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When Duty and Desire Meet

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     part 1

 

When Adrien signed up for the Gaming Club, he’d expected a small group of like-minded nerds, sharing laughs over games both vintage and new.

Really, it showed how out of touch he was with campus life. But that was understandable. At twenty-four years old, already well into his PhD in astrophysics, and occasionally working for his father’s world renowned fashion house, it was amazing that he knew what day it was. Some days he wondered if his blood was still red, and not stained brown with the vast amount of coffee he drank.

The fact that he’d almost collapsed from sheer exhaustion last week had been proof of his severe lack of time- and the scolding he’d gotten from both his supervisor and his father still stung vividly.

Good thing Ladybug never found out. She was already cracking jokes about him becoming an ‘old man’.

Still, that was the reason why he found himself clamouring down the poorly-lit stairs, to the basement levels of the university, following the sounds of a pulsing beat. It was almost like a dream, surreal that the university could be so full of energy post teaching hours. Adrien wondered if he’d gotten the wrong place, the wrong room. Sure, gamers could be a loud bunch, but whatever was happening in room 03B sounded like a rave.  

His curiosity got them better of him and he traipsed down the corridor, the beat of the song throbbing through his veins the way only truly loud music can, acting like a siren’s call. The door for 03B was slightly ajar, and it was dark inside save for several coloured, brightly flashing lights. Now that Adrien was closer, he could hear the people behind the door, the denizens of the Gaming Club, separate from the music. They were chanting.

He pushed open the door.

  part 2

“MARI, MARI, MARI!”

The small classroom had been turned upside down, chairs and tables pushed and stacked against the walls with a space carved out in the middle like a dance floor. The smart board had been linked to a console and two dance mats, the screen projecting the latest DDR game. Through the crowd, Adrien could just about make out two people in the middle of the circle, on their own dance mat, facing off against their opponent to the nostalgic tones of Uma Thurman. Around the circle, people were both cheering on the battling pair, and dancing themselves.

The crowd parted slightly and Adrien was able to peer over to get a better glimpse of the game.

To say his jaw hit the floor would have been an understatement. On the contrary, he was surprised his jaw hadn’t smashed through the Earth’s crust.

He now understood why people were cheering for the girl on the left, she was absolutely wiping the floor with her partner. Though the room was bathed in semi-darkness, the glow of the board created a halo of neon coloured lights around the pair, illuminating their silhouettes. Because of this, Adrien could see every curve of the girl’s hips as she dipped low, bouncing on the balls of her feet with all the grace and agility of a certain someone he was trying not to think about in that way. In an instant Adrien knew the type of DDR player she was- the type with enough skill to actually dance to the songs along with following the step sequences. Her opponent, the poor guy, didn’t stand a chance.

“MARI, MARI, MARI!”

The chanting continued, and Adrien found himself staring. Every polite sensibility in him drummed out due to the beat, and the dancing and oh god this girl had skill.

 

He told himself it was only her skills he was admiring.

As the song ended, the girl twirled on one foot, her shoulder length hair fanning out around her like a curtain of living midnight, before landing a perfect combo as her final move. Adrien found himself whooping and cheering along with the crowd. Somewhere, deep inside him, something began to stir- something which had laid dormant for a great many years. But the feeling was gone before he had a chance to pinpoint it and the lights to the room flicked on.

Everyone groaned, shielding their eyes from the fluorescent beams assaulting their senses. One young woman beside Adrien even hissed, though it was somewhat in jest.

“Ok, ok, easy there, you basement nerds!” the man who’d turned the lights on stepped forwards, raising his voice above the crowd of, Adrien now realised, about twenty people give or take. “And give it up for your reigning champion, your President of the Gaming Club, your Marinette Dupain-Cheng!”

Everyone applauded as the guy, a tall guy with large glasses and headphones around his neck, raised Marinette’s arm high in the air. Adrien stood on his tiptoes to get a better view, but Marinette had buried her face in her hands in embarrassment.

“Oh god, Nino, stop,” Adrien just about heard her say, though she was laughing along with everyone else.

Her defeated opposition, huffing for breath, gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Ah you beat me fair and square, Prez!” he chuckled, running his free hand through his sweaty black hair. “But I’ll get you next time, I was born ready!”

“Next round is in a few minutes, if you wanna put your name forward, drop it in my cap,” the guy whom Marinette had referred to as Nino, pulled the baseball cap off his head and pockets of people began to talk amongst themselves. Some moved forward to put their names down for the next round. Adrien stood towards the back, uncertain where to look or if he should introduce himself to people.

“Adrien?” 

He jumped when someone tapped his shoulder. Turning his head around, his eyes widened when he came face-to-face with the president of the gaming club.

 

Marinette smiled warmly, giving him space. Up close he could see how flushed she was from her last match, along with the freckles on her face. She was also tiny, Adrien was at least a head taller than her.

He blushed.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help but notice you hanging back here! I’m Marinette, president of the Gaming Club,” she began rambling, her voice rather high in pitch. Adrien chalked it up to the adrenaline of winning a game. She held out her hand, which Adrien shook. “I noticed you’d signed up for the club online and I was wondering if you were going to show up tonight! Not that I’m a stalker or anything- as the president I get updates if someone joins and when you’re a fashion student and you hear that Adrien Agreste is joining your club, it’s something that catches your eye you know?”

Adrien nodded, lips pressed together awkwardly.

SAY SOMETHING. SMILE. DO ANYTHING, his mind yelled at him. Nothing is worse than this. Just say anything!

“So… you like my dad’s…stuff?”

On second thought, I should have kept my mouth shut.

Adrien fought off a wince, and was glad he did, as Marinette’s eyes lit up and she nodded vigorously.

“Oh sure, your dad’s been like my idol ever since I was little! I’ve always loved his style,” she played with the strands of her hair, gazing at the floor. “But I guess you get that a lot huh? You aren’t here to listen to fangirls gush over your dad’s designs, I’m sure.”

“It’s ok, I don’t mind,” Adrien replied with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

Marinette beamed and Adrien suddenly found himself thinking that he’d listen her ‘fangirl gush’ about his father’s designs for days if she smiled like that at him the whole time…wait what?

“You know, I was going to be mean and demand you fight against me in a DDR battle to the death,” Marinette said, tapping her chin wickedly, “but I’ve decided to be nice. How about a team-up? I could do with beating the high score. Nino and Lillian currently hold the pairs title and I think we could take them. What do you say?”

She held up her fist.

“Partners?”

Adrien stared at her, at her closed fist hovering between them, the challenging, playful smirk on her face, and felt his heart skip a beat.

He swallowed, curling his own hand into a fist and bumping it against hers, feeling a remarkable sense of déjà vu.

“Partners,” he replied.

 

Chapter Text

  part 1

“So, what’ll it be?”

After watching a few rounds of DDR from the side-lines, Marinette finally volunteered herself and Adrien for the next game. In the interim she made sure he was introduced to a number of her fellow club members, who all greeted him cheerily. Marinette kept an eye on him, making sure he was enjoying himself, and was relieved when he seemed to start relaxing. He even cracked a few jokes, though she couldn’t hear what they were from her spot beside the console set-up. Judging from the fact that he found Nino’s ‘French Eat Pain for Breakfast’ shirt hilarious, she guessed he had the same ridiculous humour as the other men in her life.

Boys were weird. But she couldn’t fault them. After all she’d always been a lover of a bad pun herself.

Adrien was… sweet. Truth be told, he was completely different to how she’d imagined the son of her idol to be. Aside from his exceedingly good looks, you wouldn’t have been able to tell he was a former teen heartthrob. He was too humble even, dare she think it, shy. He seemed not to get out much, which made sense given his post-grad status.

Despite that, Marinette was determined for him to have a good time. After all, she’d been a member of the Gaming Club since her first year and was incredibly proud of the club it’d become in the years since. It had taken a lot of hard work on her part, along with her friends’ efforts. They’d worked as a team and the benefits had sewn themselves into a club where every type of gamer was welcome and celebrated. It was why one week they could have a DDR competition and the next week a classic board games night, and the week after that a table top tournament.

“Earth to Mari?”

Marinette blinked, dazed, snapping out of her musings when Nino waved a hand in front of her face.

“We good to go with the song choice?” Nino asked, waving a controller in his hand. In response, Marinette clapped a hand to her forehead, eyes swivelling to Adrien. He was on the other side of the classroom, back turned, as he conversed with a surly, short guy with long black hair. Marinette recognised him as a second-year student who’d recently joined the club himself.

“Crap I forgot to ask him!” she cursed, “hold the fort for a second Nino?”

“No problem boss!” Nino saluted, almost dropping the controller in the process. Turning away, Marinette giggled under her breath as she traipsed through the small crowd towards Adrien and the black-haired guy (what was his name? Tom? Toby? Ted? She was sure it began with a T).

    pt 2

It was as she was a metre away from the pair, awkwardly sandwiched between two girls having a conversation, that she caught what the black haired second year was saying, and why his face resembled that of a wet paper towel.

“So, what makes you think you’ll have time for this anyway?” he was saying, arms folded tightly across his chest.

Adrien shuffled from foot-to-foot and, though Marinette couldn’t see his face, she could tell he was uncomfortable. Call it instinct.

“Well, I’ve set time for it aside in my schedule,” Adrien replied, his voice far too guilt-ridden for Marinette’s liking. “Of course there might be some weeks where it’s not possible to come because of deadlines and stuff but I made the decision earlier that I can’t spend all my time working hard or I’ll burn out.”

“Uh-huh,” the black-haired guy’s (Terrance? Tony? Seriously what was his name?) tone was so flat, it could have been used as an ironing board. He rolled his eyes. “Sure, rich boy. You’re all the same.”

Marinette felt the beginnings of rage flutter in her chest, like a dozen tiny embers ready to converge into an unstoppable blaze at any moment. She stepped forward, her icy smile a contradiction as well as a warning.

“Is there are problem here?” she asked, standing by Adrien’s side. He seemed startled by her sudden appearance, but didn’t say a word beyond that. Perhaps he was trying to prevent a scene, unaware that Marinette had a fair idea what had been going on.

“Nothing, we were having a conversation,” Black-Haired Guy replied with a shrug. “It baffles me, is all, how rich assholes like this-” he gestured with his thumb towards Adrien- “can get away with slacking off on something like a PhD. Guess it must be easy to not take life seriously when you have all the money in the world right?”

The embers in Marinette’s chest roared to life and her hands curled into fists. Her gut reaction was to kick this guy’s ass to the curb, and if she’d been a little younger and more rash, that would have been her course of action.

But she was older now. She wasn’t a dumb sixteen-year-old just getting used to having superpowers. No. She was a young woman with responsibilities, and a reputation she was trying to build outside of her Ladybug persona.

So she tried a different approach. A quiet, seething sort of anger.

 pt 3

“Look Tim-” she began, her voice dripping with venom. As predicted, he didn’t heed the sharpness in her tone.

“My name is Lloyd,” he corrected with a scowl.

“Listen Todd,” she countered, making it very clear she didn’t give a damn what his name was, “if you want to be part of this club, you better start treating your fellow members with the respect they deserve. I mean who do you think you are to judge Adrien just because he’s wealthier than you? Nothing gives you the right to make such snide comments and, to be honest, I don’t want that kind of attitude in a club I’m president of. So either buck up or get out.”

Lloyd’s scowl deepened, his lips curled as he looked from Adrien’s surprised face, to Marinette’s angry one.

There was a tense moment of silence before any of them said anything. Those nearby had turned to watch the drama unfold.

“Fine, whatever, I didn’t want to be part of a club ran by a dumb fake girl gamer who lets rich assholes in anyway,” Lloyd snarled, spinning on his heel and stomping away, cursing as he left.

Marinette almost saw red. Almost. Admittedly, the fake-gamer comment struck her ego and struck it hard. She wanted nothing more than to drag Lloyd back into the room and let rip all her righteous fury towards him Ladybug-style. But her anger was trumped by a greater need so, instead, she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to calm herself.

“You ok?” Adrien asked.

Marinette’s eyes flew open, her eyebrows raised high.

“Am I ok?!” she spluttered, shaking her head in disbelief, “what about you?! That guy- he just- I mean he totally- UGH!”

“Yeah I know,” Adrien rubbed the back of his head with a chuckle, somehow understanding her nonsensical sentence. “I get that more often than you’d think. It’s not great but… I handle it you know? You just gotta rise above it. Besides, these people don’t know the real me so- yeah.”

He dropped his hand, looking at her with a warm smile, the same smile he’d given her when they fist bumped earlier.

“Thanks though- for defending me. That was… nice.”

Marinette felt her heartbeat quicken and a part of her, a very small part, thought that it might be nice indeed- to get to know Adrien a little better.

The image of a black-clad superhero filled her mind, a charming smile, a cheeky wink, a determined catlike gaze reminding her who held her heart- who’d held her heart for four whole years. Even if he’d never love her in return.

   p4

Her heartbeat slowed again and she patted Adrien on the arm. Friendly. Safe. Easy. It was better that way. Besides, Adrien could have his pick of anyone on campus. The guy practically had his own fan club, and Marinette had never heard of him so much as looking at another girl, even though he could’ve chosen anyone. What chance could she have even if she wanted to pursue something?

It was a non-starter. She couldn’t fall for another person so utterly out of her reach. Not again. No matter how cute or sweet he was.   


 pt 5

“OK!” Nino’s voice called out through the din, breaking through Marinette’s internal monologue for the second time that night. She glanced up at Adrien, who was giving her a strange look, before she realised her had was still on his arm. Withdrawing it quickly, she turned her back on him with a red face. Way to be weird Mari. “ARE YOU ALL READY FOR THE FINAL DANCE OF THE NIGHT?”

The rest of the Gaming Club cheered and Marinette was relieved for the distraction. She beckoned Adrien to follow her and the pair made their way through the crowd to their dance mats.

“I got bored of waiting so I picked the song for you, hope that’s ok!” Nino grinned, shooting finger guns to the both of them. Rolling her eyes, Marinette took the dance mat on the right, closest to the desk Nino was half-hidden behind whilst Adrien took the mat by her side. “The fact you’re trying to take mine and Lillian’s high score had absolutely nothing to do with it. I totally didn’t select one of the hardest songs on here.”

   pt 5

“Sounds like you’re threatened by us, dude.”

Nino’s jaw dropped and when Marinette glanced over to the side, she understood why. All traces of the shy, withdrawn Adrien had vanished. Instead, the smirk on his face was downright cocky. His eyes glistened. The look sent a pleasant thrill right up her spine and she grinned back at Nino.

“Don’t worry, Nino, was it?” Adrien went on with a carless flick of his wrist, “it’s not like I’ve had a DDR machine in my bedroom since I was thirteen or anything- or that I was obsessed with it for years. Not at alllll.”

 cute

He turned to Marinette and winked. A few seconds later he seemed to realise what he did. The shy Adrien was back and he stared at his feet, face aflame.

hehe    

Marinette poked her tongue out at Nino, motioning for him to start the round.

This was going to be fun.

As the music started, Marinette fought hard not to laugh at the sheer irony of Nino’s choice. She remained silent instead, getting her head in the game. After all, it would be hard to explain the reason why she found his choice of song (Butterfly by Smile) so funny was because once upon a time, butterflies were part of her daily life in the form of akuma.

The first few step-prompts appeared on the screen. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right. It was easy, a slow pace, and both Marinette and Adrien were able to keep up. But Marinette knew when the beat dropped, all hell would break loose.

She waited, following the slow steps, her partner copying in perfect sync. Behind her, people cheered and yelled support. Marinette blocked it all out.

There was only the music, the mat, and her partner by her side.

The beat dropped.

It was like an explosion of energy. Both Marinette and Adrien’s footsteps doubled to keep up with the insane number of combos, their score increasing with each ‘PERFECT’ or ‘GREAT’ step. Blood rushed to her ears, pumped through her as the intense part of the song ended and the verse began, a little slower, and she had a moment to collect herself.

Adrien was laughing, breathlessly. It caught her off guard, yet she still didn’t miss a single step. The laughter was contagious however, and soon she found herself giggling too. She leaned her torso towards him, flicking her hair as she did a double-arrow combo and he copied her hair flick with their next combo move- acting as every bit as dramatic and posturing as she’d expected a model to be.

Tears of laughter pooled in her eyes.

As the song neared its end, and the arrows began to slow once more, a wild idea shot through Marinette’s mind. It was risky, but damn would it give them a lot of bragging points if they pulled it off. She just needed Adrien to be on the same wavelength.

The next time a one-foot arrow popped up on screen, Marinette dipped low, using her agility to half-shimmy onto Adrien’s mat, simultaneously completing the move for both herself and Adrien.

  eeeee

In the split second before she was fully back on her mat, Marinette felt the heat radiating from Adrien’s chest, and was consumed by a feeling of utter rightness- of perfect synchronicity. Somehow, she knew Adrien felt the same, because when she dared to tear her eyes from the screen for a moment (during a two-step combo they held for a few beats), he was smiling at her.

She bobbed her head in a silent question and he responded with a twinkle in his eye. If Marinette hadn’t been so completely taken by the game, she might have questioned how two people who’d just met could work so harmoniously- as though they’d known each other their whole lives.

The final combo of the game arrived and, without even pausing to think, Marinette and Adrien grabbed each-other’s hand, gripping tight and tugging. Using the momentum, the pair did matching leaps, switching mats just in time to land the final move perfectly, twisting so they were back-to-back in a perfect ending pose.

And with that, the Gaming Club exploded.

People began to scream, stamping their feet, arms raised as the whooped and cheered both Marinette and Adrien’s name. When the score loaded, indicating that they had indeed beaten the high score, Marinette leapt in the air, arms above her head.

“We did it!” she called above the din, half-gasping for breath.

Adrien was beaming again, grinning from ear-to-ear. His chest was rising and falling heavily and his cheeks were dangerously red, but he looked as happy as Marinette felt.

“Yeah! We did!” he chirped as the cheering died down and people began to walk up, congratulating them, before heading back home for the night.

“Dudes! I’m not even mad that was the most insane thing I’ve ever seen!” Nino cried, hurrying over to them both when most people had left. He lifted an open palm to Adrien. “You guys were awesome!”

“Yeah, we made a pretty good team,” Adrien replied, smacking his palm against Nino’s whilst looking at Marinette again. He was wearing that same expression, the one she couldn’t place, as though he was considering something she’d never be able to fathom. In response, Marinette smiled shyly.

No. Bad. Not shy. Don’t be shy. Shy means you like him and you absolutely can’t like him.

“So!” Marinette chuckled far too loudly for it to be genuine, stretching her suddenly aching limbs, “Nino! We better get started on tidying this stuff up of we’ll be here all night.”

Stepping off Adrien’s dance mat, Marinette rushed back towards the computer- where the console was hooked up. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite looking where she was going, and her legs tangled up in the jumble of wires. Before she could stop herself, she fell to the ground with an unholy screech, landing on the floor in tangle of limbs and wired.

Adrien rushed forwards.

“Oh my gosh, are you ok?!”

He offered her a hand up, and she took it, scowling at Nino- who was howling with laughter.

“Yeah, I’m fine, just clumsy when I’m away from a DDR mat,” she grumbled, raising her eyebrow at Nino. “Are you done?”

“It was funny when we were kids and it’s funny now,” Nino replied wiping the tears from his eyes.

Marinette pouted.

Ignoring her annoyance, Nino faced Adrien instead. “Anyways we’re going to see you next week, right?”

For some strange reason, the question made Marinette nervous. Playing with the ribbons in her hair, she tried (and failed) to give off an air of nonchalance. Her stomach clenched, hoping Adrien had had fun enough to erase the earlier encounter with Lloyd from his mind. Mild attraction or not, he was cool, and she wanted to see him back.

His eyes were back on her- the blush on his cheeks not yet faded, a few strands of his pushed-back hair damp with sweat, and Marinette swallowed, eyes wide and full of hope. Her playing with her hair ribbons faltered, pausing completely when Adrien turned back to Nino to give him his answer.

“Definitely,” he replied.

   awww

 

Chapter Text

    1

Valentine’s day.

The day of lovers, the day of romance and confessions; the one day a year when hearts decorated the streets, the scent of flowers and cheap chocolates floating down the university halls until one felt like they might choke on it. Around the campus, vendors set up shop for the day, selling overpriced holiday merchandise in the valid hopes of catching some forgetful patrons looking for a quick last-minute gift for their beaus.

Adrien Agreste was aware of the fact that Valentine’s day was a day most sexually active people, for want of a better phrase, engaged in…amorous activities. Secretly, he’d always hoped to be amongst those people. After all, it was pretty pathetic for a twenty-four-year-old man to have never had a girlfriend on Valentine’s day (not even a date). No matter how much Nino tried to convince him otherwise, and the fact that deep down he knew it wasn’t really a big deal, the romantic in him yearned to spend the day with someone special to him.

In hindsight, he should have been careful what he wished for, because today had crept up on him and he was- in fact- not engaged in amorous activities.

He was, however, totally screwed.

And no, not in the good way. For Adrien Agreste was in love. Utterly and incomprehensibly in love.

The problem?

His love interest had no idea. Nor did she return his feelings.

Adrien sighed, head between his hands, as he sat nestled amongst piles of books and notes at the back of the school library. Marinette had just stopped by to offer him a smile and coffee before her fashion history class began. The gesture, filling him with a warmth which rivalled said coffee, was both welcomed and lamented. He’d been hoping to avoid her for most of the day.

Four months. Four months since that fateful evening he’d joined Marinette’s Gaming Club. Four months since they’d danced together and shattered a high score which had yet to be broken.

Four months.

Adrien couldn’t help but think Cupid had started his work earlier than usual, because he’d been smitten since the moment he’d seen her. Once a week since that night (barring a few times Adrien had to miss due to deadlines and the Christmas break) Adrien had made his way to room 03B, having more fun than he’d had in years, playing whatever game they’d voted for. It didn’t matter what they were playing, what mattered to him was that Marinette was by his side the entire time and, more often than not, she was.

They really did make a good team. In fact- they were practically unbeatable whenever they were paired together. As a result, they got a reputation for being an unstoppable duo- ready to face whoever challenged that title. Many did. Many failed. But it was all in good spirits, friendly competition. Marinette was a good peace-keeper.

For the first time in his life, Adrien felt as though he’d carved out a place in the world that was truly meant for him- at least his civilian self anyway. Quicker than he’d been able to process it, both Marinette and Nino especially had become ever-present entities in his life, as though they’d always been there. Nino, with his boundless optimism, carried him through the moments where it felt like his work would never end, and often dragged him away from said work for much needed cookie breaks. Marinette, too, helped but in different ways. Her method of cheering him on was much subtler; a quick visit to his office after his TA hours- clad with treats from her parents’ bakery, sending him funny memes, knitting him things like the scarf she’d made him for Christmas, little things that which made his day so much brighter.

He looked forward to their meetings as much as the freedom of his patrols with Ladybug. That particular realisation had rocked him to his core.

It hadn’t taken him long to realise he was in love. Plagg, in fact, was the one to point it out. He’d made many a joke about Marinette being his girlfriend and, after the millionth-time Adrien had corrected him, something finally clicked in Adrien’s brain.

    2

No, she wasn’t his girlfriend. But he wanted her to be.

Which led him to his current dilemma- how to get through the day without accidentally confessing and ruining the best thing that had happened to him since Hawkmoth’s defeat two years previous.

But still, Adrien thought as he leaned back in his chair and stared at the panelled ceiling, he wanted to do something. He had a catch-up session with his supervisor and then he had to do a little PR for the Valentine’s photoshoot he’d modelled for. Aside from the seemingly endless pile of reading to do, he also had to come up with a plan for doing something for Valentine’s day without it looking like it was something romantic.

Why am I such a scaredy-cat?

Sitting up, he took a sip of his gifted coffee through gritted teeth, attempting to come up with a solution.

A gift would be too obvious, a friendly greeting not enough, running across the campus rom-com style to sweep her off her feet would be amazing- but it would probably earn him a punch. He’d seen Marinette’s anger and never, ever wanted to be on the receiving end of it, even if her anger was usually on the behalf of someone else’s misfortune (one of the reasons he loved her to be honest).

In any case, he wasn’t the type to kiss a girl unless he was absolutely sure they wanted it too- and Marinette didn’t. They were just friends and she treated him as such.

He tried to ignore the painful tug on his heart at the thought.

God! Why was this so hard? All he wanted to do was something nice for the girl he loved on Valentine’s day! He wanted her to know she was loved. He wanted her to smile. He wanted her to be happy regardless of whether or not it was with him or-

Wait.

Adrien lurched forwards, almost spilling his coffee. He scarcely noticed, as an idea was forming in his mind…

Without stopping to question whether or not this was a wise decision, Adrien pulled out his phone, quickly typing out a text to Nino.

Adrien: Hey bro, hope you and Alya have a good Valentine’s! On a totally unrelated note, do you know Marinette’s address?

***

The blanket wrapped around Marinette’s shoulders didn’t do much to shield her from the bitter air which surrounded her balcony, but she didn’t mind too much.

Nursing a mug of chamomile tea in her hands, she huffed, reclining in her chair, and stared at the dark sky above. Her breath fogged the air and a melancholy cloud consumed her heart. She did her best to guard against the rain which threatened to fall there, but no umbrella could shield her from this particular type of downpour.

Another Valentine’s day, another day of cowardice, another day her true feelings for Chat Noir went unsaid. But he must know? Surely, he must know by now- how much she loved him. It was so obvious, at least to her anyway.

Over the years, she’d gained a lot of confidence, but wow had that first year had been rough. Stammering over her words, getting tongue tied, making a total fool of herself on almost every patrol, these were the things which made up Ladybug’s book on ‘How to Fail at Seducing Your Superhero Partner and Love of Your Life.’

The fact she’d been sixteen and he’d been twenty didn’t help things really. She’d always known he’d never go for someone four years younger. It was like having a crush on someone in the final year of lycée when you yourself were a lowly first year- never going to happen. They’d come a long way since they met and there were times, especially after their reunion, when she’d thought he was looking at her differently. They were adults now, both of them, and somewhere deep inside she wished that would be enough for him to finally see her as someone he could give his heart to.

She’d been giving herself false hope.

“You sure you don’t want to come back inside?”

    3

Glancing at Tikki’s frown, Marinette did her best to shoot her a soft smile, not wanting to worry her late-night companion.

“I’ll come back down soon Tikki,” she promised, nuzzling her cheek against Tikki’s in comfort, “as soon as I finish my tea. Why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll be fine up here by myself.”

Truth be told all Marinette wanted to do was stay up past midnight, just so she could see this wretched day die.

For a moment, Tikki didn’t move, and Marinette could tell she was at war with her sisterly instincts. Eventually, however, she acquiesced- leaving Marinette alone with nothing but her gloomy thoughts and the frosty air biting her extremities.

Or so she thought.

Marinette jumped when she heard a rustling noise from beneath the railing of her balcony. Placing her mug down on the ground she tensed, hardly daring to breathe as the noise continued.

Her first thought was to call Tikki however, if it was an intruder, she needed to protect her identity… but how could it be an intruder? No thief would bother scaling her building when they could simply break the locks on the doors right?

Shaking her head, Marinette took a deep breath to steady her nerves. It was probably an animal like a bird or something. There was no need to overreact.

Then a hand appeared, a black glove wrapping around one of the iron bars of her balcony railings.

Her heart lurched into her throat. Marinette didn’t think twice before entering full attack-mode.

Grabbing the broom which rested against the wall behind her, Marinette hurried forwards, barely registering the tall silhouette of the intruder climbing over the railing, before she swung the handle straight at their head. The bristled end struck true against the intruder’s face and they leapt backwards with a yelp.

    4

Marinette dropped the broom. It fell to the ground beneath her feet with a loud clatter she barely registered. Her mouth fell open, her mind screeched to a halt.

She’d recognise that high-pitched squeal anywhere.

“C-Chat Noir?!” she cried and, for one wild moment, she thought he’d figured out her identity. “What are you doing here?!”

Chat Noir blinked, shaking his head roughly a few times.

It was then that Marinette became acutely aware that she’d smacked the man she’d loved for four years with a broom.

Although she knew it didn’t hurt, she could help but squeak out a few horrified apologies. Amidst the panic, a part of her questioned if she hadn’t simply snapped under the pressure of university, being Ladybug, and of course participating in her own one-sided love story. After all there was no way he could really be there- she had to be imagining things, right? It was far more likely she was going mad.

But then Chat stepped to the side, the glow from the mini lanterns on her balcony illuminated his handsome features and once again Marinette forgot how to breathe, how to think, how to do anything except stand and stare. Her apologies were lost, like dust in the wind, and she fell silent.

The silence stretched on for an almost painful amount of time, before Chat remembered he was there for a reason.

“It’s alright,” he reassured her, taking in her expression. She looked…terrified? Nervous? Unsettled? He couldn’t quite read her emotions but they didn’t seem good. Oh, god this was a mistake. This was such a mistake. But he’d thought she would be asleep at this point, and she’d mentioned her balcony as a place of sanctuary in the past, so he was sure she’d check it first thing in the morning, and find his gift for her there. He hadn’t expected her to actually be there when he arrived. “At least you didn’t hit me with a vacuum cleaner. That really would have sucked.”

If there was any doubt left that Marinette was dreaming, the terrible pun completely obliterated it. All at once, the absurdity of the situation came crashing down on her.

Chat was halfway to jumping back over the balcony and disappearing into the night, but was startled out of his embarrassment when Marinette let out a short giggle.

He smiled, shoulders relaxing as he took in her appearance.

A fluffy blanket rested on the floor a few paces behind her. Chat realised she must have dropped it when she hit him with the broom. She wore thick leggings, fluffy bed socks, and a deliberately oversized pink jumper- which was hanging off her exposed shoulders.

She was also looking at him with a curious, dazed expression.

He turned his back to her, trying to regain some semblance of control over his emotions. It was difficult to say the least. Why, why, why is she so cute? Ugh! Even in comfy clothes, it just makes me want to cuddle her.

Chat couldn’t remember the last time he cuddled someone. His arms felt heavy and unnatural at his sides, as though even his limbs were crying out for her embrace- an embrace he couldn’t have.

Whilst his back was turned, he completely missed Marinette frantically running her fingers through her hair, her quick bra-adjustment, and the way she licked her lips in the absence of any lip gloss.

He looked at the gift for her in his hands. How could he give it to her now?! It wouldn’t make any sense. As far as she was aware, they’d never met before tonight.

Curse his rotten luck.

“Is something wrong?”

His entire being felt like a firework as Marinette’s hand pressed against his shoulder, and he swivelled back to face her, completely forgetting he was holding her present in his hand.

He realised, too late, that he was doomed.

Marinette said nothing, but her eyes trailed down to his hand, which was brandishing a single beautiful red rose. Immediately, a million thoughts and images filled her mind as to who the rose could be for. None of them were her.

Or maybe someone had given it to him?

She didn’t know which option was worse.

Chat Noir had always been popular with the ladies, probably due to his confidence, wit, and superhero physique. Marinette tried to reason with herself that he probably got a ton of Valentine’s gifts from other girls. Besides she’d never seen him flirting with civilians, hopefully he’d just taken it to be polite?

It didn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. She inwardly chided herself. After all, Chat wasn’t hers, would never be with her. He was free to give (or receive) roses to whoever he wanted and it was none of her business! It didn’t matter. It. Didn’t. Matter.

So why did the sight of that rose make it seem like she’d swallowed all of its thorns at once, each one lodging painfully in her throat?

“Ah!” Chat cried, his voice piercing the cold night air. “This! This is why I’m here. Y-you see-” think of an excuse, Agreste. Anything- “Well, I was- was passing by this florist stand. Yeah! And the old lady who worked there gave this to me. She told me to give it to the most beautiful lady I saw tonight, before Valentine’s day ended. So umm- well- here-”

    5

He bowed low, holding the flower out towards Marinette, and tried to act like his usual Chat-like self, but it was difficult when the light made her eyes sparkle like that.

Was he forever cursed to act like a total idiot around this girl?

It took almost a full twenty seconds for Marinette to respond. In that time, she stared at the flower in front of her, so red and so full, a little red ribbon wrapped into a bow on the stem, and felt her heart leave her chest and float above the clouds.

“That’s…for me?” she asked, timidly reaching out to grasp the rose. Their fingers brushed, and she could have sworn she heard him gasp, but that was most likely wishful thinking.

“Yeah,” he replied, his voice breathy.

She couldn’t look at him, if she looked then her whole resolve would crumble and she’d either burst into tears or kiss him senseless. Neither of those things were a great first impression, considering this was their first meeting (as far as he knew anyway).

Speaking of which-

“Oh, umm, I’m Marinette by the way,” she smiled, somehow finding strength in her own name, as though it grounded her back to reality. “Thank you- for thinking I’m the most beautiful girl you’ve seen I guess?”

“Well,” he shrugged, offering a little smile and standing upright again (why did I bow for that long? Why am I such a dork?) “it’s not like I’ve seen lots of girls tonight to compare.”

Halfway through his sentence, he realised the implications of what he said, and his blood could have set a world record for the speed at which it drained from his face.

“I mean- not that you aren’t beautiful! I didn’t mean that you’re not beautiful!” he hurried to correct himself, leaning forward and waving his arms frantically. Marinette simply stared at him. “I just mean that well- I don’t see a lot of girls- but I know a beautiful girl when I see one even if I don’t run around chasing girls. I have a tail, I don’t chase tail- I promise I didn’t-”

Chat stopped rambling when Marinette broke down, wrapping her arms around her sides as she howled with laughter.

He’d never heard her laugh like that before.

I am such a goner.

“Well,” Marinette wheezed, finally calming down, and totally oblivious to the way Chat had been looking at her, “I definitely believe that. That you don’t chase tail I mean- if this is how you talk to girls normally!” She fixed Chat with a warm smile. “Don’t worry, by the way. I didn’t think you were insulting me, and I meant it when I said thank you for the rose. It really is beautiful.”

“Then it’s perfect for you,” Chat replied instantly, without thinking that he shouldn’t be talking to her like this, without thinking that he shouldn’t be looking at her the way he was, without thinking full stop.

That was his problem. He couldn’t think around her.

Marinette, too lost to the moment, didn’t think twice about it. All she knew was that it was Valentine’s day and Chat Noir of all people, had showed up to give her a rose. A very, very lovely rose. In red. Completely different to the first rose he’d given her as Ladybug.

He’d probably die of embarrassment if he knew she was Ladybug- if the Dark Cupid incident a few years back was anything to go by.

Maybe this day wasn’t so bad after all.

“Well, I should probably get going, got a long night of catching baddies and not chasing tail you know?” he laughed, though he had no idea why, and scratched the back of his head awkwardly. His cat ears flicked in response.

“Oh, yeah of course!” Marinette nodded, hopefully sounding cheerful despite not wanting him to leave. Still, she wouldn’t be greedy, she had proof he found her beautiful- BEAUTFUL HE BASICALLY SAID I’M BEAUTIFUL- and that was more than enough for now.

It was a start.

Still, she thought as she watched him slowly climb back over the railing, she wanted to do something in return. For him. But what?

An idea struck. At best- it was silly, at worst it was horrendously reckless, but Marinette was feeling quite daring after the ego boost from his gift, and with that daringness came impulsiveness.

Marinette was an overthinker by nature. She thought, and thought, and thought. Sometimes she just wanted her brain to shut up for a few moments and allow her emotions to take over.

This was one of those times.

She leaned forwards, lips puckered, as she aimed for his cheek. It was a simple cheek kiss, it didn’t have to mean anything. People kissed each other’s cheeks all the time- they were French for god’s sake. She’d done more with Alya!

What she didn’t account for, however, was Chat turning his head at the last second, eyes widening when he saw how close she was getting. But Marinette had already closed her eyes. It was too late.

    6

Without any warning on either of their parts, their lips met.

Marinette froze, her rational mind bursting out of the cage she’d briefly locked it in to yell WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?! STOP! PULL BACK!

And though her mind was screaming at her, Marinette couldn’t move, every muscle in her body seized up. Her heart thrummed wildly in her chest.

This is not what was supposed to happen! Pull back! Apologise! RIGHT NOW!

After a few seconds of brief searing panic, Marinette’s eyes flew open, just in time to see Chat closing his as he pressed his lips into hers.

    6

She almost died.

Was he- was he- kissing her back?

Chat tilted his head so that he could deepen the kiss and, just like that, Marinette’s resolve crumbled. Closing her eyes, she too stepped closer into him, daring to raise her hands and place them on his waist, gently, shyly… It was ok to do so right? After all he was kissing her just as much as she was kissing him. This was ok wasn’t it?

Her mind drew a blank, even her rational thoughts quietened under the weight of her longing. Because she’d wanted this since the moment she realised she loved him, and now he was here and he was kissing her, and she felt more alive than she’d done in years.

It was a kiss full of tenderness, and far too much feeling for it to have made any sense. Both of them were absolutely sure that they were imagining things, that their souls were searching for meaning where there was none.

Yet neither of them could pull away. In fact, they leaned closer.

Chat was stuck between heaven and hell, knowing that the kiss was by accident but unable to help kissing back even if it had been a matter of life and death. Every fibre of his being awoke at her touch, like she was breathing air back into the lungs of a dying man.

Truthfully, she was.

One of his hands let go of the railing, reaching up to caress her cheek. This was a dream, wasn’t it? He’d fallen asleep before he’d left his house and never made it to her balcony to leave the rose.

Whether it was a dream or not, Chat knew he was on borrowed time. The moment was not to last, and so he was going to commit every sense to memory. Her taste, her touch, her scent, the little sounds she was making, all of it.

    7

The tragic part was that it made him love her more.

Realising he was in love with her was like the beginning notes to a piano medley he once had to learn; single notes played one after another, chordless, isolated yet beautiful and full of hope. This was different. Here, the notes aligned, chords nestled together in perfect harmony and everything felt so right that it was downright heart breaking to silence their love song before it had a chance to properly begin.

But silencing it was a must.

Eventually they had to break apart for air. Their noses brushed as they opened their eyes, looking at each other.

With that, the spell broke.

“Oh, oh my god! Sorry, I-” Marinette stammered, stumbling away from him, “I was just going to kiss you on the cheek- I didn’t mean-”

“No, it’s ok don’t worry,” Chat replied, leaning backwards so that he was hanging out towards the street, the hand which had been on Marinette’s cheek flexed, missing her. He placed it back on the railing, knowing if he didn’t he’d probably fall off the edge- he was certainly lightheaded enough to do something so catastrophically uncool. “I- I didn’t mind.”

You didn’t MIND? He yelled at himself, cringing, as Marinette buried her burning face in her hands with a groan. What is the matter with you? You just kissed the girl of your dreams and the first thing you say is that you don’t mind?! You are going to die alone!

“Well, I should go,” he said, not wanting to embarrass himself further.

Marinette, too caught up in the fact that they’d kissed, nodded in response. However, she didn’t notice Chat hopping back over her balcony until she felt something warm drape across her shoulders.

    7

Taking her hands away from her eyes, Marinette looked up curiously, and nearly had a heart attack when she saw Chat standing right in front of her. He’d picked up her blanket, and was currently in the process of wrapping it around her shoulders. His fingers ghosted against her skin, causing her to completely forget the cold, and she realised his hands were shaking.

Or perhaps she only thought that because she herself couldn’t stop trembling- in a way that had nothing to do with the cold.

Chat swallowed thickly, staring into her impossibly blue eyes- almost getting lost in them. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, look at her lips. If he did, he’d kiss her again, only this time there’d be no excuses.

Somehow, through the haze, he was able to speak.

“Make sure you stay warm, Princess,” he whispered, accidentally letting slip the secret nickname he’d given her. “Don’t want you Chat-ching a cold.”

The tension hanging between them cracked slightly, and Marinette smiled, clutching the blanket tightly with her free hand, just as Chat let go. God help him though, he couldn’t help but let his fingers trail in the loose tendrils of her hair one last time.

“I will,” she replied, her voice matching his in softness, the nickname not registering in her mind quite yet. “Promise.”

Chat nodded, unable to say another word. Before he could mess up the moment further he winked, turning tail and disappearing into the night.

When he was gone, Marinette collapsed into the chair, eyes wide as she stared up at the sky again. Her heart beat wildly, blood roared in her ears, and she was left wondering.

Did that just happen?

Chapter Text

    1


“So, let me get this straight,” Alya said, leaning back against Marinette’s desk chair and steepling her fingers. Beside her, on a little table-cushion Marinette had made, Tikki slept soundly, having already heard the story a thousand times over. “You’re in love with Chat Noir.”

“You already knew that,” Marinette groaned from her chaise, hugging a cushion to her chest and leaning back like a Freudian patient. Lord knows she was about three sentences away from a therapy-inducing hissy fit regardless, so it was probably prudent of her to be lying down in such a way. She was preparing for her inevitable breakdown that’s all. It was the smart thing to do.

And she rarely did the smart thing nowadays it seemed, so she really needed this.

“You’ve been in love with Chat as Ladybug for like a bajillion years,” Alya continued, ignoring Marinette as she continued to rehash pointless details. Details which made Marinette want to bludgeon herself to death with her cushion.

It was most likely impossible to do such a thing but she was never one to back down from a challenge. Death by cushion- she’d find a way.

“Yes. We’ve already established that,” she replied through gritted teeth, said cushion slowly creeping up to cover her face.

“But last night you kissed him by accident,” Alya said.

“Uh-huh.”

“As Marinette.”

“That is correct sir,” Marinette wiggled a finger.

“And he gave you a rose and kissed you back.”

“Tru’ dat.”

It was indicative of Marinette’s deteriorating mental state that she’d said “Tru’ dat”. She’d never said “Tru’ dat” in her whole life.

