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Double Sided, Double Blinded

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Adrien couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed when he discovered Ladybug’s identity. Not that he had anything against her! It was just…

It was stupid and selfish, but Adrien had secretly hoped that outside of suit Ladybug was, well, ordinary. Just a few steps down from the golden pedestal that was Paris’s favorite superhero. And it was so dumb, and he felt so guilty about it, but…

There was a small part of him that really wished Ladybug wasn’t Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

He hadn’t felt that way at first. At first he was absolutely over the moon to know his Lady’s identity. And to think she was someone he knew and liked all along! There was a bit of guilt there because Ladybug hadn’t wanted him to know her identity although he obviously hadn’t meant to find out. Ladybug had just used her Lucky Charm too soon and run off the recharge her kwami. He should have thought ahead a bit more, but when the akuma attacked, bolts of brown goo flying past him toward the place where Ladybug was hiding, protective instinct took over. He looked back.

And spotted Marinette opening the door.

As soon as he realized he was looking at civilian Ladybug, he rapidly looked away, but the damage was already done. They were at his school after all, and he knew that supply closet: he’d used it himself for transformations more than once. He knew there was no way anyone other than Ladybug could have come from that direction.

And though he tried not to—Ladybug didn’t want him to know her identity!—his mind couldn’t help drawing parallels, rearranging every time he’d seen Marinette, every appearance of Ladybug. The hair, the eyes, the steely determination…

And he’d been delighted. He danced around his room, yelling at Plagg, “I found her! I found her!” And he knew her! He could talk to her! Romantic fantasies filled his head, arriving at school and sweeping her off her feet. Those blue, blue eyes beaming up at him. They could hang out outside of duty. They could date. He imagined walking the streets of Paris, her by his side, reaching for her hand—

Adrien hardly slept that night overcome with excitement. His buoyant mood lasted though the morning, as he bounced around getting ready, eating breakfast, brushing his teeth, right up until the moment he actually arrived at school.

He opened his car door, and his ears were immediately assaulted by Marinette’s panicked shout, “I forgot! I FORGOT!”

Marinette dragged her hands down her face, nearly collapsed against the stair wall while Alya snickered.

Adrien quickly got out of the car, intent on swooping in and saving Marinette, but before he had taken even two steps, Rose hugged her. “Don’t worry, Marinette! It’s not until tonight, anyway!”

“But I was going to make a banner—Rose, I’m so, so sorry. I can make one after school, but I’d have to use fabric paint instead of embroidery…”

“Oh horrors of horrors!” cried Alya. “Marinette has to do a rush job. How will we survive?”

Alix laughed. “Oh yeah. Do you remember when she fixed my jacket in, like, twenty minutes?”

“The stitching was really sloppy—” began Marinette.

“Are you kidding?” shouted Alix. “That is by far my favorite jacket. And the stitching looks so punk.”

“I still want a Marinette jacket,” butted in Kim.

“Get in line,” said Alya.

“If – If you want, I could help with the banner,” muttered Nathaniel, blushing a furious red. Unfortunately, Marinette was in the middle of too many people and he was too far away for her to hear him.

“Marinette, you really don’t have to make a banner,” said Rose. “I’m really just flattered that you want to come.”

“Well, why wouldn’t I?” said Marinette with that smile that seemed to light up the sky. “How could I not support the up and coming best ballerina in Paris?”

Rose squealed and hugged Marinette, but Marinette just waved her thanks away with a laugh.

“Marinette really is pretty great,” Myelen commented to Ivan, and Ivan, though silent, nodded enthusiastically.

Meanwhile Adrien… He had to approach her, he had to, but Marinette was surrounded. Even as she and Alya said goodbye to Rose, Max and Juleka converged on her, and once she broke out of that a boy from another class hailed her down. Marinette cheerfully greeted everyone who spoke to her, breaking off her animated conversation with Alya, apparently not noticing she had the entire school was flocking to her.

Like they did yesterday. Like they did every day.

Still halfway between the road and the steps, Adrien deflated.

“You all right, dude?”

Nino clasped Adrien on the shoulder, and Adrien tried to pull on his usual smile. “Sure. Just thinking.”

Nino shrugged. “All right, then.” He seemed ready to leave it there until he saw where Adrien was looking. “Uh, you’re not staring at Marinette, are you?”

Adrien did his best to be nonchalant and blushed immediately. Nino laughed, thumping him on the back.

“Don’t try to hide it, dude. Everyone crushes on Marinette at some point. I’m honestly surprised it took you this long.”

Which did nothing to help Adrien’s state of mind. “Let’s head to class,” he said, his romantic dreams in tatters at his feet.

Nino seemed to know better than to push as they walked up the stairs, past where Marinette and Alya were doubled up in giggles, surrounded by friends.

Adrien had never been so stunned as his own stupidity. He had been so excited to discover that Marinette was Ladybug that it had never occurred to him that it meant Ladybug was Marinette.

Marinette. So vivaciously creative Adrien was pretty sure there wasn’t a single thing she couldn’t make. The girl had designed an album cover for freaking Jagged Stone. Class president, natural leader, always the first one to step in when one of their classmates had trouble, never afraid to take down Chloe when she needed it. Confident and compassionate.

Sure, she was a bit weird. Adrien had heard some definitively bizarre sentences come out of her mouth. And she had a knack for tripping over thin air. But all that was overshadowed by her enthusiasm, her passion, her simple good heart. And besides, her brand of awkwardness seemed to endear people to her. Not like his. No, people liked Marinette. They gathered around her, listened to what she had to say, vied for her attention. The only person who didn’t like her was Chloe, and Adrien was seventy-five percent sure that was due to jealousy.

Once in class, Adrien sank into his seat feeling defeated. Marinette was amazing. He’d always wanted to be her friend only she’d never seemed quite comfortable around him, and he assumed it was his own awkwardness holding her back. He’d been fine before. He had Nino. And Marinette seemed at least to be friendly to him. But knowing she was Ladybug

Adrien didn’t actually know why he got the Chat Noir miraculous, but he sometimes thought it was because he needed it. And perhaps he’d entertained the thought that maybe for Ladybug it was same. But he should have known Ladybug was too important to throw away on just anyone. Ladybug needed to be someone confident, determined, incredible—with or without of the mask. Of course she was the kindest, smartest, most talented girl in his class.

Nino’s words rolled his head. Everyone crushes on Marinette at some point. It was just a little too true. There had been Nino and Nathanael, apparently Kim had been crushing on her for months last year. And Adrien had spent enough time locker rooms to know the affliction was hardly limited to their class. If you asked anyone in the school who they liked, Adrien would say there was at least a fifty percent chance they’d name Marinette. How was he possibly any different?

Miss Bustier called the class to attention, Marinette stopped her friendly conversation with Ivan, and Adrien glumly pulled out his tablet. He was so dumb. If he were being honest with himself, part of him—a very small part, but a part all the same—had wanted them to reveal their identities so Ladybug would know he was Adrien Agreste. Not that he thought Ladybug would care much about celebrity, but maybe she’d be impressed? At least think he was a little cool? That’s all he really wanted, not to change her mind or anything, just chance for her to take his attention seriously.

But that was back when he’d hoped that, underneath the mask, Ladybug was just an ordinary girl. Vivacious, brilliant, of course, but mostly ordinary. Someone who might actually be impressed by Adrien Agreste and not put off by his awkwardness. Not the most popular girl in his school!

Really, Adrien was ashamed of himself. He should have known that Ladybug would be just as impressive in her civilian life as her superhero one.

Too bad her partner couldn’t say the same.

“Did you have a fight with your dad?” said Nino in an undertone when they were released for lunch.

“No, it’s not that.” Adrien slid his tablet into his bag, trying to ignore the picture of Ladybug he had as his lock screen. Did he even have the right to have her there?

“If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s chill, but if you duuuu…” Nino trailed off, his eyes focused on a point just to the left of Adrien’s head. Adrien turned and froze.

There, nose not two inches from his cheek, was Marinette, a fierce, calculating expression of her face.

Yep, definitely Ladybug, Adrien gulped. He’d never realized how terrifying that expression was when it was directed at you.

Marinette’s eyes narrowed just a fraction more. “Hmm.”

Adrien’s hands scrambled uselessly along his desk, trying to find something, anything to grip. His fingers brushed his stylus but only managed to launch it off the desk onto the floor.

“Girl, what are you doing?” laughed Alya. “I know you’re weird, but this is crazy even for you!”

“Oh!” Something of the fumbling Marinette Adrien was more familiar with came back. She blushed slightly. “Sorry. Adrien. Yes! Adrien! That is—Sorry—Here.” She picked up his stylus and thrust it into his shaking hands. And then she shot him that very serious, calculating look.

“A-Ah,” managed Adrien.

Marinette’s eyebrows bunched together in a truly terrifying way.

“Mari, come on!” said Alya. “My mom promised us dessert if we got there early enough.”

“Wha—Of course. Let’s go!” Marinette swung her backpack over her shoulders and bounded away, but, just before leaving the room, she spun around and sent Adrien a very sharp look. Adrien jumped back, his hands in the air, while Nino snickered.

 “Girl, what is up with you?” laughed Alya as Marinette dragged her away.

 “Help,” said Adrien very softly.

 

It didn’t get better. It didn’t get better at all because once Adrien got over the shock of never realizing that Marinette was exactly the same in and out of the mask, Adrien started noticing things. Like the way her hair caught the sunlight. Or just how adorable her cheeks were, round and uninhibited by her mask. Add to every other thing, he now had to deal with all the ladybugs in his stomach every time she spoke or smiled, and somehow it was even worse than whatever he’d felt around Ladybug. His mind went blank, his legs turned to jelly, and he didn’t even stutter like an incoherent fool: he simply lost the power of speech all together.

And somehow, Nino hadn’t noticed. In the course of a day, Adrien’s entire world had dissolved underneath him, and Nino seemed to think he’d just stayed up too late finishing the geometry assignment.

