Adrien’s soulmarks are, in the order he received them: a violently bright yellow kiss just under his left eye that Chat Noir’s mask is just big enough to cover; a deep, warm blue smudge from knocking elbows; a barely-there dusting of pink across his fingertips from handing over an umbrella, right where his claws come out. He doesn’t have any others. Still, three soulmarks is pretty good for somebody who was basically never allowed out of the house before this year, he thinks.
(he used to have a pale lilac smudge on his forehead under the swoop of his bangs and a long golden smear that went the full length of his right arm, both of which he’d had since the day he was born.
but soulmarks don’t always last when the people you got them from stop touching you. stop being close to you. stop--
soulmarks don’t always last, like that.
no matter how badly you want them to.)
Chloe’s lips are white. The back of Nino’s elbow is luminescent green. Marinette’s fingertips are blindingly crimson.
(Father’s forehead is--nothing. nothing at all.
and Adrien imagines the inner curve of Mother’s arm is the same, now.
half a soulmark can’t survive on its own, after all.)
Chloe kisses her mark every time she sees him and doesn’t want to share. Nino takes every excuse to bump elbows and rub their soulmarks together for the little thrill of rightness the gesture brings. Marinette . . . Marinette does not touch their soulmarks together, at least not on purpose. Accidentally, sometimes, but . . . no, not on purpose.
Marinette doesn’t know what to do with him, as far as Adrien can tell. Doesn’t seem to have any idea what the two of them being soulmates means to her.
He doesn’t blame her, really. He’s only got three colors, just like Chloe; he doesn’t look very loveable next to someone like Marinette.
Marinette has so many colors that Adrien doesn’t even know who they all belong to, although he’s fairly sure of at least a few. He knows the forest green hand hooked around the inside of her elbow is Nathanael, he thinks she said the blue and red fingerprints folded inside her palms came from her parents, and that intense fuschia cupping the back of her neck is mirrored in hot pink in Alya’s palm. There’s also a soft violet handprint on her left calf, child-sized and tiny, a broad adult-sized gray one on the back of her right arm, and--really, he could go on all day. There’s a whole rainbow of fingerprint smudges and brushed arms and knocked ankles on Marinette, to say nothing of the kaleidoscope of her own fingers where she’s reached out to touch people herself. Her hands are the most-marked part of her and have been since the day Adrien met her.
His crimson stands out stark and bright even amongst all the other colors on Marinette’s hands, but his own fingers are as good as naked and Marinette’s soft pink is still just barely visible on them. Most of the time the photographers don’t even bother editing it out--they don’t need to, it doesn’t show.
(sometimes the pale lilac smudge comes back. never for long, but--sometimes. just enough to see it for a day or two before it fades.
it never needs edited out either.)
So no, Adrien doesn’t really blame Marinette for not knowing what to do with him. He isn’t sure what to do with her either, unfortunately, although he’s been doing his best to make it obvious that he’s glad they’re soulmates, that he wants--that he’d like--
Whatever “more” turns out to be.
“More” is becoming one of the defining words of Adrien’s life. He wants to go outside more. He wants to meet more people. He wants more attention from his father, more time with his friends, more time with Ladybug, more soulmarks.
Those last two are kind of related, though.
Some people say “soulmates” is the wrong word to use to classify the kind of people who leave color on each other’s skin at first contact, but Adrien’s always used it. He thinks it makes sense. Of course anyone who leaves color on someone else would be their soulmate--of course someone that important would be a part of that person’s very self.
“It’s just anybody who’s gonna love you, man,” Nino tells him wryly--but he uses “soulmate” too, when he’s introducing him to people. He smiles and gestures at him and says, “This is my bro Adrien, he’s one of my soulmates. This one here, see, this sick green? It glows in the dark, I am not even kidding. No, I swear, check it out!”
Those conversations make something in Adrien glow a deep, warm blue.
Adrien is absolutely, totally, and entirely convinced that Ladybug is one of his soulmates. He dreams of her laying a hand on his arm and leaving behind a stark and undeniable black; of her hugging him close and smearing bright, vibrant red across his cheek with her own; of bluebell fingerprints being left tucked into the corner of his jaw.
But Ladybug and Chat Noir wear gloves and full-body armor, and can’t touch skin-to-skin.
And even if they did--
“Miraculous Ladybug works on soulmarks too,” Plagg tells him between bites of his dinner, barely paying attention to the conversation at all. Kwami can’t get soulmarks, apparently (and Adrien is supposed to pretend he never noticed waking up with a tiny pitch-black pawprint on the ball of his foot; supposed to not count it, when he’s counting). “Even if she left a color on you, it’d disappear with all the other damage.”
“Miraculous Ladybug thinks soulmarks are damage?” Adrien asks incredulously.
“I would agree with that assessment, personally,” Plagg says, popping another bite of cheese into his mouth. “And I am the resident expert on damage.”
Adrien does not agree with that assessment. He doesn’t understand either the thought of soulmarks being anybody’s idea of “damage” or why he and Ladybug can’t leave color on each other if it’s not going to last and therefore won’t risk their secret identities. Why they can’t just leave it anew every time they meet: get in close, mark each other up, make it obvious. Adrien wouldn’t mind if their marks turned out weird or silly or just different every time, so long as they got to have them at least for that little bit.
Ladybug won’t let him try, though.
Adrien’s pretty sure that’s because they both know it wouldn’t really be just “trying”.
They’re partners. Even if they’re not romantic, there’s no way they wouldn’t leave color on each other. Adrien’s known that from practically the moment they met, and he’s sure that Ladybug does too.
He wonders if she ever thinks about it too.
For a while after Dark Cupid, Ladybug spent a lot of time staring at Chat Noir’s mouth. Adrien never figured out why--he doesn’t remember the end of that fight very well. He’s vaguely aware of the black-lipped look that Dark Cupid’s victims apparently had and wonders if it’d bothered her, seeing someone else’s color on him like that. As if someone else had kissed him--as if he’d kissed them.
He wants to know so bad.
And he still wants more of everything, too.
. . . as it turns out, “more” has been happening more and more often, lately.
“Okay,” the girl in Volpina’s outfit starts, expression wary behind her mask and hands in the air, tail held stiff and fox ears flat. “Okay, I can explain everything.”
Chat Noir looks at the akuma behind her. And the screaming civilians. And the burning buildings.
It looks like a lot to explain.
“You’ve got thirty seconds,” Ladybug says dubiously, giving her yo-yo a pointed swing. “Since that’s about how long we’ve got before this roof collapses.”
“Oh God,” the girl says with a wince. “Look, I only just found the box in my bag and I opened it and Trixx popped out and started rhapsodizing about kicking Hawk Moth’s butt and then I heard the explosions and, well--I mean, c’mon, what else was I gonna do?”
“Did you wait to hear how your powers work?” Ladybug asks, raising an eyebrow.
“My lady!” Chat protests with an indignant pout, feeling personally attacked.
“. . . er,” the girl says, eyes slanting away guiltily.
“Oh, great,” Ladybug says, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Now I’ve got two of you.”
“How about you just call me ‘Vulpin’,” the new girl suggests after the rest of the explosions and screaming and burning is all over, twirling her flute in her fingers. It starts whistling shrilly enough that Chat Noir recoils backwards and covers his ears--both sets of his ears--and she squeaks in surprise and nearly drops it, her eyes wide with alarm. “Guh! Uh. I knew it did that. I mean--! I’m sorry!”
“Um, it’s okay,” Chat says warily, although his ears stay flat in self-defense. In his defense: self-defense. But it’s not like he and Ladybug have never screwed up with their powers, so it’s not really a big deal.
“We need to talk, Vulpin,” Ladybug says, then grimaces as her Miraculous beeps. “Make that we need to talk tonight. Meet us at the Eiffel Tower at midnight.”
“But the Tower closes at midnight,” Vulpin says bemusedly.
“That’s the point,” Ladybug replies with a smirk, then whips out her yo-yo and swings off. Chat tries not to be too blatantly lovesick about staring after her, then reaches for his baton. He’s on his second beep already.
He wishes Ladybug would let him leave a mark on her.
“Wait!” Vulpin exclaims, popping up in his space and nearly startling him off the roof. “I just--that’s it?! You fight the akuma together and then you split up and don’t see each other again until midnight?!”
“Actually the meeting up again at midnight is a special circumstance thing,” Chat admits with an awkward shrug. “So, um, congratulations on being special?”
“No way!” Vulpin protests. “I know you run patrols together!”
