.

“Sweetie what are you doing up?” her mother asked. “It’s not like you!”

“I errr- had a bad dream!” Marinette lied, giggling nervously. Well, truth be told it wasn’t a complete lie. After all, the idea that Adrien could have been caught having accidentally stayed the night would have been a full-blown living nightmare.

“Oh,” Sabine replied after a pause, and Marinette fought not to sigh in relief from the ten seconds of stone-cold fear the pause had brought. “Well go back to bed, it’s too early for you to start getting ready now- we’ve only just woken up ourselves.”

“Right Mama, I’m sorry for startling you,” she yawned, almost aggressively in her willingness to seem sincere. No way in hell would she be able to back to sleep- not with all the adrenaline coursing through her veins. In fact, Marinette was certain that the blood, which had earlier drained from her face, was now pooling at the base of her feet, making her upper half feel oddly floppy and her legs like cement. Still, she did manage to heave a sigh of relief as Sabine left with a puzzled shake to her head (not uncommon in the Dupain-Cheng household), before running back up to bed to grab Adrien.

To say he looked ashamed would have been doing his expression a disservice. Marinette almost forgot they were supposed to be sneaking him out without getting caught.

“Do you have to make my life so difficult with that damn adorable puppy pout?” she bemoaned, kissing him and ruffling his hair.

“It’s a kitty pout,” he sulked, crawling the whole way out of his hiding place, “and I’m not pouting, I’m just sorry- you know- that I put you in that situation.”

He glanced down, shamefaced, kneeling far away from her on the bed they’d shared last night.

“I should have gone home. I totally didn’t respect your boundaries and you almost got into a lot of trouble for it.”

Marinette leaned forward, crouching into his space and looking up at him from under her eyelashes. With one hand resting on Adrien’s thigh, she propped herself up and brought her other hand behind his head, resting it in his hair and delighting in the semi-purr she got in response. He was still pouting though.

Stubborn kitty.

“You know,” she began, kissing his nose, “that was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. Honestly. I wouldn’t change it for the world- and as for boundaries well- we both fell asleep, together right? Mutually consensual cuddling!” she chirped, giggling now that the shock of their almost-capture had ebbed.

Adrien chuckled and, ah, there he was- there was her goofy kitten back. All traces of the previous pout were gone.

“I must admit My Lady,” he replied, placing his warm hands on her waist, caressing her and pulling her close, “it’s awfully nice to see you looking so bedraggled.”

“Mmm,” Marinette hummed, pressing her fingers to his chest and nudging him backwards, “and there will be plenty more times for you to see me bedraggled later on- but I think you better hurry home before someone discovers you’re missing and we have to call for a neighbourhood search again. At least this time it won’t be snowing.”

“Oh come on, that was one time!”

The pout was back and Marinette laughed, shushing him again, as she pushed him up the ladder towards her balcony.

“Ok, ok, now scram, you silly alley cat,” she winked, though couldn’t help the blush when Adrien leaned down from the balcony to kiss her hand.

“See you later Princess,” he replied leaping back with a flourish as Marinette closed the trap door behind her…

…Only to come face-to-face with two Kwami. One gently amused, the other snarky and mildly offended.

Two Kwami.

“Oh,” was all Marinette could say, just as she heard a gentle tapping on the trap door.

When she opened it, Adrien hung his head over the edge, golden hair flopping down at funny angles.

There was a moment of stunned silence between them.

“I- err- forgot Plagg,” Adrien mumbled, almost too ashamed to admit it.

“Oopsie!” Tikki chortled, trying to hide her amusement behind her little paws. Plagg shot her a reproachful look before turning his ire towards Adrien.

“Yeah, I was wondering when you’d remember me,” Plagg sneered, rolling his eyes. “You know? Me? The one who grants you your powers even though I don’t have to! Honestly you get a girlfriend for five minutes and all of your thinking power goes out of your brain and straight to your-”

“Claws out! Claws out! Claws out!”

Chapter Text

Smoulder Chapter 33

Marinette: For the last time- it was NOT a walk of shame.

Adrien: Well…technically… ;)

Marinette: Number 1. You didn’t walk, you- like- jumped home or whatever. Super-hero style! Number 2. Walk of shames happen after a hook-up and we literally fell asleep and nothing else. Number 3. Even if we did do *that*- it wouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of.

Adrien: T^T

Marinette: :P XxXx

Adrien: Ok you have a point. No way could I ever be ashamed of you. But I still think it was a walk of shame! I left your house in the same clothes I wore the day before! <3 <3 <3

Marinette: Did you take them off though? Xx

Adrien:…No my lady ¬_¬

Marinette: THEN IT WASN’T A WALK OF SHAME! Why do you even want it to be?

Marinette: Wait… I know why…how many puns have you come up with about this?

Adrien: None... ;3 <3

Marinette: Kitty -_- Xx

Adrien: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just want to live up to the slutty blonde model stereotype ;) a slutty blonde model who sleeps with superheroes lolololol.

Adrien: But only superheroes they love of course. XxXxXx

Marinette: Not buying it.

Adrien: Ok eight puns. Nine! Nine! I just thought of a ninth!

Marinette: Knew it! Also you thought the birds and the bees was a literal fairy tale until you were sixteen years old so you aren’t living up to any slutty model stereotypes any time soon I hope! Also-also you already sleep with superheroes. You ARE a superhero, silly alley cat, you sleep with yourself every night ;) Xx

Adrien: T^T I don’t like what you’re implying and Plagg is sitting right behind me cackling. You two are mean! XxXx

Marinette giggled, accidentally bumping against the wall as she typed her response, making sure to delete all the texts referring to their secret identities (as a necessary precaution).

Adrien was on the way to her place, having luckily avoided any confrontations with his carers or father. The pair had been playfully arguing since they’d miraculously gotten away with their accidental sleepover and, as Marinette had predicted, she hadn’t been able to sleep a wink since Chat Noir left.

Heading downstairs to the bakery, she leaned into the kitchen to wave to her father, before walking to the register where her mother was.

“Nino and Alya aren’t here yet?” she asked, reaching for a pain au chocolate. Chocolate would help the nerves. The heady scent consumed her senses, her father’s baking offering a nostalgic comfort whilst she mentally prepared for the sure-to-be awkward encounter.

Sabine shook her head, saying a quick goodbye to a group of customers who’d stopped to buy their breakfast, before patting Marinette’s head softly.

“No, they’ll be here soon. Have you tried texting them?”

“If I do, they’ll know something’s up and this is Adrien’s moment- not mine,” Marinette shook her head, flakes of pasty falling onto the floor as she did so. Under Sabine’s disapproving look, she sheepishly cleaned up after herself before nervously fiddling with her hair. “I hope they aren’t too upset.”

“Well, I’m sure they will be,” Sabine supplied gently, smiling when Marinette began to bite her lip. “But you shouldn’t worry. They’ll handle it ok. You certainly did, and I’m proud of you for that.”

Marinette huffed, sitting on the spinning stool behind the counter, the old one her parents sat on whenever there was a lull of customers and they needed to rest their feet. She leaned backwards, staring at the ceiling with a pout, feeling the familiar pang at the reminder that Adrien was leaving in a few months.

“Oooh that’s not a happy look.”

Marinette’s head swivelled to the counter, startled to see Adrien resting on his elbows as he fixed her with a loving gaze.

Immediately, she tried to stand. Unfortunately, she underestimated how far backwards she’d been leaning. As soon as Marinette’s heels hit the ground, the stool fell out from underneath her and she toppled head-over-heels onto the ground.

The loving look fell from Adrien’s face and he hurried over to help her up.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, scratching the back of his head. His eyes flicked over to Sabine before looking down at his feet.

Marinette glanced at her mother. The two women exchanged a silent conversation the way only women can; a gentle nudge of the head, a widening of the eyes, a crinkling of the forehead- all conveying secret suggestions and opinions. Adrien, of course, was completely oblivious to it.

When Sabine winked, turning around and busying herself with reorganising a macaroon tray, Marinette grabbed Adrien’s wrist and tugged him down so she could press a sweet morning kiss to his lips. The stricken look on Adrien’s face almost made her descend into giggles again. His eyes frantically turned to Marinette’s mother to see if she’d noticed the kiss- only to sigh and clutch his chest when she saw her back turned.

Adrien pouted, and was halfway to quietly admonishing Marinette for kissing him in front of half of her parent’s (not because he didn’t enjoy her kisses- but seriously what if they kicked him out for being improper?!) when he noticed she’d slipped away to grab him a croissant.

She was instantly forgiven.

“So,” Marinette breathed, apprehension fluttering through her insides. If she was feeling anxious, she could only imagine what Adrien felt. “Nervous?”

Adrien nibbled the corner of his croissant, shuffling closer to her.

“I feel better with you here,” he replied, busying himself by tearing pieces of pastry into edible chunks.

Marinette smiled, resting a hand on his arm and giving his bicep a squeeze, rubbing it a little when she realised he was shaking. His face was paler than usual and she wondered if it was due to nerves of lack of sleep.

“They aren’t going to hate you for leaving, you know that right?” she whispered, hoping her tone was soothing enough “I didn’t, did I?”

Adrien sighed, finishing his croissant with half his usual zest.

“I know but… I hate to upset them, almost as much as I hated telling you,” he groaned, running a hand down his face. It seemed like he was already on the verge of tears- and Marinette’s heart went out to him.

She was about to say something else when the bell on the bakery door began to chime. Both of them jumped, trying to look like they weren’t just having a serious conversation as Nino and Alya walked up to the counter, offering cheerful greetings.

“You can do this,” Marinette whispered into Adrien’s ear, linking her fingers with his own.

“Oh yeah! Favourite morning of the week!” Nino punched the air in mini celebration as Sabine handed over his usual order with a chuckle.

“I have to admit, Monday morning’s suck less when your pastries are involved,” Alya yawned, leaning over the counter to press two kisses to Sabine’s cheeks.

“It’s always a pleasure to make sure you kids are well fed,” she chirruped, offering Alya an apple turnover with a mischievous grin. “Besides, it means that Marinette is out of the house early for a change.”

“Mama!” Marinette cried, pouting in betrayal as the bakery rang with laughter.

Adrien squeezed her hand and she wrinkled her nose in response.

Once pleasantries were out of the way, the four of them headed outdoors to the small park near Marinette’s house. They had enough time to lounge on the grass before heading to school and the day was shaping up to be gorgeous. The air was crisp and promising, the sun already bright in the sky. It almost seemed a shame that such a wonderful day would be spent finishing their remaining exams along with their history presentation.

“I have the USB,” Alya declared. Being the most organised out of all of them (even beating Adrien), she’d been the one trusted to keep their presentation slides safe. “Do we need to add anything?”

“I think we’re all good now,” Marinette supplied as they settled on the grass. Nino stretched out, placing his head on Alya’s lap and taking off his cap as he stared at the few clouds rolling by.

“So, I guess this was our last project together,” he pondered aloud, more to himself than the group.

A heavy silence settled on the gang. Marinette tucked her legs underneath her, leaning up against Adrien, and he wrapped an arm around her waist. Alya began running her hands through Nino’s rapidly-growing hair. All of them were thinking the same thing, feeling the inevitable hands of time ticking by, ready to change their lives forever. Soon, moments like this would be few and far between. Monday morning pastry dates before school would be a thing of the past, grumbling over shared teachers, texting each other in class to try and get each other in trouble, all of these memories would be left behind like grains of sand dropping to the base of an hourglass.

“It was fun though,” Marinette smiled softly, words dripping with a melancholy she couldn’t contain. The word ‘was’ hanging in the air.

“Yeah,” Alya sighed, hands stalling in Nino’s hair.

Adrien played with the blades of grass brushing against his converse, lips scrunching as he did so. Feeling Marinette’s gaze on him, he looked up. Their eyes met and he inched forwards, placing his forehead on hers. Warmth spread between them, and the tenderness in her touches gave him the strength to say what he didn’t want to.

He pulled away, arm moving from Marinette’s waist back to her lap so he could hold hands with her again.

“Guys,” he coughed, cleared his throat, stalled. “I have something I need to tell you both.”