“I see,” Alya nodded a few times. The fact her tone had remained neutral the whole time was doing nothing to help Marinette’s poor nerves, and so she swung her legs over the side of her chaise, sitting up to get a better view of Alya’s twinkling eyes. A sense of dread settled in Marinette’s stomach. Alya’s eye-twinkles were never a good thing, at least when they were directed towards her.

I see?! Is that all you have to say? Seriously?! I thought you’d be freaking out right now, I mean I’m freaking out but then I ALWAYS freak out. You not freaking out is making me freak out harder! Can you please freak out with me? Join me in the freak out zone already!” Marinette blabbed, waving her arms and promptly dropping the cushion to the ground.

Alya said nothing, instead choosing to raise an eyebrow at her and cross her legs. At least she’d stopped steepling her fingers, Marinette thought gruffly.

After a short pause, Alya finally spoke, but her voice wobbled and strained unnaturally, her lips thinned in a way that was entirely too suspicious. “Firstly, stop saying freak out, secondly I’m not freaking out because this is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”

She barely made it to the end of her sentence before she doubled over and descended into giggles.

It was in that moment that Marinette realised Alya’s peculiar behaviour had been due to her hiding her amusement, and she felt fully justified in yanking the cushion from its position on the floor and hurling it towards her supposed ‘best friend forever.’

Unfortunately, Alya dodged the fluffy projectile with ease.

“Come on, this is serious! I’m in hot water here!” Marinette cried, crossing her arms across her chest.

“When are you not though? Let’s be real,” the redhead shot back with a wry grin, twirling in the chair and kicking backwards to check her hair in the small vanity mirror on Marinette’s desk. The sight made Marinette relax a little. Alya only checked her hair with such scrutiny when she was seriously contemplating something.

Suddenly missing the comforting embrace of the cushion, Marinette flopped down once more. As her back hit the large pillows adorning her chaise, she let out a long sigh and all the fear, the panic, the fight, left her in one fell swoop. Only tiredness and uncertainty remained.

“How am I going to face him?” she whispered. Her head tilted towards her small, round window, to the afternoon sun beaming down in a total antithesis to her feelings. She wondered where Chat Noir was at that moment.

Did she cross his mind?

Over the years Marinette had asked herself that question more times than she could count. But it was different now. Now she wondered if Chat thought of her, of Marinette, not of Ladybug. Did he dwell on it- how they’d kissed? She had. She’d thought about it all night, until exhaustion had finally overcome her and she’d woken up late, cold, wanting something she could barely comprehend.

For years, she’d thought about what it would mean to kiss Chat Noir, Dark Cupid incident aside considering she couldn’t even remember it.

A small, involuntary whimper left her when she recalled the night before. The kiss had been an accident… at first. But the second she felt Chat’s lips press into hers was burned into her memory, playing over and over again. The moment he returned her kiss had ignited something dormant inside her and she felt raw, emotions exposed and unlocked, with nowhere to hide.

She considered her question again. How on earth could she face him as Ladybug, knowing what she did, knowing him the way he didn’t know he knew her (and god wasn’t that sentence confusing in and of itself)?

For God’s sake Marinette, it was a peck of a kiss at the most, pull yourself together!

“You’ll figure it out.”

Alya’s voice sounded lightyears away, so stuck was Marinette in her own musings. She jumped, a little sheepishly, and realised she hadn’t noticed Alya coming over to her until the spinning desk chair was pressed right by the chaise. The next moment, Alya’s hands were in her hair. Having thoroughly fixed her own short curls, she now concentrated on the silky strands of Marinette’s loose locks, braiding little plaits as if they were children at a sleepover.

        2

Marinette let her. Two perfectly groomed heads were better than one.

“You think you can talk to him about it? As you I mean, not Ladybug,” Alya suggested, quickly clarifying her meaning whilst tugging the red ribbons loose from Marinette’s dark hair.

Snorting in response, Marinette couldn’t help but roll her eyes. Talk? To Chat? The very idea…

“Yeah sure, let me just tweet at him Ayla. Hashtag balcony make-outs,” she giggled, feeling a little better as her hair fell around her shoulders.

Foregoing the braids, Alya reached up and began tying something new into Marinette’s hair, tutting in disapproval. “Slide into the DM’s at least girl, I raised you better than that.”

They shared a laugh, settling into a comfortable silence as Alya worked on both sides of her hair. Marinette sat back and mulled over her options. Truth be told she didn’t have many. She couldn’t talk to Chat, after all it wasn’t likely he’d be back and she had no idea who he was in real life. The notion that she could talk to him as Ladybug, thus revealing herself, made her rapidly descend into a panic so sharp that she quickly pushed that thought to the side.

Really there was nothing else to do but call it what it was. A blip. A crazy alignment of stars which had given her a taste of everything she’d wanted for the past four years, a reminder that it was probably all she was going to get.

She tried not to let the disappointment settle in her bones, yet it was fruitless. Her chest ached as though a hole had been carved there.

Suffice to say it was a familiar ache where Chat was concerned, but it was bigger now.

“There. Done,” Alya pulled back, pleased with her work, and Marinette stood. Stepping over to the vanity mirror, she leaned down to check her reflection. “Matching colours for you and the bae,” she teased, eyebrows wiggling from underneath her rounded glasses.

Marinette threw the cushion at her again, feeling a smug sense of satisfaction as it smacked her right in the face.

At the very least, she had the Gaming Club that night, that would provide a very welcome distraction.

***

Adrien was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Which was ironic, considering he’d joined the Gaming Club to avoid that exact thing from happening.

“I can’t do this, I’m going to cancel,” he whimpered, hiding out in the bathroom a floor above their usual meeting place like the coward he was.

“So cancel,” Plagg shrugged, busy amusing himself with unfurling a roll of toilet paper- as per his usual hobby.

“I can’t cancel!” Adrien replied, horror struck as he gazed at himself in the mirror. His fingers gripped the sides of the sink so hard that his knuckles turned white. “Are you insane?!”

“So don’t cancel,” Plagg’s disinterested monotone was really starting to grate on him. “Honestly kiddo what do you want me to say and will it get me food faster?”

The resounding groan from Adrien’s throat was so despairing in nature that he was afraid he’s start rumours of a ghost haunting the building. He leaned on his elbows, burying his face into his hands.

Stupid. He’d been so, so, stupid. And reckless! Totally reckless. What had he been thinking?!

It was worth it though, a small, unchecked part of him thought. Adrien squashed it flat in an instant. After all there was no time to consider the fluttering in his chest, the pleasant swoop of his stomach. Now was the time to face the consequences of his actions. His incredibly foolish, totally moronic actions.

Because, although a part of him ignited, burned in the best possible way, at the memory of Marinette’s lips against his own, another part felt thoroughly ashamed. It felt like he was tricking her in some way. Granted that had never been his intention. His plan had been simple. Leave the rose on her balcony for her to discover. She’d never know it was him and be happy at the gift from a secret admirer. Obviously, things hadn’t worked out the way he planned, though he should have anticipated that.

When had things ever gone the way he planned?

He needed to apologise to her, as Chat, and he was going to do so that night in fact. But before that Adrien needed to pretend, he needed to lie, to Marinette. To the girl he loved. He needed to act like he hadn’t heard her soft sigh, felt the warmth of her skin and the taste of her cherry-blossom lips. He had to fake it, act like it had never happened.

He had to pretend he didn’t desperately want it to happen again.

The idea of being so fake made him ill, and so he placed his hands under the cold water tap to splash his face, allowing the iciness of the water to penetrate his senses and offer him some much-needed clarity.

It didn’t really work but it was the best he could do.

When he entered the Gaming Club, Plagg tucked securely inside his jacket pocket, he was relieved to see Marinette talking to other people. He could barely look at her, the meagre glimpse he’d gotten from across the room had sent his heart cartwheeling down the corridor and somewhere into the next arrondissement.

Not wanting to look suspicious, and fully admitting that he was stalling for time, Adrien wandered over to the desk where Nino was hooking up an old Nintendo console for one of their signature Mario Kart nights.

Mario Kart…Marinette…partners… sitting close together… oh no.

“Hey bro!” Nino chirped, offering Adrien a fist to bump, clearly not noticing how the blood had completely drained from his friend’s face. “Everything ok?”

“H-hey! Everything’s good!” The first lie of the evening. How could Adrien have forgotten it was a Mario Kart night? More importantly, how was he going to survive the evening now? Sitting next to Marinette, shoulders pressed together, watching her tongue poke out in concentration like it normally did? How could he concentrate on anything knowing how close he’d been to said tongue the night before?

Grow up Adrien! You aren’t some horny teenager and Marinette isn’t a prize to be objectified. Show her some respect already!

If Nino had thought Adrien’s reaction was strange, he didn’t show it. Together they settled into an easy conversation, Adrien helping his friend set up the old console. Focusing on such a menial task did wonders for his nerves. He was almost starting to feel normal. Almost.

Of course, just as he was beginning to relax, Marinette had to tap him lightly on the shoulder.

She might as well have given him a 1.21 gigawatt electric shock, given his reaction to both was about the same. If he’d been Chat Noir at the time, his superpowers might have actually propelled him through the ceiling.

“A-Adrien?” Marinette tilted her head, taken aback by his startled shriek. “Are you ok?”

Subconsciously, Adrien’s hand reached up and he clutched his chest, fingers burying into his jumper as if it would cure the frantic beating of his wild heart.

Because she was there, right in front of him. Marinette. The girl he’d kissed last night.

His eyes flicked down to her lips before he could help himself.

“Adrien?”

The second time her voice permeated through his cloudy mind, something snapped inside of him. It was as if he were a character in a film, once played in slow motion, now fast-forwarding.

“Hey!” he cried, louder than he intended, and the people around him turned to stare. He looked at her eyes instead, with far more intensity than normal, mainly because he was so intent on not looking at her lips any more. “Marinette! It’s my friend- Marinette! My good friend, I’m good! How are you? You good- good? Yeah, I’m good, friend. How are you? Did you have a good Valentine’s day?”

WHAT?! Adrien’s brain-filter kicked in far too late, but began screaming at him nonetheless. Why would you ask her that? WHY?! You know how it went! YOU WERE THERE!

Marinette blinked, and it proved just how far gone he was that he found her blinking adorable.

Her blinking.

“Umm,” she blushed, unsure of what to say and, honestly, Adrien couldn’t blame her. He sounded insane even to his own ears, and he’d just asked her something quite private. Actually, he was surprised she wasn’t berating him for it. Then again, she thought he didn’t know about her encounter with Chat Noir.  His words may have seemed innocent to her ears.

What a mess Adrien had gotten himself into, and it only seemed to grow worse with every bit of word-vomit he expelled.

(Was it bad that he felt a tiny bit of pride at her blushing? Probably. But he was going to hell anyway so he might as well enjoy the slow descent at least a little bit.)

Tucking her hair behind her ear, Marinette glanced baffled at Nino, whom Adrien could see shrugging from his peripheral vision.

But he couldn’t care less.

Because he’d just noticed her hair. Or, more specifically, how she was wearing it.

In place of the red ribbons usually tied into her loose black locks, were two green ones instead. Vivid green. Chat Noir green.

His brain collapsed in on itself.

    3

“I’m good-good too.”

Marinette was teasing him. She was grinning and she had green ribbons in her hair and Adrien was going to DIE.

   lol

“Good! That’s good!”

Great. He’d always wanted to die sounding like a partially strangled mongoose.

Marinette, mercifully, took pity on him and waved a controller in his face, offering him a place in the first race of the evening. He sighed, relaxing a little, but only a little. Gaming was fine. It was a welcome distraction, as long as he didn’t sit too close to her he’d be fine (who was he kidding? Of course he was going to sit close to her). At least, when he was focused on blue shells and Bullet Bills his brain couldn’t fixate on the meaning behind Marinette’s ribbons, if there was any hidden symbolism he was missing.

Suddenly the thought of seeing her that night, of apologising, seemed that much more dangerous- forbidden almost. But he had to do it. He owed it to her as her friend. Even if that’s all he could ever hope to be.

Nino still hadn’t finished setting up, and a few other members began helping him in their eagerness to get started. As a result, Adrien found himself more alone with Marinette than ever.

They sat down on the floor, controllers in hands, side by side. Their shoulders brushed, like they always did.

Adrien swallowed, wishing he’d worn a t-shirt instead of the woollen monstrosity currently overheating him.

He was fairly sure he was going to lose the game spectacularly.

His fears were proved right when, later that evening, Marinette’s knee brushed against his own and he ended up sending Donkey Kong careening off the end of Rainbow Road.

It was going to be a long night.

***

For the fifteenth time that evening, Marinette called herself an idiot.

Because she was an idiot. An idiot for standing on her balcony, an idiot for hoping lightning would strike twice in the same spot, an idiot for following her heart...

Tightly wrapping her cardigan around her, she gazed out into the mocking skyline. The bitterness of the cold February air was nothing compared to the bitterness she felt building up like sludge in her chest. Bitterness in her fortunes, bitterness in her decisions, bitterness in her own feelings.

Distantly, Marinette thanked the stars that at least it wasn’t as cold as it usually was. She was thankful she had a tiny shred of dignity left at least- that she wasn’t freezing to death in the vain hope that Chat Noir would show up again.

She reached up, fingers brushing against her lips, and remembered.

Furious with herself, Marinette shook her head, as if the rough gesture would expel all the unwanted memories from her mind. Honestly what was she doing acting like a silly sixteen-year-old with a crush? Again?! It was desperate, obsessive, ridiculous-

And totally in character if she was being honest with herself.

She needed a break. A breather. A respite from her own whirlwind emotions regarding the man in the black mask, the man who’d held her heart for longer than she cared to admit to anyone- not even Alya.

Stuffing her hands in her pockets, Marinette let out one last frustrated sigh before turning on her heels and making her way back to her room. Maybe her room would be less of a reminder, would save her from her torment.

But, as usual, fate had other plans for her.

Because, of course, Chat Noir happened to be standing there as if he’d suddenly popped into existence.

The shock of seeing him sent Marinette stumbling backwards with a cry, tripping over a flowerpot and tumbling to the ground.

    

“Whoa!” Chat called, rushing forward to catch her just in time. One hand gripped her flailing wrist, the other pressed against the small of her back as he pulled her towards him.

For a moment, both of them froze in place. Chat’s fingers splayed across her back, and she briefly felt the edges of his clawed-gloves scratching gently against the fabric of her cardigan. An involuntary shiver ran up her spine before she could control it.

    

Chat’s eyes widened and he stepped out of their half-embrace with awkward, jittery movements, casting his face away from hers. “Sorry,” he mumbled, scratching the back of his head. “Sorry I shouldn’t have startled you. I guess I have a bad habit.”

Bad habit huh? Marinette had one of those too.

The silence which settled on them both was heavy, uncomfortable, and borderline unbearable. It was laden with memories of the night before, swirling around them, echoing in their minds as though they were standing in an empty theatre, watching their mistakes projected on a screen with no means of escape.

Because it was a mistake… wasn’t it? She hadn’t meant to kiss him, he probably regretted kissing her back. That was why he was here- of that she was sure. To think he was here for any other reason was just asking for a broken heart.

But, oh god, it hadn’t been a mistake. Not to her. She couldn’t ever consider it to be such.

Finally, Marinette could take the silence no longer. Taking a deep breath, she fixed a smile onto her face, painted a picture of a girl who had herself together at least a little, and placed a hand on her hip.

“No rose tonight?”

Chat’s cat-ears twitched. He peered over at her with a puzzled frown before he realised she was teasing. Something dark crossed his eyes and Marinette forgot how to breathe. The look was gone before she could concentrate on it fully, and she found that he was smiling back at her.

“Err, n-no. No. That is- I mean- unfortunately not,” he replied with his signature bow. “But I do have something far more important.”

“Oh really?” Marinette squeaked, inwardly cringing at how lame she sounded. She’d wanted her voice to be sensual and teasing, but instead it sounded like she’d inhaled a ton of helium instead. Clearing her throat, she tried again, arching her eyebrow for good measure and all the while thrilled at the fact that he was simply there. Chat Noir was there. He’d come back to her. “What’s that?”

“An apology.”

Marinette’s blood ran cold.

“About last night,” Chat continued, shuffling from foot to foot, completely unaware of how Marinette’s body, mind, and heart had seized up all at once. “I feel like I made a terrible impression. I- well- I’m not the type of guy to do… what I did.”

    

From the depths of despair and panic, Marinette felt the faintest hints of confusion. She latched onto it. Confusion was better than rejection.

“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice small and vulnerable, wrapping her arms around herself.

“Well I’m not really a playboy or anything, despite what the media likes to speculate about me. I don’t kiss strangers on balconies. I guess, I didn’t want you to have the wrong impression about me.”

When Marinette hung her head, Chat felt a wave of regret wash over him. He’d practiced what he wanted to say, over and over again but it never seemed enough to fully explain himself- not without revealing to her that he was Adrien Agreste and he’d been lying to her this entire time. He was too afraid of the ramifications of that- so he needed to end this now- before he hurt her.

Damn it, he’d gotten so close though. So close to knowing what they could have- what they could be.

But it was a fantasy. Chat Noir was a large part of him, but it wasn’t all of him. The person he was behind the mask was locked away from Marinette, was a separate entity in her eyes.

Who was he fooling? They couldn’t be together. Not like this.

He had to try harder as Adrien and if she rejected him he would simply pick up the pieces of his broken heart. He would respect her, be her friend, move on, and certainly not use Chat Noir’s hero status as a means to trick her into loving him. She deserved better, deserved the world, even if he wasn’t the one to give it to her.

That’s why he had to leave. Right now. Being here, being this close to her, was crumbling his resolve. Every cute gesture she made was another step closer to his damnation. He had to leave before he said or did something he’d regret, before his principles were lost to the wind.

“It was Valentine’s day. I guess… it’s easy to get swept up in the romance of the day, right?” Marinette said. She was smiling, but the sparkle in her eyes was dulled somehow. Once again Chat’s attention was drawn to the green ribbons in her hair, as she quickly tucked a few strands behind her ears. He couldn’t bring herself to speak as she grew distant, deep in her own thoughts, and her shoulders raised. “But if we’re being honest Chat, I was worried you’d see me in a bad light too. Like- I mean- I’m not the kind of girl who kisses random celebrities and I’m certainly not the type to blab to the press about it either.”

“I didn’t ever think you were,” he uttered, swallowing thickly, and a little bit of sparkle returned to Marinette’s eyes. Her cheeks turned pink again.

Chat felt his claws digging painfully into his palms.

“Well… that’s a relief. I mean I always admired you,” Marinette stammered out the confession before she meant to, quickly covering her blunder with half-truths. “You know you saved me once- from an akuma. You didn’t notice me at the time, and it was years ago, but I never forgot.”

Chat felt as though he’d been physically struck by her words.

He’d saved her? He’d saved Marinette? And he hadn’t noticed her?!

“I wish I’d seen you,” he said before he could help himself. The rest of his desires remained unsaid, as new possibilities, new what ifs, formed in his mind- like an alternate reality.

Chat inwardly cringed. No way in hell was he going to get any sleep that night.

“I wish you’d seen me too,” Marinette admitted.

Chat’s hand was halfway to hers before he yanked it back, his heart beating wildly, his mind screaming at him to leave. The pull was almost tangible, magnetic, drawing him closer to her. It was dangerous, and he needed to leave.

“I hate to be a sundae, but I have to split!” he laughed, high and fake, all the while cringing at what was perhaps the worst pun he’d ever made. And that was saying something.

Marinette didn’t say anything, but laughed once.

Ok, she thought, maybe she was ridiculous, but he was equally so. Maybe that’s why she loved him so much.

She watched him make his way to the edge of the balcony and something stirred inside her, the raw feelings which had sparked when their lips had met woke from their slumber, and she reached out to touch his shoulder.

    

“Chat?” her voice matched the soft tremors echoing through her body, and she tried to remember to breathe. She couldn’t let him leave like this, she’d been so close. “How about…one last kiss?”

Chat stilled, statue-like. His lips parted, and Marinette panicked.

“I mean!” she corrected, face turning to flames, “I mean sorry that was dumb- so dumb. It’s just that I- I liked that kiss and I thought- I don’t know what I thought- but I wanted to-”

His lips crashed into hers, and the rest of Marinette’s sentence was lost forever.

    

Chat kissed her, kissed her with a resolve thoroughly destroyed and a heart so indescribably owned; owned by her, possessed by her, consumed by her. His hands were frantic, and Marinette matched him in every way as they pressed into each other. Her fingers gripped the back of his head, tangled in his hair, and pulled him closer.

Like he needed an excuse to get closer to her.

The pair of them moved apart to breathe, great shuddering breaths, and then their lips were together again- as neither of them could stand to be apart for a moment. Chat’s fingers slid from her hands to grip her hips, a primal, dark part of him triumphant as he heard a moan slip from Marinette’s mouth.

They stumbled backwards, towards the wall, and Chat pressed her against it, hands roaming her sides- never going too far- always listening to her reactions. Desire coursed through him, a need to please her, to make her moan again, without pushing too far.

    

She must have sensed him falter, sensed his caution, as a frustrated hum rose from the back of her throat, almost like a purr of her own. Her hands moved from his hair, gripping the bell around his throat, and she tugged him down towards her, kissing his neck.

Chat was having a hard time not passing out from that alone, but then she rolled her hips, making it so there wasn’t a sliver of streetlight between them, and he was fairly certain he died and was reborn on the spot.

Dangerous was the word whispering in his mind, the word he was ignoring as his hands cupped the sides of Marinette’s face, tilting her head back. She arched into him again, countering his movements like a dance, and he gasped.

It felt too natural, too perfect… almost…familiar.

Dangerous he thought as his tongue flicked against her lips.

Dangerous- he thought as her mouth opened and he was rewarded with another moan.

Stop. Stop before you can’t, he pleaded with himself as Marinette’s hands wrapped around his shoulders, her fingernails scratching against his neck.

He didn’t stop.

They kissed for what seemed like hours, passion moving from an explosive force to one of slow-burning sensuality, settling into a rhythm that was far too natural, but neither of them could bring themselves to mind.

It was a long time before Chat could bring himself to leave her, to stop kissing her. It was addictive, intoxicating, and filled with promise. For months his heart had been starved, yearning and wishing, and now it was real. Their kisses were real, her affections were real.

And so was her voice, ringing out in the coldness of the night, in answer to his question, "May I see you tomorrow night, Princess?"

There was a pause, both of them treading on thin ice, ice which slowly creaked and groaned beneath their feet.

"Yes," she breathed, and the ice shattered, plunging them both into unknown depths.

    

Chapter Text

     

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Chat wrapped his arms around Marinette, pulling her close and sighing when she wiggled back into his chest. The pair of them were sprawled out on the floor, his sort-of girlfriend between his legs, trembling slightly.

She nodded, letting her words fall breathlessly between parted lips. “I’m sure.”

Chat buried his face in the crook of her neck, placing a casual kiss to her shoulder. Honestly, this hadn’t been the way he thought their date would go, but he was thrilled nonetheless, surprised yet pleased. Apprehensive too, of course, but he was trying not to show it. Marinette responded by reaching up to scratch his ear, and he nipped her playfully, hoping to alleviate the tension hanging in the air.

She inhaled sharply, and Chat couldn't help the low hum of pleasure at the way her breath caught because of him.

“You can always back out you know,” he began, sounding a bit pathetic even to his ears. “You don’t have to-”

“What the priest says goes, you know there’s no turning back now,” Marinette interrupted softly, more out of nerves than anything.

Chat snorted. “Yeah! ‘Cause we totally should listen to a deranged priest when we could easily jump out of the window right?”

“Hush, Kitty, I’m busy trying not to die,” she chided, un-pausing the game and nudging the character (a nosy journalist investigating an abandoned insane asylum that turned out to be not-so-abandoned after all) through an open door. “I hope that creepy large dude doesn’t come back to kill me.”

“Don’t worry, Princess,” Chat smirked with more bravado than he felt. “I’ll protect you.”

It was at that point that said ‘creepy large dude’ appeared from the corner, the game music intensified, and Chat let out an unholy shriek, gripping onto Marinette’s shoulders for dear life.

 

“Marinette?” Sabine called from downstairs, causing both of them to freeze like the ending shot of an old sitcom. “Is everything ok? We heard you scream.”

“Err- f-fine Mama!” Marinette cried back, shaking with effort not to laugh, and Chat felt heat creep up his face. “Just a scary part of my game! I’ll try keeping it down!”

She paused the game, silent for a few moments, the control clutched so tightly in her hand that Chat feared she might break it in two. He sighed, hiding his face in her hair and mumbling a resigned, "go ahead, I deserve it."

Marinette burst out laughing, dropping the controller to squeeze his hands in her own. Despite his embarrassment, Chat's heart flipped traitorously at the sound. He did so love her laugh. A long time ago, he’d heard of the term 'music to my ears' but it was only recently that he truly understood it.

She was so lovely, and her laugh only made her lovelier.

"Oh my god kitty, you're worse than Adrien!" Marinette wheezed, and Chat was instantly brought out of his love-struck musings, her words dousing him in ice-water and making his blood run cold. Where previously his heart had been re-enacting its own version of cirque-du-soleil, it was now deadly still, silent and grave-like. "He was so freaked out earlier when we all tried this game I thought he was going to break Nino's arm off!"

But it was always like this, had been like this, since that fated Valentine's day two months previous. Marinette often talked about her friends, about her life, about the Gaming Club and, by extension, him too. Though she remained blissfully unaware of that fact.

All he could do is talk about Ladybug and, although it must've been exciting for Marinette to hear first-hand accounts of all their superhero misadventures, they weren't exactly on equal footing in terms of things they could share. Marinette didn't seem to mind, but that still didn't stop the guilt churning and twisting his guts every time she mentioned his alter-ego.

He laughed once, a desperately false sound despite his best efforts, and leaned back to his normal sitting position. Once again Marinette rested against his chest, and he was altogether glad that she couldn't see his face at that moment in time. He was an open book when it came to her, at least emotionally. He always would be.

"I guess we can't all be brave warrior princesses like you," he smiled, curling a lock of her hair around his finger idly, wondering what it would be like to touch it without the gloves as a barrier.

Marinette sighed, a gesture which made her shoulders slump and, before Chat could reach out for her, she pulled away. Shuffling towards the monitor, she flicked it off, her head bowed. Were it not for his super-hearing, Chat might've missed the way she whispered, "I'm not as brave as you think."

Suddenly, Chat felt awkward, sitting there in such a casual position when Marinette appeared to be in the midst of an internal dilemma, so he rose to his feet. He wasn't sure what caused her change in mood, if he was to blame or not, but he hoped to help somehow… despite the fact that his legs felt like there were about to melt off.

He was just about to ask her what she meant, do whatever he could in his power to make her believe that she was as brave as he knew she was, when she fixed him with a piercing gaze. The shock of her blue eyes, staring at him like a sea before the storm, rendered him mute. She looked away again, biting her lip.

"Chat?" she said finally. "I have a problem."

At once his brain exploded with infinite possibilities. First came the protective side- oh god who's hurt her? is someone bothering her? Can I help? Is she upset? Then came the fear- is she upset with me?! What did I do?! Ok, I've done lots of stuff- but what did I do SPECIFICALLY that she's upset with? After that was the mind-numbing panic- GET READY TO BEG FOR FORGIVENESS! YOU'RE A FRAUD AND A LIAR AND SHE KNOWS AND SHE HATES YOU. JUST SAY SORRY AND LEAP OUT OF THE WINDOW NOW BEFORE YOU FACE HER WRATH. RUN FRAIDY CAT! RUN!

Each and every one of these mental acrobatics occurred within the first five seconds after Marinette had spoken.

Deciding it would be best not to speak, Chat nodded once, closing the gap between them- simultaneously scared for himself and worried about Marinette. He faltered a few steps before her, wanting to reach out but afraid to cross that line. After all, if her problem was with him she'd hardly want to be touched by him... right?

But, as usual, Marinette seemed to sense his trepidation. Reaching out, she grasped both of his hands, cradling them in her own and Chat let out a sigh of relief.

"Our relationship... I... I love-" Marinette hesitated, looking down, and Chat's eyes widened. His heart leapt into his throat before crashing down again when she continued her sentence- "I love what we have going on.  With us, I mean.  We've gotten to know each other really well. But- but I'm not an idiot or anything!  I know, like, because of who you are, we can't be open about it with other people. A-and I'm not asking for anything more! No, nothing like that! It's just uuuugh why is this so difficult?"

She dropped his hands, turning away with a groan of frustration as she waved her arms in the air, flailing, floundering, and all Chat could do was watch helplessly.

"Princess?" he whispered, wishing he had something better to say, more words of comfort. In an ideal world, he'd simply take the stupid ring off his finger and just be done with it all.

But that was reckless even by his standards.

Marinette sighed, wrapping her arms around herself as she twirled to face him, looking him in the eyes once more.  There was no lie in them, just steely determination.

"I'm just going to go ahead and say it. I got asked out on a date today."

Huh. Chat suddenly understood what the journalist from the game must've felt like when the scary guy caught him and ripped out his guts.

"He's a really nice guy and we've been friends for a long time," Marinette continued, unknowingly twisting the knife deeper. "But I.... I can't do it because it would feel like a lie.  I'm with you, even if we're not anything that can be labelled. I don't know, it feels dishonest somehow. What do you think?"

Chat swallowed, his throat tight, his mind reeling. What did he think? She was asking him what he thought about the possibility of her, the girl he loved, going on a date with someone else? Of course she had no idea about the depths of his feelings, because he'd never told her but that wasn’t the point. She was asking him about dating someone else…

It would feel like a lie, it would feel dishonest, she had said.

Marinette hated liars. That was one of the first facts he'd learned about her when they’d started getting to know each other back at university.

"I... think," he uttered, stopping in an attempt to control his breathing, to alleviate the wavering in his voice. "I think that I care about you, I love... I love being with you like this.” Coward! “But I know that it would be wrong for me to stop you from going on dates, if that's what would make you happy? I don't know, Mari."

Well at least he could be honest there. He didn't know what to do. It would be controlling, cruel and hypocritical of him to tell her he hated the idea of her going on dates with someone else, holding hands with someone else, kissing someone el-

No. No. Don't think about that.

How could he possibly ask her to remain true to him when he couldn't give her more, despite desperately wanting to?

"If it's what you want, I won't ever stop you," he whispered, stepping forwards to cup her cheek because oh god he needed to. He need to touch her, he need to remind himself that he could, that he was allowed to. "I'm not seeing anyone else right now except for you, but I won't ever hold you back, and I wouldn't ask the same from you because- well-  you're right. I can't give you everything I wish I could."

    

Marinette's eyes lost the steel, flooded with warmth and something which he couldn't quite fathom. Yet her smile didn't reach them. She stood up on her toes, and Chat wrapped his arms around her, kissed her, breathed her in.

"I understand," was all she said in response.

***

Nathanael stood outside the door of the classroom, sketchbook clutched tightly to his chest, fear clutching tighter than that.

It had been a day since he'd asked Marinette on a date, and he'd still not gotten a response. Granted, she’d said she'd give him an answer after their shared art class (which lay just beyond the door beside him) but his nerves had stretched those twenty-four hours into an eternity.

Yet he couldn’t bring himself to cross the threshold, into the classroom where he knew Marinette was already waiting. Forgetting his nerves, he briefly smiled to himself. She'd definitely gotten better about be late since they’d started university together.

    

Peeling the sketchbook away from his person, he glanced at the drawing which had taken him hours to do. It was a simple one, one where he and Marinette were dressed as superheroes of his own design. He'd drawn it weeks ago, and wanted to give it to her as a gift but was too nervous until she gave him an answer.

He sighed, resting his head against the wall, the half-open door mocking him. Despite knowing Marinette for many years, it was only recently that his feelings began to change. It was just a crush, he knew that, but he was trying to be more open with his emotions recently and the inner romantic in him wondered if it might become something more with time. Friends-to-lovers was always a popular romantic theme in the comics he loved so much after all.

"Are you SERIOUS right now?"

Nathanael jumped at the sound of someone yelling, coming from inside the room. Deciding he'd rather not interrupt whatever was going on (gosh wouldn't that be awkward?) he hovered outside the classroom instead, dithering.

Unfortunately, that meant unintentional eavesdropping. He glanced over his shoulder, nervously checking for other students and finding none lining up yet. Maybe they were still outside enjoying the first taste of spring, maybe he should do the same-

"I know ok?! You don't think I don't know how crummy this whole thing is?"

Nathanael stalled, just as he was beginning to walk away and offer privacy to those who were using their empty classroom as a chance to vent personal problems. That had sounded like Marinette...

"Girl," the first voice spoke again, less angry this time, and Nathanael recognised the owner as Alya- one of Marinette's closest friends. "I honestly don't know what to say right now. So… he said it was ok for you to see other guys? To date Nath?"

Nathanael's heart skipped a beat. Guilt and adrenaline pumped through his veins like poison, but he remained frozen to the spot. Was Marinette seeing someone?

    

"Yeah. That’s basically it. I don’t know what I was thinking! Maybe he doesn't like me as much I wanted him to? God I'm such an idiot Alya!" Marinette wailed. "I thought- I guess- I hoped that if I brought up that Nath asked me out that he might... I don't even know, fight for me I guess? I mean, don't get me wrong, Nath and I are so close but I could never date him- not when I'm in love with someone else. And I thought he would get that but he didn't!"

The sketchbook mocked him, the smiling faces of his and Marinette's superhero-forms seemed to twist before his eyes. Nathanael bowed his head, tears pooling in his eyes, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry...

It was no use. Who was he fooling really? Of course Marinette was in love with someone else. It made sense. They were just friends, that's all they'd ever be.

That's all he'd ever be to anyone.

Trying not to crumple like the bristles of a broken paintbrush, Nathanael hurried away, desperate to get home. He could skip class just this once, just for today. He could handle Marinette's rejection another time, respect her decision and move on, once he pulled himself together.

But, as he left the building, he failed to notice the dark wings of a butterfly following him on his way home…

Inside the classroom, Alya was sitting cross-legged on the professor’s desk, nursing a to-go coffee in her hands and frowning down at Marinette, who was currently face-down against her own desk. "You're going to get drool on your sketchbook," she teased, trying to alleviate the tension hanging in the air.

"Add it to the list of stupid problems I have because I can't control my own life and I'm a massive idiot," came Marinette's muffled response.

Casting a raised eyebrow to Tikki, who smiled sympathetically at her, Alya huffed. In one graceful movement, she hopped off the desk, and sat in the chair opposite Marinette’s.

Tikki was the first to break the silence. "It is kind-of a messy situation to be sure. But I think maybe if you talked to him-"

"And tell him what Tikki?" Marinette groaned, sitting up sharply. "That I've been his partner this whole time? That I've loved him forever? That every moment I've spent with him since Valentine’s day has been equal parts amazing and terrifying? He'll just- just laugh at me or something and it will all be over! And before you start- I know if I keep going like this, it's not going to end well okay? But I have no idea how to fix it without causing some massive rift between us. I know that."

"Hey, hey, hey!" Alya shushed, wrapping her arms around Marinette, worried to discover she was trembling. "It's not like he's being truthful with his identity, whoever he may be."

"Exactly, Marinette. This is just your fear talking! You know deep down that he could never laugh at you, or hate you. Not after everything you've been through together!"

Marinette hesitated, leaning back in her chair and gazing into Tikki's hopeful eyes.

"She's right you know," Alya agreed, releasing Marinette and sitting back down, nodding her head sagely behind her coffee cup. "I'm not saying you should confess everything right away, especially when all of this is so new, but I think you're right too. If you keep going like this, you're only going to end up hurt. And I really don't want to go to prison for murdering a cat-boy when I've got such a promising journalism career ahead of me."

She winked, making Marinette giggle for the first time that day. The amusement she felt, however, was short lived- more of a plaster attempting to cover a gaping wound. Marinette sighed, twirling her fingers through her hair, through the green ribbons she'd taken to wearing the past couple of months.

"Right now, I just have to focus on letting Nath down easily," she said, wavering determination filling her, juxtaposing a creeping sense of dread. She hated to let Nathanael down, they'd been friends for so long.

Balling her hands into fists, Marinette's focus burned holes in the wall as she waited for the rest of the class to appear, along with Nathanael. Really the whole thing with Chat Noir could wait. Currently, she needed to make sure her friendship with Nathanael survived what was sure to be an awkward encounter. She was certain their relationship could prevail, providing she was kind enough. After all Nath's crush was a result of his growing sense of loneliness rather than actual feelings towards her, she was sure of that.

Not that she could blame him. Being unwillingly single did things to a person’s self-esteem, of that she was acutely aware.

Besides, Nathanael was so sweet, he always had been. So she wanted to return the favour, even if she was rejecting him (to put it bluntly).

"It'll be ok, you know. You'll be ok," Alya's voice broke her out of the cycle of her own thoughts. "You and Nath go way back and, like Tikki said, you and cat-boy have gone through so much together. But even if things don't work out the way you hope, I know you'll be fine. Now-" she rubbed her hands together- "Are we done with your shit? Because I swear to god if I have to deal with my mansplaining fudgenut of a research partner for one more day I'm going to go to prison before I even get a chance to kick your lover's butt."

Marinette laughed, trying to ignore the steady slew of students entering the room and concentrate on helping Alya manage her fully justified anger. It was a welcome distraction, focusing on her friend's problems for a change.

***

Her problems, however, came crashing down at her with the force of a rampaging elephant of steroids as she slumped into her desk chair later that afternoon, exhausted and at her wits end.

Nathanael hadn't shown up to class, and all her texts to him had gone unseen. Either his phone was freaking out again, or he was deliberately avoiding her.

"Tikki why are men so painfully exhausting?" she grumbled, letting her chin rest on her keyboard. The sticky-notes app popped up on screen, automatically typing 'bhhhhhhhhhhhn' due to the placement of her chin on the keyboard.

'Bhhhhhhhhhhhn' pretty much summed up exactly what she was feeling at present.

"You know, Marinette," Tikki replied, nuzzling into her shoulder, a wicked grin on her face. "I've been around for thousands of years and I can say, with total certainty, that I have no idea why they are. They just are."

Marinette chortled, cuddling her precious companion. For some strange reason, she found that non-answer comforting.

"Ok well, boy problems can wait for the time being I guess. I better get to work."

She pulled herself up to her dressmaker’s mannequin, where her latest design hung loosely. It was a commission, one she'd been slowly working on over the course of a couple of weeks. Since starting university, Marinette had been accepting commissions (usually of the cosplay variety) to help her pay for daily expenses. Adrien had actually commissioned her for this one, based on the one Final Fantasy game she’d shamefully not played, and the look of horror on his face when she admitted it was one she’d never forget. It was like she’d admitted to killing Santa.

She chuckled at the memory. At least there was one cute guy in her life who didn't cause her trouble.

(Ok Nino was cute too, she thought guiltily, but she couldn't really see him as cute considering her best friend was dating him and he was more like a brother really.)

Briefly, she considered asking Chat if he would model the outfit for her when it was done, before she did the final tweaks. Him and Adrien were similar in height after all.

As quickly as the thought came, however, she squashed it. No boys. No distractions. It was time for work.

The golden glow of the sun filtered through the room, the dulcet tones of the latest Jagged Stone release filtering through the speakers of her computer, and Marinette felt a kind of peace she hadn't experienced in a long time. She measured, tweaked, and sewed to her hearts content. The outfit called for some hand sewing and for that she was glad, despite the extra work. Hand sewing was always one of her favourite things to do. When it went right at least.

All the while Tikki floated around her, cracking jokes and encouraging remarks, and offering Marinette whatever tools she needed.

"It's so amazing you know," the Kwami said after some time, "to see how far you've come with your designs!"

Marinette smiled around the sewing needle currently being held between her lips. "That's good to know,” she replied, removing the sewing needle from her mouth and sticking it back into the jacket. “I'd hate to be stuck at the same level I was years ag-"

A knock at her window interrupted her and she glanced at Tikki, who'd frozen mid-air.

    

So, that confirmed she hadn't been hearing things.

When the knocking appeared again, Marinette caught a glimpse of a purple glove and her heart lurched. Turning to Tikki she hissed at the Kwami to hide, whilst she herself half hid behind her mannequin.

"Marinette?" a voice called, before a head popped into view, and her eyes bulged. "Are you in there?"

Stepping around the mannequin, her jaw open wide, Marinette rubbed her eyes in disbelief. No. It wasn’t possible, surely, she was seeing things. Surely it wasn’t…

"NATHANAEL?"

But it wasn't Nathanael, not really, not how she knew him to be. His bright red hair was tied up in a ponytail, ends darkening to a sunburnt orange and somehow looking...spikier? His skin was a strange purple hue and his eyes gave off a faint glow.

Her heart, having previously launched itself into her throat, now dropped like a stone.

There was only one explanation for this.

An akuma.

There'd been a time, after the defeat of Hawk Moth two years ago, that Ladybug and Chat Noir had considered retiring for good. However, fate had other plans. For, although Hawk Moth had been stopped and the Butterfly Miraculous now lie dormant, a few akuma had escaped the last final cleanse. Without a wielder, they floated around the city like supernatural mosquitos, aimlessly attracted to negative energy and unable to multiply without the miraculous to give them more energy. When they found someone, they still possessed them, gave them powers, but with no Hawk Moth working behind the scenes, the victims were free to follow their own agenda. Sometimes that made them less dangerous, and sometimes more so.

Either way, it was certainly the reason for the sudden popularity rise the ‘mindfulness’ craze had taken in recent years. Luckily for everyone, akuma attacks were getting less and less frequent as the last of the purple butterflies dwindled. In fact, this was the first one this year, and they were already in April. All of this was irrelevant, however, because it was her friend who’d been chosen. Her friend who'd been upset enough to attract an akuma, her friend whom she needed to help.