“Well--we run patrols a few times a week, yeah, but unless there’ve been a lot of akuma or suspicious activity we usually switch off on those,” Chat replies with a sheepish shrug. Sleep is a pretty nice thing, so as much as he’d love to spend that much time with Ladybug, even he can’t really complain about that one. “Normally we don’t see each other again until the next confirmed attack.”
“What?!” Vulpin demands disbelievingly, rocking back on her heels with a shocked expression. “But--you’re both--! But you’re--you’re Chat Noir and Ladybug!”
“Of course we are,” Chat says defensively, tightening his grip on his baton. “That doesn’t make us not.”
“But . . .” Vulpin stares helplessly at him, and his ring beeps again. A brief flash of panic crosses her face.
Chat presses his lips together, then glances guiltily after Ladybug. She’s already long-gone from view, though, and when he pops out his communicator he just gets a blank screen in response, meaning she’s probably already de-transformed too, so he’s not--
. . . there’s a new contact in his communicator.
Chat stares at it. Then he looks back up at Vulpin, who looks nothing like she did during the fight--she was delighted and excited and aggressive and fearless, during the fight. He remembers the way the uncomfortable feeling in his gut he gets sometimes when Ladybug leaves used to hurt, compared to now. He’d always blamed it on the side effects of his crush or Plagg missing his partner, but maybe it was just . . . just being alone after something scary and exciting; just the crash and the letdown.
“Do you have food for your kwami on you?” he asks abruptly.
“Uh--yeah, I do,” Vulpin says, still looking unsettled. “Why?”
“Go recharge,” Chat says, jerking his head towards the nearest sufficiently secluded-looking alley. He’s gotten good at picking them out. Vulpin didn’t use her major power, whatever it is, but she still took a beating and her kwami’s only five minutes out of the box. “I’ll call you in fifteen minutes.”
“. . . call me?” Vulpin repeats in bemusement. Chat wags his baton at her with a grin.
“You’ll figure it out,” he promises, then backflips off the building.
Fifteen minutes, seven complaints from Plagg, and two wheels of Camembert later, a freshly-transformed Chat Noir flicks open his communicator again and dials up his brand-new contact. About thirty seconds after that, Vulpin--apparently--figures her own out and appears on-screen with a stressed-out expression.
“Hey there, foxy lady,” he says, putting on a flirty grin and flashing her a wink. Flirting with the new local hero is maybe not the smartest idea he’s ever had, but honestly, he has a very limited toolbox when it comes to getting along with other people. Like, he’s working on it, but yeah. When all you’ve got’s a hammer every problem does kind of start looking like a nail. “How’s our new superhero a-purr-entice?”
“Oh god, is this gonna be a thing?” Vulpin groans, dropping her face into her free hand. Well, that’s about the reaction Chat expected, so that probably means it’s safe to continue in the same vein. He thinks. Is . . . kind of sure?
“It’s definitely gonna be a thing, new kit,” he replies, grinning shamelessly.
“If you start calling me ‘foxaboo’ I really am gonna go work for Hawk Moth.”
“Hmmm, what about ‘foxtrot’? ‘Foxfire’? ‘Foxinette--’”
“So anyway can I call him on this thing or do I just have to run around pissing off random strangers until he butterflies one of them?”
“I--you know, I’ve never tried, actually,” Chat says, blinking in surprise at the question. The idea never even occurred to him before, but of course “before” he didn’t have two contacts in his list. Maybe Hawk Moth is an unlockable option. Or at least they might be able to e-mail him or something.
“Hmmm,” Vulpin says, eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
“Please don’t try,” Chat says, immediately alarmed. Vulpin smirks at him, looking much more like she did during the fight again--and, incidentally, much more vulpine too.
“Yeah, yeah,” she says. “But we’re checking that one out later.”
“Later,” Chat stresses, because they’re five minutes into being a trio--hopefully really for real, this time--and he definitely would like it to stick. “I mean, can you imagine the kind of voicemails pissed-off akuma would leave us, just for starters?”
“Ask me if I give a fox,” Vulpin replies with a smirk.
“Foxtrot!” Chat squeals, clapping a hand to his face in delight. “Think of the kittens!”
“Pretty sure foxes actually have kits soooo any theoretical ‘kittens’ are therefore not my responsibility. Too bad, so sad, caterwaul.”
Chat Noir loves superheroes. Chat Noir loves being a superhero, Chat Noir loves meeting superheroes, there is nothing about superheroes that Chat Noir does not love.
“You are absolutely mew-velous, Vulpin,” he purrs, grinning widely at her. She gives him a wry look in response.
“Mmmmhm,” she says. “So this is a secure line, then?”
“Um--I mean, it’s magic. Why wouldn’t it be?” Chat says, a little baffled by the question. Vulpin gives him this look.
“Ask me that again when we’ve figured out if we can dial up Hawk Moth on this thing,” she says.
“Ergh,” Chat says with a wince. He really never thought of that possibility. Plagg would’ve warned him though, wouldn’t he?
. . . well, at least Ladybug’s kwami would’ve warned her.
“Yeah,” Vulpin says, worrying her lower lip between her teeth and just barely frowning. “I know Ladybug said midnight, but . . .”
“But what?” Chat frowns too.
“Would you meet me on the roof of the Louvre?” Vulpin asks. “I have--questions. Like. A lot of them. And I’d feel better asking them in person.”
Well. If she’s a trap, this is probably the trap.
. . . but.
“I--okay,” Chat agrees uncomfortably, then abruptly clicks off his communicator without a goodbye and tries not to feel guilty. He shouldn’t feel guilty--he’s not going behind Ladybug’s back; he’s helping their new ally. Unless Vulpin’s a trap, in which case he’s just baiting said trap for Ladybug. Yet again.
But--he always wants more, doesn’t he? Another superhero falls under that category.
Maybe even another friend.
This is a bad idea and not something he should do without talking to Ladybug first--without at least telling Ladybug first.
But . . .
“Hey,” Vulpin says. Without the explosions or the screaming or Ladybug around to distract him, Chat can get a better look at her. Her outfit is a lot like Volpina’s, but there’s something a little wilder to it--to the way the colors of her suit are more blurred and blended, none of the sharp, crisp lines that defined Lila’s costume. Closer to the kind of pattern real fur would have, he thinks. Even her loose, puffy hair and the way her fluffed-out tail flicks from side to side stands out in comparison. Her mask’s so soft at the edges it almost looks painted on.
Wild, something in Chat thinks again in a weird, weird way; something tucked in under his ribs that squeezes in tight on itself as it has the thought.
“Hey,” he says, somehow managing to simultaneously feel like a dumb little mouse in a trap and a preening tom showing off for the new cat in the colony. Vulpin blinks at him, slow and deliberate, and the something under his ribs squeezes even tighter.
That means something, when a cat does it.
He wonders if it means something to foxes.
“So yeah,” Vulpin says. “Questions. I have them.”
“Answers. I may not have them,” Chat says. Vulpin gives him an incredulous look and he just shrugs. “The ring didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual. Heck, there wasn’t even an instruction pamphlet. And there’s stuff the kwamis won’t tell us. Or can’t? Not actually sure, honestly. Ladybug and I haven’t talked about that stuff very much, aside from the whole ‘no sharing the secret identities’ thing.”
“You’re kidding me,” Vulpin says flatly.
“Why would I joke about that?” Chat asks, wrinkling his nose at her in bemusement.
“It’s been months! It’s been months and you know they haven’t told you everything and you guys are still doing this?!” Vulpin demands. Her tail is bristling, and her hair’s fluffing up with it. It’s--really distracting. And kind of awesome.
“Well. Yes,” Chat says, not really sure how else to answer that one.
“. . . because someone . . . has to?” Chat replies, still confused. Because how could he give up Plagg, and being Chat Noir, and running over rooftops and leaping through the air and Ladybug?
“Oh my God,” Vulpin says, staring up at him disbelievingly as she rakes a hand back through her hair, though it still doesn’t settle from its bristled-out look. “I don’t--I don’t even know what to say to that. This. Any of this. I also have no idea if this makes Ladybug twice as amazing as I thought she was or a freaking idiot.”
“Ladybug’s always amazing,” Chat says, immediate and reflexive.
“I feel so bad for you two,” Vulpin says, still staring up at him. Chat’s ears flatten, and he frowns uncomfortably.
“You transformed,” he says.
“Obviously,” she says.
“Mmm,” Chat says, because he has no other explanation. How could anyone feel bad about--about something so miraculous?
