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That Awkward Moment When...

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Marinette wasn’t an idiot. As many precautions as she insisted they take, she knew she and Chat Noir were both going to find out sooner or later. Occupational hazard and all that.

She sort of assumed that, if the time ever came, they’d deal with it calmly and rationally. Their jobs were serious — lives were at stake everyday and their ability to function together while keeping each other safe was paramount.

Of course, Marinette assumed that the way they’d find out wasn’t by running right smack into each other in the hallway after a battle and detransforming in front of each other.

Marinette had seconds left on her transformation and swooping into one of the hallways she knew would be empty during this period, quickly letting her transformation fall, and sprinting back to class would be the best cover for her. She’d done it dozens of times.

Of course Chat Noir had the same idea and Marinette didn’t have the time to blink before they collided foreheads, flew into the air, and landed painfully on their backs.

They were both rubbing their foreheads and wincing in pain, but it was too late because Marinette was staring at Adrien and Adrien was staring at Marinette and the cat was officially out of the bag.

So of course, in a typical calm and rational manner, they pointed to each other and screamed.

Marinette slapped her hands over her mouth, and Adrien immediately reached up to cover his eyes.

“I didn’t see anything!” he said frantically, his voice cracking in panic. “I didn’t see! I didn’t see! I swear!”

She almost appreciated the effort, but Marinette already knew it was too late. Tikki was hiding in her purse and she briefly saw a black blur zip into Chat’s — Adrien’s, wow — shirt pocket that must have been another kwami. Plus, she saw him let his transformation fall. It was way too late.

“Chat,” Marinette began tiredly. “I mean, Adrien. I mean — ” Crap, this was going to be so hard to get used to. “It’s done, you can open your eyes.”

Adrien swallowed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

Adrien slowly lowered his hands and Marinette was looking straight into his eyes, seeing all of his fear and uncertainty reflected back at her and taking in all of the little things about him that suddenly had an entirely different context this time. The hair, the height, the shape of his jaw, the ring on his finger, the dimple on his chin. They all matched up and it was like some strange veil had suddenly been ripped off because everything was clear, so so clear and so unmistakable.

And she panicked.

“Okay, never mind, I’m not sure, I take it back!”

She stood up and turned her back to him, raking her fingers through her hair and feeling her heart racing. There was no way she could just smash these two people together. No way. This wasn’t happening. This was crazy. There was no way both of them could’ve possibly been this oblivious.

Marinette whirled around and faced him again. “Quick. Tell a pun.”

Adrien squinted. “What?”

“A pun. Just tell one. Any one.”

“I can’t just give a pun out of the blue at a time like this!”

“Why not?”

Adrien scoffed, as if the answer were obvious. “Because there are situational factors that all go into proper pun delivery, and none of them are being met at the proper levels.” He lifted one finger. “For one thing, the mood in the room is too filled with conflicting emotions for the punch line to be appreciated properly. Second — ”

“Oh my God, never mind,” Marinette groaned. “That was proof all on its own.”

“Well, you asked! Wouldn’t you rather I confirm it?”

“No!” Marinette said. “...yes. I don’t know…”

“Alright,” Adrien sighed out, jumping up in place a little to shake himself of his nerves. “Okay. Okay, okay, okay, okay.”

Marinette looked at him desperately. “Okay, what?

Adrien dropped his shoulders and frowned pathetically. “I have no idea. I mean, I know we always talked about this happening, but I didn’t think it would actually happen. And I...didn’t think it’d be. Well. You.”

Marinette was tapping her fingers against her temples and heard the tell tale sounds of students coming up from their gym classes to head back into the library. She sighed out in frustration, grabbed Adrien’s wrist, and tried to find an empty classroom. “Come on. We need to figure this out.”

Adrien looked over his shoulder. “We still have class.”

“We’ll worry about that later.”

“We have to go learn!!”

“I think we’ve learned enough today, don’t you?”

Adrien opened his mouth, closed it, and nodded. “Alright. Valid.”

One of the science classrooms wasn’t going to be open for another hour, and Marinette figured that would be enough time to get themselves sorted. She closed the door behind her and pressed her back into the knob as she watched Adrien lean against one of the lab tables and face her, keeping his arms crossed and jiggling his legs. She nibbled on her lip and slid her finger along the clasp of her bag. “Tikki,” she muttered. “I guess you can come out now.”

Tikki’s head poked hesitantly out of Marinette’s bag, and she looked around the large classroom until her eyes landed on Adrien. She floated out, sat herself down on Marinette’s shoulder, and waved carefully. “Hello, there Adrien.”

Adrien blinked as if he were in a daze and waved back slowly. He nudged his wrist against his shirt until a small, black creature came spiraling out of his shirt.

“Oh perfect, we’re going through this thing again. Honestly, it gets so dull after the billionth time.” He floated in front of Marinette and sighed irritably. “Plagg. Nice to meet you. Now can we hurry this up, I’m starving!”

Tikki floated up in front of him and glared. “Stop that! This isn’t something they should be rushing. This is a stressful situation for the both of them, don’t make it worse.”

“Oh it’s not that big a deal, so they found out! They’re going to be better off, and you and I both know that.”

Tikki sighed. “That doesn’t mean this is easy for them to digest.”

“I never understood why this was always so complicated,” Plagg complained. “They saw it with their own eyes. Pure evidence. It’s not like that’s going to change anytime soon. Just move on with it.”

“This is shocking for them!”

Plagg blinked. “So what are we supposed to do? Unshock them?”

The classroom was ringing in silence for a few minutes before Adrien lifted a tentative finger as if he were afraid of interrupting. “Um, sorry, hi. Could we…?” He gestured vaguely between himself and Marinette. “Just fifteen or so minutes?”

Tikki turned to Adrien, looking apologetic, and nodded. “Oh, of course. You probably need to be alone for a bit. Will you be okay, Marinette?”

Marinette nodded, not having moved from her place against the door. “Yeah, I think so.”

Plagg turned to Adrien and tapped him on the nose. “Look. Just rip the bandaid off, kid. Sort this out quick.”

Tikki grabbed one of Plagg’s arms and dragged him over to one of the open classroom windows. “Ignore him. We’ll just...we’ll be over here.”

Their kwamis zipped off out of sight and left Marinette and Adrien standing only a few feet across from each other, still scrutinizing each other, piecing things together, and trying to make complete pictures in their head. Almost as if they’d read each other’s minds, they both slid down, sat cross-legged on the floor, and let out identical sighs.

“So…” Marinette began awkwardly. “Your kwami seems...nice?”

Adrien snorted. “Your kwami seems nice. Mine just likes to get to the point. Helps him get fed quicker.”

“He looked like he was trying to help.”

“In his own way, I guess.”

The only thing they could really hear was the clock ticking on the wall and Marinette was suddenly having a hard time trying to come up with something to say. It didn’t seem like anything was substantial enough to fill up the space, and the two of them were eft with this strange, uncomfortable heaviness that they’d never had to deal with before. Talking to Chat was like breathing, and even talking to Adrien was charged with a completely different brand of discomfort that had more to do with her own insecurities and less to do with not knowing where she stood with someone else.

Adrien must have felt the same way, because it looked like all his nerves had finally bubbled up to the surface and resulted in a desperate sort of laugh that just escaped out of his throat without him meaning to. It sounded so forced that Marinette couldn’t help but chuckle in response. Adrien started smiling at her and suddenly he was bending forward at the waist and laughing harder than Marinette had ever seen him laugh in her life. Maybe it was the wrong place and the wrong time, but she started laughing right along with him and felt the anxiety start to untwist and release itself just a little bit.

Neither of them knew what was so funny, but pretty soon they had tears in their eyes, their chests were aching, and every time their laughter fell off, they’d make eye contact and start it back up again. Adrien leaned back against one of the lab stools and suddenly felt it slide back behind him until he fell back and knocked his head on the ground behind him. It left Marinette so overcome by her laughter that she had to crawl onto her hands and knees and try to find her breath again before she hurt herself.

Adrien was wiping at his eyes with one hand and rubbing the back of his head with the other. He shrugged helplessly. “Well...this is awkward.”

Marinette nodded in agreement and placed a hand on her chest to calm her breathing. “Yeah. Definitely awkward.” She paused for a moment and giggled to herself. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard your voice crack like that before,” she smirked, referring to his initial reaction in the hallway. “Does it crack when you panic?”

Adrien frowned. “You’re being furry mean to me. Please be mice.”

“Okay, now we’re in the proper conditions for a cat pun?”

“Hey, I don’t make the rules, Marinette. This is a delicate art. The timing was purrfect.”

“Oh come on, at least come up with something original.”

Adrien gave her an affronted look. “Excuse me, my Lady,” he said, sounding so similar to Chat Noir that Marinette almost wanted to cry. “I am absolutely appawlled by your clawful cattitude.”

She raised a brow. “Three. In one sentence. You’re ridiculous.”

“That still hasn’t beat my record though. I’m waiting for the day where I can actually smash six of them into one sentence.”

“Wasn’t the last one seven?”

“Wait, really? Which one was that?”

“You think I actually remember? You pulled it out of your hat at the end of a battle, it’s a miracle you didn’t rehearse it beforehand.”

Adrien grinned and relented the point. He looked at Marinette again and shook his head. “Still awkward?”

“Just a little,” Marinette chuckled. “I kinda...don’t know what we’re supposed to do now. I mean, we can’t just go outside and head to class and pretend everything is normal. Can we?”

Adrien blew air out from between his lips and tapped his fingers against his knee. “Welp,” he said, popping the ‘p.’ “Probably not. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be like this forever. Change always happens, and you just gotta get used to it. There’s nothing else to do.”

“So just...wait it out and see what happens?” Marinette asked. “That’s kinda vague.”

“Well, I’m kinda playing this by ear, to be totally honest,” Adrien said. “I’m not the best at planning things.”

Marinette grinned. “Yeah, that’s for sure.”

“Anyway,” Adrien ignored her with a smile. “This might be one of those things that we have to take one step at a time.” He took a deep breath. “Except that they’ll probably be really big, really wide steps.”

“Right,” Marinette said, more to convince herself than anything else. “Right, right. I mean, we should be fine, right? How complicated could this be?”

“We’ll be fine!”

“Yeah!

“Yeah…”

“Right…”

They stared at each other in silence, shoulders tensing again.

Marinette spoke first. “This is going to be a mess, isn’t it?”

Adrien smiled nervously. “Probably.”

“Great.”

Chapter Text

The moment they walked back into class, Marinette had this strong, paranoid feeling that everyone else in their class just knew.

Apparently that’s what happened when you were suddenly holding double the secrets you were before. It felt like they were spilling out of you and everyone could just see it.

Adrien and Marinette were both scolded when they finally arrived for the last fifteen minutes of class, and were given late slips for their parents to sign and bring back the next day along with double homework for the night. It made sense logically that their entire class would be staring and making muttered comments at their expense. This happened to Marinette every time she was late, and she was far too used to it.

But the fact that Adrien — Adrien Agreste, love of her life, perfect, wonderful, and lovely — was Chat Noir this entire time was still knocking around in her head and putting her in this strange daze that made it feel like the entire world was tipped on its edge. Everyone’s stares felt like they were going right through her, reading her paranoia like a book. Like they knew exactly what she was agonizing about and were actually tittering about it behind books and hands.

Adrien wasn’t doing any better than she was, and she heard him audibly swallow while he clutched his late slip in his hands and stared worriedly out at the rest of the class, unable to move his feet or even remember to take a breath. Marinette shoved a subtle elbow in his side that seemed to surprise him, because he jumped almost a foot into the air and had to shake his head a little bit before he sobered up, and plopped down in his own seat.

Marinette thought for a second that she was at least being a little bit cooler about it, but she completely didn’t see one of the steps in front of her and face planted on the floor by her desk, earning the laughter of her entire class before miserably slinking back to her own desk

Oh yeah. They were looking awesome right now.

Marinette wasn’t even bothering with looking down at her tablet to take notes. She was too busy staring at the back of Adrien’s head and trying to figure out how!

The puns! Terrible and corny and irritating just like Chat’s were. Coming out of Adrien’s mouth!

The sudden stiff and inelegant way he walked back to his seat because he was so self conscious because that’s how Chat acted when he was self conscious.

Oh God! she realized in a sudden panic. I’ve been crushing on Adrien. Adrien is Chat Noir. So does that mean I’ve been crushing on —

Marinette damn near slammed her head on her desk. Wow. No. Not finishing that thought. Too soon. Way too soon.

It was like dealing with a third completely different person. Adrien and Chat Noir acted so differently, and learning that they were just two different shades of the same person made Marinette feel like she had to completely wipe her slates clean and start over with figuring this new hybrid version of Adrien Agreste out.

How was she even supposed to be doing that? She was kind of just working towards asking him to the movies this week. Now she had to deal with all of this? How was that at all fair?

Everything she thought about Adrien had suddenly shifted somehow — her crush on him, her admiration for him, her idolization of him, everything. It wasn’t a bad shift, just a different one. It was layered on with all of her feelings towards her partner, and now she had to sort out what that meant for them now.

She risked a look at the board in front of the room and groaned. Crap. Quiz on Monday. Her notes were empty. This was just fantastic.

Luckily enough, it was their last class of the day. Marinette could just head straight home, blast through all of her extra homework, and spend the weekend under her covers dying. The last part sounded especially tempting right about now. But before she had a chance to rush out the classroom, Nino turned in his seat to look at Marinette. “So?”

Marinette hugged her bag to her chest and darted her eyes to the side, hoping Nino wasn’t talking to her. “So...what?”

“You and Adrien were gone for a while,” he elaborated. “What the hell were you two up to — ”

“Nothing!” Adrien blurted out a little too loudly. “Nothing, nothing, why would you, ah...haha...why would you think we were up to something?”

Alya leaned over her desk to look at the both of them. “I mean, you guys just jetted out of here out of nowhere so we thought something was wrong.”

Damn. Marinette completely forgot about that. The akuma had popped up so suddenly they didn’t even bother to come up with an excuse before sprinting out the classroom.

“Right!” Marinette blurted out. “Something wrong! You think something is wrong...ooooookay.” Between the akuma attack and their little...erm... mishap ...they’d been out of class for over an hour. She supposed a bathroom break wasn’t a good enough reason this time around. But she was totally blanking on what to say.

“Well, is there something wrong?” Alya asked. “You both looked a little off when you came back in.”

Marinette tried to quickly flounder around for a good enough excuse. “Um! There is! I mean, there was! Uh….Adrien you want to tell them what’s wrong?”

He turned to look up at her in confusion. “Something’s wrong?”

“Yes!” Marinette smiled forcefully, speaking through gritted teeth. “Something’s wrong, we ran out of here during class, remember?”

Adrien frowned at her for a second before her desperate stare made his eyes widen in realization. “Right!” he recovered quickly. “Yeah, uh. So uh….we...” He trailed off for a moment, fiddling with the straps of his school bag. “There was a reason! A good one, too.” He bit his lip and cleared his throat loudly. “Marinette you want to tell them the good reason?”

Marinette clenched her hands in her lap and leaned over her desk to bring her face closer to his. “No, Adrien,” she muttered dangerously. “You tell them the reason.”

But he looked helpless sitting there with Alya and Nino staring at the two of them like they were crazy and whispered to her behind his hand. “No, seriously Marinette, you need to tell them the reason.”

Alya leaned back in her seat and scowled. “Okay, what the heck is up with you two? You’re acting super weird.”

Adrien made a strange drawn out noise from the back of his throat while he held a hand to his forehead, staring at Alya and Nino in outright panic while his brain was desperately willing their cogs to start turning and come up with words to say. “That’s because uh…” His eyes darted to Marinette for a quick moment before he bit his lip. “Marinette wasn’t feeling well?”

Nino blinked. “Wait, is that all?”

“You’re sick?” Alya said worriedly, reaching over to press her hand to Marinette’s cheek.

Not the best excuse, but it was all they had and Marinette decided to run with it. “Yeah! Super sick, uh…food poisoning!” she decided victoriously. “Yeah, I had really...bad food poisoning.”

“Must have been that cafe we went to this afternoon,” Adrien continued, trying to catch visual cues from Marinette to see if he was doing well. “Guess that’s what you get for going to new places, huh?”

Nino frowned and shifted in his seat. “But we all ate the same thing, shouldn’t we all be sick?”

“Sensitive stomach!” Marinette insisted loudly. “Unlucky day. What can I say?”

“Yeah, tell me about it…” Adrien muttered quietly, but Marinette suddenly shoved a painful thumb in his shoulder. “I mean, uh! Yeah. She was sprinting out of here so quickly I thought it’d be best to help her out a little. So I helped her over to the nurse’s office.”

“Oh you poor thing, no wonder,” Alya cooed. “Are you feeling better?”

“Oh, yeah,” Marinette said offhandedly. “Just needed to go rest in the nurse’s office for a bit.”

“You should tell Madame Bustier on Monday that you were just in the nurse’s office,” Nino explained. “Maybe you guys can get out of all your homework.”

Unlikely, but they both nodded encouragingly. “We’ll...be sure to do that,” Adrien promised.

Alya turned to Adrien and smiled warmly. “Well that was nice of you to take her to the nurse’s office,” she told him. “You two really sped out of here, it must have been pretty bad.”

“Yeah, it was kinda bad,” Adrien kept saying. “Needed help big time, I mean wow! Just throwing up everywhere, looking terrible, retching in the hallway. It was a lot.”

Marinette winced and clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Okay,” she grumbled, burying her face in her hand. “You really didn’t need to tell them that much…”

Adrien frowned. “Too much?”

“Too much.”

Alya was already standing up from her seat and moving out of the row. “Geez, next time tell people what’s wrong and where you’re going instead of spooking everyone and running out of here like a bat out of Hell.”

Marinette slid out her seat and started slowly inching her way down the steps, intent on making a quick exit to avoid anymore scrutiny. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll make sure to do that. I didn’t mean to make you worry.”

Nino patted Adrien on the shoulder. “Thanks for helping her, man. That was real cool of you.”

Adrien shrugged and tried to smile casually. “Well you know me. I can’t just see someone in trouble and not try and offer help, you know?”

Alya leaned her chin on Marinette’s shoulder and smirked at him. “Scooping up damsels in distress,” she teased. “How very Chat Noir of you.”

Marinette didn’t mean to freak out — honestly she didn’t. But the minute the words came out of Alya’s mouth, she sucked in a huge, sharp breath and accidentely started choking on her own spit until she was coughing loudly and uncontrollably, shaking Alya from her shoulder and trying not to start dry heaving in the middle of the empty classroom.

Adrien swooped in quickly and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Look at that!” he cried out frantically, his voice cracking again under pressure. “I think Marinette’s sick again! I’m gonna take her back to the nurse now.” He started yanking her down the steps and towards the door of the classroom. “We’ll uh...see you guys tomorrow! Text you later?”