Nino and Alya shifted, their attention completely on him. Perhaps through their years of friendship, they’d picked up on Adrien’s emotional cues the way he had for them. Adrien forced himself to stop playing with the grass.

His heart beat slowly, yet every thrum was painful, as if it was being wrung out like a wet sponge.

“Is everything ok bro?” Nino asked, leaning up onto his forearms.

Alya looked at Marinette, a worried question sparkling beneath her bespectacled gaze. In response, Marinette shook her head- not saying a word.

“Fine,” Adrien reassured before he could help himself, cringing at the accidental lie as he hastened to correct himself. “I mean, they aren’t but they will be?”

“What’s this about? Are you in trouble somehow? Is your dad giving you trouble?” Alya blurted out, unable to contain herself from seeking answers. “Do you need help? You seem upset.”

“No, no! It’s not ugh-” Adrien stammered, stumbled over his words, panicking the longer he dragged it out. He wasn’t good at confrontations. The adults in his life had tried to drum out his confrontational side at a young age, but Plagg (and Ladybug) had helped him in that regard- at least as Chat.

But as Adrien? He was still weak.

Simultaneously, he felt a soft rummaging from the inside pocket of his jacket and Marinette resting her head on his shoulder. The painful throbbing in his heart stalled. Taking a deep breath, he tilted his chin, holding himself proud. He would not run away from this.

“You know how I’m taking a gap year to help my dad with his company? Well- in order to do that- I have to- I mean- I’m moving to London for the year. With my dad. To help him with the new HQ.”

The worlds dropped from his mouth, danced on the breeze. Alya and Nino were silent.

At first, Adrien wanted to panic, but a voice of reason told him to stay quiet, to allow his friends time for it to sink in.

Nino was the first to speak.

“So… you’re leaving?”

Adrien’s shoulders collapsed. He’d been tensing them unconsciously.

“Yes,” he rasped, hating the way Nino’s voice cracked.

Alya shifted until her legs were free from Nino’s hold. Shuffling closer to Marinette, she placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder.

“Did you know?” she whispered.

Marinette nodded.

“I found out not too long ago,” she replied, the soft smile back on her face. “And yeah, it’s terrible, especially because we just got together but you know, it’s only for a year, right?”

“Yeah!” Adrien chirped, jumping on the optimism bandwagon. “It’ll suck but I can get you all cool stuff from London! And we can have skype dates, and there’s always the internet for gaming! Besides England’s only an hour behind and it’s only a short journey on the Eurostar. It’s not like I’m going missing for a whole year- I’ll come and visit. It’s going to-”

He paused when he heard a sniff, muscles subconsciously tensing again.

Nino had his face covered, his shoulders were shaking, and Adrien’s face fell when he saw the tears streaking down his best friend’s face.

“It doesn’t change the fact that you’re leaving bro,” Nino choked, shaking his head. “It doesn’t change the fact that you’re going away, that things are gonna change, that I’m losing the first best friend I ever had.”

Feeling his throat grow tight, his eyes begin to burn, Adrien stood up. He held his hand out to Nino.

“Bro, come here. Please?” he implored, begged, and was relieved when Nino took his arm away from his face. When Nino accepted his hand, Adrien pulled him to his feet and straight into his arms, wrapping them around him in a fierce hug.

Nino buried his face into Adrien’s shoulder.

“Sorry, sorry. I’m being an idiot,” Nino warbled, voice muffled by Adrien’s jacket. “You’re moving away for a year. S’not like you’re not coming back or you’re moving to the mars- though that’d be cool.”

“You’re not being an idiot!” Alya cried, jumping to her feet, Marinette not far behind her. Her own eyes looked remarkably bright and her breath caught as she spoke. “It’s ok, honey.”

“Alya’s right,” Marinette urged as the girl in question pressed a comforting hand to Nino’s back, “I cried so much when Adrien told me. He cried, I cried some more, then we both cried at the same time. It was a total mess of snot and tears.”

The four of them huddled together, ignoring passers-by as they stared at the emotional display.

It was a while before Adrien trusted himself to speak.

“You can’t lose me Nino. We’re brothers, and that’s never going to change no matter where I am in the world,” he vowed, pulling away from their hug so he could place his hands on Nino’s shoulders. “I could be in Antarctica and I’d be showing pics of you to my new penguin buddies, talking about my best bro in the whole world, and the penguins would be totally jealous of our bond.”

Nino offered him a watery smile, which Adrien returned.

“Growing up sucks,” Nino grumbled, stepping away and rubbing his eyes until they were free of tears.

“Agreed,” Marinette agreed, ruffling Adrien’s hair fondly.

“It’s the suckiest,” Adrien whined, melodramatically flopping a hand against his forehead. It seemed to do the trick with easing the tension though, as the other laughed in response.

“I’m going to miss you, newbie-buddy,” Alya confessed, lightly punching Adrien’s arm. “We joined school at the same time and now you’re leaving me with these old timers! You better make sure the present you said you were gonna get is something mega-awesome to make up for it.”

“I will Alya, it’ll be the most awesome present in the entire world. It’ll make Ladybug’s yo-yo look like a kid’s toy!”

From behind Nino and Alya's backs, Marinette poked her tongue out at him. Adrien quirked his lips by way of apology, but he knew she understood it was in jest- if her fond eye roll was anything to go by.

There wasn’t much else to be said, and time was running short, so they began the slow trek towards school. Marinette and Alya, sensing that the boys needed some time to be together, fell a few paces behind.

The sun was still shining, the trees were as green and vivid as any other summer day, birds tweeted, time moved on. In the comfortable silence which fell between herself and Alya, Marinette pondered how the future could be so frightening and so bittersweet, so exciting yet so uncertain.

She was brought out of such musings when she felt Alya slip her hand underneath Marinette’s arm, so the pair were linked at the elbow. Once again, she felt that familiar flutter of sisterhood, of total belonging.

“Everything’s going to change now, isn’t it?” Alya said and, for once, she seemed more insecure than Marinette did.

“Sort of, but also not,” Marinette hummed, tilting her head to the side as she awkwardly darted around a harried looking businessman, not wanting to break her link with Alya. “I mean we have each other, don’t we? I don’t think that’ll change just ‘cause we’re going to different universities.”

“Since when did you get so wise, Madame Freak-out?” Alya teased, bumping her shoulder.

Marinette paused for a minute, thoughts wandering to the snoozing pink bundle in her bag, then to the boys in front of them, the girl beside her, her parents in the bakery they left behind.

“I’ve had help,” she replied with a knowing smile, fingers brushing against one of her earrings.


“I need help!” Adrien yelped, coughing up what must have been several bags of flour.

Marinette and Tikki exchanged amused glances. It was early evening and the pair, plus Kwami, were tucked away in bakery kitchen, making bread as a way to get rid of the tension from the day. Though their History presentation had gone off without a hitch, the solemn mood from Adrien’s revelation had remained, hanging like smog on an otherwise bright day.

So, hoping to be a good girlfriend, Marinette thought it would be a fun idea to have some quality time with Adrien by teaching him something she’d learnt to do almost as soon as she’d been able to walk. It would at least be a welcome distraction.

There was just one tiny, and hilarious, problem.

Adrien was absolutely terrible at baking.

In hindsight, it made sense. After all, he was a rich kid, he had all his dinners made by a chef and only ever stepped foot in the kitchen to steal snacks and cheese for Plagg (who, at that moment was alternating between napping in between cooking utensils and laughing at his chosen). However, once Marinette had shown him what to do, she’d been certain he’d be able to pick it up in no time.

Oh how wrong she’d been.

Over the past thirty minutes, she’d had to watch Adrien attempt to make a simple loaf of bread three times. The first one he dropped on the floor, the second he added too much water until it resembled a soup (not knowing that Plagg had woken from a nap and had also been adding extra water whenever Adrien wasn’t looking). Currently, he was on his third attempt and seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Well,” Tikki murmured in her ear, “at least he’s not thinking about London anymore!”

Marinette, having long since finished with her own dough, had to stuff her finger in her mouth to prevent herself laughing.

Swiftly, and only once she managed to turn expression neutral, Marinette stepped towards the counter where Adrien currently had his head in his hands- getting dough in the golden strands which framed his face. Marinette, quite wisely she thought, decided not to comment.

“What do you need help with kitten?” she asked wrapping her arms around his waist and nuzzling into his back.

Everything,” he whined, placing his hands on her arms as though they were a lifeline.

“Wow,” Tikki snorted, resting on Marinette’s head. “Couples who spend lots of time together do start to sound alike!”

“You tell ‘em darling,” Plagg cackled from his spot above them on the ceiling rack, where he was nestled in between a colander and a ladle. His amusement was short lived, however, as Adrien threw some water at him, and the cat-Kwami ducked out of the way with a hiss.

“Look who’s talking you two,” Marinette quipped.

Noting the way Adrien’s head was bowed, as well as the tension she could feel in his spine as she cuddled him, Marinette turned to the Kwami and asked for a few moments alone with her partner.

Tikki nudged Plagg away, no doubt to watch some TV on Marinette’s tablet. Before they left, she made sure to remind them to keep it down- as her parents were in the apartment above cleaning up after dinner.

When they were alone, Marinette side-stepped Adrien, dropping her face to the counter to prod and poke at the dough. It was a bit harder than she would have liked, but it really wasn’t bad for a third attempt. Still, she decided, Adrien needed more encouragement than constructive criticism for the time being.

“It looks good!” she declared, standing up and placing her hands on her hips, relieved to see Adrien sigh. “You want to do the fun thing now?”

“What the fun thing?” Adrien asked warily. “You said this was going to be fun and I’ve made it a total disaster.”

Marinette smirked, leaning close and standing on tip toes. Her fingers walked up Adrien’s chest until they were at his collar and her eyes sparkled with mischief. She could feel Adrien gulp.

“Hmm? What’s this?” she asked rhetorically, eyebrows wiggling. “Have I discovered something the oh-so-perfect model student, model son, and actual model-model Adrien Agreste can’t do? Have I possibly found something he isn’t- dare I say it- good at?”

Recovering quickly from his surprise, Adrien pulled her into his embrace, placing his hands on her hips and fixing her with a Chat Noir smirk.

“Perhaps, but do you know what I am good at?” he purred. “Something I’m pretty sure I know you like.”

“No, what could you possibly mean?” Marinette crooned, tapping his nose.

The smirk grew as he bowed down to her ear and, if the shiver that went up her spine was any indication, Marinette was quite certain she’d fallen into a trap. But it was too late to take her words back.

“I’m great at underwear modelling,” he whispered, placing a light kiss on the tip of her ear.

Almost immediately, Marinette pushed against his chest, her face turning a brilliant shade of scarlet.

“Oh my god REALLY!?” she cried.

Adrien laughed, leaning back on the counter, his head to the side. In the light of the slowly setting sun he might have looked angelic (messy blonde hair, smudges of oil and flour all over him, flawless skin) were it not for the infuriating grin on his face. In that moment, Marinette absolutely loathed him.

Stupid gorgeous boyfriend.

“What’s the matter Princess? You don’t like all of this?”

He stood up straight and, to add insult to injury, began to flex his biceps inches from her face. Marinette, taking a leaf out of Adrien’s own book, chose to dip her fingers in the small dish of water and flick the droplets at her boyfriend’s face. He immediately stopped flexing, jolting backwards with a startled yelp.

Marinette crossed her arms over her chest, masking her frustration with that of a different sort. He couldn’t know how much he was affecting her, or she’d never have a moment’s peace.

“Are you done?” she frowned, eyebrows knotting closer together when Adrien chuckled. Well, she supposed, at least he’d cheered up a little.

“Ok, ok, no posing in the kitchen,” he submitted with a small salute. “So, what’s the fun thing?”

Taking a big sigh to calm herself (when did the kitchen get so hot?) Marinette picked up the dough ball in both hands.

“Papa taught me that whenever you have lots of pent up aggression you should slam some dough on the counter,” she explained. “Like, for example, I’m worried about how well Volpino and I will work together without you but when I do this-”

She slammed the dough onto the counter, where it landed with a satisfying slapping noise. Marinette sighed again, smiling, and turned an encouraging gaze to Adrien-

“I suddenly feel a lot better! It’s not like the worry has totally gone away, but it’s a great stress reliever. I was thinking that when you’re in London and we’re not around to talk when you’re worried about something, you could try doing this instead? Here.”