“I don’t get it,” she says.
“Do you know how to play tag?” he asks.
“Wh--uh, yeah?” Vulpin gives him a strange look, that who doesn’t know THAT?? one that weirdo home-schooled kids have to get very used to very quick.
“I didn’t know how to play tag before I became Chat Noir,” Chat says. Vulpin gives him an even stranger look, and he shrugs. No matter how this ends or what Plagg won’t or can’t tell him, there’s nothing about being Chat Noir to feel bad about. He doesn’t know how to put that into words, exactly, because it feels so obvious, but . . .
“Wanna be ‘it’?” he asks.
“. . . okay,” she says, frowning at him again.
Playing tag is as a superhero is not actually just a game, or at least not the way tag is a game to normal people. It’s one of the things Chat Noir and Ladybug do together, as one of the closest things to actual “training” that they can manage between akuma-fights (as time together, time just for THEM, time that Adrien has treasured in the times that were almost too much to handle). More than one shared patrol has been more about playing tag or hide and seek or racing each other up the nearest building, and more than one akuma lost because Ladybug knew where Chat Noir would hide and Chat Noir knew which way Ladybug would run and they both knew exactly how fast the other was.
Adrien hadn’t fully realized how effectively playing could be a way to learn before becoming Chat Noir. Now he knows; now he dances along fence posts and chases Ladybug across rooftops and spins and tosses his baton just for the pleasure of watching the blur of motion and the glint of light flashing across the metal, for the pleasure of catching it again, doing a trick, doing something for no more reason than wanting to do it.
And now he’s showing Vulpin, who isn’t nearly as fast as him but is entirely fearless in learning how to be faster; where to jump on the rooftops and when to stick the landing and when to slide and when to tuck and roll. She’s fallen a few times, but never farther than the suit can handle, and she keeps--she’s been--
That’s a good sign, right? Chat’s almost sure it’s a good sign. He was worried. He thought she might just--not transform again after this. That maybe she was going to leave them before they ever really started.
He wants her to stay. He wants her to see how beautiful Paris is from the sky at night and play tag and hide and seek and race up buildings with them. He wants her to be a hero and be their partner and be their--and be their friend, he hopes.
Vulpin leaps across a street and scrambles over an apartment building and lands hard in an alley. Chat smirks down at her from the top of the fence he’s draped across and coyly wiggles his tail at her, snapping it back out of her reach and rolling backwards off the fence right before she would’ve caught it.
She scowls at him through the chain links.
She grins at him through the chain links.
He laughs, that thing under his ribs feeling tight and bright and light, and then he runs again.
It feels so good to run. But he always knew it’d feel good to run.
Adrien had never thought he’d liked being chased so much, before becoming Chat.
“You. Are not. Human,” Vulpin pants, bent in half with her hands braced on her thighs and barely managing to get the words out. She’s covered in sweat and her eyes are fever-colored. Chat gets that strange tight feeling in under his ribs again. He really likes the way it feels.
“Making excuses already, new kit?” he purrs at her from the other side of the rooftop, casually perched on top of his baton with a smug smirk. She hasn’t tagged him once yet.
“Again,” Vulpin demands, her eyes narrowing as she shoves herself back upright. She looks wild.
Never let it be said Chat Noir denied a lady’s request.
“Ohhhh, so close that time, foxtrot!”
“You catty little cheat!”
Chat Noir loves tag. Chat Noir loves Paris at night and Plagg and his Miraculous and Ladybug’s kwami and her Miraculous and also Vulpin’s kwami and Miraculous and the shine of lights reflecting all up and down the Seine and the Eiffel Tower’s sharp silhouette and Notre Dame’s high, high towers and the city all lit up underneath them.
Chat Noir does not love the fall that Vulpin takes off the top of one of the bell towers when she misjudges a jump and slips off the edge of the roof.
That’s farther than the suit can handle, he already knows, whipping out his baton and swan diving straight after her. They collide in mid-air, he extends his baton and jams it into the side of the building as a lever, and the lashback throws them out of the too-high drop and into the side of the building, where they then roll down onto a rooftop that is--well, at least not as high a drop.
It hurts, for the record, but not half as bad as watching someone else get hurt does.
Chat and Vulpin land in a dizzy crash and both go rolling ass over elbows, and Chat’s not sure which way the sky is until he feels Vulpin trying to push herself up on top of him. She’s heavy. Strong. Quick. Smart. She almost got hurt trying to keep up with him.
“Oh,” Vulpin says, freezing right there--heavy and strong and weighing him down in a way that makes him feel a weird, weird way he doesn’t even know how to start to examine and--
Chat hisses, his eyes widening in shock, and Vulpin keeps staring down at him.
The new lip-print mark on her cheek is the most vivid, electric shade of green he’s ever seen in his life. If he’d thought the weird practically bioluminescent color he’d left on Nino was green . . . hah.
And it’s a lip-print soulmark.
It’s a . . . it’s a kiss soulmark.
“It’s red,” Vulpin says stupidly.
“What?” Chat asks, even more stupidly. His brain isn’t catching up.
“Your mark,” Vulpin says, pointing at her face--her soulmark-kissed face--but staring at his mouth.
“Oh. Oh!” Chat blurts, shoulders hunching against the roof and face immediately reddening. “Yours is--yours is green. It’s, uh. It’s really green.”
“Yeah,” Vulpin says vaguely, not looking away from his mouth. “Makes sense. That’s . . . pretty red. A little orange-y too, but . . . yeah. Really dark red, otherwise.”
He wonders if it’s anything like the color of her hair.
He should not be wondering that right now.
“Miraculous Ladybug,” Chat says. He’s screwed. Ladybug’s going to kill him. His father’s going to kill him. Hawk Moth is going to kill everyone.
“What?” Vulpin finally looks him in the eye again, if only to convey her bafflement. Chat swallows.
“Miraculous Ladybug is supposed to--if this happens, Miraculous Ladybug is supposed to fix it. So our identities aren’t compromised,” he says.
“But Ladybug already cast it,” Vulpin says, glancing around like she thinks Ladybug will just appear again. Chat wishes she would.
“Uh-huh,” he says, biting his lip with a cringe. Vulpin pales and finally shoves herself up off him completely. He tells himself he does not miss her weight. He’s not a very good liar, though.
“We can’t go around with soulmarks that show!” she hisses, gesturing frantically between their faces. “There’s no way we’ll be able to keep our identities secret like that! Oh my god I’ve been a superhero for four hours and I’ve already ruined everything, oh my god, what’s Ladybug gonna think?!”
“I, uh. I already had a soulmark on my face. Under my . . .” Chat rolls carefully to his side to face her and gestures awkwardly at his mask, trying not to indicate any part of it more strongly than another. “It’s why my mask is bigger than Ladybug’s. I think probably the next time we transform the suits will change to cover them.”
“The next time we transform everyone in Paris is going to notice that!” Vulpin says shrilly, clutching at her head with a panicked expression. “They have footage of me from tonight! They have months of footage of you! You think nobody you know’s gonna pick up on the face you got a lipstick soulmark right when Chat Noir’s mask just randomly decided to start covering his mouth?!”
“Honestly, it’s kind of fifty-fifty,” Chat admits; Father probably won’t even see him anytime soon, much less notice a new soulmark on him, even someplace as obvious as his mouth. And it’s not like Nathalie or the Gorilla would care that much--he can’t think of anyone who would, really.
. . . well, Nino might. And Chloe, probably. But neither of them are really Chat Noir fans, and anyway Chloe’d probably care more about who it’d come . . . from . . .
“Oh yeah?! And what about when they ask you who you kissed for it?!” Vulpin demands, obviously having reached the same conclusion.
“I don’t . . .” Chat trails off weakly, tentatively reaching up to touch his lips. The apple of Vulpin’s cheek is still marked with that vibrant, electric green kiss. They’d only accidentally smashed their faces together in the fall, when they’d both had bigger worries than keeping their skin off each other, but it looks . . . it looks very deliberate, even so.
He could--he could lean towards her, and they could just . . .
“This is not good,” Vulpin says.
They could touch, he thinks.
They could do it again, he thinks.
“Does that make it bad?” Chat asks softly, and Vulpin falls silent and just . . . looks at him.
Vulpin is a trap, maybe. Vulpin is going to love him, definitely.
And he’s going to love her, too.
Adrien pays enough attention when he’s in the makeup chair to know how lipstick works, especially the kind you need to actually stick. Lipstick that will cover up a scarlet-orange soulmark while not looking like lipstick, on the other hand . . .