Nino looked absolutely and thoroughly confused. “Um...sure? But hey are you two really okay?”

Neither of them had the time to answer Nino and instead decided to book it out of the classroom and down the hall before anymore questions were flung their way. Marinette was fully intent on just running all the way home and wallowing in her stupidity in private, but Adrien was already grabbing her wrist and dragging her up the stairs in the courtyard, through a couple of double doors, and into the library that was completely empty for the weekend.

He moved them over to one of the private study rooms in the corner of the library and shut the door behind him before he turned on her and furrowed his brows. “You couldn’t make that anymore obvious!?” he hissed.

Marinette scoffed rudely and pointed to herself. “Me!? You can dangle from 500 and something meters in the air, stare death in the face, and come up with jokes out of thin air, but you can’t scramble around for a better sounding excuse than me upchucking in the hallway?”

“Stop calling my skills into question!” Adrien said, sounding rather affronted. “I couldn’t think of a better reason. I’m bad under pressure…”

Marinette grabbed her hair. “You fight crime! What do you mean you’re not good under pressure?”

“This is social pressure!” Adrien whined. “It’s different! Besides you literally asphyxiated on your own secret back there, you’re just as bad.”

“I was caught by surprise!” she said defensively. “I’m still not totally over…” She gestured to Adrien’s entire body. “Well, you know.”

Adrien let his shoulders slump. “Me neither…”

It’s not like neither of them weren’t used to keeping secrets like this. The day after her first mission as Ladybug, it felt almost good to keep such a big secret to herself. It was like Marinette was in on a private joke. Besides, Tikki had made it incredibly clear to her that she wasn’t meant to let anyone know about her secret identity, and Marinette was more than happy to shoulder that responsibility and take it seriously. There wasn’t any need to be strange or uncomfortable about it because it was an important duty, just like purifying akumas and keeping Paris safe was just an important duty. It seemed like Adrien had been keeping his own secret perfectly shut up as well without any troubles.

But now they were both floundering around and acting completely ridiculous like their secrets were too big for them to keep quiet, like they were just begging to scream them out to everyone just to stop the pressure from building up. Accepting the mantle of Ladybug wasn’t filled with all of this confusion and uncertainty, and she didn’t realize how much space all of that turmoil could take up. At the rate they were going, they were going to  reveal themselves on accident if they didn’t start getting used to the idea that Marinette and Ladybug weren’t disparate, and neither were Adrien and Chat Noir.

Marinette sighed and slumped back into the chair behind her. “I think we need to have a part two of our chat. We’re not doing too hot right now, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Adrien grabbed the chair behind him, turned it around, and straddled the back of it, leaning his forearms on the edge. “Well, what else are we supposed to do?” he asked. “I mean, we know already. It’s weird and surprising and shocking, but we can’t stop it from being all of those things.”

Marinette lifted her feet on the chair and hugged her knees to her chest. “No, but the more we talk about it, maybe the easier it’ll be to swallow?”

“That makes sense,” Adrien mumbled into his arms. “But I thought we did all the talking. We were good a few minutes ago. I mean, yeah, things were off but.” He groaned. “I thought it’d be easier than this.”

“Maybe we just think we talked about everything,” Marinette said. “I mean, is something still bothering you?”

Adrien flitted his gaze down to the floor and started pulling on one of the loose threads of carpet with the sole of his sneaker. “Sort of,” he admitted quietly. “You?”

Marinette pressed her mouth against the fabric of her jeans. “Yeah…” She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. “Maybe Plagg was right,” she explained. “Just rip the bandage off all at once. Talk about what’s bothering us and just get everything out.”

Adrien snorted. “We’re following Plagg’s advice? Yeah, we’re doing great…”

“Come on,” she chuckled. “We won’t know if it’ll help if we don’t try.”

Adrien nodded, hesitated for a few seconds, and jutted his chin towards Marinette. “Shortest goes first.”

Marinette glared at him. “We’re not lining up for gym, you dummy! You go first.”

“You have so many secrets in that tiny body, you have to get them out first before you explode.”

“Okay, now you’re being silly.”

“I’m stalling, I don’t know what to say!”

“Well, don’t think, just say what comes to mind.” She smirked at him. “I don’t recall you have issues with that before.”

Adrien rolled his eyes and smiled behind his arms. “You just love poking fun at my character flaws, don’t you?”

Marinette giggled. “You make it too easy.”

Adrien tilted his head to the side and stared at the wall of the study room while he tapped his toes rhythmically against the carpet. “I’m afraid that we’re going to drift apart.”

He said it so honestly and so vulnerably — like he was truly scared of his own admission — that Marinette’s chest tightened at the sound of his voice. “Why would you think that?”

“I dunno,” he started. “It’s just that….I’ve never really gotten to know you — Marinette — before. I mean, you’ve always been really nice and helpful, and you’re such a talented person. And we’ve hung out a few times. But there’s a lot about you I don’t know. And then there was Ladybug — and she was always this perfect image in my head, like a dream I couldn’t touch. I admired her, and I loved everything that Ladybug stood for because she made me want to be better.”

He took his hands in front of him and laced them together. “But now that you’re both their same person it’s like...well, it’s like I don’t really know either of you that well,” he admitted. “Like because I don’t know much about Marinette, I know less about Ladybug than I thought I did. Both of you together just make up this bigger, more complicated picture of the girl I sit in front of and the girl I save lives with. And it’s just confusing because I don’t even know where that leaves us now. What if…” He cleared his throat and dared to peek his eyes up at her. “What if this changes everything?”

It was a valid worry, and one that Marinette had been entertaining as well. Once you mixed A and B together, you were stuck with C and there was no way of getting A and B back exactly like they were before. It stood to reason that there may be a small possibility that what came after the merging would be something less appealing than the parts you started with. Marinette knew how much Chat Noir liked Ladybug, but it always seemed obvious to her that Adrien only really saw Marinette as a classmate, the girl that sat behind him in class. What did that mean to learn that she was both of those people, that she wasn’t two separate ideas, that she was both someone to idolize, and someone to just smile kindly at in class? Would Adrien suddenly think less of her, suddenly become less enthused by her?

Chat Noir, the silly, obnoxious, loyal partner she’d always treated with an exasperated sort of familiarity, was also the same person that she couldn’t bring herself to form a single sentence in front of. She herself didn’t know what that changed. It made talking to Adrien easier already, but her crush felt useless now — this Adrien sitting in front of her wasn’t the same Adrien she’d seen in class yesterday.

So what did all that mean?

“I know how you feel,” she finally said after a prolonged silence. “I feel the same way. We sort of have to relearn each other a little bit. We have all these parts and it’s time to fit them together into a complete piece.” She crossed her ankles and smiled at Adrien, waiting for him to lift his head and see it. “But, I think this might actually be a good thing. It just means we understand each other better. Like we’re finally getting the full story.”

Her heart was beating nervously, but she pushed the rest of the words out. “Maybe things are strange, and we have a lot that we need to get used to. But the fact that we’re partners hasn’t changed. I still trust you with everything I have, despite all this. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather fight next to. You’re such an important friend to me,” she said determinedly. “That’s still true. And that’ll never stop being true.”

Adrien beamed at her and laughed into his arms in what looked like sweet relief. He was showing all of his teeth, smiling in that uninhibited way that Chat Noir liked to do, and Marinette suddenly felt a strong wash of affection for him that had nothing to do with her crush on Adrien. They’d been fighting alongside each other and trusting their lives with the other for close to a year. That kind of closeness didn’t go away. That kind of friendship didn’t just dissolve because of something silly like finding out their identities.

“That makes sense,” Adrien admitted. He scooted his chair closer and reached over to grab one of Marinette’s hands in his own. Her heart only did a slight jump when their skin made contact, but she was too focused on Adrien’s stare and Adrien’s words. “I hope I didn’t do anything to make you think otherwise. I mean, I know this was jarring and that we were both still trying to get used to all of this, but...I’m happy it’s you,” he sighed in relief. “I’ve always thought you were such a nice, good person. So this is good. And I’m not disappointed.”

That made her heart swell, and she felt so relieved she didn’t even bother hiding her warm cheeks from him. “I’m happy it’s you too.” She squeezed his hand back. “We’re still partners. We can get through this, I know we can. It’s just a little hiccup. Nothing has to change, right?”

Adrien nodded emphatically. “Right.”

He wasn’t letting go of her hand, and Marinette wasn’t going through any effort to take her hand back either. He was staring at her so earnestly, with green eyes that were familiar for two different yet equally powerful reasons, and she was finding that being lost in them now was a completely foreign but warm, comforting feeling. They were still gorgeous paired with that smile of his that was just a little wider and more natural than she was used to seeing it. All of the things that Marinette dreamed about at night — the feel of his skin, the hum of his voice, the curve of his lips — were all things she got to enjoy when she was running across rooftops, fooling around on patrols, sitting on the edge of the Eiffel Tower and stargazing until midnight.

All those lovely, darling things about him were blurring together, and she realized that she wanted to see Adrien’s eyes stare into her in the doorway of their school on a rainy day, just as much as she wanted them to stare into her on the edge of a building, lungs still straining from a fight.

She didn’t know what that meant. This didn’t feel like her crush from before, but it still felt charged with something that didn’t feel like just friendship. Adrien was staring down at their linked hands and blinked as if he’d realized how long they’d sat there holding each other. Almost at the same time, they pulled their hands back as if the very touch of their fingers burned.  

“I-I, er….sorry!” he blurted out. “I, um...I just spaced out. Sorry, that was weird, I….sorry.”

“I-It’s fine!” Marinette promised, holding her hands up. “We’re still in shock I guess.”

“Right,” Adrien nodded to himself. “It’s just shock.”

“Just shock…”

Even as she said it, Marinette knew that she was failing wonderfully at convincing herself.

Chapter Text

By the time Saturday morning rolled around, Marinette was completely fed up.

She yanked all of Adrien’s photos off of her wall, she changed her desktop to a picture of her and Alya, and she even stood on her desk chair and spent close to half an hour dismounting her pulldown calendar and stuffing it under her chaise.

She took a few of her sketches and some photos she had lying around her desk and sticking out of book covers and used them to cover the blank spaces on her wall. She also put a small post-it on her desktop computer to remind her to put her own schedule on her pull down calendar when she had the extra time to design it.

It made her room look wholly different, but Marinette found she could breathe better now that Adrien’s photos were hidden.

Keeping them up almost felt cheap — like she was bestowing all of her affections on a person that she knew barely anything about, and that was just unfair to Adrien. Marinette saw all of Adrien’s social media pages. Thousands of people were constantly showering him with confessions and declarations of love despite the fact that they only ever knew him from a magazine spread. Marinette didn’t want to be lumped up with people like that. She wanted to like Adrien because he was Adrien .

Which meant she didn’t earn the right to decorate her room with his face like she knew him best.

If anything, she had far more pertinent things to accomplish first.

“Marinette...what on Earth are you doing?”

Marinette was leaning her chin on her desk and staring suspiciously at her desktop computer. “Conditioning my brain.”

Tikki frowned through her mouthful of cookies while she stared at the computer as well. “Marinette, with all due respect, I think there are far more simpler ways to offset all of this confusion.”

“No, it’ll work, watch,” Marinette assured. “I just have to keep staring at this...until it stops being strange.”

This being a full screen split photo with Adrien’s photo on the left side and Chat Noir’s photo on the right.

The idea came to her at close to two in the morning last night, delirious from lack of sleep because how could she sleep? She thought if she stared at the two of them side by side enough, the two pictures would just literally merge themselves together and she’d come to some sort of clarity. What kind of clarity, she didn’t know, since it was pretty late when the idea came to her and she sort of just thought it out halfway and figured that would be good enough.

Besides, she was willing to try anything at this point to make things not totally uncomfortable between them anymore.

Tikki sighed. “Marinette I really do think this is something that will solidify once you and Adrien get closer to each other,” Tikki explained. “It’s like you told me. You’re dealing with a new conception of Adrien. So get to know that new person. This, on the other hand, isn’t going to help you.”

Marinette held up a finger. “Hold on. I’ve almost got it, though. This is going to work. Watch.”

She covered her right eye with her hand until all she could see was Adrien’s photo. Her crush. Her classmate. Model. Sweet. Polite. Soft. Wonderful.

She covered her left eye and then focused solely on Chat Noir — silly, not funny, a show off, brave, loyal, dependable, her dear friend.

Okay. Fine.

She dropped both of her hands in her lap and stared at both photos at the same time.

Marinette let out a long, drawn out whine. “Tikki this isn’t working!”

Tikki settled herself on Marinette’s shoulder and rubbed her hand on her cheek. “Alright, I think we should just turn this off, okay? Come on.”

Marinette flattened her face on her desk top and switched off her monitor. She started whining again until Tikki nudged her cheek again. “Come on, look at me.”

Marinette turned her head rested her cheek on the table and frowned at Tikki. “I’m getting confused…”

“What about?” Tikki asked patiently.

“My feelings made sense before,” Marinette explained. “But now I don’t know what I feel for anyone. It’s all mixing together and I don’t know what to say around him anymore.”

“Mixing together how?”

Marinette shrugged. “Like when I think of Chat Noir my chest gets all tight. And I think of Adrien and I start to feel guilty. And sometimes I think of him and everything feels nice and sweet, and sometimes it just makes me sick to my stomach.”

“You don’t need to feel guilty,” Tikki soothed. “You’re a young girl, you’re entitled to your crushes. You’re not betraying anyone because of that. And it’s okay to feel conflicted. I can’t imagine many people would know what it’s like to deal with this sort of surprise.”

“I wasn’t fair to him,” Marinette mumbled. “I wasn’t fair to Chat and I wasn’t fair to Adrien. I sold one short and I built one up. I had them both figured completely wrong.”

This was progress for them, necessary progress, and she didn’t necessarily wish that what had happened yesterday hadn’t happened. But a part of her wanted the simple things back — doodling Adrien’s name in her notebooks, resting her forehead on Chat’s forehead and letting him embrace her after a long battle, just because she was tired and she needed a hug and nothing else.

Marinette rubbed the top of Tikki’s head. “You mentioned that this happens a lot. Ladybug and Chat Noir finding out about each other…”

But Tikki immediately started shaking her head. “It’s so different every time, Marinette,” Tikki explained. “Sometimes they’re complete strangers. Sometimes they can’t stand the sight of each other. Sometimes they’re siblings. Sometimes they start out lovers before they even get their miraculouses. Sometimes they don’t even find out, and die with their secrets. And maybe there have been a few times where things have logistically worked out almost like this. But no one in the universe — past, present, or future — can mimic your feelings, or even Adrien’s. There’s no roadmap to this sort of thing.”

Marinette snorted bitterly. “Well, that’s comforting.”

“Look,” Tikki began. “Don’t have any expectations. Don’t force things to fit and don’t agonize about small details. There’s really something to be said about learning small bits and pieces of someone until you get a nice charming picture at the end. Something tells me you’re going to like what you end up with.”

Marinette smiled softly. “I believe you.” She meant what she said to her yesterday. She had a really strong feeling that everything would work out in the end, that they wouldn’t end up any worse than how they’d started. But this felt very much like having a bad day at school — you knew in the back of your mind that it wasn’t the end of the world, but a part of you still felt like it had every right to mope about it, even if just a little.

“Oh,” Marinette groaned pathetically. “All that extra homework and I haven’t started it…”

Tikki laughed. “Worry about it later. Wrap yourself up in a blanket and watch some television. That always makes you feel better.”

Marinette hadn’t planned on seeing Adrien until Monday morning when they had class again. But there were explosions and sirens bright and early Sunday morning, and Ladybug and Chat Noir found themselves wrapped up with an akuma that took almost two hours to purify. Marinette wondered if it was because the two of them were distracted by everything — she had to pull out her Lucky Charm twice because she missed the opening needed to use the first one, and Chat Noir was looking a little bit more sluggish and taking just a few more hits than usual. But they finished, and everything was fixed, and they fist bumped just like normal.

They’d really stretched their five minute limits with their powers though, because both of their miraculouses were screeching shrilly, meaning they had maybe less than a minute before they totally switched back in front of everyone.

Chat Noir grabbed her hand and sprinted down a narrow street and up the side of a building. “Quick, my house is nearby.”

Marinette didn’t bother thinking through that implication before she followed Chat Noir — vaulting over roofs and sticking to the shadows — before they came up to the back of the Agreste mansion and leaped to the large, wide windows on the upper floors that Marinette knew led into his bedroom. Chat Noir barely had enough time to nudge the locks and push the windows open before they both tumbled onto his carpet and let their transformations expire.

Adrien had collapsed onto his couch and Marinette had laid herself spread eagle on his floor, the two of them sitting perfectly still and trying to catch their breath. Marinette vaguely heard Plagg zipping towards Adrien's bedroom door, complaining about food and cheese and being too exhausted to move, and heard Tikki hissing something at him before they zipped off out of sight, presumably to get their energy back or leave the two of them alone. Knowing Tikki, it was probably both. 

“Why,” Adrien said in annoyance. “On a Sunday?

Marinette shrugged. “Hawkmoth doesn’t believe in the Sabbath?”

“It’s eight in the morning!”

“Well,” Marinette said. “At least we’re up.”

Adrien let out the strangest cross between a groan and a whine and let himself roll of the couch with a thud so that he was lying across the floor only a few meters away from Marinette. “Can we like...not move?”

“Do you see me moving?”

“Just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of us sitting here like lumps.”

“Eh. We’re more like loaves.”

“Why loaves?”

“I live in a bakery. I always say loaves.”

“Well, I’m a model so I always say...oh wait, that doesn’t work.”

“Do your jokes start sucking when you’re tired too? Because if that’s true, this is a blessing in disguise.”

“Give me time. The day is still young.”

Marinette chuckled and gave him a thumbs up. “Slight topic change,” she said. “You wouldn’t happen to have any breakfast would you? I’m starving and I don’t feel like moving.”

Adrien hummed. “Breakfast isn’t going to go on the table until ten and I doubt you want to wait that long. Plus I doubt my father would be okay with you just waltzing to our breakfast table. We can steal stuff from the kitchen but we’d have to sneak down there and make sure the staff doesn’t see us. Some of them are gossips.”

“I’m down for a secret, covert mission down to the kitchens.”

Adrien snorted. “Yeah, you’d know a lot about secret missions wouldn’t you — ”

He suddenly stopped in the middle of his sentence, sat up straight, and smacked his hands on his cheeks. “Wait a minute…”

“What?”

Adrien spun around too quickly and almost whipped his head against the couch when he faced her. “ Wait a minute!”

“What!” Marinette said again.

He started pointing at her and had a face on that made it seem like he suddenly noticed Marinette had four heads. “Wait. A. Minute!!”

Marinette glared at him and decided that she probably wasn’t going to be getting to lay down and snooze like she wanted to. “Oh my God, what?

“You weren’t on a secret mission!”

Marinette furrowed her brows and leaned forward. “What are you talking about?”

