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"Sometimes I wonder how old you are."

Ladybug froze on her feet at her partner's choice of words, thankful she had stopped walking lest she step right off of the ledge of the rooftop they'd paused upon. Her eyes landed on Chat Noir's, which glowed so green and bright in the low yellow hues of the city's lights, his gaze soft and brow furrowed in thought.

"Not in a creepy way," Chat Noir continued before she could form her reply. He placed his baton on his lower back. "Just in a general sense. Like, I know you're not really five-thousand years old—" he paused to grin at her, "—right?"

A laugh formed in Ladybug's throat. "Right."

"Right." Chat Noir's lips curled as his smile grew. "But I do get curious. I wonder who you are and where your favorite restaurants are and what your favorite color is-"

"Pink," she offered. That was one small note of information she didn't mind dishing out.

Chat Noir chuckled. He sat on the edge of the rooftop, legs dangling in the open air and black suit bathed in Parisian moonlight. He looked nice like that. Attractive, even. (As if she didn't already know he was.)

"Good to know," he replied. He made a show of tapping a clawed finger against his head. "I'm storing that bit of info in the back of my mind for some potential gift-giving in the near future. Now all I need to know is your favorite type of flower and maybe then I'll finally learn how to woo you."

Ladybug giggled behind her hand. "I think you're getting a little side-tracked, kitty."

"That's not hard when you're around," Chat Noir replied with an added wink for good measure. "You are quite the distraction, my Lady."

With a good-humored roll of her eyes, Ladybug sat down next to her partner and gave him a playful shove. It was times like this that she had a hard time deciphering whether or not Chat Noir was joking. Though, considering his confession a few months ago, she wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't… But she didn't want to think about that, or what it would do to her heart (which she knew all too well how easily it fell for kind-hearted, green-eyed boys.)

"But, really," Chat continued. He nudged her shoulder with his own to capture her attention in a friendly manner. "I do wonder who exactly I'm protecting the city with. For all I know, you could be a thirty-five-year-old mother of three and here I am in love with you and flirting to no end-"

Thirty-five-year-old mother of- of THREE?

She was going to kick her partner's leather-clad ass into the next dimension.

"Do I look that old?" Ladybug exclaimed, laughter spilling from her lips. "I'm not even old enough to get married, you jerk!"

She was half prepared to pick him up and threaten to throw him over the edge of roof. But she cared about him a little too much to do that.

(Besides, it would be kind of ineffective. The guy had a baton and a super-suit that could break his fall.)

Chat Noir shot her an amused smirk, mirth lacing his tone. "I'm joking, Buginette. In all seriousness, you look like you're no older than sixteen or seventeen," he said. He shifted his position so he was more comfortable, gloved hands resting on the concrete of the rooftop and tail swishing languidly. "I know we're not allowed to talk about personal details, but… I wish we could share some stuff with each other, you know? Just like tiny things so we could get to know each other a little more."

As she listened to Chat Noir speak, Ladybug nodded in understanding. She knew how he felt. They'd become so close over the past year-and-a-half they had been protecting the city together, but in reality they barely knew each other at all. Sure, she knew Chat Noir had a love for puns and rom-coms and harbored a soft spot for kittens, but she didn't know his favorite band or even what his sense of style was like. Did he even like fashion? Or was he a T-shirt, sweatpants kind of guy?

There were unlimited details concerning her friend that Ladybug often pondered about. Chat Noir was her best friend—she trusted him with her life—and yet… There were times where she sincerely wondered if, perhaps in a different world where they weren't superheroes, would they even have been friends at all?

Of course we would be, her mind shouted at her, Chat Noir is a wonderful friend and I love him as much as a best friend could!

...But she did wonder.

"I get it," she said, voice soft as she rested her chin in her palm. "It's hard not to be curious. Especially after I've known you for so long."

Ladybug could feel something radiating from her partner. It was like an odd air had fallen over them; a sort of sadness that neither of them had felt around each other before, almost like… They both wanted something.

And they did. Ladybug did, at least.

(Damn the rules. Damn the rules for making them have to be so secretive. Damn Papillon and his stupid obsession with the Miraculous.)

She knew they couldn't tell each other their identities for safety reasons. That was a no-brainer. Ladybug had always been one to stick to the rules, especially if breaking them could put herself in danger.