Yeah. That’s a bit more complicated.
He’s never actually realized before, either, but he doesn’t actually know the “right” color for his lips. It wouldn’t be a problem if he could just use one of the usual shades he gets put in for shoots, but even if there weren’t a difference between a camera-ready “natural” look and the real thing live and in person, he’d still have to deal with the likelihood of the soulmark affecting the way the color looks once it’s on.
So, somehow, he needs to figure out how to do lipstick that will not only cover the mark but won’t let anything show through and will still look close enough to his mouth’s original color that it won’t be painfully obvious. Oh, and it also has to look like he’s wearing literally no lipstick at all.
Yes. This is going to work out so well. Definitely.
“I’m screwed,” Adrien says, staring despondently at his bathroom mirror and the mess of hastily-purchased makeup scattered in front of it. He was right; the red-orange of his new soulmark isn’t very far off from Vulpin’s hair. “I can’t get away with this. Even if I pull it off for a few days, it’s still only going to last until the next photoshoot, and then someone’s going to sit me down in the makeup chair and realize I’m already wearing lipstick. And that’s assuming I even do a good enough job that it’ll last through school and fencing practice first!”
“Told you soulmarks counted as damage,” Plagg says from his shoulder, eyeing his reflection lazily.
Adrien just groans and sinks into a crouch, dropping his head into his hands. Nothing like this ever happened with Ladybug. All the times they fought together, ran into each other, crashed together, collided--
Nothing like this ever happened with Ladybug.
He can’t exactly regret it happening with Vulpin, though.
(although maybe, maybe, MAYBE he regrets it not happening with Ladybug first.)
He needs to tell Ladybug, though.
Except he has no idea how to do that without risking compromising their identities: the one secret she insists they keep above all others. Chat Noir’s going to get a new mask, but Adrien’s not going to be able to hide his lips forever. Vulpin’s civilian identity probably has a better shot with her cheek, but that’s not guaranteed either.
And it’s getting awfully close to midnight.
“Claws out,” he says, and watches Chat Noir overtake Adrien Agreste in the mirror in a rush of the same electric green color of the mark on Vulpin’s cheek.
He might never get to see that mark again, he realizes.
The mask isn’t a domino mask anymore; it extends the full length of Chat’s face down to his chin and covers his nose and mouth completely, the design--unsurprisingly--reminiscent of a cat’s muzzle. There’s a hinge hidden in the jaw, and when he opens his mouth it opens with it. His voice isn’t obstructed or muffled, but his soulmarked lips aren’t visible at all.
His teeth look . . . sharper.
Or maybe they just always look like that when he’s Chat. He doesn’t exactly hang out in front of the mirror while transformed all that much.
. . . not usually, anyway.
He’ll have to tell Ladybug, either way.
He doesn’t know how he’s going to tell Ladybug.
Chat gets to the Eiffel Tower right on time and steps off his baton just as Ladybug swings in from the opposite side. Vulpin is already waiting for them. Her mask is bigger than it was, but his is obviously the more distracting one.
“Chat?” Ladybug says, giving him a startled look. “What happened to your mask?”
“Long story,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. He already misses being able to smirk at her. “Actually, no, very short story. Um, it’s just . . . it’s kind of . . .”
“Are you hurt?” she asks, tensing.
“I--no, my lady,” he manages. “Vulpin and I . . . we met up again and talked after you left. And we accidentally . . . well . . .”
“I fell off Notre Dame,” Vulpin supplies, making a loopy, illustrative gesture with her flute. “He caught me.”
“We hit our faces together,” Chat says, trying not to wince. Ladybug stares at him. “Please don’t be mad, Ladybug, we didn’t mean to do it, it was--”
“I’m not mad,” she cuts him off abruptly.
Could fool him, Chat thinks; her expression is very strained.
“You’re soulmates,” Ladybug says.
“Yes, my lady,” Chat says, repressing another wince. It’s not as if he’s upset about finding another soulmate--how could he ever be?--but . . .
“Don’t tell me anything about the marks,” Ladybug orders immediately, her shoulders tensing.
“Yes, my lady,” Chat says, hanging his head even as he peers at her through the fringe of his bangs. Normally he’d tease her or at least say something playful, but he doesn’t know how to treat that strange, strained look on her face. He misses the expressiveness of his own in a sudden and visceral way; wishes there’d been another way to hide the mark without denying him the ability to smile at Ladybug and Vulpin and whoever he wanted.
“I mean, the fact we have them at all is already pretty damning, isn’t it?” Vulpin says. “We saw them.”
“I said don’t tell me anything,” Ladybug says a little too sharply, her jaw jutting out stubbornly. “And if you find out each other’s identities--if you--”
“We won’t tell you,” Chat promises immediately. “We won’t risk--”
“You--” Ladybug clenches her fists, although her eyes are big and bright and something about her is still so strange. “My stupid kitty.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, shoulders hunching. He wants her to pet his hair or flick his bell or push him away with a fingertip to the nose, except of course now the mask would be in the way of that. He gets her bracing herself and letting out a harsh breath.
“We still need to talk,” she says, turning to Vulpin.
(he wants to smile at Ladybug and have her see it.
he already misses the sight of that electric green on Vulpin’s cheek.)
Ladybug has questions. Vulpin has questions too.
They’re good questions, both of theirs; a lot of them are ones that Chat took ages to think of himself or has never thought about at all. He also finds out he knows more than he actually thinks he does about certain things, because the way Vulpin asks or something in Ladybug’s answer makes him realize things he never quite did before.
Ladybug is still suspicious. She keeps looking at the soft edge of Vulpin’s mask, where it’s bled a kiss-width’s wider than it did before. Chat wonders if they’re soulmates too, although really, how could they not be?
They look like they might kill each other. They look like they want to grab on tight and never, never let go.
Chat hangs back and watches them, waiting for them to . . . decide, he supposes.
Even once they’ve all gone their separate ways for the night, he’s not sure either of them has.
geez, that was intense, Vulpin texts before Chat’s even halfway home. did she hate me? can you tell if she hated me?
He stops on a secluded rooftop with a good corner to hide in, out of both the wind and any obvious lines of sight, and tries to figure out how to answer that. He loves Ladybug, but he doesn’t always understand what she’s thinking--or he thinks he understands, but she denies or evades it, and then he’s not sure anymore.
He’s still not all that great at reading people, okay?
I don’t know, he answers finally. do you think she hated ME?
what? what kind of question is THAT?
nothing. forget it.
CHAT NOIR OH MY GOD
I said forget it, he says, and tries to put the baton away but it just keeps beeping and when he finally gives up two blocks later and opens it again Vulpin’s sent him the same message over and over a good dozen times.
you are the literal dumbest cat alive, I am gonna feed you TO the next akuma, oh my GOD, Chat Noir, of course Ladybug doesn’t hate you!!
you’ll be there for the next akuma? Chat can’t help asking. He doesn’t want to talk about the other stuff.
obviously, catastrophe, Vulpin says. I mean, c’mon, where else would I be?
That’s a question Chat would really like the answer to, actually, when the next afternoon the next akuma drops like a freaking earthquake and takes out half a block with one literal wrecking-ball of an attack. At least there’s no school today.
It is still maybe not the ideal day for Chat “Destruction Specialist Extraordinaire” Noir to be the first and only superhero on the scene. Not if the rest of the block wants to stay intact, anyway.
Still--where else would he be?
Aside from getting thrown into a lot of buildings, apparently. No, sorry: through a lot of buildings.
Meow-ch, as Chat would say if he hadn’t had all the air knocked out of him twice over.
The akuma grabs him by the ankle and starts dragging him. Chat feels like there’s fireworks going off inside his eye sockets but does his best to pretend he’s completely unconscious in the hopes the akuma underestimates him once he actually gets a damn handle on himself again. He’s not sure if they’re buying it, since they keep ranting and raving about the alleged incompetence of their bosses and their subordinates and how it wasn’t their fault about how the new building turned out the whole time they’re dragging him, but that might just be akuma being akuma.
“Ladybug!” they roar furiously, whipping around. “Where are you, you coward?! I’m going to take his Miraculous and drown him in cement! I’ll build cookie-cutter apartments on top of him!”
Oh God, is that on the table? Chat really hopes that’s not on the table. Ladybug’s going to show up, obviously, and it’ll all be fine then, it’s just--that sounds very un-fur-tunate.
. . . it’s kind of depressing when he can’t pun out loud, actually. Where’s the fun?