Adrien was waving his hands around frantically. “That time we fought The Evillustrator! When you totally left me alone with Chloe — totally mean, by the way, still not over that — and you sent me off to go watch after Marinette while you were on a secret mission. You weren’t on a secret mission!”

Marinette blinked. “Uh huh.”

“You were sending me to go watch after yourself!”

Marinette puffed out her cheeks, looked to the side, and nodded. “Uh...yeah.”

Adrien hesitated for a moment as if he were expecting Marinette to have an equally outlandish reaction, but instead he was met with nothing and it only served to further confuse him. “Why aren’t you freaking out about this!?”

Marinette smirked at him. “Um, because I already knew that? I was the one who lied about the secret mission because I was leading you to me? This isn’t news for me.”

He stared at her helplessly, and she almost wanted to laugh at the sight of his blush starting to blossom on his cheekbones as a realization started to slowly melt onto his face. He let out a loud frustrated scream and fell back against the couch cushions with his feet in the air. “Oh my God, I totally flexed in front of you like a total loser!!!”

Marinette couldn’t help herself — he looked so silly sitting there in his self pity and he looked so bothered by the realization that Marinette just had to let out a long, loud laugh. “You seemed to think you pretty cool while you were doing it!”

“That’s because I thought you were just Marinette!” Adrien exclaimed. “Ladybug probably saw right through that. You saw right through that! And you just let me go on?”

Marinette covered her tittering with her hand. “I mean, you looked like you had the whole thing pretty rehearsed so I wasn’t about to interrupt you. Besides, I said plenty to you behind your back.”

“Oh, gee, thanks!

“Oh, what’s the big deal?” Marinette grinned. “It happened such a long time ago, I totally forgot about it.”

Adrien stared at her as if she were missing the obvious. “I called you my Ladybug.”

“Technically I am.”

But Adrien sighed dramatically and bent over the back of the couch with his butt in the air, muttering something that Marinette couldn’t understand. How undignified, but she couldn’t help but feel just a little bit bad for him. She could tell that Chat Noir was trying to impress her for some reason because that’s just how Chat Noir sought his validation from people. That’s why she kept up the act of being impressed with him so that she wouldn’t dampen his mood too much, because even she wasn’t capable of that. But Chat Noir always seemed to tone it back just a touch where Ladybug was concerned because she supposed it was her opinion that he cared most about. She was sure he was heavily embarrassed, but she couldn’t help but find the sight so endearing. Who knew Adrien could look so positively mortified? She almost wanted to take a picture of this, save it, and put it on her wall instead.

Marinette decided to take pity on him and sat next to him on the couch, patting his back comfortingly. “There, there, kitty,” she soothed. “I didn’t find you completely humiliating.”

“So mean!”

“I guess we’re not getting breakfast then, are we?”

“Shush, you’re interrupting my shame.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, would you like me to leave you alone?”

“It’s customary, yes.”

Marinette leaned her elbow on the back of the couch and looked over the edge to see Adrien’s hair flipped upside down and hanging over his forehead. “Don’t worry. Your precious fan base won’t be hearing anything from me about this.”

She was prepared for more groaning and whining, but instead Adrien whipped back up until he was kneeling on the couch and staring at Marinette with a grin that was practically splitting his face in half. He giggled — actually giggled — a little before he reached over and poked Marinette in the cheek. “Speaking of fan base…”

“What?” Marinette smirked. “Mad that mine’s bigger?”

But Adrien merely shook his head. “You know, this entire time I was always wondering why Ladybug had such issues with Chloe…”

Marinette’s entire face fell the moment the girl’s name left Adrien’s lips, and she pointed at him straight in the nose and frowned. “No!”

But Adrien was already laughing through his words and bouncing a little on the couch. “It made no sense because Ladybug doesn’t get bothered by anyone without a reason, and you just despised her on sight. But that’s because it was you!”

Marinette quickly turned away from him, scowling frightfully. “Shut up!”

But Adrien was already cackling at her expense. “Oh god, and she adores you! Chloe’s always talking my head off about how much Marinette annoys her and how Ladybug is ten times better...and you’re the same person!” He was holding his stomach and accidentally knocked his head against the arm of the couch.

Marinette rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to talk about her,” she pouted.

“Imagine!” Adrien announced. “Just imagine! If Chloe knew that she secretly cosplays as Marinette every night. I think she’d have a conniption!”

“I couldn’t care less,” Marinette said in annoyance. “I don’t like her fawning all over me, she grates my nerves everytime she gets near me.”

“She likes you!” Adrien kept insisting, poking Marinette in the side.

She flinched away and slapped his hand. “She hates me!”

“But she also likes you!” Adrien continued. He swiped his hair away from his face, already so messy from all of his dramatics and curled his legs underneath him. “You have to admit. This is crazy and kind of unexpected, but I was waiting for this to get funny. It’s kind of nice that we can laugh about it.”

“You mean that you can laugh about it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, was I imagining my mortification?”

Marinette nudged him playfully with her shoulder. “That’s different. You deserved it. Your flattery is downright terrible.”

“Okay,” Adrien said, sounding unconvinced. “My flattery is pretty good.”

“If by good, you mean corny, then yes it’s excellent.”

Adrien cleared his throat and regarded her seriously. “My flattery has the perfect balance of cleverness and whimsy for it to be considered perfectly endearing instead of ridiculously skeevy. I spent a long time working out the exact equations necessary to pull this off and I’m rather offended that you’re just chalking all that hard work up to corniness.”

Marinette squinted her eyes and stared at him in disbelief. “Do you hear yourself sometimes?”

Adrien cupped his chin and waggled his eyebrows. “Yes, and it is music to my ears.”

Marinette wasn’t impressed. “Abysmal.”

“Perfected equations, Marinette. You have no appreciation for maths.”

“I don’t need to have an appreciation for maths to know how to flatter and flirt with people.”

“Um, I dunno. My thing is kind of foolproof.”

Marinette leaned a little closer to him. “I think I can do a little bit better than that.”

Adrien lifted one brow, crossed his arms, and leaned back against the couch, staring at Marinette like he was squaring her up. “Alright, let’s see you do better.”

It was classic Ladybug and Chat Noir banter, and Marinette almost forgot that this was also Adrien that she was technically fooling around with too. But a lot of their teasing consisted mostly of challenging one another and going through the laborious task of trying to figure out who was really better than the other, and it always resulted in silly challenges and clever little quips, and Marinette honestly loved every single second of it. If only because it let her humble Chat Noir a little and let her spread her sarcasm a little thicker than she otherwise would have in front of her classmates and her family.

Marinette smiled. “I supposed I’m going to have to try and follow your status quo just a little, right?”

“Personally, I’m of the opinion that knuckle kissing will never get old.”

Marinette tapped her finger on her lips. “I beg to differ. But I guess I’ll hold your hand if it makes you feel better,” she teased, picking up his hand and gripping it much like she would’ve if they were merely about to have a handshake.

Adrien looked down skeptically. “Is this supposed to be charming me?”

Marinette chuckled, squeezing his hand gently before loosening her grip and brushing her palm along the length of his, purposefully taking her time to make sure the lines on their hands and their fingertips lined up perfectly. She noticed briefly that his palms were peppered with little calluses — probably from fencing or for holding pens too tightly — that looked like they’d been repeatedly buffed down by stylists only to stubbornly pop up again. But Marinette quite liked them and rubbed the pads of her fingers against them, not ever having the chance to notice such a small detail before. His hands were much bigger than hers, his skin was just a little bit more tanned, and she could just see the little tan line poking out from underneath the miraculous ring he always wore and never took off. As strange as it sounded, she much rather liked his hands.

Suddenly remembering what she was meant to be doing, she bit her lip nervously, and peeked up from behind her lashes. “No,” she said, a slight jump of nerves peeking into her voice. “I just wanted to see how well our hands fit together.”

It wasn’t as smooth as she’d meant for it to come out. It was supposed to be just a silly joke, kept tight and together by her typical Ladybug brand of confidence, but it came out a little softer and little more vulnerable than she’d meant for it, and therefore sounded a lot more sincere than the joke it was supposed to be. It showed on Adrien’s face as well, because he didn’t look impressed or amused — he looked positively shocked, and that was definitely a proud and true blush form on his face again. Not like the one that popped up when he was embarrassed. This one left his mouth slightly ajar, left him licking his lips, left his eyes looking too big and too green and too starstruck for it to be a simple reaction to a good pick up line. She couldn’t tell what was going through his head, but it seemed like she’d stunned him for a few seconds, left him completely frozen and left his words trapped just behind his throat.

Marinette knew she should’ve said something to break the spell and bring them back to their previous mood. But Adrien was already sliding his hand out from underneath hers just a touch before his thumb came to slide across her knuckles and grab her fingers in a grip that seemed so familiar but much more intimate. His thumb trembled a little as he brushed it back and forth, and he was looking at her like he was so scared of what she might do and what she might say in return, but still he lifted her hand to his lips and left a light, careful kiss right on her middle two knuckles.

“You’re absolutely right,” he chuckled softly. “They fit together perfectly.”

God, and her entire face felt like it was on fire, because this was so darn new for her. It was Adrien’s face and Adrien’s hesitance mixed together with a line and a gesture that was so undeniably Chat Noir, and they molded together seamlessly. She recognized little parts of each of them, but she couldn’t tell where one started and where the other one ended. After all of the silly agonizing she was doing in front of her computer monitor yesterday, she finally saw a glimpse of what she was trying to solidify in her mind — the perfection of this new boy sitting in front of her, vulnerable but oh so hopeful. She didn’t think that such an over the top action could possibly make her chest so light, but here it was and here was he. The boy she needed to know better. The boy she wished would look her in the eyes and kiss her knuckles again.

They realized just how charged the atmosphere between them was because they slowly took their hands back and stared into their laps. Marinette cleared her throat first and tried to cut through the heaviness. “Yeah, so...that’s how, um...that’s how you’re supposed to do it.”

“Right, yeah,” Adrien nodded. “Duly noted.”

Just like that, the magic was fading — suddenly things were uncomfortable and made Marinette want to wriggle around in her seat to get rid of all the weird buzzing feelings in her chest. But it wasn’t her imagination. She’d seen it. They’d grabbed that clarity they desperately wanted for just a short few seconds.

The silence between them was very awkward and very loud for a solid twenty seconds, and Marinette desperately tried to root around in her mind for something neutral that she could use to try and neutralize it. The first thing that her eyes laid on was the large familiar folder of homework sitting on Adrien’s desk and she quickly pointed to. “So...done the extra credit yet?”

Adrien blinked and stared back at his desk. He winced and slouched his shoulders a little. “I totally forgot about that. It’s due tomorrow?”

Marinette nodded. “Think so.” She tapped her hands on her knees to a little tune and shrugged. “Want to, uh….want to work on it together? It’ll be quicker with two people.”

“You don’t have any of your books.”

“I’ll just take pictures of my answers and copy them over tonight. It’s fine.”

Adrien looked like he was eager for the distraction to, because he jumped to his feet and shook out his arms. “Yeah, sure okay. Yeah, homework. Between the two of us, it shouldn’t be so bad.”

“That’s the idea,” she smiled.

“Cool. Cool, cool,” he nodded to himself, shaking his head as if to rid himself of the last few sticky feelings of the charged moment they’d just shared. “I’ll just tell the chefs I’m skipping breakfast to study, and I’ll bring up some snacks. Sound good?”

“Yeah,” Marinette perked up. “I’ll just...I’ll be here.”

“Good.” Adrien started walked backwards to the door to his bedroom. “I’ll just...I’ll go and, uh, get them then. Are you good?”

“Yeah, good.”

“Good.”

Adrien quickly slipped out of his room after that, and Marinette felt herself let out a huge breath once the coast was clear. The room was absolutely quiet, not even the noises from the street could be heard, and her heart was beating so loud she could hear it clearly pumping in her ears.

Chapter Text

Nino slammed his head on the table and spoke through the wood. “Okay. I propose we elect the most cultured person at this table to complete the chemistry homework for the group.” He pointed a weak finger at Adrien. “And that would be you, bro.”

Adrien made a face. “How is that at all fair?”

“Simple,” Nino smiled. “Since the day you were born, you’ve been marinating in wealth, money, and power and all that affluence has mutated your brain to make you naturally good at ridiculously high-brow stuff like knowing which fork is the cheese fork and knowing how to fold napkins and how to solve chemistry problems with no real world application. So...yeah! You do all this mess.”

Adrien furrowed his brows. “Or I pay attention in class…?”

Nino whined and pushed his book towards Adrien. “Please give me the answers.”

“I charge forty euros for my cultured advice. So it’d have to be forty per answer.”

“You suck!”

“If you need help , I’ll gladly give it.”

Alya reached over the table, sitting across from Nino, and used her pencil to turn his textbook two pages back. “They tell you how to do the problems right here. Just follow the directions!”

Nino frowned. “Textbooks tell you how to add two and two to get four. Then your teacher turns around and asks you to calculate our distance from the sun.”

“These problems are not that hard,” she deadpanned.

“Says you! You’ve only done two of them!”

Adrien made eye contact with Marinette sitting directly across from him and comically rolled his eyes, making Marinette laugh into her notebook and nudge her foot against Adrien’s under the table. They’d been given a truly monstrous Chemistry problem set due in class tomorrow, and Nino had taken one look at it and decided that they were all going to camp out in one of the study rooms and figure out all the problems together, because no human being could possibly be expected to complete all these problems by themselves. They’d been at it for the past hour and the only person that seemed to have having any luck with them was Adrien, who horrified the whole table by calling these types of problems “fun” and compared them to “little puzzles.” Needless to say, he wasn’t going to be going home until everyone else had made some serious headway.

Marinette didn’t mind at all. She was probably going to transform into Ladybug and swing over to Adrien’s house later that night anyway so that he could help her, so the four of them studying together now just meant that Marinette could get her homework done quicker and maybe actually get some designing in tonight if she decided to be particularly productive.

Marinette laughed, still looking down at her calculator and circling what she hoped was the right answer. “Apparently these are the easy ones. The harder ones we’re gonna get tomorrow for over the weekend.”

Nino pulled his cap down so that it covered his face. “Don’t remind me.”

Alya groaned loudly, scooted her chair around the corner of the table so that she was sitting next to Nino, and dragged her books over. “Alright, I’m tired of hearing you complain. I’m at least four problems ahead of you, so come on.”

“I want the rich kid to teach me!”

“That rich kid is too nice and is going to coddle the answers out of you. I lack that patience which means you’ll finish your homework quicker.” Alya grinned at Adrien. “No offense.”

Adrien lifted his hands. “Hey, no offense taken. I entrust him to you.”

Nino rolled his eyes dramatically, but pillowed his head in his arms and watched Alya start to set up the first problem for him. Adrien patted him encouragingly on the top of his head and turned back to Marinette. “So how are you doing?”

“Okay, I think?” she said. “I’m through with more than half of them, I’m just stuck on number fourteen.”

Adrien peeked over at her notebook. “Is that the barium dichloride problem? Yeah I messed that one up a couple of times before I figured it out.”

Marinette pouted. “Can you help me? I keep getting the wrong answer.”

Adrien waggled his brows. “So now you’re asking the rich prince for help? How flattering.”

Marinette’s face fell. “Get over here and help me, you silly boy.”

“As the lady wishes,” he winked, before he dragged his chair over to settle right next to hers.

It took a little over a week, but Marinette was at least at the point where watching Adrien transform into Chat Noir and vice versa didn’t make her blink in disbelief or make her think she was daydreaming anymore. It was hard to let that sort of thing take you by surprise when they realized that they spent so much time together between school, patrol, and akuma attacks. Once all that novelty was smoothed away, it made hanging out with Adrien exceedingly simple since he’d suddenly seemed so non-threatening to her now and very easy to deal with. How could she possibly stand to be intimidated by a boy who came to her skylight at two in the morning, scratching at her window panes with his claws, and begging for the palmiers she promised she’d bring to school for him but didn’t? Or by a boy who’d pop up from his couch when she came to visit him at night, prepared with movies and cartoons and animes that Marinette simply had to see, no questions asked?

It had the novelty of Adrien with the familiarity of Chat, and Marinette was only thankful that process was turning out to be more fun than it was daunting.

So when Adrien rested his chin on her shoulder and nuzzled up into her neck much like a cat would as she showed him the problem, Marinette didn’t think anything of it because that’s just how they worked. Ladybug was so used to Chat Noir’s affection that it was second nature at that point, and the best part was that they never had to explain it to anyone because it was something just between the two of them. It carried over wonderfully to Adrien and Marinette, and it was more comforting than anything else to find things about them that didn’t have to change now that they knew their identities.

But just because things were normal for Chat Noir and Ladybug didn’t mean they were necessarily normal for Adrien and Marinette, at least in the eyes of people like Alya who was looking at the two of them sitting so close to each other with one of those suspicious, calculating glances, like she was desperately trying to uncrack a mystery that was unfolding right in front of her. Adrien’s arm was over her shoulder, she was wrapping her hand around his wrist while he started to talk her through the parts of the problem she had messed up, and Marinette glanced up at Alya to try and shrug off the scrutiny.

Not that it seemed to be working because Alya just pushed her glasses up her nose, nodded at Marinette, and pegged her with a look that meant they were going to be talking about this soon. Marinette tried not to roll her eyes at her, but Marinette always found Alya’s poking and prodding to be really overwhelming to deal with when it was directed right at Marinette herself. She was going to be in for an earful later.

Adrien was writing little notes in her notebook so that she wouldn’t forget his instructions. “You balanced the equation just fine, but the reaction actually leaves you when a few hydrogen ions in addition to the precipitate. So it should make more sense like this.”

Marinette unconsciously leaned her head against Adrien’s and nodded. “Got it. Oh, that’s why it took forever to balance before!”

Adrien laughed. “Yup, should be way easier now.” He was doodling a little cat with a thumbs up in the corner of her notebook and snorted in laughter when she snatched her pencil back.

“Go doodle over there,” she smirked.

“It was my stamp of approval,” Adrien insisted as she pulled his chair back over to his own spot. “Chemistry Help a la Adrien! You could say thank you.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “Thanks I guess.

He put a hand to his chest and did a small bow. “Why, you’re very welcome.”

She was giggling behind her hand, but happened to catch Alya’s eye again who was smirking unabashedly and darting her eyes between Marinette and Adrien. Nino was to her side, groaning and leaning his head on her arm as he circled another answer to one of the problems. “Can we take a break?”

Adrien snorted. “We just started.”

But Alya stood up from her chair and walked around to Marinette’s side. “Actually, I don’t mind a break. I need to go to the bathroom anyway. Marinette, come with me.”

That didn’t sound like she was leaving Marinette with much of a choice, which means they weren’t just going to the bathroom. She slid down in her chair and pulled her books closer to her for protection. “Um…”

“Perfect! Thanks, girlie. Let’s go!” Marinette didn't have time to protest before Alya closed all of Marinette’s books, pulled her chair out, and gently nudged the girl out of her chair and out of the study room.