But would ages really be much of a problem? After all, there happened to be a good two-million people in Paris. It would be near impossible for her partner to figure out her identity out of the hundreds of thousands of other teenagers that inhabited the city.

"I'm fifteen," she whispered suddenly, surprising herself. The warmth of her breath clouded into the chilly night air like a ghost of summer on her lips. "I'm only fifteen-years-old."

Ladybug didn't meet Chat's eyes at first. A beat of silence rolled between them, filled with the sounds of the street below. Her cheeks began to flush from slight embarrassment (and regret), her skin hot—unlike the frosty weather that caused the tips of her fingers to feel numb. Ladybug hoped Chat Noir's silence didn't indicate that he thought of her differently if she happened to be a lot younger than he was.

It wasn't until after he'd let out a faint, "Me too," that she gazed deep into his cat-like irides, her heart skipping a beat and rattling wildly in her chest.

Me too, he'd said.

Me too.

They stared at each other like that for what was probably longer than appropriate, but Ladybug didn't mind. It was… Different, knowing something so simple about her partner, but the fact that she was privy to that set of information made her feel oddly excited.

She and Chat Noir were the same age. They were the same age and they were best friends and Ladybug wouldn't have had it any other way.

"We're just kids," Chat Noir said after a moment. He pulled his feet up so they were no longer dangling over the edge of the building and instead crossed his legs upon the cold floor of the roof. His hands wove around the leathery texture of his tail as if he was trying to distract himself. It didn't seem to be working. "You ever think about that? We're just kids and we've been given this huge responsibility to protect an entire city, and not to mention whatever else we've got going on in our lives. I mean, fuck..."

He didn't finish that sentence. He ran his clawed fingers through his hair and sighed, momentarily seizing the messy blonde strands that hung from his head with a loose hold before letting his hands fall to his lap.

Ladybug didn't need to ask whether or not he was okay. It wasn't often she heard him use offensive language—that was usually only reserved for times of stress. And by the looks of it…

"You mean what?" she asked, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. The amount of tension she felt resonating within his form was distressing.

Chat Noir offered nothing more than a shrug in response.

A sigh blew from Ladybug's lips. He must have had a bad day.

Sympathetic, she reached down to cup his hand within her own and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Whatever was going on with him, she'd be there with him to ride it out. That's what friends were for.

(And best friends—partners—would always be there to help.)

As she watched cars stroll down the street below, she found herself thinking about what Chat Noir had said. He was quiet now, which was okay; Ladybug was used to the occasional comfortable silence between the two of them. It was nice at times. Except now it felt slightly tainted as a bitter air hovered above them and left a sour taste in her mouth.

Chat Noir had a point, didn't he?

"We are just kids," she said, voice barely above a whisper as she watched two children cross the street hand-in-hand with their mother, the three of them dressed up in late-autumn attire. "We're young, aren't we? Compared to a lot of people, I mean. We're not even eighteen yet and here we are with this huge weight on our shoulders. I don't know why I've never thought about this before."

The squeeze of her hand in her partner's grasp caused Ladybug to shift her focus to him. His eyes softened once they met her own, lips pulled down into a small frown and shoulders slumped as if he really was holding an immense responsibility atop them. "I know," he said through a gravelly voice. "It's hard sometimes."

Ladybug nodded in response. She let out a faint laugh in an attempt to lighten the mood. "Now I'm just wondering what in the hell Master Fu was thinking when he decided to leave the fate of Paris in the hands of two teenagers."

"It's crazy, right?" Chat asked, tone lighter than it had been a few seconds prior. "I mean, I had a breakdown last night over a mildly bad grade in English—because let's be honest, that's a hard language to learn—and now I'm supposed to save the entire city of Paris? When I can't even pass a test?"

Ladybug shrugged. "I guess beating up an akuma is a good way to release that negative energy."

"True," Chat Noir replied, his lips quirking upward slightly, "nothing feels better after a stressful day of school than punching a villain in the face."

"Right in the kisser," laughed Ladybug. "Sometimes you just gotta knock their teeth out to feel better about your day."

"Exactly!" he exclaimed. "Thank you, Ladybug, for understanding how hard it is to be a stressed-out student. Where would I be without you?"