“Fine, then you can pry him out of his coffin!”
Oh, well. That bodes poorly, Chat thinks, just barely cracking an eye open and trying to figure out what he can safely Cataclysm without Cataclysm-ing the actual akuma. That’s--not a line he really wants to cross. Okay, if he goes for the thick-soled heel of their closer boot he can put them off balance and then--
“LADYBUG!” the akuma roars again.
“CHAT NOIR!” Vulpin shrieks.
Or this could happen, Chat thinks, eyes snapping wide open just in time to see Ladybug’s yo-yo dropping into view right in front of him and Vulpin come slamming down on top of the akuma like a righteous avalanche, her flute screeching discordantly as it smashes into their face.
Well, he has a type, Chat thinks as he grabs the yo-yo string and Ladybug whips him into the air. Clearly.
He lands safe and sound three stories up in Ladybug’s arms. Vulpin’s flute screams in the street below.
So does the akuma.
“Oh, wow,” Chat squeaks as he stares down at the fight, reflexively clinging to Ladybug--because Ladybug, obviously, but also because holy crap, Vulpin. Ladybug looks mildly impressed. “She remembers she has powers, right? Like, that she can do things with?”
“I’M GOING TO PIN YOUR MOTH-LOVING ASS TO THE WALL!” Vulpin howls.
“Not sure, actually,” Ladybug says, her head tilting thoughtfully. “I mean, did you tell her?”
“Kwami!” Chat protests automatically. Since when is that not a kwami thing?
“Okay, yeah, we better tell her,” Ladybug says. The akuma screeches in terror. “. . . you know, after she’s done here.”
“Does, uh, she know I was playing possum?” Chat asks, biting his soulmarked lip as he flicks his eyes back and forth between Ladybug and the fight. Ladybug obviously had been--she’d dropped her yo-yo for him to grab, after all, not snatched him off the ground--but Vulpin barely knows him, so . . .
“Mmmm, I’m gonna go with a no on that one, kitty,” Ladybug decides. Both their heads tilt back in unison to watch the akuma go flying. Vulpin is already racing after it to grand-slam smash it with her flute again before it even lands, which is--which is a thing that just happened, definitely.
And look, okay, akuma are technically not responsible for their actions and everything, but the part of Chat that got smashed through all those buildings is still secretly kind of enjoying this.
“Okay then,” he says, tightening his arms around Ladybug’s neck and still staring at Vulpin as she starts spinning her flute threateningly. It starts shrieking. The akuma visibly palls. Yes. Okay.
Chat definitely has a type.
Oh man, does he ever.
Fight over, akumatized item snapped, Ladybug fist-bumped, and--
“Are you okay?!” Vulpin demands even as a million magical ladybugs finish vomiting restorative glitter all over them, patting Chat down frantically under the sparkles. It’s treatment he could get used to, frankly. Not that he would, obviously, just--uh--
“Fine!” he squeaks, suddenly grateful for the new mask. No matter what color his face may or may not be, no one is gonna be able to tell. Definitely. Definitely no one.
“That was pretty good,” Ladybug tells Vulpin as she hands the victim their restored and de-butterflied building plans. “Way less fire and explosions than last time. Still a lot of screaming, but we can work on that.”
“I can definitely arrange more screaming,” Vulpin says through gritted teeth, scowling to herself and giving Chat one more pat-down. He heroically does not enjoy it.
. . . much.
“What happened?” the victim asks dazedly, clutching their blueprints to their chest. Vulpin bares her teeth at them and flattens her ears with a threatening hiss, and they make an alarmed noise and recoil. Chat resists the urge to swoon. It’s definitely not appropriate in this situation.
“Everything’s fine,” he says, patting Vulpin on the back. She winces, looking embarrassed. Does that mean the hissing was an instinctive reaction, not a deliberate one?
Well, that’s . . . that is also a thing, isn’t it.
Chat’s ring beeps, Ladybug’s earrings go off, and Vulpin groans and drops her head back on her neck. He flashes her a sheepish two-fingered salute and Ladybug gives her a grin.
“See you around, newbie,” she says, snapping her yo-yo out. “Oh, you’re okay dealing with the reporters, right?”
“I do not want to,” Vulpin says.
“That’s the spirit. Oh, and make sure to give the girl who runs the Ladyblog our love when she gets here, I heard she missed your debut fight and she’s gotta be dying for footage by now,” Ladybug says teasingly, then grabs Chat around the waist and sends them both zipping off above the rooftops. He very heroically does not enjoy that, either.
Probably only because she doesn’t take him all the way to wherever she’s going, admittedly, but still. A cat’s got to have some standards.
Chat Noir’s communicator goes off halfway through that night’s solo patrol and he stops to check it, feeling that usual weird guilty rush where he can’t decide if he’s hoping if there’s an akuma or not. There’s not, but Vulpin’s texted him.
sorry we were late today, she says. you shouldn’t have been stuck out there alone.
it’s cool, new kit, it happens, Chat says. Not all that often in superhero-ing, compared to the rest of his life, but he’s still used to it. sorry we kinda ditched you.
please, like I can’t handle REPORTERS. and I don’t care if ‘it happens’, okay, I’m gonna do my best to see it DOESN’T, Vulpin says. Chat feels himself flush under his mask and presses his fingertips to the mouth of it. He doesn’t really know how to answer that.
ooooo, I’m blushing over here, foxtrot! <3 he settles for, to keep from being too embarrassingly serious. And she doesn’t need to know it’s the truth. She wouldn’t know it was the truth even if she was here, so . . .
oh? your ears go all pink again like this afternoon, tiger?
“I can never look her in the eye again,” Adrien moans despondently into his pillow. “My newest soulmate and I can never look at her again.”
“Had a few blind Cats over the years,” Plagg says thoughtfully as he heartlessly makes a pillow out of Adrien’s head, the little monster. “You want one of their masks next time? They were pretty good designs, if I do say so myself.”
“You are the worst and I hate you,” Adrien mutters sullenly, dragging the other pillow over his head to smush him. Plagg just phases through with a cackle. “Plaaaaaaagg!”
“Relax, kitten,” Plagg snorts. Adrien startles slightly at the unexpected--endearment, maybe?--and looks up; Plagg freezes for a second and then zips off back to his cheese plate. “Who even cares?!” he calls back haughtily. “Soulmarks are kid stuff!”
Adrien bites his soulmarked-lip for the thousandth time, curls his fingers into his bedspread, and keeps pretending not to know about the pawprint.
“I care,” he says anyway, trying not to be--stupidly obvious or anything. “I love all my soulmarks very much.”
Plagg ignores him, his back already turned and body language making it very clear that he’s much too busy with his cheese to care about such a boring conversation anymore. Adrien lays his head back down on the pillow and closes his eyes. It’s not like he’s not used to getting ignored when he talks about that kind of thing. Plagg’s still nicer about it than Father, though not quite as nice as Ladybug.
He wonders just how many Chat Noirs Plagg’s marked, anyway. Five thousand plus years seems like it would be a pretty long time even for a god.
He wonders if he’s going to get to keep Plagg’s mark for the rest of his life.
An embarrassing amount of experimentation later, Adrien is almost sure he got the lipstick right. Nathalie doesn’t say anything when she sees him, but more importantly Chloe doesn’t say anything when he gets to school. If anyone was going to notice, at least right away, it was definitely going to be Chloe.
He spends the day hyper-aware of the feel of makeup on his mouth in a way he hasn’t been since he first started modelling, but it doesn’t smudge or smear or wear off and he manages to eat lunch without ruining it, so at least that works out for him.
He can’t help kind of hating it, though.
Ladybug and Chat Noir don’t have patrol together again for another three nights.
Vulpin turns up on the second.
Chat . . . well. He doesn’t fall off the roof, exactly, but maybe a little bit down it.
“Vulpin!” he exclaims in surprise, not sure if he’s delighted or confused. Both, probably. Both sounds about right.
“Hey,” she says, giving him an awkward little wave. “Can I come tonight?”
“Absolutely,” Chat replies immediately, bouncing back to his feet. He can show her his route. Or help her come up with her own. Or--
“Cool,” Vulpin says, mouth spreading into a pleased smirk. “So . . . your turn to be it tonight, right, tiger?”
It feels so good to run.
“Geez!” Vulpin laughs when she finally collapses in the middle of someone’s rooftop garden, breathing hard and with clear intent not to move again, at least for the moment. It doesn’t make her look any less wild. Something in Chat--that undefinable thing living under his ribs, maybe--wants to keep chasing her.