She moved out of the way, offering him space to try on his own.

Adrien plucked the dough from its (slightly squished) spot on the flour-strew surface. He played with it cautiously.

“So, I just think of something that’s worrying me?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” Marinette replied, trying not to look at his forearms, or the way his fingers played with the dough, and failing miserably. “You just think of the worry and slam me hard onto the counter.”

Adrien froze, the dough flopped from his fingers and hit the counter with a soft splat.

Marinette wanted to die.

“I meant the dough!” she squeaked. “The dough! Not me- I mean why would I want to be slammed onto a counter that’s totally ridiculous! Slip of the tongue- silly Marinette hahaha,” kill me. Kill me now. “ANYWAY! Yeah you just think of a worry and-”

Her ramblings died a quick death. Her feet left the ground and, before she knew it, she was perched on the edge of the counter, Adrien’s arms either side of her body, pinning her there.

“-And slam you onto the counter?” He supplied, his voice rougher, and deeper, than she’d ever heard it.

Her skin tingled, lips parting. Anticipation worked its way up her spine, as she lost herself in Adrien’s heated gaze. Her heart seemed intent on bursting through her chest.

Wow, was all her brain could conjure as Adrien closed the gap in order to kiss her senseless, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.

“Umm…”

“HEY! LOVEBIRDS! Quit being gross for two seconds and pay attention to me!”

Adrien broke the kiss to rest his forehead on Marinette’s shoulder.

“Plagg I swear to god I’m going to MURDER you,” he growled, his whole body shuddering.

It would have been funny, if Marinette hadn’t been thinking something similar.

“We’re sorry we had to interrupt,” Tikki interjected, sounding genuinely apologetic. “You can kill Plagg after we get rid of the akuma hanging out near your school.”

“Hey!” Plagg hissed.

Marinette blinked, still drunk on Adrien’s sudden boldness, her legs flopping over the countertop. Luckily for her, Adrien recovered quicker, and helped her back down, wrapping her arms around her waist tenderly.

“Of, course there’s an akuma, there’s always an akuma,” he pouted.

Feeling a wave of empathy, Marinette leaned up on tip-toes to kiss his cheek.

“It’s ok, there’ll be other times, more bread making, more umm-” her eyes darted to the countertop, hoping Adrien would catch her meaning- “that.”

Adrien himself, seemed to realise exactly what he’d done, and his cheeks turned a remarkable shade of red that could rival even Marinette’s blushes.

“Cool, cool, that’s great, that’s err-” he stammered.

“Top notch?” Marinette offered, slipping out of his hold and sashaying over to Tikki. She could practically hear Adrien’s jaw drop, and felt altogether too proud of the fact. That, plus the fact that she was actually able to walk after what had just transpired, gave her a nice little ego boost.

“Oh, come on am I ever going to live that down?!” Adrien cried.

“Not a chance Kitty,” Marinette replied, meeting his eyes as she transformed right in front of him. “Not a chance.”

Chapter Text

The akuma was relentless.

Ladybug’s heart flipped as the rooftop below her feet began to crumble, turning into a slew of muddy rocks and boulders. Beside her, Chat Noir yelped out as he lost his footing. She reached out to grab his tail just in time.

Without stopping to think further, Ladybug threw out her yo-yo to the nearest lamp post, swinging both her and Chat to safety just in time.

Or so she thought.

Too late she realised the akuma must have zapped the lamp too. The once taught string of her yo-yo slackened. Her and Chat fell to the ground with separate shrieks.

Before they hit the pavement, Chat wrapped himself around her, placing a hand behind her head to protect it from the impact. Ladybug closed her eyes, felt the sudden smack of concrete rattle her bones, before the pair of them rolled gently to a stop.

“Well My Lady,” Chat grunted from below her, winking, “seems you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

“Seriously?!” she cried, pulling him to his feet and flicking his nose.

“I saw an op-purr-tunity and took it,” he replied, wiggling his nose.

“Not your fe-linest moment Kitty,” she shot back as they ran for cover, ducking and dodging falling boulders as they did so. They leapt a few streets away from the akuma, hiding behind a large dumpster in order to come up with a plan.

The Akuma, whom they’d nicknamed Landslide, was particularly nasty. Neither Ladybug nor Chat had been able to verbally engage with him so his motivations remained vague. But some akumas were like that, angry and hurting, dedicated to causing as much chaos as possible. They  were usually the most dangerous ones and Landslide was no exception.

“We have to concentrate on keeping  the akuma contained,” Ladybug huffed, eyebrows knotting together in a frown.

“And getting as many people out of the area as possible,” Chat agreed. Luckily they’d managed to evacuate most people from the buildings, and force them to head for safety. Chat had been the distraction whilst Ladybug warned others and Alya, being the ever present blogger, had spread the word over the internet. Unfortunately there were still a few stragglers, those interested in seeing the superheroes fighting with their own two eyes, and others who were simply panicking and not thinking things through.

From a few streets down, Landslide let our a roar which caused them both to jump. Ladybug grabbed Chat and pulled him down to the ground where they hid, waiting, hoping…

Dio! He sounds rather grumpy no?”

Ladybug glanced up to see Volpino hanging from a window box by his bushy tail. Once he realised they’d noticed him, he dropped down to the floor to join them,  crouching down to their level. His ears flattened against his head so that they wouldn’t stick out from the top of the dumpster and give them away. Impressive, Ladybug thought, that he’d leaned how to control his extra appendages so quickly. Chat had taken months to be able to control his tail, and it still had a life of its own…

…Or did it?

That pesky cat.

“Forgive me for intruding,” Volpino interrupted her train of thoughts, “Nathanael and I were nearby when I saw the akuma attack. We ran away and, once I made sure he was safe, I managed to lose him so I could find you-” he ran a worried hand through his hair- “the akuma seems rather viscious so if you two need help, I’m willing and able though it is not my- ahh- my time yet. So to speak.”

Ladybug mulled their options over, placing her fingers on her chin. On the one hand it was nothing her and Chat  couldn’t handle, and Volpino hadn’t been announced to the press yet so this was sure to cause a media frezy. On the other hand there were people in very real danger. Any extra hands would be useful and the media were going to go crazy over a new hero regardless. Headline stories meant nothing over the safety of the people they were in charge of protecting.

She glanced over at Chat, who nodded solemnly. He seemed to be sharing the same thoughts as her.

“Ok,” she complied, ushering him closer. Volpino beamed, ears perked as he hurried towards them, though he quickly forced them down again.

“You have powers of illusion right?” Chat asked looking at the flute residing on Volpino’s hip. “That’ll be pretty handy actually!”

For a moment, Volpino’s smile faltered.

“Should I try… distracting the akuma with some illusions?” he supplied, grinning once more. Neither Ladybug nor Chat Noir noticed the tightness in his jaw, the faint knit of his brow.

“Hmm, it would be good if you distracted him with illusions, then Chat could attack to keep the akuma from straying and causing more damage. I could fall back and use the time to figure out where the akuma is and then Lucky Charm it,” Ladybug replied as another roar echoed through the streets, making them flinch. “Can you two stall him?”

“Can do, My Lady,” Chat bowed.

“It looks like the villain is intent on causing distruction to buildings and objects rather than people. Perhaps I should create things which will grab his attention?” Volpino suggested and the three leapt up from where Volpino had appeared. The fox in question already had his flute staff out ready.

Crounching on the rooftop gave them a good vantage point of Landslide marching down the street. It was strange. He looked like an ordinary man dressed like an over-exaggerated version of an explorer- yet every step he made sounded and felt like a hundred stampeding elephants. The three of them watched as the akumatised man zapped everything from mailboxes, to cars and road signs. He made no move to destroy any more buildings.

Ladybug’s mind worked a mile a minute, connecting the dots. With Landslide’s back to them, she couldn’t see what he was using to attack others but was sure it must be where the akuma resided. They’d been right with their plan to get closer.

“He’s not attacking anything living!” Chat gasped.  “Not even trees. Man, talk about Green Peace!”

“Maybe Landslide’s attacks don’t work on anything living,” Ladybug replied, ignoring Chat’s pun and instead turning to her right, where Volpino was. “If you get as close as you can, use the trees as a shield.”

“It’d be my pleasure, coccinella,” Volpino smirked, vaulted over the roof, and hurried into the fray. There were still people running around, screaming at the top of their lungs. A few stopped to stare when they saw him, curious that this strange new person had appeared when the two usual superheroes were nowhere to be found, and Volpino put his fingers to his lips to signify he was not to be noticed at that point in time.

Using her stealthiest moves, Ladybug crawled and leapt across the rooftops, making sure Landslide didn’t spot her. From her peripheral vision she saw Chat jumping forwards, tailing curling, as he twisted into the shadows behind a street corner. It was there he’d lie in wait, ready for Volpino’s distraction.

Volpino concentrated, hands shaking as he brought the flute to his lips and focused on creating something small. A car perhaps? He could create the illusion of a small car, like a smart car or a beetle. He could do that.

His hearbeat thrummed in his ears, his breath quivered as he blew into the flute, picturing the car in his minds eye, willing himself to create, create, create

Along with a raspy melody, a small whisp of orange smoke blew out of the end of his flute, creating the vague shadowey image of a car, before it disappeared on the wind.

Volpino tried again. Thought of something smaller. A bicycle would do.

The same thing happened.

A roadsign then?

For the third time, Volpino brought the flute to his lips and tried to picture something tiny. Surely a roadsign wasn’t beyond his capabilities? Surely!

But, alas, the more he tried the less it worked.

He growled, holding his flute staff in a vice-like grip. Why couldn’t he do this? Why was he failing?

Volpino was so concerned with his powers that he didn’t sense trouble until Landslide was right before him. The faint grunt, the heavy footsteps, shook him to the core and he slowly tilted his chin, ears and tail drooping…

It was the first time he’d seen a possessed person up close, seen the faint glow of purple, the signs of their internal manipulation. The soul behind Landslide’s eyes was unreachable, the faint glisten of them was like a layer of impenetrable glass. Volpino had never seen eyes like it, so dark and cruel. It was like staring straight into the eyes of Hawkmoth himself, and it was then that Volpino truly understood how puppetlike his victims were, how they could have no recollection of what had occurred.

With one swipe of his hand, Hawkmoth was able to strip the humanity from any person who dared feel enough, dared hope enough, dared hurt enough. That, more than anything, terrified him the most.

Because anyone could be a victim to this. To be human was to be prey.

Volpino froze, held captive by that sickly purple glow, by that terrifyingly un-humanlike gaze.

Without warning, Landslide swiped, striking Volpino’s side and sending him flying across the street. With the sickening crunch of metal, Volpino struck the roof of a car and rolled into a heap on the pavement below.

“Volpino!”

Chat launched forwards, using his staff to swipe at Landslide.

Whilst Chat fought, Volpino tried to stop his brain rattling in his mind, but the clanging of the steel baton against whatever Landslide’s weapon was did nothing to help him in that regard. He groaned, rolling onto his back, and tried to sit up.

“Are you ok?”

Volpino’s heart sank when he turned to see who’d called him so worriedly.

“Nathanael?! What- what are you doing here?” he leapt to his feet, ignoring the neauseating swoop which he felt, unsure whether it was due to the presence of the man before him or the physical blow he’d just be dealt. It didn’t matter. Nathanael was there, and all of his worst fears were coming true. None of his illusions worked, he was a liability to Ladybug and Chat Noir, and now his boyfriend was in harms way.

“I’m looking for Louis,” Nathanael cried, huffing breathlessly. He was shaking from head to toe, his eyes were watery and his lips trembled. But none of that mattered to Volpino. For once he felt entirely selfish in his fears, owned them without a care for anything else. “I lost him! I can’t find him anywhere, please if you see him-”

“I promise I will look after him but you have to leave right now,” Volpino interrupted, voice harried. He reached up to Nathanael’s hair, gently brushing it to one side without thinking. “Please? Get somewhere safe first. I need to- to help Ladybug and Chat Noir.”