And then Marinette cornered him after school, sitting beside him on the school steps while he waited for the Gorilla to pick him up from fencing. They were barely a hand-span apart, and she leaned closer.

“Hey, do you knead to go to the bakery for anything?”

Her eyes were so blue and so close and why on earth was she talking to him?

Marinette’s lips started to curve to that mischievous smile that as Ladybug made Chat go shaky at the knees. “At yeast let me treat you a few croissants.”

On the one hand, Adrien loved any and all food from her parents’ bakery. On the other… He wasn’t certain he was capable of managing a single coherent sentence at the moment.

“I—Photoshoot. I mean! Thank you!” She was going to think he was rude. She thought he was awful. “Thanks for the—But shoot! Photo! I mean photoshoot!”

Could he just sink through the floor right now? Just let him die. Nino could have his video game collection, and the rest of his possessions could be sold to feed Plagg. And bribe the troublesome kwami to never, ever tell Ladybug his identity.

“Really?” said Marinette flatly.

No, no, no! He was still here, and she was still looking at him! Adrien scampered frantically for something, anything that wouldn’t make him look like a complete idiot.

“Yes. I am a model. I do photoshoots. Because I am a model.”

What. Even.

Oh, no. Marinette was very close again, scrutinizing him. He could even see the way her freckles wrinkled up on her nose.

“So…” Her eyes narrowed. Those freckles were really distracting. “If I said you belonged at the bakery instead because you’re such a cutie pie, you’d say?”

Adrien’s face went the color and temperature of molten lava.

And Marinette looked so frustrated. She stomped away, only to stop when she reached the road and turn around. “Hey, are you kitten me?”

Adrien’s stomach turned to lead, but finally words came. Spilling out like vomit, but still.

“I’m sorry, Marinette, I’m really sorry, but I really have to do this shoot. It’s for Father’s new line, and we already had to reschedule once because the photographer got sick and—”

“It’s all right, Adrien,” interrupted Marinette. She smiled a bit ruefully. “Have a good day!”

Adrien opened up his bag. “Plagg, let me die.”

 

Of course, Plagg being Plagg did no such thing, so Adrien was still alive to arrive at school the next morning having spent most of the night trying to convince himself he could talk to Marinette. To no avail. Just Marinette or just Ladybug he could handle. Both incredible girls, both completely out of his league, but he could handle himself around them. Put them together? There was only so much a lonely, socially awkward model/superhero could offer.

Before class, he tried to say good morning to Marinette and only managed to choke slightly. When she stared at him, he couldn’t find the courage to continue. Nino patted him sympathetically on the back.

“Happens to the best of us, dude.”

Adrien’s voice was hollow. “I couldn’t even say…”

“Dude, it’s just Marinette. It’s fine if you get a little tongue tied.”

But it wasn’t just Marinette. It was Ladybug, too. Adrien wished desperately at this moment he could be his alter ego. As Chat Noir he could handle this. Chat Noir was confident. Chat Noir was useful. Even if he wasn’t as popular, Ladybug thought he was valuable.

“…just ask her out.”

Adrien whipped his head around to stare at Nino. “What?

“Ask her out, dude. There’s literally nothing to lose.”

Adrien shook his head. “Nino,” he said quietly, desperately. “I can’t even speak to her.”

 

During chemistry, Adrien and Nino were put in a group with Alya and Marinette, and they were supposed to be doing a lab, which, to be fair, was mostly what Nino and Alya were doing. Marinette kept saying really leading sentences, studying Adrien like he was a suspect she’d brought in for questioning, and Adrien had no clue what was going on. He opted to stay quiet, partly because he had no idea was he was supposed to say but mostly because he was pretty sure his voice had stopped working.

 

“Dude, you’ve got it bad.”

“Yeah. I know.”

 

So why Nino thought it was a good idea to drag Adrien to study with the girls in the library two hours later, Adrien had no idea. He’d spent the last two classes certain Marinette was staring at the back of his head, and it had taken all his self control not to run out of class to the bathroom to check that he didn’t have a gigantic spider in his hair or something.

“Just be cool,” Nino told him before they walked in. “Marinette already likes you. All you have to do is be somewhat yourself.”

Easy for Nino to say. Nino was a cool, chill guy who got along well with anyone. He probably had worthwhile things to say. Things that even Marinette “Ladybug” Dupain-Cheng wanted to hear about. Meanwhile, Adrien was dealing with the fact that the girl he’d been in love with for over a year actually sat behind him in class and was so much cooler than he’d ever imagined.

At least she smiled when they arrived. Adrien blushed and busied himself with pulling out his textbooks.

“Adrien, are you all right?”

Oh no. Oh no. That look on Marinette’s face—Nino had warned him of this, back in that week when he had a terrible crush on her. The Marinette Blue Eyed Look of Doom. And now she was directing it at Adrien. And. Adrien. Couldn’t. Move. All that kindness and sweetness directed at him, and he was nothing more than a puddle of goo.

“Y-yeah.”

When was the last time he got more than one word out around Marinette?

“You sure? You’re quiet.”

And Adrien… squeaked.

“I’m fine, M-Marinette.”

“Hmm,” said Marinette. Her eyes narrowed a little again like he was a puzzle she couldn’t figure out—Or one of her Lucky Charms. “Hmm,” she said again.

And then, as her thoughtful expression deepened, she tapped a finger against her lips.

No! Please don’t do anything to draw attention to your lips, Marinette!

In a rare bout of good luck for Adrien, Marinette actually stopped. But then she reached out and touched his hair. No, she wasn’t just touching it; she was messing with his bangs, making them fall more into his face, her fingers carding lightly through his hair.

Adrien was in ecstasy. Adrien was going to die.

“Marinette, I think Adrien’s stopped breathing,” commented Nino. Casually. Like his best friend suffocating before his eyes wasn’t of big concern.

Alya’s jaw was lost somewhere on the floor.

A touch pink, Marinette removed her hand from Adrien’s hair. Adrien’s lungs regained their ability to function with an embarrassing gasp. Oh, but he missed her touch.

"Sorry,” said Marinette. “I just wanted to see something.”

Adrien frantically finger combed his hair. Partially to get it back in order but mostly because his whole scalp tingled, he’d never felt so undone, and he didn’t know what to do.

“It-it’s okay.”

Alya’s eyes darted between Adrien and Marinette and then to Nino. “When did this happen?

 

Needless to say, Adrien could hardly get another word out the rest of the study session. Nino occasionally shot him sympathetic looks. Meanwhile, Marinette and Alya appeared to hold an entire conversation using only their eyes and a few unexplainable hand gestures.

This was his life now, thought Adrien. Reduced to a near-mute mess in front of the girl he loved while she developed telepathic powers with her best friend. At least he still had Plagg. Nothing was more consistent than a cheese obsessed kwami.

 

“Wow, I didn’t think it was possible, but I think you’ve become even more disgustingly lovesick. I’m going to have to find a new place for my cheese or you’re going to contaminate it.”

Like he said, consistent.

Chapter Text

Marinette hadn’t so much figured out Chat Noir’s identity as swung over Adrien on her way to an akuma attack and saw him, with dorkiest expression possible, cry, “Plagg, claws out!”

And transform into Chat Noir.

She might have been a bit distracted that day. She used her Lucky Charm too early and was still so convinced she might have just hallucinated the whole thing that she secretly followed Chat after the battle and watched him detransform.

And, nope, not a hallucination. Chat Noir, her dorky, ridiculous, pun-obsessed partner, was Adrien Love-of-Her-Life Agreste. Nope. No freaking out. Not at all.

She was totally freaking out.

She swung back to her house and spent the next four hours alternately screaming into her pillow and yelling at Tikki things like, “I kissed him! I kissed Chat Noir! I kissed Adrien!” and “I scratched him under the chin! I threw him across Paris!

“You also call him Kitty,” Tikki pointed out.

Marinette went absolutely still, her face paper white. “He called me ‘Bugaboo.’”

“I thought that one was cute,” admitted Tikki.

Suddenly, Marinette dived back into her bed and screamed against her pillow. “Adrien flirts using terrible pick up lines!”

 

But by school the next day, Marinette’s freak out over everything she had or had not done with Chat/Adrien had mostly sizzled out leaving her with one prevailing emotion:

How?

Because she knew Adrien. And she definitely knew Chat. And they were nothing alike! Marinette stared at the back of Adrien’s end in class. Adrien was calm, polite. Gentle. So, so sweet and just perfect. Meanwhile, Chat had a good heart, she couldn’t deny that, but he was annoying, loved horrible puns, was reckless and cocky. He flirted constantly. Truth be told, if Marinette had to guess at his secret identity, she would have started looking at class clowns. Not model student Adrien Agreste.

And yet, they were the same person.

Again. How?

Oh, and she could see the similarities now. And maybe that was the worst part. She recognized that shoulder line. Those greener than green eyes. Just last week she’d been complaining to herself how unfair it was that the two most important boys in her life had better legs than her. Surprise! They’re the same person! And—no, this was not good—she now knew Adrien looked really good in a skintight leather catsuit.

Well, there went any denial she had that she wasn’t attracted to Chat Noir. Nope. Definitely attracted. And, in the spirit of honesty, looked like she also had to admit she’d been attracted to him for a long time before she found out he was Adrien Agreste.

How was this her life?

Tikki, you did not warn me that when I became Ladybug it would make my love life an utter mess!

But Tikki was dozing in her purse, and she couldn’t appear to be muttering to herself in the middle of class anyway. She could try to pay attention, but that seemed a lost cause, so instead she decided to focus on what was right in front of her.

AKA: Adrien’s head.

Because really, how was he Chat? She supposed she knew Adrien did feel a lot of pressure from his father and his celebrity status. Maybe he just relaxed a little under Chat’s mask?

Okay, relaxed a lot because Chat was practically an entirely new personality.        

