Every time the bell over the door of the café chimed, Marinette would glance up from the magazine she was only half reading to inspect the faces of the people who entered.
Her eyes flitted over the faces of the women who bustled in, passing over them without a second glance as she tried not to look like she was openly staring at the men who walked by. From her corner table, she could see almost everyone who came and went and paid special attention to anyone who looked like they were looking for a woman in poka-dotted earrings or anyone with a black cat pin affixed to their lapel. She was still early, having arrived nearly an hour before the time they were supposed to meet to scope out a secluded table where the odds of running into someone she knew were slim. Now all she had to do was play the waiting game and hope the man she was planning on meeting wasn’t a fifty year old troll in a fedora.
Marinette’s phone buzzed on the table and she glanced down to see Alya’s portrait blink up at her as she unlocked the screen:
Alya: you okay?
Marinette: yeah i'm fine.
Marinette: he hasn't shown up yet so I'm just killing time
Alya: kay just checking
Alya: give me a shout if you need a rescue
Alya: do you have my taser?
Marinette: thanks but i left it at home
Marinette: i don't think i'll need it.
Alya: yeah...he'd probably just get off on it if you started shocking him, wouldn't he?
Marinette: i'm going to regret telling you about this, aren't I?
Alya: just give me a signal if you decide to hook up with him
Marinette: oh my god!
Alya: like "the ladybug is in the spiderweb" or something
Marinette: it's just coffee! i'm not going to jump into bed with the guy on the first date; what kind of girl do you think I am??
Marinette: don't answer that!
Pressing her second iced coffee to her face in an effort to take some of the color out of it, Marinette let out a long sigh. The fact that Alya knew about her little rendezvous was a necessary evil and worth whatever ribbing Marinette was bound to get; she may have known her…acquaintance for the past couple of months via text but this would be the first time she actually met him in person. The café she suggested they meet at was about two blocks from the magazine Alya worked for so if things went sour, she would have somewhere to go in a hurry.
And however much Alya might tease her, it was Marinette’s best friend’s prompting that had gotten her out onto the dating scene to begin with. Granted, Marinette had gone in a…completely different direction than Alya had intended when she broached the topic a few months ago but Marinette refused to be (overly) embarrassed. She had busted her hide for years in college without so much as a third date and at twenty five years old, she would hope she was old enough to know what she wanted in a relationship…long term or otherwise.
Glancing around surreptitiously, Marinette opened the browser on her phone and flipped through her bookmarks until Salle de Velours' soft blue background slowly filled the screen. It had taken a few weeks of casually searching through dating websites, weeding out the sketchier ones off the bat, before she landed on Salle de Velours. The fact that it was the only site that required an application immediately appealed to her (she figured that would weed out a slew of weirdoes even if they were only the lazy ones) as well as the fact that it was more forum than dating site. Of course it had a personal section where people looking for more immediate gratification could hook up but one look at some of the more vulgar ads caused Marinette to abandon that section of the site for the general forums where everything from politics to sports to fashion was discussed by the site’s members. The only topic that seemed to be taboo in the general forums was the rather taboo subject that brought them all together in the first place.
And it was there that she first met the user she only knew as ChatNoir.
It began, oddly enough, with a short essay on the importance of lingerie.
Marinette had only been on the site for a few weeks but Miss_Ladybug had already made her presence known in the relatively small fashion corner of the website. Most threads were typical of the rest of the website which meant that they were out of Marinette's wheelhouse. ("How to Clean Leather"; "Good Latex Tailors Near Marseilles?"; "How Much is Too Much Chrome Studding?") But every once and a while, Marinette stumbled on a thread that was more up her alley. One Friday night when she had nothing better to do, she wandered into a thread on the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and amid a sea of "who was the hottest" comments there seemed to be a post calling into question the practicality and comfort of some of the more intricate pieces. As though the six foot wings jutting from the models' backs wasn't a tip off that fashion shows weren't exactly meant to showcase the most practical of outfits.
As if people who routinely wore leather corsets and literal spiked heels had any room to talk about practicality.
She was ready to go into a very long, very detailed history of the Victoria's Secret show and its impact on mainstream fashion journalism (mostly because she had a hell of a day where she literally sewed her shirt into a dress she had to deliver by Tuesday and felt like yelling at someone even if it was just online) but when she refreshed the page she saw that someone had beaten her to the punch in a rather spectacular fashion. In less than five sentences, someone had outlined the attention Victoria's Secret drew to the fashion industry and explained the concept of haute couture and art fashion without sounding overly condescending or snobbish. Marinette's eyes glanced over his reply briskly before canning the two and half page response she had queued up and was ready to fire. (She swore the cat icon next to the response winked at her but that was something that could easily be chalked up to sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction.)