But she was stuck. She couldn't transform. Not now at least.

Marinette continued to stare at Nathanael's floating head, her brain desperately scrambling for solutions and coming up blank, before he looked away with a blush.

"Umm... can I come in?"

She blinked, surprised by the gentleness in his tone, and nodded. Maybe if she knew what he wanted, she could help him without the need for any big battles. Nathanael wasn't exactly the fighting type, but nothing could be ruled out where akuma were involved.

Smiling shyly, Nathanael phased into the room, keeping his distance from her. In his arms, he held a tablet and pen, and her eyes were instantly drawn to them, thinking...

    

"I know, it's pretty cool, isn't it?" Nathanael grinned sheepishly. "I kind of look more villain-ish than I hoped though."

Marinette swallowed dumbly. "Kind of like an evillustrator."

Nathanael laughed, scratching the back of his head. "Yeah, I guess so! But I swear, you don't have to be afraid of me like this! I promise I won't hurt you. And I have really cool powers now, look!"

He raised the pen to the tablet, quickly drawing something Marinette couldn't see. Between them, a faint purple glow appeared and suddenly, a bouquet of gorgeous, red roses materialised.

Nathanael stooped to catch them before they hit the ground. Timidly, he handed them over to Marinette, his purpled cheeks darkening. "Umm... these are for you."

Marinette accepted them, held the bouquet in her hands, her mind spinning and searching for a reason as to why Nathanael had been akumatised, why he was here.

"I- I know this is really sudden and I don't want to freak you out," Nathanael stammered shyly, bringing the tablet back to his chest. "But- may I take you out tonight? As- as a date I mean. I can take you wherever you want to! With my powers and everything, I'm sure I can draw something you'd like."

Oh. Oh god.

An akuma was asking her on a date.

Well, she thought stupidly, at least she now knew the reason why Nath had attracted an akuma.

What if she said no? Would he get angry? Would he run away and hide? Would she even get the chance to sneak away and transform?

An idea hit her. It was risky, and Chat Noir would probably kill her for suggesting it, but it was the only way she could think to both keep her identity a secret, and keep Nathanael placated.

"I' d love to," she replied, breathless, forcing a smile on her face. No doubt it made her look like a demented clown. "Go on a date I mean. With you. I'd love to."

Nathanael beamed at her, and she tried to ignore the stabbing guilt at lying to him. Why was she lying so much these days? "Awesome! That's great! You won't regret it! Ok so can I meet you tonight by the love-lock bridge?"

Marinette nodded, awkwardly fumbling with the bouquet in her arms. "S-sure!"

"Great! Ok you don't have to decide what we do now, take your time ok? I'm going to practice drawing with this thing, it can get a bit sketchy. Oh!" His eyes brightened. "Pun unintended!"

With one breathless farewell, Nathanael waved at her, phasing out of the wall and disappearing from sight. The second he left, Marinette stumbled backwards into her desk chair, clutching her chest.

Tikki popped up from her hiding place, looking visibly relieved. "Well at least he's still nice, for now!" she said, as if that would provide any sense of relief to Marinette's troubled mind.

Marinette didn't reply. Instead, her fingers brushed against her miraculous as she glanced at the clock. Chat Noir was due to start his patrol in an hour, she could transform and contact him then.

In the meantime, she was pretty sure she was going to have a panic attack.

So much for a peaceful evening of sewing.

   

Chapter Text

 

Ladybug inhaled sharply. Sitting cross legged on her bed, she curled into the most inconspicuous corner and rested her yo-yo on her thighs.

“Marinette!” she heard her mother call out. “Do you want me to make you some extra snacks for your patrol tonight?”

“No Mama! It’s fine!” she yelled back in response. The first lie of the evening. True her parents had known about her secret identity for years (it was hard not to know considering the fact that, well, gunshot wounds were pretty tricky to hide) but she still didn’t quite think they’d support her half-baked idea.

This wasn’t going to be easy, but she had to try.

Her eyes glanced to her phone and, noting the time, she took another breath to steady her nerves. Chat should be starting his evening patrol around now, and he was fully expecting to visit Marinette afterwards. Unfortunately, there was someone else she had to spend time with first.

I can handle this. I am a mature adult. I am Ladybug and I- I am so screwed. Oh god I’m SO screwed.

What had she been THINKING?! Agreeing to go on a date with her akumatised friend? She’d spent ages afterwards half-hyperventilating, half desperately scrambling for any scrap of a decent plan she could think of.

Once again, she found herself on a new layer of thin ice, similar to the one she’d faced with Chat the night after Valentine’s day all those months ago. Only this time, she didn’t want the ice to crack, she didn’t want to endure the fallout from it should this plan fail…

It seemed that every time she thought the lines blurred between herself, Ladybug, Chat and whoever he was behind the mask, something came along to tip the balance further off- to smudge said line with a damp cloth.

Even though they'd been partners for years, even though they loved each other dearly (in very different ways, she thought with a slight pang) there had always been a barrier between them. Ladybug and Chat. When they’d been younger the idea of Chat, twenty-year-old, gorgeous, ADULT Chat Noir, knowing her in all her awkward, sixteen-year-old glory had been horrifying. Chat himself, had always wanted to keep their relationship a mix between friendly and professional. As they grew, her maturity caught up with his and, especially after defeating Hawk Moth, their dynamic changed.

They became friends. Really good friends.

Even without the threat of Hawk Moth looming over their heads, both of them were afraid of taking that friendship further, of what revealing their identities could mean.

It was the great unspoken thing, the elephant trailing behind them whenever they patrolled together, reminding them of their cowardice. It was stupid, it was irrational, but it was their routine. It was theirs. And Marinette was messing with that routine every time she saw Chat as herself, every time she had to cover her blushing face during a patrol as memories of their romantic encounters awoke, unbidden in her mind’s eye.

Then there was the slowly creeping guilt. The guilt which grew every time she kissed Chat, every time he smiled at her whilst unaware that she was his partner of four years, every time she said nothing when she could have told the truth.

Marinette hated liars, yet she was lying to the person she loved the most.

Her only solace was the fact that he was withholding his identity too. Still, he wasn’t outright lying about it either. He wasn’t all but tricking her into a relationship. Marinette, on the other hand, was beginning to suspect that she was guilty of that particular crime.

And yet here she was, knowing that she was practically offering her secret identity to him on a silver platter if things went wrong tonight. Here she was, risking it all.

Ladybug groaned, falling backwards against the pillows and stewing in the mess she’d made of her life and emotions. However, she decided that she couldn’t stew for long, and sat up with a huff.

She was restless, agitated, and deliberately holding herself back.

Trying to rid her imagination of the look on Chat’s face if he discovered just who exactly he’d been kissing all these months, she ran her hand over her braid and sighed a third and final time.

Besides, how exactly was she supposed to confess, anyway?

“Hi Chat, how are you?”

“Hey LB, what’s up?”

“Oh, not much. Hey! Did you know you had your tongue in my mouth last night, Hot Stuff?”

“What?”

“What.”

Yeah. Probably not.

Not wanting to drag herself through more anxiety, Ladybug swallowed the lump of panic forming in her throat and opened her yo-yo to call Chat. After a few moments of ringing, which seemed to stretch on for an eternity, her partner’s friendly face appeared on the receiver- slightly shaky due to him walking. Paris’ skyline glowed behind him, the light of the setting sun highlighting his hair with streaks of honey and gold and Ladybug had to fight not to drool.

“Hey LB, everything ok?” he greeted, cheerful and totally oblivious to the bomb she was about to drop.

“Hey Chat, I have a big favour to ask you,” she replied, her tone serious as she shifted her weight. Now that she’d gotten over the worst part (the anticipation), the plan began to fall from her lips more easily, and the command in her voice took hold, her Ladybug confidence slipping on as easily as her favourite jacket.

It was tantamount to how well they knew each other by now that Chat instantly picked up on her tone, and immediately came to a halt. He frowned into the camera, nodding once. “Ok, what’s going on?”

Ladybug gave herself a fraction of a second to remember the lines she’d rehearsed, and decided to look directly into the small camera as opposed to the monitor. Even when she wasn’t truly face-to-face with him, it was still easier to avoid his gaze. “I’m out of town today- on a day trip. Not too far, which is why I didn’t think I’d need to tell you. I’m a couple of hours away but-” she giggled nervously- “you know me! Seems like I always tempt fate.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Little Lady,” Chat grinned, and her heart flipped the way it always did when he called her that. “So, how’d you tempt fate this time? Or what happened to make you think you tempted fate?”

“Well,” Ladybug quirked her lips, shrugged her shoulders, “you know how the occasional akuma still pops up from time to time?”

The grin dropped from Chat’s face, and he brought a hand up to his face. “LB,” he said, his tone low, “Please tell me there isn’t an akuma around whilst you’re a couple of hours away?”

“Ok I won’t tell you,” Ladybug chuckled again, albeit much more sheepishly this time. “I also won’t tell you that this particular akuma made a date with someone I know, and she told me about it, and that’s how I found out.”

“WHAT?!”

Ladybug winced, rushing to cover the receiver and praying that her parents hadn’t heard that. Or, if they did, they thought she was just watching TV or something. Hoo boy, he freaked out at that and he doesn’t even know that I’m the one dating the akuma yet.

Before she was able to explain further, Chat scratched his head, looking so baffled that Ladybug had to bite her cheek to stop herself from laughing. Admittedly it wasn’t supposed to be a funny scenario, and the consequences from it going wrong were disastrous, but it was also so absurd that she couldn’t help the wave of amusement flooding her if she tried. “Ok, I get that girls go for bad boys sometimes, but that’s really taking the cake. Honestly, whoever decided it was a good idea to date an akuma needs to re-evaluate their taste in partners.”

“Hey! Don’t be rude!” Ladybug snapped, unable to stop herself being offended. After all, he was unintentionally insulting both of them. But he’d eat his words soon enough. She was able to cover her slip-up with a hurried explanation, one full of half-truths. “The girl was kind of scared, and it’s because the akuma is a friend of hers and asked her on a date. She was worried that, if she said no, the akuma would go crazy. I think the reason he got akumatised in the first place was because of his feelings for her. He’s apparently promised that he’s not bad and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He only wants to use his ‘cool new powers’ to take her on a date and it would’ve been fine if she’d said no, but she didn’t want to risk it just in case.”

“I can’t decide if that’s sweet or creepy,” Chat grimaced, wrinkling his nose, and Ladybug had to laugh again at that. It was far too endearing not to. “So, what do you want me to do about it? I can’t really stop the akuma without you here.”

“No, but you can totally stall until I get there to cleanse it, and also make sure the girl doesn’t get hurt,” she replied. “The girl told me she thinks the akuma might be in his tablet. His powers are kind of art-based. He can create what he draws. If you can get the item away from the akuma, he’ll be powerless.”

“Uh-huh, can do! But I guess making sure the girl is safe is first priority, right?” Chat asked, tilting his head quizzically.

Ladybug shifted, feeling little pinpricks of annoyance shoot through her. Logically, she knew she was powerless as Marinette, logically she knew that Chat would need to be there to protect her in case things went south (at least until she could sneak away to transform). Emotionally, however, she couldn’t help but feel insulted.

How on earth she, a superhero of nearly four years, had willingly placed herself in the role of damsel in distress, she’d never know. That being said, this was a perfect opportunity to show Chat how capable she was as Marinette. Not through strength, but through strategy.

“Right,” she replied through gritted teeth. “The girl’s supposed to meet the akuma for their date in two hours by the Notre Dame. She said she’d arrive early though so you can discuss a game plan.”

Chat’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Well I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed with this girl’s guts! But I need a little bit more information about her. A name, a visual description, just so I know to spot her. Pun not intended.”

“That makes a change,” Ladybug grinned, using their banter to hide her rising panic. This was it. The moment of truth. Swallowing, she flicked through her yo-yo for the right application. “I’m sending you a photo of her now.”

Her heart was a drum, beating almost painfully against her ribs, as she pressed a shaking finger to her yo-yo and sent a photo of her civilian self to her partner and sort-of boyfriend.

She couldn’t see his face (the photo covered her screen) but Chat’s resounding yelp and the metallic clang which followed gave Ladybug all the evidence she needed to know how he reacted.

“S-sorry!” Chat’s voice was faint, and there were some shuffling noises in the background. Safely out of view of Chat Noir’s view, Ladybug grabbed a cushion and buried her face into it half between heaven and hell. “I errr- I tripped and dropped my baton. So…that’s- that’s her?”

Ladybug was shivering. Maybe it was the adrenaline coursing through her, the anticipation, but sitting up and opening her mouth to reply felt about as easy as moving an active volcano with nothing but a wooden spoon to aid her.

“Uh-huh, that’s her. Her name is Marinette.” And then a wicked idea came to her mind. It was cheeky, and a bit silly, but how many times had he tormented her with cat puns at inappropriate times (both as Marinette and Ladybug)? It was only fair. It was payback.

Smirking, she brought the yo-yo close to her lips and giggled. “Cute, isn’t she?”

The squeaky spluttering she got in response was worth withstanding inopportune cat puns for the next year at least.


 

Chat Noir was not happy.

The night was in full swing. His patrol was over. By all accounts it should have been a happy time, a time to visit the girl he loved, cuddle her, kiss her, listen to her stories and dote on her the way she deserved.

Sometimes he wondered if he had some kind of chaotic god, deliberately pulling at the strings of his carefully made plans until they unravelled like a cheap suit. Then he remembered. He had exactly that. Plagg.

Half hidden in shadows, Chat leaned against a tree overlooking the Notre Dame. He glanced upwards, staring up at the lights, lost in thought as his eyes skimmed over the old stone cathedral. Ladybug had given him the lowdown on Marinette’s situation, but his stomach twisted itself into knots nonetheless, especially when he thought of their conversation the night before. Clenching and unclenching his fists, Chat tried to contain the restlessness prickling his skin like a thousand tiny needles. It was a restlessness which would not heal itself. Only Marinette could save him from it.

He worried.

What if something had happened with the guy who’d asked her out? He was the akuma wasn’t he? What if she’d turned him down and he’d been akumatised and was now not taking no for an answer?

“The girl was kind of scared, and it’s because the akuma is a friend of hers and asked her on a date. She was worried that, if she said no, the akuma would go crazy...”

A low growl escaped his throat before he could help himself. Something dark and surprisingly primal rose up his chest, a level of protectiveness he didn’t know he possessed. It wasn’t jealousy. No. Instead, the slow burning anger spreading through his veins like poison, was very much directed at the akuma.

“The girl was kind of scared…”

“She was worried that, if she said no, the akuma would go crazy...”

How dare he? The akuma- how dare he make her feel that way? Especially someone as wonderful, sweet and downright kick-ass as Marinette.

Chat was going to make damn sure she remained safe, that she wasn’t scared. Not around him. Never around him.

“That can’t be my Kitty looking so glum, can it?”

Chat’s head turned at the sound of her voice, and his eyes widened. All at once, the rage boiling in his blood tempered, to be replaced with an entirely different heat.

His jaw dropped.

  

Marinette was standing a few feet away from him, smiling shyly, her fingers coiled around the spaghetti strap of her small handbag. Her figure was framed in a halo of streetlight, which highlighted the snug black dress she wore and the softness of her lightly curled hair. For some strange reason, the sight of her still wearing the green ribbons filled him with relief so palpable that all the breath left his body in one fell swoop.

All he could think was he was very glad he was hidden by the shadow of the tree, and that his mask did a good job of hiding his cheek bones. He felt like he’d just been shoved head first into an oven.

The length of time he’d spent gaping at her must have been longer than he’d realised, as Marinette began to shift awkwardly, glancing at her feet. “No heels,” she chuckled, but her voice was high and squeaky. Over the six months Chat (or rather Adrien) had come to know her, he recognised her voice tended to get that way whenever she was excited or nervous. “For a quick getaway in case I need it! See? I came prepared.”

That was good, Chat thought, because he certainly hadn’t been.

When Marinette began to frown, the light crinkles on her forehead conveying just the slightest hint of worry, Chat managed to kick himself out of his reverie. Shaking his head, he walked over to her, staring directly into her eyes (he couldn’t stare at her in that dress, he didn’t want to be that guy, especially considering she was technically in a perilous situation at that moment in time) and reached for one of her hands.

“You certainly did Princess,” he uttered as his lips brushed against her knuckles. How he found it in himself to speak, he had no idea. “And your knight is here to help you in your quest.”

Marinette giggled, reaching up to boop his nose, obviously unaware of the effect her appearance was having on him. “My knight, is a scoundrel and a flirt, and totally distracting me from my quest.”

Chat’s smile dropped as he recalled exactly why they were there, why she was dressed as if she was going on a date. “Mari,” he said, all traces of humour gone. “This guy, the akuma, is he the one who asked you out?”

Marinette raised her eyes, taken aback by the question, but nodded nonetheless. “Yeah he is. He’s a friend from my school days. But don’t worry! He’s not creepy or anything. He’s… it’s complicated. I think he’s going through some stuff. I- I just want to make sure he’s ok, you know? And I haven’t exactly handled this situation well. I need to make up for that.”

Chat swallowed, his heart almost breaking at how kind she was being. She had every right to be angry and yet here she was feeling sorry for a guy who’d put her on the spot in such an awful way. Granted he was an akuma at the time, and even akuma outside of the control of Hawk Moth were known to act wildly out of character. It was the nature of the beast.

Still, Chat couldn’t help but be concerned on her behalf.

“And you’re sure you’ll be ok?” Chat asked, squeezing the hand he still held. “I trust your judgement, but I could just take him out the second I see him. I’d rather risk that than risk your safety any day.”

“I’m not scared if that’s what you’re asking,” Marinette replied hotly, gazing up at him with a fierce determination that brought a smile to his face. It seemed like passionate, fierce women had a knack for finding him in life. “He’d never hurt me either, so I’d like to take the path of least resistance.”

After a moment of intense eye contact, Chat nodded solemnly, trying to pretend like her smoky eye make-up wasn’t doing things to him PRIORITIES AGRESTE! “Ok. If that’s what you want, I trust you. You’ve known him for a long time after all. But a lot can go wrong with an akuma attack. I’m game for a pacifist route but we have to be smart about it. So-” he clapped his hands- “Ladybug mentioned you had a theory about the akuma’s whereabouts…”

They talked for a while, discussing their game plan in detail, both of them acutely aware of time passing. Eventually, however, the began to air grow thick with tension, and a nearby clock chimed. The hour was nearly upon them. The date, almost here.

“I should go to the meeting spot,” Marinette said reluctantly, for in between their moments of intense strategizing, there had been a few shared puns and enough giggles to make her forget what they were there for- if only for a moment. Her heart flipped painfully when she turned her head to the side, when she caught Chat staring at her.

For a moment, just a moment, she’d forgotten that it wasn’t him she was out on a date with.

But there wasn’t time to think about that. There was time to muse on the painful realities of her half relationship with the masked man she’d secretly loved for the past four years. Miraculous or not, she was still Ladybug, even though she was incognito.

She had a job to do.

“Marinette wait!” Chat called out to her from back under his shadowed tree. She paused, turning around to face him. Marinette couldn’t make out his expression very well in the dim light, but the way he reached up and scratched the back of his head struck a chord in her brain. Memories flooded her, just out of her reach, a familiarity she couldn’t quite place before he dropped his arm and looked at her with earnest, faintly glowing eyes. “You… you look beautiful.”

The feeling that ran through her body at his words was indescribable; not quite a fluttering, not a tickling, nor a burning, but somehow a combination of all three which left her feeling bubbly and breathless.

“Th-thank you,” she replied stumbling slightly as she walked backwards. “I’m gonna- akuma- you know- kick butt and all! Totally. Fun stuff. Ha. Beautiful I-” she turned and hurried away, not looking back as embarrassment burned her cheeks.

It was a good thing she was too wrapped up in her own thoughts (beautiful, beautiful, he thinks I’m BEAUTIFUL!), as the sight of the sheer, lacy back of her dress had Chat fumbling to stabilise himself against the trunk of the tree.

He missed.

Once he’d righted himself, he leapt, climbing onto the roof of the Notre Dame and hiding amongst the statues as he watched Marinette waiting for the akuma below, a myriad of emotions swirling inside him.

As he waited, he wished. As he wished, so too did he fear. And as his fears grew, so did his frustrations.

His claws dug into the stone statue, bitterness souring his tongue. This wouldn’t have happened if he’d just been honest with her from the start. If he’d confessed his love to her as Adrien, things could’ve been so different. Maybe this Nathanael person might have still asked Marinette on a date, but Marinette would have been freer to give a clear answer and maybe Nathanael could’ve been let down more gently as a result- meaning no akuma. It must’ve been hard, he thought, for Marinette to be in a situation where she couldn’t exactly say she was seeing someone, but couldn’t not say it either. He was to blame for that. He was a coward through and through, so deep into his cowardice that he could no longer see a way out without hurting someone he cared for so deeply.

But, he thought as he watched Nathanael arrive by boat of all things, he wanted what he was watching so badly. He wanted to date Marinette for real. He wanted to take her out on moonlit boat rides, like Nathanael was currently doing. Following their path along the river, Chat watched as they talked in hushed tones. Granted he knew she was trying to lull him into a false sense of security, but she looked so at ease that a part of him broke.

He could’ve had that. He could’ve had what he was watching… maybe. If he hadn’t been so afraid before. Now a part of him doubted he would ever be able to be with her the way he so desperately wanted to be. He wondered if he was doomed to forever watch her from the shadows, never allowed to join her in the light.

And then a voice prodded his mind. A sharp but sweet voice, one he’d known for many years, reminding him of the mission at hand. Taking a shuddering breath, he placed his emotions in a little drawer at the back of his heart and vowed to revisit it once this was over and done with. But he was probably fooling himself.

He ran and ran, on all fours so he could close the gap between himself and the boat. Running alongside the river’s edge, he leapt. Gabbing hold of the edge of the railings at the stern, he hauled himself over, crouching low. He froze, waiting for a reaction. Nothing.

Chat crawled forwards, keeping himself out of sight. The pair of them, the akuma and Marinette, were sitting on a bench on a raised platform. A large steering wheel stood halfway between himself and the pair. It appeared the akuma was steering it using magic. Using quick logic, Chat was able to figure out that if he distracted the akuma enough, the boat might veer off course and hit the river bank.

His eyes scanned for some quick exit routes, places to land with Marinette in his arms should he need to, whilst he waited for the signal.

“Can you make it play music? I’m super curious as to what it can do!” Marinette was saying, and Chat smirked. His girl was the sweetest, most Oscar-worthy actress of all time, and he was going to kiss her senseless the moment she was back home safely.

Then the akuma chuckled, the sound practically slapping the smile off of Chat’s face. “It sure can, any requests? I may not be a Nino but I’m sure I can find something you like?”

 

“Can I try?” Marinette asked, her voice bright and perky, and Chat couldn’t help but notice the genuine feel in her tone. He bit his lip to stop himself laughing. How cute. She was a designer, of course she’d love to get a hold of a magic device which made all your drawings become real. He’d have to tease her about that later.

Poking his head above the surface of the platform, Chat watched as the akuma fidgeted nervously. “Well…umm… maybe I guess? But you have to be careful with it ok? And I can’t let go of it or the boat will steer out of control. You can try but umm, that means we’ll have to touch…hands…”

Chat’s ears flattened against his head and he fought off a snarl. Honestly the number of U-turns his emotions had taken in the past couple of hours was enough to give him whiplash.

“Of course!” Marinette cried, beaming as she reached out towards the pen. This was it. Chat raised himself, the smallest amount, as Marinette caught his eyes. He was ready.

Nathanael scooted closer to Marinette, the gap between them shortening. Their knees were touching. His fingers reached for Marinette’s, pen in hand, and Chat did his best to ignore it all, to block it all out, he really did. It was starting to feel like the worst kind of torture.

It’s pretend. It’s fake. And she’s not your girlfriend anyway. You have no right to feel this way, and you should be FOCUSING, his mind chided him, yelled and cussed him out but his heart refused to listen.

Marinette’s fingers came to a rest, half holding Nathanael’s hand and half-gripping the stylus. The second her hand was on his, the boat jolted, similarly to the way a stomach lurches or a heart rises when the person you like touches you. Chat knew exactly what caused it.

The pen clattered to the floor.

“Shoot, ah- sorry Mari let me get that.” Nathanael was ducking down; the pen was just out of Chat’s reach. He could jump up and get it, he could-

Nathanael’s eyes locked onto his own.

“YOU!” he gasped, ducking down and snatching the pen right as Chat made an attempt to leap for it.

Marinette jumped to her feet, and Nathanael held out an arm to cover her.

 

Chat didn’t have time to think, as Nathanael began to draw on his tablet. Calling for Marinette to stay back, he turned back to Chat with narrowed eyes. “Couldn’t you let us finish our date at least? It’s not like I was hurting anyone.”

Chat didn’t trust himself to speak. Instead he dodged the ropes which appeared at Nathanael’s command, rolling out of the way as they attempted to restrain him. In doing so, however, he missed the attack from above. Far too late, he realised the ropes weren’t attempting to restrain him. They were forcing him towards the front of the boat, where the deck was the widest.

“CHAT! HEADS UP!” Marinette’s yell of horror alerted him, and he looked up just as a large, see-through box crashed down around him, trapping him like a zoo animal.

He was stuck.

 

Using his baton, he hit against the glass. Over and over again, he tried to get it to break. Yet, even with all his super-strength, it remained intact. He was panicking. Marinette was out there, she was running to him, but he couldn’t hear what she was yelling as she came towards him, pushing against the glass. She was trying to free him, and that only made him fear for her more.

Cataclysm, a part of his mind whispered, but he couldn’t. He’d only used his special attack once in anger, and it had destroyed a whole monument. There had been civilians nearby. People had gotten hurt. Luckily, Ladybug was able to fix it, but she wasn’t here now.

He needed to calm himself down. He needed to get out. He needed to save Marinette.

Nathanael was behind her and Chat smacked his hand against the glass, his eyes meeting Marinette’s, begging her to turn around, to run away. How had things gone so wrong so quickly?

From inside his glass prison, he couldn’t hear anything, only the constant throbbing of his wild heart, only the blood roaring in his ears and the breath hissing through his teeth. Nathanael was speaking, but he didn’t look angry. Instead, he looked dejected, almost… heartbroken?

Chat didn’t care. He didn’t care at all. All he could think of was that he was trapped and there was an akuma that could harm Marinette. He couldn’t protect her. He couldn’t protect her.

Marinette said something, stepping towards Nath, and Chat slammed on the glass a few times, screaming at her not to get any closer to the akuma. She held out her hand. A peace offering.

Nathanael frowned and, for a split second, the world froze. Chat waited, held his breath, his fingers splayed against the glass as if willing it to cease existing. If Marinette got hurt, he’d never forgive himself.

And then Nathanael shifted forwards, leaping away from the boat and disappearing into the night.

Without a captain, without someone controlling it, the boat lurched as it veered off course and Chat was thrown against the side of the glass. Marinette turned back towards him, she was running to get him. Chat couldn’t stop her, couldn’t warn her.

 

The boat slammed into the river bank. Even through the glass, Chat could hear the horrendous sound of the metal groaning and bending and twisting as the floor shuddered violently beneath them. And Marinette was still running, but she was tripping over herself as the floor became unstable, the magic holding it together fading fast.

The boat began to quake harder than ever, and Marinette fell, hitting the side of Chat’s glass prison, her head smacking against the corner. She stumbled blindly, clutching her head, her eyes scrunched in pain.

“MARINETTE!” Chat screamed as the boat began to dip below the surface, trying to warn her. But she didn’t see the edge of the railings until it was too late, until the boat lurched a final, horrendous time.

 

The last thing Chat saw was the flash of her green hair ribbons as she fell over the side of the boat, disappearing into the depths of the ice-cold river below.

Chapter Text

    1   

The world vanished.

The sky turned dark, the deck beneath his feet became a gaping void and Chat Noir was left bereft in a sea of panic and horror. Only two solid facts remained:

Marinette had fallen. And he was still trapped.

Time no longer felt real, everything happened too quickly and yet slow enough to burn into his mind every painstaking detail. Time stretched on, and he was still on the wrong side of the glass.

And time, as well, was running out.

“CATACLYSM!” he heard himself yell. Because he no longer cared. Because the girl he loved was no longer on the boat. What did it matter if he was yet again too emotional to focus the attack on one specific place? What did it matter if his attack spread, like a virus, infecting the whole ship until the wretched thing disappeared?

He’d destroy it. He’d destroy the whole damn thing if it meant getting to her, if it meant her being safe. She had to be safe. She had to be.

The box was the first thing to disappear under his fingers, but the inky blackness of his attack was spreading. He ran. Even as the deck began to disintegrate under his feet, as he felt each footstep grow heavier and heavier under the weight of the collapsing ship, like running through sand, he kept going.

By the time he reached the spot where Marinette had fallen, half of the boat had gone. As soon as he jumped, it vanished completely, a smattering of black dust was all that remained as he leapt headfirst into the river. He didn’t look back.

The cold hit him almost immediately, a million icy daggers stabbing every exposed bit of flesh unguarded by his suit. Even with his powers protecting him from the brunt of the pain, he still felt it, and it only made him more fearful for Marinette.

He kicked his legs, his lungs burned, and still he swam further down. Every part of his body was screaming at him to close his eyes, to clamour back to the surface. Doing his best to block it out, Chat forced his eyes wide open, ignoring the stinging as his vision shifted to the familiar night-vision green. It only improved his visibility by a fraction. The water was murky, as most city rivers tended to be.

Where was she?

A glimpse of what looked like a shadow was all Chat needed to dive deeper. Swimming harder than he’d ever done in his life, fighting against the current, fighting against his own body, fighting for her, Chat fumbled semi-blind until he finally, finally felt something.

A hand. A hand that squeezed back.

Chat pulled until Marinette’s form appeared from the darkness of the river. Wrapping one arm around her waist, he kicked upwards and prayed he wasn’t hurting her further. Water flooded through his nostrils at the change of direction and he choked. All at once, his mouth was consumed by the river, the rancid water flowing through him until he felt like he was merging with it. Still he clawed his way to the surface, Marinette in his arms.

It felt like an eternity had passed before they finally broke the surface.

Chat gasped, his lungs desperately hacking up the water he'd accidentally swallowed moments before. Hearing Marinette’s choked, water-lodged splutters next to him gave him only half a second's worth of relief. With one arm, he paddled towards the water’s edge.

Not stopping until they were both free of the river’s hold on them, he placed Marinette onto the river bank as gently as he could, collapsing right beside her in an exhausted, sodden heap.

“Mar- Marinette!” he coughed, crawling over to her. She was sitting up, still coughing, and the sound haunted him. It echoed through his mind like a gunshot. When he reached her, he clutched her shoulders lightly, untangling the strap of her purse (which had twisted around her arm in what looked like a painful way) and began frantically scanning her features for any traces of injury.

Somehow, incredibly, her head seemed to be ok. There wasn’t any blood, although he could just about see the beginnings of what was shaping up to be a nasty bruise. But she still wasn’t breathing properly, and her whimpers in-between coughs broke something inside him. “Marinette, sweetheart breathe. Princess, look at me please.”

She complied, looking up at him as he cradled her chin in his hands. It was only then he noticed just how blue her eyes were. They were so blue… so…

“I’m-” she tried to say, before leaning over and coughing some more and disrupting his train of thought.

“Don’t speak, love. Please? It’ll hurt. It’s ok, I’m here,” Chat whispered, pulling her close so that her head was against his chest. “Breathe with me Princess. We have to get you warm.”

He couldn’t stop the terms of endearments slipping from his lips, couldn’t stop cooing and stroking and uttering words of adoration and comfort as she got back to her regular breathing pattern. It was near hysterical, and he was doing it in part to comfort himself too, to tell himself that she was really there. She was there in his arms. She was awake.

Then his ring began to beep.

“Chat,” she said, much clearer than before, though her voice was still rasping. “Your miraculous.”

Marinette pulled away from him, gazing into his eyes as his face fell. His hair was dripping wet, yet even so he was still so warm. Or maybe she was just that cold?

Chat looked at her, utterly distraught, and a part of her loathed herself because it was her fault. Because, for a split second, she’d forgotten she wasn’t Ladybug- had tried to help him- and it had nearly cost her everything. It was a stupid mistake that had placed Chat in the worst of situations.

Now he was watching her like the world had ended, his ring was still beeping and he wasn’t moving. Not one inch.

Then his face scrunched up, his eyes shone, and Marinette’s heart shattered.

    2

"I don't care if the whole world sees who I am. I don't-" Chat collapsed onto her shoulder, yanking her close in desperation. He was shaking. Marinette could feel his tears, warm and terrible, as they landed on her skin and cascaded past her collarbone- "I only care about you. I don't care about that. Not now. Not ever if you weren’t- are you ok? Marinette please, please tell me you're ok? Please."

“I’m ok, I promise. Besides, Ladybug will be here soon won’t she? She’ll fix the mess I made,” Marinette mumbled, running her fingers through his wet hair numbly. A coldness crept into her, one which had absolutely nothing to do with her recent river trip.

“You didn’t- it wasn’t your fault, it was mine.” Chat’s ring began to beep again, and he held onto her protectively. “I can’t leave you here by yourself.”

“You have to,” Marinette soothed, pushing at his shoulders so she could look at him directly. Smiling in what she hoped was a comforting manner, she leaned in to kiss him, even as the river water left a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste, and she fought to control her shivering. “I’ll be ok! I promise I’ll be fine. Ladybug’s Miraculous Cure will fix me right up! You know that.”

Chat didn’t say anything, his head bowed low as he stared at the ground. Marinette took that as encouragement, and stood up on shaky feet. At the movement, Chat wheeled his head upright. Horror-stricken, he leapt to his feet and clung to her arm.  “Are you sure you’re ok to stand?”

Marinette rolled her eyes fondly. “I took a dip in the river. I’m not going to die. Especially not with you around!”

When Chat winced, and winced hard, she realised her mistake. Oh god. Had she taken idiot pills today or something? Was the Seine spiked with some sort of IQ reducing drug?

For once she remained silent, her back tensing, because there was nothing she could say here that wouldn’t reveal her superhero identity. She couldn’t reassure him the way she wanted to.

Ladybug knew why he’d winced, what things in their past he secretly blamed himself for (though he’d never stated it outright). Marinette, on the other hand, wasn’t supposed to know any of that. He hadn’t told her those kinds of things yet. So she had to let it slide, feign ignorance, even as the cracks in their relationship were beginning to show.

“I’ll wait for you here,” she offered, reaching out to touch his arm. In less than a second, Chat’s hand was on top of hers, and he was caressing it again, both of them seemingly desperate to comfort the other. “After you get rid of the akuma, I’ll wait for you here, so you can see I’m ok. Ok? But you have to go now.”

The agonised expression Chat gave her as he stepped away, when the beeping of his ring grew too loud to ignore further, and his grim nod of acceptance, made something unpleasant twist in Marinette’s chest. It settled like a deadweight as she watched him disappear.

Only when she knew he was gone did she stumble backwards, fingers clinging to her soaking, freezing clothes. “This is messed up. This is so messed up. What am I going to do Tikki? Oh my god TIKKI!” Her eyes widened, her hands flying to her purse. As she was about to open it, however, the Kwami phased out of it, floating above her. “Tikki! Are you ok?! Are you hurt? Are you going to get another cold?!”

“I’m fine Marinette,” Tikki soothed, and Marinette clutched her chest, almost doubling over in relief. “But it’s you I’m worried about.”

“I’ll be fine, it was just a dip,” Marinette replied, waving her hand dismissively. “It’s like I said to Chat, you know the Miraculous Cure will help.”

“I didn’t mean that,” Tikki said with a sigh, nuzzling into the crook of her chosen’s neck. “I meant emotionally.”

Once again Marinette fell silent, staring into the distance, where Chat Noir had run off to.

“Marinette?” Tikki’s voice rang in her ears, but it seemed so distant to her. Even with Tikki’s prompting, it still took a while for her to respond.

“I’ll be fine,” she lied, plastering on a fake smile. “Right now, it’s not about me, it’s about making sure Nathanael is ok. Let’s go Tikki.”

***

It didn’t take long for Chat Noir to catch up to the akuma. Once he’d recharged a very wet and grumpy Plagg, he tracked the akuma’s movements to a nearby park.

Breaking the lock on the fence (it would repair itself when Ladybug used her special ability) Chat Noir trod a few paces into the eerie stillness of a place usually throbbing with people. A numbness settled inside of him, the kind of numbness that comes after feeling too much too quickly. And all the while his mind viciously attacked him, reminded him of his failures both past and present.

You almost lost her, you almost lost her, you almost lost her played in his head like a mantra, so many times, so much so that Ladybug and Marinette blended together to make one person. One person he’d almost lost twice. Both times being his fault. The spiritual representation of his worst memories to date. His mother was there too. His father. Everyone. He wasn’t strong enough for any of them- he hadn’t been enough- hadn’t been-

“I guess you’re here for the akuma?”

Nathanael’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts and he stopped. Peering to the side of the path, he spotted Nathanael sitting on a park bench, looking about as miserable as Chat felt.

For a split-second rage roared inside him like a towering inferno, and his lips curled. Because it was his fault too- the akuma. Nathanael had unwittingly almost caused Marinette’s death. Alongside Chat, he was the main reason she’d been hurt. He was the reason she was in that situation to begin with. In that moment, Chat loathed Nathanael, his akuma, and everything it stood for.

    3

But, as quickly as his anger had reared its ugly head, it faded. Nathanael looked up at him, an akuma on a park bench of all things, his eyes glistening as he held out the stylus pen of his tablet. “It’s in here, I swear. Take it and give it to Ladybug. I don’t need it anymore. I guess, really, I never needed it. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want to go home now.”

Wordlessly, Chat Noir took the offending item from Nathanael’s hand. When he did, Nathanael nodded glumly, standing up and walking away until he disappeared from view, fading out of sight as he slipped into the shadows and went where the lights didn’t reach him. He left the tablet behind.

Chat made no efforts to follow him. To comfort the victim where he normally would always. Instead he stood there, silently, looking down at the pen in his hand and fighting very hard not to crush it to pieces. A flurry of emotions, each one more extreme than the last, whirled inside him. Each emotion fought for control. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to do.

Once again, his train of thought was disturbed by the arrival of his favourite spotted hero.

Ladybug landed next to him, graceful and elegant, smiling widely.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “Did you track down the akuma? Where is he?”

Chat lowered his head. He could hardly stand to look at her, but handed her Nathanael’s pen regardless. “He’s gone.”

“He’s gone?!” she spluttered, her eyes widening as she stepped closer. Chat felt himself wilt at her words, even though her voice held no form of rebuke. In fact- she seemed baffled. That was almost worse. “What- I mean- Chat did you just let him go? I mean he could be a danger to himself right now! He’s an akuma, he’s not in his right frame of mind- did you talk to him at least?”

Chat couldn’t stand it any longer. He threw his arms around her, pulling her into a bone crushing hug.

“I’m sorry, Ladybug,” he whimpered, apologising for far more than he was letting on. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

Ladybugs arms were limp by her sides and she seemed to tense before sighing and wrapping them around his middle. “It’s ok.”

“No, I- I don’t. Ugh I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore. My brain feels soggy,” he choked, reluctantly stepping away from her, only to meet her fond gaze with a frown of confusion.

“Well, you are all wet,” she chuckled lightly, gesturing to his hair and then to her shoulder, which had gathered little droplets of water. They caught the light, glistened like glitter. Chat had to blink heavily to look away. “Silly cat, always taking everything so seriously. You know it’s all alright in the end, don’t you? And you’re a big part of the reason why.”

Chat smiled at that. Genuinely smiled. Gratefulness warmed him where he’d previously felt so cold. He really didn’t deserve her. “Thanks, Little Lady.”

“Any time Kitty-Cat!” she beamed, brushing the remaining water drops from her suit. “I’m always here if you need to talk. Or give hugs to. I hear I give excellent hugs. It’s my right as a superhero to say so.”

“I guess I have to agree to that, right?” Chat teased. It was weak, feeble sounding even to his own ears. But it was good to banter with her. Bantering made things feel like they were normal, like they’d be ok. Still, he didn’t want to linger any more than necessary. “You know I’d love to stay and talk more LB, but I promised your friend I’d take her home. If you don’t mind? Don’t freak out but… she almost got hurt today. I’m sorry. I couldn’t look after her the way you thought I could. But I want to make it right.”

Ladybug didn’t speak for a while, an unreadable expression on her face, and Chat worried that he’d upset her in failing to protect her friend. He braced himself for the anger, the disappointment, the justifiably harsh words.

    4

They never came. Instead, Ladybug reached up to ruffle his hair, standing on tip-toes to kiss his forehead fondly. He naturally lowered himself to her height level, used to the friendly gesture by now. “You’re too sweet for your own good you know, Kitty-Cat. I’m not mad.” There was something so warm, so caring, in her tone that Chat leaned into her touch, closed his eyes. “Of course, I’m not mad. I’m sure she isn’t either. I bet you did everything you could to help her. I’m- I’m really glad you were there. I’m so glad it was you there.”

When he looked up at her again, her smile widened. It lit up her whole face. “There’s nobody else I’d trust so much.”

Her hand was still in his hair, but the petting had stalled to an almost gentle caress. A moment of silence passed between them, before Ladybug snapped her hand back to her side, a faint redness apparent on her cheeks, even in the dark. “Umm,” her voice warbled and she giggled lightly, “I- I know this is totally ask a lot- I mean a lot to ask- but could you check Nathanael gets through the park ok whilst I do the whole cleansing stuff? It’s not safe for a civilian to be in the park all by themselves. Marinette will be ok waiting a few minutes more. The parks not so big and you know like I don’t want Nathanael to get robbed or anything. So, if you could totally watch him that would be swell. Ohmygod did I just say swell?!

