It was the evening of the third day of Adrien’s confinement. The sun had set below the Parisian skyline long before, Adrien’s mood darkening along with the sky itself.
No communication with the outside world. No Superhero-ing. No leaving the house at all.
“Will you please stop all that?!” Plagg snapped at him over a plate of various cheeses that had mysteriously appeared outside the room a while back. The kwami suspected who’d left it, but even he knew not to bring it up now.
Adrien stopped his pacing, brows furrowed. “Stop what?”
“All of that,” Plagg scowled back, looking at him up and down, waggling his one free hand, “brooding.”
In an instant, Adrien went from confused annoyance to downright affront, “I am not brooding.”
“You’re brooding more one of those awful 19th century gentlemen. The kind that used to think hugging their dead girlfriend’s corpses was romantic.”
“Ew!” Adrien wrinkled his nose, “Couldn’t you have said I was brooding more than Batman or something?”
“That would imply you were as cool as Batman,” Plagg smirked around a slice of brie.
Adrien was about to tell Plagg exactly what he could do with that brie when he was interrupted by an incredibly loud knock at the window behind him. Swivelling on his heels, his eyes widened at the sight of Ladybug, hanging by her trusty yo-yo, on the other side of the glass.
He hardly had time to ignore the way his heart leapt in his chest (what the hell?) before she was lifting up a little wicker picnic basket and pointing to it. She was saying something but Adrien couldn’t quite hear her.
Approaching the window, he raised his voice “HI! THE WINDOWS ARE THICK! I CAN’T HEAR YOU”
“WHAT?” Ladybug was gesturing, and Adrien was pretty sure she was saying, “The windows! Open up!”
“I CAN’T!” Adrien yelled back, knocking on the glass. “BULLETPROOF GLASS. YOU NEED A CODE TO OPEN IT”
“BULLET-PROOF. GLASS!” He yelled slowly, waving his arms around his head, to all four corners of the wall-sized windows. “CAN’T GET IN! YOU’LL HAVE TO GO AROUND THE FRONT!”
“I can’t hearrrrr you!” Ladybug was yelling, curving her arm horizontally, “I’LL GO AROUND THE FRONT!”
“Good grief it’s like watching two sea slugs try communicating,” Plagg grumbled from his new hiding spot.
Ladybug disappeared around the side of the building. As soon as she was gone Adrien looked down at himself, horrified to realise he was in his pyjamas and it wasn’t even midnight yet! God she’d probably think he was so lame.
Running to his bathroom, he checked out his reflection, his hair, his teeth. Halfway through this frantic check-over he wondered what the hell he was doing. This was Ladybug . She was his friend . More than that right now, she was the person assigned to protect his civilian self- for all she knew they had a strictly professional relationship.
So why was he acting like some teenage boy desperate to impress his crush?
Squashing that thought flatter than fizzy drink left out in the summer sun, Adrien shook his head and stomped defiantly away from his reflection, as if daring himself to be less presentable to- well- anyone.
He actually couldn’t remember anyone ever seeing him so un-put-together. Marinette got pretty close when she’d run into him the night after their first time (not that she’d known it of course).
Once again, Adrien tried to ignore the pang in his chest when he thought of Marinette and how much he longed to be free of these stupid threats, how much he was worried about her and all their romantic controversy and how she was handling it all without him…
At least Nino had been cleared to call him earlier that day, and promised him that Marinette was a little stressed but otherwise fine, cheering him up with stories of Marinette’s mother shooing a reporter from their shop. But it was a plaster on a gaping wound.
A knock (on the door this time) and Adrien all but sprinted to let Ladybug into his room.
Holding up the picnic basket she’d shown him before she chuckled, “Sorry about all that! I was saying I bought you some baked goods. You’ve seemed so- you know- the past few days have been rough.”
A wave of fondness washed over Adrien as he gestured for her to sit on the plush white sofa, sitting next to her as she held out the basket to him. He took it, glancing at the cookies with a smile. “Are you suggesting I eat my feelings?”