The same thing also wants to run, so . . . yeah. Probably the thing under his ribs.
“You are, like, stupidly good at that game,” Vulpin says.
“I like tag,” Chat says with a shrug, trying to figure out if he’s supposed to sit down next to her or keep watch or who knows what.
“Uh-huh,” she snorts, then rolls onto her stomach and eyes the patio furniture on the other side of the garden before making a feeble gesture towards it. “Ugh. Why didn’t I get telekinesis? Is that not a good enough magical superpower, somehow?”
“Maybe not a very vulpine one, new kit,” Chat says, soulmarked lips twitching in amusement behind his mask. He remembers the sight of electric green again.
“Still don’t give a fox,” Vulpin scoffs, rolling her eyes. Chat wants to scoop her up and carry her over to the patio furniture bridal-style and ask to see her mark again and ask to see her without her mask altogether. Something about her has burned into him just as intensely and just as quickly as the thing he feels for Ladybug first did.
She’s his soulmate, of course.
So of course.
Vulpin pushes herself to her hands and feet and slinks over to the patio furniture on all fours. Chat turns bright red and barely stops himself from pouncing. She curls up on the big chaise and gives him a tired smirk as she pats the space beside her, and at some point during the blue screen of death moment Chat’s body apparently manages to find its way over there and curl up with her, their sides pressed close.
They’ve been closer than this--obviously, between the akuma attacks and the Notre Dame incident--but being this close so deliberately triggers a weird, restless rush that makes the thing under Chat’s ribs do backflips inside him.
“You know, I always thought you guys were these amazing heroes who knew everything. I thought you maybe really were five thousand years old,” Vulpin says, staring distantly up at the sky. “But if I’m one of you . . .”
“Well, LB is still pretty amazing,” Chat points out reasonably. Vulpin laughs.
“You’re both amazing,” she says, rolling her head to grin over at him. “You’re probably even more amazing than I thought.”
“So I guess that makes you amazing too, right?” he asks with a grin. She flushes past the edges of her mask, then frowns a little and looks away.
“I just . . . don’t know what to do,” she says after a moment.
“About being Vulpin?” Chat guesses, uncertain again.
“. . . no.” Vulpin bites her lip. Chat feels his own mouth burn and reflexively imitates the gesture. She won’t see it anyway. “I know what I’m doing about that.”
“Why do you have to do anything, then?” he asks.
“Mmm.” Vulpin looks back at the sky for a moment, then closes her eyes. “My civilian life isn’t really designed for this. I mean. I designed it that way myself, obviously, but . . .”
“You can’t change it?” he asks, frowning a little.
“I could,” she says, then laughs weakly as she worms an arm underneath him and across the back of his shoulders. “God, though, I did so much work. I did so much. I just . . . I wasn’t planning on being the hero.”
“You’re pretty good at it so far,” Chat says, hesitantly tucking his head in under her chin. She beckoned him over and touched him first, so it’s okay, right?
Vulpin rubs the back of his ears, which he is going to take as a very resounding yes.
He purrs. It’s a reflex. She laughs again.
“You’re cute,” she says. “I mean, I knew you were cute, you’re pretty obvious about it. But still. How’s the soulmark problem working out?”
“Lipstick,” he tells her. “Took a while to find the right color, but nobody’s noticed yet. Or at least nobody’s acted like they’ve noticed yet. Maybe my whole class just made a secret pact to pretend I was fooling them. What about you?”
“Cover-up’s doing its damnedest,” Vulpin says, shifting a little bit to get more comfortable. An electric little thrill goes up the back of Chat’s neck and he can’t decide between tucking his face in tighter against her neck or looking at her face. “Gotta re-apply it waaaaay too often, though.”
“What are you using?” he asks with a frown. She tells him, brand and shade both, although she seems to think the question’s funny. He’s not sure why. “Oh. Yeah, no surprise, that stuff’s not really that good. You’re lucky it works at all.”
“‘That stuff’ is the best stuff I can afford,” Vulpin grumbles, then gestures pointedly at herself. “You know how hard it is to find makeup in my color to begin with, caterwaul?”
“. . . point,” Chat says, wincing a little. He’s heard more than a few makeup artists complaining about that, to say nothing of other models. He’s known some who literally bring their own makeup to shows, even.
“Yyyyeah,” Vulpin says. “So don’t judge, boy, I’m doing my best over here.”
“Sorry,” he says. Vulpin pinches his ear.
“Mmmhm,” she says wryly.
They settle in a little more comfortably again and don’t move for a little bit. It feels nice not to. Chat doesn’t ever get to be this close to his soulmates for this long, not even as Adrien--Chloe would take it the wrong way, Nino he still doesn’t really know how to broach the subject of “is it okay if we hug more” with, and Marinette he really doesn’t know how to broach it with. And shouldn’t. Ever.
(and he’s supposed to pretend not to know about the pawprint.)
And Ladybug, of course, is Ladybug.
It feels really nice, being like this. Chat wishes he could have it more often. “More” is happening more and more these days, so . . . maybe. Maybe Vulpin will want to do this kind of thing all the time, if he’s lucky.
“Someone’s going to notice mine soon,” he admits quietly after a little while longer, hiding his face in her neck after all. He’s got a photo shoot in a week and a half. “I can’t--well. Secret identity stuff. I can’t really explain why. But they’re going to.”
“Maybe you should just out the mark now?” Vulpin says uncertainly after a moment’s pause of her own. “Like . . . just tell people you accidentally bumped into a stranger in a crowd and you didn’t realize in time, so you don’t know know who it was. And then it won’t be super-obvious to the people who know you that it happened right when you got the new mask.”
“Unless you know me,” Chat says.
“Um--that’s pretty unlikely, tiger, considering we live in a city of two million people,” Vulpin points out wryly. Likelier than she thinks, he reflects ruefully, if she ever looks at billboards or fashion magazines. Even if most of them do edit out his soulmarks.
“I’m pretty sure Ladybug and I go to the same school,” he says instead, because that’s also a valid thing. Vulpin blinks.
“What?” she asks.
“Alya Cesaire--you know, the girl who runs the Ladyblog--she found a book that it looked like Ladybug dropped, one time,” he says hesitantly. “And, uh . . . it was a book from my school. One that no other school in Paris is using.”
“. . . ah,” Vulpin says slowly. “Right. Well. I guess that would be a pretty big clue by four there, wouldn’t it.”
“Kinda,” Chat says. “And we’ve all been close enough to get to pretty much every akuma attack in time, haven’t we. So it’s not actually that unlikely you might see my civilian form around. Hell, you could just run into me after a detransformation.”
“Okay, but the alternate option is you explaining why you’re deliberately hiding a soulmark,” Vulpin says, frowning. “Can you even do that?”
“. . . maybe,” Chat says. People do get weird about kiss soulmarks. He could pretend he didn’t want his fans to see it, or that his father’d told him to keep it covered up, or any number of other things. Except he’d have to pretend that at every shoot from now on and hope word didn’t get around anyway, which seems . . . not very likely, to be honest. “I mean. Technically. But probably not that convincingly. And that would mean . . . I mean, people don’t usually hide soulmarks for nice reasons.”
“So?” Vulpin asks.
“So what am I gonna do when this is all over and you maybe let me introduce you to people someday?” he asks softly.
“. . . you’re adorable,” Vulpin says, tangling her fingers in his hair and sounding mildly despairing. He doesn’t lift his head to look at her face. “Stop wearing the lipstick, catastrophe. Tell them the subway doors closed right before we noticed and you’re still looking for me.”
“Okay,” he murmurs. “I can do that.”
He waited a really long time for more soulmates. He’s pretty good at waiting, now. And really--Vulpin’s right here. His mark is right there under her mask, and hers is right here under his, and she’s smart and strong and asks all the right questions and already knows just where to scratch to make him purr. She’s just as perfect as Ladybug, for exactly the same and completely different reasons.
So yeah. He can wait.
They don’t move for a long time. At one point, he presses the mouth of his mask to the cheek of hers, almost as if their marks could touch, and she smiles and leans into it.
It’s something he’s going to remember.
Then they fall asleep on the roof like total idiots and wake up around sunrise and both have to bolt home in a full-out panic, but by some miracle that Adrien entirely does not deserve he makes it home before he’s supposed to come down for breakfast.
He stares at himself in the bathroom mirror for just a moment, then just . . . doesn’t apply the lipstick.
And then he goes to school.