Nathanael stared into Volpino’s eyes, that same piercing stare he’d given him the night before. But Volpino could not find himself to be stirred by it. Just this once, just this once he would ignore Nathanael’s feelings. Just this once. It would be ok wouldn’t it?

“Please?” he begged, his voice barely above a whisper. “I can’t do this if I know you’re in danger.”

“Volpino!” Ladybug was yelling, beckoning him over. Volpino glanced over his shoulder and then back at Nathanael, who’d turned very pale, and remained deadly silent.

“Go,” Volpino said, lightly pushing him away. “Go. Now.”

Trusting that Nathanael would heed his words, Volpino hurled himself over the ruined car and back into the fray, just in time to catch Chat Noir as he was thrown back by a kick from Landslide.

“We’re in a rocky situation to be sure,” Chat groaned, thanking Volpino as he righted himself and Ladybug sent Landslide flying with her own revenge-kick. “LB, have you figured out where the akuma is?”

“I’m sure it’s the pickaxe he was using to fight with you. It’s what he uses to transform objects to rubble,” Ladybug replied before looking at Volpino, face a mixture of worry and caution. “Hey, what happened back there?”

Volpino glanced at his weapon, feeling utterly helpless, like a spare thumb.

“I can’t make illusions, it’s just not working for me,” he admitted as Landslide pulled himself from the ground and the three got into a fighting stance. “I’ve been doubting my abilities too much and now I am a liability.”

“You can do it,” Chat encouraged, “you just have to believe you can. You just need-”

“LOOK OUT!” Ladybug cried.

The three of them ducked out of the way of Landslide’s attack just in time. A purple beam shot over their heads, ruffling their hair, sending chills up their spines…

It struck a building at the end of the street.

Ladybug’s heart stopped as the building turned to rubble before their eyes, window panes became pebbles which flew and struck the screaming pedestrians as they ran for their lives. Balconies became boulders, crashing down and demolishing everything in their path. Bricks became mud, and dirt.

Then the building began to collapse. Most people ran free as the dust cloud picked up.

But one person wasn’t so lucky.

Chat was the first to react. As Volpino and Ladybug stared in horror, he ran forwards, leaping onto Nathanael, covering him with his body.

The pair disappeared under a slurry of rocks and mud.

“CHAT!”

“NATHANAEL!”

Ladybug collapsed to the ground, her mind turning blank, the street disappeared before her eyes, the world, the whole universe was gone in the blink of an eye. All she could see was Chat disappearing over and over and over again.

She couldn’t breathe.

This wasn’t happening.

This wasn’t happening.

Volpino grabbed her hand, yanking her out of the way of another attack. Instincts were guiding him as he punched Landslide in the face and dragged Ladybug towards the collapsed building. He worked like a robot, denying what he’d just seen. Because Nathanael was running to safety. He was safe. He had to be safe. He couldn’t not be safe. That wasn’t an option.

But then he reached the immovable mountain of dirt and rocks, and the fact that Nathanael was underneath them smacked him with more force than all the blows landed to him thus far.

He dropped to his knees, frantically pulling the rocks and mud aside with his fingers, not caring how deranged he looked as he cried out for Nathanael, voice breaking, digging deeper and deeper. The longer he dug, the longer he was unable to find him, the more frenzied he became.

Seeing Volpino so despairing snapped Ladybug out of her own shock, and she threw her yoyo up into the to call for a Lucky Charm, dodging another attack from Landslide in the process.

“A mirror,” she mumbled, looking at the rectangular object, roughly twice the size of her hand. She focused on ways to use it. Because Chat would be ok. He had to be. He would be- if she had anything to say about it.

Landslide pointed his pickaxe at the building next to the one which had just collapsed, the one which Ladybug was currently standing over. He sent another bolt of purple light towards the wall closest.

Ignoring how utterly sick with worry she truly was, Ladybug jumped in the way of the light, using the mirror as a shield to deflect the attack. Aiming the reflective surface towards the pickaxe, she hoped it would strike the object and release the purple butterfly…

She held her breath…

It landed across the street, hitting a car and immediately turning it to rubble.

Ladybug cursed, dropping back to the ground and running forwards with a battle cry. Every muscle in her body propelled her forwards. Landslide aimed his pickaxe at the ground beneath her.

She jumped. Before Landslide’s attack could build up any sort of power, Ladybug’s shoulder smashed straight into his chest. A terrible crunching sound filled the air as he crashed to the ground.

A powerful jolt of black light rippled through the air, distracting Ladybug from the currently immobilised Landslide, and she turned just in time to see Volpino falling backwards. The mass of mud and dirt covering Nathanael and Chat began to change, began to darken.

Ladybug clenched her hand to her chest. Her right hand dangled limply, loosely clutching the mirror by her side.

Come on Chat, come on…

All at once a mighty blast of air almost knocked Ladybug off her feet. Picking her arms up to shield herself, her eyes widened and her heart jumped in hope as the boulders began to disintegrate before her. Then, quite suddenly, they all vanished, disappearing as though they’d never been there to begin with.

Right where he’d disappeared, Chat sat on his knees, dirty and scowling, with his arm raised in the claw-like motion symbolic of his signature move.

In his other arm, he cradled Nathanael.

“N- Nathanael!”

Volpino rushed forwards, gently taking Nathanael away from Chat Noir. Wrapping his arms around him protectively, but not too tightly, he searched all over for scars or signs of injury. His jaw dropped when he found none.

“You’re not hurt? You’re ok?!” Volpino gasped, almost laughed through sheer relief. Despite this, he couldn’t seem to believe Nathanael was truly ok, and had to brush his fingers against his cheek, just to be sure.

Nathanael gazed up at him, eyes round and glossy. His hair was a mess, he was covered in all manner of mud and dust, but he was alive. He was alive, and breathing, and so very beautiful that-

“LADYBUG LOOK OUT!”

Chat Noir’s cry shook Volpino out of his reverie and he glanced up just in time to see Ladybug dodge a punch sent her way from Landslide. The mirror she’d been holding clattered to the floor.

Chat rushed up to help her, baton already out, but it was too late. Before either of them could stop him, Landslide pointed his pickaxe at the mirror and blasted it to smithereens. Only little stones remained.

As Chat duelled with Landslide once more, and Ladybug clutched her hair, trying to figure out a solution in less than five minutes without aid of her Lucky Charm, Volpino’s jaw tightened. He looked down at Nathanael once more, and then to the surrounding destruction which the akuma had wrought. Time seemed to stand still as he took this all in, as he breathed in the chaos.

And suddenly, something clicked.

“I am needed out there,” he said, his voice low and deep.

“I know. So hurry. Go,” Nathanael replied, parroting Volpino’s previous words to him. “I’ll be ok. Do your thing.”

Volpino smiled, pulling Nathanael to his feet, his lips brushing against the redheads knuckles. They did not exchange goodbyes. They didn’t need to.

When Volpino ran to Ladybug’s side, she instantly grabbed his arm and tugged him towards her.

“Volpino I know you’re finding it hard to conjure illusions right now and that’s ok, you can hang back and try again whilst I try to see if- maybe I can conjure another Lucky Charm seeing as the last one broke? I don’t know if it’ll work but we don’t have much time,” she huffed, both frustrated and at her wits end. Her brow was sweaty, hair sticking to her forehead, and she swiped it aside angrily.

“I can do it,” Volpino explained hurriedly, aware of the limited time frame they had now that Chat and Ladybug had used their special attack. “But I have err, a special attack? Is that what you call it? I have that.”

“And you can do it?” Ladybug grabbed his arm, squeezed it with more power than she probably realised.

“At first I wasn’t sure but-” Volpino tilted his chin up, fixing her with a grave stare- “I’m ready now. I know I can do it. Now. The attack isn’t as powerful as yours, and it doesn’t last very long at all. But I know I can at least try.”

Ladybug bobbed her head in understanding, stepping backwards to give Volpino space.

There wasn’t time to breathe, to control himself or go into the attack with a level head. When Volpino closed his eyes, bringing both hands to the charm around his neck, the heart which beat below it was still thumping wildly. His hands were still shaking, his body was still a mix of fire and ice, waging war in his gut.

“FOX POPULI!”  

Chat Noir sent a kick to Landslide’s knees, trying to topple him as the two wrestled for the pickaxe. The beeping of his miraculous reminded him they only had minutes to spare.

And then a voice floated through the air, quiet yet demanding, and somehow otherworldly. It pierced Chat’s soul and his cat ears automatically flattened against his head. The voice didn’t quite sound human.

When he looked up, Chat almost shrieked at the sight of Landslide- his eyes glowed, pupils and iris completely vanished, replaced instead with a bright orange hue.

Volpino stood by Ladybug’s side, his eyes glowing the same colour as the villains. His whole being seemed lighter, almost possessed, as if Louis had disappeared completely.

Chat shuddered.

“Landslide!” Volpino was saying, “listen to me, I know you want nothing more than to end this. I know you want to be free of this curse. Drop your weapon. Let us free you. Let us free you, you don’t have to hurt anymore…”

The air itself seemed to tighten, frozen with anticipation as they waited to see if Volpino’s move had worked.

A flash of purple sparked behind Landslide’s eyes and, for the faintest of seconds, both he and Volpino flinched. Chat wondered if that was Hawkmoth trying to regain control of Landslide’s mind…

But there would be time for such questions later. Chat gripped his baton, ready, waiting for the moment to pounce.

Just as Volpino’s eyes returned back to normal, Landslide dropped the pickaxe. Volpino stumbled, dazed, but neither Ladybug nor Chat had time to check up on him.

“Chat now!” Ladybug yelled, using her yoyo to wrap around the weapon and pull it close, smashing it to pieces. Meanwhile, Chat tackled Landslide to the floor, causing the ground to quake. The akumatised victim struggled to break free of Chat’s hold, but Chat was immovable.

It was with a sigh of relief that Ladybug released the newly cleansed white butterfly into the sky. Throwing her empty hand up, she cried out for the Miraculous Cure and, all at once, things returned to normal.

Chat helped the newly freed man to his feet as the poor victim stared around in befuddlement. The police wasted no time at all in collecting him, and a counsellor was on hand to help him process what he’d been through (a new initiative thought up by Ladybug and Chat, for which the mayor had of course taken credit).

“Man, talk about rock and roll!” Chat cried, jogging back to Ladybug and Volpino’s side. He beamed at Volpino. “You did great! That move was freaky as hell, but it was crazy awesome too!”

He was almost knocked over as Volpino threw his arms around him. Ladybug stayed remarkably silent, not even commenting on his pun.

“Thank you,” Volpino replied, burying his head into the crook of Chat’s neck. “You saved Nathanael. You could have been hurt or worse, but you still saved him.”

“Ah no worries,” Chat replied, flustered but returning Volpino’s hug. “It’s what teammates do, right Ladybug?”

The spotted heroine was still staring at her feet, fingers in her hair, when Chat released Volpino and padded over to her, face a picture of worry.

“Hey love bug? Don’t worry, I’m ok and we did it! We beat him!” He held up his fist for their signature celebration. “Pound it?”

It was only when Ladybug looked at his fist, and then up at him, that Chat saw the tears in her eyes. The beeps reminded them they had perhaps a minute to spare. His heart leapt into his throat.

And then, without thinking of the consequences, without thinking of the press surrounding them, or the police watching; without thinking of their new teammate or their miraculous, Ladybug shook her head, pushed Chat’s fist aside, and kissed him.

Chapter Text

The bakery was just as they’d left it, but the light had completely changed.

Instead of the bright light of the sun beaming through the windows, the cold blues of early twilight hung in the air. The eeriness of the now ruined dough, the dustings of long-forgotten flour, made it seem as though they’d been gone for years rather than a mere hour at best. It was almost haunting, stifling.

Adrien glanced at Marinette, who’d walked to the other side of the room, offering Tikki a cookie with none of her usual cheer. He couldn’t see her face, couldn’t fathom what she was thinking, and it left him adrift on a silent sea with no compass to guide him. They hadn’t spoken since they’d de-transformed, and the silence twisted in Adrien’s gut, reminding him of things unsaid though he hadn’t a clue what those things were. The thin line of Marinette’s lips, the paleness in her cheeks and the stiffness of her limbs told Adrien to keep quiet. It wasn’t that she was being cruel, he knew that, but something was clearly bothering her and she needed time.