Marinette pursed her lips. They couldn’t be entirely different, though, could they? After all, it was like Tikki told her, she was Ladybug with or without the mask. Surely that had to be the same for Chat? So maybe Adrien had more in common with Chat, and she’d just missed it.

So intent on trying to figure it all out, she didn’t even notice she’d gotten into his face until Alya called her out on it.

“Girl, what is up with you?” said Alya as Marinette dragged her out for lunch.

“Oh, you know. I just got distracted by Adrien’s beauty…”

It was probably a very bad indication of her past behavior that Alya bought it, though with a shake of her head. “Mari, honey, I know you’re in love with him, but there is such a thing as personal space.”

Not that a certain cat she knew was aware of that. But Adrien had looked so shocked, and what was going on?

 

Marinette spent lunch trying to think of a way to draw the Chat out of Adrien, but it wasn’t until she got back to the school that she came upon the obvious. Puns. Surely that would draw Chat out. She spent class googling and, armed with an array of awful bakery jokes, approached Adrien.

But he didn’t even catch them.

How was this possible? Chat Noir not catch a pun? Maybe it needed to be a cat pun? But even when she used one of his favorites—“Are you kitten me?”—he didn’t respond.

Oh no, thought Marinette. Adrien’s not actually Chat Noir.

Except—No, she had seen him. She had watched him transform. Twice! He had to be.

All the same, Marinette panicked.

 

Was it wrong to sneak into Adrien’s bag? Probably, but Marinette was desperate and what if Adrien wasn’t actually Chat Noir?

Well, the first thing would be that Paris would need to find a new Ladybug because this one was going insane.

“Marinette, I don’t think you need to worry so much about this,” said Tikki.

“I just have to have proof,” said Marinette.

“You already saw him transform!”

“But he didn’t recognize a pun. A pun, Tikki! How could he possibly be Chat?”

And she opened his bag. She found his textbooks, a tin of camembert, some pens. In the distance she heard Nino’s voice approaching. No, she didn’t have time! Where was his kwami? Maybe the locker or—

Her eyes fell on a black blob in the corner of his bag. She poked it.

“Nooo… Let me sleep.”

Apparently, she had found a kindred spirit. Which meant she had a good idea of how to get him up. She poked him incessantly.

“Camembert. Give me—” The kwami opened one acid green eye and blinked at her. “You’re not Adrien.”

Marinette breathed out. “Wow.”

The kwami sat up and squinted at her. “Tikki, your Bug is super nosy.”

“Hey!” said Marinette. “I’m not nosy, I just need to know if Adrien is really Chat Noir!”

“And you couldn’t tell from spying down on us? I saw that, Bug.”

Marinette bristled. “It’s just Adrien doesn’t act like Chat Noir—”

“Hey now, Adrien is one of the best Chat Noir’s I’ve had in a long time.”

“Aw, Plagg,” giggled Tikki. “You do care!”

The kwami, Plagg, looked mortally offended.

“But that still doesn’t answer—” began Marinette, but the sound of Nino’s voice had Plagg darting back into the bag and Marinette springing away. She hid behind the lockers as Adrien and Nino came into view. Nino was patting Adrien on the back sympathetically. Adrien was most definitely blushing.

Since when did Adrien or Chat Noir blush?

“I’m so confused,” Marinette whispered to Tikki. “What’s going on?”

“Maybe you just don’t know him as well as you thought?”

“Obviously,” grumbled Marinette.

 

But Marinette wasn’t giving up.

Maybe it was just her pun delivery was really bad. Maybe she needed to get Adrien to say puns. If he were really Chat Noir, he wouldn’t be able to resist a good opening, right? So when they were put in the same chemistry group, she did her best to set up lines, and Adrien just…let the moment pass. In fact, he spoke barely two words the entire class, and since when did Chat ever shut up? It got to the point that studying in the library, she even tried to mess up his bangs to look Chat.

Which, okay yes, with his hair falling into his face, he looked like Chat, but she already knew that. They looked plenty alike, it was the personality she couldn’t see.

Then Alya noticed Marinette was manhandling Adrien, and Marinette had to fend off a very aggressive investigation by her best friend.

 

“Marinette, are you sure this is the best way to go about this?” said Tikki.

Marinette continued pacing her room. “I just need to get Adrien to act like Chat. Once that happens, I’ll be able to put them both together, and I’ll be fine.”

“Don’t you think it might be better to just talk to him?”

Talk to him? Tikki, he doesn’t know that I know! What am I supposed to do? Hey, I accidently saw you transforming and now I’m having a crisis because you and your alter ego are like entirely different people! Oh, how do I know Chat Noir so well? Hahaha, funny story. It’s not like I’ve fought beside you every other day for the past year without ever realizing you were the love of my life!”

“Marinette.”

“Did I say love of my life? No, definitely not. I definitely haven’t been rejecting you for you all this time!”

Marinette!

Marinette stopped and stared at Tikki. “What?”

“Do you really think Adrien and Chat Noir are that different?”

Marinette started laughing. “Tikki, Chat’s annoying, loud, cocky, and a total goob. Adrien is polite and sweet and perfect. They’re nothing alike.”

“But what about their hearts, Marinette? Don’t you think they have the same heart?”

“Maybe I just need to act more like Ladybug,” mused Marinette, completely ignoring Tikki. “Maybe that will snap him into Chat.”

 

But as Marinette discovered to her great frustration, it was very hard to act like Ladybug without her Chat Noir. Almost all their dynamic relied on Chat bugging her in some form or another and Ladybug playfully shutting him down. It was hard to engage in quick fire banter when one of the partners was only blushing and ducking behind Nino.

“Marinette, maybe Adrien doesn’t…”

“I can make him act like Chat,” insisted Marinette. “I just have to find the right approach.”

Chapter Text

Adrien was starting to get really discouraged. Yet another day, and he still couldn’t talk to Marinette. Alya was now giving him strange looks every chance she got, and Nino dragged him away for lunch, insistently forcing Adrien to talk about video games because, “We got to get you back to normal human being. Seriously, dude. Marinette’s really cute, but she’s not that intimidating.” After an hour of normal conversation interspaced by pep talks from Nino, Adrien managed to believe it…

For about five minutes until Chloe latched on to his arm like a leach and it was Marinette who finally made her let go by convincing her the last of Sabrina’s sandwich had landed in her hair.

“Thanks,” Adrien managed in an undertone while Chloe rushed off to the bathroom.

“No problem.” Marinette sent him a smile that seemed just a touch less sunny than usual. “But why didn’t you just tell her to take off if she makes you so uncomfortable?”

Adrien blushed heavily, embarrassed to have Marinette—Ladybug—witness such weakness.

Thankfully, Nino came to the rescue, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “Oh, you know how it is, Mari. Dude’s too nice for his own good.”

“I guess you could say that,” said Marinette though she didn’t look satisfied.

But a moment later, she was hailed down by Max and took off—“I promised I’d help with the history project!”—and Adrien was left to his embarrassment.

So it wasn’t entirely without relief that Adrien noticed screams and bursts of glitter coming from the library. Quickly making an excuse to Nino about needing the bathroom, he dashed off to find a place to transform.

“Plagg—!” But he cut himself short before finishing the command, anxiety suddenly taking him. This would be the first time he faced Ladybug since finding out her identity. What if it messed with his ability to function? What if she knew? What if—

“Kid, are you going to transform or just keep standing with your hand out like that? Because you look like an idiot.”

Adrien shook his head. More screaming came from the library. Right. Chat Noir was needed. He pushed down the rest.

“Plagg, claws out!”

As the transformation washed over him, Adrien felt something settle. This was good. This was right. He always felt better when he was Chat. Chat was talented, gifted, special. He might mess around too much, get beat up a bit, but in the end he was still a Hero of Paris, Ladybug’s partner.

He had a role to play, and he played it well.

The akuma burst out of the library, and Chat got his first look at a disturbing lanky boy/purple unicorn mix.

“I AM NIGHTMARE!” The akuma had a seemingly endless supply of blue and purple horseshoes on his belt that, when thrown, exploded in gaudy, sticky glitter. They also appeared to render their victims blind.

Blind but fabulous, supplied the craziest part of Chat’s brain.

“YOU’RE ALL FAKES! ONLY I AM A TRUE BRONIE, AND I WILL DESTORY YOU ALL!”

Behind him, Chat heard a faint ‘thump.’ “Well, looks like someone’s a little foal of themselves,” commented Ladybug.

Chat’s eyes lit up. “My Lady, you just punned!

The smile Ladybug sent back was incredibly smug. “You bet I did. You better watch out, Kitty. I might steal your whiskers.”

“As if you could,” he smirked back.

“Hm, but I haven’t heard you pun yet.”

There was something to Ladybug’s smile that was more than her usual delight at besting him, but he didn’t have time to examine it. Besides, he had a title to defend. “Maybe I’m just saving them up for the mane event.”

“LADYBUG AND CHAT NOIR! STOP FLIRTING AND GIVE ME YOUR MIRACULOUSES!”

He met Ladybug’s eyes. “Back to work?”

Ladybug gave him a sharp nod, her yoyo out and eyes narrowed in expression of fierce determination. His heart flipped over, but he had a job to do.

Chat ran out from his hiding place. “Are you sure you want to keep yelling? You’re sounding a little horse!”

“Yeah, I’m not sure I herd you!” added Ladybug.

Chat grinned. Oh it was on.

 

The akuma was caught and cleansed, the victim assured no one thought he was a fake fan, and Adrien skidded into an empty classroom with only seconds left on his transformation.

Light rippled over Adrien, and Plagg tumbled out of his ring.

“Kid, some of those puns were so bad I was cringing.”

But Adrien was too busy grinning to listen. “Ladybug was punning. Punning! She likes my puns!”

“I’m not sure that’s what that means,” grumbled Plagg. “Also, where’s my cheese? I need to eat before your dopey love-face makes me sick.”