She didn't know who this person was; only that they were ostensibly male, single, about the same age as her, and that their name that went along with the occasionally winking black cat icon next to every post.
His name was ChatNoir.
She didn't think much of it then but the more time she spent idly browsing the forums while watching Project Runway re-runs, the more she saw his name crop up in forums ranging from fashion to computer games to auto racing. After a while she started responding in some of the more benign topics slowly working up a nice rapport that was, despite the site they were on, completely PG. It was a refreshing change of pace from the usual pick up lines she got which usually consisted of an exaggerated penis length and a visceral description of what they would like to do to her with said exaggerated penis (followed, almost invariably, by a profanity laced message when she failed to fall for their suave charms). The fact that she could actually hold a conversation with someone regarding something other than preferred choice of rope/lubricant/position was an enormous plus because truth be told, Marinette wasn’t in a position (Chat would have appreciated that pun) to speak with any kind of authority on the subject. The truth of the matter was that, while she was hardly inexperienced, sharing a room while going to school/interning for designers in New York didn’t leave her a lot of time to explore some of her more persistent fantasies.
So they stuck to subjects they knew about; fashion, TV shows, music. It was light and casual at first but as the weeks turned into months they found themselves talking about more personal topics on Skype under carefully assumed identities; she may have liked this person but she wasn’t about to give them anything they could use to track her. It was a delicate line they both seemed to walk between a desire to be honest and a practical need to play some cards a little closer to their chests.
She learned this ChatNoir had lived abroad for a couple of years, he worked for his family's business and that he had been interested in fashion since he was a teenager. He was an only child (like herself), had strong feelings about supporting the welfare and health of models (like herself), and apparently was an aficionado of online cat collecting games. Marinette deduced he must be someone in the fashion industry; probably a photographer or fashion writer since some of the more technical terms went over his head. Other than that, she could have passed him twenty times in the street and have no earthly clue who he really was.
(She may have also glanced at his "preferences" page but got flustered after she had to Google what “switch” meant. The fact that her own page was completely blank made it feel like she was spying on him...despite the fact that she was just looking at information he deliberately made public.)
Marinette had made it clear from the beginning that she was testing the waters and that she wasn't looking to necessarily hook up with anyone; a fact that he seemed more than fine with even as their conversations strayed off the forums and onto instant messaging. There were boundaries neither one of them seemed eager to cross but after they mentioned they both lived in Paris, part of Marinette wanted to meet this person. Other than Alya she was usually too busy with work to socialize much and it would be nice to bring her close friend circle up to a whopping two…though casual friendship was probably not the kind of meetup that Salle de Velours usually made happen.
Beggars can’t always be choosers
It was her idea to meet at the café; her idea to somehow identify themselves with jewelry like some kind of spy movie. It was a guaranteed failsafe in case either of them got cold feet at the last second since neither of them knew each other’s names or what they really looked like. He seemed a little apprehensive at first but warmed up when she suggested they meet at one of the smaller cafés in case he was self conscious or something. Even though the meeting was on “her turf” Marinette was still pleasantly anxious about putting a face to the sea of disembodied text she had been chatting with for three months now.
...and even though she wasn't looking to hook up with someone, she wouldn't complain if the face that went with the text was pretty one.
Fighting down a blush, Marinette downed the rest of her coffee in a single gulp. She was getting way ahead of herself; right now she just wanted to meet a friend...a friend who happened to know how to untie six knots in under a minute if his profile was to be believed but a friend nonetheless. Their conversations over Skype under assumed identities had never crossed the friendship line and that was all Marinette really hoped for; someone she could talk to about her “hobbies” (as Alya put it) without being teased for it. When plunging into unfamiliar waters, it was nice to have a life jacket close by and if she and Chat hit it off it might be good to have someone she could go to for...specialized advice. There was only so much internet research Marinette could do without running into walls of porny misinformation and innuendo that equally exasperated and embarrassed her.
Alya had made more than her fair share of 50 Shades of Grey jokes at Marinette’s expense and if she had to endure another one, she was going to come completely-
It was amazing how a simple sound could trigger memories so easily. Whoever said that smell was the strongest sense associated with memory had clearly never heard their high-school crush say their name after years of seeing him plastered half-naked on billboards and bus-stops across the world. As Marinette looked up into a pair of questioning, disbelieving green eyes she felt herself snap back to her fourteen year old self who would have simply swooned if Adrien Agreste had looked at her and spoken to her like he just had. And it was undoubtedly Adrien; blonde hair, boyish good looks, all six foot, one hundred and eighty five pounds of him (She didn't stalk him or anything it was just that she worked in fashion; his measurements crossed her desk at least once a month). He was cloaked in a cream colored, wool lined peacoat, a blue scarf tucked around his neck and cheeks flushed from the chilly January air outside the toasty café.