Ladybug, finding herself snickering at his response, gave her partner a pat on the back. "Probably still in your bedroom screaming about homework."

The solemn conversation from before seemed distant—almost forgettable at that point. They were laughing and having a good time just being two teenage kids sharing an odd sort of friendship and it was nice. No, they didn't know each other's names or favorite hobbies, but they did know each other. And that fact alone was enough to make Ladybug ever so grateful to have Chat Noir by her side.

He was an amazing friend, even if she didn't see him in her day-to-day life.

(She wondered, though, what life would be like if she and Chat Noir were friends behind the masks. Would he hang out with her group of friends, or have his own group he spent time with? Would their two groups of friends merge together into one large group of people who got along? Or would her friends and his friends not like each other at all?

Chat Noir was the type of person who was caring and kind, but harbored a great sense of humor that at times was admittedly a little over-the-top. He and Alya would quickly become friends, and he'd probably bond with Nino a little better, but as for Adrien, well… Ladybug didn't know. That was a difficult equation.)

The night was silent save for the passing of cars and street-goers. Ladybug leisurely kicked her legs back and forth over the empty air below. Her heart felt like it was tied in knots. Deep within her chest an unwelcome anxiety occurred, burning a hole into her mind which buzzed with an endless slurry of questions.

She wanted to know more about her partner—her friend. She wanted to know whether or not he was a morning person, his favorite video games, and- and even if he had any pets, like a cat or a dog or a bird or—

Or… Something! She just wanted to know something. Something more.

Thunder rolled above them in the sky, its rumble similar to a giant cat's purr. Ladybug glanced up to see that dark clouds were strolling along near the tip of the Eiffel Tower, where they swarmed as an ominous reminder that the weather report for the night had called for a heavy downpour.

She bet they had a good ten, fifteen minutes before the rain really started to come down. They needed to move to a place where they wouldn't get completely soaked hastily unless they wanted to wake up with a cold the next morning.

"We should move," Chat Noir said, the perk of his cat ears signalling that he'd noticed the change in weather. "I have a physics presentation tomorrow and I am not standing in front of the class with a sore throat and snot dripping out of my nose."

A chuckle rose from Ladybug. "Come on," she said, standing and retracting her yo-yo.

She zipped off to the nearest cover she could find: a restaurant that had closed a few weeks ago with a white awning stretched over the outdoor terrace and seating area. It overlooked the Seine and a small garden which closed before the sun went down, so Ladybug was thankful there would be no onlookers to their conversation. She and Chat Noir didn't get to spend time together often, after all, and she really didn't want to have to be cautious about her actions or what she said in case anyone was watching.

Being herself around Chat Noir was something she found solace in. He out of anyone else in Paris was the only one who knew her deepest secret (because he shared it in his own way.) They had no idea who their friend beneath the mask was, but… That didn't matter. They still shared a bond—a deep attachment—that only made the fact that they occupied the same undisclosed parts of themselves even stronger.

They were Ladybug and Chat Noir; saviors of Paris. And that's all anyone needed to know.

Rain began to spray the top of the awning in heady drops. The wind was loud and bustling, thunder cracked in drones, and on the edges of the terrace, the wooden flooring became slick with water. Ladybug instinctively moved towards the middle of the seating area, where she accidentally bumped shoulders with her friend. Chat Noir smiled and playfully nudged her back.

"What's wrong, Buginette?" asked Chat through a toothy grin. "Can't see in the dark?"

"I'm not lucky enough to have night vision like you do," she retorted with a responding smirk. "It's a little dark, but not terrible. I'll manage."

Chat Noir grasped her hand within his own and gave a light squeeze, making a dramatic show of bowing down to press a ginger kiss on her knuckles. "Well, if my Lady falls, I'll always be there to catch her," he said with a wink, a breath of laughter ghosting her fingers that was heated enough to feel through the fabric of her suit.

Ladybug embarrassingly felt her cheeks warm. Thank goodness for the dim lighting.

(That way she couldn't stare at his stupidly pretty face.)

"What time is it?" she asked instead, voting to change the subject for her own behalf. She didn't need to be thinking about how, ever since he'd gifted her a rose and a kiss on the cheek two months ago, his actions had a different sort of effect on her. "You're not the only one who has a presentation tomorrow morning."