They’d kissed. Or- rather- she’d kissed him. In front of the whole world, Ladybug had laid her heart out on a silver platter and Chat Noir had returned her affections with fervour. If she was going to be dragged through the torrent of media sensationalism, he was going with her. There was no question about it. He hadn’t known, hadn’t understood why she kissed him at the time, but he’d be damned if he didn’t let the world know that yes, we love each other and yes, I will stand by My Lady’s decision no matter what. Let people make of that what they may.

Shifting his eyes to Plagg, Adrien was surprised to see the black Kwami’s focus not on his half eaten cheese- but on Tikki. The pair seemed to be in the process of an unspoken conversation, unnoticed by Marinette who had now begun tidying up their mess from before.

“I’m EXHAUSTED!” Plagg whined. Like a bolt of lightning, his raspy voice split the disquieting scene in two- yanking Adrien back into the real world so suddenly he experienced a heavy dose of emotional whiplash. Before Adrien could respond, however, Plagg was already halfway out the door and gesturing to Tikki. “You coming, darlin’?”

Tikki nodded, giving one last worried glance in Marinette’s direction, before staring silently at Adrien. Marinette herself, was too lost in cleaning, her movements sluggish and lacklustre. It pained him to see.

Adrien knew what Tikki’s looks meant, knew the reasons behind her imploring gaze as though he could read her mind. Marinette had told him just how much Tikki did for her, how she cheered her on through emotional crisis after emotional crisis, how she saw her as the older sister she never had.

As Tikki’s back turned, as she turned away to join Plagg and the pair disappeared together, Adrien felt the first few strands of something he hadn’t felt in a long time. The feeling wove through his heart, stitched itself to his soul, engraved and etched into his bones so that he knew when he was long gone from the world, the markings would echo through the universe like starlight. In that split second, Adrien knew Tikki was trusting him. Trusting him with her chosen’s heart. Trusting him to fill her place- and the weight of that knowledge filled him with such a deep sense of belonging, of home, that he felt his breath catch in his throat.

It was a long time since he’d felt like he had a family.

The faint hissing sounds of flour being scrubbed from a wooden surface filled the air, Adrien could still smell their attempts to make bread. He could also see the handprints from earlier, when he’d lifted Marinette onto the counter, just before she swept the evidence away.

He padded towards her, catching her wrist just as she was about to throw some of the flour in the bin. Instinctively, her palm opened and the flour fluttered to the floor.

She looked at him them, finally met his eyes, a question lingering behind the saddened blue depths. Adrien wanted nothing more than to make it better, to take away whatever bad feelings were going through her mind.

“Princess,” he began, bringing her closer and resting a gentle hand on her cheek, “you-”

“MARINETTE!”

From nowhere, Alya slammed into the room, throwing the door open so hard that Adrien was surprised it didn’t crack in two. Both he and Marinette started, jumping away from each other.

“MARINETTE DID YOU SEE?! DID YOU SEE?!” she was screeching, hurrying towards Marinette and gripping her shoulders, lightly shaking them. Adrien was sure he saw foam forming in the corners of her mouth, but was distracted by Nino’s entrance too much to dwell on it too much.

“I- err- saw what?” Marinette spluttered, her voice faint though that could have been dismissed as shock at such a violent entrance from her best friend.

“THIS! THIS!” Alya thrust her phone into Marinette’s face and, from where Adrien was standing, he could just make out the tell-tale red and black of Ladybug’s suit. He had a fair idea what was causing Alya to scream so much.

“You ok bro?” Adrien mumbled as Nino sidled up to him, hair in disarray, with faint traces of Alya’s lipstick on the corners of his mouth. “You look err…dishevelled?”

“What?” Nino blinked, shaking his head as he watched the girls interact. Alya was currently flicking through her phone, no doubt showing the various angles of the kiss to Marinette- whose face currently resembled that of a flat musical note. “Oh yeah, yeah I’m fine. Alya was you know, really happy about the Ladybug and Chat Noir kiss. Really happy.”

Despite still being worried about Marinette, Adrien had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing.

“Oh, ok,” he found himself saying, voice slightly strangled.

“Yeah,” Nino repeated and was it Adrien’s imagination, or was Nino actually swaying slightly? “You know that photo of that sailor dude kissing that lady in New York? It was like V-day or something?”

“I think I’m familiar,” Adrien replied, now resorting to covering his mouth with his hand because he could no longer stop the smile spreading on his face. He had a fair idea where this was going.

“Alya did it to me, ‘cept I was the chick,” Nino sighed, clutching his heart. “It was great. Highly recommend it. You think we could get Ladybug and Chat to kiss again? Those guys are like the ultimate wing-heroes.”

“Wing heroes!?” Now Adrien was laughing.

“I don’t think Ladybug is going to kiss Chat just so you can keep kissing Alya that way,” Marinette interrupted. Her voice was still so soft, still laced with that undercurrent of something which Adrien couldn’t quite put his foot on. But her smile was small, gentle, and Adrien could tell it was genuine.

Their eyes met as the four of them made their way out of the kitchen and back upstairs to Marinette’s apartment. Adrien slipped his hand into her own, feeling the faint roughness of the flour still clinging to Marinette’s fingers. He squeezed them gently, and was relieved to feel her squeezing back a second later.

“Patrol later?” he whispered to her, whilst Alya was distracted by helping Nino wipe some of the lipstick from his cheek.

Marinette leaned closer, bobbing her head in silent affirmation.

Many hours later, when the pair had finally escaped Alya’s frantic gushing, Ladybug and Chat Noir sat hidden in one of their many patrol spots. The night air was cool and crisp, the breeze ruffled Ladybug’s hair and Chat sat beside her, casually running his fingers through it. She wore it down, not bothering to tie it up for their patrol, and wayward stands fell into her eyes which Chat kept brushing away until she giggled and told him to stop.

Chat leaned back on his palms, gazing at a few birds swooping past. The pair enjoyed a comfortable silence, but the elephant in the room (or rather, the elephant in the city), was too big to ignore for too long and soon Chat Noir turned to Ladybug a gently placed a hand on her arm.

“My Lady… about today,” he fumbled around the words, only now realising he should have taken the time to consider them, and cursed his own lack of foresight, “I know you didn’t mean to kiss me, you were caught in the moment and- I- well…if you want to call a press conference and try to talk your way out of it I won’t mind. I mean we did decide that we weren’t going to go public. We can just say it was a- a mistake or-” he faltered, letting his hand slip from her arm, already feeling sick from his own suggestion- “I don’t know maybe just say it was from the akuma somehow? I…I don’t know.”

Evidently, this turned out to be the wrong thing to say, if the sudden flame in Ladybug’s eyes was anything to go by. Chat tensed, ears drooping as Ladybug grabbed the hand he’d let slip, clutched it almost painfully, and inhaled so sharply it was like she was stealing the air from even his own lungs.

“Chat Noir,” she said, voice trembling, “you have- and never will be- a mistake. Of course I didn’t plan on kissing you today but I couldn’t help it! I was scared. Any kiss I give you is never a mistake. Letting my heart love you was the best decision I ever made and will ever make and don’t you forget it.”

To fully support her remarks, Ladybug closed the gap between them, kissing him on the ledge of a building facing a busy street, in full view of the world. If Chat thought he was breathless before, now he was sure he would never breathe again.

“My Lady,” he gasped when she pulled away, leaning her forehead against his. He found himself unable to say anything else, too moved by her own words, and so instead he kissed her this time, let his silent lips speak the words his mind could not weave.

They broke apart again, and Ladybug shuffled closer, resting her head against his shoulder. His tail curled around her waist, making her chuckle, and Chat couldn’t help but grin.

“So, we’ll hold a press conference or something. Introduce Volpino, let Paris know we’re a thing. No biggie,” Chat chirped, now beaming at the idea. Yes! Finally! He was going to be able to tell the whole world that the amazing woman beside him was his girlfriend. No akuma tricks, no publicity stunts, but an actual bonafide relationship with the girl he’d loved for three years.

“It’s a big biggie, buster!” Ladybug chided, flicking his bell as she did so. “We’ll have to prepare statements.”

“That’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me,” Chat teased, bumping her shoulder. “I was thinking I was going to swoop in and kiss you in front of everyone, to repay you for your earlier kiss. But then, I am more of a showman of the two of us I have to admit.”

Ladybug groaned, rolling her eyes fondly.

“You’re incorrigible.”

“Yup!” Chat agreed, tucking a strand of hair behind hers and leaning down to boop his nose against hers. Quickly, however, his expression fell and he allowed his concern to shine through, his touches becoming gentler as he did so. “I’m also worried about you Bugaboo. You seemed so sad earlier and I can tell somethings on your mind so… do you want to talk about it?”

For a while Ladybug fell quiet again. In fact, she remained silent for so long that Chat was bordering on changing the subject.

“I feel so torn,” she whispered finally, palms curling into fists on her lap, “I’m so torn because I want to take my time in life, I want to learn and explore and grow. I don’t want to rush. I spend so much time rushing around, freaking out, questioning every single little thing that sometimes I forget to breathe. So I want to take my time. But then things like today happen, where you were almost crushed to death Chat, and it reminds me that, like, everything I love can be taken away in the blink of an eye-” she snapped her fingers- “Gone. I mean what should I do? Should I act on every single impulsive feeling I have because life’s too short and it can end just like that? Or do I wait and learn to love the little things? Do I take my time or jump in head first? AGH! I just… I just feel so… lost. And time is running out. Every day we’re one step closer to you leaving. I want to be strong, I want to be brave, and most of the time I am but sometimes… sometimes I remember that all of this is something I have to fight for and it exhausts me. Volpino being around helps but, he’s not you. Nobody will ever be you. Honestly I don’t know what I’m going to do when you leave.”

Ladybug’s whole body seemed to shrink, like a deflated balloon, and Chat wondered how long she’d held all of those worries in. Now it was his turn to be quiet as he took all of her fears on board, considered everything she said, and tried to come up with a solution.

After a few minutes, an idea struck him, and it was one so sudden- striking him with such clarity that he felt like a blink man allowed to see the sun for the first time.

“Well,” he said, still staring at the skyline, “we could always get meow-ried.”

Ladybug nearly fell off the roof.

“W-What?!” she spluttered, her face putting the redness of her suit to shame as she waved her hands in a way that clearly meant he was to explain himself and explain himself immediately.

“Not right NOW!” he cried, and Ladybug grabbed her heart as if she were attempting to restart her own heart. “I meant like a promise, you know the kind in those cheesy movies?”

“You mean the cheesy movies you secretly adore?” Ladybug attempted to poke fun, but her voice still sounded like wet, mangled laundry. “And did you just propose to me with a CAT PUN?!”

“That’s not the point,” Chat dismissed with a quick wave of his hand, only blushing a little bit. “The point I’m trying to make is, you say you don’t know if we should live in the moment or not, that you don’t know whether to appreciate the here and now or plan for the future. Well this is a perfect solution! We’re doing something as impulsive as promising we’ll get married, and yet marriage is all about building a whole life together. It’s the best of both words.”

Ladybug gaped at him silently, eyes glistening, and he really, really hoped that was a good sign.

“I still want you to have that room you know. The sewing room,” he whispered, kissing her hand. “Sure, we might not know what tomorrow will bring, might not even know if we have tomorrow, but I want you to know you’ll have my heart, you’ll have present me and future me for however long we have left. I want to promise you that Marinette. Will you let me?”

Her answer came in the form of a smile so dazzling that it made Chat’s heart swell, his stomach flutter. She threw her arms around him in a fierce embrace, her nose buried in the crook of his shoulder as whispered words of love and acceptance, as she planted kiss after kiss along his neck, his jaw, his cheeks, his lips, until they were both breathless and tearful.

The future was scary, it always would be. But it was also full of promise, one promise in particular, and that was what would carry them through the long days and nights without each other. That’s what filled them with hope.

That’s what would bring him home to her.

***

Time is a funny thing. It likes to trick us into thinking there’s more of it. One day it seemed like the whole Summer stretched ahead of them, and then it was gone- gone in a blur of colour and a whirlwind of newly formed memories.