In short, he looked as gorgeous as he did the last time she saw him, boarding a plane to Tokyo with tears in his eyes.
“It’s, uh, Adrien,” He said with a small wave that transformed into a nervous hand passing through his hair. She must have been staring; he must’ve thought she didn’t remember him or something. “Adrien-”
“I know!” Marinette said after a moment a little louder than she intended. “I mean, I know it’s you! I mean…hi! I mean…it’s good to see you?”
“Good to see you too,” Adrien chuckled as Marinette stood up to greet him a little too quickly as her feet tangled up in the handles of her bag. She fell forward a little, flailing out as Adrien suddenly reached forward to catch her by the arms. She lightly smacked into his chest, nose brushing off the rough wool of his scarf as he slowly guided her back to her feet.
"Thanks," Marinette stammered, feeling her dignity take a hit she hadn't taken since she was in high school. So much for making a good second impression.
“Mind the step,” Adrien said, holding Marinette at arm’s length as he looked her over. “Wow…you look good!”
At this point, fourteen year old Marinette would have been down for the count but twenty-five year old Marinette had enough worldly poise to stay on her feet (if her bag didn’t have other ideas).
“You too,” Marinette said, stating the obvious as she brushed off her black blouse and tucked a strand of hair behind her ears.
“I’m not surprised or anything,” Adrien said quickly, pulling his hands back as he realized they were still lingering on Marinette’s back. “I mean…you always had that flair for fashion…thing going on.”
“Oh please; I thought I just wore the same thing every day,” Marinette chuckled, lightly tapping Adrien’s shoulder. She might not have been head-over heels in love with him anymore but he was still a part of her oldest friendgroup who she unfortunately fell out of touch with. “I didn’t know you were still in Paris! I thought you were going back to Tokyo?”
“Oh, yeah…” Adrien said, scratching the back of his head. “I was going to but I thought I’d stick around a little here just to…you know…settle things at home.”
“Oh…right,” Marinette said, pulling back a little as she remembered the headlines that ran almost six months ago. She might never have been fond of Gabriel Agreste when she knew him but his absence was definitely felt in her circle. “…sorry about your father.”
“Thanks,” Adrien said with a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Been a couple of months but I don't really feel like getting back on the road yet."
“I wouldn’t either,” Marinette said, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder before thinking better of it and segueing a little awkwardly to a scratch on the neck. Unlike revenge, condolence was a dish no one enjoyed cold. "So you're going to be local for a while?"
"Yep," Adrien said, apparently glad the topic had shifted to cheerier topics. "Glad to be back; not as glad as Nino but there's really no place like home, huh?"
"That's for sure," Marinette sighed, fondly remembering touching down on French soil after spending a miserable semester abroad in New York. "I may have to steal Nino and his camera while he's back; that spread he did with you in Brisbane was pretty impressive and I'd like to have him shoot some of my stuff."
"I'll be sure to pass the compliment and the job offer along," Adrien chuckled. "Things are going good for you I hear?"
“Well enough, I guess,” Marinette shrugged, lapsing back into conversation as though they didn't effectively miss out on the last seven years of each other's lives. "We're finally starting to get picked up in some larger retailers so our hard work is starting to pay off somewhat...though I don't think I need to preach about the virtues of hard work to a model."
"Thank you," Adrien sighed, lips pouting ever so slightly in a way that used to (used to she insisted silently) make Marinette's toes curl ever so slightly. “You would not believe how many people think we’re the ones with the easy job.”
She didn't know why he went into modelling when he had apparently struggled with it as a kid but she supposed if she had a face and body like his and people were offering to pay her thousands of dollars to wear clothes, she would have jumped at the opportunity...until she realized she probably couldn't eat bread for the rest of her career. That was something of a deal breaker and part of the reason Marinette sewed rather than posed.
“Your blog’s been getting some buzz,” Adrien pointed out as customers steered around the pair of them standing in the middle of the aisle.
“You follow it?” Marinette said, eyebrows raising. “I thought it was just my mom and Alya.”
“Your mom, Alya, and about a quarter of the French speaking blogosphere,” Adrien insisted. “I’m surprised Marie Claire hasn’t offered you a column yet.”