Chat Noir opened his baton to check the time. The blue light of his screen flashing in the darkness caused them both to squint. "It's nine-thirty. We've still got time."

Pulling out a chair from one of the tables, Ladybug sat, feeling a day's worth of exhaustion wash over her bones. It wasn't even ten o' clock and she was ready to curl up in bed for a good night's rest. It wouldn't have been a problem if this hadn't been a normal thing for her at this point. She was always, always tired… And most days the weariness that resided within her body was even worse than it was currently.

They had fought one akuma today. Just one. Sometimes it was two or on rare occurrences, even three, but today it had only been one. And yet she felt as if she was about to drop into a puddle of Marinette Dupain-Cheng, overworked student and pressured superheroine on the terrace floor.

Ugh. She was too tired to do anything.

Ladybug lay her arms on the table and rested her head upon them. She caught Chat Noir's concerned stare before he could glance away. "You going to sit?" she asked, smiling once he complied and scooted in one of the metal chairs, which squeaked against the floor. Now that he had sat closer to her, it was easier to see the dark bags that hung beneath his eyes. Her heart clenched for him. "You look tired."

"I could say the same about you," he said, scooting his chair in so he, too, could rest his head on his forearms. "It seems like we've both had a rough day."

"A rough week," Ladybug corrected.

"A rough month."

"A rough year."

Chat Noir laughed, but the sound was empty of joy. "Yeah."

Something unspoken passed between them. As saddening as it was, the concept of them both hurting on the inside loomed over their heads just as much as the rain clouds, becoming darker and heavier until they spilled whatever contents they held within. Ladybug found herself feeling glad she had someone she could share the feeling with.

(And now she only hoped she wouldn't "spill" in front of her friend.)

It was just too hard sometimes. Balancing being Ladybug and class president and making time to design and spend time with her friends and family and even herself, there was just too much- too much to do- and-

Ugh. Ugh. Ughhhhh.

There just wasn't enough time in one day to get it all done. The endless stress and anxiety and the horrible feeling that she needed to be doing more

It consumed her, some days.

(And while she'd never give up being Ladybug and felt so blessed to be able to be trusted with such an immense responsibility, it was hard. It was really hard.)

"It's really hard," she whispered out, eyes closing automatically as the rain above the terrace began to beat against the awning. She didn't specify; didn't have the energy to. All Ladybug—Marinette—wanted to do at the moment was just… Sleep.

Sleep sounded nice at the moment.

Although she hadn't elaborated, Chat Noir still hummed in agreement. If her eyes had been open, she probably would have seen him knit his brow. "Yeah," he breathed, reaching across the table to lay a hand atop her own, "it is. It really is, Buginette."

"We're only kids," mumbled Ladybug. Her lips pulled downward into a heavy frown. "Why do we have to worry about so much at once? It's like—" she sighed, opening her eyes, "—like I don't even get to enjoy being a teenager sometimes, you know? Any time I want to hang out with friends, I always have to give an excuse why I'm running off in the middle of our time together. And I feel so bad. I feel really bad because I barely get to see my friends anymore and when I do I always have to leave to deal with whatever Papillon decided to throw at us for that day."

The warmth of Chat Noir's gloved hand around her own made Ladybug smile, just a little bit. "I know, Ladybug. It's the same way for me. There's not enough time in one day to do everything. I mean, hell, with homework piling up and projects and studying for exams, as well as having a social life and saving the city, it's almost impossible to- to do anything!"

Ladybug's frown deepened. He was right.

The air was unusually still. The wind outside had died down but the sky cried on, rain spilling endlessly from the clouds and coating the city around them. She and Chat Noir were dry underneath the terrace awning, but Ladybug still felt cold. She shivered, her heart sinking at the reminder that she needed to be up early for school the next morning. It was like she never got a break.

A crack of lightning brightened the sky and caused the pair to flinch from surprise. In retrospect, they probably should have been inside at their respective homes, but… Spending time with each other was nice, too.

"At least you understand," Ladybug said. She fought against her exhaustion by blinking her eyes a couple of times.