“LB,” Chat chuckled, stroking his chin in an attempt to cover up just how amused he was at her familiar ramblings. He wasn’t too worried about being caught though. Currently she was looking at the akuma’s pen as though she wanted to impale herself with it. “It’s alright. I’ll watch him. As if I could ever say no to you.”

Ladybug’s head snapped up at that, her eyes wide for a reason Chat couldn’t fathom. There was a flash of something in them, but it was too dark to see, and she lowered her chin again, with a frown this time. “I should get this cleansed.”

Chat didn’t understand her shift in mood, but agreed with her nonetheless. They shared a hurried goodbye, and he left her company in higher spirits than he’d been before. He still worried for Marinette, wanted to get back to her as soon as possible, but Ladybug always had a certain knack for being the sun, parting the grey clouds whenever they formed in his mind.

“Chat?”

He paused, tilting his torso so he was staring back at Ladybug, who gave him a solemn look. “Are you going to be ok? Seriously.”

Sighing, Chat Noir shuffled from foot-to-foot, wanting to be as honest as he could. Aside from his identity, he’d never really hidden something from her this way. It didn’t sit well with him, but what choice did he have?

Regardless of how secret his relationship with Marinette was, he still owed his partner of four years some semblance of an explanation for his odd behaviour. “I don’t know,” he answered, and that was the truth. “Not right now, but I think I will be. I guess I have a lot of things on my mind. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of them. Feels like following a red dot, only to have it disappear.”

Ladybug chuckled at his awful attempt at a half-joke. “Yeah. Yeah, I know how that feels Kitty-Cat. But like I said, any time you need to talk…” she left the last part unspoken, didn’t feel the need to clarify further.

“Likewise, Little Lady,” he replied and with a flick of his tail, and a green glint in his eye, he vanished into the shadows.

***

Ladybug landed in the spot her civilian self was last seen, having cleansed the akuma and sent it on its way. Hiding between the wall and a rubbish bin, she ducked and de-transformed, admiring the power of the Miraculous Cure as well as its effect. Her bones no longer felt frozen, her hair was dry and her dress was back to its normal state- no repairs required.

Marinette stepped out from behind the bin, heart pumping, half-terrified by the conversation she’d just had with Chat, and by the realisations she’d come to.

“Marinette?” Tikki prompted, before Marinette shook her head, eyes tearful as she crossed her arms over herself.

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go on lying to him,” she choked. “It’s not fair. I have to tell him my feelings. I have to end this. This can’t go on.”

Tikki flew forwards, landing on her shoulder. “You only listened to your heart Marinette. Sure, your decisions haven’t been…entirely wise. But it’s not like you wanted to trick him into a relationship, or you deliberately set out to deceive him. He came to you first remember?”

“But I should have told him who I was, or at least admitted my feelings as Ladybug sooner instead of being so afraid,” Marinette gritted her teeth, suddenly angry with herself. “This was wrong. It was wrong to withhold the truth from him for so long. He’s my partner, Tikki. What should I do? I don’t know what to do… it feels like anything I do will hurt him. And I can’t hurt him. I can’t. I’ve made such a mess of this. I want to fix it, because if I don’t fix it now, I feel like something bad is going to happen. What do you think Tikki?”

Tikki floated up to her face, giving her a gentle kiss on the nose. “I can only tell you to do what you think is best Marinette. You’re a kind person, you always have been. I know you’d never want to hurt someone, especially not someone you love so much. Love can’t last unless you’re both honest with each other and yourselves. Love thrives on honesty, not secrets.”

When Marinette cringed, Tikki widened her eyes and waved her paws frantically. “I’m not saying something bad will happen, like you think it will! I only think that sneaking around won’t make either of you happy. You both care for each other a lot. He certainly thinks the world of you. I can tell by the way he looks at you. So, I really don’t think either of you are going to be satisfied hiding your relationship for much longer. Something has to give, and I thi-”

Tikki froze mid-sentence. Her antennae twitching. Without another word, she flew into Marinette’s bag, disappearing from view. Marinette wheeled around, just in time to see Chat Noir approaching.

He stopped when he noticed she’d seen him. The pair stood several feet apart, on the bank of the Seine, with nothing but the running river beside them to break the stillness of the moment. Even Marinette’s heart had ceased beating.

What a pretty picture they made, she thought. The superhero and the civilian, standing so close yet so far apart. Two people, seemingly belonging to two different worlds, together at a time when the city slumbered and the moon was their guiding light towards each other, the breeze pushing and pulling them so gently. A perfect metaphor for their relationship; their minds always pushing them apart, their hearts always pulling them back together again.

The pretty picture was broken, or maybe turned real, when Chat stepped forwards. In three large strides, he was in front of her, sweeping her into his arms. Her feet left the floor, and she buried her face into his now dried hair. One of his cat ears brushed her cheek, and it flicked in response to her. “You’re okay,” Chat whispered, letting her down only a fraction, so that he could pick her legs up and carry her princess style. “You’re ok.”

Marinette was glad she could avoid looking directly at him like this. She didn’t think she could stand to see the earnestness in his gaze. His relief was infectious, however, so she silently tucked herself further into his embrace and nodded.

Taking that as his cue, Chat nuzzled against her and told her to hold on tight as he carried them away, back to her home. It wasn’t a long journey, as she lived so close to the Notre Dame, but it gave Marinette time to close her eyes, to surround herself in the comfort of his embrace. Because honestly? She had no clue how many more moments like this they had left. She had to savour every last one.

The thought destroyed her. Just a little bit.

“Home sweet home,” Chat grinned as they finally landed on her balcony, and Marinette’s heart swelled with affection for him. She knew he was putting on a brave face for her, trying hard to be strong. For her.

She loved him. She loved him and wanted so badly to say it. But how could she say it? To him, they’d barely known each other for two months. He seemed to care about her a lot, seemed to have fun with her and loved listening to her stories. Occasionally he told her his own too, ones she already knew but sounded fresh whenever he told them to her, locked away in her bedroom. There was no way, however, that he could possibly love her back. Not so soon. She knew her Kitty-Cat was the sentimental type, but could he really have fallen so fast?

“You both care for each other a lot. He certainly thinks the world of you. I can tell by the way he looks at you.”

Marinette walked over to the door leading back down to her room, she lifted the latch, making eye contact with Chat. Still not trusting herself to speak, she beckoned him to follow her instead, before dropping down out of sight.

Chat watched her go, torn. Now that Ladybug was gone, now everything was over, the weight of his stupidity had come back to hit him full force. The mistakes he’d made since the very beginning of his relationship with Marinette.

God, why was he such a fraidy-cat? Why couldn’t he have told her just how much she meant to him as Adrien? Granted he’d never, ever, intended to be with her as Chat. In an ideal world, he’d have dated Marinette, treated her the way she should have been from the very start, eventually revealing his superhero identity as long as Ladybug was ok with it. They’d always talked to each other in regards to identity reveals to other people (and staunchly avoided any conversations regarding identity reveals to each other but that was a whole different mess which Chat was unprepared to deal with at that moment in time).

That all depended, of course, on whether Marinette would have agreed to date him. If she hadn’t? He would have moved on.

But it hadn’t gone that way. It was like this instead. Somehow the threads had gotten tangled. They’d tripped and fallen into a web which he was now trying desperately to get out of. Because he couldn’t have this again, he couldn’t let her down again, he couldn’t lose her.

And in order not to lose her, he had to be true to her.

He had to tell her.

He had to tell her who he was.

Ladybug would forgive him, she’d understand that this was a delicate situation, she’d understand the need to stay truthful to someone you loved. Of that he was sure.

He had to tell her. He had to. He couldn’t leave it another minute.

So, he climbed down the ladders, all the while knowing that he could very well be climbing them soon- never to return, until he came to a stop on the lower level of Marinette’s bedroom. She stood with her back to him, kicking off her shoes and delicately placing her bag on her desk, lightly patting it. The cuteness of the gesture made him blush and he turned his gaze to the mannequin instead. He had to resist. He had to be strong.

Making his way over to mannequin, he was startled to see the outfit he’d commissioned from her as Adrien, already near its completion. He focused on it, admired the intricate details, fingers lightly skimming the fur around the jacket. It was easier than focusing on the way his Adam’s apple throbbed weirdly, or how his tongue felt so dry, how even with his superpowers he felt powerless under her gaze.

“I was working on it when Nathanael arrived,” Marinette explained. “In the craziness that followed, I forgot to put all my stuff away.”

“Are there any pins I should watch for then? Wouldn’t want to get one stuck in my paws,” he joked, his voice cracking as she rested her hand on his. It was too much, it was all too much.

“No don’t worry. We’re out of the danger zone,” she smiled, eyes sparkling, and Chat didn’t have the heart to tell her how very wrong she was. “I’m really glad you were there tonight Chat. Thank you, so much. For everything. You have no idea how much it means to me.”

She hugged him then. A soft embrace where, if Chat closed his eyes, he could imagine something like love coming from her. What fantasies he could concoct! As if he could ever hope that she would love him. Maybe one day. Maybe when he was finally honest with her. But not now, certainly not now.

They pulled back, and the kiss she placed on his lips was as soft as her hug had been, but much briefer. Neither of them went very far.

This was it. This was the moment. Chat knew he couldn’t deny it any longer, couldn’t hold back anymore.

Say it! His mind cried as he froze, staring at Marinette’s suddenly quietened expression. She seemed to be in her own little world. Say it now! Be honest with yourself, be honest for her!

“I love you.”

And there it was. The thing he absolutely did not want to admit. Under any circumstances. He’d accidentally blurted it out, in a moment of sheer desperation. As if something like his love for her could save him.

What have I done?!

But it had saved him. It had. Marinette had taken his hand and brought him into a world full of happiness and colour, had allowed him to find people he could care for and who would actually care for him in return, no questions asked. She’d breathed life into his decaying civilian side. She’d given him so much, and he was still trying to catch up to her, still trying to give her the moon when she’d already gifted him the sun.

Now he stood, with his arms wide, with her filling the space between them, her heart facing his own. Now she stood, having heard half of his confession, and Chat had every intention of telling her exactly who he was, of telling her everything.

Until she uttered the phrase, “I love you too,” and his resolve turned to ash.

Chat lips crashed onto hers and Marinette responded in kind. Yet all the while, her mind screamed at her- over and over again.

This was wrong.

This was so wrong.

They needed to stop.

She needed to stop this. Now.

But he loved her! He said he loved her. Three words, and suddenly all of the late nights spent pining, the lonely patrols, the longing gazes, the empty space in her heart which she’d left for him, it was all worth something. It all meant something. Her love for him wasn’t a waste, had never been, because he’d somehow, someway, fallen in love with Marinette. With the girl behind the mask.

So she kissed him, almost knocking over her mannequin as they stumbled backwards, and Chat broke the kiss to trail loving, heated kisses from her jawline to her neck. She moaned in response, losing herself to the feeling of Chat, of him holding her, his hands roaming freely and near-frantically, as though he were trying to learn her every curve. Standing on her toes, Marinette clutched his hair tightly, tugging it back until she could get at his neck instead, leaving hot, open-mouthed kisses against the skin there. He gasped, something between a groan and a purr escaped his chest and it set Marinette’s soul of fire, made her crave more, more, more.

Instead of telling him the truth, she allowed him to pick her up. Wrapping her legs around his waist, and her tongue around his, Marinette felt her back come to rest against her wall. She used it to tilt her hips, and felt him shudder against her.

    5

“I love you,” he whispered against her lips, breaking apart for air, both of them panting still, yet coming back together again because it seemed as though they’d always be that way. “I love you,” he said again, as he nipped her neck, and her fingernails dug into his back. “I love you Marinette, I love you so much.”

He said it almost like a prayer, Marinette thought, and wasn’t that the worst thing of all? How reverently he spoke of her? How even at their most intimate they could still wear masks, both real and metaphorical?

They were running on fumes. This relationship, the way it was, couldn’t stand. Tikki was right about that. But maybe for tonight, just for tonight, they could forget that. They could forget about the ticking clock, they could forget about the secrets, and instead only remember the love they shared.

Maybe, just for tonight, things could be perfect.

Marinette pulled Chat’s lower lip between her teeth ever-so-slightly, and he moaned, pressing into her, his fingers gripping her thighs tighter. They were sure to leave marks. Marinette liked the idea. She wanted to be marked. She wanted to mark him too. She wanted his civilian self to wake up and remember her, to look in the mirror in the morning and remember how her lips felt on his neck, biting and sucking the skin there until a little bruise formed.

She pushed his collar as far down as it would go, and did exactly what she wanted. Chat responded by crying out her name and she smirked against his skin.

    5

And then her feet were dropped onto the floor, and her arms were pinned by her head, and Chat was growling as he kissed her again. She felt dizzy, breathless, completely lost to a world of their own making, a world which they’d both set alight and were now dancing amidst the flames knowing it was only a matter of time until they burned.

“You- you say- you love me-” Marinette panted in-between kisses, and Chat lifted his head. Never had she seen green eyes so dark, and it sent a shiver straight through her.

“I do,” he replied, his features turning gentle as he brushed his nose against hers.

Squirming out of his hold on her wrists, she used one finger and prodded him backwards. Her heart raced as she reached up to the zipper on the back of her dress, tugging it down as she watched Chat’s eyes widen, his jaw drop.

“Prove it,” she said as her dress fell to the floor.

***

Alya: I don’t understand!!!!!! DID YOU BONE OR NOT?! XXXXX

Marinette grinned. Walking down the street, she typed a response to her friend and half tripped over a poor stranger’s dog. Apologising profusely, she made her way to the coffee shop near campus.

Mari: Yeah we totally boned. Didn't ya know? That suit is just one big condom. Seriously Alya? Xx

It took a minute for Alya to respond, allowing Marinette time to soak in the beautiful day around her. The sun was shining, spring was making an appearance, and for once she was determined not to worry about her relationship troubles. Not after the way things has gone last night anyway.

Alya: Ok first of all I did not raise you to sass me this way. Only other people.

Alya: Second of all if you didn't bone what DID you do?

Mari: ....Stuff <3

Marinette smirked to herself, knocking into someone again right as she reached the outside of the coffee shop. When she looked up, she was surprised to see a familiar mop of blonde hair and her heart lurched, before she realised it was Adrien.

Though it was Adrien like she’d never seen him. Adrien with a rapidly reddening face, his hair dishevelled with traces of cowlicks which refused to be tamed, his clothes rumpled all apart from the scarf wrapped around his neck. Which was strange, she thought, considering it was shaping up to be such a warm day. “Woah Adrien, I didn’t take you for a party-goer,” she teased, giving him a friendly hug in greeting. “I’m impressed Mr. PhD still has a wild side. Fun night?”

Adrien was completely silent, his eyes darting from her to…anywhere else. It looked like he was trying to be polite but, at the same time, was doing everything his power not to look at her. She panicked, looking down at herself to check she’d gotten dressed properly, she’d been in a bit of a daze this morning and sometimes the t-shirt she was wearing could get a little see through, depending on the bra she wore with it. A quick inspection told her she had nothing to worry about on that front, so what was his deal?

    6

“Fun!” Adrien blurted out and Marinette might have thought his response strange (as high and squeaky as it was) were it not for the fact that her phone chose that moment to ping as Alya’s response came through. “Yeah- yeah. It was fun. Cool. Kinda tired now though, you know?” He gave a huge yawn in response, stretching his arms above his head and promptly dropping half his research papers behind him.

Marinette smiled kindly whilst Adrien scrambled to pick up the documents. She knelt down to help him absent-mindedly, one of their hands brushing as they reached for the same document. She paid it no mind, as half of her attention was on him, the other half on her phone and a now hysterical Alya.

Alya: STUFF?! WHAT KIND OF STUFF?! I swear to GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Well take it easy today!” she chirped, once they’d gathered all his research papers. “If you’re on campus ‘til late again, let me know and I’ll send some cookies your way.”

“Ok, that- err- thanks Pr- Mari. Thanks Marinette, I’ll see you tomorrow!” he stammered, fixing her with an odd stare, before ducking his head and hurrying away, his face redder than she’d ever seen it. Wow. It really must have been a wild night, she thought, for him to be so completely ruffled. She’d have to go out with him some time. A morning spent so unkempt surely meant a night well spent.

“Hey Mari.”

Marinette turned around to see the person she’d come to meet. Standing opposite her looking guilty, almost wilting, was Nathanael.

Mari: I'm sorry Nath is here I gottagoloveyoubye xxxxxx

She smiled. Putting her phone on silent and back into her bag, she stepped closer to hug him. “Nath! I’m glad you’re here.”

Nathanael seemed surprised at first, but hugged her back before rapidly pulling away. “Before you say anything else, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for putting you in that situation, and even before that I’m sorry for confessing I liked you when my feelings weren’t genuine.”

Marinette took his hands and squeezed them in her own. “Nath. No, it’s ok. Really. I know what it feels like ok? I’ve done something similar. Being single for ages sucks when you don’t want to be single anyway. It makes you do crazy stuff and see things that aren’t there. And I really didn’t make things easier. I should have told you from the start that I didn’t return your feelings… I just didn’t know what to say without hurting you.”

Nath nodded, running a hand down his face. “It’s ok. I get it. I’m just so embarrassed though. I did a lot of soul searching last night, after it happened. I think what you said before, about staying single for a while, I think it was getting to me.”

“It gets to everyone sometimes, everyone who’s looking for love anyway,” Marinette agreed, motioning for them to enter the coffee shop. “But this won’t change anything between us? We’re still friends, right? Even though I acted like a jerk?”

Nathanael scoffed as they joined the line for the counter. “It’s not like I acted much better. And of course we’re still friends! You did nothing wrong. The only thing this changed is that now I’m officially giving up on love completely. Men and women both.”

“Oh, don’t say that!” Marinette whined, as they approached the counter, where a handsome, tanned barista was waiting to take their order. Prodding her finger into Nathanael’s shoulder, she prompted him to order first. “You never know when love will hit you. Like all ka-blammy, in the movies!”

Nathanael wasn’t listening, and Marinette was about to pout but her frown turned to a sly grin as she saw where his attention was diverted to. Seemed that Nathanael had noticed the good-looking barista as well.

    7

“So that’s a venti vanilla latte for the dashing redhead,” the barista said with a grin and slight Italian accent. Nathanael flushed before the barista turned to Marinette. “And for his lovely lady companion?”

“Oh we’re not companions,” Marinette chuckled, eyes flicking to Nathanael and back to the barista. “Just friends.”

The barista’s eyebrow quirked. “Really now?”

“Thanks for taking my order!” Nathanael squeaked, tapping his card on the reader and disappearing to the other side of the counter so quickly he almost blurred at the edges.

Marinette shook her head fondly. “He’s shy,” she explained as she ordered her drink from the cashier next to the flirtatious Italian and headed down the bar to flick Nathanael’s ear. “Hey! That was rude you know! Didn’t you see that? He was totally into you!”

“No he wasn’t!”

“Was! Go tell him you think he’s cute! I wouldn’t normally say that ‘cause, you know, he’s working and all. But he was checking you oooout! He called you dashing. Dashing. You can’t argue with that!”

Nathanael looked like he had every intention of arguing with her but, as if by the will of the universe, his drink arrived. On the sleeve was a name, and a phone number to go along with it. “Wow!” Marinette giggled, impressed, whilst Nathanael stared dumbly. “He’s bolder than my macchiato! Nath you’ve scored! Hate to say I told you so.”

It was then her phone buzzed frantically in her bag, and she had to check it lest she annoy Tikki. The messages she saw made her almost double over with laughter.

Alya: WHAT?! NO!

Alya: Mari you can't leave me hanging like this

Alya: I will END YOU

Alya: OMG

Alya: MARINETTE DUPAIN-CHENG!!!!111!!

Well, Marinette thought, she’d just have to leave her best friend guessing for the time being. Because she couldn’t really explain what had happened last night over text. To be honest, she couldn’t really describe it to herself.

But she couldn’t help but feel, sitting outside the café, teasing a very flustered Nathanael amidst flashes of memories from the previous night, of her and Chat’s shared confessions, that maybe things would turn out ok.

Maybe, just maybe, it would all work out.

Chapter Text

 Adrien loved moments like this.

Pinned between the door and his girlfriend’s lovely figure, he felt himself growing hot and dizzy under her kisses. Yet he refrained from crying out her name, or for taking it any further. It wasn’t exactly the best situation to do anything besides make out and desperately wish they were somewhere more private.

“So did you lure me here to make sweet music, my lady?” he teased, referring to their new hiding spot in the music cupboard, in between short gasps for air as Marinette trailed hot kisses down his jawline.

Marinette nibbled his neck in response, giggling as she did so. “You’re impossible. To pun even when an awesome girl is kissing you.” Standing on her tiptoes, she reached up and kissed his nose. “And I did not lure you here. You followed me!”

“You started it,” Adrien teased, playing with a loose lock of hair at the side of her face. “You can’t walk past me giving me bedroom eyes-”

“Bedroom eyes!?"

“- Yup! Bedroom eyes. Can’t use them and not expect me to follow you.”

Marinette rolled her eyes, wiggling out of his grasp to search the cupboard for whatever it was Nino had asked her to grab. At least, that’s what Adrien assumed she was here for. Why else would a fashion student go to the music department of their university? “A- I did not use bedroom eyes, and B- you know that’s only about eighty-three percent stalkery of you, right?”

Adrien ducked after her, half-chasing her around a dusty shelf filled with handheld drums. Grinning from ear to ear, he caught her waist, pulling her flush against him. “Only eight-three percent? I need to up my game. You doing anything tonight? Mind if this poor stray follows you home?”

“God it’s a good thing you’re pretty,” Marinette sighed, but the falseness of her exasperation was given away by the smirk on her lips and the spark of mirth in her eyes. Adrien’s heart skipped a beat. “I don’t think I could stand it if you weren’t.”

“I knew you only liked me for my body,” Adrien gasped, flopping down onto her shoulder and letting out a huge fake sob. “Such betrayal, love bug! My heart can’t take it!”

“You’ll live,” Marinette snorted in response, patting him on the head. “Or maybe you won’t. But if you survive then sure, you’re welcome to stalk- I mean- walk me home.”

Lifting up his head, Adrien smiled. Leaning his forehead against hers, he let himself rest there for a moment. Sensing his change of mood, Marinette sighed in contentment. Her smirk turned into a small smile, the last thing Adrien saw before he closed his eyes and let himself relax.

There were times where he felt like this wasn’t real, that he’d not been so lucky as to find his best friend and love of his life wrapped up in one wonderful person. Truthfully, he feared it. The happiness he felt seemed almost like it wasn’t meant to last, like clouds after a rainstorm, just before the sun was about to reappear. He clung to moments such as these, how quickly they could go from heated to teasing to loving. He had to. Everything about his past suggested that it wasn’t going to last.

But then Marinette would do something to remind him that he wasn’t his past. Things that seemed so simple, but were everything to him. Things that made him remember that the moments weren’t fleeting. Things like reaching up to take her hands in his, pulling them to her lips and whispering a fond “I love you,” to make him remember that it was real. That his past was his past, and they could make their future whatever they wanted it to be.

Adrien loved moments like this. Stolen moments he could lock away in his mind, to repeat over and over again until they were as much a part of him as his lungs or his heart.

But what Adrien really loved the most, was the fact that Marinette was such a good partner in crime. Stealing those moments right along with him.

Although, judging from the fact that they were superheroes, he thought he ought to get a better analogy. He made a mental note to do so when he wasn’t so utterly distracted by the girl in his arms.

“I love you too,” he whispered, pouring every bit of emotion he had into the look he sent her way. “And you’re giving me bedroom eyes again.”

“Not again.” Marinette pulled him closer, wrapping her arms around his shoulder, her eyes heavy. “Just for the first time.”

It was as Adrien was preparing for another one of their stolen moments that three large knocks reverberated from the music room door. Marinette squeaked, leaping away from Adrien whilst Adrien tried to wipe the lipstick off of his face.

“DUDES” Nino’s voice echoed through the closed door. He did not sound pleased. “CAN YOU STOP TRYING TO MAKE BABIES FOR FIVE FREAKING MINUTES AND GET ME MY DAMN SPARE GUITAR STRINGS? I HAVE AN EXAM IN LIKE A HALF HOUR!”

Marinette turned a delightful shade of pink, though she didn’t try to deny Nino’s accusations. Quickly snatching the strings she’d offered to get for him, she walked over to the door and opened it with a sheepish smile. “Sorry Nino.”

Nino raised his eyebrow. Looking between the pair, he shook his head but thanked Marinette for the strings nonetheless. “‘Kay,” he shrugged, offering a little salute. “As you were.”

As he closed the door behind him, leaving Adrien and Marinette alone, Adrien couldn’t help but chuckle. “And here I was thinking Nino stole our stolen moment!”

Marinette buried her head in her hands, the tips of her ears red enough to rival her ladybug suit.

    

 

Chapter Text

~

Sunlight streamed through the windows. Outside, Chat could hear the buzzing of a bee and his ear twitched, but he remained put. It would take something a lot bigger than a bee to get him to move from his current spot, nestled on Marinette’s bed, playing with her hair as his girlfriend snoozed against his chest.

He sighed, staring up at the ceiling.

“You ok?”

Marinette lifted up her head, as if sensing his mind was a little far from the paradise it should’ve been. Her thumb stroked against his chest in a subconscious comforting manner and he pulled her tighter in reassurance. “Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m fine. Just thinking.”

“Uh-oh,” she giggled, pressing her lips to the corner of his mouth, and he tilted his head in response, pulling her into a softer kiss. “I’ve heard thinking is a dangerous pastime. Whatcha thinking about?”

“Ah nothing, it’s stupid,” Chat looked away, embarrassed to have been caught out. Because it was stupid- it was. Before she had a chance to press further, he perked up, bringing them both to a sitting position. “But I do have something for you! For our anniversary. Well I guess it’s not technically an anniversary, though I’ve never been in a relationship for six months before so I- err-”

He was saved from his bashful babbling by Marinette, who casually bopped him on the nose. “Easy, Fluffy, I bought you a gift too.”

Fluffy?” His mouth dropped open, but he didn’t have a chance to respond to the nickname before Marinette hurled herself off the bed, almost tripping down the ladder as she beckoned him to follow her. He complied, letting her lead him to her desk.

“Ta-dah!” she cried, beaming as she held out the gift. “I made this myself years ago. It’s always brought me luck but…well-” she lowered her head for a moment, a pink tinge to her cheeks. “I don’t need luck anymore. Not since I met you.”

    

Tentatively, Chat reached out to take the bracelet from her. It was intricate full of beads of varying sizes, and looked like it had taken hours to craft. He stared at it for a while, a lump forming in his throat.

Nobody had ever given him something so personal and, whilst it was a gesture that meant more to him than he could ever put into words, it also made him acutely aware of the gaping hole in his chest. The hole where things like this should’ve been, an everyday part of life that he’d never gotten the chance to experience. It was moments like this that reminded him just how deprived he’d been. “Thank you,” he whispered, still staring at the little charm. He couldn’t look at Marinette, couldn’t look up and see the love he’d been lacking his whole life. Not now.

He felt her step into his space, wrapping her arms around his middle and snuggling into his side. He smiled, and the lump in his throat faded into obscurity. “Don’t meowntion it!” she said with a giggle, then wrinkled her nose, looking more than a little offended by her own pun. It was too cute.

Chat grinned, kissing the top of her head. “The gift I have for you- I hid it when I came over. Check under your pillows.”

Marinette’s eyebrow quirked and she pulled out of their embrace to shoot him a suspicious look. “You’re not just saying that so you can check out my butt as I climb the ladder, are you?”

“Absolutely not!” Chat pressed a hand to his heart and Marinette hummed in disbelief, even as she slipped out of his arms and made her way back up to her bed. His eyes trailed after her. “Though now you mention it, that’s an unintended purrk.

He was rewarded for his flirtations by a cushion flying straight at his face. Chat laughed, cuddling up to the cushion as he waited for Marinette to find his present. He hoped she would like it…

“Chat NOIR!”

Ok. Maybe not.

Marinette was stomping back towards him, face red and full of righteous… fury? Embarrassment? Awe? Chat didn’t know but the look (coupled with the shrieking) made him unexpectedly terrified. “Princess?” He replied tentatively.

She shook her head, showing him the red box which contained her present. “I can’t accept this!”

His heart sunk and he tilted his head, trying not to look too hurt. God, he knew it. He just knew when he bought it that it was dumb. He should’ve bought her something practical, like a lifetimes supply of sewing materials, or an internship at his father’s fashion house- though it’d be complicated to explain the latter one. “Is- is something wrong with it?”

Marinette gaped at him, then at the box, then at him again and Chat got the distinct feeling he was missing something. After spluttering through a few garbled syllables, she managed to blurt out “CARTIER!”

Chat blinked, tilting his head. “Yeah, that’s where I got it…err…do you not…like…Cartier?” Maybe he should have gone to Tiffany’s instead.

He’d never seen Marinette’s eyes so wide. It would have been cute, if he wasn’t so lost. “Chat! I- that’s not- I mean, no. Cartier is fine- good? Amazing! But I can’t accept it- it’s- how did you even afford it?!”

Oh.

Oh.

It was then that he understood, and he wanted to kick himself. The idea of it being expensive hadn’t even crossed his mind. Of course Marinette knew the price tag, she was a fashion student! And now she was standing there, wondering how a seemingly every day, run of the mill superhero could afford something like a Cartier bracelet.

Shit.

When Chat didn’t reply for a while (frozen in his own stupidity), Marinette prompted him a little bit. She sighed, stepping forwards. “Chat…”

“I had a cu-paw-n!” he blurted, in a strangled voice.

She frowned. “Chat.”

“I have a superhero salary!”

“No you don’t,” she snorted.

“I’m a cat burglar?”

“Really?”

“…No.”

Marinette laughed, making sure she held the box and didn’t accidentally drop it as her shoulders shook. “Is this the part where you reveal you’re like, Bruce Wayne? Rich guy by day, black-clad superhero by night?”

She giggled again, wiping at her eyes, before becoming acutely the aware that she was the only one laughing. When she glanced back at Chat, at his pale expression and tight lips, her jaw dropped open again. “Oh my GOD, you arrrre!

“NO! No,” Chat adjusted his volume to something less incriminating, waving his arms frantically. Then panicking as the beads on the charm Marinette had given him rattled. He clutched it to his chest tightly. He’d messed up, he’d messed up so badly. “I’m not rich! My- my parents are rich.”

“That’s just what a rich person says!” Marinette’s eyes sparkled, her face filled with glee. When Chat’s face dropped, his ears flattening against his head, Marinette patted his arm. “Relax kitty. I’m just teasing! One of my best friends comes from a wealthy family too. I promise I won’t treat you differently now I know. Though-” she looked down at the bracelet box- “are you sure this wasn’t expensive for you? It’s just so much.”

She squirmed looking down. Before, when she’d seen the Cartier box and realised exactly what he’d bought her, she reacted without thinking. Automatically, she’d assumed she couldn’t accept such an expensive present. Horrific images had plagued her mind of a starving de-masked Chat Noir, lying on the street because he’d swapped his rent money for a bracelet. She hadn’t even looked at it.

When she noticed Chat’s boots, standing underneath the box as he closed the gap between them, she felt a rush of warmth. Gently, Chat removed the box from her grasp, placing the charm that she’d given him on the desk nearby. His smile was small, soft and fond as he opened the box.

Marinette couldn’t help but gasp. The bracelet was small, two white gold chains linked by a small hoop at the end. The word love was twice engraved into the hoop, set with two small diamonds. It was beautiful, and Marinette was speechless.

    

“It’s called a Love Bracelet,” he explained, his voice low and full of everything the bracelet represented. Taking the bracelet from the box, and placing the box beside his own charm, he took Marinette’s hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her knuckles. A breath of air rushed out of her lungs. She felt dizzy. “I thought about it for ages, which one to get you.” He wrapped it around her wrist, and the action felt more intimate somehow, than any of their previous encounters. “This one is small so- if you wear it and it’s ok if you don’t or you don’t like it and want to get a new one- I thought, you know, that it wouldn’t get in way when you’re sewing or doing art.”

As soon as the clasp was secure, Marinette reached out to the charm. She mirrored Chat’s movements from before, kissing his gloved hand and then tying the lucky charm to his wrist. For a moment, they looked and their entwined hands, the diamonds sparkling, the beads bright and full of life.

There weren’t enough words to describe it. Except. “Happy anniversary, Princess.”

Marinette launched herself at Chat, planting a firm kiss on his lips. He responded just as fiercely, carrying her back up the ladder. Using one hand to carry her, and the other to climb.

They landed heavily on the bed, Chat cradling her head with one hand, the other on her hip. He pulled away, smiling. She gazed back, hair fanned out on the pillow, cheeks flushed, the green ribbons a little ruffled but still holding strong.

God, she was so beautiful.

“I love you,” he whispered, nuzzling his nose against hers in a kitten kiss.

“I love you too,” she replied, scratching at his hair. And just like that he melted into her side. She chuckled as he shuffled into her, exaggerating his movements as he kissed any part of her skin that he could reach, her shoulder, her neck, her cheek. She squealed when he got to the ticklish part behind her ear and he beamed. “Even if you are a tease.”

    

It was just as they were getting into it, that Marinette’s phone (which she was unknowingly lying on top of) decided to vibrate. As it hit a ticklish spot, she shrieked, launching up on instinct and colliding head-first with Chat’s nose. Both of them gave a start, yelping with shock.

Chat, being superpowered, was the first to recover. He looked to Marinette, who was clutching her head. “Princess, are you ok?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Gosh your head is like a rock you know,” she mumbled, rubbing the sore spot.

“Yeah, not exactly the hard place I was thinking of when I started kissing you,” he winked as his tail came to wrap around her waist.

“Ok, I may have killed the mood, but you just desecrated the mood’s corpse!” Marinette laughed, patting his head. He responded by flopping dramatically on her lap, purring low.

They stayed that way for a while. When Marinette’s phone began to vibrate more, she sighed, checking her message with a pout. “Alya keeps messaging me about Superhero Day next week.”

Chat sat up, trying to keep his face passive. Superhero Day… the anniversary of his and Ladybug’s defeat of Hawkmoth and the Puppet Master controlling him. It had been a couple of years since his defeat, but it was still an emotional time. To commemorate the occasion, people all over France (and some from all over the world) converged on the Eiffel Tower, to watch a spectacular fireworks display and dress up in Ladybug and Chat Noir costumes- all to raise money for charity.

“Are you going- to the meet-up?” He asked, feeling a sudden bout of shyness.

Marinette scoffed, then covered her mouth, her eyes wide. The action confused him, so he allowed her to explain. “No? I mean- yes. Maybe. It’s- yeah.”

Chat frowned. That didn’t really explain much.

Luckily for him, Marinette was in a rambling mood. “I guess I didn’t… err… know if should be there or not. This is your time with Ladybug and all. I don’t want to take that away from you. I know you two are… great friends.”

She looked away from him then, hiding her face behind her hair. And suddenly Chat understood.

Cupping her chin with his fingers, he lifted her head up to face him, and pressed a soft kiss to her lips.

“Ladybug means the world to me,” he said, voice full of conviction. “I love her a lot. She’s my best friend, and she’s amazing. But she’s not you.”

Marinette didn’t say anything so Chat went on, stroking her cheek. “There was a time when I had nobody. I didn’t realise it the time, how lonely and isolated I was. Ladybug- she was one of the first true friends I ever made, and she helped me a lot. It’s because of her that I’m here now, as happy as I am. And I am happy, especially with you. She- she means so much to me, and in a way, it’s because of her I was able to meet you.” He smiled. “There’s no Chat Noir without Ladybug.”

“She’s your best friend,” Marinette was smiling back, but Chat thought he could see a hint of something sad there. He didn’t like that, so he shuffled closer, kissing her neck.

“The best,” he agreed. “We’ve been through so much together, grown together really. But you don’t have anything to worry about if that’s what you mean. I may be a bit of a stray, but I’m not an alley cat.”

“I’m going to pretend I know what you mean,” Marinette giggled but, again, it didn’t seem completely sincere. What was the matter? Did he say something wrong? “If what I think you mean is what you mean though, I wasn’t worried about that. I trust you.”

His smile grew ten times brighter, his heart floated. I trust you, I trust you, I trust you. The words floated through his mind in a blissful, love sick haze.

And then they settled like a dead weight.

She trusted him.

He swallowed, thinking of all the time she looked at Adrien, not Chat, not knowing. Ever since the night of Nathanael’s akuma, he’d tried to bring up the truth. But the truth always got stuck in his throat, and his fear held it there. So, he remained, choking and gasping for air until Marinette’s love and kindness allowed him to shove the truth back down. He’d held if off for so long, and now they’d admitted they love each other- it was that much more terrifying.

“I trust you too,” he nodded. The words tasted bitter on his tongue. He laid down next to her, opening his arms wide. “Come here?”

She complied, tucking into his side and resting her head on his chest, nuzzling into a nook that seemed as though it was made for her, and finally it felt like he could breath.

“I almost lost her once, you know, when Hawkmoth was defeated,” he admitted because damn it if she was going to trust him so much, he was going to prove he could trust her. “It’s- it’s still hard to even think about it. I let her down so badly.”

“You did not!” she blurted out, and he stared, startled by her conviction. Marinette, too, seemed caught off guard by it and the fire in her eyes lessened. “I can’t ever imagine someone as noble and brave as you letting anyone down, especially not her.”

Chat smiled sadly, staring up at the ceiling. He felt the weight of Marinette’s lucky charm on his wrist, and closed his eyes, allowing himself to soak in the feeling of his girlfriend’s warmth by his side, to hear her breathing.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “Sometimes this time of year, it gets to me. So much good but so many horrible memories.”

“I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for you,” Marinette whispered, burying further into his embrace. “I’m so sorry, Chat.”

Chat opened his eyes, turning until his eyes met hers. “You don’t have to be sorry! I didn’t even know you back then. Ugh, I don’t even know why I’m being such a downer! I’m totally ruining our anniversary, like a big dope.” He sat up, ruffling his own hair in frustration.

“It’s ok to feel sad, you know. You aren’t spoiling anything,” Marinette reassured, patting his arm.

Chat didn’t say anything, he simply smiled sadly at her. After all, how could she know that he’d been told the exact opposite for most of his life?

“Do you want to hear about how we met? I’m sure you remember some of it, but it’s a much happier story.”

Marinette gave him a look, one which he couldn’t read, before tugging him back down to her bed.

“Sure, who doesn’t love a good bedtime story?”

“It’s the afternoon, Princess.”

“I’m a student, Chat, bedtime is any time.”

Chat laughed, pulling her close. “Ok, point taken. Well, it all began four years ago…”

~

 

Chapter Text

The day Adrien Agreste was flung into the air, smacking face-first into a billboard of himself, was the day he realised he really didn’t have a handle on the whole ‘being an adult’ thing.

Granted it was his first day as a superhero, and he’d only recently turned twenty years old. He hadn’t expected to be perfect on his first outing as a superhero, nor have life figured out in his first year after adolescence.

However, he did not expect to be failing so badly, so grandly, so spectacularly, that he could’ve won an Olympic medal for how much he sucked. The fact that he was the only technical ‘adult’ in his new superhero partnership, yet was the one who was failing the hardest, wasn’t doing much for his ego. Not that he had much of one of those.

He dropped to ground in a messy, yet unbroken, heap and pushed himself up with a groan. Sure, it hadn’t hurt, not really, but being smacked in the head and sent flying by a giant akumatised rock monster had definitely disorientated him. If only for a short period of time.

So, yeah, ok, he’d forgotten what his kwami had told him in regards to his special attack. He’d tried to use it a second time after the first one failed. That was a rookie mistake. One he’d be forgiven for.

The other thing? He wasn’t so sure his new partner would be so quick to let slide.

Speaking of his new partner…

The red-and-black suited heroine was mid-backflip when Chat landed back on the football field, baton out and fully prepared to take the battle more seriously this time. He winced when she barely dodged the rock monster’s fist, but sighed in relief when she gave as good as she got, using her yo-yo to ensnare the akuma.

“Chat Noir!” she called out to him, and he landed by her side with a tentative smile.

“You called?” yup, that’s right Agreste. Play it light and breezy, like you didn’t totally insult her earlier.

His partner, who hadn’t yet picked out a superhero name, fixed him with an ice-like stare that seemed too serious for her height and age. It was formidable. Chat never wanted to be on the end of it again. Oh god you HAVE to fix this before she outright hates you.

“Stick your baton through the yo-yo string,” she ordered, digging her heels into the grass as the rock monster struggled to be released from her hold. “Once he falls, grab the paper in his hand. That’s where the akuma is!”

Chat, wanting to show that he treated her seriously, complied. He wondered how, in between the time of him smacking into the billboard and landing back beside her, she’d managed to figure out where the akuma was. She must be smart. But then, that didn’t surprise him.

He pressed one of the buttons of his baton, relieved to discover that it was the one which made his staff longer (finally a success), and stuck it diagonally through the rock monster’s legs where it balanced in between the yo-yo strings. As soon as it was in place, the new superheroine pulled with all of her strength, gritting her teeth until the yo-yo string went taut and the rock monster’s legs pinned together. With the baton in the way, there was no wiggle room. Eventually, the monster was going to fall.

Chat’s eyebrows rose at the biggest show of strength he’d ever seen.

The rock monster tumbled to the grass with a roar, landing with a booming thud that rattled Chat’s bones. He turned to his partner, whose lips were upturned in a smirk of triumph.

“Woah. Awesome.”

The smirk left the superheroine’s face, however, when she noticed him watching her. She scowled. “EARTH TO CHAT NOIR!” she snapped. “AKUMA!”