Adrien grumbled and pulled out a piece of cheese for Plagg. Oh, but he was still smiling. He saw Ladybug today. He talked to her. There was no reason to be shy. He and Ladybug were friends. Partners. He could walk up to Marinette and—

“Adrien?”

Speak of the devil. Marinette ducked her head into the classroom. “You’re back!”

And then she ran forward and hugged him.

Adrien let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like, “meep.”

Marinette pulled back, a light blush dusting her cheeks, her round, perfectly adorable cheeks.

“Oh! Sorry! I just—I’m happy you’re okay! From the akuma! Yeah. Akuma. That’s it. Sorry for grabbing you!”

“I-It’s o-okay…” Adrien’s breath gave up halfway through, leaving the last word little more than a whisper. Then, to his great disappointment, Marinette’s hands dropped from his shoulders and that just so slightly annoyed expression was back on her face.

“Are you serious?” she muttered.

Adrien flushed bright red and looked down at his feet. Just five minutes before—! But five minutes ago, he was Chat Noir, Ladybug’s trusted and even beloved partner. She needed him then, and it was easy to be what she needed. Marinette Dupain-Cheng needed no one.

“Well, um,” Marinette gnawed on edge of her lip. Her eyes kept darting to him, and they still hadn’t quite lost that annoyed look. “We should probably get back to class.”

“Yeah! Uh. Sorry,” he choked out.

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Sorry?

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, you looked annoyed and I don’t know if it was something I did. It probably was. I dunno, I keep just—I mean—” He was spitting out words and even he didn’t know what he was trying to say. All he knew was he really, really didn’t want to disappoint Marinette, and he was afraid he already had.

Marinette touched his arm. That effectively shut Adrien up.

“It’s fine.” She gave him one of those beautiful, mind-numbing smiles that made Adrien wonder how he’d ever managed to get a complete sentence out in front of her in the past. “Let’s just get to class, yeah?”

She said that, but he caught that sharp, calculating look on her face again as she eyed him in geography.

***

Marinette was beyond frustrated. He was perfectly normal during the akuma. Lots of flirting, lots of puns, but the minute she talked to Adrien—gone. She desperately wanted to talk to Tikki, but that was a no go. Alya was already giving her weird looks, and what was she supposed to say? “No, nothing’s wrong, I’m just waiting for Adrien to start using terrible pick up lines. You know, the usual.”

If she said that out loud, she might actually reach the point where even Alya thought her crush was out of hand. No, she what she needed was a plan. Ladybug always came up with plans, right? So Marinette could, too.

Instead of taking notes, Marinette started a list.

First, what didn’t work:

            1.Obsessively watching Adrien. Clearly. She’d been doing that for over a year and hadn’t had a clue.

            2. Striking with puns. Apparently, astonishingly, that was also a no go. Despite the fact that they were incessant when he was in suit. Maybe it was a superpower thing? Like Ladybug got Lucky Charm and the Healing Light. Chat Noir got Cataclysm and an inhuman ability to make way too many puns. To tell the truth, by now she’d seen stranger things.

            3. Acting like Ladybug. Which, to be fair, she didn’t do a great job at. But…Ladybug wasn’t that different from Marinette. Not really. She just took charge when things went wrong and played off of Chat’s banter. But without danger or Chat Noir… Well, Ladybug was just a superpowered, slightly bossier Marinette. Somehow, she didn’t feel bossing Adrien around was the way get him to loosen up and act like Chat.

As for the banter…

Flirting, corrected a voice in her head that sounded way too much like Alya. Darn it, she really had been flirting back the entire time, hadn’t she? All that time swearing she felt no attraction whatever to Chat only to—

Suddenly, Marinette’s thoughts derailed with a simple realization.

Flirting! That was is! Adrien didn’t know she was Ladybug, so Adrien had no reason to flirt with her. Not that that had stopped Chat before, but maybe Adrien was concerned about the face of Agreste being seen as a playboy? But she knew Chat flirted with everyone: Ladybug, Marinette, fans, reporters… He must tone it down as Adrien, but given the right opportunity, there was no way he could resist.

Marinette felt a pang of doubt. Did she really have what it took to flirt? With Adrien? For a moment, her old nervousness started to bubble up. This was Adrien Agreste and—

And nothing, she told herself. Chat flirted like an idiot everyday. And anything Chat could do, Ladybug could do better.

Besides, she thought with a smirk, she did learn from the best.

***

“So….?” prompted Nino.

“So what?” muttered Adrien, who had a feeling of where this was going and dreading it.

“Is today the day you finally say ‘hello’ to Marinette?”

Adrien groaned into his hands. “I’ve done it before,” he muttered.

“Yeah, but we’re going on day four of Adrien turns into mush in front of Marinette, so…” Nino was getting entirely too much enjoyment out of this.

“I really am hopeless,” moaned Adrien, embarrassed to hear more of his despair slip through than he had intended.

Nino, though still looking a little amused, softened his smile and clasped Adrien’s shoulder. “Hey, dude, it’s not like you have to stun her or anything. Say hi and start with friendship. Girls like that.”

 “You sure?” said Adrien.

“Yeah, look at me and Alya. I mean—” Here, Nino ducked his head a little “—not that we’re official or anything. But we’ve got something going. And you know that’s because I can actually talk to her about stuff.”

“I’m doomed,” groaned Adrien.

“No, you’re not!” Nino punched Adrien in the arm. “C’mon, dude. You talk to beautiful models all the time, and you might deny it but I know you’ve got some smooth moves on you, Agreste. Dude, I’ve seen you talk to Ladybug. Marinette’s nothing!”

The talking to Ladybug part was actually exactly the problem, but Nino’s faith in him managed to buoy Adrien up somewhat. After all, he had talked to Ladybug as his civilian self at one point during Simon Says. Mind you, he’d been worried about his father at the time and trying to juggle the roles of both Chat and Adrien without blowing his identity, but he had managed. And without making a total fool of himself.

He smiled. “Thanks, Nino.”

Nino held his fist out. “Got your back, bro.”

Feeling better, Adrien completed the fistbump—

“Bro.”

—and felt thin fingers closed around his arm.

Heart pounding in his throat, Adrien looked down. Marinette was there, a smile on her face that was exactly the right combination of sweetness and mischief to make his legs lose feeling.

“Hey,” she said, and Adrien was a goner on that word alone. But she wasn’t done yet. “You should be arrested.”

“W-What?”

“For carrying these guns around.” She poked his bicep. And winked.

Everything inside Adrien stopped working.

Chapter Text

Impersonating Chat was both harder and easier that Marinette expected. On the one hand, it took a lot of guts to just walk up to someone and start using cheesy pick up lines. On the other… She knew her partner really well and playing Chat was actually kind of fun. She shoved away the crush part of her that was screaming “That’s Adrien! Adrien! You can’t just talk to him!” and instead focused on what Chat would say to her if he were here. That was, he was here, but he was Adrien and not acting like Chat at all, so really what she was imagining was what Chat would say to Ladybug if she were approaching some random boy but who was actually Chat and—Gah. This was confusing.

Point being, she curled her fingers around Adrien’s arm imagining Chat next to her purring, “You can stroke my muscles any time you’d like, my Lady,” and said her line.

And then, since she was pretending to be Chat, she finished it off with a saucy wink.

For a moment, she was certain she’d finally done it. Adrien’s face would break into Chat’s grin, and she’d hear him coo right back. Something like, “Aw, Bugaboo, you finally noticed.”

Only Adrien didn’t do that. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even move. He stood there as his face got redder and redder. Until it reached the same shade as her suit. And then it went darker.

Marinette was starting to feel a bit awkward. What were you supposed to do when pick up lines actually worked? Chat hadn’t taught her that! And, sheesh, but the line wasn’t that good!

Thrown off but desperate to not to become a bumbling mess, Marinette reverted to the only option she had left: acting even more like Chat.

“Aw, what’s this?” she said, taking her hand off Adrien’s arm and smirking at him. “You’re not overcome with the power of my beauty, are you?”

Adrien made some very strange noise in the back of his throat. If she took a moment to think she would dissolve into an incoherent mess, but Marinette was very determinedly not thinking. Instead she gave him a Chat Noir smile.    

“See you around, hot stuff!”

With a flirtatious wave, she beat a quick exit.

What what what? Her heart started racing twice its usual pace. Did she actually do that? To Adrien? For a moment, she entirely forgot why, just focusing on the sheer astonishment that she’d managed it.

Marinette!” Before Marinette could get all the way up the school steps, Alya caught her, her voice a mixture of impressed and scandalized. “Why—How did you do that? Look at that poor thing!”

Alya grabbed Marinette by the shoulders and turned her around so she had to look at Adrien—

Wait, was that Adrien? No, she was certain. She’d recognize that back of that blonde hair anywhere, but Adrien was collapsed on the steps, his head in his hands, and the back of his neck, even his ears were red.

“What happened?” said Marinette.

“Are you kidding, girl? You happened.”

Me?” squeaked Marinette. “But that was nothing!”

Alya’s eyes narrowed. “Mari, I love you, girl, but if your new obsession is embarrassing Adrien, I’m going to have to put my foot down. Sunshine child does not need that.”

“I wasn’t embarrassing him!” cried Marinette. “I was flirting!” Her frustration was growing with every passing minute. “What is wrong with him?”

Chat Noir could take it. Chat could fire off lines without batting an eye. He would never be caught blushing and stammering because some girl made a lame comment about his muscles.

“Smooth moves, Marinette!” called Kim from below. “Adrien looks wrecked!”

“GET IT, GIRL!” shouted Alix.

Marinette blushed and shook her head, but she saw Adrien stand up, his shoulders hunched in and his neck still red. He looked terribly embarrassed. And suddenly Marinette felt bad. She hadn’t wanted to upset Adrien; she just wanted to make him act like Chat. She couldn’t have imagined that he would react like this.

“You know, Marinette, I think maybe you came off a little strong,” chided Alya.

“He should have been fine,” muttered Marinette. “It shouldn’t have messed him up this bad.”