Chat Noir offered a small, sad smile. "You know, there are days where I find myself wishing someone else had been chosen as Chat Noir." At Ladybug's squeak of surprise, he shook his head, continuing: "Hold on, let me finish. It's not because I think I'm bad at it, but because it's a lot of responsibility and sometimes I wonder if I'm even mature enough for it. I'm only in my first year of lycée. I have so many other things to worry about that a lot of the time I feel like I can't do it all."

Ladybug opened her mouth to speak (because he'd just shared another bit of info that he wasn't supposed to) but was interrupted as Chat Noir went on.

"But then I remember that if I hadn't been chosen to be Chat Noir, well…" he sighed as he squeezed her hand within both of his own, bringing it up to nuzzle his cheek against the smooth texture of her gloved knuckles. "Then I never would have met you, so… It balances out. Because I'd rather have someone like you in my life and be stressed than be relaxed and not be able to love a person like you." His cheeks reddened as he quickly added, "Y-you know, as your friend!"

Ladybug chuckled, a sly smirk forming its way onto her face. "Right."

But she understood. She completely did. She would rather have to face every day knowing that it would be full of endless pressure with Chat Noir by her side rather than go at it alone. Sure, if she wasn't Ladybug she would have more time to herself and wouldn't have to jump at the sound of every cry for help, but she also wouldn't have a wonderful friend, nor learned to trust herself and her abilities.

Becoming Ladybug was something Marinette felt incredibly grateful for. Not only did it teach her to feel confidence within herself, but also to trust others—especially Chat Noir. Being Ladybug shower her so many wonderful things about herself that she didn't know where she'd be without the Miraculous, or Tikki.

(And thinking about not having Tikki—the little god of creation who Marinette loved to her very core—made her heart ache.)

"Can I ask something weird?" Chat Noir inquired, to which Ladybug nodded. "Do you ever think about, like… What would happen if we didn't win a battle? Like if we lost."

Oh. Oh.

Well, she'd certainly never really thought about that before. At least, not to a huge extent. Sure, she often worried that there would come a day where Papillon would seize the Miraculous for himself, but she had enough confidence in herself and Chat Noir to know that they'd never let his crusty, evil hands near the precious items. That's what they were there for: to stop him from stealing what was rightfully theirs.

(As "rightfully theirs" as two pieces of magical jewelry containing animal-esque fairies could get, anyway.)

The idea did strike her, though. Thinking about the two of them losing to Papillon was disturbing in its own right, especially since nobody really knew what he would do with the Miraculous once he had them in his clutches. He could be bent on world domination or destroying Paris, or… Something equally as terrible.

(Hell, he could even use them to hurt Chat Noir and herself just for being a thorn in his side—but that thought made Ladybug's chest hurt, and she didn't want to dwell on the possibility any longer, because…

Well, because thinking about her partner getting hurt was devastating. The concept often kept her up at night. His reckless behavior really got out of hand sometimes.)

She sat up. Her eyes locked with his.

"Sometimes," Ladybug answered finally, though it felt unconvincing. "Most of the time I worry about you, though. Always jumping in to protect me without a care in the world of what happens to yourself. I worry too, okay?"

Her heart thudded in her chest. The thought of losing Chat Noir was too difficult to bear, so much so that if she kept thinking about it, she knew her eyes would begin to burn with the treat of tears, and crying was the last thing she wanted to do in front of him tonight. Not now. It wasn't a good time.

"Oh," was Chat's response. His voice was light and breathy; barely audible above the sound of the storm. "I-I didn't know you…"

Ladybug patted his hand. "It's okay."

"It's not, though," Chat said. His shoulders hunched together; he looked akin to a child that had just been scolded. "I don't mean to scare you. I just know you're more important to the mission than I am, so—"

"Shut up," Ladybug huffed. "Don't you dare finish that sentence, Chat Noir. I don't want to hear it. You're just as important to Paris as I am and I wouldn't even be doing this if you weren't by my side. You matter just as much I do!"

Chat Noir's face softened. He opened his mouth to speak, lips parted in preparation of a word (or two), but then he stopped and stood, arms wrapped around himself as he walked to the edge of the terrace awning and stared out at the city. "I'm glad you think so," he whispered. "And the people of Paris, too. It's just hard to convince myself sometimes."