“It’s just a part time thing,” Marinette said, fiddling with the hem of her blouse absently. “Something to do when I can’t stand the sight of my designs anymore.”
“You’re probably the only one who can’t stand looking at your clothes in that case,” Adrien said. “I’ve been dying to pull off your clothes for a while now.”
There was a small beat as they both flushed crimson for completely different reasons.
“Sorry...that came out wrong, didn’t it?” Adrien chuckled, tilting his head back and sighing as Marinette let out a small laugh in spite of herself. To think there had been a time where she had been intimidated by this guy.
“I know what you meant,” Marinette assured him. “Though I don’t do much menswear and I don’t think you have the hips for some of my skirts.”
They shared a small laugh that seemed to dissolve some of the tension between them. Adrien was probably the last person she expected to see in Paris much less in an off the beaten path cafe away from the city's heart. Like everyone else from high school, they had promised to keep in touch but as time went on and they both became increasingly involved in their own careers, the Facebook messages and Skype chats became fewer and farther between. The last time she set eyes on him in person, he was about an inch shorter and five years younger but even half a decade did nothing to diminish his boyish good looks. His shoots were always so distinct because even if he was doing his best to pull off the Broody Male Model Pout, his eyes always seemed to glitter back up at her like-
“We should get together sometime,” Marinette said, mentally slapping herself before she started daydreaming again. “The four of us, I mean; I know Alya would be happy to see you two again.”
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get back in touch with her,” Adrien said a little sheepishly, glancing around the cafe as he took out his phone. "I'd offer to get you a coffee but I'm actually supposed to be meeting someone here pretty soon."
Of course Adrien Agreste had someone to see; Marinette imagined that if she was an underwear model she would be beating dates off with a stick instead of meeting potential weirdos she met online.
“Well whoever it is, you shouldn’t keep them waiting,” Marinette said, picking up her phone as well and sifting around for Alya’s number.
"My number didn't change," Adrien said, glancing back at Marinette for a moment as she fiddled with her contacts. "I kept it when I went abroad so I could have a line when I came-"
Marinette glanced up and caught Adrien looking at her with a strange, bemused look in his eyes. For a moment, she thought he was suddenly angry at her until she realized Adrien's eyes were fixed on her ears.
“Something wrong?” She asked as Adrien slowly tugged his scarf loose almost absentmindedly, his eyes still fixated on her earrings.
“Those…those earrings,” He said, leaning back as Marinette touched the red and black poka-dotted studs in her ears. “Sorry those wouldn’t happen to be...ladybug earrings, would they?"
“Oh...yeah,” Marinette said, fidgeting with her earrings a little self-consciously. “Always had a thing for ladybugs so when I started doing my first line I thought I would play around with the pattern a little b-”
Marinette trailed off as Adrien’s coat fell open, revealing a pressed blue shirt tucked into a pair of khakis. It was a good look for him; classic and polished without being completely preppy. She would have given him full marks for it were it not for the fact he seemed to have a noticeable black pin attached to his collar shaped like a small, black cat.
At that point she realized two things at the exact same time;
1) Black ornaments did not go with that shade of blue Adrien was wearing. It was kind of a bad look and she mentally filed that away for future reference.
2) She had apparently been in closer contact with Adrien than she realized.
“…L-Ladybug?” Adrien stammered.
“Me,” Marinette squeaked as it felt like her face was two degrees away from catching fire. “S-so that w-would make you Ch…Ch…”
She almost couldn’t bring herself to say it because if she did say it, she would have to admit that she and Adrien, secret love of her adolescent life, had unwittingly remet on the snobbiest Parisan kink site in existence. If she admitted that Adrien was in fact ChatNoir she would also have to admit that Adrien now knew that his klutzy fashionista friend from high school had daydreamed about some fairly creative uses of thin silk strips. If Adrien was ChatNoir, then then they both knew, within minutes of meeting one another again, that they had much much more in common now than they did when they were friends in school.
“I…uh…guess I have time for that coffee after all, huh?” Adrien chuckled, fidgeting with his pin as Marinette tried to make her mouth do the wordy thing that it used to be able to do. Despite having chugged two iced coffees in an hour, Marinette’s throat and lips felt drier than ever. The quiet bustle of the café seemed to die as she slowly glanced between the pin and Adrien’s…Chat’s bewildered expression.
Most people rekindled friendships with people from high school over Facebook or Twitter. Most people met for coffee, shared pictures of their bratty children, and sent old friends Christmas letters once a year.
Marinette was clearly not most people as she had somehow accidentally hooked up with her old high school crush on a bondage dating website and somehow hadn’t even known it until he was standing in front of her.