There weren’t too many people staying after school that day, so when Alya pushed them into the bathroom right outside in the hallway, it was completely empty. Already submitting herself to an interrogation, Marinette leaned against one of the sinks and watched Alya lock the door to the bathroom and lean on the door with her arms crossed over her chest. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “So. Anything you want to tell me?”

Marinette tapped her nails against the porcelain. “As a matter of fact, I do,” she said evasively. “Your eyeliner has been smudged for the past two class periods. You should touch it back up before we go back.”

Alya snorted, then paused and looked at herself in the mirror. “Gee thanks for telling me,” she said, swiping her finger underneath her eye. “But come on. You know what I’m talking about.”

Marinette smirked. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Oh don’t you start clamming up on me now!” Alya demanded. “I’m actually kind of shocked you’re not having a conniption about this.”

“About what?”

“Hon, you know damn well what about.”

Deciding that there was no sense in beating around the bush — the best way to deal with Alya was to just take the plunge sooner rather than later — Marinette sighed and dragged a hand down her face. “You’re reading way too much into this, that’s why I didn’t say anything.”

Alya tapped her finger against her chin. “Um, I’m sorry. Two weeks ago, you would take one look at Adrien and completely forget what consonants are. Forgive me if I’m questioning how you two started all of a sudden texting in the middle of class like losers and having debates about haute couture, of all things, in between every single class.”

“We’re both in and/or interested in the fashion industry!” Marinette said innocently. “That’s hardly weird.”

“And the texting?”

“We were partners on our last history project. We were communicating about our presentation.”

“Yeah,” Alya smiled knowingly. “A presentation that was done a week ago. Your excuse now?”

“Nothing!” Marinette exclaimed.

“There’s something going on between you two!” Alya said triumphantly, poking Marinette in the nose and chuckling when she flinched away and slapped Alya’s shoulder. “I’ve been patient enough about this. So spill. Right now. I’m not leaving you alone until you do.”

“Would you relax?” Marinette groaned, pushing Alya’s finger away and pressing it down against her chest. “It seriously isn’t that big of a deal.”

Alya scoffed. “Developments about Adrien aren’t that big of a deal?”

“No,” Marinette said tiredly. “They aren’t.”

Had Alya breached the subject of Adrien two weeks ago — if the major development had been something like holding a one minute conversation or getting him to touch her shoulder again — she would’ve gladly joined in the gushing, and she knew that was the reaction that Alya was trying to garner from her, if only to tease her as well as get information. But that sort of excitability lost its appeal and seemed superficial — this didn’t seem like the kind of situation where pressing his magazine covers to her chest and rolling around in her bed out of equal parts excitement and mortification seemed like the method to take up. Of course, Alya didn’t know that, nor did she know that it was because Adrien had stopped being such a lofty and unattainable goal and had become someone that Marinette desperately needed to understand.

But what was she supposed to say? No, she wasn’t necessarily crushing on Adrien anymore, at least not in the way she was before. No, she didn’t want to freak out and jump around her room about him because it felt insincere. No, she rather didn’t want to gossip about all that she’d told him and all that he’d done because it seemed personal somehow — something that only they needed to understand.

She was in a curious situation where she’d made progress with the boy that couldn’t really be measured as having moved forward or back. It had shifted onto a completely different plane of evaluation, and she was suddenly struck by the fact that now she didn’t know how to talk about him to other people anymore, especially Alya who had been privy to all of her domestic fantasies about him for the past year.

Here was Alya waiting for an answer, and Marinette had nothing to give.

She must have been quiet for a long time because Alya was looking up at her worriedly, taking her hand in hers and squeezing her fingers. “Hey,” she said softly. “Look, I was just teasing. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to. It’s just...I mean, I thought that this would be exciting for you. What’s the matter?”

Marinette shook her head. “No, no, it is. This is a good thing,” she promised. “I’m not trying to say that it isn’t.”

“I mean, you two didn’t seem to want to offer any explanations, so Nino and I haven’t been pressing it because we thought you two were shy or something, but…” Alya paused for a moment, rolling her words around for once before she spoke them. “Do you mind if I asked what changed? You don’t have to tell me everything, but I always thought you’d be jumping out of your skin about it and ranting about marriage and kids and dates and all that good stuff.”

Marinette bit her lip. “I’m not...I’m not upset or anything,” she promised. “It’s just...I guess I’m trying to treat him a little more fairly now.”

“Fairly?”

“Like I don’t want to just make out all these silly future plans about him without knowing more about him,” she explained carefully. “I guess I sort of thought that being friends first would be a better way to take this.”

“I fully agree,” Alya assented. “To be fair, you did always kind of build that kid up in your head a lot. I mean, he is just a boy — not some God that you have to keep little idols and likenesses of all over your room, and declare some kind of transcendent love for.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “ Okay . I did not treat him like a God.”

“You get my point,” she continued. “So...you’re trying to be friends, and then you’re going to go in for the kill?”

Marinette shirted her feet and looked away from Alya. “...well. That’s the thing…”

Alya blinked at her, noticed Marinette’s silence, and gently massaged her fingers into Marinette’s shoulder. “Wait a minute,” she asked. “Are you not…?”

Marinette huffed. “I don’t know!” she said honestly. “I had all these plans about confessing my feelings and maybe trying to task him on a date some time, and it seemed like a serious possibility before. But now...I don’t know, Alya, I’m really starting to become friends with him, I think. And it’s nice! I mean, we’re not all the way there yet, but it’s working for us. And now all I can think about it messing that up somehow with all of my other feelings.”

“So…” Alya said slowly. “You’re not going to tell him anything?”

She merely shrugged in response. It was just a touch more complicated than how she’d explained it. Being friends with Adrien now that they knew about each other was absolutely lovely, just because she didn’t think that the two of them could ever become such closer friends. It was that kind of new friendship that you wanted to enjoy because it worked well, especially now that their familiarity had helped smooth out any lingering uncertainty or awkwardness that had erupted between the two of them.

But that was due partly because Marinette was doing her best to keep them from cropping up at all. Ever since that moment in Adrien’s room where something so heavily charged passed through her just from Adrien kissing her hand made her afraid of what she felt for him now — was it a crush? Was it something completely different? It certainly felt different, but Marinette was hardly an expert on these things to be able to tell why this was. Plus, it was so impossible to be able to tell what was going on in Adrien’s head amidst this mess, and she was almost afraid to ask.

If her feelings were shifting, surely his were too. A secret, insecure part of her didn’t want to know how, especially if it meant spoiling what had already been laid down.

So Marinette shook her head. “Why ruin a good thing?” she muttered. “Don’t try and fix what isn’t broken, you know?”

Alya sighed out and looked at her pitifully. “Marinette, your feelings aren’t so destructive that they’re going to ruin anything. You can’t just hold things because you’re afraid of what they’ll do. It’s terrifying, yeah, but can’t just...not tell him this. That’s not fair to you!”

“It’s not about being fair to me,” Marinette explained. “If anything, I’m being fair to him. Trust me, this would just make things so weird and strange, and I don’t want to do that. We’re friends,” she said decisively. “That’s lovely. That’s all I could ask for.”

Alya twisted her mouth. “Are you sure about that?”

No. “Yeah, I’m sure.”


“Okay, you gotta move in just a little closer.”

“My cheek is pressing against your cheek, we can’t possibly get any closer.”

Chat waggled his eyebrows. “Ah, ye of little imagination.”

Ladybug shoved a thumb into his side and smirked when he yelped and pouted at her. “Down boy, otherwise I’m cancelling this little photoshoot of yours.”

Chat Noir lowered the camera on his baton that he was pointing down to the two them and turned Ladybug to face him, deciding to repeat his point. “Look, Adrien has an Instagram. Marinette has an Instagram. Ladybug and Chat Noir should have an Instagram. Can you imagine how many followers we’d get? And Alya would flip. This is for a good cause.”

Ladybug snorted. “You’re just going to use this to post pictures of you flexing and videos of you telling all of your cat puns.”

“I’m failing to understand the problem here.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes. “Since when was social media required of superheroes?”

“Um, because Instagram filters are cool, and we already established that we can’t download Snapchat on my baton or on your yo-yo.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s because the App Store isn’t hooked up to ancient magical devices.”

“And I will be having a chat with Plagg about that,” Chat Noir nodded. “But for now, we’ll take the pictures, and I can post them to our super-secret-awesome superhero account at home! Besides, don’t you think the whole world should be able to share in the glory that is witnessing how completely awesome and badass you are.”

Ladybug tapped her finger against her lips. “Hm. I am pretty badass…”

“See?” Chat grinned wickedly. “Come on! We’ll take a silly one. Make your dumbest face.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes, wrapped an arm around Chat Noir’s neck, and pulled him closer so that their faces were touching again and were smushed into the frame. “I’ll do my best, although I’m assuming your face won’t change much…”

Chat Noir gasped dramatically. “Rude!”

Ladybug giggled. “I’m kidding, kitty cat. Relax. Just tell me when you’re taking it.”

Chat lifted his hand and pointed the camera at the two of them. “Alright, on three.”

Chat Noir always had these strange little ideas for the two of them to get distracted with whenever patrols got boring or whenever they were too riled up for some reason to go back to their homes. Sometimes, Chat Noir would bring a handball and they’d play sets across the rooftops and start drawing crowds and referees without even asking for them. Ladybug decided to follow it up with a parkour competition across the city — no yo-yos, no batons, just them. They also got into a pretty dramatic handstand competition on the edge of a building once that got a considerable amount of attention because of how precarious their position was. Ladybug didn’t think that Chat Noir did it for fame or attention or anything like that, not really. Tonight, he’d grabbed her, pulled out his camera, and asked her if she wanted to make an Instagram profile.

“Ow!” Ladybug screamed, smacking him in the arm. “You can’t tickle me to get a good photo, that’s cheating!”

“My Lady, I already know how pretty you are,” he said simply. “You don’t have to keep your silly face looking so tame. Really sell the ugly face for me. This is our first photo!”

“Ugh, you’re so picky,” she complained. “What do you want me to do, shove my fingers up my nose?”

Chat grinned. “ Could you do that?”

“Take the photo, you awful cat!”

Chat leaned in closer to her and grinned with all his teeth. “You know what? I kinda want a tickling picture after all.”

Ladybug’s eyes widened. “No, nonono don’t you da — hahahahahaha!”

The camera clicks were going off and Chat Noir was tickling her ribs and making her roll around on the roof. “No, come on come on, you have to look at the camera!”

“Get o — hahaha — get off , hahaha!”

“Stop kicking me!” Chat laughed hysterically. “I’m trying to be photogenic!”

They rolled around on the ground for a few more seconds, Ladybug slowly losing her breath and Chat Noir championing through all of the blows she was throwing at him in between all her giggling before Chat Noir scampered away, holding his baton up in the air and laughing as he scrolled through all of the photos. “Oh man. These are fantastic. I think there are tears coming out of your eyes in this last one.”

Ladybug was on her back, panting and pointing at him menacingly. “You...are... so mean !”

But Chat Noir was laughing to himself and started sending the pictures to his civilian cell phone. “Going. On. Insta.”

He was distracted with his pictures and didn’t see Ladybug slowly get up on her hands and knees, slink over to the other side of the roof, and jump up to pounce on his back in a way that would make his feline tendencies absolutely proud. Her legs immediately squeezed around his hips while she reached over his shoulders to try and get his baton. “Give me those pictures, I’m deleting them!”

Ladybug was tipping him off balance but he tried his best to hold his much longer arm out in front of him to keep her from snatching the baton away. “Nooo, stop it’ll be funny!”

“Don’t make me tickle you back!”

Stop!! I’m super ticklish, come on just let me post them!”

“In your dreams!”

In the end, Ladybug couldn’t stop him in time before he sent the pictures to his phone and swore up and down to every deity that he could think of that they were going on the Internet that night. But she had managed to corner Chat Noir against a chimney and found out that he was delightfully more ticklish that she was, and was howling into the air with laughter when she dug her fingers into his sides and gleefully watched him dissolve into a mess on the ground, crying uncle and begging her to stop.

He had his arms crossed in an X as tears leaked from the corners of his eyes. “O-Okay, haha, you win, you win, I’m done.”

Ladybug smirked with her hands on her hips. “Now we’re even.”

Chat Noir sighed out breathlessly and shrugged. “Hey. At least I got a good picture out of the deal.” He pumped his fist in the air. “Worth it.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes. She tapped his shins. “Yeah, yeah, move over.”

Chat Noir nudged over a little bit and made room for her to sit right next to him. He draped an arm over her shoulder and let her snuggle into his side when the wind on the roof started to pick up. They stayed silent for a few minutes and stared at the excellent view of the Champs-Élysées when Chat Noir suddenly chuckled to himself. “You wanna know something?”

Ladybug unconsciously leaned into the vibrations rumbling from his chest. “What, you actually have a secret Vine account that you’re not telling me about?”

He smiled. “No. Although! That’s a very good idea.”

“Not in a million years, you with a Vine account is just asking for trouble,” she teased. “But, you were telling me something.”

Chat shrugged and leaned his head back against the chimney. “I dunno, I just...were you ever scared of this?”

Ladybug reached up and tapped on her earrings. “Afraid of this?”

“Yeah.”

She thought about those first few frightening hours after meeting Tikki and testing out her powers and realizing the gravity of her mistakes after taking up such a powerful and important mantle on behalf of all the citizens of Paris. She remembered the stress, the fear, the uncertainty, and about the mounting responsibility that was suddenly piling on her shoulders, the responsibility she was so afraid to carry. “Of course,” she answered finally. “But you seemed pretty into it when I first met you.”

“Well, yeah,” he grinned. “I think it was just finally a chance to let loose in a way I never really did before, but...it scared me too.”

Ladybug frowned and shifted closer to his side. “Why?”

“I dunno, I guess…” he started. “Saving the city and saving people wasn’t the part that scared me. I always kinda knew that was part of the job.”

“So what scared you?”

Chat Noir was idly running his claws along the arm of her suit and making her shiver every time he dragged them back up. His eyes were still fixed on the lights of the city when he answered. “You, actually.”

Ladybug blinked up at him. “Me?”

“We can’t be apart, the two of us,” he explained. “We can’t fight alone, we can’t find Hawkmoth alone, and we’re partners for a reason. And maybe it was a stupid fear to have because we worked too well together the first time, but I was always just so scared of that moment where we’d stop meshing. Like, there would be one day where one of us would realize that we didn’t like the other, or that we didn’t work well enough together and we’d always have this strange rift between us.” He shrugged and raked his fingers through his hair. “I dunno, I guess I was more afraid of us not working than all of the superhero responsibilities not clicking like they should.” He smirked and turned to her. “Isn’t that weird?”

Ladybug smiled up at him softly and brushed small bits of hair out of his eyes. “No,” she promised him. “That’s not weird. That’s kind of normal actually.”

“Really?”

“Well, I know what that’s like,” she explained. “You meet someone pretty amazing, and...they seem so unlike anyone you’ve ever met before, and you just want to go through everything you can to be friends with them. Get them to notice you, and make it work. And then you just get so scared sometimes because you think you’re not good enough, or you think you’re going to mess something up, and you sort of psych yourself out. I think that happens to a lot of people.”

Of course it did. Because it happened to her when she looked at Adrien for the first time, and she spent close to a year trying to figure out some way to break through all of her nerves and fears to just walk up to Adrien one day and explain how much she admired him. How much she just wanted to be able to talk to him without being scared of how her next words were going to come out. How much she wanted them to talk and be close and be friends and maybe be something more if everything aligned the way they were supposed to. It seemed like a frustrating reality, but it was almost comforting to know that Adrien felt it too, even just a little bit.

Ladybug tapped her toes against his boot. “But that’s the good thing,” she sighed happily. “We wound up okay. I think no matter what we’re going to be okay. I mean, if we survived through the mess that was a couple of weeks ago, I can’t imagine us not surviving anything else.”

Chat Noir chuckled. “Yeah, that was pretty bad.”

“And to think you thought yourself so smooth.”

“Hey, what can I say? Sometimes we have our dark moments.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes at him while he leaned his temple against the top of her head. “Anyway,” Chat continued. “I didn’t mean for that to be a downer, I just wanted to say...well, I’m glad we have this. That nothing’s weird between us and that we can be close like this. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had lost you. You’re too important to me, Marinette.”

Her chest was filling with a kind of pressure that Ladybug couldn’t quite pinpoint, but it was making her cheeks warm under her mask and it was making her want to snuggle deeper into Chat’s chest and tell him a flurry of words that had been whirling around in her heart since the moment she’d laid eyes on him. Because, she knew that Chat Noir admired her and couldn’t do without her. But this was Adrien telling Marinette that he needed her and couldn’t do without her, and something about her made her want to laugh out of giddiness and pull him close. “You’re important to me too, Adrien.”

Chat held out his fist over their laps and smiled at her warmly. She beamed at the gesture, lifted her own hand, and fist bumped him, the familiar gesture of victory feeling like some sort of strong tie that was finally filling in all the loose spaces between them making them feel complete and inseparable. She couldn’t think of anyone else in the world she’d gotten this close to in such a short amount of time. Even Alya, whom she adored with all of her heart, didn’t know her quite in the way that Chat did. And she understood what he meant instantly — something this special, this unique, and this powerful, wasn’t something that Marinette ever wanted to jeopardize. If she’d ever lost it, she didn’t think she’d know what to do with herself. It’d be like missing half of herself, and that sort of emptiness seemed too terrifying to risk.

There was such a strong desire to tilt her head up and place a small kiss on the corner of his mouth. It wouldn’t be hard to reach it, and she was sure if would feel wonderful and right in the moment. But they had this, and this was perfect in a different but equally lovely way. She could keep all that energy secret if it meant being able to sit with him like this.

She didn’t mind it in the least.

 

Chapter Text

“You know, I saw you walking by my house a few weeks ago with a shopping bag full of wheels of camembert. Kind of weird. But now it makes sense.”

Adrien gave Marinette a heavy, deadpan stare as he ripped open another wheel of cheese and broke off a chunk to hold out for Plagg to take. “This has been my life for the past year. Just so you know.”

Plagg gently kicked him in the cheek and swallowed half the cheese in one bite. “So ungrateful! Especially after all I do for you.”

Tikki shook her head and spoke through a mouthful of cookies. “Ignore him, Adrien. He’s a baby that needs to have his strange eating habits appeased, and he’s good at making you feel guilty for not indulging him.”

Plagg sent a glare towards Tikki. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ms. Sweet Tooth. Still inhaling pounds of sugar on a daily basis, aren’t we?”

“I don’t eat as much as you do,” Tikki huffed. “Besides, you’re just jealous that Marinette lives above a bakery and has way too many cookies left over at the end of the day for me to eat.”

“My boy comes from money , Tikki. He can buy me as much cheese as I want.”