Ladybug beamed. “Sure am!”
“You know I am a model,” Adrien teased, hoping to fluster her.
But Ladybug remained unflustered. Crossing her legs as Adrien placed the cookies on the table in front of them she sighed. “Yeah, yeah I know you’re a model. Speaking of which, is your dad still insisting you do that big fashion show tomorrow night?”
Adrien’s mood darkened once again. “Yeah,” he huffed, “Apparently it’s the one thing I’m allowed to go outside for. There’s going to be armoured cars and stuff, and security checking people as they come in. Plus you’ll be there, so I’m not worried. But I’m just so”- he groaned, scratching his hair- “it’s just so typical. My life can come to a halt but heaven forbid I miss a fashion show.”
“Do you really hate it that much?” Ladybug asked sadly.
He sat up waving his arms with a sheepish chuckle. “No, I don’t hate it,” he said and it was the truth. “I just wish that there could be a little leeway with things I care about, rather than things only my parents care about.”
Adrien chose to say nothing in response. Instead he went for the cookies. His eyebrows shot up when Ladybug’s arm flew out to stop him. “You know, as your bodyguard, I guess I better take these back if it’s going to hurt your career, considering you have the big fashion show tomorrow night. More for me!”
“No, no, no,” Adrien hurried, diving past her arms and wrapping his hands around the basket like a mother might around her new born baby. “ My cookies.”
“But you said you’re a model,” Ladybug smirked. “These are bad for you.”
“Bad for the body, good for the soul,” Adrien argued, pulling them out of her reach. Ladybug pouted, kneeling on the sofa and making a swipe for them.
“Ugh! Stop being so tall! Give me!”
“Come and get them,” Adrien laughed, tilting his head back to where he’d held the basket out of her reach. Ladybug’s arm made a grab for them again and he pulled his arm back further. He was so focused on the task at hand that he’d failed to notice the warm weight settling between his knees.
“ Adrien -”
“Lit- Ladybug ”
“You know I could just use my yo-yo on you or something,” she grumbled, huffing as she made another attempt the reach the cookies.
“Didn’t know you were that kinky,” Adrien let slip before he could help himself, forgetting AGAIN that he wasn’t meant to be familiar enough with her to make those sorts of jokes. His whole body flooded with ice as heat burst onto his cheeks. “I mean err…” his eyes darted back to her, frantically gauging her reaction.
And that’s when he noticed how they’d both ended up.
Ladybug hadn’t quite caught on yet. “Oh yeah,” she scoffed, “like you’d ever find out”- her words died as her eyes met his, as she joined Adrien in the realisation of how they’d ended up.
Both of them froze.
She was in his lap. Their chests were pressed together, their noses almost brushing. She was so close, he could see the deep blush spreading from underneath her mask, to the tips of her ears. Adrien had one hand against her shoulder, a hand that had previously been trying to push her away. It curled around her now, subtle, as if the hand was willing to stay, as though it knew something that he didn’t.
The movement shocked them both out of their stupors, and Ladybug scrambled off his lap, Adrien brought the cookies back, sitting upright, the pair mumbling apologies as they pointedly refused to look at each other.
Ladybug was mortified . Honestly, what was the matter with her? She hadn’t been kissed by her strangely missing boyfriend in days and was suddenly taking all her pent-up heartbreak and layers of muddled frustration and longing onto Adrien instead?
No that wasn’t it. They were just messing around. She hadn’t meant to get so close to him. She really had been focused on the cookies.
Her shoulder tingled. She ignored it.
“Sorry,” she sighed another apology. “I’m acting super unprofessional. I just”- she pouted, crossing her legs and resting her elbow on her raised leg, her chin on her hand- “I just wanted to cheer you up. I’m not very good at it. I feel like I always make things awkward…with everyone.”