“Oh- right- yeah,” he stumbled, shook his head, and then dived for the piece of crumpled paper that had escaped from the rock monster’s fist. Hurrying over to her, he presented it with a bow. “The akuma, miss, for your cleansing pleasure.”

“My- my what?” his partner blinked, then snorted with derision. “My cleansing pleasure?”

Chat turned red. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

    

“Oh, you didn’t think I was mature enough to understand those kinds of jokes, right, Monsieur ‘I’m older and better than you’ ?” she scoffed, snatching the akuma out of hand and ripping it in half. Together they watched as the black and purple butterfly floated up into the sky, disappearing in the early spring breeze. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the next time you meet your partner, she’ll be everything you were looking for. She’ll meet your high standards for suuuure . Me and my too-young self will be out of your hair for good.”

Chat tried not to look hurt. Scratching the back of his head, he felt a sense of creeping dread settling in. What could he possibly say to make this better? How could he explain himself? Did she really want to quit because of him? “I promise I didn’t mean to upset you-”

His ring beeped and he stared at it, bewildered for a moment. Then he remembered what it meant. He was running out of time. “Listen- umm- miss? I have to go but, can we talk another time?”

His partner shrugged, turning her back on him. “Just go,” she replied, walking towards the bewildered young man who’d been akumatised. “I’ll handle the civilian.”

“But-”

“Go, unless you want to reveal your identity to everyone.”

She pointed to a place on the opposite side of the stadium, where a young girl was filming with her camera. When she saw the superheroes looking in her direction, she waved frantically.

    

The ring beeped again. Chat Noir glanced over his shoulder at his partner one more time before sighing in defeat. Picking up his baton, he leapt over to the stands and vaulted over the edge of the stadium, out of sight.

Funny. He’d been so thrilled to become a superhero. It’d been the most exciting thing that had happened to him in his miserable, boring life. The first time he’d ran, jumping as high as a building, he’d felt a sense of freedom so poignant that tears had formed in his eyes. The bars he’d kept around his heart had smashed to pieces, and the yearning he’d suppressed over the years had flooded back into his system. He’d felt breathless. He’d felt alive .

Now the bars had reformed, and he was trapped again. Only this time, it was so much worse. It was a prison of his own making, born of his own social ineptness and his knack for rushing into things without thinking.

He’d made his partner want to quit, got his butt handed to him, and made a fool of himself in front of all of Paris. Possibly even the world.

Thank god he had a mask hiding his identity, or his father would probably go full Rapunzel on him and never let him out the house again.

All in all, he didn’t think he could’ve had a worst first day if he’d tried.


 

Adrien threw his bag on his desk chair with a grunt of annoyance, earning a loud “HEY!” from the kwami inside it.

“Sorry!” he winced, “I’m still not used to carrying a live…whatever you are around.”

“Kwami- it’s quite easy to remember unless you’re an idiot,” Plagg grumbled, following Adrien to the sofa in his room.

“Kwami. Right,” Adrien nodded, flopping onto said sofa like a dead weight and trying not to go full-zombie. It had been a rough day.

    

The news was relentless. Everywhere and anywhere he’d gone, from classes to photoshoots, to meetings with his father’s assistant, people were talking about the new superheroes and the new villain out to terrorise the city. Inexplicably, most seemed both impressed and excited by the superhero duo and how well they appeared to work together.

Most people hadn’t been able to get a close enough look at the pair of them, Adrien thought, else they’d know that that was far from the truth.

For five minutes, Adrien was able to lie in blissful silence. Of course, it wasn’t to last as Plagg, having finished the last of his cheese (of all the things this kwami ate, why did it have to be stinky cheese?) sought to bug him instead. “So, I have a question,” he said, coming to rest beside Adrien’s face. “Do you ever have any fun ever?”

Adrien huffed out a scornful laugh. What a tragically absurd question. “Not unless it’s scheduled.”

“Do you have, y’know, any friends? See people? I mean besides those boring photographers and assistants you were talking to earlier?”

Adrien knew where Plagg was going, and he rolled to the side, pressing his face into the sofa cushion with a groan. “I have a friend, she’s just,” he floundered, trying to explain Chloe’s wild party girl phase with as few words as possible, “she’s in Ibiza at the moment. I haven’t seen her in a few months.”

Plagg was quiet for a beat, and Adrien thought the matter would drop, but then he said, “Jeez, no offense kiddo, but your life sounds boring as hell.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Adrien flipped over again, pouting.

    

It was true. His life was boring. In twenty years, he’d never made a decision without his parents there to guide him- not through his own volition. He yearned for freedom. It ate at his insides, made his skin itch, kept him up into the late hours of the morning. The only thing he’d been able to decide for himself was what to study at university, and that was probably because his mother had still been around to argue for him, before she’d disappeared.

His boring life had only gotten worse since that fateful day a year ago. One moment his mother had brought sunshine and warmth into the house- the next she was gone and Adrien had no idea why. No one did. Her disappearance burned a hole through Adrien’s heart that grew bigger with each passing day, the same way his relationship with his father grew colder and more distant as time went on. Now she’d been gone for a year, and Adrien was lost. Lost and alone.

Except… looking at the kwami sitting beside him, he realised he had the opportunity to not feel so lost or alone. He didn’t know who chose him to be a superhero, or why, but he wasn’t about to let it go any time soon. This was his chance- his chance to finally get away and experience freedom, to make choices on his own! He was twenty years old for god’s sake! It was about time!

He frowned, remembering his earlier mistakes. “I made a real cat-astrophe out of today, didn’t I Plagg? She hates me.”

Plagg scoffed, rolling his eyes. “She doesn’t hate you! She doesn’t know you enough to hate you,” he said and was it Adrien’s imagination, or did Plagg sound like he was trying to reassure him? “I mean sure, you said that she was a ‘special kid’, but it’s not like you meant it in a bad way!”

“I didn’t! I swear! She’s just… so small!” Adrien sat up with a burst of energy, almost knocking Plagg off of the sofa. “I thought she was younger than sixteen- I was trying to give her a compliment! Like of all the people in Paris, she had to be some sort of young prodigy to be chosen above, I don’t know, like a firefighter or something. I didn’t mean to sound condescending.”

“You don’t talk to girls much, do you?” Plagg laughed.

“Shut up,” Adrien replied, flopping back down and running his hands down his face. This only made Plagg laugh harder.

“Oho! So, you do have a bit of life in you! That’s promising at least,” he cackled.

Despite himself, Adrien grinned.

The grin didn’t last long, however, as he thought over his relationship with his new superhero partner. Staring out the window, he wondered where she was right now, what she was feeling. Was she still angry? Was she still hurt by his careless words?

He hadn’t meant to upset her, but upset her he had, and was determined to fix it.

He only hoped that it could be fixed.


 

    

Marinette closed the lid of the little wooden box shut, placing it on her desk and falling back onto her chair with a whimper. “I’m sorry Tikki,” she whispered to the air, which seemed to tighten around her. “I can’t do this.”

Gritting her teeth, she did battle with the tears threatening to fall from her eyes. Despite all her efforts, it was battle she lost, and silent tears slid down her cheeks. But she refused to cry properly, she already felt pathetic enough. The box stared at her. Judgement poured out of it, as if Tikki’s soul was still imploring her to reconsider, to not let her mistakes get the best of her.

But it wasn’t enough. Nothing Tikki said would be enough. Because Marinette wasn’t enough.

It already felt awful that her partner treated her so patronisingly. But forgetting the number one rule of akuma (cleanse them before you release them) was too much for her to bear. She felt like an imposter, like a kid playing dress up at a convention. What business did she have being a superhero? She could hardly wake up on time in the mornings! She’d accidentally stolen about five of her classmates’ phones! She once got lost on top of the Eiffel Tower- granted that had been when she was 4 years old- but STILL.

She wasn’t made of the right stuff. Of that she was sure.

Wiping her eyes furiously, she slunk downstairs with a heavy heart. Everything felt wrong. Guilt weighted her footsteps the further away she got from the box containing the miraculous earrings, and the kwami now locked inside them.

Tikki had stayed up most of the night, talking Marinette through everything she thought she needed to know, helping her understand the weight of her responsibilities and the reasons why she was chosen. By the time the sun dawned over the horizon, Marinette’s confidence had risen along with it.

Until she’d heard the news- the news of her utter failure. Now hundreds of akuma were spreading around the city. A plague of bad magic, turning people into statue-like versions of Ivan’s akuma form. People were afraid, people were confused. They were looking to her and Chat Noir for answers. Why? She was the one who screwed up by not cleansing the akuma! And she didn’t even have a superhero name yet.

Her new-born confidence had plummeted right through the floor, burning to a crisp in the deepest pits of hell where it belonged.

She approached the kitchen counter, grabbing some snacks to soothe her troubled soul. Her mother, who was reading a book at the table, frowned at her.

“Twelve macarons, pumpkin?” she asked, worry lacing her tone. “What’s going on? Are you upset over what’s happening in the city?”

“Mmm,” Marinette nodded, pulling the snacks closer.

Sabine’s frown deepened. “Are you ok honey, you don’t look very well. In fact, you look pale.”

Sometimes it takes someone pointing it out, to make you realise just how sick you feel. Such as it was with Marinette. As soon as her mother said she didn’t look well, a wave a nausea hit her and she grew faint. Suddenly, she didn’t just look pale, she felt pale. “I- I don’t think I am ok,” she stammered, clutching the kitchen counter. Boy was that an understatement.

Sabine reached up and placed the back of her hand against Marinette’s forehead. “Hmm… you’re a little warm. Do you feel like going to school today? Any big tests happening you can’t miss?”

Marinette shook her head for both questions. She didn’t feel like going to school, she felt like huddling under her bed covers like the huge coward she was. Forever. It was possible to live in bed, right? Didn’t the grandparents from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory do that? Everything turned out okie-dokie for them, so why couldn’t she do it?

To her immense relief, Sabine took pity on her and Marinette was able to spend the day doing exactly that- hiding away from the world.

For about half a day.

It turned out being a coward had its downsides.

For one thing, it was super boring. Marinette managed an hour or so of mope-napping before she couldn’t handle it anymore. She had to get up and do something. A part of her regretted not going to school. At school she had Alya and Nino to distract her, as well as her classes. That being said, Alya would probably want to talk about nothing but the superheroes (based on the endless stream of texts she’d gotten yesterday).

Home was comfortable, but it was also quiet. And with the quiet came the endless array of thoughts, self-admonishments and crippling sense of failure that had her near tears numerous times.

This was intolerable. She needed to do something, anything, to distract her.

She didn’t have enough energy to commit to any fashion-related projects no matter how much she loved them, and by lunchtime she’d already exhausted social media scrolling, so some good old fashioned daytime TV would have to do.

What she found, however, wasn’t a trashy reality show or a repeat of a twelve-year-old sitcom.

Instead, as soon as she turned on the TV, she was flooded by image after image of the stone statues. She groaned, reaching for the remote. Really, all she wanted was one day, one day , to avoid it all. The statues weren’t her responsibility anymore, and she needed to find someone better for the job.

Alya would be an amazing superhero. Marinette could totally see that. Luckily, Alya had been sneakily texting her throughout the day, and was planning to come by after school to check up on her and give her any homework she’d missed. Whilst she was over, Marinette could slip the miraculous box into Alya’s bag. Alya would be the hero Marinette knew she could be, and she herself would go back to being an ordinary teenager just trying to get by. That would be the end of her superhero journey.

So why did the decision make her feel so hollow?

“We’re live now, at the Arc de Triomphe, where some of the dozens of rock statues which appeared yesterday, have suddenly begun to move.”

The news reporter gestured, and Marinette’s ears were flooded with the sounds of screams, of metal crunching and roars similar to Ivan’s when he was akumatised.

She dropped the remote, horror-stricken.

People all around the Arc were fleeing for their lives as several of the stone giants began to wreck the immediate area, picking up cars and throwing them as if they were toys, stomping so hard they left large potholes, looking terrifying in their enormity. The news reporter was saying something to an anchor, who was safe in the studio, but Marinette didn’t hear a word.

It was chaos. Total, complete chaos. The worst thing, though, was knowing it was all her fault.

Finally, after a whole day of holding it in, Marinette tucked her knees into her chest, and sobbed. She wanted to change the channel, turn it off and pretend it wasn’t real, that it was just a TV program, but she knew she’d already ran away from her problems.

“So far there has been no sign of the red-clad superheroine from yesterday, but luckily our correspondent Jacques was able to run into the so-called Chat Noir as he appeared earlier at a different scene, to help officers caught in the midst of a rock monster’s attack. Let’s watch”

Marinette watched as the clip began to play. She recognised her classmate Sabrina’s father at the front of a crowd of civilians. He and the other police officers were firing guns at a rock monster, but the bullets had no effect.

The rock monster threw a street sign in his direction and he was struck in the side, falling to the floor.

She sat on the edge of the sofa, holding her breath and praying Sabrina’s father was all right. It was perhaps the longest three seconds of her life.

That’s when Chat Noir appeared, and Marinette’s gut twisted in guilt. It was wrong, she thought. She didn’t like him. She didn’t want anything to do with him, or being a superhero…

But he was there and she wasn’t. To her, that spoke volumes.

Her nails bit into her palms. She should’ve been there.

No! She argued with herself. No, I shouldn’t have been there. I wouldn’t have been able to work well with a guy who thinks I’m just a dumb kid. I would’ve made another mistake. It wouldn’t have ended well…

Chat was stalling for time, fighting the rock monster, which gave the police enough time to evacuate all the civilians from the area. Marinette had to admit, no matter how rude he was, he was good at this. It seemed like he’d learned from yesterday’s mistakes.

“Chat Noir!” The correspondent waved him over after the rock monster fell on its back, unable to get back up again. Interesting…Marinette thought. A weakness that could be exploited. “What do you know of these unexpected monsters and where is your partner from yesterday?”

Chat look dishevelled to say the least. His green eyes were wild from battle and his broad chest rose and fell heavily as he regained his breath. Marinette’s heart beat quicker. She wondered what he would say to the correspondent.

But he didn’t speak to the correspondent. Instead, Chat took the microphone from the reporter and turned to the camera. He spoke directly to it.

To her.

    

“Miss, I don’t know where you are right now, if you’re caught in the mess unable to transform, if you’re hurt, if you’re fighting someone else or if you decided you didn’t want to do this anymore. Wherever you are, if you can hear me, please don’t give up your miraculous because of me. I’m sorry that I upset you. I’m sorry I said such stupid things about your age. I’m an idiot. I don’t know…I don’t know what I’m saying even now. But this city needs you, way more than it needs me. And maybe this is selfish but I need you too. You were amazing yesterday…I can’t do this without you. I’m sorry.”

He spoke desperately, truthfully. And long after Chat handed back the mic from the reporters and ran off, even as the news flicked back to real-time events, Marinette sat there. Frozen. Rocked to her core.

I’m sorry that I upset you.

This city needs you, way more than it needs me.

I can’t do this without you.

Before she knew it, she was running upstairs, back to her room.

The box was just where she left it. Pulling it into her bag and running back into the living room, Marinette felt both a sense of adrenaline and confusion. She had no idea was she was going to do, but she knew she had to do something .

A loud boom split the air in two. People began screaming. The ground trembled.

Marinette’s stomach dropped to the floor when she heard a loud, deep, inhuman voice. A voice shouting. “KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!”

The wheels in her brain turned as she tried to figure out what was happening. Ivan was akumatised again. That’s why the other rock monsters were sentient now too.

Oh god.

Ivan was akumatised.

And he was right outside their bakery.

Marinette hurried down the stairs, out of her apartment and into her parents’ bakery, blood pounding in her ears. Please be ok, please be ok, please be ok.

The bakery was empty. The windows were cracked, pastries were scattered on the floor where people had dropped them. But there was nobody in sight. Where were her parents?

Without thinking, she ran outside.

There they were. Her parents. Both outside, both in the danger zone as they tried to free a person trapped behind a car. That person, Marinette realised with downright horror, was Alya. Alya, who’d come to check up on her.

She was about to call out to them, when things got much, much worse.

A loud thud shook the ground beneath her feet and Marinette stumbled, tripping forwards on to her knees. She scrambled back to standing but wasn’t quick enough.

A hand was reaching for her, a big, rock-like hand. Ivan.

“LOOK OUT!”

A body collided with hers, sending her sprawling to floor. She hit the pavement awkwardly and her bag went flying off her shoulder.

The bag with her miraculous in it.

The bag with Tikki in it.

Pain shot through Marinette’s side as the air was knocked clean out of her. She watched, helpless, as her bag skidded out of reach, under piles of broken cars and debris that the rock monsters had thrown in their anger.

She sat up with a groan. A trickle of blood fell down her forehead and she winced. Wondering who saved her from Ivan’s wrath, she searched for her mystery rescuer.

It was Chat.

Chat Noir had saved her, had pushed her out of harm's way. Now he was captured, taken by Ivan in her stead to be carried off. Most likely to Hawkmoth.

And all Marinette could do was watch.

Helpless.

    

Chapter Text

    

Helpless.

A whole five seconds of feeling that way was all it took. A few seconds of seeing Alya struggling, her parent’s desperation to help her, to Chat Noir crying out as he tried to escape Ivan’s grasp, and Marinette had made her decision.

The weight of her choice propelled her whole body forward as she dived underneath the debris, to the miraculous. To her miraculous.

She couldn’t stand by and let innocent people suffer. Despite any bad blood between them, she couldn’t let Chat Noir face this alone. Finally, she understood all that she could do. Finally, she knew who she was meant to become. What she was meant to be.

I can’t do this without you.

His words rang in her ears as she stretched her arm out, grunting in pain as she propelled herself just a bit further, just a little bit more. She was too weak in this state, the cut under her fringe reminded her of that. She needed Tikki.

Never in her life had she wished she was a 2d character more than this moment, able to bend at will. She inched further under the debris, praying it wouldn’t collapse on top of her. Every centimeter she moved made the metal and plastic above her groan and crunch. Still her bag was out of reach.

“Come on,” she grunted, partly to psyche herself up but mostly as a plea to some higher miraculous-giving power. Her fingers scraped against the cobblestones, almost there but not quite.

The debris above her shifted again and Marinette froze, holding her breath. If it collapsed, she’d be trapped. Or worse.

When nothing more happened, she closed her eyes, scrunched up her face, and decided to risk it all.

She threw herself to the side, her fingers finally touching the cloth of her purse. With a quick turn of her ankles, she awkwardly pushed herself towards the gap she’d crawled through before.

Just in time for the debris to start collapsing as she feared.

With a yelp, she pushed off of the ground with all her might. She had to make it. She had to.

The debris came down.

But she’d made it through! She’d got out! Sure, she was far more worse for wear than before, and had gained more scratches, particularly on her legs, but she’d done it! She’d gotten her bag back!

Pulling herself to her knees, Marinette wrenched open her purse. There was no time to recover from almost being crushed to death, no time to assess any potential injuries. Her loved ones needed her. The city needed her. Chat needed her.

And she needed Tikki.

Like the first time she opened the box, Tikki appeared in a beautiful burst of pink light. This time, however, Marinette was prepared. This time, she was ready.

“I knew you’d change your mind!” Tikki beamed at her. Although Marinette didn’t smile back, she did feel warmth spread through her- a kind of instinct telling her that as long as she had Tikki’s encouragement, there was nothing she couldn’t achieve. She placed the box down on the ground and removed the earrings.

    

“I can’t stand here while innocent people suffer. Not when I can do something!” she replied, putting the earrings back on.

“And that’s why you’ll be an amazing hero, Marinette!” Tikki replied.

Marinette clenched her fists, not wanting to linger a second longer. “Well, we’ll have to see about that. But for now, Tikki TRANSFORM ME!”

Power rushed through her, coursed through her veins. The first time she’d transformed had made her feel weird, like a plate of jelly sliding around a plate, desperate to stay put. Now was different. Now she welcomed it, embraced the power like an old friend. It was like breathing after a minute of holding her breath, and she was almost giddy from it. Her world disappeared into nothing but light, strength and magic. She accepted it all. Heart, body, and soul, she was one with the miraculous.

She was a hero.

She was Ladybug.

Acting on instinct, she grabbed her yoyo and flicked it towards the car Alya was pinned by. Whereas before the yoyo had disobeyed her, had seemed to have a life of its own, now it acted as an extension of herself. It did her bidding as she made it slice straight through the car, releasing Alya from its metallic hold.

She ran forwards, not even stopping to hear their thank-yous. Her eyes met her parents, and a strange pang filled her heart when their wide eyes fixed on her, not recognising their own daughter. But she pushed those feelings to the side. Now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. Besides, it was better that they didn’t know.

“Get to shelter!” she yelled to them, snapping her yoyo back towards her and spinning it. “Tell everyone you meet to do the same! It’s not safe outside!”

Only when she saw her parents, and Alya, complying did she turn herself away. Using the momentum from the yoyo, she flicked it out to a streetlamp. Chat and Ivan were almost at the end of the street. She had to be smart about this.

Launching herself into the air, she swung. Her feet stretched out, aiming straight for Ivan’s stone head. “HEY!”

Ivan turned his head at the sound, just in time to see her feet slam into his face. He wobbled, groaning in anger. Though he didn’t topple, the force of her kick disorientated him enough for her to swing around a second time, hitting the other side of his head with everything she had.

He began to fall, and Ladybug flipped forwards, landing on his back. Leaping over Ivan’s shoulder she reached out and grabbed Chat, propelling them both out of the way of Ivan’s body.

They landed close together, skidding to the ground in a way that would’ve surely broken all their bones had they not had their miraculous. Ladybug shook her head. Apparently the miraculous protected you from most injuries, but disorientation was still a factor. Her stomach swooped, but she recovered after a few breaths. Glancing up, she saw Chat sitting up with a groan.

Their eyes met. Ladybug froze, unable to speak after everything that had happened. Words had gotten them into this messy start. She didn’t know what to say to make it better.

Chat surprised her by speaking first. When he opened his mouth, she expected… actually she didn’t know what she expected. Another apology? An acknowledgement that she was there? Berating her for taking too long to show up?

Whatever she thought though, she was definitely not expecting him to ask, “Are you ok?”

Ladybug blinked, unsure of what to think. “I’m- I’m fine?” Sweet, she thought. He’s sweet .

Shoving that thought far away, she launched herself to her feet, offering her hand to Chat. He took it, smiling shyly as she pulled him to a standing. “I’m glad you’re here.”

    

Heat crept up her face. Why was he being so nice to her all of a sudden? Maybe he really was remorseful. “Well,” she stammered, turning her face away. “Couldn’t let you have all of the fun Kitty-Cat.”

“Kitty-Cat?”

Ladybug froze again, only this time it was in sheer, raw embarrassment. Oh my god what the hell is wrong with me?!

Chat Noir chuckled nervously. “That’s cute! I like that!”

Ladybug wanted to die. Maybe her Lucky Charm would procure a black hole she could jump into a disappear forever. Ok maybe that would literally kill her though and she didn’t want that.

Whilst contemplating creating a disappear-hole instead of a black hole, she failed to notice Ivan getting back to his feet. She shook her head, annoyed with herself and her partner for getting distracted. “Ok focus time,” she said, “We’ve got to fix this mess.”

“One akuma coming right up!” Chat Noir saluted, coming to stand by her side, before leaping back into action.

Ladybug watched and, for a moment, allowed herself the briefest of smiles before she too leapt back into the fray.

It was time to stop this akuma and free Ivan for good.


 

Later that evening, the sky split in two and the heavens opened, upending a ton of rain onto the city of Paris.

Ladybug tucked herself under the beams of the Eiffel Tower, knees to chest. Her heart was pounding enough for her to feel it in her legs but she tried to ignore it. Instead she closed her eyes, reaching out to feel droplets of rain as they pattered onto her gloved hand. Beside her rested her umbrella, which she’d brought in case the rain picked up. She didn’t want to get soaked on the way home. Tikki had assured her that she wouldn’t catch a cold in her superhero state, but still it was better to be safe than sorry. At least until she got used to the whole superhero thing.

The whole day had gone by so quickly. Everything from their take down of Ivan to their confrontation with the so-called “Hawkmoth” was a blur. She’d barely been able to say anything to Chat Noir beyond calling out strategic manoeuvres.

They had a lot to talk about, which is why they’d decided to meet here. If Chat’s passionate message to her through the news report had been any indication, they’d had some misunderstandings to say the least. Misunderstandings that, if she was going to remain a superhero, they really needed to clear up. If they were going to make the best out of their partnership, communication was the key. Even if they couldn’t share everything, like their identities, they had to make sure they were as honest as possible. Honest and clear.

Not that she was letting him off the hook for his earlier rudeness, he still owed her an explanation for that at least. But she needed to apologise too. She could’ve handled things better.

Ladybug brought her hand back in to the safety of the Eiffel Tower. It felt weird, to be up so high with no fear of falling.

“Hi!”

The happy chirp from behind her gave Ladybug a start and she jerked, almost slipping off her perch but grabbing a hold of the edge just in time. Peering over her shoulder she saw Chat Noir, arms behind his back, sheepish. “Sorry I startled you.”

He came to sit beside her, and Ladybug said nothing again. Looking down at the view below them, she noticed that the city faded into mist and rain and clouds, reminding her of those hazy oil paintings her mother went through a phase of collecting a few years back. Some street lights had already flickered on in preparation for dusk. It made her acutely aware that she and Chat were the only ones around for miles. The powers that be had closed the Tower to visitors after the earlier akuma attack.

They were well and truly alone.

The problem was, now that they were alone, neither of them seemed to have a clue where to begin.

Ladybug bit her lip, inhaled through her nose, and decided to fortify. If she couldn’t talk to Chat Noir now, chances were low that she’d ever be able to talk to him properly.

“I’m-” she began to apologise.

“I just wanted-” he said at the same time as her. Evidently, they’d both decided to put their best foot forward simultaneously and ended up smacking headfirst into each other.

Well, she thought remembering the start of their first meeting, at least this time they were smacking into each other metaphorically instead of physically.

“Oh, you first,” Chat yielded, putting his hands up and gesturing her to continue. Ladybug shook her head.

“No, please. I want to hear what you have to say,” she said, hoping her tone was more gentle than accusatory.

Chat’s eyes went wide with shock, his mouth parted into a little “o” shape. It was as though he’d not been told that very often. A pink tinge dusted the tips of his ears (his real ears, his cat ears were a little droopy and Ladybug was finding it hard not to think of it as adorable). He shuffled awkwardly in his seat, staring at his lap.

“I just wanted to say that you were really awesome out there today, what with the way you confronted Hawkmoth and told all of Paris that we’d protect them,” he uttered, so quiet Ladybug almost couldn’t hear him over the rain. He glanced back up at her, smiling the tiniest, shyest smile she’d seen from him so far. It struck a chord in her heart. A chord that had never been played before. She gripped her chest and stared, transfixed. “And Ladybug is a cool superhero name by the way! Excellent choice!”

This made Ladybug frown, confused. “Are you... patronising me again?” she replied, warily tilting head.

The smile was wiped from his face in an instant. He sat up, ram-rod straight, and began waving his arms like they were made of spaghetti. Ladybug didn’t know whether to laugh or be concerned. “No, no, no! I’m not! I swear! And I wasn’t patronising you before either. I mean- I know it sounded like I was. But I really didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that I thought you were some kind of prodigy, to have been chosen to wield a miraculous as a teenager. Well, I’m only twenty so it’s not like I can talk much about being an adult. I’m still treated like a kid. Probably more than you are. Anyway”- he finally took a breath here, pausing to run his hand backwards over his hair and cat ears, then down his face- “the point is I wasn’t trying to offend you. But I did. And I’m really, truly sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m not good with stuff like this.”

Ladybug sat back, her mind reeling. His outburst was a lot to process. “Not good with what?”

Chat pouted, putting a hand at the back of his neck. “People. Talking. Socialising in general. I’m not really good at it. It sounds dumb I know, but I never went to school… or really had any friends. Except one but we don’t talk much these days. So, all of this is sort of new to me.”

He shrugged, offering another smile that was significantly more vulnerable than the one he’d worn before. For the first time, Ladybug wondered what he’d look like without a mask.

    

Tentatively, she reached out with both hands and placed them into his own. Ladybug gasped at the contact, even though she initiated it. Her fingers tingled and she didn’t have a clue as to why. Chat stared at the contact, his expression unreadable. He only looked up when she began to speak. “I need to apologise too. I overreacted because I was already doubting myself and my abilities, so I think what you said touched a nerve. But it wasn’t fair of me to be so snappy and judgemental. It was immature. I’m sixteen and I was acting like I’m six for crying out loud. I’m sorry.”

Chat nodded at her, and Ladybug’s shoulders relaxed at his acceptance of her apology. They continued to hold hands, and she found herself not wanting to stop.

“Well I think it’s safe to say that we got off on the wrong paw,” Chat winked.

Ladybug snorted, trying not to laugh. “Oh, so you’re a joker now?”

Growing bolder at her reaction, he leaned closer to her, unaware of what the closeness was doing to her heart. Seriously though, why was her whole body going haywire? Sure, he was good looking but she wasn’t that shallow. In fact, good looking or not, she’d been prepared to hate his guts before. They were still holding hands.

Oblivious to her inner turmoil, he amended his earlier pun, “The wrong claw?”

Ladybug giggled at that, letting go of his hand to push his face away, her own growing hot. “Stop. Oh my god.”

“The wrong toe beans!” he cried, tapping his palm with his fist.

Ladybug couldn’t hold back her laughter anymore. She wrapped her arms around her middle, hoping it would calm the butterflies. How had she been so wrong about him? He wasn’t a jerk, he was a hopeless dork!

But she kind of liked that.

“Ladybugs don’t have toe beans!” she gasped for air once her giggle fit subsided. The proud beam of Chat’s face (was he seriously that happy to have made her laugh? Maybe he really wasn’t used to having friends) only made him more endearing to her. “But I’d say our start was pretty rocky for sure.”

    

“Ooooh good one Little Lady!” he praised, sparkles in his catlike eyes, then added, “Do you mind if I call you that? You can keep calling me Kitty-Cat!”

Ladybug sat back, resting her weight on her hands. She mulled it over. “Little Lady?”

“Yeah, because Ladybugs are small and cute and so are you!” he explained, with such an air of innocence that Ladybug couldn’t be offended even if she tried.

She felt herself grow as red as her suit, tugging at her pigtails and hiding behind them. “Jeez Kitty-Cat, you really are socially inept huh?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“N-nothing,” she said, wanting to change the subject. “As long as you don’t mean it in a horrible way, I think Little Lady is a nice nickname.”

They stayed that way for a while, in comfortable silence. Well, Ladybug thought, it was probably comfortable for Chat. Her insides kept going crazy whenever she looked at him. Get it together already, she chided herself, what’s the matter with you?

“Oh! I almost forgot!” Chat reached to the side, procuring a small white box. “I bought this for you. Not that I’m trying to buy your friendship of anything. I just saw it on my way back home earlier and thought it made a really nice peace offering. Plus! It’s symbolic. You’ll see when you open it.”

He pressed the box towards her eagerly and Ladybug took it. Their fingers brushed again as she met his eyes. They were warm, soft. They screamed at her to trust him and honestly? She wanted to. She may have known him only for a short time, and liked him for even less time than that, but she wanted to trust her partner.

Thunder rumbled overhead. It cracked through the haze of her confusion and suddenly Ladybug realised exactly what the stirring feelings inside her meant. Oh .

Oh.

Oh no.

“Open it, I promise it’s not an akuma,” Chat joked.

“HA!” Ladybug barked out a laugh that had them both jumping in shock. If she hadn’t been blushing before, she certainly was now. “Ha,” she said again, only much quieter this time. “Akuma! Funny! Yeah!”

She opened the box, wanting to do something beyond look at him. Looking at him was rendering her into an incoherent, babbling mess.

Once the lid was off, however, and she saw what was inside, all she could do was gasp.

Inside lay a rose. A beautiful, bright yellow rose in full bloom. The box had a thin layer of protective glass over it that appeared as though it could be removed.

It looked like something out of a fairy tale. Ladybug could only gawk at it.

    

“Do you like it?” Chat asked. “It’s called a forever rose. It’s a real rose, but they do something to it when it’s in full bloom to make it so that it looks like that forever. It’s kind of like the gremlins though. You can’t give it water else it will spring back to life and then die. I chose this one because the florist told me that yellow means friendship. And I wanted you to know that I’ll always have your back, LB.”

Well, if the look he’d given her hadn’t sealed her doom, the forever rose and his meaning behind it certainly did.

Swallowing her shock for the time being, she put all of her efforts into looking gracious, “I love y-IT! IT! I love it! Thank you! I promise I’ll always keep it safe.” She held up a fist, ready to bump it against his like they’d done earlier, seemingly on instinct. “He- here’s to a great future working together!”

It was as his own fist nudged against hers, and he gave her the warm ‘trust me’ look again that she realised.

She not only liked Chat Noir.

She liked him.

And she was totally and utterly screwed.


 

“So, you guys stayed there, all that time in the rain?”

Chat Noir blinked down at her. For a while, his eyes had been distant as he’d recalled the past. It was so strange to hear about it through his ears. What sounded like the start of a wonderful friendship, filled with hope and promise for him, had been the start of a completely different and far more panic-inducing set of feelings for her.

Hearing the story of how they met from his perspective was strange. She’d never noticed back then how nervous he was. He’d seemed so sure of himself, if shy and dorky. From the way he told it though, he’d been terrified that she’d jab the rose in his eye and kick his tail to the curb. Literally.

Marinette cringed at the temper she used to have. Granted she still had a temper, but back then with all the hormones? She’d been a bomb ready to go off the second she witnessed someone being cruel. Being Ladybug especially, had tempered that side of her.

She had so many questions, questions that she had to bite back because they were definitely questions only Ladybug would be able to ask. It killed her a little bit.

“A little bit longer, but then we had to head home,” Chat replied, running his hand up and down her back in lazy circles. His cat ears perked up in time with his lips as he recalled something. “She gave me her umbrella, saying it was her way of apologising. I think she also said something like ‘cats hate the rain more than bugs’ but it came out all garbled which was cute.”

Marinette buried her face in the crook of his neck. The gesture would appear innocent to Chat, as they were cuddling on the bed, but it was really to hide how red her face was. Of course, she knew why the words had come out garbled. It’s because she’d just realised that she had a huge crush on him and she’d been freaking the hell out!

Now she knew one-hundred percent, that he was oblivious. For the longest time she’d been terrified he knew about her feelings and had wilfully ignored them for the sake of their partnership. She was glad that wasn’t the case.

“I still have that umbrella you know,” he mused aloud. “I should probably give that back some day, but I guess I kept it for sentimental reasons. It was the first gift I ever got from a friend besides Chl- besides my only friend at the time. So, it’s kind of sentimental. I wonder if she still has the rose?”

Marinette’s fingers tightened into a fist. Her mouth felt dry. Never in her life had she wanted to just open up and tell him. Tell him that yes, she still had the rose, that she kept it hidden away and looked at it whenever she was sad. That she’d looked at it all the time back when she was recovering after getting shot, and she wasn’t allowed to be Ladybug until she recovered. That she’d memorised every swirling petal, every shade of yellow, every thorn and reminded herself that forever, forever, forever , he’d said their friendship was forever . He wouldn’t abandon her because she’d been stupid and let herself get shot right as they finally put an end to the evil spreading through Paris. It had been the only thing holding her together in those long months of recovery. That and stopping the evil for good of course.

But the weight of it all was too huge. It forced her tongue to the bottom of her mouth and kept it there. She remained silent, only managing a hum that might’ve sounded contemplative.

“Oh!” Chat sat upright suddenly, bringing Marinette with him. “I’ve gotta run! The anniversary celebrations are going to start soon.”

“Y- yeah, of course,” Marinette replied, as the pair of them climbed out onto the balcony. The sky was glowing gold as dusk drew near. “Wow, you really did talk for hours huh?”

“What can I say? I’m a storyteller!” Chat shrugged, offering a cheeky wink in her direction.

Marinette giggled half-heartedly.

“You’ll be there, tonight won’t you? At the celebrations?” Chat asked, shuffling awkwardly. He reached out, touching the tips of her fingers with his own. “I know I probably won’t be able to see you in the crowd but, it would mean the world to me if you are there.”

And with that, part of Marinette’s spirit seemed to curl away like dust. Shame crawled up her throat like bile, thick and burning.

“Of- of course I’ll be there,” she said, throwing herself against his chest and wrapping him into a tight embrace. Easier to pretend she was just being a loving, caring girlfriend than the lying coward she was.

Why was she so afraid?

Why couldn’t she just tell him?

Before she could even begin to entertain the idea though, Chat pulled back. Lifting up her chin to face him, he leaned close and pressed a soft, caring kiss to her lips.

She knew, deep down, that he’d accept her. That if she told him she was Ladybug he wouldn’t reject her for that.

What was keeping her from ending the kiss, was the lying. For six months, she’d been lying to him, kissing him, touching him, being intimate with him.

Still, she thought as she watched him disappear beyond the rooftops, it wasn’t right.

She was going to have to do it.

She was going to have to confess.

Right there, in that moment, with Chat’s love bracelet on her wrist and the vision of the forever rose she kept locked away in her mind, she made her decision.

The next time he came to her balcony, she’d tell him the truth.

This had gone on long enough.

For now, though, she was going to let the weight of that decision settle inside her heart, and enjoy an evening celebrating the end of Hawkmoth’s reign of terror over the city.

Later that evening, Ladybug swung over the Trocadero to thunderous applause, standing at the top of the staircase with the current Mayor and her partner. This was the part of the job that she loved the most, seeing all the happy citizens that were safe because her and Chat had stopped Hawkmoth. It reminded her why she did this; reminded her that, beyond the crowds of adoring fans and the relationship drama, she had a purpose. She was a superhero, a force for good, and she made a difference. That, to her, meant everything.

After the speeches were done, the street party began in earnest. Chat offered a hand to her, as he always did, and the pair of them danced the night away. But this time, he kept looking over her shoulder, out at the crowd, and her heart panged when she realised why.

“Something on your mind, Kitty-Cat?” she asked, keeping her voice as low as possible as she twirled under his arm.

This startled Chat and he shook his head as though someone had poured water all over it. “Oh, n-no, nothing. Was just wondering if I could spot someone I knew, that’s all.”

That wasn’t all and Ladybug knew it. But she’d stay silent for now. “We still have to swap gifts you know,” she reminded him.

“After this dance?” he asked, “I’m really fe-line it!”

Ladybug rolled her eyes fondly. “Sure, sure,” she replied, leaning close. The song was slower in nature, and couples around the Trocadero were swaying gently to the romantic melody.

She didn’t want to think about the way he was holding her now, and how different it was to the way he held her as Marinette, yet it was all she could think of. “Happy anniversary Chat Noir,” she whispered, as both halves of herself. As Ladybug, celebrating the anniversary of their triumph and as Marinette, thinking about the sixth month anniversary since they first got together. Since the first lie.

“Happy anniversary Ladybug,” he smiled back, his eyes sparkling in the warm hue of the streetlights, catching the glistening light display of the tower where their friendship had begun.

She wasn’t going to lie any longer.

    

Chapter Text

 

The forever rose sat on Marinette’s trembling lap. It stared at her, judging her nerves. She couldn’t blame it.

Taking a deep breath, she pried her eyes away from her gift and focused on her comprehensive set of notes on how this day was going to go.

Step One: Buy Chat Noir a Valentine’s day gift. Check. She’d done that. Once upon a meeting, Chat Noir had gotten her a yellow forever rose to symbolise that they’d forever be friends and partners. Now she’d gotten him a red forever rose. She hoped he get the meaning but that led on to her second step.

Step Two: Figure out what to say to Chat once she saw him later. If the piles of paper littered around her room were anything to go by, she’d at least attempted it. She had… something. Anyway, Marinette figured she’d ruin what she meant to say anyway. Tikki had told her to speak from her heart. But it wasn’t her heart she was worried about, it was her stupid tongue and the way it got tongue-tied whenever she attempted to talk to Chat about her feelings.

But this was it. She had a feeling. They’d been partners for two years already. She was in her final year of school before going off to university. She was eighteen, grown up now, not some silly sixteen-year-old with a crush on her slightly older partner. They were, and had always been, equals anyway.

Two years of pining after Chat Noir was long enough. If she had to hide it any longer, she felt like she’d explode.

Step Three? Well that was up to Chat, and truth be told it made Marinette want to throw up whenever she thought about it.

The time on her desktop read 7:00am. Marinette yawned and rubbed at her eyes. It had been impossible to sleep the night before and she was thankful that she was confessing with a mask on her face. It would cover the bags under her eyes.

School was even more torturous than usual. When she arrived, she’d been assaulted by a flurry of red confetti. Love hearts were plastered everywhere. Trying not to roll her eyes, Marinette stomped her way to her first class of the day and collapsed in a seat next to Alya. Leaning forwards, she flopped face-first onto the desk and let out an almighty groan.

Alya laughed. “Now that’s a mood if I ever saw one,” she said, batting some confetti out of Marinette’s hair, which she’d put in a high ponytail in anticipation of the confetti. The ponytail had betrayed her. Not a good omen for how the rest of her day would go. If her simple hair-style plan had gone awry, how would confessing to the LOVE OF HER LIFE go down?!

It was a long day.

The final bell was a brief balm on the burning anxiety which riddled every inch of her insides. As predicted she hadn’t been able to focus on anything her teachers had been saying, in any lesson. Even the ones she really liked. Every time she tried, the teachers’ words got garbled somewhere between Marinette’s ears and her brain, so it sounded like they were mocking her. “Look at you! You think you can confess? You?!”

Ugh.