“Most would rather smell like cookies than camembert cheese. Your food cravings have historically smelled horrid. Your poor charges...”

“You take that back! Camembert smells delicious!”

Adrien winced. “Okay.” He plucked Plagg up by the scruff of his neck and placed him up on one of the shelves of the utility closet they were all sitting in. “If you’re not gonna play nice, then you have to sit up here.”

Plagg frowned. “Tikki started it!”

“Oh, you’re thousands of years old,” Tikki scolded. “You could act a little more mature.”

Marinette tapped on the top of Tikki’s head and handed her another cookie. “Okay, you two. Don’t make us put you in the mop bucket so that you can bicker. Again.”

Tikki turned her nose up, took a bite of her cookie, and floated up to the shelf right across from Plagg, making faces at him the entire time. Plagg pulled his cheeks apart, made a rude sound, and purposefully took a gigantic bite out of his cheese to spite her. Adrien rolled his eyes, put the rest of the cheese wheel next to Plagg on the shelf, and turned to Marinette with an exasperated smile. “So, how much time left until class?”

Marinette laughed and checked her phone. “Like twenty more minutes, they’ve still got time to eat.”

Adrien sighed and slumped against the wall of the closet. “You’re so lucky. Cookies are so cheap. Do you know how weird it is for Natalie to look at my credit card statements and see all these orders of gourmet cheese? She thinks I’m eating it all for myself and ruining my diet. I still haven’t come up with a good enough excuse for it.”

Marinette snorted. “What excuse have you been using this whole time?”

Adrien looked down at his feet. “...my fencing team really likes cheese platters?”

“That was the best you could do?” she chuckled. “Man, you weren’t kidding, you’re really bad under pressure.”

Adrien pointed at her. “ Social pressure.”

“Right, it must be terrifying to be put on the spot by your peers about your cheese purchasing habits.”

“There’s so much stigma, Mari,” Adrien said, shaking his head sadly. “It’s really hard to talk about it publically like this.”

Marinette leaned back against the mop bucket at her back and felt her entire body shaking with laughter. It wasn’t the best hiding space they’d ever thought of — it was a tight fit, there was a lot of cleaning equipment that was crowding the closet, and the shelves above them were so overfilled that they wound up having to sit on the floor in order to spread their legs out — but it was the first door that Adrien opened up when they had snuck back into the school to detransform, recharge their kwamis, and leave them just enough time to sneak back into class. She had to remember to insist that she’d pick their hiding place next time. She was pretty confident her good luck would come up with something a little bit more comfortable.

She wanted to say that the close quarters wasn’t bothering her, and in a way they weren’t. It wasn’t as if she was a stranger to being close to Adrien anymore. Leaning her head on his shoulder or having him hug her around the waist from behind was just what they did and Ladybug had been dealing with that kind of intimacy with Chat Noir since very early on in their relationship. But there was something decidedly different from being this close to each other out of choice and being this close due to circumstances out of their control. Most of the touching they did during the day was very unconscious and was always mitigated by bickering and joking and talking which Marinette could concentrate on more.

But for some reason, she was heavily aware of his leg pressed along the length of her own, the fact that she could reach her arm across and only have to lean forward just a touch in order to brush the tip of his nose, the sounds of his every inhale and exhale coming from his nose. It made her want to press her leg closer to his, or reach out and touch him for no other reason than that she could. She was afraid if she thought on it too much, the uncertainty would show on her face, and sitting as close as they were Adrien might see it. So she swallowed back her thoughts and tried to focus on something else.

Suddenly remembering their battle, Marinette nudged Adrien’s knee with her own and pointed to her ribs. “Are you okay, by the way? That was a pretty nasty hit you took at the end.”

Adrien frowned and lifted up the side of his shirt, prodding the skin along his ribs. “I think so. Still a little sore, but no bruises. Thank you, magic.” He pointed a finger to his temple. “How’s the head?”

Marinette shrugged and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Just a little bit of a headache. It could’ve been a lot worse.”

“You scared me for a second back there,” Adrien frowned. “You weren’t moving for a few seconds when you landed. I thought something bad had happened.”

Marinette winced. She was tired from the night before and wasn’t paying as much attention, which meant the akuma got a good hit in and smacked her clean against a building where her head took the majority of the blow. It left her dizzy for a few seconds, and she had to really try to catch her bearings, but her senses came back to her quick enough and she was business as usual. “I’m fine, I promise,” she assured.

“I know you are,” Adrien smiled. “I mean, magical properties of our suits aside, I know I shouldn’t worry about you.”

Marinette smirked. “Shouldn’t?”

“I do anyway,” Adrien muttered. “I mean, I’ve always known we were just regular people underneath the masks, but it’s different knowing exactly who that regular person is.”

“Different how?”

Adrien chuckled and propped one of his knees up and started drumming his fingers on his knee cap. “I dunno, it’ll probably sound weird if I try and explain it.”

“I have the utmost confidence in you,” Marinette assured.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he sighed, trying to get his words together. “Ladybug always seemed like this indestructible person, you know? Like no matter what, superhero or civilian form, I always sort of knew she was going to be okay and knew she’d kick my ass if I bothered fussing over her.”

Marinette nodded with a grin. “Accurate.”

“But with you…”Adrien sighed heavily. “Something about us walking away from battles and just seeing you sitting there in class, taking notes and just being normal...I start to think of that girl getting flung across the city and slammed against buildings and it makes me restless.”

The mood suddenly switched between them, and Marinette suddenly felt pressed to give a serious answer. She wrinkled her nose in thought and stared down at the place where their legs were still touching. “I’m not actually getting hurt you know,” she promised him. “You know that better than anyone.”

“Still,” he said. “I always want to know that you’re okay. Moreso than usual now. And I’m trying to figure out why that is and the only explanation that I can come up with is that...Ladybug has a humanness to her now. I mean, she’s you. And seeing you in danger really bothers me. Makes me feel like I need to go out of my way to protect you.”

“Which you don’t,” Marinette said sternly. “Because you don’t need to be putting yourself in unnecessary danger, and I can handle myself.”

“No one knows that better than I do, I swear,” Adrien grinned. “It’s just...I’ve always cared about what happens to you. But now I really really care. So much so that our battles are getting scary again. I guess I’m still trying to mesh Ladybug and Marinette in my head a little. Like Ladybug I know can take a blow to the head no problem, but Marinette?” He stopped for a moment and moved his leg closer to hers. “Marinette makes me feel like it’s our first battle all over again. And I’m excited, but just a little scared because this is still new to us, and we put our lives on the line every day and...I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

He paused for a moment and laughed at himself, as if he couldn’t believe what had just come out of his mouth. “Sorry, that was a lot. I hope you don’t see it as me fussing or me not trusting that you can take care of yourself. It’s just how I feel.”

It was a lot, but Marinette didn’t mind it in the least. In fact, she was pretty sure she could listen to him go on about how much he wanted to protect her and keep her safe for as long as they could manage to stay in this closet together. In fact, she wished she had her phone out so that she could’ve recorded the whole thing and played it back for whenever she wanted to hear his voice again, or was ever unclear about what went through Adrien’s head when he thought of her. It made her smile so wide that her cheeks were tingling and she covered her mouth with her hand to cover the stray giggles.

Adrien was wiping his hands on his jeans and whistled a short little tune. “So, yeah, great job Adrien, you made the mood way too heavy, so uuhhhh….how’s the weather looking tomorrow?”

Marinette cackled and hit her elbow too hard on the wall behind her. “I think it’s clear skies tomorrow,” she chortled.

“Oh good,” Adrien nodded enthusiastically. “That had been bothering me all week.”

“Oh, I’m sure.”

“Yup! Rain makes me nervous.”

“It’s because you’re a cat. Isn’t it?”

“Low hanging proof. And wow, that felt like a personal attack.”

Marinette said nothing and winked at him, making the two of them dissolve into more laughter that Marinette hopes wasn’t catching the attention of anyone from the hallway. The air was getting stuffy and her hair was starting to stick uncomfortably to the back of her neck, but Marinette didn’t mind it in the least. Adrien’s hair was all askew and she was pretty sure they were both getting dust all over their clothes, and it was all just fine and perfect, nothing wrong.

Adrien was wiping tears out from under his eyes when Marinette sobered up enough to tell him, “You’re not the only one who feels that way. I care about what happens to you all the time.”

He was still panting from the exertion, but he was staring at her intensely. “Really?”

“I always did,” Marinette elaborated. “But, I get what you mean, I do. There’s a face behind the mask now. A face I know. And all those protective feelings got twice as strong. But that’s not a bad thing. If anything, it just comes with the territory now I guess.”

“Good,” Adrien smiled softly. “Because I really do care about you.”

God, and that just melted right through her and made Marinette bite into her lip so hard just to force back the noise that might have come out of her mouth at the sound of those words. Because she knew all that, she did, of course they cared about each other, they wouldn’t be fit to call each other partners if they didn’t. But something about Adrien looking so pure and disheveled in front of her, letting the words slip out like an afterthought, like it wasn’t a hard thought to make, like it was so damn obvious...all that felt too good.

Suddenly something Alya said came back into her head. That her feelings weren’t self destructive. That they didn’t have the power to ruin anything. In moments like this, that very much felt true, because nothing that felt this good could possibly be bad, it just wasn’t how things worked. Some insanely idiotic part of her brain started to force her mouth open, make her look like she was prepared to say something, something that could quite possibly ruin everything or make everything perfect. Probably the former if her luck was to be trusted. Usually, it was such an easy task to shut it up and move on like normal, but Marinette wasn’t closing her mouth, wasn’t pushing the thoughts away, felt like doing something stupid, because why not? They were in a closet by themselves. It was Friday. It was a nice day out. Why not?

“Marinette?””

She blinked at Adrien who was staring at her curiously. “What?” she forced out.

“You looked like you wanted to say something…”

Marinette licked her lips, bit the inside of her cheek, and heard herself chanting in her head. Tell him. It’ll all be fine. Tell him.

But her nerves had always been stronger than her head, always made her overthink, always made her second guess, and now, made her shake her head and smile reassuringly at Adrien. “Nothing,” she told him. “Just lost my thought.”

Adrien didn’t look like he wanted to push the issue, and was distracted by the cheese crumbs that Plagg had decided at that moment to unceremoniously shove off the shelf and make land in Adrien’s hair. Adrien twisted his whole body around, glared up at the shelf, and watched Plagg innocently shrug his shoulders. “What?” he said innocently. “You two were getting all mushy down there, I was suffocating!”

“In my hair,” Adrien sighed tiredly. “Always in my hair. Why?”

“I don’t have reasons for the things I do, Adrien, I just do them.”

By the time Marinette helped Adrien get all the bits of cheese out of his locks, it was already time for them to head back to class. They tucked their kwamis away, quickly looked both ways down each end of the hallway, and slid into the hall to walk to their next class as discreetly as they could.

On their way back, Adrien had completely forgotten about the huge Literature review they were going to have in class today about the book they just finished, which meant that Madame Bustier was probably going to spend much of the period randomly calling on students to ask them about the last few chapters of the book they read. So they walked into the classroom with Adrien’s arm around Marinette’s shoulder, leaning down close to her face so that he could read her short review sheet that she was showing him on her tablet.

They’d walked into class around ten minutes early like that, not looking at the rest of the students who were quietly reviewing. Adrien was skimming while Marinette was answering some of his occasional questions, and neither of them even batted a lash when Marinette sat down in her own seat and scooted over just a bit to let Adrien share. Alya and Nino looked at the two of them, shared a private laugh, and ignored them in favor of their own conversation.

If anyone else in the class had anything to say about it, Marinette and Adrien either didn’t notice or didn’t particularly care. By now, their closeness was a common if not strange occurrence nowadays, and many people just watched from afar with little amused smiles or left them to their own devices. Of course, the one and only possible exception to that rule had decided at that moment to come busting into the classroom, gossiping loudly with Sabrina about the new cell phone her father had just gotten her for her birthday last week.  

“Adrien, darling!” Chloe cooed, quickly jogging up the steps to stand next to Adrien. She smiled too widely and brushed his bangs away from his eyes. “Sabrina told me there’s an awful review happening in class today. Let’s go study together!”

But Adrien moved his head away from her hand and looked up at her apologetically. “Sorry, Chloe, but uh...I’m studying with Marinette already. She’s letting me use her review sheet.”

Marinette tried not to smile victoriously at the rejection, but Chloe was that type of person that really didn’t have to do anything more than breathe in order to rile Marinette’s annoyance and make her want to get her as far away as possible. As if to further emphasize Adrien’s point, she pretended as if Chloe wasn’t even there and grabbed his hand that was slung over her shoulder, pulling Adrien just a couple of inches closer to her, not bothering to look up from her tablet.

Chloe didn’t seem to take any of this as a deterrence. “Well, Sabrina spent all night making a fabulous review sheet that’s pretty much got anything you’d ever want to know on it. Guarantee you it’s much more detailed than Marinette’s over here. If you want to do well today, you should come over and look at it with me.”

Adrien’s brow furrowed, but Marinette was quicker to respond. “My review sheet is just fine, thank you very much. And we’re also doing just fine sitting here and studying by ourselves. So you can go ahead and leave now.”

Chloe scoffed. “Well, excuse me, Ms. Dupain-Cheng, but I believe I was talking to Adrien.”

“Well, so was I,” Marinette snapped back. “We’re trying to review for class today, and you’re distracting us. So if you don’t mind, the two of us would very much like to get back to it.”

Adrien shifted in his seat in discomfort, and struggled with his words before answering. “Look, Chloe,” he said softly. “We can talk later, alright? Or maybe we can study for maths sometime later. But I’d rather study with Marinette.”

“And why on Earth would you want to study with her when I’m right over here?” Chloe said with her hands on her hips.

Marinette smirked and muttered under her breath. “Maybe because I’m much better company…”

Chloe had clearly heard it because she slapped her hands on the table and leaned over the desk until her face was only about a foot away from Marinette’s. “Is there something you’d like to share with the class, Marinette?”

Adrien was squeezing Marinette’s hand, probably his silent way of telling her not to get involved, but Marinette was never able to leave well enough alone when Chloe was involved, especially when she expected a direct challenge to her words. So Marinette calmly unwound herself from Adrien’s grasp, slid out of out her seat, and stood in front of Chloe with her chin up high and her face schooled. She replied calmly and loudly, “I said that the reason anyone would prefer studying with me over you is because I’m exceedingly better company than you are. Which isn’t surprising when you consider how you treat people on a daily basis.”

Chloe’s nose was wrinkling in anger, and her shoulders were bunching up in that way they did when she was two seconds away from letting loose a serious tantrum. “Well look at who’s deciding to be all high and mighty just because Adrien is pitying her with some attention. Now all of a sudden you think you’re better than everyone else?”

Marinette chuckled. “The words never came out of my mouth,” she said. “And if you’re trying to bait me into thinking that time spent with me is just an act of pity, then you’re going to have to try a little bit harder than that to bother me.” She glanced a quick look at the clock above the door. “Six minutes left before class. I’d very much like to keep helping Adrien study if that’s alright with you.”

She was about to turn back to her seat and ignore Chloe until the start of class before the other girl laughed harshly and garnered the attention of the entire class. Marinette turned back to her with an eye roll and saw Chloe staring at her with a knowing glint in her eyes. “You think you’re so worth his time, don’t you? And you dare call me someone not worth hanging out with?”

Marinette smirked. “If there’s a point you’re trying to get at, you might want to hurry up and do it. Class is going to start soon.”

She wasn’t taking Chloe’s condescension seriously. And maybe she should’ve, because Chloe merely crossed her arms and spoke as if she’d finally discovered her trump card. “I’ll bet he wouldn’t even look at you if he knew how you really felt.”

“What are you talking about?” Marinette responded tiredly.

“It’s funny you should ask,” Chloe tittered. “Because a little while ago, Sabrina told me about some very interesting things she saw in your room while she was there.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “What on Earth are you talking —- ?” And then she froze in the middle of her sentence because she remembered. The time when the two of them were battling it out for the class representative position. The time where Chloe sent Sabrina to her house to snoop around her room and try to grab her diary. The diary might’ve been safe, but Sabrina had definitely seen her room.

She’d seen her room .

The discomfort must have been showing on her face because Chloe’s smile only got wider. “Ah, I see you know what I’m talking about,” she laughed. “Honestly, it was sort of pathetic in a cute way when Sabrina told me, but looking back on it now, it’s just plain old creepy. I mean, Jesus...pictures plastered all over your wall? How sick can you get?”

“Shut up,” Marinette said through gritted teeth. “That was and is none of your business.”

“Oh I think it very well is, Marinette ,” Chloe sneered. “Because weirdoes don’t get to monopolize on my Adrien’s time. In fact, they should stay far away from him.”

Alya must have sensed where the conversation was going because she immediately stood up her seat and glared in the girl’s direction. “Chloe, you shut your mouth about that, or I swear to God…”

“You’ll do what? Tackle me? Gag me? You can’t do anything to me.”

“Chloe,” Adrien said sternly from his seat. “Enough. Just let it go. Class is about to start.”

“No,” she snarled. “Because Marinette here seems to think that she’s so worthy of your time and so deserving of your attention, when in reality she’s some freak who has your damn face plastered all over her walls like a serial killer.”

Marinette saw Adrien blink out of the corner of her eyes, and she was already feeling her heart drop to her stomach. “Chloe…” she forced out.

“Oh yeah, did no one else know?” she announced to the entire class. “Freakin’ desktop picture is just his face with hearts all over it like she’s in primary school. And let’s not even talk about that ridiculous calendar you have of his entire schedule. I mean, talk about a stalker, huh? She’s totally obsessed and frankly it’s downright pitiful that you’d sink that low over someone who was completely out of your league.”

Chloe!!” Alya shouted.

“Oh don’t pretend like you don’t know about it,” Chloe said back to her. “Admit it. This girl thinks she’s a gift to have graced this entire classroom, when in reality she’s a freak who’d sooner swoon over the little altars in her room than actually treat someone like a normal person! Honestly, what a bizarre way to crush on someone.”

The entire classroom rung in silence and no one could say anything or even will themselves to move. Marinette’s entire body felt numb, because she’d had nightmares about this sort of thing, dreaded the day where Adrien would find out about something so embarrassing, dreaded when the whole class would find out about this sort of thing, and spent hours swearing Alya to secrecy about it just for cover. Now it was just hanging out in the room for everyone to look at, prod at, laugh at, and Marinette felt like she wanted to die. The backs of her eyes were building up with tears that she didn’t want to let fall in front of everyone, and she didn’t even know what to say to recover.