There was a brief moment of silence, one which didn’t seem as awkward as she’d previously believed, but she couldn’t be sure. She stared at the windows, feeling sad about them. She’d of course known about the mansion’s security system, had been briefed about the need for certain codes to open windows or doors. But she’d assumed Adrien had known the codes. The fact that he didn’t made this large room, stuffed with relics from his childhood, seem less like a home and more like a prison.
The need to cheer him up intensified.
There was a gentle nudge against her arm. The picnic basket.
Ladybug glanced up at the shy look on Adrien’s face, the last remnants of the blush still painted across his features. “I don’t think you’re awkward,” he admitted. “I like talking to you. I like how normal you’ve made this super weird situation.”
He held the cookie basket out to her further.
“These were for you,” she protested lamely.
“Yeah I know,” he nodded, then smiled. “But no point enjoying them unless you’re sharing them with a friend, right?”
Ladybug beamed at him. “Right,” she agreed, grabbing a cookie. Adrien grabbed another and they clunked the cookies together in a toast to their new-but-old friendship.
They ate their friendship cookies in companionable silence and Ladybug turned to him. “So how are you holding up with all this?”
Adrien thought about it around his last mouthful of cookie. “Honestly? I’m still not worried about these death threats. I’m more worried about my mother. She’s so stressed about the whole thing. It’s the main reason I haven’t snuck off yet. Well that and the fact that my father’s turned this place into more of a bunker than a home.”
“It is… a lot,” Ladybug wrinkled her nose. “And anyways you shouldn’t try sneaking off. The death threats are still coming and suspects are still being called forward.”
“I know, I know,” Adrien sighed, running a hand through his hair. A few cookie crumbs fell into the loose strands. Only then did Ladybug take in his dishevelled state, the dark circles around his eyes. The urge to find the bastard making Adrien’s life so hard intensified. “I’ve got other worries too; about people I’ve left out there, while I’m stuck in here.”
Ladybug decided to stay quiet, urging him to continue with her silence. Even as Marinette, Ladybug always felt he’d held things back from people. There was always something he left unsaid.
“There’s this girl. You’ve probably seen it all over the news. It’s someone you know actually. Marinette Dupain-Cheng. She’s a- a- really good friend of mine. We pretended to be a couple to get this creep off her back,” his expression darkened in a way Ladybug hadn’t seen before and it caused her stomach to flip of its own accord. “But now everyone thinks we’re actually a couple and she’s out there having people tweet about her and reporters snooping around her parents' bakery. I can’t ask if she’s ok or anything and it’s driving me insane.”
“I’m sure she’ll be ok,” she reassured him, feeling warmth spread through her chest about how much he worried. Here he was, getting death threats, and yet he was worried about her wellbeing? It was so incredibly sweet.
Her soothing words didn’t quite reach him, however, as he stood up and paced towards the window, frowning at the skyline as though if he fretted enough the buildings might part and he could see her and check if she was ok. In that moment she felt helpless, because the only way she could fully reassure him was the one way she absolutely couldn’t.
“I know, and Nino told me the same when I asked him but- I don’t know- I feel like my heart won’t rest until I see her for myself, until I see her with my own eyes,” he groaned, pressing his forehead against the glass.
Adrien knew he had to sound pathetic. He could already sense Plagg from his hiding spot, waiting to relentlessly tease him. Yet, as pathetic as it seemed, it was the truth.
Oh how he longed for her…
The second- the very moment he saw her again he was going to tell her everything. He’d lay out all the cards like he ought to have since the very beginning. He’d known this since after his conversation with Chloe, known that he couldn’t hold it off any longer. But fate, instead of his own cowardice, was driving them apart right now and he hated it so much. It was tearing at his insides.
A warm hand pressed against his arm. Ladybug was smiling at him, reassurance and…sadness? He couldn’t quite read it. The emotions didn’t quite fit. It didn’t seem like she was pitying either.