“Yeah, well, maybe next time try to tone it down a bit?”

 

“I don’t get it, Tikki,” whispered Marinette, hiding in the bathroom two minutes before class. “Why did he act like that? He’s Chat!”

Marinette hadn’t thought Tikki could look exasperated, but that was before the look Tikki was giving her now.

“Oh but, come on, Tikki. Chat wouldn’t ever get embarrassed like that!”

“How would you know? You haven’t really flirted back before,” Tikki pointed out.

“Yeah, but…” Marinette bite her lip. She stared thinking. “Maybe…”

Tikki’s eyes suddenly widened. “Marinette, no!”

The bell rang, and Marinette jumped. “Tikki, quick! We’re late for class!”

“Marinette—!”

“No time! Hide!”

 

All through class, Marinette tapped her stylus against the table, watching Adrien’s head and thinking. She knew Chat. She knew how he moved, how he thought. Half the time she knew what he was going to do before he did it. She had to. Fighting akumas required an almost telepathic connection between Ladybug and Chat Noir.

She couldn’t be wrong could she?

***

Adrien survived the morning by ignoring Nino’s texts—Dude, what was that?—Just ask her out, dude—She lliiiiiikkkkkesss you—and trying his hardest to ignore Marinette. Though it was a little hard when he had the unbelievably strong feeling that the love of his life was staring holes in the back of his head.

Normally, Adrien hated when a photoshoot made him miss school. Today, he was grateful for it.

Well, and then there was the akuma.

“Pelting me with frozen vegetables?” shouted Chat, blocking the projectiles that shot out of Veggie Monster’s orange plastic cup at an alarming rate. “Don’t you carrot all?”

“I DON’T WANNA!” shouted Veggie Monster, shaking his cup furiously. “YOU EAT YOUR VEGGIES!”

A flood of green spewed out of Veggie Monster’s cup. Chat darted out of the way, crying, “Oh peas no!”

Veggie Monster paused to look at his plastic cup. “They aren’t peas,” he said flatly. “It’s broccoli.

Chat stopped. Ladybug wasn’t here yet, and his vegetable puns were on fire. Someone had to appreciate them.

“Look, it’s like ‘please.’ Oh please no. But with peas.”

Veggie Monster stomped his foot. “No, it’s broccoli.”

“I know that. But I said peas for the pun. Please/peas?”

“It’s BROCCOLI!”

And then gigantic heads of broccoli started hurtling at Chat at super sonic speeds. Chat jumped and dodged, wincing when one particularly large head hit his thigh.

“Aw, kid, why you bean like that?”

Something else hit his ankle, and he was about to curse his bad luck when he was yanked up into the air. Broccoli sailed below him as he flew up until—

“All right, Kitty? You look a bit strung up.”

Chat beamed. “Ladybug!”

She unwound her yoyo, sending him crashing to the rooftop. He moaned, rubbing his poor abused head, and suddenly Ladybug was there, squeezing him and patting his cheeks.

“Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean to! Sorry! Are you hurt?”

Chat stared at her.

Ladybug blinked. “What?”

Chat kept staring. “You just dropped me on my head.”

Ladybug’s face turned horrified, and, frantically, she started patting his cheeks (patting his cheeks???) again. “I know. I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Ladybug,” said Chat slowly. “You drop me on my head all the time. You throw me across Paris. Why are you suddenly apologetic now?

Underneath her mask, Ladybug blushed. Which really left Chat all kinds of confused, and the whole awkward conversation might have continued if Veggie Monster hadn’t started shouting, “COME BACK, CHAT! I WANT YOUR MIRACULOUS!”

Ladybug turned to Chat. “What’s the deal this time?”

“Some kid doesn’t want to eat his vegetables and has no appreciation for my puns.”

“Aw, Chat, that must so hard on you,” mocked Ladybug.

Chat pouted. “Wounded, my Lady. I am wounded. That you would mock my pain—Hey! My Lady, come back!”

But Ladybug was running off to the fight, and Chat scurried to join her.

With Ladybug now in, it should have been an easy match. But neither of them were prepared for “Knight Mode” where Veggie Monster summoned up a gigantic bushel of grain that was vaguely in the shape of a T-Rex, jumped on its back, and started charging with a massive carrot stick as his jousting stick.

“I RIDE SHADOWFLAX, LORD OF ALL GRAINS, AND YOU WILL TREMBLE BEFORE ME!”

“You can’t just switch genres like that!” shouted Chat, barely missing getting knocked over by the shockingly sharp carrot stick.

“Focus, Chat!” cried Ladybug.

Chat was focusing, but he was also trying to backflip over ground that was now covered in frozen peas. The fight was getting dicey. They needed an edge.

“Shadowfax was Glandalf’s horse,” shouted Chat. “So why does yours looks like a dinosaur?”

Veggie Monster turned his attention to Chat. “Shadowflax is a T. Rex because T. Rex’s are cool.

“Sure, kid. But you’re messing with some serious mythology here.”

“Is now really the right time to argue about Lord of the Rings?” hissed Ladybug.

“Just go and use your Lucky Charm,” said Chat, running the opposite direction and dodging slices of jicama, secretly very pleased that Ladybug got the reference.

“Oh. Right,” muttered Ladybug. Thirty seconds and a significant distance later, he heard an exasperated, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

Unfortunately, Chat wasn’t the only one who heard. Ladybug held an old-fashioned eggbeater in her hand, her eyes darting around, looking for its use, but Veggie Monster turned his attention on her. He charged.

“Ladybug!”

She looked up and Chat dove, but he was too far, too late. Veggie Monster rammed into Ladybug, sending her flying one direction and her yoyo another. Veggie Monster’s flax T-Rex roared (how was that even possible?) and reared up, ready to charge again.

Cataclysm!

No time to loose, Chat rolled to his feet and just caught the flax monster by its foot. It dissolved into dust. Veggie Monster fell to the ground. Chat used his baton to bat Veggie Monster back and raced for Ladybug.

She moaned, rolling over and clutching her stomach.

“Ladybug! Ladybug!

“Mm okay,” mumbled Ladybug. “Just—winded.” She mumbled out something else that sounded liked, “distracted.”

Meanwhile Chat’s hands fluttered uselessly above her suit, his heart pounding in his throat.

“Here.” Ladybug thrust the eggbeater at him. “Use it and—and throw it in the air.”

Would the Miraculous Cure work if Ladybug weren’t the one using it? Chat didn’t know, but Ladybug was now jabbing him in the leg.

Go!

Chat tucked the eggbeater into his belt and ran off. Meanwhile, Veggie Monster had stumbled back to his feet and was constructing a ten-foot long sword out of celery.

Celery…

Ladybug had Lucky Charm and clever, insane plans that always managed to work out. Chat had a beeping ring, reckless ideas, and really bad luck.

He charged the sword.

Veggie Monster swung, but even the super strength granted to him by the akuma wasn’t enough to control something over twice his size. Chat jumped onto the sword, and they both crashed to the ground. Immediately, Chat started drilling into the celery with the eggbeater. The stringiness of the celery tangled around the beaters. Chat pulled the beaters up, ripping more and more of the strings out of the husk. Meanwhile, Veggie Monster was started to get up.

Chat!

Chat quirked a ruthful smile. Somehow, he’d known Ladybug wouldn’t stay down. And with a single glance, he knew what she wanted. Veggie Monster ran at him, and Chat chucked the eggbeaters still tangled up in the celery string at Ladybug. She pulled the line tight, and Veggie Monster toppled over, clotheslined by his own celery.

Nimble as could be, Chat darted forward and plucked the cup from Veggie Monster’s hand. He threw it to Ladybug. She considered it for a moment then dropped it to the ground and stomped on it.

Out came the akuma. Ladybug caught it, cleansed it, and then threw the eggbeater in the air with a cry of, “Miraculous Ladybug!” She held out her fist.

Pound it!

Chat put his hands on Ladybug’s shoulders, looking at her intently. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, fine,” said Ladybug. She rubbed her side. “I was just dumb. Tried to come up with a pick up line instead of figuring out my Lucky Charm.”

Chat blinked. “Pick up line?”

Ladybug looked like she was about to say something when her earing beeped.

“You’ve got to go,” said Chat.

His ring beeped, and Ladybug smiled. “You, too, Kitty.”

Chat shrugged. “I’ve got time. And someone needs to get this little guy back to his parents.” He nodded toward the boy who had been Veggie Monster. Ladybug opened her mouth, but Chat stopped her. “Look, I wasn’t the one who get nailed this time. Let me take care of this.”

He tried to hit her with his kitten eyes, hoping to convince her not to argue for once. Not that kitten eyes ever worked on Ladybug.

Except…

Except this time, Ladybug’s eyes blew wide and her mouth opened open in the cutest, most tempting “o” he’d ever seen. For one eternal moment, they merely stared at each other, Chat trying desperately not to kiss her. Then, finally, something changed in Ladybug’s expression, something he couldn’t quite read but that softened her face and tied his stomach into knots.

Ladybug rose up onto her toes. “Thanks, Kitty,” she said softly.

And she kissed him on the cheek.

With a smile that was both saucy and mind-numbingly sweet, she threw her yoyo and swung away.

Adrien didn’t even really register the feel of her lips, his face too busy attempting to reach the exact temperature of the sun. He felt his knees turn to water and then give out. Heat spread across his entire face, down his neck, onto his chest. Prickled down his spine. He stared blankly into the distance.

She…Ladybug…my…Kissed!!!

In the end, it was a kindly reporter who returned the akuma victim to his family.

***

“See, Tikki?” Marinette whispered into her purse as she ran back to school. “I try to flirt with Chat, and he just hits me back by being cheesy and appallingly sweet.” Not that Marinette was about to admit exactly what Chat’s sweetness, cheesiness and all, did to her. Just thinking about the look he’d given her made her want to curl into a ball and squeal.