She didn’t want to see Adrien’s face. Didn’t want to see his reaction. Didn’t want to see anyone’s reaction. Because in a weird way, Chloe was right. She treated him like an oddity and not an actual person, and she had spent much of these past two weeks realizing how cruel that was to Adrien. Those pictures were gone. That calendar was gone. She’d learned. She knew it wasn’t a fair way to treat someone. But she’d just had that point blown back up and thrown in her face, and Marinette suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

“Chloe, what the hell is your problem!?” she heard Adrien shout, the loudest she’d ever heard him raise his voice to Chloe. Not that Marinette cared. Everything was out there and in the open and she just felt horribly exposed and on display. Her breathing was starting to quicken as everyone started shifting and as little whispers started dotting up around the classroom.

She needed to leave.

She needed to leave right now.

Marinette shoved Chloe out of the way, ran down the stairs to the front of the classroom, and barrelled out of the door, passing her teacher along the way. She could vaguely hear Alya, Nino, and a few of her other classmates calling after her, but Marinette didn’t want to talk to any of them. She walked down the empty hallway, not sure where she was going, rubbing at her eyes and hoping, praying that her tears wouldn’t fall until she locked herself in the bathroom and never came out.

She was almost around the corner when she heard someone chasing after her. “Marinette! Marinette, come on, wait, please!”

Her entire body wanted to curl in on itself because, for once, Adrien was the last person she wanted to see right now. So she ignored his calls and started running down the rest of the hallway.

But Adrien wasn’t going to leave her alone, and his legs were longer, and he could run faster, so he easily caught up to her in the middle of the hallway, ran in front of her, and held both of her shoulders in his hands to get her to stop. He bent down a little so that they were face to face. “Marinette, please, come on, talk to me. It’s just me.”

The calm, understanding in his voice made a sob escape from her throat without her meaning for it to, and it just made her want to sink into the floor even more and pretend she didn’t exist. “Please, let me go,” she said, her voice thick with tears that desperately wanted to fall.

“Please, wait, Mari,” Adrien soothed, using his pet name for her to try and get her to calm down. His fingers were rubbing circles into her shoulders and she could see the confusion and confliction on his face. “Was...was any of that true?”

Marinette dropped her head and swallowed the huge lump in her throat, but Adrien shook her gently to try and get her to look at him again. “Please, Mari, I just want to know, so I can go say something to Chloe — ”

“No!’ Marinette insisted. “I mean….yes, a little, I mean….I don’t know.”

Adrien bit his bottom lip. “Mari, you’re not making any sense…”

She stomped her foot petulantly and looked at him angrily. “God, yes! Okay, fine! Yes! It was all true! I had a gigantic crush on you, and it was huge, and embarrassing, and childish, and yes! Okay?”

Marinette stepped away from him while he straightened up and stared at her with an expression she didn’t recognize, an expression she couldn’t read. “But that was before I got to know you,” she kept going. “A-And I found out that you were Chat, and you weren’t this perfect, amazing boy that sat in front of me, you were a person with flaws, a-and feelings, and I realized how unfair that was to put you on a pedestal like that. S-So I ripped everything down, and I hid it away, because it wasn’t like that anymore…”

She was crying. She couldn’t see past her tears. All of the feelings mounting up inside of her were making the words just spill out on their own. She was rubbing the balls of her hands under her eyes to make the tears stop coming down. Adrien wasn’t saying anything, and Marinette didn’t know how else to salvage this. This is what she’d been afraid of. This was everything falling apart. This was everything being ruined.

Adrien swallowed, and found his voice. “Why didn’t you…?” he trailed off.

“You weren’t supposed to know,” Marinette sniffled. “This wasn’t supposed to happen, I never wanted you to know! Because of this! Because it ruined everything, everything is messed up now, and I can’t fix it.”

“Wait, wait, come on, there’s nothing for you to fix,” Adrien tried to soothe. “Marinette — ”

She was still backing away from him. “I didn’t want you to know,” she repeated. “We were friends, things were normal, and it was fine, everything was fine. That’s all I wanted, I just wanted us to be friends, I didn’t want it all to get all messed up. Nothing had to change.”

Marinette would have almost preferred if he’d been immediately embarrassed or disgusted by her. If he never wanted to see her again, or she’d gone and probably freaked him out enough that he wanted to just keep his distance from her and leave her alone to wallow by herself. It was this understanding, calm Adrien that didn’t make sense. The Adrien with a facial expression that she couldn’t for one second decode, and that scared her even more. She could always read his face. They were so good at that, because they needed to be, because they needed to understand each other, that was the whole nature of their relationship.

But there were mixes of worry, pity, hurt, confusion, and so many other emotions that when clumped together didn’t make any sort of sense. Was he angry? Relieved? She couldn’t tell. And she very much didn’t want to know. Things were slipping through her fingers and she didn’t want to see him. She didn’t want to see anyone. She just wanted to be alone.

So she turned around, forgot her plans to go sob in the bathroom, and instead headed for the courtyard so she could get back home. Alya could get her things later. She didn’t have the energy to go back for them.

But Adrien was still following behind her, still pleading with her. “Marinette, talk to me — ”

She whirled around and screamed, “Just leave me alone!!!

That shocked him back within himself. He stopped in the middle of the hallway, his hand still outstretched like he was about to reach out for her again, and his eyes widened in shock and hurt. Some deep part of her wanted to go up to him, hug him, hold him close, tell him that it wasn’t his fault, it was entirely her own. But looking at him hurt now, bubbled up all the shame in her chest, and she just wanted to make it all stop.

So Marinette left him standing there in the hallway, and didn’t stop running until she made it back to her room.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come over? I can bring my blanket and we can just snuggle all day. We don’t even have to talk.”

Marinette smiled sadly and pulled her quilt up until it was tucked underneath her nose. “No thanks, Alya. Really, I’d rather just be alone today.”

“We can make fun of me trying to use that nail art set you bought me since you’re so much better at it than I am…”

Marinette snorted. “Maybe another time. Although I would really love to see you try your hand at that again. It was pretty funny. You were getting the paint everywhere.”

“Hey, your nails didn’t look that bad.”

“No, they didn’t,” Marinette promised. Marinette had turned her phone off the minute she got home yesterday afternoon. She passed her parents, threw on her largest, comfiest, most unflattering clothing, and buried herself in her bed all day, trying to keep her crying as quiet as she could so that she wouldn’t alert her parents. But by the time school let out, Alya had come to her house and into her room with her school bag, all of her homework for the weekend, and a promise from her teacher that she could redo her Literature review on Monday when she was feeling better. The good thing about Alya was that, even though she was always eager to hear about Marinette’s drama, she also knew when it was time to say nothing.

They curled up on Marinette’s lounger, watched re-runs of Project Runway and old romcoms that Alya left in Marinette’s room and never took home, and stuffed their faces with all of the cookies that were still in the display cases downstairs that her parents hadn’t gotten around to selling. She’d even brought over the nail art kit that Marinette had gotten her for her birthday and watched Alya make a mess trying to draw ladybugs on her nails. They were lumpy and already chipping when she woke up this morning, but the effort spoke volumes. Yesterday was a long afternoon of Marinette moping and not being very good company, but Alya let her cry when she needed to and handed her tissues and sweets when appropriate. Alya didn’t leave until late that night and tucked Marinette into bed before she left, promising she’d call her in the morning.

She had to admit. It almost helped. But the entire time Alya was there, a huge, sick pressure was just building up through her stomach and spreading through her chest that was just begging her to properly sob until she had no tears left. And when Alya finally left, she finally indulged and kept her face buried in her pillow until she woke up the next morning, groggy and red-eyed. She just wanted to stay in bed today. Not even designing was going to make her feel better.

“Well...if you’re sure ,” Alya said worriedly over the phone. “But if you need anything, I’m a bike ride away. I’ll drop everything and come over. I promise.”

“Thanks,” Marinette sniffled. “I really appreciate it. Honest.”

“Of course, girlie. And...I don’t know if this will help much but...no one was gossiping after you left, I promise. Everyone was more worried about you and mad at Chloe. And every time Chloe opened her mouth to say something, I shut it down real quick.”

Alya wouldn’t lie about something like that, but the embarrassment was still sinking in her gut and making her feel dizzy. Still, something was something. “Thanks, Alya.”

Alya sighed over the phone. “Well...get some rest, alright? I’ll call you a little later. Miss you.”

“Miss you too,” Marinette muttered. They sent each other a few kisses over the phone before Marinette hung up and finished pulling the quilt over her head until there was only a small sliver of space where she could still peek out and let air in.

She’d managed to push off her parents by pretending she was sick, and only had to endure the occasional bowl of soup and cups of tea that her mother kept bringing up to her room. It let her stay in bed for as long as she wanted, and that’s what Marinette desperately needed today and probably well into tomorrow. That left Monday, but Marinette would cross that bridge when she got there. She knew it was bad to avoid problems at school by faking sick or just flat out skipping out, but there was something so overwhelming about facing everyone the next day, despite Alya’s assurances. It was less that she was afraid people were going to say something and more that they just knew. It was in their minds, they’d heard everything Chloe had said, and that was enough for Marinette.

Besides, worst of all, there was Adrien.

Marinette groaned and pulled her pillow closer. She didn’t mean to yell at him, not at all. But she didn’t want to have to see his face any longer and wait for it to morph into an expression that would break her heart. A part of her wanted to answer his texts and his calls to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that it was all her, that he didn’t do anything to deserve her frustration. But the thought of talking to him at this point was what was making her tears come back up and making her want to disappear into her sheets and never come out.

During the past few weeks, she was starting to like him again. It was slower this time, smoldering instead of striking through her without warning, but it was still real. Her head wasn’t being filled with lofty, domestic daydreams of their future wedding, their three perfect children, their pets, their house, their jobs, their lives, and their happily ever afters. If anything, Marinette hadn’t thought about that sort of thing in a long time.

Marinette wanted Adrien to lean his chin on her shoulder while he read over her shoulder. Marinette wanted Adrien to interrupt their patrols with all of the puns he came up with in the middle of class, and laugh at him while he went on about how proud he was of himself — “Eighteen puns in half an hour, Mari, that’s gotta go in some kind of record book or something.” Marinette wanted to keep bringing him sweets late at night, scolding him for not keeping his diet, and trying to explain to him that she couldn’t just write down the recipes for him, they were family secrets and he’d have to just keep coming back. Marinette wanted Adrien to keep coming back. Wanted to see him smile when she walked into a classroom. Wanted to play truth or dare with him at Notre Dame. Wanted to fall asleep on his shoulder while they sat on the edge of a roof late at night, their legs dangling over the edge, counting the cobblestones until she dozed off.

Wanted their hugs to last longer. Wanted to be able to hold his hand when their shoulders bumped in the hallway. Wanted to stand on her toes one day and just kiss him because all of the affection that she felt for him was going to burst one day in a flurry of warm, gooey, good feelings, and she wanted desperately to have somewhere to put them all. She wanted to find someway to show him how much she cared for him, how much she wanted him around, how much she cherished the fact that he was in her life and that they were always going to be together. Always. Forever. Ladybug and Chat Noir. Adrien and Marinette. No one could contradict it. No one needed to understand it.

Marinette wasn’t sure if that was liking, loving, friendship, some strange mix of the three, or some brand new hybrid feeling that she’d never felt for anyone before. But they’d revealed themselves to each other only a little over a month ago, and it took until now for Marinette to realize that she liked feeling this way. She wanted to keep feeling this way. Finally, it felt right and normal and like it should’ve.

In the closet yesterday, she almost said all that. She could’ve said it then and maybe everything wouldn’t have turned out awful.

Because Adrien didn’t know all that now. He knew only about the embarrassing girl in his class who knew his entire schedule front to back but didn’t know his favorite sweets or when he liked to take naps. The girl who had his entire face memorized from his dimples to the shape of his jaw but didn’t know that those posed smiles were fractions smaller than the smiles he was capable of. The girl who imagined an entire future with him and didn’t know what kind of future Adrien actually wanted for himself, her childish daydreams aside.

He’d see the girl who was only enchanted by what she could scratch at the surface, and didn’t bother to look any deeper than that.

And why would you ever bother trying to like a person who could do that to you? Why would you even want to be friends with them?

Fighting was going to be awkward. School was going to be awkward. Patrols were going to be awkward. Just seeing him was going to be awkward.

No. Worse than awkward. Unbearable. Horrifying.

It made her stomach start doing flips inside of her and her tears started welling up again.

“Dammit,” she muttered into her comforter, using her sheets to wipe her tears again. “This isn’t fair. I don’t know what to do…”

She felt something against her fingertips and opened her eyes to see Tikki poking her head in through the opening she left in her quilt, laying her hands on Marinette’s finger, and staring at her worriedly. “You were tossing around again,” she said quietly. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Marinette didn’t bother scrubbing her eyes but she lowered her quilt, held her hand out, and let Tikki sit in the middle of her palm. “I’m fine,” she said rather unconvincingly. “I’m just...letting my thoughts get to me again.”

Tikki nodded sadly. “I can imagine there’s a lot going through your head. I understand.”

Marinette rubbed her finger on the top of Tikki’s head and smiled a bit when she saw the kwami roll up into the touch. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Marinette asked. “You’re usually always here with some thousand-year-old, wise, seasoned advice for all of my silly little problems.”

“Your problems aren’t silly, Marinette,” Tikki said. “Don’t ever think that your feelings are insignificant. Everyone feels what they feel, and that’s not anything to dismiss.”

“So what do I do about what I’m feeling?” Marinette asked, hoping desperately her kwami had answers if only it meant that she could finally do something about all of this.

Tikki looked down at the lines on Marinette’s hand, and sighed before she answered. “I think,” she began. “That there are some days when you need a good cry, no matter any voices of reason that try to break through it.”

Marinette snorted. “Even if the crying is just ugly and unproductive?”

“You had a rough day yesterday,” Tikki soothed, rubbing her hand against Marinette’s thumb. “You deserve to be upset about it. Besides, I don’t think I’m the person you need to be talking to.”

She floated closer to Marinette and placed a small kiss on her cheek “But come on,” Tikki said. “First thing’s first, you look exhausted. Get some more sleep.”

Marinette frowned and tucked the covers tightly around her again. “There’s too much in my head for me to be tired…”

“Trust me,” Tikki promised. “Sleep helps almost everything.”

Marinette stubbornly tried her best to stay awake, coming up with ridiculous gimmicks in her head about how she could try and face Adrien in school again, how she could maybe keep convincing her parents that she was sick so that she’d never have to leave her bed and go to school ever again, maybe figure out a way to switch this whole story that Chloe said the other day in her favor and convince people that it wasn’t true. But all it was doing was making her tired, and the overcast weather outside was darkening her room and making it far too easy to slip off into sleep again.

She vaguely remembered her mother coming up into her room a couple of times, but what finally woke her up at only a few minutes short of midnight was an insistent tapping above her head, coming from her skylight.

Marinette sat up in bed immediately, her quilt flying off of her and her hair standing up in places it usually didn’t. She was hoping it was just a bird or a branch scraping across her window again, but she had a very sinking feeling that she knew exactly what it was at her window. Sure enough, when she stood up on her bed and flipped open the hatch, she peeked her head outside to find Chat Noir, balancing himself on the banister of her balcony, worrying his lip between his teeth and clinking his claws against the bars of the barricade.

She could feel the shame blooming on her face, and her fingers were clenching the edge of the window so tightly that her skin was stretching tight over her knuckles. He must have seen her hesitance because he held a hand out toward her. “Marinette, please. Just a few minutes, that’s all I ask — ”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Marinette interrupted. She ducked back into her room and closed the hatch behind her, huddling near the head of her bed with only her small night lamp to illuminate her room.

But Chat Noir was already pressing his face against her window and speaking through the glass, his voice coming out muffled. “You can’t keep avoiding me like this,” he pleaded. “I’ve been calling you and texting you, but you haven’t been answering. You’re worrying me.”

“I’m fine,” Marinette called back.

“Don’t lie,” Chat said pitifully. “I know when you’re okay, and you’re not okay. I can’t even pretend to understand what you’re feeling but...please, let me help. I want to help.”

Marinette tucked her knees to her chest and turned her face towards the wall. “This can’t be fixed, Adrien,” she called back. “Just go home.”

He was silent for a moment, and Marinette had thought for sure he had left before he spoke so quietly she almost didn’t hear him. “...will you let me try?”

Just from the sound of his voice, she could practically see what his face must have looked like on the other side of that window, and that was almost enough for her to just open the hatch, because that face was probably the same face he had when she yelled at him in the hallway and completely spurned him away. But she was terrified of hearing what he’d say, terrified of hearing that things from here on out might have to change, terrified of even having to sit in front of him and have that conversation. She tucked her knees to her chest and covered her face with her arms and didn’t answer him.

“Marinette…” he called out again. She heard him sigh loudly and gently tap his claws against the glass. “Please don’t make me do something embarrassing so that you’ll let me in…”

Marinette lifted her head and sighed. “Like what?”

There was more silence again, and Marinette couldn’t see him or his shadow from her spot on the bed. But then his boots scraped against the floor as he cleared his throat dramatically. “ Paw-lease let me in.”

She couldn’t help it. She let out a short, desperate laugh that sounded more like a sob than anything else, but it put a smile on her face. “No, no, you’re not doing this to me again.”

“What?” he said, small bits of humor sneaking into his voice. “Purr-suading myself in with my claw-some jokes?”

Marinette tried to sound stern, but a smile was starting to crack. “You are not bargaining to get your way with your jokes, you always do that, and it’s not working this time.”

“Purr-incess,” Chat Noir pleaded again. “I just want to have a con-fur-sation.”

“Adrien, go home,” she said rather unconvincingly.

“But I just want to have a talk with my fur-end,” he laughed. “I’m furry worried about her.”

The last one was so awful that she actually crawled up to the window and glared at him, seeing his hopeful face staring at her back through the window. “You’re really going to keep doing this, aren’t you?”

“I know you think my claw-ver jokes are pre-paw-sterous, but I just want to see your purr-ty smile again so that I know you’re feline fine.” He even had to stop to laugh at himself at that one, but he sobered up and pressed his hand to the glass. “Come on, Mari,” he said more seriously. “It’s just me. There’s nothing to be scared of. It’s only me.”

She wanted to tell him that it was because it was him that she didn’t want to let him inside in the first place. But he was staring at her so sincerely, looking inside like he was genuinely worried she was hurt or alone or in need of some support. There really wasn’t any way she could say not to him, was there? Because if it was him, she’d be at his window begging to be let in and wouldn’t take no for an answer either.

So against her better judgement, and despite how much it made her hands tremble, she opened up the hatch again and watched as Chat Noir detransformed into Adrien so that his socks touched down onto her sheets instead of his boots. She backed up against her pillows and tucked her feet underneath her while she watched him cross his legs at the foot of her bed, click his tongue against his teeth, and look down at his hands sitting in his lap.

Marinette was nibbling on her thumb nail and spoke first. “So...you wanted to talk.”

Adrien nodded and tapped his hands against his knees. “Right, so uh…” He reached into the pocket of his sweatpants and pulled out his phone. “I actually wanted to show you something first if that’s okay.”