Suffice to say, her nerves were shot. But at least she had Alya as a companion to her misery. As the pair of them slung their heavy bags over their shoulders, Marinette caught Alya throwing one last longing look in the direction of the object of her affection. Her heart went out to her friend. “Don’t you think it’s time to end that stupid agreement you two have?” She asked gently as Nino gave them an awkward wave before hurrying out the door. Usually he stuck around and hung out with them after school. Today was different, and Marinette couldn’t blame him for running off. Even from the back of the classroom, she’d spotted the pining, the overwhelming sadness, in Nino’s eyes.


    

She’d never understand the position her two best friends had put themselves in. They were both so obviously in love with each other, both of them knew it too.

“Studies come first girl, you know that. Nino and I both decided that a long time ago. Feelings get in the way,” Alya replied through gritted teeth, her fingers digging into the strap of her bag.

Marinette wanted to argue that feelings wouldn’t get in the way, that those two were crazy to willingly keep themselves from each other. They loved each other far too much for that love to do anything but lift them up, rather than drag them down and distract them like they were both worried it would. She sighed, wishing that she was as lucky as Alya. If she knew that Chat loved her back…

She shook her head, trying to rid those thought from her mind. It was an argument she’d had with Alya and Nino far too many times and today wasn’t the day for it.

Wrapping her arm around Alya’s shoulder, the pair of them strolled out of the classroom. They were halfway down the hallway, Marinette in the middle of tempting Alya with thoughts of a huge but definitely-not-heart-shaped cookie when they were roughly shoved apart. Being the clumsy girl that she was, this caused Marinette to stumble to the ground.

“HEY! WATCH IT!” Alya yelled at Kim’s retreating back, scowling. Kim didn’t turn around. “God, what’s got his goat?” she grumbled, helping Marinette to her feet…

Only for Marinette to tumble to the ground again when someone slammed full-bodied into her. “OW!”

Alya swore loudly. “First Kim, now you too Max? What the hell is going on?” she grabbed both Marinette and Max’s hands and yanked them both to their feet. Marinette rubbed her shoulder with a frown. Great. That was definitely leaving a bruise. At least later it’d be covered up by her super-suit.

She recovered quickly, however, when she saw how distraught Max looked. His eyes were wide, pupils shrunk in panic, his chest was rising and falling heavily. His glasses were askew. He’d never look so unkempt. “Kim? You saw Kim? Where did he go? Did you see?”

“Hey, hey,” Marinette soothed, placing a comforting hand on Max’s shoulder. “Is everything okay?”

Max’s chin wobbled. He looked like he was about to cry. “No. No everything isn’t ok. I think- I think Kim was going to- to ask me to be his Valentine. But he saw me and Toby from the other class- and he thinks- oh my god.”

    

It was then that Marinette noticed a Valentine’s card in Max’s hand, only it had been ripped in half. She spotted Kim’s untidy scrawl poking out from Max’s ring finger. She assumed Kim had the other half, or had thrown it away, and that Max was right. The card was for Max, from Kim, and he’d intended to confess.

Alya and Marinette shared a look, both of them unsure how to handle this. They’d never seen Max so frantic. Usually he was so put together. Sure he could be a bit tetchy or nervous at times, but never like this. As it stood, he was giving Marinette a run for her money, and that was really saying something.

“So…” Alya tried. “Are you and Toby-”

Max didn’t let her finish. Burying his head in his hands he cried, “No! No, we’re not! Not ever! He confessed to me and then kissed me without even asking if it was ok! But Kim saw and ran off before I could explain and now I’ve really messed things up.”

“Of course you haven’t,” Marinette said, squeezing Max’s shoulder a little tighter.

“Marinette’s right, Max,” Alya nodded. “You two have been crazy over each other for ages now. You know what Kim is like. Just let him cool down and then talk to him. Tell him what happened. He’ll get it. Just make sure he doesn’t see Toby for a while.”

Max still looked like he wanted to cry.

“Hey, why don’t you come back to my house with us? There’s a big cookie with your name on it just waiting for you!” Marinette smiled. Max looked up at her, before staring down at his feet. He nodded.

Yikes, Marinette thought as the three of them made their way to the bakery. So much drama today. She hoped that maybe the amount of drama happening in the first part of the day, meant that the last part of the day (and her confession) would be relatively drama free.

Hah. A girl could dream.


 

Chat Noir frowned, scanning the city block with narrowed eyes.

Without fail, the past two years had seen Valentine’s-related akuma show up. This day really did bring out the worst in people and Hawkmoth, whoever he was, loved taking advantage of that.

Seriously, that guy needed to get laid or something. If anything, it would get him to stop picking on people.

It was late afternoon, and he had a report due tomorrow. Evil professor scheduling an essay due date they day after Valentine’s- Chat would be annoyed if he had anyone special to share the day with. Sure, he was going to meet up with Ladybug later anyway. Even so, now he was here, hunting another akuma instead of studying. This one was some lovelorn guy with an evil cupid theme, shooting black arrows into the citizens of Paris and turning everyone- as Plagg delicately put it- “into assholes.”

He couldn’t do much until Ladybug got here, and he’d narrowly missed those black arrows a few times. But he could distract the akuma victim from inflicting damage on anyone else.

“Hey! Guess what else I love!” Chat cried, popping out from behind a car when he spotted the Dark Cupid. “I love croissants! They’re the best! They fill my heart with such warmth and joy!” he smirked, elongating his words as he swooned over croissants like a lovesick fool. It seemed to annoy Dark Cupid whenever he talked about what he loved.

An angry growl from the possessed younger man meant he was successful in his distraction and he leapt away from the car, deftly dodging a string of black arrows. He threw his head back and laughed, which only enraged Dark Cupid further.

Dark Cupid gave chase, but Chat was too quick even with the absence of the wings which Dark Cupid had strapped to his back, that should have given the villain the upper hand. Ha-ha.

He ran around the corner, losing sight of Dark Cupid enough to hide. Hopefully, Chat thought, he’d be able to ambush Dark Cupid when the latter came looking for him, and wrestle the akuma away. Then it would be a waiting game until Ladybug showed up to cleanse it. He was pretty sure the akuma was whatever torn up piece of paper was held in Dark Cupid’s hand.

“There you are!”

Chat turned around, and his face burst into a smile to see Ladybug standing before him. Great! Now his plan would be even easier! “Glad to see you Little Lady, so about the a-”

    

She pressed a finger to Chat’s lips, and his eyes widened. For some strange reason, his heart skipped a few beats, but he shook it off when he noticed her finger was trembling. She looked so nervous. Was she ok? Was she ill?

“Ok, before you say anything please let me talk okay?” Ladybug said. Tucked under her arm was a small, white box. He wondered if it had any of the cookies she sometimes brought him in it. But no that didn’t seem right. She wouldn’t be like this over cookies. What was going on?

He nodded and Ladybug let out a sigh of relief. She released his lips from her finger’s hold and Chat felt weird. He kind of missed the feeling of it being there. But had no idea why.

“Good. Ok. That’s- that’s good,” Ladybug coughed, clearing her throat. She brought the box forward, holding it in both hands as she stared at it. Chat stared too. “So, umm… we’ve been together a long time now. I mean! Not together- together. You know, like, together. Partners! We’ve been partners for a long time and I wanted to give this to you and tell you”- she began lifting the lid of the box, Chat felt his whole body tense in anticipation- “that I- I- CHAT LOOK OUT!”

Ladybug’s expression turned from one of sincerity and nervousness, to one of horror. The next thing Chat knew, he was flung off his feet as Ladybug crashed into him, sending him skidding to the floor. Ladybug landed on top of him.

Just in time to see it disappear, Chat caught sight of a single, black, heart-shaped arrow land on Ladybug’s shoulder.

His heart dropped.

Dark Cupid laughed and flew away.

“Ladybug?” he whispered, reaching up to her. His hand hovered over her shoulder, his breath caught in his throat. They’d never been so close before. She was so warm…

And she’d just taken an arrow for him. She was silent, unmoving. Chat prayed to every deity he could think of that her miraculous hadn’t been corrupted. He knew his could, it had been several times. But if her heart had turned dark…

No. It couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t have. He placed his hands on her shoulders, softly pushing them back off of him, so that he could check if she was ok. “Little Lady?”

Ladybug’s shoulders began to shake. At first, Chat was worried she was crying, that she’d been hurt by the fall. But that made no sense. They’d taken far worse hits and she was strong, stronger than him even. Only when a low, cold, cruel sound escaped her lips did Chat realise. She was laughing.

“I’m not your Little Lady.”

Chat’s eyes widened as Ladybug got up, straddling his waist as her face came into full view. Her lips were twisted into an icy grin which froze him into place. Her eyes, so often reminding him of an ocean in midsummer, now looked glacial. Her lips were as dark as the pain now wrenching Chat’s gut, as the deadly reality of their predicament sunk in.

Ladybug’s miraculous was corrupted. She was under Dark Cupid’s spell.

“Ladybug,” his voice was faint, terrified, as he tried to reason with her. He smiled, hoping it would reach something inside her. He knew she was still in there. He knew it. “Ladybug…snap out of it.”

His words fell on deaf ears, for Ladybug rolled her eyes. A pointed fingernail scratched the bottom of his chin, digging in just enough to hurt, and Chat swallowed. Despair lingered in the corners of his mind. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t happening.

    

The gloved fingernail dug into the soft part of his chin harder, forcing him to look up. Ladybug sighed. “Little Lady, Little Lady, Little Lady. Do you know how sick I am of being called that? How sick I am of you calling me that? I might be Ladybug, but it’s you that’s the annoying little insect, always getting yourself into trouble, always having to pick up your slack.” The smile dropped from her face and she glared at him so hard that Chat’s heart cracked. He tried not to listen. He tried not to let her words in. This wasn’t her. This wasn’t Ladybug. This was the curse.

Wasn’t it?

His limbs were stone-like, lifeless and unable to move an inch. All he could do was watch in horror as Ladybug lowered herself closer to him, so that they were almost nose-to-nose. Her glare deepened, and she looked at Chat like he was the most disgusting thing she’d ever seen. “Ladybug,” he whispered, still hoping, still wishing. “Please…”

“Shut up,” she snapped. “God! You’re so annoying! How I put up with being your partner for so long is beyond me. Well”- she sat up, reaching behind her for her yo-yo- “Time to fix that for good!”

Chat ducked his head out of the way just in time. The yo-yo slammed into the ground where his head had been moments before, leaving a large dent in the ground below. A second attack came and he shifted, this time fighting against his very nature as he pushed Ladybug off of him with all the force he could muster. She fell backwards, allowing him time to escape. He leapt back to his feet, grabbing his baton and bringing it in front of him. “I don’t want to fight you. We’re friends!”

    

“Blah blah blah,” Ladybug replied, swinging her yo-yo in what was surely preparation for another attack. Her black lips glinted in the late afternoon sun. He needed to leave. Fast. He need to de-transform. He needed Plagg’s help, and to not fixate on the fact that Ladybug had just tried to kill him. It’s part of the curse. You’ve done similar things to her. Don’t let it affect you, he tried to reason with himself. “Friends? You really think I could be friends with someone as arrogant and patronising as you? I was LYING all those years ago. That friendship rose you gave me? I threw it away. It meant nothing to me. You mean nothing to me.”

Chat couldn’t stand hearing anymore. He called out a cataclysm, striking a nearby wall so that it collapsed in a sea of black dust and rubble.

By the time the dust cleared, and Ladybug looked up, he was long gone.

Ladybug placed her yo-yo back onto her side. How troublesome. Now she was going to hunt him down like the rotten stray he was.

She walked towards the battered white box, which had been tossed to one side during the fray and opened the lid to reveal the red forever rose. A short laugh escaped her lips. What had she been thinking, giving a rose to Chat?

The only rose she wanted to give him was a black one. Preferably at his funeral. God, she hated him. She hated him so, so much.

In a few short, violent bursts, Ladybug tore up the forever rose, leaving the shredded petals to dance along the breeze, falling into the gutter. It was where they belonged.

Then she went hunting.


 Chat Noir barged into a shop. It looked like some kind of bakery. He didn’t have time to check however. The delightful scents of pastries wafting in the air were wasted on him. Scanning the empty room, he leapt behind the counter, his back pressed against the cool stone as he de-transformed. “Plagg!” he cried, barely giving his kwami a chance to breathe. “It’s Ladybug! She’s-”

“I know, kid, I know, jeez don’t get your underwear in a twist,” Plagg grumbled, rubbing his face. “I’ll admit it’s a tricky situation.”

“Tricky situation?!” Adrien spluttered. “She hates me, she wants to kill me! How are we going to cleanse the akuma like this?!”

“If you don’t calm down, I’m going to hide camembert in your closet and let it rot. Then we’ll both be miserable,” Plagg warned in a tone the told Adrien he better be quiet. He snapped his mouth shut. Plagg shot him a withering look before continuing, rubbing his paw against his head in thought. “It’s difficult, and annoying, when Ladybug’s miraculous gets corrupted. But it happens, and we can break the corruption before destroying the akuma. We just have to figure out a way to snap her out of her hissy fit.”

“I think it’s a bit more than a hissy fit, Plagg,” Adrien replied. “You have hissy fits, Ladybug she- she really hates me right now.”

You mean nothing to me.

I was LYING all those years ago.

I’m not your Little Lady.

Adrien’s hands curled into fists. Everything felt wrong. Ladybug hating him, looking at him with such contempt. It wasn’t right. She was the light to combat everything dark in the world. She was hope and beauty and light and lo-

“Of course she doesn’t hate you,” Plagg sighed, “it’s the curse talking. So don’t take it to heart. Do you see her taking it to heart all the times you took a metaphorical arrow for her and ended up fighting her as a result? No. So suck it up. Your partner needs you.”

They stared at each other for a while and Adrien sighed, slumping lower onto the ground. It was a weird day. He wasn’t used to Plagg being so serious. “Ok,” he frowned. “But how? It’s not like I can kiss and make it better!”

Plagg bobbing in mid-air. His eyes glinted.

Adrien’s jaw dropped. “Oh no. No, no, no. NO.”

“Umm, how about yes?” Plagg cackled. “It totally makes sense! What beats hate? Love! You have to kiss her! Like in all those gross old stories. True love’s kiss.” He was laughing fully now, and Adrien’s face felt as though it was bursting into flames. “You have to kiss Ladybug!”

“But it’s not- we’re not- we don’t love each other like that,” Adrien whined, burying his head into his knees.

“Adrien,” Plagg said, his tone so grave that Adrien actually looked up to see what had caused his sudden shift in tone. Plagg’s stare went straight through him. “No offense, but you’re the dumbest little shit I’ve ever met.”

“Screw you, Plagg!” Adrien cried, crossing his arms in a sulk. “I know I’m right, besides I’m not going to kiss her without her consent.”

“You know I’m pretty sure you didn’t consent to her straddling your waist like that,” Plagg shot back, causing Adrien to blush even harder. Great. Now he had that image in his mind.

This was crazy! He shook his head, like his brain was an etch-a-sketch. He didn’t see Ladybug in that way. She was just a friend. He was older than her anyways. She was on the cusp of starting university and he was already second year, well into his studies. She was about to dive into a brand-new life of fun and freedom and who was he to get in the way of that? She deserved better.

“And that makes it right?” Adrien argued. “No. No way. I won’t do it. I’d never be able to face her again.”

“So fine, don’t, and let her remain the way she is as the whole of Paris burns around you. That’s great hero-ing!” Plagg shrugged then sighed once more. “Look, kid, I’m not saying this is the best situation, and it’s kind of wonky in terms of morality I’ll agree. But it’s the best solution I can think of right now. It’s what my instincts tell me you should do. Just don’t make it weird, and apologise for it afterwards. I’m sure she’ll understand. It’s part of the akuma’s curse. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Adrien dragged a hand down his face. This was rapidly turning into the worst Valentine's day he’d ever had. “Can I not just settle for a friendly handshake?”

Plagg snorted. “You can try, if she doesn’t chop your hand off first.”


 

A short time later, Chat Noir ran through the now even more chaotic streets of Paris. Leaping over rooftops in search of Ladybug. He tried to make himself easy to spot.

It didn’t take long for Ladybug to find him, which was a relief. Over and over, he thought of how terrible this plan was, how wrong it felt. If he was going to kiss Ladybug, it should have been when they were both fully conscious enough to both agree to it and enjoy it.

Wait, what?

“Finally!” Ladybug groaned. “You know you don’t make anything easy. In fact, you make life so much harder for me. You always have.”

Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it, he thought. “I just want to talk.” Maybe he could still reason with her.

“Yeah I’m sure you do,” she snarled, cocking out her hip and glaring at him again. “But I’m done with that. Done with you.”

She leapt towards him, and Chat dodged her fist. So, no weapons huh? Well it made things slightly easier.

He made no moves to hurt her, he couldn’t bring himself to no matter how hard she kicked him. Every move he me made was one of defence. But Ladybug was relentless, backing him up more and more until his back was flat against a chimney. He was stuck. But still he couldn’t. He wouldn’t-

Ladybug gripped his neck tight, squeezing his throat and lifting him off the ground.

The pressure was unlike anything he’d ever felt. Ladybug lifted him higher, her hold on him tightened, and his head began to swim.

It was strange, how dying brought up things he’d denied for who knows how long.

 “Ladybug, don’t, please,” he choked. “I love-”

“SHUT. UP!” her voice wavered slightly as Chat’s vision blurred. His throat burned. But his heart lifted. He felt a crack in the curses hold. It was almost as if, even under the curse’s control, she couldn’t stand to do this to him.

He knew it. He knew she was still in there.

“Just stop talking ok? I hate you,” her limbs began to shake as Chat wheezed and gasped for air. “I hate you!”

Sensing her sudden weakness, Chat found the strength to bring one arm up, slamming it against the arm which Ladybug was using to choke him. Her hold on him broke and he felt warm, blessed air fill his lungs once again. His fingers dug into the brick wall as he supported himself, as his head cleared again.

But Ladybug wasn’t done. She grabbed his collar, slammed him back into the chimney. “I hate you!”

It was then he noticed the tears pouring down her face, and his heart leapt even as it broke at the sight of her in pain. She was so strong, she was trying to break free, which is more than he’d ever done when he’d been in her situation.

But she needed help. She couldn’t do it all on her own.

He cupped her face, brushing the tears off of her face, and smiled at her. “I know you do,” he whispered.

Then he leaned down, closed the small gap between the two of them, and kissed her.

    


 

Ladybug was aware of a few things.

The first was that she had no idea where she was.

The second, she had no idea how she got there.

The third was that Chat was screaming at her.

“I’M SO SORRY! I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY!”

“Huh?”

She looked down. Chat was by her feet, on his knees like a monk admitting he’d committed a grave sin. His arms were wrapped around her legs and his face was lowered, so she could only see a mop of blonde and two black kitty ears. To say he seemed distraught was a gross understatement.

What the hell had happened? The last thing she remembered, she’d been nervously trying to confess to Chat. Then she’d seen Kim in his akumatised form, ready to attack an unsuspecting Chat. She’d pushed him out of the way and then…nothing. She couldn’t remember anything after that.

Oh.

Oh no.

Oh god no.

“What did I do?” she gasped, the realisation that she’d been the one possessed by an akuma for a change slowly dawning on her, shaking her to her core.

“What did you do?!” Chat cried, almost sobbing. “What did I DO?!”

“I don’t know, what did you do?” Ladybug asked, not enjoying the great big chasm where her memories of the past couple of hours should be.

“I’ll tell you what I didn’t do! I didn’t do the honourable thing is what I did!”

“Wait. So, you did do the honourable thing or you didn’t?”

“I didn’t!”

“You didn’t?”

“I’m a DESPICABLE HUMAN BEING!”

“Chat you’re not making any sense-”

“Don’t even look at me I’m DESPICABLE!”

He got to his feet, and was about to turn tail and run away. Although Ladybug’s head was spinning with the sudden onslaught of borderline gibberish coming from her hysterical partner, she still had the sense to grip his wrist and stop him from leaving. Her lips tingled. Huh. Weird. She pressed them together.

Chat’s eyes flicked down to her lips and she blushed, looking away. A whine escaped his throat and his cat ears flattened against his head, but he remained where he was. “Ladybug. I did something bad, and judging from the way I usually feel after I’m possessed, you probably don’t remember it do you?”

Ladybug shook her head, suddenly worried. A million thoughts assaulted her at once, making her panic. What had he done that was so bad that it seemed as if not even her miraculous cure could fix it? “Whatever you did, I’m sure you had the right intentions.”

“I did, I swear!” he nodded, shuffling awkwardly. Why did things feel so…strange all of a sudden? “So, you got possessed and you hated me. Like super hated me, and my kwami told me that the way to reverse it was to- to-”

He mumbled the end of the sentence, so quietly that Ladybug had to lean in closer. “Chat what was that?”

“KISS!” Chat bellowed, hysterical once more. “KISS! I HAD TO KISS YOU! I KISSED YOU WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION! I DON’T DESERVE YOUR FORGIVENESS! I’M SO SORRY!”

Chat continued to ramble on about how sorry he was, but Ladybug heard none of it. Everything around her turned to white noise. Her lips tingled more than ever. She reached up, touching them. Kissed?

Chat had kissed her? She’d hated him? And he’d broken through her hate by…kissing her.

They’d kissed.

He’d kissed her.

“What the ever-loving HELL?!” she yelled. Chat winced at her reaction and she scrambled to explain herself. Oh my god, she was going to die. The guy she loved kissed her and she’d been possessed! Her dreams came true and she missed them?! What kind of shitty fate was that! Wasn’t Ladybug supposed to be lucky?! DAMN IT! “I mean! I’m not mad at you! It- it worked didn’t it? And I- I would’ve done the same.” She coughed, feeling as if she was about five seconds away from spontaneously combusting.

“Wait, you’re not mad?” Chat gawked, hardly daring to believe it.

Ladybug shook her head. “You did what you had to do, Kitty-Cat. I appreciate you doing it, even though it made you uncomfortable and was definitely a grey area. But I’m giving you my consent to it after-the-fact. I’m not mad. I promise.” That was a lie. She was livid. At her rotten luck though, not at Chat.

Still, if kissing her had caused him this much distress, in a way she was glad she missed it? Ugh, this was way too complicated. She wondered where her forever rose had gone…

Chat stared at her, tears in his eyes, as he seemed to deflate in relief. He opened his arms, looking up through his eyelashes and damn it that wasn’t fair. “Is it bad if I ask if I can I have a hug?” he asked, sounding so wounded that she couldn’t help but step into his embrace.

“Silly kitty, you never have to ask for a hug,” she whispered, closing her eyes and letting herself pretend, just once. Her heart was a mess.

But the hug was just what they both needed. They stayed that way for a while, until Chat truly understood that she wasn’t angry with him.

“We should probably go get that akuma, he has a complicated situation to fix too. I know, he’s a friend of mine,” she mumbled.

“Yeah,” Chat replied, pulling her closer, and burying his head into the crook of her neck. Alarm bells went off in Ladybug’s brain. This didn’t mean the same thing to him. It didn’t.

Still. Neither of them moved.

Ladybug pulled back a little, tilting her head up to look at him. He smiled weakly at her, and she returned the gesture. He sighed in relief. “I like that smile better,” he mumbled. “Than the one you gave me when you were under the curse and hated me I mean.”

“Oh,” Ladybug said, then, “I didn’t say anything really horrible, did I? If I did, I’m sorry, you know I didn’t mean it.”

Chat was silent for a little bit, and Ladybug couldn’t help but notice that his smile no longer met his eyes.

“No,” Chat said. “You didn’t say anything.”


 

Later that evening, when the akuma had been cleansed and Max and Kim had sorted out their emotional issues, Marinette stood on her balcony, the chilly Valentine’s air whipped through her loose hair. The high ponytail had been banished from her fashion choices. It was a bad omen.

She stared out at the city lights until they blurred into one silvery-gold blob. A blob which remained unseen by her, because she wasn’t really focused on it. She stared straight through the lights, lost in thought.

Maybe it was about time she put her feelings for Chat to one side. For good. Everything felt so…complicated. And strange. She should just be happy to have such an amazing person in her life, right? Things were fine the way they were, right? Anyway, judging by how horribly he reacted to kissing her, he hadn’t enjoyed the idea. Did she really want to be with someone who hated the idea of kissing her that much?

She wiped her eyes. Was it too much to hope that one day, Chat Noir would show up and confess his love to her and they could live happily ever after?

As if that could happen. He didn’t even know Marinette. Aside from the time he’d pushed her out of harm's way back when they’d first become superheroes, he’d never even come into contact with that side of her. So the chance of him showing up to romantically sweep her off her feet were slim to none.

No. She should just give up. It was too much, too difficult, too painful to go on any further.

Yet… she couldn’t let it go. She couldn’t forget the way her lips tingled, and brought her fingers up to touch them…

Unaware that somewhere, on the other side of the city, a blonde supermodel was staring out of his own window, thinking and doing the exact same thing.

Chapter Text

Alya came to consciousness slowly, in a fog of darkness, confusion and grogginess. Her head ached, the familiar throbbing of a hangover, but it wasn’t too bad. She hadn’t gotten that drunk the night before, had she?

The night before… the singles day party. Instead of celebrating Valentine's Day, one of the local bars was doing a singles celebration instead. On the promise of getting away from the stupid love hearts and couples doing couple-y things, she and a bunch of other friends had gone there. Max and Kim hadn’t been there like they were originally. After everything that happened, they decided to go back to Kim’s place and nobody had heard a word from them since, except to get a text from Kim in the group chat that was simply a heart emoji. Despite the missing duo, everyone had had a blast drinking the night away, singing songs, spending the little cash they made from their part-time jobs.

Nino had been there.

Alya groaned, burying herself further into the blankets, which smelled…strange. Not bad, in fact they smelled nice. Just different. Maybe it was her hangover making her more sensitive to smell?

She hoped, in her inebriated state, she hadn’t said something stupid to Nino at the bar. It had been hard enough seeing him whilst she’d been sober during school hours. Stupid no-dating pact! It had taken all she’d had not to march up to him, say “forget the pact” and give him the smooch of a lifetime-

Wait.

The word “smooch” triggered something in her brain. Dark eyes in a dark corner of the bar, soft, nervous laughter, kisses. More giggles. Many kisses.

Oh my god they had kissed! She’s kissed Nino. They’d gotten drunk and broken the pact!

Once the dam had burst, the memories began to spill out quicker than Alya could catch up with. There were more, far more, than she was prepared for. Finding their way back to Nino’s place… a flurry of clothes… it had stopped being funny at that point. And then- and then-

Alya couldn’t breathe.

A low hum reached her ears, a shift in the bed, and an arm was suddenly around her. An arm, she knew, had to be Nino’s.

Without thinking, Alya shot upright, promptly grabbing the blankets and thrusting them up to her chest when she confirmed that she was, in fact, naked as the day she was born. She was naked. In Nino’s weirdly organised-messy room. She was naked- in Nino’s bed...

AND NINO WAS STILL ASLEEP.

“Nino,” she whispered, lightly tapping him. She kept her eyes on his peacefully slumbering face. She would not let them linger lower, and she definitely would not wonder if he was naked too. “Nino wake up.”

“Nyghlfghl,” was the articulate response she received. “Five more minutes.”

“Nino Lahiffe!” Alya said, the pitch in her voice rising to a level just under hysterical, even as she fought to keep her volume down. What if his parents walked in? Oh god. “If you don’t wake up this instant-”

Nino’s eyes opened blearily, he smiled at her. If she weren’t so caught up in their situation, the sweetness of his expression would have caused her to melt. “Oh, mornin’ Alya,” he yawned and began to close his eyes once more…

Only to snap them open wider than Alya had ever seen his eyes go. He bolted up like a shot. “ALYA?!” he spluttered, “What did- how did-”

    

His spluttering faded into a stunned silence, his eyes darted down to where Alya had herself covered with the blanket and he made a strange strangled sound. Turning away, Nino brought a hand up to cover his mouth. “Did we. Oh man we did, didn’t we?”

“Alcohol is a powerful drug I guess,” Alya replied. For some reason, Nino’s shock was comforting somehow. It made her calm down and think about things logically.

They were silent for a while, caught somewhere between awkwardness and acceptance of the situation they’d landed themselves in. Eventually, Nino sighed and ran a hand through his already messy hair. He kept his eyes off of her but, from the corner of her eye, Alya noticed his hand subconsciously reaching towards her. It stopped just short of her thigh, curling into a fist. “Do you want me to make you a coffee? You can- you know- get changed and stuff. When I’m gone. F-for, privacy.”

“Coffee sounds good thanks,” Alya replied quietly, staring at her lap. On top of her headache, now her entire face was burning. It wasn’t a fun combination.

Nino got out of bed, quickly finding a discarded pair of boxers and robe. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

And then he was gone, leaving Alya to her thoughts.

She flopped backwards, trying to regain a sense of equilibrium in both her mind and body. After sending a few hysterical texts to Marinette, who hadn’t come to the singles night, she began getting dressed.

Until she came across her attire from the night before; a short, strapless dress. Yeah, because that’s what she needed to take the metro home in on a freezing Saturday morning. Last night’s clothes. A walking cliché. That’s what she’d be. Literally.

Not that she felt any shame in sleeping with Nino. Whatever she felt about it, and she was still unsure, shame wasn’t on that list at all. On the contrary it was how cold she’d be. She didn’t have an alcohol jacket protecting her from the bitingly cold air this time around.

It was as she was contemplating this that the door opened and Nino came back with homemade coffee. On instinct, she pulled the dress up against her body.

“Oh sorry,” Nino replied, ducking his head. He froze at the door.

Alya smiled, trying to alleviate the delicate tension in the air. “It’s not like you haven’t seen me naked.”

Nino let out a squeaky laugh. “I guess so,” he replied, walking towards his bedside table, on the other side of the bed to Alya, and setting down the coffee. He sighed. “Alya, we should talk I”- he stopped when her dress caught his eye. “Wait, you wanna go home in that? It’s even colder today than it was yesterday. You’ll freeze.”

She shrugged. “It’s not like this was a planned sleepover, what do want me to do?”

He thought for a moment, before rummaging around the chest of drawers on the side of his bed. Alya stood there, not really knowing what to do. She wasn’t used to feeling so awkward.

“You can borrow these,” he said, placing tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie on the bed between them. “They’ll be big on you, but they’re comfy and warm. Not that I disapprove of that dress. You looked totally hot in it. I just don’t want you to be cold.”

Alya shuffled forwards picking up the hoodie with a smile. Her heart stirred. She remembered kissing him, and wanted to do it again. He was so sweet. “Thanks Nino.”

“No problem,” he replied and sat on the bed with his back to her, sipping his coffee, until she let him know she was dressed. When she sat back on the bed, he handed her coffee to her and she took a blessed sip. He remembered how she liked it. Milk and bit of sugar.

She liked being in his clothes. It made her feel safe somehow- like something colossal had shifted in their relationship. But it was ok because he was still there for her like he’d always been before. It just meant more now.

“Are you ok?” Nino asked after a moment of genuinely comforting silence between them. It was so natural, like this is what they should have been doing all along, that Alya had to double take at the question. When she shot a confused look Nino’s way, he elaborated, “It’s just- I know that girls can hurt after…you know. I- I don’t know if it was your first time. I mean it was my first time and I know we had a pact but I don’t own you or anything and I”-

“Nino, honey, breathe,” Alya interrupted him, gently placing her hand on his and giving it a squeeze. “It was my first time too.”

He looked at her then, and Alya saw the same shift reflected in his eyes that she herself felt in her heart. Reality settled in that moment, locked them together. Alya had heard jokes in the past, of chains and being locked down. But it wasn’t like that. Not with Nino. Instead, it felt like an unbreakable ribbon, tying them together, holding them in a place they had no intention of leaving.

Nino smiled shyly. She returned the gesture. He began to stroke the back of her hand with his thumb.

“What I was going to say is that, I know girls can hurt afterwards. Do you… are you ok? Do you need anything? A hot water bottle? Some painkillers? Let me know, okay?”

Alya couldn’t help herself. Grabbing the lapels of his robe, she pulled him down into a loving, passionate kiss, throwing all of her feelings into the gesture. All the frustration, the years of pining, the overwhelming feelings of love. All of it went into the simple gesture that lasted mere seconds before she was pulling away and blurting out. “I don’t want any of that. I want you. I want you, Nino. Screw the pact, screw not dating until we’ve passed our exams, screw love being a distraction. It was a distraction anyway. The pact is dumb and we were dumb for setting it up in the first place.”

“You’re not dumb,” he replied instantly, eyes dazed from both the kiss and the confession.

Alya’s mouth dropped open. “That’s what you took from that?!”

“I’m not as quick as you, okay? I need time to process,” he stared into his coffee cup, and stuck his finger in it before taking it out with a hiss of pain. “OW. Yeah okay not a dream.”

“What on earth are you doing?” Alya asked, crossing her arms over her chest with a frown.

“The girl of my dreams woke up in my bed, confessed to me and kissed me,” he explained. “I’m just checking it’s real.”

The frown disappeared from Alya’s face as quickly as it had formed there. Honestly. She was in love with such a hopeless sweetheart. Shuffling closer, she rested her head on his shoulder. “Silly, of course it’s real.”

He rested his head on top of hers. “Then, I guess, can I take you on a date? Like a real date. Because I’d really like to see you naked when I’m sober.”

Alya burst out laughing. “Yeah, I bet you would, and who says I’d sleep with you on the first date?” she said in mock offense, puffing out her chest and placing a hand on her heart. “Apparently, I only sleep with guys before the first date.”

Nino chuckled. “Well it worked out, didn’t it?”

Alya dropped the act. “Yeah. Yeah I’ll say it did.”

“Good. Cause I… I really want you too. Not just for this”- he gestured to the messy, unmade bed, “-but because I- I love you Alya. I have for so long now. All I want is to be with you, make you happy, hold you when you’re sad, eat ice cream and watch dumb movies with you. All of that cheesy stuff and more. Forever.”

Alya was certain that it’d take a week to wipe the stupidly large grin from her face, and that she’d look like an idiot during that whole time. But she didn’t care. She was far too happy to care.

“I love you too,” she said, kissing his cheek. “And I’d love to go on a date with you.” She paused. “But first, I think I need to figure out a way out of your house without your parents seeing me. I am not ready for that conversation.”

“Yeah you’re right,” Nino agreed with a shudder. “They weren’t in the kitchen when I made coffee so maybe they’re still in bed.”

As if on cue, Nino’s mother bellowed up the stairs “NINO, COME AND GET BREAKFAST! YOU’LL NEED SOMETHING TO SETTLE THAT HANGOVER.”

Followed by Nino’s father adding, “TELL ALYA SHE CAN HAVE SOME TOO.”

Well. That solved that problem then.

The pair looked at each other, caught somewhere between amusement, horror, and mortification. After a brief pause, Alya shrugged, got up, and offered a hand to Nino. He grinned, accepting her hand and not letting go as they made their way down to the kitchen together.

Sure, it might have been an awkward situation. But they were safe now, in the knowledge that they had each other to get themselves through it.

And that was worth all of the cringey parental teasing in the world.

Chapter Text

“Remind me why I’m here again?”

Nino’s voice turned high and squeaky when a model, clad only in a bikini, brushed past him to get to the food table he was standing by. She picked up a few carrot sticks and sauntered off, leaving Nino all but covering his eyes from the sight of her near naked body. When she was out of sight, he picked up a tray of donuts and nervously shoved one into his mouth whole.

Marinette giggled, plucking a donut off of the plate herself. “Adrien asked us to meet him here. Why? You scared of the sexy models?”

“I’m not scared!” Nino cried. Although, with a mouthful of donut, it sounded more like ‘Imff noh sahrred!” and a few sprinkles flew out of his mouth. When Marinette raised and eyebrow at him, he finished chewing and added, more clearly, “I just- you know- Alya and stuff. I don’t want her to think I’m ogling other girls like some horn dog.”

“Well that’s very noble of you,” Marinette teased as Nino shoved another donut in his mouth, just as she finished her own. “Although, you’re going to be made of dough if you keep nervous eating like that.”

“The models aren’t going to eat them, are they?” Nino shrugged. “More for us!”

“You make an excellent point,” Marinette agreed with a wry smile, taking the tray away from Nino. “All for me!”

The pair began half-wrestling for the donuts, laughing and earning the ire or amusement of nearby staff and models alike. Neither of them noticed one such model approaching them.

“Ah come on Mari, no fair!”

“Na-uh! I’m cutting you off for the night, you’ve had enough.”

“I’ll tell ya when I’ve had enough!”

“You two look like you’re having fun.”

The pair froze in place, Marinette still clutching the tray as Nino had been unable to retrieve it from her clutches. There they stood, in some sort of strange sitcom-esque freezeframe, which Adrien chuckled at them for.

Nino himself wasn’t bothered by the sight of his friend and was the first to recover. Standing up straighter he raised a hand to Adrien and offered a friendly head bob, which Adrien returned.

Marinette wasn’t so quick to recover.

The thing about swimsuit photoshoots, she realised all too late, was that it wasn’t just the female models who were half naked.

Her brain jutted to a halt, completely overwhelmed by wild hair and glistening skin and abs. ABS. Since when did Adrien (Mr ‘I’ll just wear a casual sweater over a button-down because I desperately want you to know I’m a graduate student’) have ABS?!

Idiot, Marinette chided herself, he’s a model, you’ve seen him in advertisements before, you know he has abs. You’ve just never seen them in person before.

But it was seeing those abs in person, his broad chest and wonderfully toned arms, that had her shaken to her core. The way every inch of him seemed sculpted by the gods themselves, that had her legs quaking, her arms jelly-like and no longer able to support anything she was carrying.

She dropped the tray.

The metallic sound might as well have been a gunshot for all the attention it drew. All at once the buzz around the studio died as the ringing sound of the metal on the hard, stone floor echoed around the room. At least a dozen eyes were now turned onto Marinette and the fallen pastries at her feet.

She wanted to die .

“THE DONUTS!” Nino yelled, distraught.

Marinette swore under her breath. Turning her eyes away from Adrien’s chest (holy heck was is defined) she instead focused on cleaning up the mess she made. She mumbled an apology and leaned down. Nino, sensing her embarrassment, tried to cover it up by making a bigger fool of himself. Picking up a few donuts and cradling them to his chest, he faked a sob that Marinette was only half-convinced wasn’t real. “It was before your time, little dude. So young. So fresh. Not yet eaten.”

As she scooped up a particularly smushed pastry, her hand brushed another. By the time she looked up, Adrien had retracted his hand away as though he’d been burned. Her breath caught at the look he was sending her way. Nobody that shirtless should look that soft and sheepish. It was entirely unfair.

“S-sorry,” he said, though Marinette had no idea what exactly he was apologising for.

“No, it’s ok,” Marinette replied and the pair began to pick up the remaining donuts. They lapsed into an awkward silence, in which Marinette grew more and more annoyed with herself. Adrien was her friend . Just because he was ‘drop food’ levels of hot (one of the highest levels of hot there was), it didn’t mean she should start losing her head around him, drooling over him like she was a stray dog and he was a piece of steak. She might as well be one of those creeps that stalk the models present on Instagram.

Oh, and there was also the fact that she had a sort-of boyfriend who she had regular trysts with, and whom had a very, very…very nice body himself. An aforementioned Instagram-model worthy body.

Double tap indeed.

A part of her wanted to argue that it was ok to find Adrien attractive. She wasn’t blind after all. But she also didn’t think it was appropriate to get all flustered over another guy when she was planning to confess her identity to Chat Noir that same night.

So there she was, stuck in an internal war which rendered her incapable of saying much beyond a mumbled ‘thanks’ to Adrien and Nino for helping her pick up the donuts.

“No problem,” he replied offering her his hand. Frosting covered and all, Marinette placed her hand in his and he pulled her to her feet. His bare arm muscles tensed for a moment and Marinette’s thoughts went somewhere she really didn’t want them to go. Once again her legs felt unsteady, as though they might melt at any moment and leave her falling to the floor and further beyond it, in to the deeper parts of hell.

And hell, she was beginning to suspect, was exactly where she belonged.

Adrien still hadn’t let go of her hand. His eyes bore into hers, the intensity familiar in a way, but there was uncertainty there. A question Marinette couldn’t understand nor answer. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. All of it left her at a loss, adrift in a sea of confused and yet his hand was the lighthouse guiding her home and WOW these were NOT appropriate thoughts. This was NOT what friends did.

Why wasn’t he letting go? Why did she want him to keep a hold of her?

No.

Bad Marinette.

STOP.

Nino coughed and whatever spell had had its hold over the pair broke. Adrien dropped her hand and a rush of relief and guilt came over her so strongly that she felt almost high from it. High and low at once. The feelings festered in a little ball at the bottom of her stomach, knotting and twisting unpleasantly.

So she did the only thing she could think of doing. Ignore the heck out of it.

When Marinette turned to Nino, alerted by his previous cough (which, in hindsight, sounded incredibly fake), she found an Alya-like expression written across his features. This was worrisome in more ways than Marinette could count, but the motives behind the expression remained unclear.

With a cheeky grin, Nino sauntered over to Adrien. “Soooo, buddy,” he said, wrapping his arm around his friend before yanking it back again with a cry of disgust. “ICK! Why are you all greasy?”

Adrien laughed, which sounded nicer than normal, and Marinette started considering whether or not her Ladybug powers were evolving, because she was certainly burning a hole through the floor with how hard she was staring at it. Everything about this was wrong and she hated it.

“Yeah, they oil us up for swimsuit shoots. So it looks like you’re all hot and sweaty and beachy. It’s… pretty uncomfortable actually,” Adrien then wiggled a little, to emphasise how strange it must feel to have your whole body covered in oil. “But it looks good in photos apparently so yeah.” He shrugged.