That’s how it was for all of them, for Adrien and Marinette, for Alya, Nino, Nathanael, Louis. The lazy days of Summer had seemed they would last for an eternity. But one moment they were celebrating the end of their exams (and, in the case of Louis, handing in university essays), the next they were discussing parties and the end of their life as schoolchildren.

There were tears, laughter, yearbooks to sign and memories to recall with wisps of rose-tinted nostalgia. There were goodbyes and see-you-soons, there were promises to keep in touch. There was excitement and fear, anticipation for what the future may bring. There was alcohol, a lot of alcohol, and the traumatic hangovers that came with it (plus Adrien and Marinette’s promise to Tikki that they would never ‘drink and transform’ ever again, especially not after having swapped their miraculous- Plagg on the other hand thought it was hilarious).

For Adrien, his schedule was back with a vengeance, but he would always make time for Marinette. Always make time for his Princess, his Lady, his love.

Paris never changed. Akuma attacks were the same, save for the added bonus of having Volpino work alongside them. The city had accepted him with open arms, for the most part. Granted there were a few who worried, quite vocally, he would get in between Ladybug and Chat Noir’s recently revealed relationship. In response, Volpino released a statement which horrified Ladybug and had Chat Noir collapsed on the floor in laughter.

“Sorry folks. I like men. Ladybugs and cats don’t raise my tail if you catch my meaning.”

The golden days of Summer were never meant to last, however, and soon they were saying goodbye to Nathanael. Deciding to avoid bars or clubs, they gang had chosen Nathanael’s favourite restaurant and surprise-kidnapped him for a night of fondness and farewells.

They ended up closing the restaurant along with the staff, placing chairs on tables, cleaning up after themselves, laughing at Adrien’s constant barrage of cooking puns and helping Marinette when she accidentally stabbed herself with a fork. Alya filmed and photographed all of it, calling it an ‘emotional scrapbook’ and Nino even convinced the head chef to let them play some music.

Walking home that night, they’d sung songs and screamed their dreams and worries to the sky. Marinette and Alya had walked arm-in-arm, skipping ahead of them. Nino began ranting about the latest Spiderman comic and Adrien had re-enacted the famous scene from Singing in the Rain despite the fact that there was no rain in sight. They all chalked that up to the fact he was the biggest lightweight of them all, tipsy despite only having one glass of wine at dinner.

Throughout it all, Louis had held Nathanael’s hand and watched him as he drank in the sight of his friend’s antics- his eyes distant and cloudy- smiling nonetheless.

The day afterwards, Louis came back to a quiet house, his hand empty. The absent rain from the night before residing in his aching heart.

Having spent the summer pretty much living together, ghosts of Nathanael were dotted everywhere. Kisses in the kitchen, spontaneous pillow fights on the sofa, heated moments in the bedroom whilst his roommates were out…

He already missed him, and dropping him at the train station had to be one of the more painful memories of his life.

“You’re not going to cry, are you?” Trixx floated in front of him once she was sure there was nobody around. “I hate seeing you cry.”

“You should know by now that I am an utter mess where my heart is concerned,” Louis warbled, chin shaking as he fought to control himself. He’d held himself together, wrapped his arms around Nathanael and been his rock whilst the redhead had cried and the weight of his decision to leave Paris finally hit him. It had taken every last shred of power inside of Louis not to break, to be strong for his beloved, but he had done it and he was proud of that. “I can’t help that any more than you can help the fact that your ears are the cutest things to exist.”

“You’ve got me there,” Trixx giggled. “Come on, smile for me! You have such a wicked smile.”

Louis shot her a watery grin.

“Close enough,” Trixx shrugged, nudging his back. “Let’s nap!”

“I’d rather just sleep the entire year away,” Louis whined, kicking off his shoes and trudging to his room. His bed had been made in a rather slapdash fashion as, for once, Nathanael hadn’t cared enough to make it properly (Louis never made it himself). Both had been too preoccupied with the day itself, with trying to keep themselves together.

“Now you’re just being silly,” Trixx chided as she made her way to his pillow, snuggling up on his side of the bed. “If you put yourself in a coma, who will help Ladybug protect Paris and how will you become a better man for when Nathanael does come back?”

“I know,” Louis mumbled, unbuttoning the collar of his shirt and hitting the bed with a loud thump...

…And a curious crunching noise.

Frowning, he sat up, lifting the pillow Trixx had been resting on and ignoring her protests of annoyance. His fingers felt around blindly for a few seconds, before he discovered the source of the odd sound, and promptly pulled out two envelopes, each one decorated by hand with a soft floral design.

“Oooooh! Love letters!” Trixx squealed, sniffing them to investigate. “He’s left you love letters! How romantic! I knew he had a good scent for a reason. He’s so sweet.”

“I can’t read them,” Louis immediately choked. He threw himself back onto the bed, hair fanning around him, and held the letters upwards at arm’s length. “Not now.”

Trixx’s ears dropped with disappointment.

“Don’t you want to know what he said though?” she whined. “I bet it’s lovely.”

“I bet it is too,” Louis mumbled, his Adam’s apple bobbing painfully, as though it were replaced with shards of glass. “But if I read them now I might break.”

“Look though,” Trixx encouraged, prodding the top envelope. “This one says ‘open when you get home’ it has to be a surprise he set up for you! Please open it, please!

“Ok!” Louis chuckled, sitting up and earning a quick nuzzle of delight from the fox Kwami. “But you can’t say anything if I start to cry- and you will have to give me tissues for my nose. Snot is so unsightly.”

“Yes sir, pretty boy,” Trixx bounded around the air in delight, tail fluffed in excitement as Louis began to carefully open the letter. He didn’t want to tear it. Nathanael had clearly worked hard on both of them. The envelopes themselves were vintage in their design, looking more like something you’d find in at period drama than at a local post office. They were beautiful and otherworldly, speaking volumes for just how well Nathanael knew him, knew that he would love something like this.

Louis braced himself for the words he knew would be both a blessing and a curse, braced himself for whatever sweet words of love Nathanael had poured onto the pages. As he pulled out the small bit of parchment inside, he closed his eyes, tried to control the violent shaking of his arms, and sat up so he could read it properly…

Only to find himself staring at a set of directions instead, leading to a street he’d never heard of, but a quick search on his phone told him it was a small alleyway, situated about a ten-minute walk from his home.

“That’s it?” Trixx cried, already in super-sleuth mode, tiny paws on her chin in contemplation. “Is he trying to take you on a treasure hunt? What does it mean? Is it a code? What is he trying to say? Louis?”

Louis was already looking to the second letter for answers. He reached for the second letter like a man starved, turning it over in his hand to look at the cover, to search Nathanael’s beautiful cursive script for answers.

‘Open when you get there.’

“Louis?” Trixx repeated as the man in question shot up from the bed, frantically scrabbling around the room for his keys, a wild look in his eyes. “Kit-”

“There’s fresh berries in the fridge, Trixxy. Please help yourself,” he replied, unaware of what he was saying as he half stumbled out the door, almost forgetting his shoes, and half-catching Trixx’s words of encouragement on his way out.

The air was crisp against his skin. Summer was dying but Louis had never felt more alive.

If he’d thought ghosts of Nathanael were in his apartment, then his spirit and their love echoed around the city too. The wind was a siren call, beckoning him to the place Nathanael wanted him to go, and he ran. He ran fast and far, ran until his lungs burned and his sides hurt. His feet pounded against the pavement as he moved like a man possessed, desperate to know what lay before him but terrified of it all the same. The letters in his hand acted like a magnet, pulling him ever closer to his destiny.

What should have been a ten-minute walk ended up being a five-minute sprint. When he finally reached the alley, he ran deep inside before finally giving in to exhaustion.

Louis closed his eyes, slumped against the wall, and tried to quell the aching of his screaming muscles. He rested there for a few minutes, trying to regain a sense of himself but it was difficult. Emotionally, physically, everything in him was so tired and drained and he just felt… lost.

Brushing his damp curls away from his face, Louis brought the letters to eye-level, examining them intensely.

‘Open when you get there.’

Louis looked around expectantly, more confused than ever, his heart tripping with trepidation and his feet holding him in place like lead weights. Something was here, in this alley. Nathanael had left something for him to discover…but he had no idea what. It was a small alleyway, cut off from the sounds and sights of the rest of the city so much so that he felt as though he was the only one in the universe. He didn’t understand what could be here for him, amongst the dirty concrete and peeling walls. Why had Nathanael’s brought him here?

Sliding down the wall, Louis sat crouched, hugging his knees, the letters on his lap almost mocking him for his lack of understanding. With a pitiful sigh, he tilted his head backwards until the crown of his head hit the wall and he stared upwards.

That was when he caught a glimpse of something. Something bright and colourful, something which stood in stark contrast to the grey walls which surrounded him, something which was made to catch his attention.

Something orange.

Louis stood up, a slight frown on his face as his shaking legs brought him back to full height and he took a step backwards, taking in the confusing sight before him.

He gasped.

The oranges faded into specks of white paint, black too, and a small bit of silver, the tell-tale brown of his own eyes reflected back on him.

It was a mural. A mural not of him as Louis, but him as Volpino and all at once Louis knew that this is what Nathanael had brought him here for- that this was Nathanael’s work. This is what Nathanael wanted to show him.

He felt as though his heart might burst.

‘Open when you get there.’

Louis tore open the letter, forgetting to be careful, too desperate in his search for answers to the million questions flying around his head, each one more terrifying and beautiful and confusing than the last.

He could scarcely read Nathanael’s second letter, his true letter. His hands were trembling so violently that he was worried the words would simply fall off the parchment, where they might be lost forever. But he managed not to come apart completely. Not now. Not yet.

Dear Louis,

Umm…surprise! Hope you liked your present. I didn’t have much time to do it is so it’s a little clumsy and once I come home I’ll go back over it and fix some mistakes with the anatomy, and I can never get the colour of your eyes right no matter how many times I draw them. They’re unique- like you. I don’t think there’s any paint in the world that can replicate them. But I promise I can make it better at least. You deserve the best I can give and more.

I guess it probably comes as a bit of a shock to tell you I know this way, about your superhero status I mean. But in my defence, you weren’t exactly subtle! You tried to kiss me for god’s sake! Superheroes have secret identities for a reason you know! You have to get better at lying to people. What if someone finds out who you are and something happens to you whilst I’m gone? I would never forgive myself for not being there so please be safe ok? Please? I’m so proud of you for being a hero, but you have to be safe. You’re my everything.

I know I can be clumsy with words, and I don’t always say what I’m feeling, but I hope that when you miss me, or you have doubts about being a hero, you can look at this mural I’ve painted for you and remember that I love you. Remember that before you were Paris’ hero, you were my hero and you still are. Both as Volpino, and especially as Louis. You always will be.

I’m going to miss you every day, but I’m also going to love you every day too. Thank you, sweetheart, for supporting me through everything I’m hoping to achieve. If I give you even half the strength and encouragement you give to me, then we can take on the world together. I really hope I do. I try, and I’ll never stop trying for as long as you’ll have me.

With more love than I ever thought possible,

Your Nathanael.

“Oh Nathanael,” Louis uttered, as though his boyfriend could hear him and holding the letter close to his side. Reverently, he pressed a timid hand to the mural, the gloved hand of the mural against his own tanned one, pressed it to the proof of his boyfriend’s love and faith in him. How many hours had he spent, secretly practicing and making this as perfect as he could? How long had he kept the secret inside his heart so that he could surprise Louis with it? “How could you ever think I’d stop wanting you?”

In the peace and quiet of the alley, away from the prying eyes of the world, away from the destiny which had chosen him, away from the love of his life, Louis Dubois-De Luca rested his forehead on the mural of Volpino, and allowed himself to finally let the tears flow, unrestrained and unguarded, until his shoulders shook and the rain in his heart temporarily subsided.

***

“Are you sure you have everything?”

Adrien, pale faced and aching, nodded silently. It was the twentieth time Alya had asked him, but he couldn’t bring himself to mind.

“Passport? Plane ticket? Phone? Money?”