“I’ll get you out of this as soon as I can, I promise,” she vowed, “then you can see her yourself and know she’s ok.”
Adrien let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, and smiled back sincerely. He could always rely on Ladybug, always, even if she didn’t know it was him.
Guilt twisted in his gut- the guilt of knowing he would reveal himself to Marinette but not to Ladybug. Their silent agreement to carry on with their alter-egos was there, yes, and so he wasn’t lying to her. But something didn’t feel right about hiding his relationship from Ladybug.
“Thank you,” he replied. Two words, two words loaded with so much more than he could really say. Thank you for being by my side. Thank you for helping me when I don’t deserve it. Thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for being you.
Ladybug offered him another cookie, munching on one of her own. Adrien stared, stared at the girl he cherished with every fibre of his being, another girl he was concealing many truths from. He wouldn’t have been able to say what compelled him to do it, other than the fact that he was sick of lies and secrets, but suddenly he was blurting out, “I’m in love with her.”
Ladybug’s contented smile dropped like a stone. She choked on her cookie.
Adrien dropped his own cookie as he hurried around her back, patting her between the shoulders. Ladybug stopped choking shortly after, rasping out a, “What?!” with wide eyes, eyes which Adrien could only describe as horrified.
He winced, unable to look at her, unable to stop the truths. “I’m in love with Marinette,” he reaffirmed, “I guess that’s why I’ve been so worried you know? Everyone thinks I’m being an idiot but I feel like I can’t just sit here while the girl I love is out there, suffering because of my jerky, jealous decisions. It’s not her fault, it’s all mine, and now I can’t even get to her, to check if she’s ok, to be honest with her about- about- everything . She deserves the truth.”
“The truth?” Ladybug whispered, a rough sound which had Adrien nearly wincing again. He really wasn’t coming off well, was he?
“Even if it ruins our rel- our friendship. I should have respected her feelings from the start, been honest with her,” he admitted, even as his mind screamed at him to stop talking , stop talking now before you make it worse, before you say things you can’t take back.
Ladybug was silent for a long, long time. As the silence grew, so too did Adrien’s fear. But still he couldn’t look at her.
“I’m…going to check up on her for you,” Ladybug stammered.
Adrien snapped his head up, hardly daring to believe his ears. “You will?”
Ladybug was staring at the ground, her eyes wide and glassy. “Y-Yeah. I’m going to go. Right now. I need to leave. Right now. Right, right, right now. Better the sooner right? Right. I’m saying right a lot, right?”
“Right! You’re the best!” Adrien beamed and before he knew it, he scooped Ladybug up into his arms and gave her a huge hug. Ladybug squeaked and he put her back down with a quick apology. “S-sorry but honestly it makes me feel better you checking in on her than other people! You’re amazing. Best bodyguard ever!”
Ladybug laughed but it came out more as another squeak. Aww , he thought, she was always so shy with compliments. He smiled at her fondly.
“Ha! Amazing- cause you’re in love with- yeah and I’m. I’m just, I’m gonna goooo, yeah? I’m gonna gooooo… bye!”
She ran from the room, tripping over the sofa and walking into the doorframe on her way out. Adrien barely had enough time to say goodbye before the door slammed shut behind her.
“SPOTS OFF. SPOTS OFF!”
Marinette de-transformed mid-air, collapsing onto her bed in a heap, face down into her pillows.
Her chest felt like it was caught in a bear trap that tightened with every breath she tried to make. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt .
Her head. Her heart. Her lungs. All of it burned .
“He loves me,” she whispered, turning around and staring at the ceiling. The words tasted like creation and destruction on her tongue, like life and death. There was something to this truth that she couldn’t quite comprehend, it was too deep, too confusing, too fathomless. It was the cold light of day and the warm blanket of darkness. It was so much, too much, and she couldn't handle it. She couldn’t breathe from it. “Adrien loves me.”