Marinette snorted. “What, is Chloe making fun of me on Facebook or something? Because that’s the last thing I want to see right now.”

“No, nothing like that,” Adrien promised, swiping and tapping through his phone before sighing and handing it over to her. “Just...keep swiping through.”

“Swiping through what?”

Adrien winced and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well...I mean, you’ll see.”

Marinette raised a brow at him, but decided that if she already let him inside, she might as well play along with whatever it is he wanted to show her.

Of course the last thing she expected to see was a picture of what looked like all of Adrien’s computer monitors and their screensavers which were all plastered with more pictures of Ladybug than Marinette knew even existed.

Her mouth formed into an ‘o’ as she kept swiping through the pictures. Screenshots of his subscription to the Ladyblog, his admin profile for the message boards, all of the Ladybug merchandise that he must have gotten off of the dozens of websites that started branding the heroes the moment they showed up on the scene, and all the bookmarks on his browser of videos of her solo patrols that Alya had managed to get while biking through the city late at night for exclusive sightings of the heroes.

She swiped through the photos three times over before she looked up at him. “W-What is this?”

Adrien chuckled nervously. “Well, uh...that’s um...that’s, that’s all my stuff. Um. Yeeeah. I figured you might want to see it.”

Marinette was shaking her head and handing his phone back. “Wait, I’m so confused, why are you showing me all this? Why do you have all this stuff?”

“Are you sitting down?” he asked hesitantly.

“Adrien…”

“Okay, okay, okay, sorry, it’s just….” he sighed out. “This is kind of a lot, so I’m just gonna say it, and you can react however you want, alright?”

Marinette shrugged. “What is it?”

Adrien took a moment to brace both of his hands on the back of his neck and valiantly force his gaze up so that he was looking straight into her eyes as he spoke. “I...I really liked Ladybug.”

“Well, yeah, that I knew,” Marinette responded. “You flirted with me every chance you got, it was hard not to notice. But we were just joking around about it.”

“No, no, you don’t get it, it was...well it was way more than that,” Adrien said quietly. He swallowed another gulp of air as if he were trying to collect whatever spare courage he had left. “I didn’t just like you. I was...I was completely in love you.”

He shut his eyes tightly and dropped his head when the words came out as if he were expecting a blow in response. But Marinette couldn’t find the words to say anything in response because the words hadn’t finished processing for her yet — like they had just floated through her brain without picking up any meanings or giving her any hints for how to answer him, or ever for how she was supposed to feel. Her heart was beating in her ears and she tried to remember if she’d seen any signs of it in the midst of his flirting. But everything had just seemed like a joke, something silly that Chat Noir did because Chat Noir loved fooling around and saying embarrassing things to annoy her. He didn’t seem like the type that would hold anything in or tone anything down in front of her — that was always his style, to say exactly what he was thinking regardless of what anyone thought. All this time, he’d been keeping that secret locked up tight. Just like she had.

That meant that this entire time...both of them...without either of them even realizing it…

She didn’t think things could possibly get more confusing for them, yet here they were sitting with these two big secrets that should’ve made everything far more simpler yet only managed to leave the two of them unable to fill the space between them. This wasn’t what she’d planned for when she’d let him inside.

There was a long stretch of silence between them that left Adrien agitated and fidgeting. “Oh, please say something…”

She pulled her hair away from her eyes and tried to think of something to ask him. “For how long?”

Adrien raised both his brows. “Honestly? The first day I met you. I know you seemed nervous and were just getting used to things during our first fight, but...you really amazed me in the end. I just thought that I wanted to be half the hero that this girl was. That no matter what, no matter who was underneath that mask, I was going to love that girl irrevocably.”

Since the first day. Just like her. It only took that one moment in the rain in front of their school and she knew that Adrien was perfect. Lovely, handsome, just a touch self-conscious, but willing to put his neck out to right wrongs with a girl he’d only just met himself. That spoke volumes for her, and she knew at that moment that it didn’t matter what this boy did, she would love him and adore him no matter what. While all those feelings were true and strong when she’d felt them, she also couldn’t deny that it was a lot of perfection to hold a person up to, and she’d long come to terms with that, long discovered that there was no way to possibly love so much of a person without knowing them well. Yet here was Adrien, coming to her and telling her that he’d done something almost similar, except his heart was completely enamoured with Ladybug and everything she stood for.

Was . Past tense. He’d said it multiple times.

“Why are you telling me all this?” she asked hopelessly. “Is it not true anymore? Was it because of today?”

“No!” Adrien said hurriedly. “No, no! I mean...I don’t think I can say I’m in love with Ladybug anymore, at least not in the way I was before. But that isn’t because of today! At least, not really.”

“You’re not making sense…”

Adrien huffed. “That’s because I’m doing a terrible job of explaining this.” He slapped his cheeks a couple of times and wiped his hands down his face. “Alright. Do over. Something you said to me in the hallway on Friday really stuck. Stuck with me throughout the entire day of school and even when I went home that day. It was when you said that...that you put me on a pedestal, and you said that was unfair to me. And that you took all of those….those photos of me down, because you said it was different now. Which made a lot of sense to me, and that’s when I realized...I don’t love you like that anymore either. Because I was unfair to you too.”

Marinette furrowed her brows at him. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” Adrien answered carefully. “That even though I always said that no matter what I’d love the girl behind that mask...you made me realize that maybe that wasn’t fair to you. It was a lot of expectations to hold a person up to, like you said. And now that I know Ladybug is you, I think that especially because...well, at the end of the day I didn’t know you that well. I proclaimed all of this undying love and ridiculous standards to a girl that I never really got the chance to know. And how can I say such lofty things about a girl I haven’t even given a proper chance to yet?”

Adrien scooted closer to Marinette on the bed, only a couple of inches, but it felt like a lot for her who was rooted in place by the speech he was giving. “The minute I found out it was you, I wanted to get to know you better. I wanted to get used to the fact that Ladybug is also a little clumsy, lives in a bakery, can’t get up on time for school to save her life, and dreams of being a designer one day. The love wasn’t there anymore because...well, you weren’t just Ladybug anymore. I had to start over clean and fresh, which was fun and amazing...and I’ve really loved getting to start over fresh with you and getting to know you better,” he smiled, and good grief if that didn’t make her heart want to burst right out of her chest.

“I’ve done embarrassing things too,” he finally said. “I had pictures everywhere, I spent way too much time on the Ladyblog, and I needed to grab and hang onto every piece of you I could. But you were right. You can’t worship people like that. No person is perfect enough for that kind of thing, but that’s a good thing, I guess! Makes us human.” He took in a huge breath. “All that to say I snapped all of those pictures and took down all of that Ladybug stuff down about a month ago.”

Marinette shook her head in disbelief and leaned forward. “Wait a minute, what do you mean you took that stuff down? All of it?”

“Yup!” Adrien grinned nervously. “Changed my screensavers. I unsubscribed to the Ladyblog, and to be honest I don’t really check it anymore, not like how I used to anyway. I’m not on the boards anymore ranting on about you.” He winced. “Admittedly, I kept all of my Ladybug t-shirts mainly because they’re comfortable, but that’s it! Everything else, just…” he shrugged helplessly. “It just didn’t feel right having.”

She laughed a little breathlessly, more out of relief than out of finding anything humorous about his story. Or maybe it was funny in an ironic kind of way because for all of her agonizing these past couple of days, they’d been in the same boat this entire time: humanizing each other and trying to distance themselves from their old habits of taking little ideas and little bits of people and blowing them into perceptions bigger than either of them could comfortably handle.

She nodded in understanding. “I get it. You came here to even us out.”

Adrien smiled crookedly and reached out to link his pinkie with hers. She curled her finger around his and immediately felt at ease. “I guess you could look at it that way, but I wasn’t trying to do it to make fun of both of us. I just wanted you to understand me a little but better. Because I don’t see anything that Chloe said as some horrible secret that’s ruined me in your eyes.”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean that I’m not ashamed of my embarrassing crush. I’m not telling you how you should feel about what Chloe said, but I don’t see anything that she said about you as shameful or strange or anything like that. It’s just more parts of who we are. And maybe they’re hard to look at, but I don’t think we should ignore them. So what? You had a crush on Adrien, and I had a crush on Ladybug. That’s all different now. All we’re trying to do now is just complete each other until we can finally have a good proper opinion of each other, right?”

Marinette took his whole hand into hers and squeezed tightly. “Right,” she said with assurance. Because it hadn’t ever occurred to her to treat her crush on him like anything else other than some dirty secret that needed to be kept under wraps for anything to work out. But maybe he was right. Nothing about their feelings for each other had to be shameful. It wasn’t as if they were coming from places of malice. It was like a process. A series of steps that were going to keep changing and keep looking different the more they found out. They’d keep going until they could finally stare at completed versions of each other.  

“So,” she sighed. “What happens when we finally form our final opinions, as you say? What are we then?”

Adrien looked down at their hands. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Friends. Partners. Crushes. Something more. She supposed there really was no way to tell at this point. She thought she was starting to get a better sense of what she wanted , and maybe that was a good start. But Adrien was right. There was still time for that, and Marinette rather liked the fact that the fun was in finding that out little by little.

He wasn’t angry with her. He wasn’t disgusted with her. They were both in the same boat, traipsing along on this confusing adventure together, tripping up and stumbling about because nothing was ever perfect, and people were hard things to figure out all in one go.

And just like that, she felt so much better.

Marinette finally finished closing the distance between them until their knees were touching and their hands were resting on their crossed legs. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. I was really overwhelmed by everything and I didn’t know how to face you. I thought you’d be creeped out and you wouldn’t want to see me again. I couldn’t stomach that from you of all people, so I just ran.”

Adrien put his other hand on her shoulder and brushed his thumb on her collarbone. “You don’t have to apologize. I understand. But just know that I’d never think anything that terrible about you. And I know it’s only been a couple of days but...I missed you. I missed talking to you, and I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

She felt herself grinning so hard that her cheeks hurt, and it was at times like this where Adrien seemed so simple to her — just someone who cared about her and always, no matter what, wanted to make sure she was happy. She didn’t know why she was ever intimidated by him or how she ever assumed he would think poorly of her over something like this. Marinette moved forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her cheek into his shoulder and letting her nose brush up against the crook of his neck. “I’m so sorry,” she muttered into his skin. “I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

His arms came winding around her back. “I’m just glad you’re alright, my Lady. You know that’s all I ever want.”

Sitting there in his arms in the dim lighting of her room, with no one around, with her parents sound asleep downstairs, feeling his breathing through the rises and falls of his chest, she had this strong desire to pull away from him and kiss him. There was so much mounting affection and relief inside of her, hugging him didn’t feel like enough. Marinette wasn’t sure how he’d react or if they were even ready for that sort of thing, but she found she rather didn’t care.

So she leaned back in his arms until they were face to face, their arms hanging loosely around each other. His lips were right there, she could go ahead and do it quickly and wait for the fallout later. All of his encouragement had fueled her up with a strange brand of courage that she figured could power her through the whole thing, despite his reaction. He was looking at her like he was in a pleasant daze, with his mouth open just a bit and his eyes lidded, and it seemed perfect. Right there. Two seconds. She barely even needed to move her head.

But, she chickened out. Instead, she leaned forward and placed a long, gentle kiss right on the apple of his cheek. She smiled through the kiss when she felt how warm his skin was, and pulled away to see him smiling madly. That enough was worth it.

She puffed her cheeks out. “School is still going to be really uncomfortable…”

Adrien didn’t look convinced. “People aren’t as cruel as you think, especially since I think everyone is of the universal opinion that Chloe was way out of line. I think school will be okay.”

“You sure?” she snorted.

“Almost positive,” he assured. “And even if it isn’t, I’ll be with you every step of the way.” He drew an ‘x’ on his chest. “Cross my heart.”

It was a small gesture, but a powerful one. “Thanks,” Marinette told him. “Honestly, thank you.”

“You know I’d do anything for you, Mari.”

Yes, she did, and she was forever grateful that she had him. It felt almost silly now to think that he’d ever turn her away or refuse to speak to her again, especially with sitting here with him like this felt so natural. She didn’t want him to leave just yet, and she spoke rather impulsively. “S-So, uh, I know it’s late,” Marinette offered. “But I’ve been cooped up all weekend. Wanna go out for a bit of a run? We can race to the Seine and skip rocks again. Is that okay?”

Adrien’s hand came up to cup the cheek that she’d kissed and nodded. “Y-Yeah,” he agreed softly. “Going out sounds great.”

Chapter Text

“What did I tell you? Our Instagram is blowing up! A hundred thousand likes and counting. Just from one selfie. Oh man, we should totally film ourselves! Exclusive Ladybug and Chat Noir footage? We’ll get so many followers.”

“This coming from the person who says that maintaining his Adrien Agreste Instagram is soulless and exhausting .”

Adrien snorted. “That’s because it is soulless and exhausting.” He lifted his hands and started air quoting. “In makeup, getting ready for my shoot! Hashtag: that modelling life. Hashtag: makeup. Hashtag: fashion. Hashtag: style. Hashtag: die. Hashtag: kill me. Hashtag: get me out of here.”

“That’s not very nice to the few hundred thousand followers you have that probably read all of your tags and relish those days when you’re getting your contour done.”

“Of which you are one of them, you hypocrite!”

“Um, your father is a fashion genius. You bet your modelling butt I’m gonna follow you and see what kinds of shoots he’s putting you into.” Marinette grabbed his phone from his hand and switched screens to Adrien’s personal account. “Besides, I find your food posts way more interesting.”

He frowned and stared over her shoulder. “You find my kale salads interesting?”

Marinette jogged in front of him while walking backwards and started dramatically reading through the tags of one of his posts. “First meal of the day! Hashtag: food Hashtag: health. Hashtag: feeling good. Hashtag: lies, lies lies!”

Adrien rolled his eyes. “My father and my publicist practically run that thing for me, give me a break.”

“If only your precious followers knew that just last night you literally inhaled an entire box of fudge by yourself. Talk about “health” and “feeling good,” you glutton.”

“You said I could have it!”

Marinette smirked. “I said you could have some of it. You took that as an invitation to stuff your face.”

Adrien sighed and slung an arm around her shoulder. “You know, when we said we’d walk to school together, it wasn’t so that you could fat shame me.”

Marinette looked up at him and pouted her lips. “But you make it so easy.” Adrien frowned playfully and tugged out one of her pigtails before messing up her hair and making her scream in horror. She blew the hair out of her face and chased after Adrien who was already running up the stairs to their school building and sprinting across the courtyard before she caught up with him.

They’d pretty much spent the entire weekend together, and only having to focus on Adrien and his company had done wonders for distracting her about what happened last week. They’d stayed out most of Saturday night having races up the Eiffel Tower and skipping rocks on the river, and on Sunday Adrien had decided to come to her bakery and buy a literal armful of treats for them to take to the park while they talked and blasted through all of the homework that Marinette had been neglecting all weekend. Ever since she found out his identity, Adrien’s personality became explosive when he was only with her, and it filled up the space so much that Marinette only ever needed to focus her attention on him and the two of them in the moment. It made her forget about the dread she was meant to be feeling about having to face her entire classroom on Monday after having all of her embarrassing secrets spread out in the open.

But now that they’d left the locker room and were heading to their first class, Marinette was starting to feel all that apprehension mount up inside of her. She froze a few feet away from the entrance of the classroom and felt Adrien’s chest collide with her back. He gripped her elbow and shook her arm. “What’s the matter?”

Marinette winced and balanced on her toes. “I just…” She whined and turned to face Adrien. “They all know. And they’re just gonna see me walk in, and I’m gonna know that they know.”

“I thought you said you’d gotten over it,” he said worriedly.

“I did with you!” she clarified. “But this is still just generally embarrassing and I don’t want to sit through class with people snickering behind their books. And Chloe is just going to take full advantage and make everything ten times worse and school is going to become a literal hell hole and I don’t want to willingly subject myself to that endless nightmare.”

He laughed and placed his hands on his shoulders. “Has anyone ever told you that you tend to overthink things?”

Marinette darted her eyes to the side. “...I may have been briefly notified of the habit.”

“Alright,” Adrien decided, rubbing his fingers into her shoulders which Marinette found wonderfully comforting. “Well, let’s start with ignoring Chloe. You do that all the time anyway, and she can only make you feel bad if you think her opinion matters. Which I doubt you do.”

Marinette snorted but nodded her head. “Alright, easy enough.”

“Good,” he grinned. “And I know you’re going to just have to trust me on this, but I really don’t think everyone is going to be as cruel as you say. Everyone jumped to criticize Chloe after you stormed out and no one said a word against you, I swear.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still humiliating,” Marinette grumbled.

“Why is it humiliating when they’re concerned, and not when I am?”

“Because they don’t know our business,” Marinette said. “They’re still just going to see it as silly little Marinette who had a big creepy crush on the handsome boy in class without said handsome boy even knowing about it. There’s no coming back from that.”

Adrien paused thoughtfully and grinned widely. “Handsome, huh?”

Marinette pinched him in the arm and tried to hold back her laughter. “Hush and focus”

“Alright, alright, fine,” he relented. He hummed in thought. “Well, then I guess the only solution is for them to get the whole story so that they can’t hold any judgement.”

Marinette raised a brow. “I can think of several problems with that plan. A few of them including the fact that we both share a very interesting hobby.”

“Well, okay, I don’t mean tell them everything everything,” Adrien clarified. “But the whole thing looks a lot less weird when you consider that I kinda had a really huge, ridiculous crush on you, and the two of us can just laugh about it.”

“Because we’re both dorky and ridiculous.”

“Exactly! They cancel each other out.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “So how do you suppose we fill everyone in?”

Adrien took a long moment to stroke his chin and pretend to ponder over the question with intense concentration. Marinette decided to humor him and lean against the wall to wait for him to come up with an answer. He spun around in a circle a couple of times and paced the length of the hallway before he nodded and clasped his hands behind his back. “Well, Ms. Dupain-Cheng. I believe there is a very simple two-phase plan that could rectify this.”

“And what would that be?”

He waggled his eyebrows. “Does that mean you consent to Phase one?”

“Am I going to regret it?”

“I have it on good authority that it’s an excellent plan.”

“On whose authority?”

“Chat Noir’s of course. Have you met him? Handsome fellow. Amazing body. Rapier wit. Not bad with the ladies, either. I mean, between you and me? Goals.”

“Really,” Marinette joked. “I hear he’s a bit of a loser.”

“Blasphemy, my Lady! Slander! What if someone heard you?”

“And you call me dramatic,” Marinette chuckled. “Alright, I’ll bite. What’s Phase one of your plan?”

Adrien sighed and placed both of his hands against his heart. “Ah, I’m so glad you asked Marinette. You’re about to find out.” He grabbed her shoulders, spun her around, and started to march her straight into the classroom.

Marinette blinked and looked over her shoulder at Adrien in shock as they crossed the threshold. “W-Wait a minute! What are you doing?”