She hadn’t planned on kissing Chat, but really, she thought she should get credit for not just attacking his face. And now the dumb cat was going to lord over it for a week. He was probably strutting around, bragging about his kiss from Ladybug to whoever would listen. She ran up the school stairs, shaking her head. She could just see his smirk now—

“Marinette!”

Alya grabbed her before she’d even made it past the top step. Marinette started on her usual excuse, but Alya didn’t even pause to listen. She thrust her phone into Marinette’s face. “Look! Look at this! Ladybug kissed Chat Noir—on the cheek—and look!

Marinette grabbed the phone that was in danger of knocking her nose off and saw the picture on the screen. Chat was collapsed on his knees, his eyes stunned, and every visible bit of skin a brilliant, glowing red.

“Chat Noir looks wrecked!

A vague whooshing sound filled Marinette’s ears. Oh lord, she thought. They really are the same.

Chapter Text

“I know, I know, Tikki!” cried Marinette, waving her arms around frantically as she spun in her desk chair. “But I don’t get it!”

“They’ve always been the same person, just like you and Ladybug,” said Tikki. “It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.”

“But – But—” spluttered Marinette. “But Chat always seemed so confident.”

“Confidence is easy to fake,” Tikki said. “Especially if others expect it.”

Marinette bowed over her knees. “I always knew Adrien was a bit…uncertain, maybe. But I never expected it of Chat.”

“Is Chat really that different from Adrien?”

“Of course he is! He makes jokes and is silly and…” Marinette’s voice trailed off. A truly troubling thought hit her.

“Tikki,” she whispered. “Chat uses humor to hide behind, doesn’t he?”

The jokes, the flirting and dramatics—all a perfect formula to make sure she never took him too seriously. Could never completely reject him. A façade that let her get close, but never close enough. Just like…

“Adrien does the same thing,” realized Marinette slowly. “With politeness.”

She looked up at Tikki, praying she was wrong, but Tikki fluttered in front of her, her blue eyes earnest. “Marinette, you’ve always had a very sure idea of who you are and want you want. That’s why you and Ladybug aren’t so different. But with Chat Noir…I don’t think he has that.”

“So…” Thoughts and connections bubbled up in Marinette’s head. Adrien’s eagerness to encourage their classmates. Chat’s uncanny ability to move scrutinizing attention off himself. Adrien’s overeagerness to make friends. Chat’s almost complete lack of personal space.

And it went deeper than that. Hadn’t she always felt Chat seemed just a little too accustomed to disappointment? Was too eager to sacrifice his safety for hers? And Adrien, always supporting others, never asking for help in return. Adrien’s father, whom Nino told Alya and Marinette about in low undertones. Chat, who never wanted to go home.

Marinette’s breath hitched. She hunched over, hugging herself, because now that she saw both sides it was all coming together, and it broke her heart. This boy, this one, amazing, complicated boy who was so lonely but so hopeful. Who loved his friends and dreaded home. Who wanted desperately to be free but who yearned for connection. Who was kind and sweet and patient and reckless and impulsive. Who was screaming with a need for validation that she’d never bothered to pick up on…

“Tikki,” choked Marinette. “How was I so blind?”

Tikki patted Marinette’s cheek. “Adrien is very good a becoming what people need him to be,” she explained. “He would have tried very hard not to let you see.”

Marinette spun in slow circles in her desk chair, her heart aching for this wonderful mess of a boy.

“But… There’s still something I don’t get,” she said finally. “Chat jokes around all the time with Ladybug. I tease him and poke at him constantly, and he just plays off of it. He starts it most the time. But when I tried with Adrien…Why wasn’t it the same?”

Tikki hovered in front of Marinette's eyes. “Chat feels safe with Ladybug. Adrien doesn’t have the same connection with you as Marinette. It’s not that he doesn’t like you, he just doesn’t know you well enough to feel safe with you yet.”

Marinette thought that over for a while. “So I guess I need to get to know Adrien better, then.”

Tikki beamed at her. “I think that’s a great idea, Marinette!”

 

There was, however, one last thing Marinette wanted to try.

“Hey, Nino!”

She leaned over her desk toward where Nino sat in front of her. Adrien hadn’t come in yet.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot, dude.”

Marinette took a deep breath and plunged in. “Is Adrien…different when he’s not at school? When he’s with you, does he, uh, loosen up? Maybe?”

Nino’s eyebrows shot up, but he was grinning. “Oh yeah. Dude, my bro Adrien’s like an entirely different person one-on-one.”

And as Nino spoke, Marinette’s heart lit up. She leaned forward. “What’s he like?”

Nino pulled off his hat and scratched his head, grin still in place. “Well, for one thing, he does not shut up. Like get him started on anime? Good luck ever getting him stop. Dude knows more than any reasonable human being should. And you would not believe how excited he gets about it. Or video games. Or anything old man Agreste doesn’t make him do, really. Dude is a total dork. And he has the worst sense of humor, too. Makes these awful puns and then laughs at his own jokes.” Nino rolled his eyes, pulling his hat back on with a shake of his head. “It’s terrible.”  

Slowly, Marinette’s smile grew, spreading until it hurt her cheeks. That was Chat she knew. The Adrien that Nino knew. He wasn’t alone. Relief flooded through her as she realized Nino was there. Kind, supportive, reliable Nino. Present in his civilian life. And—really, was it possible to drown in relief? She felt she could finally breathe properly again. He wasn’t alone.

“You all right, dude? You’ve got this funny expression on your face.”

“Sorry,” blushed Marinette. “Your description just reminded me of someone else.”

“It couldn’t happen to be me?” joked Nino.

Marinette laughed and shook her head. She glanced at the clock. She might still have a minute before Adrien came in.

"But why do you think he’s different?”

Nino shrugged. “He’s shy.”

Alya, who had been looking at views on the Ladyblog, scoffed. “Adrien’s not shy.”

Nino twisted around to frown at her. “So how would you describe it, then?”

Alya thought for a minute. “He’s…insecure. And a bit awkward.”

“Awkward?” repeated Marinette.

But Nino was laughing again. “Well, dude’s only friend was Chloe for ages. And everything else he learned either from movies or TV shows, so…”

Marinette thought of Chat’s ridiculously over the top flirting, almost reminiscent of—

“That explains so much.”

Alya was giving her a weird look, but she was spared explaining by the arrival of Adrien himself. Adrien slid into the bench next to Nino. He cut his eyes at Marinette, but all he managed was a quiet “hi” to the floor and a bright blush. His eyes darted to Marinette again and then down.

Remembering what Tikki had said about Adrien feeling safe with Ladybug but not Marinette, she smiled gently. “Good morning, Adrien.”

Adrien flushed spectacularly. Then, just before class started, he managed in an almost inaudible voice, “Good morning, Marinette.”

For now, she’d leave it at that.

***

Chloe painted her nails while she talked, a habit that Adrien had grown to particularly hate since becoming Chat Noir. Plagg said that the miraculous didn’t significantly change his human senses, but Adrien swore Chloe’s nail polish had never smelled quite so sharp before. Across the square, Marinette was laughing with Juleka and Rose, and only a left-over sense of loyalty to Chloe who, for all her faults had been his only friend for years and who he knew was sometimes as lonely as he was, prevented him from rushing to join them.

Well, that and the fact that he could no longer form a coherent sentence around Marinette.

Still, Chloe’s nail polish smelled awful.

“…so I can’t imagine what was up with her,” continued Chloe, extending her hand so her newly painted nails nearly hit Adrien in the face.

Adrien leaned away, wrinkling his nose. “Chloe.”

She pouted. “Were you even listening to me, Adrikins?”

Adrien thought it best not to answer that.

With a huff, Chloe brought her fingers close to her face and blew on them. “I was saying Marinette has hit new levels of weird this week.”

Adrien’s stomach tied up in knots and then turned into a jellified mess. Marinette… But he didn’t like the condescending look on Chloe’s face right now.

“Marinette is fine,” said Adrien. More than fine. Incredible, amazing, intimidating…

Chloe scoffed. “Are we talking about the same person? Marinette is a walking disaster. I mean, watching her with her crush was already pathetic, but now this—”

Adrien’s heart cracked.

“Crush?”

“Really, Adrien?” scoffed Chloe. “Are you that oblivious?”

A crush. She had a crush. He’d always suspected she might be unattainable, but he hadn’t expected how much it would hurt. She had a crush. She liked someone else…

Of course, Adrien’s world might be collapsing, but Chloe wasn’t paying attention.

“She’s only so obvious about it. The stuttering, the tripping, always trying to be where you are like a creepy stalker. It’s pa-the-tic. As if she is good enough for you.”

Slowly, very slowly, Adrien’s heart restarted. “She has a crush…on me?”

“Only since forever,” said Chloe. “Ugh, she is so obnoxious about it, too. Like, could you not be a spaz for two minutes? And I don’t know what’s been up with her lately. Is that her trying to flirt?” Chloe scoffed heartily, but Adrien had long since stopped paying attention.

 

Marinette liked him? Him? He knew Chloe had her own reality she liked to live in. Everything she said had to be taken with a grain of salt. At best, Marinette had a very, very slight interest in him. In—

Oh.

In Adrien.

He should have guessed.

Chapter Text

“Ready for patrol, Kitty?”

Instead of dropping onto the roof like she normally did, Ladybug hung upside down from a gargoyle above him, Spiderman-style, and wearing an impish grin.

Chat straightened up, a flirtatious remark one his tongue, when he remembered what Chloe had said. She likes Adrien.

“Ready when you are,” he said with a soft smile.

Ladybug flipped over and landed beside him, her head tilted to the side. “Chat, are you—” She cut herself off, searching his face a little before shaking her head. “All right, then.” She nodded once. “There’s a park I wanted to check up on…”

And they were off. Chat ran behind her, careful to be polite, swallowing the urge to throw out puns or flirtatious lines and keeping a respectful distance between them. Polite and kind. And now that he was paying attention, he couldn’t believe how inappropriate he’d been before. All up in her personal space? Purposely riling her up? What on earth had he been thinking? Had he let the anonymity of Chat Noir completely go to his head? His father would be appalled to even think such behavior possible of Adrien Agreste. He was appalled he’d forgotten himself so quickly.