"And why's that?" Ladybug found herself asking. She trailed after him, stopping just before the area that the rain was splashing upon. Her shoulder brushed her partner's. He responded to the touch by stepping closer.

Chat Noir gave her a look so full of despair that it almost made her want to wrap him up in a warm blanket and carry him all the way home to her bed so she could snuggle the frown off of his face.

(Almost.)

"It's too personal to say much about," he said. "But you are the only one who can purify akumas. You remember that one time you couldn't transform quick enough to get to where the villain was, and I was just running around the city like crazy with a purple butterfly in my hands trying to find a solution? I accidentally said the F-word in front of a kid! You should have seen the glare his mother gave me. It still gives me chills."

Ladybug swallowed the laugh that threatened to bubble up from her chest. "I remember. I'm still so sorry about that, kitty."

"It's okay," he told her, but the humor that had momentarily flashed in his gaze had already faded. "But it still worries me. Because what happens if you're hurt or stuck somewhere and I can't purify the akuma or fix the damage it caused? You know what happens when they get free. They multiply. And then the city would be screwed. So, yes, you are a concern when it comes to fighting akumas, because if you get injured and can't do your job, then we're fucked." He kicked a stay pebble across the floor. "That's why I'm always diving in to protect you. Because if I get hurt, at least we can still win due to you."

Feeling her heart clench at his words, Ladybug placed a hand on her partner's shoulder. "Okay, but sometimes I don't even need saving, Chat Noir. You're reckless at times. You dive in before you even give me a chance to defend myself."

"That's not true—"

"Yes, it is!" she cried, before instantly feeling remorse for raising her voice at him. "I'm sorry, it's just… It hurts me when you do that. I can't stand seeing you throw yourself into the fray of battle like you mean nothing! I care about you, and I—"

"But sometimes I am nothing!" he shouted back, his voice cracked with hollow despair. "Why does it matter so much to you when you've obviously beaten akumas on your own before? I want to be here to protect you so you can continue to do that just in case something happens and I can't be by your side anymore!"

Ladybug's brow furrowed in frustration. Her hands formed into fists at her side.

"Why does it matter to me?" she asked incredulously, a hint of venom in her tone. "It matters because you're important to me, Chat Noir! I don't get why you can't see that. And, yeah, sometimes I do have to fight akumas on my own, but I don't like it! It's not fun. It's hard, and it sucks, and every minute I'm out there by myself I'm hating it because all I think about the entire time is how much I want you by my side." She jabbed a finger into his chest. "I always want you by my side, even if the battle is easy as shit. You make it better. You matter to me. You help me and make being Ladybug more bearable. I like having you in my life! You're my best friend, damn it, and I don't get why you can't see how much I love you."

Chat Noir's mouth snapped shut. His pupils went from thin, black slits to thick orbs that sparkled with tears as a glimmer of hope shone within them. He reached out with a hand, his clawed fingers hesitating for a moment or two before he pulled back. His arm lowered to his side.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked shakily. His eyes stayed trained on the floor.

Ladybug swallowed thickly, feeling slightly out of breath from her outburst.

What did she mean…? Did she even have an answer to that herself?

She said nothing. The weight of Chat Noir's raw emotion resonated in her chest.

Chat Noir licked his lips, voice faint and cracked as he asked, "Did you mean anything by that?"

"Yes," she answered, finally. "I think I did. I'm just not sure I really know how I meant it, though…"

"Th-that's okay," her partner breathed, reaching forward to gently—ever so gently—tuck a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "It just, um. Feels nice to hear you say it. Even if you haven't gotten it figured out yet."

Ladybug's breath hitched as Chat Noir's face drew closer. A puff of ice clouded from his mouth; she could feel the heat of it brush her lips. Instinctively, she licked them, only realizing the implication of her actions as Chat's eyes widened considerably. A small, strangled noise rose from his throat.

Feeling her heart thumping roughly behind her rib cage, Ladybug took a step back and breathed in, the brisk air around them chilling the inside of her nose. She pressed a hand to her chest in an attempt to still the violent beating. Clearing her throat, she asked, "Why do you feel so bad about yourself sometimes, Chat Noir?"