Adrien smirked. “This.” He wrapped both of his arms around Marinette’s shoulders and just as the rest of the class watched them enter, he leaned down and started placing huge, sloppy kisses on both of her cheeks and on the top of her head while he walked them in the direction of their seats.

She squealed at the contact and immediately bunched her shoulders up to her ears to stop his progress. “What are you doing!? Stop!!”

“Why?” Adrien frowned before he grinned wickedly and placed a kiss right on the tip of her nose. “I’m just showing everyone how amazing and wonderful and incredible you are, because you are most certainly all of those things and more.”

Marinette grabbed at his wrists and tried to duck around his kisses while she tried to maneuver them across the front of the classroom as she tried to speak through all of her laughter. “Agh! Stop it! You’re going to make me trip.”

“Don’t trip!” Adrien laughed breathlessly. “You’re going to take us both with you!”

“Then get off of me!”

“Never!” he cried out. He leaned down and put all of his bodyweight on Marinette’s shoulders and smirked when she let out a grunt and doubled over under his weight. She grumbled under her breath as she tightened her hold on his wrists and started to slowly drag slash march them up the stairs and to their seats.

Marinette was struggling to lift her legs high enough to get up the steps and managed to catch Myl ène’s eye. She was giggling at the display and lifted her hand in a friendly wave. “Hey, you two.”

Marinette huffed and was relieved to get a warm, normal welcome. “Hi Myl ène.”

Adrien shifted so that his chin was leaning on Marinette’s shoulder and smiled at this classmate. “Good morning, Myl ène. Wonderful day today, isn’t it?”

“You two are so freakin’ bizarre,” Alix snorted from her seat. “What are you even doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Kim laughed, leaning into the aisle. “Marinette is giving piggyback rides to everyone’s seats. I call next!”

She pointed menacingly at him. “Don’t you dare!”

Adrien gasped. “Wait! That’s such a good idea. Quick, grab my legs, I’m gonna jump on your back.”

“No! You’re gonna crush me!” Marinette cried out when she felt him jumping up. She looked over her shoulder. “Go to your seat, you oversized child.”

“But we were having fun!”

“Class is about to start, and I don’t want to throw my back out because of you.”

Adrien frowned thoughtfully. “Interesting argument. So does that mean we’ll revisit this after class ends?”

Marinette rolled her eyes at his antics. “Yeah. Sure.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he teased and unwrapped his arms from around her. He quickly smoothed out the hair on the top of her head that he’d accidentally messed up in all the excitement and patted her on the head before he slid into his own seat. Marinette was trying to look annoyed at him, but she just smiled all the way back to her seat and tried to ignore the look of complete incredulity that Nino and Alya were sending to both of them. Marinette said hi to Nathanael and Max who greeted her warmly as they headed to their seats and was glad that at least everyone else wasn’t scrutinizing her or talking about her behind her back. Adrien was right after all. It was nice to know she’d been worrying over nothing.

Alya leaned her elbow on the table and turned her body completely to face Marinette. She could vaguely see Nino and Adrien hunched over in a conversation in front of her, but Marinette decided to calmly fold her hands on her desk, clear her throat, and pretend that nothing was wrong. “Morning, Alya.”

Alya kept staring for a few more seconds before she shook her head. “Okay girl, I love you, but you’re giving me whiplash over here.”

“What?” Marinette shrugged.

“Um, you jetted out of here on Friday, were inconsolable Saturday, and now Adrien is hanging off of you like a puppy on Monday?” Alya took her glasses off and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “Oooooh, geez, you’re gonna give me a migraine.”

“It’s nothing,” Marinette insisted. “We...talked. And it’s fine now. I...may have overreacted that day.”

“You seemed to think it was the end of the world this weekend,” Alya prodded. “But you guys talked ” — she paused to give the appropriately dramatic air quotes — “and now you’re getting cheek kisses and acting all nauseatingly sweet.”

Marinette tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and started to pull out her books and her tablet. “Adrien was being silly. He’s like that.”

“Oh is he?” Alya grinned. “Do tell me more.”

Marinette slapped Alya’s wrist. “Shush! He’s right there!”

“Please, I’m sure Nino is giving him a similar interrogation at the moment since the two of you are being awfully familiar for two people who aren’t dating.”

Marinette lowered her voice to a whisper. “We aren’t dating.”

Alya smirked. “Hm. And why is that?” she whispered back.

Marinette blinked and struggled for a response.” B-Because...because, I-I told you already. I don’t want to ruin our friendship. We’re just friends.”

“Oh, you’re just friends,” Alya mocked. “ Just friends don’t barrel into class covering each other in kisses and hanging off of each other during study hall and being all clingy and affectionate at every available opportunity.”

Marinette sighed. “We’re not clingy and affectionate.”

Her attention was sidetracked just as Chloe picked that exact moment to barge into the classroom and bang the door against the back wall. Her eyes immediately drifted up to Marinette and she looked ready to spout something hateful at her. Adrien must have noticed because before Chloe could even open her mouth, Adrien turned around, kneeled on his chair, and grabbed both of Marinette’s hands in his own. “Marinette, I didn’t get to ask. Do you want to have lunch together today? If you don’t have any other plans, that is.”

Chloe’s eyes widened dangerously behind him, and Marinette chuckled at the sight. “Sure,” she told him, unable to help her own smile as he beamed at her, looking genuinely satisfied. “I don’t have anything planned during break.”

“Ah, perfect. We can invite Nino and Alya too. It’ll be fun.” He kissed her knuckles and twisted back around to sit in his seat. Chloe, on the other hand, was standing in the front of the classroom looking absolutely gobsmacked. She was clutching her phone so tightly Marinette could swear she could hear cracking sounds all the way from her seat. Her entire face screwed up in annoyance, but Chloe merely stomped one of her feet, walked over to her desk and threw her bag on the floor, Sabrina following meekly behind her trying to dodge any backlash.

Alya laughed at the scene and turned back to Marinette with a knowing look. “Yeah. Adrien didn’t just ward off Chloe by being totally clingy and affectionate.”

Marinette didn’t really have any defense for that, so she huffed and turned back to the front of the classroom, thankful that their teacher had decided at that moment to come in and let Marinette off the hook. “That’s just...how we are. It’s normal. We’re fine.”

“Don’t try and pull the wool over my eyes,” Alya snorted. “You two are beating around the bush at this point. I mean seriously, no boy acts that way towards a girl if he isn’t totally into her. What the hell you two are waiting for is beyond me.” Marinette desperately wanted to respond, but their teacher was already putting notes on the board and she was forced to shelf the conversation and focus on her work.

The wash of relief that Adrien’s visit on Saturday had given her did wonders in terms of abating her anxieties about whether or not he thought badly about her because of her previous feelings. But once all that faded away, it left one very large, very obvious, and franky very conflicting elephant in the room for Marinette to ponder over: did Adrien like her? Her as Marinette and Ladybug. Her as this new hybrid version of the girl he thought he knew so well before. Her as the person he came running to this weekend to make sure that she was alright and to make sure that she understood in explicit terms that he didn’t think any less of her.

Her part of the equation was already figured out — she liked him a lot, longed for his company and his affection in a way that made her restless and agitated with feelings she so desperately wished were reciprocated. But she didn’t want to nail the coffin of their friendship closed and make things awkward between them by confessing unless she was at least more than fifty percent sure that Adrien felt the same way. And that was the rub of it all — she had no darn clue how he felt.

Adrien said so many things to her this weekend that made her want to think that he did feel the same way. He missed her. He wanted to know she was alright. He’d do anything for her. He still wanted to keep learning more about her and spend more time with her until he knew her completely. It could’ve very well been the words of a concerned friend, but it was far easier to place all of those words into feelings that were just a little more intense. And she thought about all those times when he leaned his head in her lap or hugged her from behind or covered her in an embarrassing amount of kisses in front of the whole class. That had to have meant something. Surely, there was something brewing between them that was starting to feel less like friendship and more like something stronger. Marinette refused to believe that it was her romantic imaginings creating connections that weren’t there.

She stared at the back of his head all throughout class, and felt a pressure deep in the back of her throat, like the admission was practically begging to come out at any second, regardless of Marinette’s reservations. She started to wonder if maybe Alya was right. Maybe her feelings weren’t destructive. Maybe there would be no irrevocable damage if she just cut her losses and told him the truth. Perhaps there was something to be said about holding in such strong feelings and giving them nowhere to go. Alya very clearly thought that Marinette should say something, and perhaps it was time to buck up the courage and just do it. She’d been spending all this time worrying about how Adrien would feel afterwards when maybe she needed to start thinking about herself.

Besides, Adrien hardly batted a lash at the mention of her crush when it was mortifyingly off base. Surely a confession like this would most certainly get an even warmer reaction...right?

Was it really as bad as she was making it seem in her head?

Morning classes rolled along while Marinette changed her mind no less than eight times about whether to tell Adrien her feelings, and by the time lunch arrived, she still wasn’t completely at ease with either option. She hoped that lunch would do the job of distracting her.

“Can we go somewhere that isn’t my bakery today?” Marinette suggested. She pointed a finger into Adrien’s stomach. “This one has had enough sweets from there to last him through the winter.”

“Was that another muted fat joke?”

“Hey, it’s your model diet that you’re ruining. That okay with you two?”

Alya shrugged. “I’m good with whatever. I’m starving.”

Nino scowled. “Yeah, because you spend so much time updating your blog in the mornings that you forget to eat breakfast. Which is insane, and we need to have an intervention about it.”

“Oh leave me alone, you’re the one who empties out half a vending machine and calls it a meal. How about we go to a sit down place and get you an actual course meal for once? That cool with everyone else?”

Adrien had his arms wrapped around Marinette’s shoulders again, and she unconsciously brought a hand up to grip at his forearm. “That’s fine with me,” he said with his chin leaning on her shoulder. “Mari?”

“Yup,” she shrugged, idly checking her phone for the time. “Someone can pick where, I don’t mind.”

Nino shook his head at the two of them and braced his hands on the back of his neck. “Man, I don’t get you two. You’re like monkeys hanging off of each other. It’s the most hilarious thing.”

Marinette stopped in the middle of the courtyard and turned her head towards Adrien. “Oh, speaking of which. What was Phase two of your plan?”

Adrien blinked. “Hm?”

“You know, you said you had a two phase plan to make sure the rest of the class wouldn’t treat me weird about what happened on Friday. You acting like a darn fool and dragging me down with you was Phase one, so what was Phase two?”

His mouth formed into a perfect ‘o’ as he averted his gaze. “Riiiiiiight.” He shut his eyes tightly. “Yeah, I was kinda hoping you forgot about that.”

Marinette knocked her head gently against his. “Why? You were super excited about it before. Now you have me curious.”

Nino laughed loudly and walked over to clap Adrien on his back. “Yeah man, now you have me curious too.”

Adrien whirled on him. “Shut up.”

“Dude, you might as well do it now, otherwise you’re gonna chicken out and wait another ten years to try and say something.”

Alya peeked over the top of her glasses. “Okay, I’m very intrigued by this. What is he trying to say?”

“Nothing!” Adrien said defensively. He frowned at Nino and spoke through gritted teeth. “Nino doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Okay, bro, as your best friend, it’s my duty to intervene if I have reason to believe you’re being an evasive dork about things that are freakin’ serious. So no. You’re doing the thing right here.”

Adrien unwrapped himself from Marinette and was suddenly standing stiff and straight. “Nino,” he wined. He darted his eyes to Alya and back to Nino. “With like...like with you guys watching?”

“Witnesses are a necessary evil, my dude.”

“When you’re getting married!” Adrien insisted. “Not when you’re — ” He clamped his lips shut just in time before anything incriminating came out.

“Listen, I don’t trust that you’re gonna do it if I don’t watch over you like your dad. And you have to do it because we talked about this. So come on. I’m waiting.”

“Stop parenting me!”

“Don’t talk back to your dad! Go and do your thing or you’re grounded.”

Marinette made a face and hesitantly raised her hand. “Uh, hi. Yeah. What’s going on?”

Nino did a little bow as if to leave the floor for Adrien and pulled Alya with him so that they were standing a couple of feet back. Alya looked like she wanted to ask more questions, but Nino just put a finger to his lips and gestured at Adrien expectantly. Adrien stared at him for a little longer before sighing and turning to face Marinette properly.

He looked like he was holding a gigantic nervous breath in his chest that he was afraid to let out, and Marinette had to wonder what on Earth had him so tentative in front of her of all people. “Hey, relax,” she tried to soothe. “It’s just me. You can tell me anything.”

Adrien puffed out his cheeks and grabbed his hair with both hands. “See, why do you have to be so understanding and comforting about it, now I really do have to say something.”

“Sorry?” she apologized with a smirk. “If you don’t want to say anything it’s fine — ”

“Nope!” Adrien said resolutely. “I’m gonna do this. I am so gonna do this. I’m gonna do the crap out of this so hard.” He winced. “That sounded wrong. Okay. Do over.” He slapped his cheeks, made a pained looking face, and curled up on himself on the ground. “Give me a second.”

“Oh dude!” Alya exclaimed in exasperation. “Out with it already!”

Marinette frowned at their two spectators and waved her hand at them. “Guys. He cracks under social pressure. You’re making him nervous. Move it back.”

“Move it back?” Alya asked. “What do you mean?”

Marinette pointed across the courtyard. “Twenty feet. Go on.”

“Then we can’t hear anything!”

“Good,” Marinette frowned. “Go go go, before he totally loses his cool.”

Alya groaned and pulled Nino back across the courtyard so that they were only just out of earshot. They were leaning against the wall and staring at the scene with rapt attention, but at least Adrien looked more calm. He looked up at her from his crouched position on the floor and sighed. “You’re gonna have to bear with me, alright? I thought I’d have time to rehearse this, but I guess I’m just gonna have to come out with it.”

Marinette clasped her hands in front of her. “Okay. I’m all ears.”

Adrien stood on his feet and shook out his hands. “Alright.” He eyed his friends in the corner and made sure to lower his voice a touch to make extra sure that they wouldn’t be able to hear him. “I know it feels like we found out about each other a long time ago, but...that’s still one of the scarier moments of my life. Because...well, because we knew how dangerous it would be if we found out, and all this means that our jobs are more complicated and that we have to be ten times more careful than we have been...but it was also amazing because I am so glad to have met you as a whole person. Finding out you were Ladybug...it feels like it’s exaggerating to say it was one of the best moments of my life, but that’s what it feels like.”

“Adrien…” she breathed out. She didn’t know where he was going with this, but it seemed so important that she hear him out completely.

He gulped and put his hands in his pockets. “I just love hanging out with you Marinette. You’re really…so amazing. And getting to know you over these past few days has been some of the best fun I’ve ever had. I know that the two of us had a lot of preconceptions about each other and we were fixating on just small parts of ourselves, but I like to think that I really know the real you a little better now. And I just absolutely love what I’m seeing in front of me right now. It makes me happier than you could even know.”

Marinette felt her nerves tingling all throughout her body, right down to her fingertips. “What are you saying?”

Adrien tapped his fingers against his thigh. “I’m saying…” He shut his eyes tightly and let out the rest of his words in a flurry. “I’m saying that I really like you, and would you like to grab some dinner sometime?”

He immediately covered his face with his arms and turned away from her in fear as if he were bracing himself for impact. He was trying to sneak peeks at her from between his arms to see what her reaction was, but even Marinette was having trouble properly articulating that for herself because a wall of so many feelings came crashing into her all at once. She was standing there stunned in front of him trying to think of what to say and how to react but nothing was coming out except for the constant mantra currently on repeat in her head.

He liked her.

Adrien liked her.

She liked Adrien back.

Nothing exploded. Nothing was ruined. No fallouts. No disasters. No heartbreak. No hiccups of any sort.

He liked her and she liked him back and they both liked each other and it was mutual and why on Earth did Marinette wait so damn long to say something if this was how it was going to turn out?

Just that thought alone frustrated her so much that she didn’t even think about the fact that punching a boy in the arm after he confessed to you probably wasn’t the smoothest thing she’d ever done. But then again, since when was anything about the two of them ever smooth?

“Ow!” he yelped, immediately grabbing his arm. “What was that for?”

“You…” she forced out. “You stupid, silly boy! I can’t believe you beat me to it!”

Adrien sighed. “Look, I know this is a lot for me to break to you, and I get it if you don’t — waaaaaaait, wait a minute, wait a minute, what? Beat you? Beat you to what?”

Marinette shut her mouth, blinked, and looked at her feet. “Nothing…”

“Nuh uh!” he said, pointing his fingers accusingly in her face. “Don’t you dare! What do you mean beat you to it!”

“What do you think?” she said back at him. “I’ve been agonizing all day whether to tell you that I really like you too! And I was going to have this whole speech planned out and you just go and steal my moment. Plus we literally liked each other this whole time and we so could’ve gotten this out of the way so much sooner and we’re so stupid Adrien, God.”

Her outburst left Adrien leaning away from her in shock and he looked a little unequipped to answer her properly. But he sobered up after a few moments and slowly started to let one of his wolfish grins spread across his face. “You like me?”

Marinette couldn’t help smiling at him. How could she not smile at him, she was thrumming with so much happiness and relief she didn’t know where to put it all. “Shut up…”

“You like me?” he asked again. “You like me? You like me! Holy crap, you like me, oh my God!”

His hands were buried in his hair like his mind had just been blown. Then, out of nowhere, Adrien picked her up by the waist and proceed to spin her around amidst his excitement while he kept repeating, “You like me! Marinette likes me! She likes me, holy moley, she likes me!”

“Wait!” Nino shouted from the other side of the courtyard. “Did you finally freaking tell her?”

Marinette was keeping her hands on his shoulders so that she wouldn’t lose her balance, but she made eye contact with Nino and nodded her head enthusiastically.

Nino’s let out a holler and threw his hat in the air. “Thank you God!

“He said it? And she said it back? Are you serious, is this crap finally over? Hot damn!” Alya exclaimed.

Adrien had finally stopped spinning her, but he kept his arms around her waist so that she was still lifted in the air and pressed against his body. “Wait,” he said breathlessly. “You mean it?”

“Of course,” Marinette told him, holding his cheeks in both of her hands. “I just...I didn’t know how to tell you. I thought I was going to ruin everything.”

“No,” he replied with a smile. “No, nothing that you feel could ever ruin anything, it can only make it better.” He was shaking his head at her in disbelief. “Gosh, this isn’t real, I’m never going to get over this.”

Marinette giggled and rubbed her thumbs against his cheekbones. “Well then that just means we’re going to have to keep saying it until it sinks in.”

Adrien bit his lip and pressed his forehead against hers. “I like you.”

“I like you too,” Marinette laughed.

“I like you.”

“I like you.”

“This is music to my ears, let’s get Nino and Alya to harmonize it.”

It was such a silly joke, but Marinette laughed hard at it because she didn’t think she could’ve picked a more precious moment to share with him if she tried.