As his shame grew, his desire to pun or flirt faded away, making it easier and easier to behave like Adrien. This was good. Ladybug didn’t roll her eyes once. This was probably what she’d been wishing heroing was like all along. She was probably wondering if it was possible for her good luck to last. But it would. He could finally make her happy…

“Chaton?”

Ladybug placed her hand on his arm. Normally, they would split off to go home here, but right now Ladybug leaded toward him, her blue eyes troubled.

“Chaton,” she said softly. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” said Chat. “Of course, my Lady.”

“You sure?” prodded Ladybug. “You’re not acting like yourself.”

Chat flushed. “No, I’m fine, Ladybug.”

Ladybug didn’t look convinced. She unhooked her yoyo, throwing it casually once and sending him a quick scowl.

“Where are the puns, then? The ‘Oh, my Lady, what a paw-sitively purr-fect night’?” She did a surprisingly accurate imitation of his voice before snapping her yoyo back into her hand. “And you didn’t challenge me to a race or a parkour contest or–or anything. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong!” cried Chat. But now by Ladybug had sunk her teeth in, and she wasn’t letting go.

“Uh huh. So what’s up with you today?” For a moment, she simply glared at him, hands on her hips, but then something pasted over her eyes. Her body language softened, became worried. “Oh no. Chat, it’s not me, is it?”

“No, of course not!” he cried. But he spoke too quickly, and Ladybug picked up on it.

Her face paled with horror. “Chat, I’m so sorry! You don’t take my teasing seriously, do you? Oh no, I’m the worst friend. Chat, please, you have to know. You can trust me—”

“Trust you? Of course I trust you!”

“Then why are you acting like this!” cried Ladybug.

Chat was flabbergasted. “Ladybug, I–I…”

There were—were there tears in her eyes? Chat didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on, but he had to fix it. Frantically, he tried explain, managing little better than word vomit.

“It’s not your fault! Please, Ladybug, you didn’t do anything wrong. You couldn’t! You just— I – I messed up. I figured out your identity. On accident! I’m sorry. I swear I didn’t mean to. I just looked at the wrong time, and then—I never meant to know without you telling me, I promise, I would never betray your trust—”

“But you know?” whispered Ladybug, eyes blown wide.

“Yes, and—and—” And this was the hard part. He rubbed the back of his neck, desperate to hide his insecurity and knowing he was failing. He tried to cover it with a sheepish smile. “See, thing is we actually know each other. As civilians. And, uh, and… youlikemebetterlikethat.

Ladybug’s eyes narrowed. “I like you better like what?”

“As–as a civilian.” He tried to put on a nice Adrien smile, but he knew it had too much Chat in it. Why was it so hard to be controlled around Ladybug?

Ladybug, who was very quickly appearing angry. “You think I like you better as that?”

“Yeah. Well, you don’t know who I am so you probably don’t realize I’m not normally—”

“I know perfectly well who you are, Adrien Agreste!”

Adrien’s heart plunged. No. Nononono. He hadn’t really imagined how this scenario would go, but he knew this was not the outcome he wanted. Ladybug knew his identity. This was a disaster.

His panic was not helped at all the anger growing in Ladybug’s expression. “But that still doesn’t explain why you’re acting like this,” she growled.

He threw up his hands. “You like Adrien! I thought you’d like me better like him—”

WHAT?

Adrien jumped away at Ladybug’s screech. “I—I—”

“You thought I’d like you better like this?”

“Ladybug, please—”

She stormed forward, jabbing him in the chest. “You think I want subdued, never says what he thinks, total pushover Adrien?”

His cheeks were flaming, his heart sinking, and all he could manage was to shout back. “Well, you never looked twice at Chat! Forgive me for trying to be someone you wanted!”

Blood drained from Ladybug’s face, but by this time the full repercussions of her words had started to sink in. He hunched his shoulders in, feeling rejection sharp in his gut.

“I–I thought you liked Adrien,” he whispered. And his voice cracked.

The worst part was he should have known. She was Marinette. Marinette was nice to everybody. He knew that. She could even be nice to Chloe, whom she hated. Obviously anything she felt toward him was obligatory kindness.

“Chat…” pleaded Ladybug, but he turned away.

How could he have believed Chloe? He knew there was no way he could ever be impressive enough for her. She pitied him, maybe, but in the end, she despised him. He wasn’t enough, he wasn’t ever enough…

“Chat, no. Chat—Adrien, stop!” Ladybug grabbed his arm, but he still refused to look at her. He was trembling, and—Oh no, he couldn’t start crying. Not now. Even as he felt completely gutted, scraped of even Marinette’s friendship—No. He had to stop. He had to control himself. He couldn’t—

“No, no, no! Adrien! Chat! I’m sorry! I said that all wrong. Please—”

“It’s all right.” His voice sounded like he had a terrible cold. “I’ll just—” He made to go, but Ladybug’s fingers closed around his arm with a vice-like grip.

“NO! Chat, listen to me. I do like Adrien. I do. You have no idea how much—”

“Please don’t lie to me, Ladybug,” said Adrien.

Ladybug’s jaw dropped. For a moment, she simply gaped. Then she let go of his arm and took at step back. Though he expected it, the ease with which Ladybug acquiesced cut him like nothing else. Rejection smarted on his tongue.

But then Ladybug’s yoyo flashed out, binding him chest to knee. He couldn’t move an inch as Ladybug yanked the line tight and pulled him toward her.

“Now you listen here,” she said, jabbing him hard in the chest. “I. Like. You.” Each word was punctuated with another sharp jab. “You. You got that? There’s no Adrien or Chat about it because I. Like. You. Either side of the mask, you’re still a kind, patient, generous, almost scarily selfless boy who I am lucky to have met. And to think I had got to meet you twice! Even Ladybug shouldn’t be that lucky!”

Ladybug smiled up at him, her wide, splits-her-face-in-two smile that rumpled up the edges of her mask. His mind was still a reeling, spiraling mess, and Ladybug’s expression softened. She squeezed his shoulder.

“What I don’t like is that Adrien is so subdued that almost no one knows he has the biggest mouth in Paris. I don’t like that Chat’s so exaggerated it’s hard to figure out what he’s really feeling. And I hate,” added Ladybug fiercely, “that both my boys could be hurting, and I might never know.”

Ladybug retracted her yoyo, freeing him, but she kept her hand resting on his shoulder. She gentled her voice a little. “So I’m asking again: why are you acting like Adrien today?”

Chat shrugged, helpless. “I thought you liked Adrien better. It seemed wrong to act like Chat when Adrien would make you happier.”

Ladybug looked furious, but just before she started yelling again, she took a deep breath and breathed out through her nose. “Okay.” Another deep breath. “Okay, you stupid cat, so maybe I might have possibly liked Adrien better, but that was before I realized you were the same person. And in any case, I would have still missed Chat! Gah, you’re one of my best friends, Chat! How on earth did you think you could just disappear on me like that?”

“But if you liked Adrien better—”

“For the past week I’ve been trying to get Adrien to act like Chat because I needed to prove to myself you were the same person! It didn’t even occur to me to get Chat to act like Adrien!” Ladybug scrubbed her hands over her face. “I mean, I didn’t totally have it right. I sort of just assumed Chat was your real personality, and Tikki was ready to beat me for not realizing that you’re both real, but the point is, if you start acting all quiet and polite because you think that’s what I want, I’m going to throw you across Paris.”

“Right,” said Chat. His tail swished nervously back and forth while he tried process exactly what she was trying to tell him. It seemed like it should be obvious, but it sat just out of his reach. He decided to start with the basics.

“You like Chat?”

Ladybug rolled her eyes. “Oh my gosh, yes, you dumb cat!”

“And you like Adrien?”

Ladybug looked a little embarrassed this time, but she nodded. “Yes.”

Chat bit his lip, but it wasn’t enough to stop the anxiety boiling in his heart.

“But then,” he said worriedly, “Who do you want me to be?”

Ladybug’s face fell. “Oh, Chat. That’s not want I meant at all.”

And now his heart was racing because he’d misunderstood, he’d disappointed her. He didn’t know what she wanted, and it was like with his father. Expectations he didn’t understand, that he couldn’t meet. He was going to fail. He was going to lose her, too—

Kitty.” Ladybug placed both her hands on his face. “Breathe, Kitty.”

He obeyed her, staring into her blue eyes. Kind eyes, so much warmer than his father’s.

“Weren’t you listening, mon minou? I like all of you, Chat and Adrien. All I want from you is for you to be you. Whoever that is.” Ladybug bit her lip. “And maybe I was a little pushy over the past few days, and I’m sorry. I should have realized Chat was hiding something, too. Which, actually,” Ladybug’s voice hardened a little. “You need to stop playing all your problems off as a joke. Seriously, Chat. All that teasing about never wanting to leave my side? You could have just told me you hated going home.”

He glanced at his feet. “I don’t want to trouble you, my Lady.”

“Too late,” said Ladybug. “You’re my friend. My friend twice over, it turns out. Your troubles are my troubles now.”

Adrien blinked back at her, unbelieving. It had been one thing to try to get used to Nino looking out for him. But Nino was chill, didn’t push, and generally preferred a rather understated style of support. It was quite another thing to be faced with Marinette’s sweetness combined with Ladybug’s stubbornness and to realize they were the same person and they were both claiming his as their own. To realize she meant that just as much about Chat as Adrien or vise versa.

Ladybug tapped his cheek, bringing him back to the present.

“Hey, now, what I really want you to know is that you’re safe with me. Me Ladybug or me Marinette. You don’t need to fake anything with either one.”

She smiled. “So whether you end up acting more Chat-like or Adrien-like or if you’re more comfortable being one or the other in different contexts, that’s fine. I like you.”