It’ll be okay, Adrien reassures himself. People get new soulmarks all the time, especially at their age. The kiss part’s a little worse, admittedly, especially at their age, but still. Nobody’s gonna make that much of a fuss.
“You kissed somebody?!” Chloe shrieks the second he walks into the classroom, and everyone in the room immediately stops dead and turns to stare at him.
Adrien wants to sink through the floor.
But also, it’s Vulpin on him, so . . . no, no he really doesn’t.
“Kinda?” he says, putting on an embarrassed expression (it isn’t hard; he definitely IS embarrassed) and rubbing the back of his neck. “Um, there was this girl on the metro last night . . . we sort of accidentally bumped into each other when she was getting on the train. And, uh. When I was getting off. We, uh. Didn’t notice ‘til the doors closed, so . . .”
“A girl?!” Chloe demands, sounding offended.
“Oh, dude,” Nino says, wincing painfully. “Did she come back to the stop?”
“It was the express,” Adrien says, wincing too. He practiced in the car on the way over.
“Brother,” Nino says, and then he and Chloe and half the class practically swarm him in concern and Adrien flushes in further embarrassment.
“It’s okay!” he insists, holding his hands up. “Really! I mean, I got a pretty good look at her and her mark. I’m not gonna forget what that looked like.”
“You are so stupid, Agreste,” Chloe seethes, then grabs him by the face and kisses her own mark on him at the same time Nino presses in against his side, elbow-to-elbow.
Between the two of them Adrien feels warm and floaty and a little stupid and maybe a little tiny bit like crying because Ladybug won’t touch him and Vulpin has to be a secret, and just for a moment wishes Marinette were there to take his hand too. She’s not here, though--probably late again, knowing her, or maybe she and Alya are doing something before class, because actually Alya’s missing too, isn’t she--and it’s not like that’d be fair to ask anyway. Marinette almost never wants to touch soulmarks with him.
Still. It might be nice, right now.
Ever, really. But especially right now.
Adrien eventually talks down the class enough to get some space, by which he means he manages not to look like he’s about to cry and Chloe chases them all back to their seats while Nino grips the deep blue mark on his elbow and lets him grip his green one in return. Nino presses their foreheads together for a moment, and Adrien breathes out shakily.
“It’s okay, brother,” Nino says quietly to him, low enough that no one can hear over Chloe shouting at Alix and Kim for “being too close to her Adrikins’ bubble” or some other weird thing he doesn’t really understand. Adrien’s not sure if she and Nino are coordinating on purpose or not. “I know what these things mean to you. We’ll help you find her.”
“It’s okay,” Adrien repeats, and maybe then he does look like he’s about to cry, judging from the look Nino gives him. That’s when Marinette and Alya walk into the classroom, though, and he tries to refocus on them before he actually does. Which he shouldn’t, obviously. Vulpin is on his mouth and in his contacts and she isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Ladybug, on him or not.
“Where’s the fire?” Alya asks, looking dubious. “We could hear Chloe freaking out from halfway down the hall.”
“It’s my fault,” Adrien says, giving her an embarrassed smile. Alya and Marinette look at him. Marinette’s eyes widen in surprise. Alya drops her backpack.
“You got another soulmark!” Marinette exclaims, her face lighting up. “Adrien, that’s wonderful!”
“I did,” Adrien says as his smile widens, a sudden soothing rush going through him at her reaction. Even if they aren’t very close soulmates, well--there’s a reason Marinette is one of his soulmates.
“It’s kind of orange-y,” Alya says. Her voice sounds weird.
“Um.” Adrien ducks his head and touches his mouth, not sure how to take that. “A little, yeah. More red, though. Hers was, uh--it was green.”
“Green,” Alya repeats slowly, a strange look on her face. If Adrien didn’t know better, he’d think she was horrified. But--well, reading people is not exactly a natural skill of his. And it’s a really strange look. “And you met her . . .”
“I didn’t, really,” Adrien says, biting his lip--his soulmark.
“Poor idiots slammed into each other going opposite ways on the Metro and didn’t even realize ‘til the doors shut,” Nino says with a grimace. “And it was the express.”
“Oh, Adrien,” Marinette says, her eyes widening again. She looks distressed. Alya looks--
Alya looks . . . strange.
After school, Adrien sneaks out to buy a couple of better quality concealers that might work for Vulpin, and when he transforms for the night he tucks them into the pockets of his suit and hopes nothing will happen to break them. Tonight’s patrol with Ladybug, but maybe she’ll show up anyway.
He’d like to play tag again. He’s heard it’s more fun with more people.
“Do you remember Dark Cupid?” Ladybug asks him while they’re taking a break on top of the Eiffel Tower, swinging her yo-yo back and forth idly. There’s been no sign of Vulpin yet, but Chat holds out hope. He doesn’t exactly mind the time alone with Ladybug either, though. “The black lipstick that showed up on his victims when he shot them?”
“Yes?” he says, frowning in confusion at the topic. “I mean, sort of. I mean . . . well, I remember hearing about it later, I mean.”
“I saved you,” Ladybug says, watching her yo-yo swing.
“You always save me,” Chat says immediately, because of course she does. Ladybug gives him a wry look and does a quick, looping yo-yo trick--just to do it, as far as he can tell. Just because of wanting to.
“Do you want to know how I saved you?” she asks, and something about the way she asks leaves him breathless with anticipation. He nods mutely, and her yo-yo snaps back into her palm, a bright spot in the dark.
And he’s not even thinking that for the pun, for the record.
Ladybug turns her yo-yo over in her hands. She tilts her head. She asks, very quietly: “Do you want to know what color our marks were, after I saved you?”
“Oh,” Chat breathes, all of him lighting up. “Oh, yes please, my lady.”
Ladybug smiles at him again, something a little painful in it. She puts away her yo-yo and takes his hand and bows to kiss his ring just like he would to kiss her hand. Chat feels a warm and dizzy rush pour through him and is pretty sure he’d fall off the tower altogether if she weren’t holding onto him.
She straightens up and squeezes his hand. He is definitely going to fall off the tower if she lets go.
“We didn’t have any,” she says. The bottom nearly drops out of Chat’s stomach, but Ladybug doesn’t stop talking. “But I felt you in a mark I already had.”
Chat stills, and the rush this time is electric.
“You--have you known--” he tries, but she’s already shaking her head.
“You’re somewhere on my hands,” she says, sparing him another brief, rueful smile. “Along with about a dozen other people. So no, I don’t know who you are. Not for sure. I thought I shouldn’t try to find out. But . . . well, I could narrow it down pretty far, if I tried to.”
He stares at her.
“Do you want me to try to?” she asks.
“My Lady, I’ve never wanted anything more in my life,” Chat finally manages to croak out. “But you don’t have to. I’ve only ever--only one person has me on their hand.”
“I wondered,” Ladybug murmurs, her eyes flicking down unerringly to--his right hand. Yes. No doubt in her at all. “I thought I was crazy. Or I thought . . .”
“Thought what?” Chat asks, his heart halfway up his throat.
“Tell you later, kitty,” Ladybug says, squeezing his hand again before letting go. “It’s my turn to be it, right?”
He loves being chased.
And he loves being caught even more.
meet me at the Louvre, says the text from Vulpin that pops up almost immediately after the end of patrol. Chat’s a little surprised she waited instead of coming out to meet them, but he goes. Vulpin is already on the roof once he gets there; he wonders if she was already there when she texted.
“We have a problem, Chat,” she says the moment he lands, her shoulders tense and her fists clenched tight. “I saw--you were right. I saw you. It’s actually funny how fast I saw you. Or sad, maybe, I don’t know.”
What did you think? is absolutely the wrong answer to that question, Chat thinks.
“What did you think?” he asks. Vulpin buries her face in her hands, then throws them in the air.
“Nothing! Too much! I don’t know!” she says in frustration, clutching at her hair as it and her tail bristle up. “It wasn’t supposed to be--you weren’t supposed to be--”
“You don’t like me,” Chat realizes, his stomach sinking. “You already know me and you don’t like me.”
“No, you idiot!” Vulpin fumes, whipping around to glare at him. “God, Nino’s right, your dad needs bubbled to the stratosphere! I like you fine! I like you plenty! It’s not my liking you that’s the problem!”
“You know Nino?” Chat asks, feeling a little dizzy talking so close to openly about--they shouldn’t be doing this. He and Ladybug shouldn’t have done it either.
He wants to do it so badly.
Ladybug--she might hold his hand now.
And Vulpin . . .