“Well I guess that works for some people,” Nino replied, wrinkling his nose as he wiped the excess oil off of his bare arm. “I bet it works for the other models, right? Especially the girls.”

Marinette’s head shot up and she glared daggers at Nino. Nino simply shrugged, the Alya-like smile still one his face. He adjusted his glasses, one hand coming up to cover the side of his face closest to Adrien and winked.

What the hell was his game?

“Girls? You mean the other models?” Adrien blinked, looking so doe-eyed and innocent that for a moment Marinette had trouble remembering he was actually a few years older than them.

Nino scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Come on dude, I’ve seen the way some of those girls have been staring at you. You can’t tell me that you don’t get a little…you know…with them.”

He did a little dance with his head, elongating his words to emphasise what he was trying to imply, and Marinette suddenly understood the term ‘fight or flight’ in the most visceral of ways. Because she wanted to crawl under the food table and shove her fingers in her ears so she didn’t ever have to hear Adrien’s answer and, at the same time, desired nothing more than to grab Nino’s cap and shove it directly into his mouth.

Finally, Adrien understood what Nino was getting at. His eyes bulged, his cheeks flushed and he turned to Marinette with a panicked look in his eyes. “Wait- you think I hook up with-? N-No, I don’t. Never. Not once.” His eyes once again fixed on her in a way that made Marinette feel like he was desperate to prove to her that Nino’s assumption was wrong. “I’m not like- I’m not the kind of guy. I don’t…”

Nino, sensing Adrien’s growing distress, relaxed his fake ‘douchebag’ persona and smiled fondly at him. “Hey dude, relax. It’s ok. I was only teasing.”

“Yes, please , ignore Nino,” Marinette replied through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the funny feeling in her chest she had at the fact that Adrien has focused solely on her in his mission to convince them he wasn’t (as Nino had put it previously) a ‘horn dog.’ “He’s recently suffered a tragic donut loss. He’s not thinking clearly.”

“She’s right,” Nino nodded. “I’m a mess.”

Adrien looked between the both of them with a wary (but not suspicious) expression. Luckily, Marinette was able to force down any feelings of murder or discomfort at that moment, so that she could look reassuring. After a few moments, Adrien relaxed, even being as good humoured as to giggle at his own expense, which was far too endearing. “Ok, you got me. Good one.”

He offered a fist out to Nino, who casually bumped it back. “See now you’re making me feel bad, bro! You’re too kind to tease.”

Adrien laughed. “Sorry, but you shouldn’t feel bad, I was the one that changed our plans because of this last minute schedule change. Besides, this place is a lot stuffier without you guys around.” He smiled warmly. “I’m really glad you came today.”

Aaaaaaaand Marinette was back to feeling both confused and all gooey. God damn it.

Luckily, she was saved from any further suffering or awkwardness, as Adrien’s photographer called him over to start another round of shots. The man was short, with a heavily oiled comb-over and a handlebar moustache. He reminded Marinette of those silly old black-and-white comedies her grandmother used to watch. From beside her, Nino chucked at the photographers crazy, mime-like gesturing.

“Got to go,” Adrien added with another sheepish smile, only this one looked markedly more tired at the prospect of getting under those hot studio lights again. Marinette couldn’t blame him. Just being on set was intense enough, and she was merely there for moral support. “You can always get closer and try to distract me by pulling silly faces.”

“Is that a challenge Agreste?” Nino said with an air of playfulness. “Because I think you’re underestimating just how dumb I can make my face look. I’ll have you breaking your sexy model persona like that.” He clicked his fingers.

“We’ll see,” Adrien replied with a flash of something wicked and challenging in his vivid green eyes. For a moment, Marinette was struck with such a feeling of déjà vu, that it gave her emotional whiplash.

“We’ll jump up on you,” Marinette squeaked. “I MEAN- KETCHUP. I mean CATCH. Catch up! We are going to catch up to you. In a minute.”

For a second Marinette wished she had another tray of donuts to drop. Then she heard Adrien laugh once, deep and low, and then flipped to a more absurd wish of the donuts dropping her. Preferably in a black hole.

“Cute.”

Her head snapped up again. “Heh?”

Well. At least she wasn’t the only one to feel blindsided. Adrien’s face drained of colour, his mouth opened and closed repeatedly, like he’d been caught doing something he really shouldn’t have. “I- I just meant. Umm… never mind. I’m going to go now.”

He about turned as quickly as possible, all but sprinting away and nearly knocking over a light in the process. He didn’t look back.

Nino was the first to speak. Or rather laugh.

“Oh my god, you guys are so obvious it hurts.”

This broke Marinette out of her daze. Cute? Adrien thought she was being cute? She scowled at Nino, as if he was the only one holding back the answers. “What do you mean? And also”- she poked his side and he leapt away from her with a yelp- “that for that dumb ‘girl models’ question. What the hell were you thinking?”

“Hey I was only looking out for you,” Nino replied waving his arms. “If I had to pretend to be one of those types of gross dudes to do it, so be it. You’re like my sister you know? And I know we’ve known Adrien for a long time, but we don’t know anything about his love life. I was just- you know- checking. Making sure he wasn’t a pump and dump kind of guy.” He looked at her seriously then. “Was I over the line?”

Marinette thought about it for a moment, before relenting with a gentle sigh. “No. It’s ok. You were trying to be a good friend,” she said, wandering closer toward where Adrien was taking photos. “I mean, your actions are totally misplaced though. Adrien doesn’t like me like that.”

Nino smirked, following her. “But you like hiiiiim right?”

“Nino,” she warned.

“Oh come on I know I have a handsome, young face, but I wasn’t born yesterday,” Nino argued with a snort. “You were totally drooling. Not that I blame you. Dude’s ripped like a pair of noughties jeans.” He then frowned. “Woah. It’s finally happening. I’ve been hanging around you too much. I’m starting to be fluent in Fashion.”

“Har-har,” Marinette rolled her eyes. “I’m ignoring that drooling comment. It’s wrong and you’re wrong.”

    

“You can ignore me but you can’t ignore the t-r-u-t-h,” Nino spelled out in a sing-song voice. “That’s the title of my next album. The first single is going to be about Adrien’s Totally. Obvious. Crush. He called you cute.”

“I can’t hear you over the sound of the clicky cameras!” Marinette raised her voice just a little louder, as if that would have any impact in driving Nino’s words from her mind. The opposite happened. His words burrowed into her mind like little seeds of doubt.

Crush? Really?

No way. There was no way!

They came to a stop on the side of Adrien’s photoshoot. Beside her, Nino was muttering something about if he’d been that annoying to deal with before he and Alya got together, but Marinette ignored him. Instead, worries about silly boys and things like that were pushed to the side in favour of getting some first-hand experience of the fashion industry. A familiar excitement bubbled in her, the feeling of opportunity and possibility. She imagined, for a moment, designing clothes which models like Adrien would wear on photoshoots exactly like this one.

Her love life might be a mess, and these new allegations that Adrien had a crush on her had certainly rocked her to her core, but fashion was concrete. Fashion was something she knew as well as her own hands, as well as the fact that she was Ladybug.

As a designer, she probably wasn’t going to be as involved in this part of the process, but it was still exciting to get any exposure to a world she was attempting to make a name for herself in. That excitement gave her reassurance and clarity.

The photographer who’d beckoned Adrien over was moving around Adrien with such speed that he seemed to blur at the edges. Marinette watched from the sidelines, so entranced by the show that she failed to notice a figure slowly approaching to her right.

    

Adrien was posing, shoulders broad, skin glistening, chin up proudly. He stared into the camera with a serious expression, as one of his thumbs disappeared underneath the waistband of the swim shorts he wore, branded with that signature “G” on the bottom right. Somewhere, a fan was blowing so his hair ruffled, becoming windswept and unkempt. He looked unfairly sexy, so different to the mild mannered and gentle guy Marinette had come to know.

“It’s good Adrien, it’s good,” the photographer encouraged as he lowered his camera and a few makeup artists dashed out of the shadows to touch up Adrien’s foundation before scurrying off again. For some reason, this tickled Nino, who began chuckling until one of the assistants shot him a dirty look. Then he fell silent. “But I need a little more. Your body says yes but I need your expression to say it even more.”

“What do you mean?” Adrien said, tilting his head.

“Your eyes. They’re distracted,” the photographer waved his hand. “I need them to be here, in the moment. The camera is your love, your desire. I need you to think of someone you want. Someone you desire more than anything in the world. Imagine they’re here right now and you want nothing more than to seduce them. That’s the look I need from you.”

How people could say such things seriously, and not want to melt in embarrassment, Marinette had no idea. But Adrien was looking down, frowning in thought, so whatever the photographer had meant must have made sense to him at least.

However, whatever Adrien’s seductive expression looked like, Marinette never found out. As soon as they began shooting again, she was distracted by a tap on the shoulder. “Excuse me?”

When she turned her head, she came face to face with another half-naked model. Although it looked like his shoot has finished. He towered over her, too close for her liking, and she took a step back. Clad in a fluffy half-open bathrobe, his dusky brown hair tied up in a man bun and his skin clearly artificially bronzed, he evoked a Greek God type of persona. He’d certainly look at home lounging on a chaise, being fed grapes by his scantily clad female servants.

And, judging by the way he was eyeing her, it looked like this stranger wanted Marinette to be one of those scantily clad servants.

Still, Marinette was a girl taught to judge by people’s actions, not their appearance. After all, he was probably paid a pretty penny to look like a douche. But maybe he used that model money to rescue abandoned puppies or something?

So she gave him a slightly confused smile and replied with a simple, “Err, yes?”

He placed his hands in a prayer-like position and rested them against him lips. “I really need your help, if you’d be so kind,” he said, his voice so urgent that it spiked Marinette’s Ladybug instincts. Was there trouble?

Before Marinette could inquire further, the stranger came around to her side, all but elbowing Nino out of the way, and placed his hand on her lower back. For a split second, Marinette froze at the touch. That second was apparently all it took for the guy to press his hand against her harder, manoeuvring her away from Adrien’s photoshoot. “Umm…” she began to protest with a frown.

The stranger cut her off, with a smile so blindingly white that Marinette thought his teeth were fake for a split second. Maybe he had them bleached? “Thank goodness someone here can help me. The water in my dressing room has berries in it and I specifically requested cucumber water!” He said this as if someone had kicked his grandmother. “The sugar in the fruit will make my face puffy, we can’t have that now can we?”

He turned to her with a wink and Marinette was so taken aback by it all that she gaped like a koi fish. Questionable science aside, she had to wonder what was he doing asking her about this? Then the penny dropped. “Wait, do you think I work here? I don’t.”

Once again, he ignored her, and was still pushing her away from the photoshoot into one of the darker corners on the room, no doubt towards his dressing room. Alarm bells started going off in Marinette’s head and she began digging her heels in. “Naturally, I know it wasn’t you who made this mistake, you just can’t find good help these days. But I’d be ever so grateful if you could fix this for me, Sweetheart.”

That did it. In a flash, Marinette twisted around, yanking the stranger’s hand from her back and stepping away from him with a scowl. “Hey, asshole do you need your ears fixed? I said I don’t work here. And even if I did, that kind of pet name is totally inappropriate. What the hell is your problem?”

His face dropped from one of confidence to one of almost exaggerated horror. He took a step back, arms raised, looking more like a caricature than the photographer with his crazy gestures. Marinette crossed her own arms, raising an eyebrow as she waited for whatever he was about to say. Oh. This ought to be good.

“I am terribly sorry Mademoiselle,” he crooned, leaning down towards her in a half bow. He placed one hand against his heart. Well, at least Marinette knew why he was a model. His acting was appalling. “I should have known, you are far too beautiful to be part of the help. Are you a model yourself?”

“No,” was all Marinette said in response. Perhaps it was icy of her, but the more he spoke, the more bad vibes she got from him. Why did he keep referring to all the assistants as The Help? Didn’t he know how rude and snobby he sounded?

Nevertheless, her less-than-impressed attitude didn’t seem to defer him from whatever goal he had in mind. Marinette had a fairly good idea as to what his goal was too.

And she wasn’t having any of it.

Her arms tightened around herself, her eyes narrowed. Body-language wise, she did everything in her power to make sure she had a metaphorical “GET LOST, JERK” sign plastered on her head.

The stranger was yet to be deterred. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am François. But you’ve probably heard of me already. And your name is?”

Marinette wanted nothing more than to honestly tell him she had no idea who he was, but was prevented from doing so as Nino hurried over, calling her name. “Marinette! There you are! Where you been? Adrien’s finished with his photoshoot and he’s just signing some autographs. He’ll be ready to go soon.”

François’s eyebrow arched and he gave Nino a sweeping glance laced with judgement. Nino gave him a blank stare in response.

“Anyway,” François replied, as if that one word might dismiss Nino from the conversation. He turned his body to face Marinette more, making it clear that Nino was not welcome. “Marinette, was it? Beautiful name.”

“Gee. Thanks,” Marinette said, tone so dry she might as well have been speaking after spending a week in the Sahara. From beside her, Nino snorted. She deliberately didn’t look at him, else she might burst out laughing.

“Allow me to take you out, to make up for my earlier faux pas. I feel so very awful about it. What do you say, Sweetheart?” He winked.

    

From beside her, almost too quiet to hear, Marinette heard Nino whisper a despairing, “Dude,” under his breath.

“Well, for starters, stop calling me Sweetheart,” Marinette said, wrinkling her nose. “Secondly, that’s kind of you to offer, but I’m seeing someone right now.”

She hadn’t meant to say it. She really hadn’t. It just slipped out! But maybe it was for the best? François didn’t have to know who exactly she was seeing, and Nino would assume she was lying to get rid of François. So really, it was a win-win.

François scoffed, his smile widening as though he was trying to force it to stay there. It made him look more like a cat about to catch a canary. “Please, pardon me if this might seem forward. But I have a lot to offer a lady such as yourself.”

“Hey, Man-Bun,” Nino scowled, moving forward more, the frown on his face was one Marinette was exceedingly familiar with. She called it his big brother look. “Learn how to take no for an answer and we can all move on with our lives and have cake or whatever gluten-free, no carb, no sugar, no fun snack you eat. No need to make this embarrassing.”

For the first time, the smile on François face disappeared. He fixed Nino with a threatening glower, but Nino stayed put. Not budging. François dropped the staring war they had first, turning his attention back to Marinette.

“It would be a good opportunity for you, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure whoever it is you’re seeing can’t possibly compare to this,” He gestured to himself, the winning smirk back on his face, and Marinette honestly wanted to gag.

“No. I already told you I’m not interested. I’m very sorry. Have a good day.”

She turned around, gesturing for Nino to follow her, and the pair made their way back towards Adrien, who was chatting to an over eager looking fan with mop of dark brown hair and alarmingly skinny jeans. He waved at them and they wandered over casually.

“God, what a creep,” Nino said, wrinkling his nose.

“I know!” Marinette cried, “he was so weird.”

“I hope you’re not talking about my shoot,” Adrien grinned cheekily as the pair of them walked up to him. He signed another one of the posters the over-eager fan was brandishing at him with a flourish.

Marinette frowned, “Oh damn, I’m sorry Adrien! I missed practically all of the last bit! I was…err…” she trailed off, wringing her hands. How could she explain the predicament she’d gotten in?

“Some model was hitting on her,” Nino added bluntly.

Adrien dropped the pen he’d been holding.

“Don’t worry, Adrien, I’ve got it!” the over eager fan said, diving for the pen and scrambling to hand it back to him.

“Thanks Wayhem,” Adrien replied to the fan distractedly, before turning to Marinette with a strange look on his face. “A model was hitting on you? W- Who?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Marinette replied with a dismissive hand wave, “I turned him down anyways. The guy was creepy. It’s over now. I’d really like to forget about it.”

Unfortunately for Marinette, however, she wasn’t about to forget it any time soon. A tap on her shoulder revealed that François had followed them over to Adrien. Without addressing anyone else, he leaned down towards Marinette. Before she could say or do anything, he pressed his lips close against her ear, whispering gently. As he did so, he reached out and began running his fingers through her green hair ribbons. Her Chat Noir ribbons.

Marinette immediately recoiled backwards, away from his touch, but this didn’t seem to phase him.

“Here’s my card. I wrote my personal phone number on it. I only give that out to the most special girls.” At last, he stepped away. “In case you change your mind.”

Marinette saw red. She shoved the card back towards François’ chest with enough force that he stumbled backwards. “I don’t care! I already told you I’m not interested and I’m seeing someone! I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re incredibly rude and even if I wasn’t seeing someone, I wouldn’t want to date you. Now leave me alone!”

The façade of suaveness was gone now. Instead, François glowered at her. “Now really, who could you possibly be seeing worth your while enough to turn someone like me down?”

“ME.”

Adrien’s voice cut above the din like a knife slicing through butter. The commotion his remaining fans were making suddenly stopped. Everyone in the nearby vicinity fell quiet.

Marinette’s mouth opened, but she quickly closed it again before François could see. Her heartbeat stuttered to a halt.

“You?” François replied. For a moment, the tension in the room was so tight it was hard to breathe, as the pair stared each other down.

Nino, sensing the heightened emotions, took a step in between them. Holding out a palm towards François, he fixed him with a stern stare. “You heard them both now, Marinette’s turned you down twice. Come on. Let end this nicely, yeah? No need for things to get heated.”

Adrien edged closer towards Marinette. For show, Marinette slipped her arm around his waist and gazed up at him with an adoring smile. Adrien’s body stiffened for a split second at the contact, before he relaxed, reaching up to play with her ribbons. She much preferred him touching them than freaking François. Of course, Chat playing with them would always be her favourite. Still…this was nice.

   

Too nice, in fact. Marinette was a hugger, and she’d hugged Adrien many a time. But this fake show felt oddly real- natural- as if they’d always done it. The robe he now donned, similar to François only tied up for modesty’s sake, was warm and soft, clearly made of expensive materials. She wanted to snuggle up into it.

The pretend display, along with Nino’s placating words, was enough to finally get it through François mind that he was fighting a losing battle. After another moment of sharp silence, he shot one last glare at the group before storming off.

“Jeez what was his deal?” Nino grumbled, wrinkling his nose. Adrien, who Marinette noticed still hadn't let go of her, shrugged.

“He's always been like that, just ignore him,” he replied, turning to Marinette. Their close proximity was thrown into the light when she noticed just how long his eyelashes were. As soon as their eyes met, Adrien softened considerably. The tenseness from the confrontation was gone and, when he spoke again, his tone was so gentle that the world fell away and only the two of them were left and oh my god, what was happening?! “Are you ok?”

“Who, me?” Marinette blinked, bobbing her head in a baffled manner. Why did her throat feel weird? Like all she wanted to do was throw up word vomit. She scoffed, waving her hand. “I'm fiiiine .” She was not fine, but for other reasons. “I can handle guys like that, you know me!” As if to emphasise her toughness, she pulled her free hand up into a fist.

Adrien chuckled once, low and fond. It reminded her of sunshine and darkened corners and secret kisses. It reminded her…of something- tickled the corners of her memories and taunted her emotions until her mind felt like it was scribbled in by kids who didn't know how to colour inside the lines.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do,” he said.

A bright flash went off, which Marinette wouldn’t have been too bothered about, having gotten used to the sight of random camera flashes during her short time at the studio. But this particular flash was so close, and the shutter didn't sound like it came from a heavy, professional camera.

It sounded like it came from a phone.

“Oh my god this is amazing,” the intense fan, Wayhem, cheered from the other side of the camera. Marinette was unsettled by the overwhelming, hyper-intense joy in his eyes. Was that normal fan behaviour? Did he run some sort of Adrien fan club? “I've never known you to have a girlfriend before, Adrien, congratulations!” He took another photo “Marinette was it?”

“Wayhem,” Adrien said, the softness in his voice gone. The world came violently back into view, and Adrien and Marinette stepped apart. “Please don't post those online. The tabloids will go crazy.”

“Ok, ok, avoid the tabloids. Gotcha!” Wayhem beamed.

Adrien raised a hand in panic, as security approached his few remaining fans and began to usher them out. “No wait that's not what I meant.”

But Wayhem could no longer hear what Adrien was saying. With one last, furiously enthusiastic, wave he disappeared from the studio doors, along with Adrien's other fans, and was gone from sight. Marinette, Nino and Adrien were alone.

There's a type of silence, a strange kind of liminal space, that occurs between friends only after a series of baffling events have taken place in quick succession. A shared sense of being rooted to the spot a yet floating at the same time, as though reality hadn't quite caught up with what happened. Like pressing the snooze button on the alarm a few times. Such silences are usually broken by one of the friends swearing and this instance was no exception.

“Yo, what the fuck just happened?” Nino spluttered, somewhere between shocked and amused. His head swivelled between Adrien and Marinette “Did you two just get outed as being in a fake relationship? Unless there's something you need to tell me?”

He said the last part in his teasing dude-bro voice from earlier, but eased up when Adrien groaned and buried his head in his hands.

“I'm sorry, Marinette,” Adrien whispered after a while, head hung low. He avoided eye contact.

Marinette smiled, patting him on the shoulder. “It's alright. You were only trying to help. It was good of you to hop on my lie like that. Sometimes guys like that don't take no for an answer until another guy steps in. It's gross, and sad that it has to be like that, but it happens.”

She thought her words might offer some semblance of comfort to him. If anything, however, it seemed as though she'd made it worse. He looked more panicked and torn than before.

“Right,” Adrien replied with a nervous laugh. “Because we're not dating! I wasn't thinking of anything like that when I stepped in or anything. I just wanted to help,” he laughed again before heaving a sigh. “I guess I made it worse though, huh?”

“You don't know that Bud, that freaky Wayhem guy might not post those pics,” Nino replied. He shuddered. “Did anyone get anyone else get chill from him? Something seemed seriously off.”

“And even if he does post those pics or start acting weirder, I can handle it,” Marinette said and she meant it. She'd handled far worse after all. Though she couldn't say that without opening a Pandora’s Box she'd rather keep closed.

“Of course,” Adrien replied kindly. “It's just... all that stuff. It's such a hassle to deal with. I'd like to protect all my friends from it if I can.”

“Behold the noble hero!” Marinette chuckled with a flourish. Adrien laughed back, this time with the absence of any fear or guilt. It was good to hear.

“Now can the noble hero please put on some actual clothes so we can go grab something to eat?” Nino huffed.

Adrien agreed, letting them know he wouldn't be long, but that he did need to have a quick shower to get rid of the remaining oil on his body. He went to his dressing room, leaving Nino and Marinette waiting by the studio doors. The commotion around them had quietened considerably, though a few models were still finishing up their shoots.

Sticking his hands in his pockets, Nino began scuffing the floor with his shoe. “Look, I'm just going to ask you just the once ok? And whatever you say, I'll believe you.”

Marinette wrinkled her nose warily, “Okaaaay?”

“Are you sure you don't have a thing for Adrien? I mean, you two looked pretty cosy, canoodling back there. I'm only asking because, if you did like him, I think you two would be great together. And I think he seriously likes you too, like beyond a crush. You know he looked at you when the photographer asked him to think about someone he wanted seduce? And you should have seen how angry he was when that François dude touched you. He looked like he wanted to rip his fingers off."

Marinette felt trapped, unaware of what exactly she should say. All she knew was that, not for the first time today, a heavy guilt settled on her chest. She couldn't even begin to fathom the idea that Adrien liked her in that way, or how conflicted that made her feel.

And why should it make her feel conflicted? She loved Chat. She'd loved him since she was sixteen years old. He was her first love, in more ways than one. They'd been through so much together. They were dating...

Except they weren't. Not really. Not honestly. She was hoping to fix that last part tonight, but the anxiety about that was like the hands of a giant grandfather clock, incessantly ticking above her head, driving her ever closer to madness.

When she hadn't spoke for a while, Nino (sensing her distress) put his arm around her and gave her a friendly squeeze. “Feelings are super hard to work through. If you are going through some stuff, you know you don't have to do it alone. I'm here, so is Alya, and you helped us through all our relationship drama way back when. I just hope it goes better for you.”

“Well I won't make a pact to not date him, get drunk and sleep with him, if that's what you're suggesting?” Marinette teased.

“No I'm suggesting do the literal opposite of that,” Nino laughed. “Go for it!”

The lightness she’d recovered in teasing Nino faded and the heaviness settled back into her bones. Suddenly, all she felt was tired; tired of secrets and lies and half-truths. Marinette bit her lip. “Nino... it's complicated.”

He regarded her, bobbing her head his head to the side, “Ok, that’s fine too. But, be careful ok? With whatever you’re dealing with. You’re smart so I know you can handle whatever your complicated stuff dishes out. But if you do need help, your buddy Nino’s always got your back!”

“Don’t I know it,” Marinette replied, bumping Nino’s side playfully. “Seriously though, thank you.”

Their pleasant, if a bit too real, conversation was suddenly interrupted by the reappearance of Adrien. At first, Marinette wondered if she and Nino had talked long enough to cover the length of time it would take for Adrien to get showered and dressed. However that didn’t seem right, and the fact that he was still in his bathrobe confirmed it.

“Is everything ok?” Marinette asked, because he certainly didn’t look ok. Adrien’s face was pale, ashen. He held his phone in his hand. For a wild moment, Marinette thought news of her and Adrien’s supposed ‘relationship’ had been posted online already.

She would come to wish it was so simple.

“N-no,” he stammered. “Can you guys come with me really quick?”

Sharing a look of worry between them, Nino and Marinette hurried off, following Adrien as he hastened back to his dressing room, holding the door open for them. When they were inside, he closed the door and locked it shut.

“What’s this about?” Nino asked.

It took a while for Adrien to reply. He paced the plush carpet of his dressing room. Marinette couldn’t help but muse that such a pretty, glamorous room, with its assortment of fluffy white pillows and bright dressing room lights, was a strange setting for whatever unknown drama was occurring. She’d never seen Adrien so rattled. Not even during Springtime Exams.

“I- I can’t come out to eat today,” he said. “My mum called.”

Now, usually, Adrien talking about his mother was a thing with joy. Everyone knew that Madame Agreste has gone missing a few years ago but, with Ladybug and Chat Noir’s help, had been safely returned home. He spoke of her often, and with such happiness that it was contagious. So why did Adrien sound so solemn?

Luckily, he didn’t leave them waiting too long before he stopped pacing and explained the situation. “So something happened, and I don’t want you to panic because these things happen in the industry ok? And I’ve had it happen to me before, but because it was sent to my parent’s house and with all of our history, they’re kind of freaking out and-”

“Adrien,” Marinette frowned. “What”-

“I got a death threat. Sent in the mail to my parents but directed to me.”

His words were like a punch to the gut. Marinette’s skin felt white hot. She bubbled with both rage, protective instincts, and questions. Why would someone send Adrien a death threat? What sort of person would send him such a thing? And where were they based, so she could hunt them down and kick their ass with all the fury her Ladybug powers would bring her?

“That’s messed up,” Nino replied simply. “What are you going to do?”

“Well, my parents want me to come back to their place for the night, as they have security and stuff,” Adrien sighed, running his hand through his hair. He began pacing again. “They’re sending a car for me right now, along with their own personal security guards. The police are the house already and they want to talk to me and they’ve even sent someone to my apartment to pick up my stuff.”

“Adrien,” Marinette approached him.

“Why couldn’t they have sent it somewhere else? Why’d they have to mess with my parents? Hasn’t mum suffered enough?” Adrien was muttering under his breath, his eyebrows knitted into a deep frown.

“Adrien,” Marinette repeated, reaching out to touch his arm as she’d done earlier. He stilled and she wrapped her arms around him. When she spoke next, it was the voice of Ladybug ringing true, although he didn’t know it. She hoped the strength and determination in her tone would be enough to comfort him. “It’ll be ok. I promise . Nothing is going to happen to you. Or your family.”

Just like before, Adrien stiffened at her embrace. It was strange, the way he acted with her physically, as if he wasn’t allowed to touch her. The split second of awkwardness passed, however, and he opened himself to her, wrapping his own arms around her and resting his chin on the top of her head. This sent a jolt of panic and guilt straight through her. Chat did that all the time.

But this was different. This wasn’t embracing a lover. It was comforting a friend.

“So how can we help?” Nino asked, clenching his fists. “Need any more hired guards?”

“I asked for cars to be sent for you guys too,” Adrien said. “If it’s ok with you guys, I’d feel a lot better if you went straight home. Just so I knew you were safe. People know I’m friends with you, they’ve seen us together. The last thing you need is to become a target because of me. I don’t know what the message was, or what exactly they threatened besides…you know.”

There was a knock at the door and a low voice rumbled. “Monsieur Agreste, I’m here to pick up your friends.”

Marinette turned back to Adrien. This didn’t feel right. She couldn’t leave him, could she? Adrien caught her look of despair and tried to look reassuring.

“Don’t worry about me,” He said, “I still need to get changed and stuff. Besides, knowing my parents, they’ve probably sent half the military.”

“Are you sure, man?” Nino worried, voicing Marinette’s own concerns. “I don’t like leaving you like this.”

“I’m sure they’re over-worrying,” Adrien assured with a shrug. “I’m mainly stressed about talking to the police. But it’ll be ok.” He wandered over to the door and unlocked it. “Let me know when you get home. I’ll be in touch later ok?”

“Ok,” Marinette whispered. She stayed put, even as Nino began walking out the door. Leaving him just didn’t sit well with her.

But the world didn’t care for how well this nasty turn of events sat with her. In the end, with one last worried look at Adrien over her shoulder, she followed Nino and the security guard out to the car.

There was nothing she could do right now. And that thought, more than anything, hurt her the most.


The first thing Marinette did when she got home was set a google alert for any news about Adrien Agreste. She had a feeling he wouldn’t be able to contact anyone for a while and, she thought with a lump of fear in her throat, if something did happen, the internet was probably going to be the quickest way to find out.

She collapsed in her desk chair, kicking her feet up onto the desk and almost knocking over her cup of coffee as she did so. The next few hours were spent idly scrolling on her phone, refreshing the news and social media over and over again, as well as texting Nino about how crazy the situation was and wondering if they should tell Alya or not- would Adrien mind? He’d become close with both Alya and Nino since joining the gaming club, but it was also clear he didn’t want this getting out. They decided to wait until they got the go-ahead from Adrien to tell her, just in case. But, as expected, he wasn’t responding to any messages.

This was no good. She was too distracted, her mind muddled by the meeting with that creepy fan and the even creepier François. That, coupled with Adrien’s death threat and the apprehension of confessing to Chat Noir later meant her nerves were more frazzled than her hair was after fighting the Electroshock akuma a couple of years ago.

Tikki flew down from her perch, munching on a cookie. “It’s going to be okay Marinette, you know that.”

“I feel like I’ve never known less in my entire life and that includes every biology class I’ve ever taken!” Marinette cried, slumping further back in her seat. “I feel like I should do something to help Adrien, but Ladybug wouldn’t know about the death threats unless news breaks. They’re clearly trying to keep it under wraps right now. So it’d be suspicious if I just turn up at the Agreste Manor as Ladybug, right? Ugh, I wish I cared less about that stuff, Tikki, you know? ‘Cause I really wanna kick the ass of whoever sent Adrien a death threat.”

“You always make the right decision,” Tikki soothed, landing by her keyboard. She almost dropped the cookie, but managed to hold on with her tiny hands, and resumed happily munching. “Besides, I’m sure the police will investigate it thoroughly. Adrien seemed more worried about his parent’s feelings than the actual death threats. So maybe it’s not so serious? Maybe it’s a practical joke taken too far.”

“Even so!” Marinette said, sitting up quickly and leaning towards Tikki with a frown, “Doesn’t that make him a reckless target? If he doesn’t care about his own wellbeing, that means he’s more likely to do something rash.”

“But this is Adrien. Has he ever acted rash before?” Tikki questioned.

Marinette wracked her brain for a bit, wrinkling her nose as she tried to remember any time when Adrien had acted out in any way. “You’re right. He’s protective, but he’s not foolish. Maybe I am worrying over nothing.”

“That’s the spirit!” Tikki encouraged, before giggling sheepishly. “I mean, not the worrying over nothing, but reasoning with yourself. I think Adrien will be fine. After everything that happened, his parents are sure to take threats to his safety super seriously. He’ll be safe.”

The sun was setting, filling the room with a warm light, but Marinette was still cold with worry. Was Tikki right? Would Adrien really be ok?

“You should focus on Chat coming over tonight instead! It’s the night of your confession after all,” Tikki encouraged, interrupting her thoughts. “He’ll be here in about an hour, right?”

The sharp reminder caused Marinette to squeak and she stumbled from her chair, she ran over to the mirror, checking her reflection. “Oh my god is that really the time?! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I’M NOT READY!”

Over the course of the next half an hour she tore her wardrobe apart trying to pick the right outfit to confess. Something pretty but not seductive, something that would soften the blow of the lie she’d be confessing to. She settled on a soft cotton dress that stopped mid-thigh, pale pink in colour with a few white butterflies sewn onto the hem and over her heart. It was rather apt. She’d made it last year to celebrate the anniversary of peace in Paris. Her green ribbons, as always, stayed put, but she curled the ends of her hair and applied some rose-coloured eyeshadow and pink lip gloss. Then she wiped off the lip gloss for fear of being too pink. Then she panicked about the state of her room but decided she could deal with that a bit later.

Tikki watched all of this with an amused smile.

Once she was sure she was ready, Marinette stood in front of the mirror and began practicing the speech she’d written down, her confession to Chat Noir.

“Chat,” she began, “No- no- that sounds too serious.” She cleared her throat. “Chat! Ugh, no that sounds too nonchalant.” She frowned, tapping her foot on the ground. For fun, she imitated Nino for a second, pointing finger-guns up to her mirror self and winking. “Yo dude, just wanted to tell you that I was Ladybug, my guy. I’ve been her the whole time! Like whaaaaat?!”

Tikki giggled.

“Tikki,” Marinette whined, spinning around and slumping against the mirror. “This is so hard!”

“You’ll get it Marinette!” she cheered. “Just look inside your heart and speak from there.”

Speak from the heart. Ok. She could do that.

Turning back to the mirror, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Speak from the heart, speak from the heart.

When she opened her eyes once more, her mirror self vanished, and she imagined Chat Noir standing in her stead. Taking one more deep breath, she exhaled, and began her confession.

She didn’t hear her google alert go off.

“Chat,” she said, soft, gentle, thinking of the way he spoke to her on that rainy day a lifetime ago, when he gave her the yellow friendship rose. “The time we’ve spent together these past months has been the best time of my life. I love you, so much. Words can’t even begin to describe. But… there’s something I need to confess. I’ve actually loved you far longer than you think. You see, I’ve known you for many years, and I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to tell you. I hope you can forgive me for being scared, confused, conflicted with what I should do. But I realised the other day that I can’t keep up this lie anymore. It’s not fair to you. It doesn’t feel right. I hope you aren’t mad at me but I’ll understand if you are. Please know that I didn’t hide who I was out of malice, or because I wanted to trick you. I hid it because…I was afraid. Afraid to lose you, afraid of how this would change us, of how real it would be. But I’m not afraid of it being real anymore. Because loving you, meeting you, is the most real thing that’s ever happened to me.”

She stepped back, coming back into the present. “That’s when I’ll turn into Ladybug.”

Tikki clapped. “That was beautiful, Marinette. I’m sure his heart will melt!”

Her phone buzzed again.

“You know…” Marinette replied, threading her fingers together. “I was terrified about this, but now I’m- I’m kind of excited. Really excited actually.” She scooped up Tikki and gave her a kiss. “I’m going to do it!” she laughed. “I’m going to confess to Chat!”

“And then you can be together for real!” Tikki cheered. “Because I’m sure he’ll share his identity with you too. Now that Paris has been safe for so long, I know that things will be ok!”

The pair of them giggled as Marinette span them around in an excited little dance, before she stuttered to a halt, her eyes wide with horror. Her room was still a mess!

By the time she’d finished frantically shoving her makeup back into their proper bags and picking up all her discarded outfits from the floor, the sky had darkened, casting the room in bluish shadows of twilight. When she shoved the last of her skirts back onto a hanger, her eyes lingered upwards, to the top of her closet, and her hands stalled. An idea struck her.

As she run downstairs to fetch the necessary equipment to carry out her idea, her phone went from buzzing a few times a minute, to buzzing every few seconds. Tikki sat beside it with a frown.

Marinette hurried back into her room, grabbing an old white box from the top shelf of her closet and the empty glass jar and hurrying over to the desk to begin her task.

“Your phone sure has been talkative!” Tikki told her.

“I’ll get it in a minute,” Marinette replied, too focused on her task to think about how late the hour was becoming, or why her phone going off might be something of a concern. With her tongue poked out for added seriousness, she opened the box, stopping to stare at its contents for a moment.

The yellow forever rose was as it always had been, perfectly frozen in time, exactly as beautiful and fresh-looking as it had been the day Chat had given it to her all those year ago. The thing that had changed most was the meaning behind it. It was symbol of their beginning, a culmination of all the things they’d gone through together. Yellow. Friendship. Trust. Partnership.

Marinette opened her ribbon drawer, cutting a piece of ribbon and tying it delicately around the rose. The ribbon was red. Passion. Devotion.

Love.

Settling the rose in the jar, she sat back with a smile, admiring her handiwork. Once her confession was over, if all went well, she would show Chat the forever rose, a symbol of how much they meant to each other. Her heart was an excited drum, her smile was shaky, but she felt good. This was good. She tried hard not to focus on the bad outcomes, how upset Chat might be with her lies. He wasn’t entirely guilt free after all. He was hiding his identity too.

She might learn that tonight.

All the secrets would finally be over.

They could finally be together, for real!

Her phone buzzed again.

“Oh for the love of”- Marinette huffed, snatching her phone from the desk and unlocking it.

Then she let out a screech.

LOVE AT LAST! ADRIEN AGRESTE AND MYSTERIOUS NEW GIRL SPOTTED TOGETHER AT PHOTOSHOOT.

WHO IS THE MYSTERIOUS WOMAN CAUGHT SNUGGLING WITH ADRIEN AGRESTE?!

LOOK OF LOVE! YOU WON’T BELIEVE THESE PHOTOS OF ADRIEN WITH A SECRET FLING!

Marinette slammed her phone back  onto her desk and scooted back in her chair, recoiling in horror, as though the thing itself was cursed.

The photos. The photos of her and Adrien were out. That creep Wayhem must have shared them and now, like a bad virus, they’d multiplied, sent out to every nook and cranny of the internet. Her phone was blowing up with messages from her friends at the gaming club. Nino and Alya had both tried to call her at least 5 times.

Adrien hadn’t contacted her at all.

She wasn’t aware she was having a panic attack until Tikki flew up to her shoulder and whispered, “Marinette, it’s ok, breathe.”

“The tophographs,” she whispered, “I mean the photographs. The photos of Adrien and I. There everywhere. Everyone thinks we’re dating. EVERYONE CAN SEE THEM.”

She stood up, pacing the room and tugging down at her hair ribbons. “Everyone can see them. Oh my god Tikki. What if Chat sees?! What if Chat Noir sees and thinks I’m dating Adrien Agreste?! THERE’S PHOTO EVIDENCE!!!!”

“It’s just of you two cuddling, right? Besides, you and I both know that cuddling doesn’t mean anything,” Tikki soothed, following Marinette’s trail of woe, circling around and around the room. “He’s reasonable. Knowing Chat, he’ll come to you first for answers. It’s fine. Don’t worry.”

Marinette stopped. Twirling around to Tikki with wild, desperate eyes, she replied. “Are you sure?”

Tikki nodded. “I’m sure! I know how much Chat loves you. He wouldn’t abandon you over this. He’d want answers from you.”

With her legs shaking from the massive adrenaline rush she’d just experienced, Marinette half stumbled over towards the desk and collapsed at it once more. “You’re right,” she uttered, more to soothe herself than anything. “You’re right, Tikki. He’ll still come tonight.”

“Exactly, and once you’ve cleared everything up you can move on with your confession and everything will be ok,” Tikki nodded sagely, moving to Marinette’s head and readjusting her hair ribbons. “All that’s left to do is wait for him!”

So Marinette did exactly that.

She waited.

And waited…

And waited.

But he never showed up.


 

It was morning, and Marinette’s neck was stiff. Her eyes were dry and her face rough. A random thought struck her that she was grateful she’d worn waterproof mascara, as if that really mattered.

The sky outside was a picturesque, endless blanket of blue. Birds were tweeting. The yellow rose was still sitting opposite her, the whole scene was loud and happy and obnoxiously mocking. Marinette wanted to throw stuff at the sky to make it stop being beautiful. In the movies, whenever things went wrong, there was always rain. Always thunder and lightning. Where was her pathetic fallacy?! She demanded it damn it!

She slumped back in her desk chair, having fallen asleep there the night before.  The blanket Tikki must have draped across her in the night tumbled to the floor with a soft thwump . She blinked, a heavy hollowness weighing down her chest.

Heartache was a physical pain, as though it had been ripped from the right timeline, the right course of events, where Chat had showed up the night before and everything had gone ok.

Why? Why had it happened like this? She’d been so excited…so ready to end all the secrets. It felt like she’d switched to an alternate reality where everything was switched around. Nothing made sense anymore, everything was scrambled. Even her bedroom felt foreign to her, cold and lonely. The yellow rose stared at her. For a moment she wanted to throw it away.

But she never could. Never. No matter what happened. Some promises could never be broken.

She wandered over to her circular window, staring out at the city. Where was he now? Where was Chat? Was he somewhere out there, hating her? Feeling betrayed? Why hadn’t he come?

She wiped a wayward tear from her face. This wasn’t fair, she’d only been trying to do the right thing after months of being wrong. But it had been too late. All of the fears she’d ignored over the past six months, the knowledge that- if they carried on hiding their identities from each other- they were going to get hurt, all of them were right.

She’d been too late to stop it. By her own inaction.