“Alya come on, give him space,” Nino said, trying to laugh, but the sound of it felt remarkably hollow- even to Adrien’s ears.

Marinette watched the exchange, watched both Nino and Alya fussing over Adrien quietly, unsure what to say or do. His father (already in London) had allowed him to travel to the airport with them. So, that morning, Alya and Nino had driven around to his mansion- unsurprised to find Marinette with him already. The four had piled into Alya’s mother’s car, just like they had during the Spa day, though this time, it was a much more sombre affair. They all tried to make jokes, sing along to the songs on Nino’s iPod, but the punchlines fell flat and the lyrics were all too ironic- too personal- no matter what song they put on. The final part of the journey was spent mainly in silence.

It felt like a funeral, like a death, and Marinette hated it. Their last patrol together, at least, had been bittersweet and full of intimate moments- ones they had tried to stretch out all night and into eternity, even as their transformations fell away. But the sun had risen and time had marched cruelly onwards. Still they clung on, to hopes that would never be fulfilled, still they reached for each other, held on desperately to their final moments.

Marinette knew that they were being silly. What was a year, really? It would fly by and he’d be back home before they knew it. But, as usual, her mind said one thing and her heart another. The keen sting of separation was palpable and she couldn’t stop it hurting no matter how hard she tried. He was leaving, her Chat Noir, her Adrien. He was leaving and she couldn’t stop feeling like her heart was nothing more than a piece of shattered china any more than she could stop him boarding that awful, awful plane.

They wasted time checking Adrien in, Nino complaining the whole time as to why Gabriel had insisted Adrien fly, that planes were death traps and did he not see Final Destination, or Superman, or “ANY MOVIE WITH PLANES EVER?!”

Adrien spent the whole time comforting his friend, occasionally looking to Marinette, who would always meet him with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

Once again, the clocks continued to move and Marinette had never hated time as much as she did then and there. But they had exhausted every avenue possible, browsed every ridiculously expensive shop, stopped off for coffee and snacks, confirmed and re-confirmed Adrien had everything in his carry on. Just in case.

The conversation died as the group trudged towards the security-check, Adrien walking slightly ahead, one hand grasping the strap of his bag, the other firmly entwined with Marinette’s.

They came to a stop below the check-in sign. The words looming over the four of them like an obituary. For a while none of them spoke.

Alya was the first to crack.

“Oh for god’s sake, I’ve had enough of this freaking death march!” she snapped, stomping around to face Adrien. “Come here, you dork.”

With that she wrapped her arms around him, kissing both of his cheeks. Adrien leaned back, startled and wide eyed, before wrapping his arms around her- the very beginnings of tears pricking the corners of his eyes.

“You better bring me back something super amazing for Christmas or I’m going to kick your butt,” Alya demanded, though her tone was softer this time, and she stepped out of the embrace to ruffle his hair. “And take photos! Lots and lots of photos- AND keep in touch. We want to know everything. Every little detail. All the deets- spare nothing.”

“You got it,” Adrien nodded, offering a faint salute, promising himself that he would abide by Alya’s wishes.

For a quiet moment, Adrien looked at them, his first real friends. They’d been there through so much, and even now when he was leaving, they were there to say ‘until the next time’ instead of turning their backs on him.

Suddenly he was struck by all the memories he’d shared with them, the study dates, the movie trips, the stupid arguments about TV shows, the hobbies picked up and forgotten on whims, but most of all he remembered the smiles. He remembered their quiet hands guiding a sheltered boy into a world which had been denied to him for so very long. He remembered it all, and the feelings that washed over him were so deep, so powerful, that he felt he might burst- that one heart was not enough to contain it all.

“I love- I love you guys,” he choked, fingers gripping his shirt as tears spilled from his eyes unbidden. “I love you so much. I love-”

And then their arms were around him. All three of them threw themselves at him and he stumbled backwards, but they made sure to catch him. They always did.

“We love you too brother,” Nino cried somewhere near his armpit. “I love you, you’re the best friend a guy could ever have.”

Marinette stayed quiet, only because if she opened her mouth now she felt she might never stop crying. Stop being stupid, he needs you.

“You’re the best, don’t ever think otherwise,” Alya agreed. “We totally love you back, and always will.”

They pulled apart again, and Adrien looked at Marinette, their eyes meeting briefly, before he turned to Alya and Nino.

“You guys think I can say goodbye to-” he began, but was interrupted by a wave of Alya’s hand.

“Say no more,” she said, wiping her eyes, before placing her hand on Marinette’s arm. “We’ll be out by the car.”

With one last hug goodbye, and more promises shared, Alya and Nino turned and merged into the crowd, arms wrapped around each other in support. Adrien watched them go, hand on his heart, a wet smile crinkling his eyes.

From beside him, Marinette was beyond panic.

He wanted to speak to her alone. Of course he did. They’d avoided it all day, mainly from spending time making sure Tikki and Plagg were able to say goodbye, and then distracted by Alya and Nino’s presence. But now they were alone and she was going to cry- ruin their goodbye by being too worked up, too emotional. What if she said the wrong thing? What if she upset him and he got mad and broke up with her and found a cute English girl and they lived happily ever after whilst Marinette died a lonely old maid found weeks after she’d passed half-eaten by rabid squirrels?!

Breathe Mari, BREATHE, she told herself, none of that is going to happen. You’re being an idiot.

“I have something for you,” Adrien broke her out of her innermost anxieties and she looked up to see him reaching out towards her. There was a shy look in his eyes and a flush to his cheeks, bringing back memories which really were completely inappropriate for the moment, but Marinette couldn’t help her mind going there and soon her face was as red as his.

She almost didn’t notice the small velvet box in his hand. When she did her eyes widened at the sight.

“Don’t worry!” he hastened to add once he saw her expression. “I’m not getting down on one knee I promise! Just…open it? Please?”

He had that look again. That darn pleading pout that would be the death of her but somehow, through the pain of their parting, the move was so distinctly him that she couldn’t help but smile, fondly rolling her eyes one last time before he disappeared into the crowd.

“Ok, ok, Kitty. But then you have to open my present too,” she grinned, taking the box from him as the realisation dawned on his face, as her words clicked in his mind and his eyes sparkled in delight.

“You got me a present? You’re the best!” he cried, dipping so he could pull her into a tight embrace.

“Easy there mister, you want me to open your present or not?”

Adrien stepped away, bounding around with so much pent up energy that she fought down a bittersweet laugh. He always did make her laugh.

Then she opened the box and the urge to laugh left almost instantly.

“Is it- is it ok?” Adrien asked, as Marinette stared silently, fingers tracing the delicate silver necklace, the little key-pendant, adorned with small pink and crystal gemstones on the end. The meaning was clear, yet Adrien still rambled an explanation anyway. “I wanted to get you something to show you I was serious about our promise. It’s not a ring, because I haven’t- well I haven’t proposed to you yet. But I will. One day. When we’re ready. So… I wanted you to remember the house with your sewing room, with the garden and the flowers.”

Gently, he took the necklace out of the box, stepping behind Marinette so that he could place the necklace around her.

Marinette said nothing, but brushed her loose hair away from her shoulders, so that it wouldn’t get in the way.

When she looked down, she noticed that the key rested right next to her heart.

“This key is my promise to you that we’ll make it there,” he said, turning her around by her shoulders. Adrien placed a delicate hand under her chin, tilting it up so that he could meet her eyes. The eyes he’d seen almost every day for three years. Eyes he wouldn’t see again for months. He didn’t want to leave them, never wanted to part from her, and after he’d done what he had to do he never would again. Never. “Will you wear it for me?”

Marinette nodded.

“I will,” she replied, barely trusting herself to speak but knowing she had to. His gesture was too beautiful not to. “I- I love it Adrien. Thank you.”

She kissed him then, reached up and held him there, praying that they could freeze this moment and be lost to it forever. But she knew it wasn’t to be. Instead she memorised every detail. His warmth, his softness, how safe she felt in his arms. She carved the feelings into her mind for the long nights spent alone.

They broke apart, and Adrien couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Ok so what did you get me?”

Marinette laughed.

“Nothing as wonderful as jewellery so don’t get your hopes up!” she rushed to assure him as she reached into her back for the small red bundle, handing it to him with twice the amount of bashfulness he’d show. “It’s kind of dumb actually, and I haven’t even wrapped it or anything.”

But Adrien was already unfurling the bundle of cloth, examining it with his mouth wide and his eyes wider.

“This is…”

“Your hoodie yeah,” Marinette confirmed with a nervous chuckle. “The one you gave me that night when we kissed- back before we knew each other, when this was only Chat Noir’s hoodie. I’m really happy you let me keep it but… I wanted to give it back so that you’d remember- and I made some adjustments to help with that.”

She gestured for Adrien to turn the hoodie over, and when he did, he gasped.

On the back, Marinette had embroidered black spots, on the hood she’d attached little antennae which wiggled of their own accord.

“My own Ladybug hoodie. Made by Ladybug herself,” Adrien uttered, his voice shaking.

“I know! I told you it was dumb! It’s silly but I didn’t want you to be cold in London. I hear the weather there changes all the time and I thought it might be something cute for you to wear when you have a rare lazy day or something- I don’t know it was-”

Adrien kissed her. Just as she had kissed him, and Marinette melted into the embrace.

Once he was sure she’d stop fretting, he pulled away.

“I love it, and I love you. More than anything,” he said, kissing her once more.

Marinette glance at the large clock above them, her heart dropping like a stone.

“You need to get going,” she murmured as he pulled the hoodie over his head, momentarily distracting her from her woes. “You’re wearing that now?”

“Customs will have to pry it from my cold, dead claws, My Lady,” he smirked, before the smile vanished from his face.

They didn’t say goodbye, didn’t bother saying the million things which they had already said. There was no point. Instead, they smiled, kissing again, holding each other in lingering touches which were over too soon.

“See you at Christmas!” Marinette smiled, determined not to let their last moments together be full of sadness.

“Christmas,” Adrien nodded, reaching up to kiss her hand the way he always did as Chat Noir. It knocked the breath out of her.

They kissed again, one last time, before Marinette turned away. She couldn’t see him go. She couldn’t, and only as she began to walk towards the exit did she let the first of her tears fall, sniffing heavily as she did so.

There was a tug on her wrist and the next moment, she was being swept off her feet, into Adrien’s arms as he span her, twirled her the way he so often did, and kissed her again. Marinette clung onto him desperately, never wanting him to put her down.

“I’ll come back,” he whispered against her ear and Marinette closed her eyes, no longer sure if the wetness of her cheeks was from her eyes or Adrien’s. “I’ll always come back. Always. I love you.”

“I know. I love you too.”

Marinette slipped out of his grasp, holding his hand until the very last moment.

This time, as he walked towards the security-check, she didn’t turn her back.

With one last wave, Adrien disappeared in the sea of tourists and fellow travellers, away from his lifelong home, and Marinette watched him go until she could no longer see him.

She was already counting down the hours until she could do so again.

Chapter Text

“If you don’t stop twitching your leg, I’m going to break it.”

Adrien paused at Nathanael’s warning. A brief pause. A second’s pause.

He tried to contain himself. He really did.

A moment later, and completely subconsciously, he began to fiddle with his seat tray.

Nathanael groaned.

“Sorry, sorry,” Adrien apologised hurriedly, fully aware of just how irritating he was being. “I’m just nervous.”

Nathanael grinned at that.

“Really? Nervous?” he replied, tone as dry at the recycled plane air surrounding them. Quietly, he folded his own tray open, so that he had somewhere to sketch. “I had no idea banana-boy.”

“Don’t be mean tomato-head,” Adrien whined, flopping face-first onto the tiny plane window. “I’m trying my best to not be a pain.”

“Do or do not, there is no try.”

Eschewing his own internal dilemmas, Adrien shot up, a sunlit beam brightening his face.

“You quoted it!” he cried, throwing his arms around a reluctant Nathanael. “I knew you liked Star Wars! I knew it!”

“I never said I didn’t,” Nathanael responded coyly, tapping his pencil to Adrien’s nose before bringing it to his mini-sketchbook again. Overcome by curiosity, and a need for distraction, Adrien took a quick peak at what he was drawing. A fluffy tail. Some kind of wolf maybe? Or a fox? Maybe a cat? Adrien wasn’t sure from the angle he was staring. “I just didn’t have any interest in seeing it before being made to by my roommate. My roommate who is, inconceivably, nerdier than I am.”