“Marinette calm down, please,” Tikki implored, flying towards her shoulder and resting on it. The same shoulder that Adrien had clutched earlier when she was- when they were.
Marinette put her face into her hands and screamed.
How long? How long had he loved her and she’d had no clue? How many times had she touched him, hugged him, kissed his cheeks, and he’d been in love with her?
She kicked her legs out, arms outstretched as she laid on her bed, swearing under her breath. God. She’d even pretended to be in a relationship with him to get that creepy model away from her.
But it had been his idea, and it had felt so right and now she knew why. Because he actually did love her and he’d been showing her his love and she- she still couldn’t breathe.
Her traitorous heart flooded with warmth, as the initial panic subsided and the weight of Adrien’s love settled into her system. A quiet overcame her.
Adrien had no powers, but did everything he could to look after her. To make sure she was okay. Loving her from a distance, respecting her boundaries from a distance but always there to support her, even as she’d been unable to reciprocate his feelings.
Meanwhile her supposed superhero lover was still nowhere to be found.
“Tikki…I am an awful human being,” she grabbed a pillow, hugging it to her chest as tears burned her eyes.
“No, no you aren’t Marinette,” she soothed, nuzzling against her shoulder further. “Love is complicated. It’s especially complicated when you’re young and a superhero. Many Ladybugs before you have had heart troubles. You aren’t the first and you certainly won’t be the last. But it turns out okay in the end…usually.”
Marinette tried to feel comforted by Tikki’s words, she really did. But Adrien’s confession rattled around her brain for hours, long after her kwami had fallen into a peaceful rest.
Trying not to disturb Tikki’s slumber, Marinette clambered out of the trap door and went to the edge of the balcony. It was a warm night but she felt cold, and the ghostly memories of past nights clouded her mind, haunted her.
Adrien’s eyes, Adrien’s laughter, Adrien defending her from creeps, Adrien complimenting her when she dared to show him her designs, Adrien always being there for her, Adrien wanting to be honest with her, Adrien, Adrien, Adrien…
She leaned her elbows against the balcony railing, head bent and fingers digging into her scalp as if she could scoop out of these intrusive thoughts. She groaned. As always, her thoughts came back to Chat Noir, not hearing from him for days, the rumours of her and Adrien’s relationship, the ever-increasing worry.
Where was he? Why was he leaving her to all these doubts and worries, all these- these- thoughts?
Where was he?
Where was he?
Eventually she went to bed, so distracted that she didn’t even remember to charge her phone. It ran out of battery around 5am, black screen catching the first few rays of dawn, nothing but a useless brick.
“Here,” the detective thrust his phone into Adrien’s hands, “it came back clean from the lab last night.”
Adrien blinked down at the device, a wave of relief washing over him. He put his morning cup of coffee down and stared undid the zip-lock bag his phone had come back in. “So… I can use it, no problems?”
“Knock yourself out kiddo,” the detective replied with a gruff shrug, stomping out of the room muttering about kids these days and their obsession with their phones. Adrien didn’t pay him much mind; he’d seen the same detective playing Kwazee Cupcakes on his own phone the previous day. And he knew better than to ask about the case. Apparently, even though he was the target, he wasn’t allowed to know who was being called in until a formal arrest had been made. As it stood, they were still just interviewing people and following leads.
He sighed in relief, resting in his desk chair and turning on his phone. Ladybug hadn’t been to visit him yet, but he didn’t doubt she’d kept her word and checked in on Marinette, or would before she came to check in with him as well as the police.
Still, now he had his phone back he could check on her himself. It took a while to load, bombarding with messages and notifications as it was, but he eventually managed to clear everything away.
Except a text message, from a random unsaved number. Adrien frowned. He never really got texts anymore, except from his mother and father. All of his other friends used messenger apps.
Curious, he opened the message.
His body flooded with ice cold fear.
You think you can hide from me you coward, but I know where your girlfriend lives…
And I’ll get her too.