Her emotions snapped, switching from despair to anger as quick as a flash. So she didn’t act? Well, what was he doing? Punishing her? Playing mind games? What the hell was he thinking? Didn’t he trust enough to at least ask her? Who stood someone up like that? Wasn’t he meant to be a gentleman? Asshole!

She turned away from the skyline, her brow furrowed, and she marched back towards her desk with an annoyed scream, muffled only by her hands.

And then, as quick as the anger came, it faded.

To fear.

What if he never showed up again? What if he was done? What if he’d been having doubts and fears himself and this was the final straw for him?

What if he never came back? How would a confession go then? Would she have to meet him as Ladybug, reveal herself to be Marinette, and have their partnership forever dissolved?

She buried her head deeper into her hands. What a mess. What an absolute mess her life had devolved into. Her relationship with Chat was more complicated than ever, and she was now famous as Adrien’s not-so-secret girlfriend. People all over the internet were debating her sex life, if she was a gold digger, if she was pregnant with his child. They probably knew her name, her age, and they’d probably figure out where she lived soon. Her poor parents.

It was in the midst of all her deepest worries about her parents being trampled by rabid paparazzi, that her phone rang. She groaned, having turned off most of her notifications, but she picked it up against her better judgement. If Alya was calling her again, she was just going to explain that she was hiding away like a coward for the day.

But it wasn’t Alya calling.

Marinette stared in shock at the number, a number that she had in case of only the direst of emergencies, but one she never, ever thought she’d see on her screen. Ice flooded through her body about what it could mean, for that person to have called her.

She almost dropped her phone on her way to her ear. “H-hello?”

“Good morning Marinette, it’s Emilie Agreste,” came the gentle, sweet voice of Adrien’s mother from the other end of the phone. “I’m terribly sorry to call you first thing in the morning. First, I’d like to say Adrien is fine for now. He’s safe with us. But I need your help.”

Marinette sat up, clutching the edge of her chair so hard that it was in danger of snapping off. “My help? How?”

“I’ll explain everything later,” Emilie said, “I’m not sure if my phone is being bugged . I am sorry to be bothering you with this, I know you’re a busy Lady , but I couldn’t go to just anyone with the kind of help I am asking for. I need someone special. Someone miraculous .”

Marinette stood up, nodding her head. “Understood. I’ll be there soon.”

“Thank you my dear,” Emilie said, sounding relieved. “As always, we don’t deserve you.”

They hung up the phone. Marinette set it to the side, and closed her eyes, forcing her pain into a quiet corner of herself, where she could hide it whilst she did what needed to be done.

“Tikki!” she cried, “Transform me!”

 

Chapter Text

2 Years Ago

 

For years, Chat Noir’s house had been just that. A house.

Not a home, but a cold, dark place, vacant of any life or love.

He’d always thought it was the absence of his mother that had caused such an emotional black hole where love had once been. This was only part of the reason however. Finally he understood why , in all its terrible truth.

Chat Noir stood in the hallway, glaring at the man in front of him...the source of all his anger, his rage, his pain. The reason he was a superhero to begin with, why he was so lonely, why he’d spent his whole life isolated and socially awkward.

His father.

Hawkmoth.

It was difficult to fathom the depths of betrayal Chat felt, how physically sick he was over the revelation. How what should have been the final battle had turned to a whole new set of horrors as Ladybug and Chat Noir had faced down Hawkmoth head-on for the first time, to take his miraculous away…

Only to see the eyes of his father reflected back at him the second Hawkmoth’s power was stripped away.

So. Hawkmoth was his father. His mother was still alive and being held prisoner by a deranged, disgraced former hero, who wanted their the Ladybug and Black Cat miraculous’ for himself.

It was almost laughable, how adapted Chat had become to feeling like a chess piece most of his life. A pawn for his father to move about however he saw fit. But this was another level. Chat Noir, being Chat Noir, had been freedom. The kind of freedom he’d never even dared dream of before.

But it was tainted now. Tainted by yet another one of his father’s schemes for power. Only instead of business power, it was power of a much more sinister kind.

Could he trust anyone anymore?

Had Fu known he was pitting father against son?

And what would Ladybug think? Her own partner, the son of their mortal enemy.

Somewhere knotted deep inside him, underneath all the layer of rage and hurt, was fear. Fear for his mother. Fear of Ladybug finding out about him. The guilt. The shame…

She could never know. God. She could NEVER know.

Collecting himself before he had a full on mental breakdown, he pulled his shoulders back and marched over to Hawkmoth until he was almost nose to him.

“You know, Ladybug and I disagree on a few things. She thinks you could help us take down Puppetmaster. I on the other hand think we should throw you straight into prison like the vile snake you are. However I can’t deny that you know more about all of this than we do. Even so-”

He grabbed Hawkmoth by the collar, fingernails digging in, and lifted him up just enough for it to be uncomfortable. The blank expression Hawkmoth wore only served to anger him further. How many times has his father, the man standing before him, looked at him that way as he dismissed every emotional need Adrien had ever had?

He hated him. He hated him so, so much.

“- If you so much as go within a meter of Ladybug, if you look at her wrong, if I get even a slight indication that you change your mind in helping us in this ill-advised team-up, no Miraculous Cure will ever save you from what I will do to you. That is a promise.”

Hawkmoth arched an eyebrow at him. “I will bear that in mind,” he replied flatly. “But rest assured, all that matters to me is getting my wife back. No matter what the consequences.”

Even if it costs you your son whilst you’re at it, Chat had to stop himself from saying.

He released Hawkmoth from his grip, pushing him away with a growl.

“You disgust me,” he spat.

Chat Noir turned his back on his father and mortal enemy, storming out of the front doors and out towards the gates, where Ladybug was waiting for him.


Present Day

 

Ladybug stood at the gates to the Agreste manor, nostalgia washing all over her.

She hadn’t been there in years, but the times she had… the memories were so strong, so emotional, they were etched into her brain with permanent ink. She couldn’t remove them if she tried, nor did she want to.

It was here where the final battle had begun after all.

Ladybug shook her head, trying to rattle the memories back into a treasure chest in the corner of her brain. At least for now. She needed to focus on the present- on more pressing matters.

Glancing around nervously, she was relieved that her previous inspection was correct. No reporters were hanging around. She heaved a relieved sigh. They’d been absolutely obsessed with Adrien Agreste’s “secret flame.” Most of them had camped out at Adrien’s apartment, unaware that he was no longer there. Nino had texted her earlier mentioning something about Nathaniel and his boyfriend stealing paparazzi cameras and running away with them when they showed up at the campus looking for both of them.

She tried not to laugh at the image, having not been in the mood to find it funny earlier.

Then, predictably, the reason why she’d not been in the mood crept up in her mind. Looking around again, she wondered if Chat would be here too, if Emilie had asked for his help also.

She wasn’t ready to see him, too hurt and confused. The wound was too fresh.

What would she even say? Could she carry on with her confession, knowing how tainted it was with unnecessary drama and pain?

Much like her previous memories, she forced the fears of Chat Noir’s abandonment away for the time being. This was too important to be distracted. No matter how she was feeling inside, she had a job to do.

So she lifted her chin, marched forwards, and pressed the intercom to the manor.

“Who is it?” a curt, static voice buzzed out of the speaker as a camera popped out of the side of one of the walls, pointed directly at her fact.

Was it possible for security cameras to glare? Because this one seemed to be doing exactly that.

“Oh, umm, yes, hello!” Ladybug stumbled through a greeting, put off by the large, red eye of the camera and the abrasive tone of the static voice. “I’m here to see Emilie Agreste?”

“Uh-huh, sure you are kiddo,” the static voice sighed, moving from an aggressive manner to a more dismissive and patronising one. Ladybug bristled. “Listen I don’t know what you weirdo reporters are up to this time, but you’re not getting past these gates.”

“Excuse me,” a voice piped up from behind her, “But is that ugly little security camera broken? Do you not know who you’re talking to?”

When Ladybug turned around, she came face-to-face with a beautiful blonde. At first, Marinette wondered if she was a model friend of Adrien’s, as she was dressed head-to-toe in designer clothes. Dior trousers, a Gucci top from the spring line-up, and the latest Marc Jacobs bag every socialite was going crazy for. She raised her Chanel sunglasses to rest them on top of her soft, golden hair and shot the security camera a scathing glare. On first look, it might have been easy to confuse her for some ultra glamorous angel.

But angels didn’t look like they’d step on you with their Manolo Blahnik’s if you made them wait more than 3 minutes for the Cosmo they ordered.

“M-Miss Bourgeois!” the security person stammered.

“I’ll handle this,” the girl, who Ladybug now recognised as Chloe Bourgeois- the socialite with the famous fashion designer mother, declared. She crossed her arms across her chest. “I’m here to see my dearest Adrien, and are you telling me that you don’t recognise the other Lady whom you’re speaking to?”

“I’m sorry Miss Bourgeois,” the security person replied. “I’m not supposed to let anyone in today.”

“Excuse me,” she replied acidly, “It’s bad enough that you’re even daring to think of denying me, Adrien’s oldest friend, from visiting him. But to actually insinuate that you are going to turn the hero of Paris away?! Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous! Give me your managers number right this instant! Good luck ever finding work again.”

It was at that point the gates began to open. Ladybug gawked as the security guard continued to stammer out apologies and pleas for Miss Bourgeois to not get him fired.

Chloe ignored him. Flipping her long, softly waved hair over her shoulder she linked arms with Ladybug and said, “Come on, let’s go.”

They wandered down the pathway leading to the entrance of the manor, Ladybug still reeling from the show of verbal dissection she’d just witnessed. She supposed, entering the fashion industry, she ought to get used to it.

“I am so, so, sorry about that,” Chloe apologised, her voice dripping in honey. “I cannot believe the nerve of some people! To even think about not worshipping the ground you walk on instantly. Disgusting. You’re our hero.”

Ladybug blushed. “I really don’t want people to worship the ground I walk on.”

Chloe stopped. Spinning around so she was now facing Ladybug, her back to the steps of the manor, she fixed her with an incredulous stare. “Why ever not?! You’re a hero! People should worship you. If I was a hero, I’d let everyone know about it.”

Ladybug found herself rather glad that Chloe wasn’t, in fact, a hero. She was about to say something inspiring and typically-Tikki-ish (“a hero’s work is its own reward Marinette!” “Just saving the day is good enough Marinette!”) which she also agreed with, but was caught off guard by Chloe’s arm slinking around her shoulders.

    1

“Anyways, you simply have to take a selfie with me. Two Queens meeting like this? The internet will break. They can’t handle all this beauty,” she winked, then chuckled, and Ladybug was having a tough time figuring out if Chloe was being serious or not. Before she had a chance to really analyse it, however, Chloe was already pulling out her phone. “Plus it’ll really stick it to Winifred, bitch thinks she can go to Monte Carlo without me knowing it. This’ll show her what she’s missing out on.”

“Who- who is Winifred?” Ladybug blinked, as Chloe took a snap.

“My ex-girlfriend. Total cow, utter  loser, can’t stand her,” she explained, checking the selfie she’d just taken and nodding in approval. Ladybug had never met anyone in costume, in or out, who was happy with the first selfie take. This girl was terrifying. “OH EM GEE. I just thought of the best idea!” her eyes seemed to sparkle, somehow innocently and evilly, a perfect complement to the soft smokey eyeshadow coupled with eyeliner wings sharp enough to kill a man. “We should totally pretend to be dating. That would really piss off Winifred, the stupid sow.”

Ladybug stepped out from under Chloe’s arm and began backing up the stairs, waving her hands. “As much as I’d- err- love to stick it to your ex-girlfriend, I can’t talk about my loved ones in public. They could become a target for villains and I could never live with myself if you got hurt.”

That was the official reason, which was only the half-truth. The main reason was Ladybug had had enough accidental fake relationships to last a lifetime, even if that particular fake relationship was less than a day old.

At first, Ladybug was worried Chloe would throw a strop at her akin to the one she’d given the security guard previously. There was a brief flash of something in her eyes, but it was too quick for Ladybug to focus on. She then sighed, looking more vulnerable than she had so far. “See? This is why you’re meant to be the hero of Paris,” Chloe looked up at her with admiration. She tucked a strand of her behind her ear and Ladybug found this Chloe a lot more likeable. She wondered if all of the posturing and huffiness was just a mask. “You think of things like that instantly. Most of us would have to be taught. It comes naturally to you.”

Ladybug couldn’t help it. She blushed again.

“But can I at least keep the selfie? Like I said, Winifred would die ,” Chloe added, all traces of that vulnerability gone.

Ladybug chuckled. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to delete that for now, as I’m here on secret business,” she tapped her nose. “But I tell you what, you show me proof you’re deleting our selfie now and I’ll take 5 with you once what I’m here for clears up. And that’s a Ladybug promise.”

Chloe squeaked, actually squeaked, and threw her arms around her before scrambling to show Ladybug the photo. She watched at it was deleted, and heaved a sigh of relief. No more incriminating photos being leaked for the time being. Thank goodness. “Yay! Ok look- look see? Deleting it! Ooooh I can’t wait, I’m going to make it the best mini photoshoot you’ll see! We can even wear matching outfits. I could get a new suit to match yours, which I love by the way. So much better than the pyjama-type thing you wore when you were first starting out!”

Whilst Ladybug was contemplating exactly what she’d gotten herself in for, the door opened and a nervous servant popped out. “Were you waiting to see Madame Agreste?”

Chloe looked at her with a raised eyebrow. If Ladybug didn’t know any better, she’d say Chloe was worried. “You’re seeing Emilie? Why? Is there something wrong with her? The creep who took her isn’t back is he?”

“No,” Ladybug replied as they walked inside, insides flaring with anger at the mere mention of that person. “No, he won’t ever be bothering this family again.”

The cavernous entrance hall was almost exactly as she remembered it, but something was different. It wasn’t the artwork, that had mostly stayed the same aside from the family portrait hanging above the stairs. No, it wasn’t anything tangible. It was a feeling. The Agreste Manor had felt so cold, so empty and lifeless the last time she’d been there. It was the opposite now, as though the presence of Emile Agreste had brought all of the good things, all of the life, back into the house. In her return, she had transformed it into a home once more.

And she was currently standing at the top of the staircase, looking straight at Ladybug.

It never failed to amaze her, how graceful and elegant Emilie Agreste was. Wearing a softly flowing summer dress, adorned with her husband’s jewellery, she glided down the stairs with a soft smile, fingers gently brushing against the bannister.

Until, at least, she reached the bottom of the stairs and hastened over to Ladybug with open arms. Gently pulling her into a motherly embrace, she whispered, “Oh I’m so glad you came,” and Ladybug couldn’t help but pick up on the relief and slight fear in her voice.

    2

Once she pulled away, she noticed Chloe and brightened, “Chloe darling, what brings you here?”

“I’m here to see your son,” Chloe replied, waving her phone up and down, “he hasn’t been responding to my messages, which is unlike him. So, I thought I’d grace him with my presence seeing as he’s definitely not at his apartment. Have you seen the vultures clinging around outside his building? Ridiculous!”

Emilie nodded. “Of course,” she replied gesturing upstairs. “He’s in his room. Be warned, dear, he’s in a rather… delicate mood these days.”

Chloe scoffed, already halfway up the stairs, “When is he ever not?” she clicked her tongue before waving back to Ladybug. “Ciao, ciao, Ladybug! I won’t forget those selfies!”

“I wouldn’t expect you to!” Ladybug called back with a wave.

Then Emilie and Ladybug were left alone.

Emilie guided Ladybug towards the dining area, closing the door behind her. “We won’t be disturbed in here. Please,” she said and gestured to one of the chairs. There were about fourteen of them. Ladybug wasn’t sure which one to pick. Once again, she wondered if the Agreste’s had any normal sized room, any place in the house that wasn’t equipped to hold a crazy important business dinner or a fancy charity gala.

She settled into the chair closest to her, at the edge of the table, and Emile came to sit perpendicular to her, at the head of the table. She then took her hand, holding it the way a some might do to a sick relative. “How are you, Marinette?”

Ladybug blinked, not used to people calling her by her civilian name whilst she was suited up. It took her a quick second to realise what Emilie was referring to, and her free hand instantly went to her side. “Oh, I’m fine.”

“Your wound hasn’t been bothering you, has it?” she asked, squeezing her hand tighter.

“No not at all,” Ladybug replied, “the healing sessions with Master Fu really helped. You can hardly see the scar anymore. It kind of looks like a birthmark. It hasn’t hurt in years. Promise!”

Emilie nodded and the tiny crease in her brow faded. She placed her fingers on her neck, so similar to Adrien’s mannerism that Ladybug was almost blown away by it. “I must confess, I do feel awful about having to ask for your help, especially after everything you’ve done for my family. But I felt as though Gabriel and I had nobody else we could trust and whom we could contact so immediately. I do hope you’ll understand?”

Ladybug nodded. She understood Emilie’s concern, and would have reacted exactly the same in her situation.  The whole reason Ladybug was here in the first place, was Gabriel Agreste’s reaction to his wife being held to ransom.

Many years before Ladybug and Chat Noir, another band of heroes existed, saving the day not only in Paris, but the whole of Europe. Gabriel and Emilie were part of that group, the wielders of the bee and the peacock respectively. Everything was well, and a long era of peace reigned in Paris, enough that most of the heroes decided to retire. They returned their miraculous, and led normal lives. Gabriel and Emilie got married and had a child. All was well…

Or so they thought.

You see, one wielder, a teammate by the name of Isaiah Slade, hadn’t enjoyed giving up his miraculous. He wanted it back. In fact, he wanted them all and was determined to do anything in his power to get them.

It was three days after Adrien’s fifth birthday when Emilie and Gabriel discovered one of their teammates and his wife had been murdered in cold blood, found dead in their apartment, their whole place ransacked. The police chalked it up to a robbery gone wrong. But the remaining heroes worried that something far more sinister was going on.

They decided that day, to ensure that Adrien was always protected, to give him the finest home schooling their rapidly growing money could buy. At that point, they didn’t know what enemy might have been wreaking revenge. They didn’t know it was a former friend. A friend who had attended Adrien’s aforementioned birthday party, had brought him a teddy bear and given him piggy back rides.

Years went on and it would be both Emilie and Gabriel’s biggest regret, to not realise how far Isaiah had fallen. They rarely saw him, and one by one, their friends vanished. This didn’t concern them, for the murder of their teammate had had them all rattled one way or another. This was an oversight they would also come to regret. But there was still peace in Paris, and nothing bad had happened.

Until one day, four years ago, when Isaiah turned up at the Agreste Manor. His black hair was matted like a stray dog and his eyes were wild. He twitched when spoken to. Nobody else was home.

Except Emilie.

He begged her to help him find Master Fu, so they could take all of the miraculous from him, trying to tempt her with seeing Duusuu, her beloved kwami, once more. Seeing how unhinged he’d become, she outright refused, tried to get him the help he sorely needed. But this was not the answer Isaiah was hoping for and so, in one last desperate attempt to win power, he picked up a vase and cracked it over Emilie’s head. Piling her into her own car, he snuck out of the secure manor, the blood from her would staining the back seat.

Later that day, Adrien returned to an empty house, shards of vase, and his mothers blood splattered on the floor.

This was how Gabriel Agreste became Hawkmoth. In his desperate search for his wife, Isaiah (who had renamed himself “The Puppetmaster”) sent Gabriel cryptic messages, threatening his wife’s safety unless he got him all of the Miraculous. He revealed that he had been the one to kill their former teammates, as they had borrowed their miraculous to take care of a recent flood. He had the fox miraculous, and so he could hide anywhere and Gabriel would never know.

In retaliation, Gabriel spent all his time and effort tracking down the famous lost Miraculous, the butterfly miraculous, and sought the power of his own in order to find Isaiah and get his wife back.

This all came to a head two years previously. They had reluctantly settled on a brief truce with him in order to save Emilie Agreste and put a stop the Puppetmaster’s evil plans of accruing all the miraculous.

That was when Ladybug, having rescued Emilie and severely depleted of energy, was hunt down and shot by Isaiah as she hid away, de-transforming. Tikki had had to push herself to her absolute limit in order to transform Marinette once more and protect her identity. They both spent months recovering after what Paris came to know as the day of Hawkmoth’s defeat.

So Marinette could understand why threatening letters, in particular, would make Gabriel and Emilie worry so much.

“So what kind of help do you need Ma’am?” Ladybug asked.


 

“ADRIKINS!”

Adrien flopped up from his sofa with an unholy screech and sent Plagg, who had been snoozing on his chest, flying halfway across the room. Plagg let out a hiss before rubbing his eyes. “What the-?”

Chloe strode into the room, placing her hand on her hip. “Are you just now getting up? Has it finally happened? Are you going through your Ibiza phase?”

Adrien rubbed his eyes, trying to get a bearing on what happened and why Chloe was suddenly in his room. Also why was he in his room?! Why wasn’t he back at his apart-

Oh. The death threats. Yeah.

“I’m not going through an Ibiza phase, Chlo’,” Adrien mumbled, referring to the notorious party island and Chloe’s brief stint as a wild party girl. Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet. His body felt twice as heavy, burdened with tiredness and stress. “You handled that enough for the both of us.”

Chloe chuckled, before walking to his desk chair and crossing her legs. “You’re correct there, but those days are far, far behind me,” she waved her hand out before checking her nails, heaving a faux sigh. “And now I wake up early, traipsing all across Paris to find out the wellbeing of my dear childhood friend.”

“Is Winifred not in town then?” Adrien grinned, teasing.

Chloe spluttered, completely taken out of her saintly act, “I beg your pardon, but I would come and check on you even if she was here. Which she isn’t, clearly.”

“Are you two fighting again?” Adrien frowned. “Seriously Chloe, your relationship with that girl isn’t healthy.”

“Oh. I see. Hmm. Interesting,” Chloe replied checking her fingernails once more, only this time in a way which suggested Adrien was about to be scalped by them. “The thing is, I know whatever I have with Winifred isn’t healthy. It’s toxic and dramatic AF, but I love it like that. I’m not ready to settle into an actual relationship, so it’s exciting. I don’t go around pretending our relationship is healthy. And nor do I sleep with a lovely girl for six months as my alter ego, and then claim to be dating her as my civilian self.”

Adrien gulped. God, why hadn’t he locked his bedroom door when he was younger? If he had Chloe would never have walked in on him mid-transformation and he would never have to have been held accountable for his actions. Damn it.

“So perhaps you might refrain from judgements on my love life, hmm, Monsieur Noir?”

At this point, Plagg flew towards Chloe cackling. “Ha! She told you, did she?”

He landed on Chloe’s lap and, as was usual whenever the two of them got together, Adrien ended up feeling outnumbered. But in a fun way. Except this time the subject matter wasn’t amusing in the slightest. Adrien groaned and slumped onto the edge of the sofa, facing Chloe and Plagg. “I messed up so bad.”

“Oh really?” Chloe replied dryly, “I hadn’t noticed,” she leaned back with a stretched grin. “So tell me all about it.”

“You could look less pleased about it,” Adrien admonished.

“But you always told me lying was wrong,” Chloe shot right back. “And I did warn you that sleeping with this Marinette person as your superhero self, even though you know her as a civilian, was going to come back to bite you. I am fully entitled to be pleased that I am- once again- right about everything.”

“I just wanted this rude jerk I work with to stop harassing her, that’s all!” Adrien huffed. “I didn’t mean for all of this to happen! Now everyone thinks we’re secretly dating and I couldn’t even see her last night and the stupid police took my phone so I can’t even talk to her as me!”

“Well… I mean they aren’t wrong I suppose,” Plagg replied. “You are secretly dating. Except not in the way everyone thinks.”

Adrien stared out the window, worrying at his lip and ignoring Chloe’s protest that he was going to make them chapped if he carried on. “I’m worried. About her. If she’s ok, if she’s overwhelmed by reporters looking for stories? The most Nathalie was able to find out was that the bakery is closed today. But I haven’t heard anything about her . What if she hates me now because of all of this? Ugh! I can’t believe the police took my phone. Why didn’t I memorise her number? Then I could’ve used to old landline…”

“All I can say is, I hope you’ve been very good to her in the boudoir,” Chloe added. “Else she’ll be furious when she finds out the truth. I know that I’m more willing to forgive someone if they’re masterful in that sense. Why do you think I still allow Winifred in my life after the champagne bucket fiasco? But then, I’m a lady and I won’t divulge my secrets.”

Adrien looked around his old bedroom, lamenting that he hadn’t changed it much since his teenage years. It could have really done with having a whiskey bar.

“But in all seriousness,” Chloe sighed, the teasing faded from her countenance and she sat forward. Plagg moved to sit on her shoulder instead. “Adrien, you aren’t like me. You’ve never been like me when it comes to relationships. Where I actually enjoy being young and dramatic and free for now, you’ve always wanted to tie your heart to someone and make a life with them. You’ve always been about- ugh- family. So, what are you doing playing pretend when you could have this girl for real?”

“I’ve tried talking to him about this tons of times, and he just won’t have it!” Plagg cried, shooting an accusing paw in Adrien’s direction. “He’s convinced she’ll never speak to him again if he says the truth.”

“Well it’s true! I’ve lied to her for so long, and any time I’ve tried to tell the truth, something has gotten in the way or I’ve ended up losing my nerve,” Adrien lamented. He stood up, running his hand through his hair. “I’m in way too deep. I feel like- I don’t know- she’s my oxygen. With her, I feel so… free. I can breathe, but I also can’t think around her. I lose all reason. It’s dumb and stupid but I’m hooked on it- the feeling of being loved by someone. It’s selfish, but I love loving her, and more than just physically ”- he added, cutting off Chloe as she opened her mouth- “I love being with her, laughing with her, talking about my day and hearing about her. I love her little laugh and her hair ribbons, and I love the way she plays with those ribbons when she’s nervous. The idea of confessing my lie, the risk of losing that, it’s overwhelming.”

“But it’s only a fraction of what you could have, if you let go of those fears,” Chloe pointed out. “Honestly, you should stop being a coward and go for it. Stop dwelling on all the ways it could go wrong and dive in head first. If it works, well that’s wonderful, and you’ll get your little house with the children and marriage- all those awful things. If it doesn’t work? Well, it wasn’t meant to be, and you’ll learn your lesson and grow from it. You think I got with Selena by acting shy?! No. If you want love, you need to be bold about it.”

“Pop stars aside, I’m not as resilient as you, Chloe. It’s not a fling to me. I really love her, you know?” Adrien sighed, leaning forwards and staring at the floor. “The idea of Marinette hating me? I can’t take it.”

“Well then you shouldn’t have lied in the first place? Or fallen in love? I don’t know what you want, ugh! You’re being too mopey,” Chloe folded her arms. “Plagg, he’s being too mopey.”

“Stop being mopey, kid,” Plagg said, with all the dullness of a 90’s skater boy.

“I’m not being mopey,” Adrien replied, marching over to the desk where Chloe was sitting and taking a swig of a bottle of water.

“You are so,” Chloe argued, leaning back with a raised eyebrow. “And nor are you looking at the bigger picture. Think about this. If it doesn’t work out with Marinette, you could date Ladybug instead.”

Adrien spat out his water, spraying it all over Chloe, who fled from the chair and shrieked “Adrien! This is GUCCI.”

“You want me to WHAT?!” Adrien spluttered, heat rising to his face. “I don’t have- Ladybug she’s just a fri- I can’t date- I’m in love with Marinette .”

Plagg and Chloe shared a look, which simultaneously made Adrien both baffled and infuriated. It appeared as though they were both in on something and weren’t willing to divulge anything to him to him, regarding his own feelings.

    3

Ok. Now he was moping.

“Well, you’re right I suppose,” Chloe replied, a fond look crossing her features which made Adrien smile. Her soft spot (pun intended) for Ladybug always made him chuckle. “After all, she’s farrrr out of your league. I mean, have you seen her recently?! She’s gorgeous and so brave and wonderful- oh by the way she’s downstairs- and so noble too! She even agreed to take selfies with me! Can you imagine how jealous Winifred will be?

The smile crashed off of his face. “Wait. What?”

“I said she agreed to take selfies with me,” Chloe repeated, only louder and slower. Then she scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Plagg it’s like he doesn’t even listen to me.”

“You don’t need to tell me!” Plagg rolled his eyes. “In one ear and out the other.”

Adrien would have stopped to defend himself, but he was already halfway out the door. Ladybug was here? Ladybug?! Here?! In his house???

The last time she’d been here had been a very different story.

He raced down the hallway, footsteps echoing all around him- a reflection of the questions bouncing around his head. Why was she here? Had something happened? Was his mum ok?

When he got to the top of the stairs, he skidded to a halt, hand gripping the rail. For a moment his heart stopped at the sight below them.

The police were there, along with Ladybug. His parents were nowhere to be found. Flashes of memories- a drop of blood- a shard of glass- filled his mind and he felt him slip out of the present, if only for a second. All at once he was sinking, falling into a dark abyss of pain.

And then Ladybug turned around. Their eyes met, and she smiled. Suddenly, the sinking abyss was gone. The feeling of drowning was gone. He could breathe again. Because if she was smiling at him, things were ok. If she was smiling, he was ok.

He could breathe.

She whispered something to the police, who nodded and left out the front door. They were alone. Adrien was drawn to her like a moth to a flame, all but floating down the stairs. “Ladybug?” he heard a voice, soft and stuttering, and then realised it was his.

He stopped a couple of feet in front of her. Perhaps it was the scattered shards of light, shining across her, or the way she still smiled, but she’d never looked lovelier to him.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” he said back. “Ladybug, is everything ok? Not that I don’t appreciate you coming to visit of course, but err, why are you here exactly?”

Ladybug blinked, tilting her head at him. A look of realisation crossed her features, that he wasn’t in whatever loop she was, and she giggled nervously. “Oh, umm, you see? Your mum called me about you. According to the police, you’ve had some death threats? So she asked me to help the investigation and- err- kind of act like your bodyguard.”

What.

The outright horror must have shown on his face, as Ladybug hastened to add. “Oh don’t worry! I know getting death threats must be distressing. But I’m on the case. And so are the police! We’ll catch the creep who threatened you in no time.”

He was about to open his mouth and say that no, no that wasn’t what he was worried about in the slightest. But he was interrupted by the arrival of his parents.

“Oh. Adrien, I see you’ve already met the young lady,” Gabriel declared.

There was a tense moment hanging in the air, like a lightning bolt ready to strike at any moment. A culmination of the shared, yet not completely shared, history. It was a while before Adrien realised that he’d stepped closer towards Ladybug, almost shielding her from their former enemy.

Gabriel Agreste had spent his years after being Paris’ number one villain trying to atone for his actions. It was years before his relationship with Adrien began to recover and, even now, it was still on shaky ground. Before the final battle, Ladybug and Chat Noir had struck a deal with Gabriel. He would choose a successor, train them up, have them take over the company and retire, quietly turning himself into the police. His assets would be frozen, but the only suffering that would come from it would be his own and not the lives and livelihoods of countless innocent people should he turn himself in immediately.

It was the worst fight Ladybug and Chat Noir ever had. She couldn’t understand why he was so angry and he was annoyed that she wasn’t agreeing with him and being so frustratingly rational. They both went into the final battle with frazzled minds, unfocused and out of sync.

And then he’d almost lost her.

His mother came to him and kissed his cheek. “Are you alright, darling? I know this is upsetting for you, but I hope you’ll indulge me on this.”

It was impossible for Adrien to be furious with his mother, even if he tried. But he was baffled. “Is this really necessary though? I’m not a child.” He twisted around to face Ladybug. “Not that I don’t want you here or anything. I only mean that this might be an inconvenience to you.”

Ladybug grinned again, tapping her nose. “Ah! But Monsieur Agreste! If it was an inconvenience to help people in their hour of need, I wouldn’t be a good superhero now, would I?”

Ok, that was cute. Why did she have to be so cute? Why couldn’t he ever say no to her?! They’d always been like this. It seemed as though his inability to deny her anything extended to his civilian self also.

He was a weak, weak man.

Tilting his head away, he exhaled and gave a half shrug. “If you’re sure. I mean, I think it’s fine. The death threat is probably a joke.”

“Threats of any kind aren’t jokes that people should be making!” Ladybug lectured, shaking her head. “And if they think it’s funny, then they ought to learn that they aren’t one way or another. Honestly, I hope it is a prank and this blows over quickly for you. But don’t worry! If there is someone out there who wants to hurt you, I can help.”

Adrien smiled at her encouragement. He had no doubt that she would kick the ass of anyone who tried to hurt him when he was detransformed. However, he couldn’t help but feel conflicted over this. It felt wrong. After all, he was Chat Noir and could handle himself. Both of his parents knew his identity. So all of this didn’t feel particularly like it was needed. On the other hand, he could argue that if someone tried to act on the death threat in broad daylight, it would be difficult to transform into Chat Noir without having to answer a lot of questions- possibly risking exposing his identity in that regard. Judging from the nervous look on his mother’s face all yesterday evening, she’d been worried about the same.

Maybe it would be good to have Ladybug around for a while after all. Besides, if it made his mother less worried about him, that was fine. As long as he didn’t have to give up his freedom for too long.

Holding out his hand to Ladybug, he offered her a polite nod. “Pleasure to be working with you Littl- Ladybug,” he corrected himself quickly. “Ladybug.  Pleasure to be working with you, Ladybug .”

Ah. Maybe this new deal was going to be trickier than he anticipated.

“Adrien, darling, why don’t you offer our guest some brunch? I’m sure chef is cooking something as we speak,” Emilie said.

“Oh no, I don’t want to impose,” Ladybug replied waving her hand frantically. As if she could ever impose.

Gabriel said nothing, content to nod once to Ladybug and once only. Ladybug blinked back in a silent conversation, before nodding back to him. It was the only interaction they had so far, and Adrien intended to keep it that way.

Narrowing his eyes a fraction, he took Ladybug’s hand without thinking. “If you like cheese, you’re in for a treat,” he said, leading Ladybug to the kitchens.

As Ladybug and Adrien left the entrance hall, Gabriel chuckled a little under his breath. “They’re still oblivious to their affections I see.”

“Well to be fair, neither of them has recognised each other yet,” Emile replied with a grin. “Maybe this time together will help?”

“Good grief wife, your matchmaking abilities are borderline occult,” Gabriel straightened his tie with a cough.

Emilie turned, straightening his tie for him. “Well, husband , I do my best.”

“Could we not simply tell them?” Gabriel asked, a frown lining his forehead. Emilie reached up to smooth the lines there with her thumb.

“I think we’ve meddled in their affairs enough already. We can give them a nudge, but it means less if they don’t work it out together,” she replied just as the police came to approach them once more.


 

Adrien had been in many surreal situations in his life.

This was perhaps, one of the most surreal.

Here he was, stuck on one side of the kitchen counter, pouring a drink out for his superhero partner. His superhero partner, who happened not to be aware that she was in fact exactly that because he was a civilian and honestly, he was getting a headache.

“Thank you,” Ladybug said as he handed her a glass of freshly pressed apple juice. She hadn’t wanted anything stronger, so Adrien felt like he should have apple juice too.

“No problem,” he replied and sat in the bar stool opposite her.

Silence.

Oh god, why was this so awkward? It’s not like he didn’t feel comfortable with Ladybug, of course he did.  But a part of him was so worried he’d slip up and start talking to her as if he were currently his alter-ego (hey it had almost happened once) that he was almost too afraid to say anything in the slightest. Perhaps Ladybug was picking up on his trepidation, and giving him the space he needed to quietly process his emotions, despite the fact she was unaware of what he was actually going on in his head.

Little did he know, on the other side of the counter, Ladybug was sipping her apple juice and internally screaming. You know. Like adults did.

Why did I turn down alcohol again? Oh right, because technically I’m on a job. Tikki would kill me if I got drunk as Ladybug again.

It was hard to concentrate when Adrien’s eyes were pretty much staring straight through her, to the point where she was glad he didn’t have any superpowers. Like x-ray vision or heat vision or something. He would have burned a hole straight through her brain. If she’d been lucky enough to remember hers today, that is.

Was she acting strange too? This was the guy she’d spoken to just yesterday, the one who everyone in Paris thought she was dating. The one Chat Noir probably thought she was dating.

Should she be resentful of the fact that his initial lie got them into that mess in the first place? Maybe, but she didn’t feel that way. All she knew was, if he kept staring her like that, she was pretty sure she was going to combust.

Sipping her juice nervously, Ladybug wondered what to say and found herself coming up with nothing but bland discussions about the weather. Aside from all the drama with him as a civilian, there was a history with Adrien as Ladybug too. It was small but it was there. After all, she’d helped save his mother and keep his father out of prison for the time being.

She wondered if he knew. About Hawkmoth being his father.

“This juice.” Adrien said. She lifted her head up, to find him staring at it intently. “It’s…great.”

Ladybug couldn’t help it. She snorted. Ok, so maybe he was finding this as strange as her, albeit for different reasons. It’s not everyday a superhero sat in your kitchen after all.

“Yeah,” her voice wobbled in response, trying to suppress her laugher. “It’s very apple-tising.”

Adrien coughed up the juice he was sipping on. The second time in under an hour he’d failed to keep a drink from spurting out of his mouth. His eyes widened in embarrassment when he noticed that he’d sprayed Ladybug with the apple juice.

Unlike Chloe, however, she didn’t yell. Instead, Ladybug wiped some of the spittle-juice from her arms and said, teasingly, “I asked for the news not the weather.”

There was a brief pause.

     4

Then they both burst out laughing. Just like that, all of the strange tension in the air faded away. The chef came over with a lovely, healthy cooked lunch and they tucked in, both falling into a silence that was far more comfortable than the cricket-inducing one before.

“So,” Ladybug broached, after finishing her eggs. “Death threats huh? What did you do to warrant such ire?”

Adrien sighed, offering a half shrug. “I already told the police that I think it’s no big deal. I’m doing my PHD you see, so I have to complete teaching hours.”

“Wow, so you’re like a model teacher, in every sense of the word,” Ladybug nodded approvingly, offering him a little wink. Then she pulled back, remembering that Adrien didn’t know Ladybug, he knew Marinette. That level of familiarity wasn’t appropriate at this time.

Meanwhile Adrien was finding it very difficult to manage his cutlery all of a sudden. Why were his fingers sweaty?!

“I guess so,” he chuckled nervously, “But I think it’s probably a disgruntled student I gave a bad mark to or something. I’ve had abuse thrown at me on twitter and stuff from random haters in the past, I really don’t think it’s something to worry about.”

“Yes, but it’s a bit different when someone is going out of their way to send you physical death threats,” Ladybug argued. “Especially when they’re escalating the situation to involve your parents. My theory is that this person knows your parents would react badly to this, and there’s a possibility that this situation could become newsworthy as a result. So, we can ascertain that whoever is doing this wants attention. And people who want to call attention to their acts are usually the most dangerous. You shouldn’t take this lightly.”

Adrien exhaled shakily, feeling something rather like anxiety bubbling in his gut. “Did you just tell me off?”

“A little bit,” Ladybug replied, cutting into a piece of smoked salmon with all of the grace of a queen chiding her knight. “And for good reasons.”

“They are good reasons,” Adrien nodded, feeling a surge of pride and awe at just how smart she was. Far smarter than he could ever be. It never failed to amaze him. “And I don’t mind being told off by you. It’s actually pretty refreshing. I feel like nobody’s told me off in a long time.”

Well, that wasn’t necessarily true. Nobody had told off Adrien in a long time. Marinette told Chat off frequently and he loved it.

“I try to do it more often then,” Ladybug pressed her hand against her heart, letting go of her cutlery so she could raise her other hand in the air. “I solemnly swear, Adrien Agreste, that as long as I’m your bodyguard, I will continue to nag you senseless.”

“I’ve never felt more honoured or protected in my whole life,” Adrien’s lips trembled as he pretended to act just as serious as she was pretending to act. He did mean it though. As always, he felt so protected around her.

For years, his feelings had been disregarded, treated like they weren’t worth thinking about at best and an inconvenience and embarrassment at the worst.

It was never like that with her. With her, his feelings were always safe.

Their conversation went on, touching a little more on the death threats and possible suspects who the police were now questioning. However, it wasn’t long before the conversation devolved into sillier topics. Adrien found himself lucky that his schedule had been cleared and his phone had been confiscated. They talked for hours, laughing, teasing making jokes. How easy it was.

How…magical.

As soon as the thought came to his mind, he shut it up quickly. The reason it was so easy, and why it felt so right, was simple. It was because he’d known her far longer than she knew. That’s all it was.

Despite the pleasantness of the conversation, eventually they had to both meet up with the police to get caught up on the situation. Soon he found his thoughts drifting somewhere else entirely. To a bakery near the river, and the balcony a few stories above it with its little potted plants and fairy lights, to the small opening that led to a room filled with floral scents, fabric strewn furniture, and a girl with eyes that brought warmth to his heart.

He was worried.

Because of his rashness, Marinette was wrapped up in a faux scandal of a fake relationship with him. All of Paris and beyond probably knew about them by now.

He wanted to see her so badly. He wanted to shed the shackles of his fear and show her that it was ok, that he understood the mess they’d gotten into because he helped create it. He wanted to tell her who he really was.

He wanted it to be real. Just as Chloe had said. The idea that he might not get to sneak out and see her until this was all over was driving him utterly crazy. It was like an itch under his skin, an insatiable desire to see her, to hold her and cherish her and let her know that it was all going to be ok, that he was there and that Chat Noir hadn’t randomly disappeared on her for no reason.

No.

He wasn’t going to allow it. He wasn’t going to abandon her to the press wolves. She was his love and he was going to protect her.

He was going to find a way back to her.

Even if it killed him to do it.

 

Chapter Text

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.

No Marinette.

“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”

“WHAT?!”

“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.”

“Like what?”

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.