Her friend wilted ever so slightly at her question, turning so that his back rested against one of the stone-covered walls. "Oh, um… Let's just say I haven't grown up in a house that's very, uh, encouraging."

Oh. Aw… Poor kitty…

Whoever hurt him definitely deserved an ass-kicking. Even if it was shitty parents that were the cause of it, she wouldn't hesitate to smack a bitch.

"That's okay," Ladybug said, smiling in an attempt to lighten the mood. "If your home life gets too bad, you can just come live with me."

Chat, whose shoulders shook with a laugh, turned his glossy eyes to her own and smiled. "Don't joke about that. I really would."

"Maybe I'm not joking," Ladybug said. Though she knew she was just playing around, part of her wanted to be telling him the truth. If Chat Noir had a crappy home life, then she wouldn't shy away from giving him the spare room at the bakery. Convincing her parents why a masked-superhero should live with them wouldn't be easy, but she could sure as hell try.

(As if that would ever happen, though.)

"You are," Chat Noir replied. "That's okay, though. My dad is a dickhead but he tries to be good to me sometimes."

"...Tries?"

A solemn laugh rose from her partner. "Tries and fails."

Ladybug's lips turned downward at his response. "Oh, Chat—"

"I think, if we did actually lose a fight once… And I didn't make it out," he continued, making Ladybug's heart race uncomfortably, "I don't think he'd notice I was gone. For a while, at least. And if I died, he wouldn't know what happened, so he'd probably just get mad that I ran off again." He laughed bitterly. "How messed up is that?"

She wanted to say "extremely."

Ladybug wanted to tell Chat that it was completely, horribly, utterly terrible that his father would react that way, but… She couldn't, really. Because if she—hypothetically—became fatally injured as Ladybug (doubt as she may that it would happen) her parents wouldn't know. Her friends wouldn't know. Not Alya, not Nino, not—

(Not Adrien, either.)

And there wouldn't be any way for her parents to know. The only difference would be that they wouldn't get upset at her disappearance, but instead be incredibly distraught. Hell, they'd probably go out looking for her as soon as she didn't come home for dinner and didn't answer her phone, and wouldn't rest… Until they probably found her, somewhere, lying dead on the—

She squeezed her eyes shut.

"You know what's really messed up?" she asked. Her voice felt too soft; too sad. "The fact that if we died out here, nobody would know who we are or where we went. Not even our family."

Chat Noir's responding swallow was audible. "I think it'd be even scarier the other way around. If I got hurt when I wasn't transformed and died or something, you…"

Ladybug felt her heart stop.

"...You'd never know," he finished.

Licking her lips (which had suddenly become very dry), Ladybug turned to her partner and shook her head, grabbing hold of his arm with a grip that was a little too tight judging by the way his eyes bulged. "Don't say that," she pleaded. "Don't say stuff like that. Don't- don't make me think about that."

Chat Noir's arm snaked around her shoulders. "I'm sorry. Let's not think about it, then."

"I can't stand the thought of-" Ladybug sighed, burying her face in his neck. "Okay. It's okay. We're not talking about that now. I'm—I'm not going anywhere, okay?"

Chat Noir nodded. "Okay."

The rain had stopped. Tiny droplets of water trickled from the awning above; the city was damp and moody. A chill blew through the air as a breeze floated in. Ladybug shivered at the cold, wet feeling it left on her suit.

Turning so that her head was nestled in the crook of her partner's shoulder, she sighed. Her shoulders drooped as her mind raced. The stuff Chat had been saying… She didn't like that. Those thoughts—those terrible, terrible things that floated in her head—were evil, and she wanted them gone.

Losing her partner would be the most devastating thing she could imagine, next to losing her parents. And if Chat Noir somehow died in his civilian form…

Her eyes watered at the thought. Ladybug pressed her face against Chat Noir's neck, humming contentedly as she realized he smelled like good things; like cinnamon and a late-night breeze; like... Home.

(And that was an odd thought to strike her as she felt his hands connect with her back.)

"Can you promise me something?" whispered Chat, his breath so close that Ladybug could practically taste it.

"Anything," she said.

Her stomach flipped as his arms tightened around her form.