Finally, finally something of what Ladybug was saying cracked through.

“Can – Can I see?” he asked tentatively.

“What?” said Ladybug.

“Can I see you—” He gestured helplessly, already losing courage. He was stupid. She’d already offered so much and he was asking—

But Ladybug only hesitated a moment.

“Tikki, spots off.”

And there was Marinette.

Marinette, looking shy and a tad nervous and dressed in some oversized Jagged Stone t-shirt, but Marinette all the same, smiling at him. He couldn’t help himself. He lurched forward and wrapped his arms around her, sighing with relief when her arms wound around his back.

“Ah, Kitty,” she sighed into his chest. “I’ll always love you.”

He collapsed into her at that moment, and if he was trembling, Marinette was kind enough not to mention it. Instead, her hands rubbed up and down his back while she murmured against his neck.

“My kitty. My silly, silly kitty.”

And it took more courage than he thought he had, but he finally managed to collect the nerve to say, “P-Plagg. Claws in.” He buried his face deeper into Marinette’s hair while the transformation washed over him, terrified that once it was just him, she’d pull away, but Marinette only hugged him tighter.

“It’s all right, Adrien. You’re still mine.”

Even if everything in his life went wrong from this point onward, at least he had this moment.

***

“Hey, Chat?”

“Don’t talk. I’m sleeping.”

“Some useless cat, you are,” chided Ladybug, pushing lightly at his head, but he could hear the smile in her voice. They were both spread eagle on the roof after a particularly rough akuma, trying to gain the energy to return to normal life, him with his head pillowed on Ladybug’s stomach. Though the fight had lasted a good three hours, exhausting them both, neither of them had used their special powers since their last recharge, so they had all the time in the world.

Chat rolled over, supporting his weight on his elbows and pushing his face close to Ladybug’s.

“I thought you had something to say to me, my Lady,” he said with a smirk. He was trying to loosen up as Adrien, at least around Marinette, but it was still easier to be himself as Chat. And Marinette, to her credit, took it all in stride.

Which, in this case, meant rolling her eyes. “I was going to say something serious, but now you’ve ruined the mood.”

“But my Laaddyyy,” whined Chat, giving her his best kitten eyes. Ladybug merely shoved him away by his nose and sat up. But then she chewed on the edge of her lip, thoughtfully.

“I just… I thought you should know, you weren’t the only who was a little nervous about revealing your identity.”

Chat sat up in disbelief. “Really?”

Ladybug shrugged. “I wasn’t sure what you’d think of Marinette. I mean, revealing your secret identity, that’s pretty huge.” She smiled. “And isn’t not like Marinette’s some big deal.”

“Are you kidding?” balked Chat. “When I found out that not only are you Ladybug, Savior of Paris, but also Marinette flippin’ Dupain-Cheng, I couldn’t even talk to you without the mask!”

Ladybug laughed. “Aw, Chat. You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not,” insisted Chat, praying his mask hid his blush. “Do you not remember like two days ago? I was a mess.”

Ladybug laughed again, this time patting Chat on the head. “Poor, Chaton,” she crooned. “And at the same time I was trying to goad you into acting more like Chat—you really do have rotten luck, Kitty.”

“Tell me about it,” said Chat. “Nino was starting to get legitimately concerned about me.”

“And Alya wasn’t worried about me?” Ladybug laughed.

“Touché,” conceded Chat.

“I think they’re both really relieved we can finally talk like normal people,” Ladybug mused. “Though Alya keeps asking me what happened.”

Chat grinned. “What do you tell her?”

Ladybug’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, I just tell her Adrien is a really big Ladybug fan, and we bonded over that.”

“Not a lie, exactly. What do you tell her about Chat Noir?”

Ladybug raised her eyebrows with the most fake innocent expression he’d ever seen. “Who?”

Bugaboo!” Chat lunged for her, and Ladybug shoved him back. They rolled around the rooftop for a bit in a half-hearted wrestling match. It ended quickly, with both of them already exhausted. They stared at the sky, a tangle of limbs.

“I’m not done yet, you know,” said Ladybug. “Trying to get Adrien to act like Chat.”

“Um,” said Chat. Because while he and Ladybug might have come to a better understanding now, if Marinette stared flirting like that again, Chat was going to start digging his own grave.

“Oh, don’t worry, Kitty,” said Ladybug, poking him in the side. “I understand you a lot better now. I’ve got a plan.”

Chat gave a long-suffering sigh. “You do realize you’ve said the exact same thing before throwing me face-first at an akuma, right?”

Ladybug, the picture of maturity, pretended not to hear him. And Chat decided to let it go. He trusted Ladybug after all.

(Mostly)

And if he did end up meeting his end by Ladybug, well…

That didn’t sound like such a bad way to go.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later…

“Alya, yes!”

“Alya, NO!”

“Dare you, Adrien,” smiled Marinette, holding up a video game controller and waggling her eyebrows.

"Erm.” Adrien glanced at Marinette’s kitchen where Alya and Nino where wrestling over a bowl of whipped cream. “Shouldn’t we—?”

“Psh, them?” said Marinette. “Nino’s got it under control.” Some whipped cream hit the ceiling, but Marinette kept smirking at him. “I think you’re just a scaredy-cat.”

"Okay, not only was that uncalled for, that was a terrible use of a pun.”

“Just calling it as it is,” sang Marinette, casually swinging the controller on its cord until Adrien snatched it out of her hands. “Hey!”

Adrien quickly squirmed to the other side of the couch, out of her immediate reach while getting to the start screen on the TV. “Sounds pretty confident for someone who’s never played the game before,” he teased.

Marinette snatched up the second controller. “What was that?”

“I said sounds pur-ty confident for someone who’s about to lose,” smirked Adrien. “Your pretty face won’t save you this time, Princess.”

He expected Marinette make some snappy retort or, more likely, shove him off the couch. But she didn’t do either. Adrien glanced over and saw Marinette with her mouth popped open while her eyes got wider and wider. Then she jumped up, flailing and pointing at him.

“That’s it! That’s it!

“What’s wha—Oof!”

Marinette leaped onto him, knocking them both backwards into the couch, landing in a tangle of limbs, and she was absolutely beaming.

Chat!” she breathed.

And then she took his face and kissed him.

Fireworks exploded, sins were forgiven, somewhere Hawk Moth even momentarily grew a heart. Adrien was pinned under Marinette, unable to do anything, and he was in heaven.

Seconds later, Marinette pulled back, her cheeks a beautiful shade of pink. “Sorry.”

“I-I guess I did something right,” said Adrien in a strange, breathless voice.

Definitely,” breathed Marinette. She blushed. Joy bubbled up in Adrien, fizzing and overflowing—

And knocking out all of his good judgment.

“…But you’re still going to lose. Your distraction tactics don’t work on me.”

That was a flat out lie and one Adrien immediately regretted because Marinette got off him, arms folded across her chest.

“I take it back. I don’t want to see you act like Chat anymore. Go back to Adrien.”

“But you lliiiiikkkkkkkeee me,” crooned Adrien, pushing his face close to hers.

Marinette placed a finger on his nose about to push him away like Ladybug did Chat, but then she paused, her expression softening. The moment lengthened. They were inches apart. He could see every fleck of blue in those eyes he loved so much, and now he could see the skin around them, her eyebrows, even the creases of her eyelids. What would it be like to kiss those—

WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?

Adrien and Marinette sprang apart.

Alya!” cried Nino, scandalized.

Adrien felt his face flaming. Beside him, Marinette’s face looked much the same.

“BUT MY OTP! IT’S HAPPENING!”

“Except it’s not because of your yelling.”

For someone who claimed not to care about who his friends were dating, Nino sounded disproportionately put out.

Adrien looked at Marinette. She had her face buried in her hands, but she raised her head to look at him.

Is this actually happening? Adrien asked with his eyes.

Did you expect anything else? Marinette’s expression said back.

And to his amazement, it was exactly like when they were in suit. They could read each other perfectly. Adrien’s face broke into a smile, and Marinette’s soon followed, starting out sheepish but quickly growing more genuine.

Alya was still shouting incoherently, cursing herself for not getting the moment on camera, while Nino tried to bring her back to the realm of sanity (without much success).

Very tentatively, Adrien reached out, laying his fingers across Marinette’s. For a moment, she looked stunned before flipping her hand over and firmly lacing her fingers through his. Butterflies erupted in Adrien’s stomach and funny, because they had kissed not two minutes ago, but suddenly he couldn’t look straight at her. A quick glance at Marinette showed her cheeks were pink just like his.

“This is good, right?” he said.

“Absolutely,” said Marinette, bobbing her head emphatically. She started bouncing in her seat, his hand still clamped firmly in hers. “Yes, this is good. Good. Very. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening!” Marinette finished it off with a wordless squeal, even kicked her feet a little, and it pierced Adrien to the very heart.

And then, an absolutely crazy thought struck him: Maybe, just maybe, Marinette was as hopelessly lovesick as he was.

Not possible, said the realistic part of him, but Marinette kept sitting next to him, practically vibrating, squeezing his hand so hard it hurt, and sneaking him huge, embarrassed smiles. And slowly he had to accept—

Maybe…

“My Lady, you’re adorable,” he whispered when he couldn’t hold it in anymore.

Marinette beamed. “Iloveyou,” she spat out.

She flushed immediately. Adrien’s heart stopped and restarted at twice its strength. He leaned forward—

“MARI, YOU FINALLY DID IT! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU, GIRL!”

“ALYA!” cried three variously annoyed and scandalized voices. Not that it made any difference to the girl currently clobbering Marinette.

Adrien met Nino’s eyes. Nino sent him a “What can you do?” shrug back.

At least Marinette still hadn’t let go of his hand.

And later, while the last golden rays of the sunset lit up Paris, he saw the light reflect in Ladybug’s eyes before kissing her again and again.

And the most amazing thing? Ladybug just kept kissing him back.