“Did Louis know? I bet he would’ve had something to say. Or shriek. Louis shrieks a lot,” Adrien mused, scratching the back of his head as he was still restless. “Well if he doesn’t your secret’s safe with me. What happens in London stays in London.”

“True- and you know it’s never come up. The Star Wars thing,” Nathanael replied with a small smile, his eyes distant. It was a look Adrien had come to know well over the past year. He’d dubbed it Nathanael’s ‘dream face’.

Having realised the horrendous London rent prices were worse than that of Paris (how was that possible?) Adrien had quickly asked Nathanael move in with him and his friend had jumped at the chance. Adrien couldn’t blame him, he’d seen Nathanael’s old place. The mould on the wall had looked like a demented clown and it still gave him nightmares.

They’d been roommates the entire year.

It was nice actually- having Nathanael there. Both of them felt as though they had a bit of home with them.

His father had rented him his own apartment in Mayfair, although Adrien had insisted on paying towards some of it at least. He’d appreciated the gesture of trust from his father but, regardless of the sudden freedom he was granted in his civilian life, he had to admit it had been quite lonely. Living in an apartment with far too many rooms for one person, in a strange city, missing his home and his girlfriend terribly, had made for some pretty intense nights of longing in those first few weeks before Nathanael had moved in. Even Plagg had been more subdued.

Of course, they’d kept it a secret, not telling his father for fear he’d react similarly to how he did when he first met Nino. As a result, there had been near misses which still raised the hairs on Adrien’s arms, ones which were coronary inducing at the time but funny to look back on now, ones in which Nathanael had looked at Adrien (and vice-versa) laughing in disbelief over how they had actually gotten away with it.

The worst had been when Louis surprised Nathanael with a visit for his birthday. Gabriel had almost caught them in flagrante.

Adrien was pretty sure his brain was still recovering from that particular near aneurysm above all the others.

Thank god they’d been using one of the rooms with an en suite at the time. En suites were such good hiding places.

Plagg and Trixx had been merciless in their teasing (once Nathanael was out of earshot at least).

“Anyways have I distracted you enough yet?” Nathanael, now out of his own daydreams, focused on Adrien’s instead. “Will you quit it with the knee bouncing stuff and the general fidgeting?”

As soon as the words were out of Nathanael’s mouth, Adrien remembered. He remembered they were on a plane. He remembered he was on his way back to Paris for the first time in months- remembered that this time, he was coming back for good.

He remembered he was going home and, most importantly, remembered who was waiting for him on the other side.

“You’re going pale,” Nathanael’s gentle voice jerked him out of his panic, and the red-head placed an encouraging hand on his shoulder. “Honestly why are you so nervous? She’s going to be there. You know she’s been wearing your necklace the whole time you’ve been away, right? Alya told me.”

Adrien shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I’m- I’m not nervous about anything like that,” he mumbled as Nathanael took a swig of water. “I- Well I hope she says yes that’s all.”

Quite suddenly, the water which had previously been in Nathanael’s mouth was sprayed onto the seat in front of him instead. Ignoring it, his head swivelled around to Adrien, eyes large and bug-like in alarm.

“Says yes to WHAT?!” he choked, voice raspy from the surprise spit-take. Behind him, an older woman grumbled something about loud youths and Nathanael’s cheeks turned scarlet. He shrank in his seat cushions, as though he were a turtle and the seat was his shell.

For once, Adrien was quick to catch the misunderstanding, and his own eyes widened as he waved his hands frantically.

“No, no nothing like that! Not yet! We’re only nineteen! A-and Marinette’s still studying and stuff and I’m starting my degree soon too and we have so much else to concentrate on so something like that would be totally not the right time and I love her with all my heart but we’re not ready for something like that yet although it would be amazing one day but nottodayortomorroworanytimesoonbutanywaywhyareweevenhavingthisconversationIdon’t-”

He was interrupted from his ramblings as Nathanael gave a short snort.

When Adrien paused, head tilting quizzically, he was rewarded by a longer set of giggles that only served to deepen his confusion.

“Sorry it’s just-” Nathanael began, bringing his fist to his lips as though it would hide his Cheshire grin- “you sound like Marinette. Guess it’s true what they say about couples starting to sound alike.”

Adrien flushed, cheeks hot, but he wasn’t about to back down so easily. In fact, he had a perfect ace up his sleeve, one he’d been thinking about using for quite some time now.

He leaned back in his narrow seat. Were it not for the fact that the leg room was more suited to an iron-flat suit as opposed to an actual breathing human, he would have crossed his legs, steepling his fingers…

He settled on a smirk instead.

“You know you talk Italian in your sleep, right?”

The smile dropped from Nathanael’s face like a stone. Adrien revelled in it.

“I do not!” he protested, casting his eyes downward, unable to look Adrien in the eye any more.

Dio Louis- you moan that a lot,” Adrien smirked harder, feeling a sense of triumph at how horror stricken Nathanael’s expression was. “Ti amo too- when you’re on the sofa all snuggled up. That’s super-cute. Although when you said più forte one time when you fell asleep watching The Notebook, I had to look that one up as I think your sleep-translation was sorta sketchy. From what I gather, I think it means that you wanted Louis to go hard-”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Nathanael cried, throwing a hand to Adrien’s mouth. As if to throw salt on the wound, Adrien burst out laughing. Quickly withdrawing his hands, the red-head groaned, burying his face in them instead and shaking his head in disbelief.

“I regret paying you rent money, I regret every single pound I spent on you out of guilt, I regret making you crepes on Sundays. You are a horrible human being,” Nathanael grumbled, rubbing his temples.

Adrien wiggled, grinning brightly.

“Love you too Tomato-head!”

“Just shut up and start fidgeting again Banana-boy.”


Marinette frowned.

Clicking her tongue, she rested her cheek on her fist and raised her eyebrow at Louis, who was currently inhaling a Margarita at a speed which could have intimidated the most devoted of frat-boys.

“So quick?” she said, her tone flat.

“Don’t judge me sorella,” he groaned, finishing his drink and slamming it onto the bar with more force than he probably intended. “I’m about to have a nervous breakdown. Does my hair look ok? Of course it looks ok. What about this shirt? Nathanael says he likes this shirt and I want to look good when he shows up. Should I go home and change? Wait there isn’t enough time for that. This is a disaster!”

“You look fine as ever,” Marinette soothed, nervously fiddling with the key charm against her heart. Trying to ignore the anxious fluttering in her chest whenever she thought about why she was there, with Louis, at an airport bar, she concentrated instead on helping Louis through his eighteenth mini crisis. “It’s me who probably looks a wreck. I didn’t sleep at all last night.”

Louis stopped looking at the bar menu to concentrate on Marinette, eyes taking in her short green summer dress and loosely curled hair. He smiled at her charmingly, offering her a quick thumbs up.

“You look gorgeous as ever to me, let alone the love of your life. Trust me sorella. Adrien is going to die in the most French of ways when he sees you waiting for him,” he replied, wiggling his eyebrows.

Before Marinette could roll her eyes, the colour drained from Louis’ usually tanned face and he buried his face into his palms. The whine which left his throat reminded her more of his superhero alter ego than the man in front of her. For a moment, Marinette was genuinely concerned for his mental state.

Maybe he really was faring worse than her in terms of anxiousness? It certainly appeared that way…

Then Louis opened his mouth.

“I haven’t had sex in four months. Four.”

“Oh my god, really?!” she snorted before she could help herself, and the pout Louis sent her way only made her laugh harder. “How have your survived? Poor baby.”

“It’s not funny, I think I’m experiencing boyfriend withdrawals. I have actual palpitations. My armpits are moist. MOIST Marinette. I need sex, and another Margarita.”

It was at this point that a slightly older gentleman leaned over the bar towards Louis, cocking his eyebrow curiously at him.

“Not from you!” Louis cried, aghast, whilst Marinette buried her laughter in a drinks menu, shoulders shaking from trying to hold it in. Once the older man had taken the obvious hint and moved away, Louis turned to her with a frown of betrayal. “Is my suffering really so amusing to you?”

“Yes,” Marinette replied without question, lowering the menu. Her face softened and she patted Louis’ head fondly. “If I didn’t have you distracting me with your ridiculousness, I’d probably be having a panic attack right now or something. I’m going mad enough as it is, even though it doesn’t look like it.”

Louis smiled at her then, standing up and placing a casual arm around her shoulder, squeezing it tight. He didn’t need to say much else.

“Fine then, sis, how long has it been for you? Adrien hasn’t been home since Easter, no? Plenty of time for pining,” he teased, checking the clock above them and nudging her off her bar stall, telling her without words that it was almost time to meet their respective lovers.

Marinette tapped her nose, leaning in close and whispering in Louis’ ear.

“A Ladybug never tells.”

With that, she sauntered away, chuckling at the indignant expression on Louis’ face, at the way his open jaw resembled an open saloon door from a classic cowboy film Marinette had seen once. After a few moments, the half-Italian man’s brain seemed to catch up to him, and he jogged forwards to catch up to her.

“Rude!” he huffed, “I told you everything about Nathanael and I! Besides how will I know whether or not I need to do the shovel talk with Adrien?”

“I regret ever teaching you that expression,” Marinette sighed, her legs beginning to feel increasingly like lead the closer they got to the arrivals gate. They placed themselves in good view of the sliding doors, thankful that there weren’t too many people around considering that it was the peak of the Summer tourist season.

“I don’t regret learning it,” Louis shot back, grinning wickedly, and Marinette could practically see the phantom elongated canines he gained during his transformation. “Besides I shall probably have it with him anyway. Now that you two are back in the same city, things are going to get more serious you know.”

Marinette swallowed, the fluorescent lights of the airport terminal suddenly all too bright- dazzling in the worst of ways. She tried to ignore the churning of her stomach, the tightness in her throat…

It had been a whirlwind of a year in some ways, and a terrible one in others. Despite the fact Adrien had come to visit a few times, it had never felt like enough, and only seemed to make the pain of their separation worse. They’d both been so busy, both having hardly any time to skype. Amongst the never-ending torrent of her first-year studies, Marinette had sometimes forgotten to eat, let alone schedule skype dates with her boyfriend overseas.

They’d made it through though. It had been hard, but they’d come through the other side relatively unscathed.

But there was a niggling root of doubt growing in her heart; black, twisted and covered in thorns. It told her that just because they were back in the same city, it didn’t mean that her and Adrien would no longer be busy. On the contrary, Adrien was entering his first year of University (studying Physics) at the same time Marinette was starting her second. Their lives were only going to get more hectic as time went on.

What if distance (or lack of it) didn’t heal the separation? What if they continued not seeing each other- too busy to be in love until, one day, they realised they were no longer in love? She didn’t think she could stand that.

She’d see him all the time as Chat Noir, but what if that wasn’t enough? After a year apart, Marinette was greedy. She wanted Adrien, all of him, and didn’t think she’d recover if he no longer did- if the separation was too much for him.

After all, you could be distant with someone whilst still being in the same room.

The idea killed her.

“Hey,” Louis was waving a hand in front of her face. Stepping in front of her, he lowered himself slightly, his face a picture of concern. “You know it’s a good thing, don’t you? Serious means stability, it means love, it means home.”

He smiled at her, reaching out to adjust the few curls which framed her face, fixing her hair clip dotingly.

“Our boys are coming home.”

Marinette smiled at that. It was impossible not to. The fear dragging her downwards let up slightly, and she breathed lighter than she’d done in hours.

Because Louis was right.

Their boys were coming home.


“Can you see them?”

Adrien was aware that Nathanael was right on his heels, having just exited the baggage claim through the gate, where they would meet their loved ones.

The arrivals gate was surprisingly less full than he’d thought it would be, but they’d been some of the last people to come out and were behind a large group of loud British tourists- students who looked like they might be on tour judging by their pun-related athletic shirts.

It was tantamount to how nervous Adrien was that he couldn’t even appreciate the wall of puns he was currently faced with. At any other time, he might have been overjoyed w