“It’s got to be the magic,” Vulpin says as she starts to pace. Her hair and tail show no sign of going down. “There’s no way, otherwise. You’d have recognized me. I’d have recognized you. It’s so obvious now, when I look at the pictures of you in your old mask. And now I know who you are and I’m going to get Dark Cupid-ed or run into a truth serum akuma or something and blow it all for all of Paris! And worse, for you!”
“That . . . might not just be you,” Chat admits slowly, wincing a little. “Ladybug and I . . . we kinda talked earlier, and we also kinda . . . figured some things out.”
Vulpin stares at him. Then she laughs. It’s . . . not a nice laugh.
“God, I really did ruin everything,” she says derisively, shaking her head. “Some hero I am! Some help I am!”
“It wasn’t you,” Chat says quickly, shaking his own head in turn. “We figured it out because of--there was other stuff. And, uh. I was right, she does go to my--I mean. I’m not sure how much I should say?”
“She goes to our school,” Vulpin says, mouth thinning. The thing under Chat’s ribs squeezes.
“You go to my school,” he realizes breathlessly.
“I’m an idiot,” Vulpin seethes, covering her face with her hands. “I--yes. No. Yes, obviously. I go to your school and I saw your stupid mouth and it was so pretty and that was the first thing I thought. I’m the worst! I am the worst friend ever!”
“You beat up an akuma for hurting me,” Chat says. The breathlessness is not going away. Maybe it’s just going to follow him through this entire conversation, just like with Ladybug. Ladybug who’s also--
“I soulmarked you!” Vulpin says. “Like an idiot! Like the worst person ever!”
“I bought you concealer,” he blurts. It’s--not a smooth segue, probably. But he’d say anything to stop her saying that.
“What?” Vulpin asks blankly, lifting her head to blink over at him. He wishes she’d do it slower.
“I bought you concealer,” Chat says, unzipping his pockets to pull it out and show her. “Better stuff.”
“You’re terrible,” Vulpin says, staring at it. “You’re wonderful. You are so cute and so stupid. She’s gonna hate me.”
“Who, Chloe?” Chat asks--because Vulpin knows him, so Vulpin knows. Right? “Chloe’s like that to everybody. She got used to my other soulmates. I mean. She’ll deal.”
“Your other soulmates,” Vulpin repeats, then laughs that miserable laugh again as her ears droop and her shoulders slump. “Nino. And Marinette.”
“Yes,” Chat says, because that’s almost true. Might as well be true. “And you.”
“She’s gonna hate me,” Vulpin repeats dully. Chat wants to wrap her up in his arms so bad but can’t imagine how it’d help.
“I won’t,” he says, ears flattening nervously and hands still full of concealer she hasn’t take. “I’ll never hate you, Vulpin. I’ll always--”
“I’m Alya,” she says, whipping around to stare up at him with a raw expression he can’t understand the source of, and the moment she says it he can see it. He can see it so clearly, and can’t understand how he didn’t see it before.
But it was like that with Marinette too, of course.
“Claws in,” he says. It’s a reflex, almost. He can’t talk to her when she’s looking at him like that without her being able to see his face. Plagg falls out of the ring and takes Chat Noir with him, and Adrien stares at Vulpin and her fluffed-out ombre hair and wild, fever-eyed transformation.
“Tail off,” she says roughly, and the necklace bursts into bright orange light.
And then it’s Alya he’s staring at as he awkwardly shoves makeup into his jeans; Alya and a clever-looking little fox kwami floating just over her shoulder just like Plagg’s floating over his. Trixx, he thinks Alya called her the first day.
He wants to kiss that bright green lip-print on Alya’s cheek more than he has maybe ever wanted to kiss something in his life.
He’d thought he might never get to see it again, and now here it is without even any cover-up in the way. He can’t imagine wanting anything else.
“Long time no see, Plagg,” Trixx greets, smiling with tiny sharp teeth. “How’s Tikki?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Plagg replies sourly, inspecting his paw. “These two decided to confess their identities without detransforming.”
“Sorry,” Adrien says, flushing in embarrassment as it occurs to him for the first time that yes, Plagg and Ladybug’s kwami are partners too. Of course Plagg would’ve wanted to see her.
“You’re dumb,” Alya says with a weak laugh. “You’ve been in love with Ladybug for how long?”
“I love you too, Alya,” Adrien says immediately, shoulders hunching in a much more Chat-like way than he’d usually let them, out of the suit. “You’re amazing. I mean, even more amazing than I thought. Um. If you know what I . . . what I mean. I mean.”
“So dumb,” Alya says, closing her eyes. “What’s Ladybug think about that, huh?”
“I don’t know,” Adrien says, his face reddening. “She usually--she never even holds my hand, usually. And you know I’m different at school. I don’t know what she thinks of me now.”
“So dumb,” Alya repeats, shaking her head again. She wraps her arms around herself. Adrien’s considering doing the same; it’s cold up here without the suit.
But he doesn’t want the mask over his face right now.
“I can’t believe we went all this time without touching,” Alya says. “How am I even gonna explain you?”
“We can figure something out,” Adrien says, probably a little too rushed. “I’m not--I don’t mind figuring something out. You make good plans.”
“I’m no Ladybug,” Alya snorts. “I told you to take off the lipstick and walk right into my classroom.”
“I don’t mind,” Adrien says softly. He knows they were supposed to be better about this--supposed to hide better than this--but he can’t regret being found out. Not by either of them. Not for anything.
“Adrien, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t mind if I pushed you off the roof,” Alya says in frustration.
“. . . I mean. Are we talking transformed or untransformed here?”
“Sorry?” He winces. It seemed like a reasonable question to him. “Sorry. I just . . . I don’t know what Ladybug is going to think. Chloe’s going to be mean, probably. I’m sorry about that too. But Nino and Marinette and I will be--I mean, we’ll all be happy. I’m already happy. I’m--really happy, Alya.”
“Yeah,” Alya says. “You’re not subtle, really.”
“I want to kiss you,” Adrien blurts stupidly, then balks and covers his mouth. “I--sorry. Sorry. I didn’t--”
“Yeah you did,” Alya says, giving him a tired look. “I want that too. But it’s not happening.”
“Okay,” Adrien manages, hating himself for hating that answer. It’s Alya’s right. And--and he’s used to it. And if she wants to . . . if she wants to pull back, to keep herself apart from him and wait until the marks on their faces fade away--
Well, he’s used to that too. Isn’t he.
“Humans,” Plagg says in exasperation, then fixes Alya with a dubious look. “You know, Marinette already knows about him and Vulpin, and she knows Chat Noir and Vulpin don’t know who each other are. Well. Didn’t, anyway.”
“Plagg!” Adrien exclaims in alarm, grabbing for him. He can’t just out Ladybug like that without her permission! Plagg just dodges with a huff, then zips around to Alya’s other shoulder.
“Come on, new kit,” he says, grinning slyly at her. “Just whose history book you think that was, exactly?”
“. . . how do the damn video calls on the communicators work again.”
This is fine, Chat thinks. He wasn’t going to sleep tonight. They definitely don’t have a physics test tomorrow. They definitely don’t have a history review or a math quiz or anything like that, either.
Ladybug and Vulpin look like they might kill each other. They look like they want to grab on tight and never, never let go.
Chat Noir just hangs back and watches, because even if he understood exactly what was going on here, he can’t see how it’d be his place to get involved.
It’s patrol night, and there’s somebody unfamiliar in a mask and a tight outfit on the roof five stories below with Ladybug. Whoever he is, he’s talking to her and turning over the big green shield in his hands with an uncertain expression. It’s kind of . . . turtle-ish, if Chat looks at it from the right angle.
It kind of reminds him of something he saw in his father’s book.
And if this guy was an akuma, Ladybug would already be fighting him, wouldn’t she.
“Oh, look at you,” he breathes, reverent anticipation crackling up his spine.
“I can’t wait,” Vulpin says beside him, sparing him a wide and wild grin before jumping straight off the building. Chat leaps after her, because where else would he go? He grabs her around the waist and extends his baton--because he can, because he wants to, because why wouldn’t he--and Vulpin laughs and wraps her arms around him in return, and they fall together towards their partner and their new partner.
Chat loves Paris from the skyline to the Seine, loves all their kwami and all their Miraculouses and being Chat Noir and having Ladybug and Vulpin, loves all his soulmarks, loves to run and loves to be chased and loves to be caught and just can’t wait to play.
Chat Noir and Adrien both always want more, these days.
It’s so good to keep getting it.