"If something happens to either of us," he began, nuzzling his head against her cheek, "and we don't see each other for a while, promise that we'll do whatever it takes to find each other? Even though we're not allowed to. I—I can't stand the thought of losing you."

There was no hesitation on her part. "I promise."

"I'll always find you, no matter what," he said.

Ladybug swallowed. "And I'll do the same for you."

She could feel a rumbling in her chest. Or, wait—not her chest, but-

"You're purring again," she chuckled. Her hand pressed against his diaphragm. The vibrations were faint, but undoubtedly there.

His forehead pressed against hers. "I love you," he spoke, before quickly realizing his slip-up and taking a step back, green eyes the size of the moon above them. "Oh, I'm sorry- I didn't mean to, I know you don't-"

"It's okay," she said. Promised. "It's okay. It's always been okay, I just-"

"You don't have to say anything, it's okay if you don't-"

"No, that's not-"

They both sighed. Looked at each other. And then laughed.

"I'm so awkward, I'm sorry," Ladybug chuckled. "I barely know what I was trying to say. And earlier, when I said that, um… Thing..."

"You're okay. And I apologize." Chat scratched at the back of his neck in a self-conscious manner. "I didn't mean to make it weird. It kind of slipped out just now… I'm sorry."

Ladybug shook her head. She smiled when she placed a hand on his cheek and he leaned into her touch. "Don't apologize, kitty. I think it's sweet."

The way his pupils dilated made her want to wrap her arms around his neck and take him home.

"Sweet, huh?" he asked, reaching down to cup her other hand within his own. "Well, I think you're sweet." He pressed a kiss to her knuckles, his lips lingering a moment or two longer than usual, and admittedly, Ladybug felt a small flicker of disappointment when he pulled away.

"Smooth-talker," she quipped. The corners of her mouth turned upward into a smirk. "You're such a dork."

"Your dork," he correct, sticking his tongue out playfully.

Maybe he wasn't wrong, there. "Yeah," she said. "That's right."

Chat Noir's breath hitched, his lips partly slighted. Ladybug wanted to lean up to kiss them, but-

But that's not what friends did.

(Well, some friends did, but they weren't those types of friends. Not yet, at least.)

No, brain, not ever, she scolded herself. She liked Adrien, didn't she? Though, she supposed it was okay to have a crush on two people at once… Right?

An alarm went off on Ladybug's compact. Startled, she jumped back from her partner's grasp and grabbed the yo-yo off of her waist, frowning when she realized the alarm was their usual "it's getting late, go to bed" call.

Ladybug sighed. "Guess that's our cue."

"Unfortunately," Chat said with a nod.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" she asked. A glimmer of hope flickered in her chest.

Chat Noir grabbed his baton. He leaned over the edge of the terrace and scrunched up his face as a droplet of water from the awning splashed onto his nose. "But it's not a patrol night."

"I know," Ladybug said. She clasped her hands together behind her back and rocked on the balls of her feet. "Does that matter?"

Her partner's grin was all she needed. "No, I guess it doesn't. But, hey," he laughed, turning towards her, "no more talk about death tomorrow. I think I got enough sadness tonight from talking about the prospect of the love of my life dying to last me a lifetime."

Laughing behind her hand, Ladybug nodded. "Me too."

The way Chat Noir's ears perked up straight as his eyes widened had her feeling a tad confused. That is, until she realized exactly how she'd worded her response. "Oh, I-"

Chat Noir just shook his head, a small, giddy laugh slipping from his mouth. The blush on his cheeks was obvious beneath the sleek black of his mask. "I think I caught you, 'Bug."

Nibbling on her lower lip, Ladybug crossed her arms defiantly. Her face burned with a deep flush. "You didn't catch anything."

"No, it's okay, Buginette," Chat Noir told her. He extended his baton, eyes looking her up and down with a sly grin on his face. "I know what you meant. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Ladybug jutted out her lower lip in a faux pout. It was hard to suppress the smile that began to spread across her face. "You better."

With a delighted waver in his voice, Chat Noir said, "Goodnight."

He hesitated—turned to her and opened his mouth. Instead of speaking, though, he leaned forward—just slightly—and pressed a lingering, loving kiss on her cheek. Then he simply smiled, shook his head, and leaped.

The weather was cold outside, but Ladybug felt warm from head to toe.