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A Kitten's Heart

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It didn’t matter that her camera was shaking when a moving car shot up into the air on a torrent of sewage from an open manhole cover. It didn’t matter that she missed Chat Noir pull the driver out in time or that she didn’t get the lucky shot of the lucky charm dropping into Ladybug’s hand. Helicopters and high tech camera equipment would catch the action better than she could. News reporters would get all the details on Pipeline and her gross sewage powers without any help from the Ladyblog.

Alya needed to use her connection with the superhero team to get an answer to one good question.  A deep question. A real question. Her exclusive interview with Ladybug had been labeled nothing but a fluff piece. If Alya wanted to secure a partnership between TVi and the Ladyblog, and snatch a huge jumpstart on her career as a reporter, she needed to get a response from the heroes of Paris about something poignant.

Poignant. That’s what the exec told her, and it felt like TVi code for mean.

But even superheroes are celebrities, and that’s what reporters do, isn’t it?

Ahead of her, Chat Noir caught a polkadotted surfboard, red with black spots like all of Ladybug’s lucky charms, and he pushed it below his feet mid-air while jumping into the torrential sewage water. On cue Ladybug, standing on a rooftop, used her yoyo to pull a large marquee over the gushing sewers, pushing the waters and Chat Noir straight into Pipeline.

“Surf’s up,” Alya said to herself, trying to imagine whatever quip Chat Noir had used while impaling Pipeline’s orange vest with his baton. Unless she missed it, Chat Noir hadn’t used his Cataclysm power. That meant he should have time for questions while Ladybug had only minutes before she would bug out of the scene. Chat Noir never took a question seriously, and with these questions, that might be what Alya needed.

“Pound it!” the two superheroes called out as Alya got closer, bumping their fists together. This would be her chance. Alya could feel her palms sweating and her mouth dry up.

“That was a sticky situation,” Ladybug said, shaking a little muck off of her knuckles and trying to suppress a giggle at her partner. Alya’s fingers tightened around her camera to steady the shot.

Chat Noir had gotten himself covered in sewage water, and it still dripped from his claws, from his flattened wet hair, and from his nose. For a split second he looked mortified that their fist bump had gotten muck on Ladybug’s hand. But it was quickly replaced with a beam of delight and a bow. “I’ll stick to you any day, my lady.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes and let out a loud groan. “Not this day, kitty.”

Ladybug had done it again. Alya began laughing. She couldn’t believe her luck, how perfectly they had set her up. “Chat Noir! Chat Noir?” she called out. “Can you take a question for the Ladyblog?”

The dripping cat turned to look at her, and Alya was happy to see that he showed zero embarrassment for his smelly wet look. His face was all smiles, his eyes as giddy as ever. “A question for – moi? I’d be happy to.”

Alya remembered the TVi exec’s remarks. Prove that you’re a reporter, not just a fangirl with a blog, he had told her when he gave her the list of questions. This was her moment to do just that, to make her career, to demonstrate that she can be tough with her heroes instead of gushing after them.

“Chat Noir, how does it feel that Ladybug keeps rejecting you?” she asked with a laugh. And then she regretted it. She heard the snicker coming out of her own mouth and immediately thought of Chloe. But she was committed now. She held herself steady as she finished her question the way she had rehearsed it, staring into Chat Noir’s green eyes without really seeing him anymore, like she was looking into her mirror at home determined to get through the words. “When she finally breaks your heart, are you going to be the next Akuma victim, or will you go straight up supervillain all on your own?”

Somehow Chat Noir held his smile, and it still looked real.

“Whenever she puts a bruise on my heart, she’s only giving it another spot to prove that it’s her lucky charm.” He rushed his claws through his hair and shook a little sewage to the ground. “Now this cat’s got to clean himself and get a catnap.” He briefly stuck out his tongue and winked. “You can put that image on the Ladyblog.”

He thrust one end of his baton into the ground and pole vaulted away onto a nearby rooftop. Alya looked on as he ran off over the rooftops, in awe of how slick and unfazed he was by her question. For a brief second she threw aside her doubts about the meanness of the question she had to ask. Instead of getting riled up, Chat Noir had given her a witty answer, a video that was sure to go viral, and a pose that belonged on memes. The Ladyblog was going to swarm with comments from fangirls swooning at the thought of Chat Noir cleaning himself with his tongue like a cat. And he had almost certainly sealed the partnership deal that the TVi network had promised her.

“That was low, Alya,” Ladybug said to her. The words were like her yoyo, wrapping around and strangling out Alya’s excitement. It dawned on her that Chat Noir had left without even saying goodbye to Ladybug.

But Ladybug didn’t offer Alya an opening to talk. She threw out her actual yoyo and followed after her partner’s dripping trail of sludge.

Alya dropped her head and almost dropped her camera. That so-called poignant question had gotten one hell of a pose out of Chat Noir. But she tried to fight back tears as she reached for her phone. She needed to speak with Nino.

She realized what the TVi execs had done to her. Ladybug had looked at her like the two of them were done. And Alya couldn’t blame her.

- - - - - - - - - -

Chat Noir was supposed to be humbled by a little sewage, not humiliated with the question of their lives, asked by a friend but phrased like a high school bully, for his feelings to be put on display and mocked for the public.

He looked cute in the dripping muck, Ladybug thought when she had thrown the surfboard into the air, which then dissolved into her Miraculous Ladybug damage-fixing wave that cleaned up the sewage everywhere but her kitty. She still didn’t understand how that power worked. Did it leave him in a mess because part of her wanted it to or because that was somehow lucky?

It didn’t feel lucky. Poor Chat. She was proud of him for how well he handled it. He took that question while covered in sewage and didn’t even hesitate. But he had to find it humiliating, didn’t he? Was Chat Noir really that happy even with the muck and that question or was this proof of his ability to fake it?

Damnit, why didn’t she know him well enough to answer that? Maybe she did know. Chat Noir took off without even a glance her way, let alone his usual goodbye bow. He couldn’t even look at her with heartbreak on his mind. And his expression was just a little too steady, unless she was overthinking it.

And what had gotten into Alya to ask him that question? Marinette still loved her friend, but how dare she interfere with their partnership like that. Chat’s heart was Ladybug’s to break at the time and manner of her choosing, not to be forced on them abruptly by a reporter. Damnit, Chat, for being so public with his affections.

And damnit, why had she been so public with her rejections? Some people were picking up on it and treating him like dead weight. This was her fault. Her partner was awesome, and Paris should know that. Well, everyone in Paris except for Chat.

“Here kitty kitty,” Ladybug whispered after she came up against the hotel window. She noted traces of muck against the glass. Her partner had gone inside through here.

Beep, beep.

Her earrings buzzed for the fourth time. She shook her head. Chat was gone, and she was out of time.

It was just as well. What was she going to say him?  Yes, I’m going break your heart, so get over the pain, get out there, and still be ready to die at an akuma’s hand for me. What a kind partner she was. I’m going to break your heart even though you’re always there for me, even though I trust you more than anyone I’ve ever met, and even though I refuse to actually get to know you, Chat. What a friend she was. I’m going to break your heart because I’m in love with a prettyboy model I can’t even talk to. Ohh yes, she knew she did right by Chat Noir.

But she couldn’t help it. She was in love with –

“Adrien?” she let out. Just as she was about to toss out her yoyo to go, Adrien had come out through the hallway door just below the window she was sitting against. He seemed focused on something that was cupped in his left hand.

Every time Marinette saw him her heart jumped into her throat and choked up her words. But right now she was Ladybug. She had something she had failed to talk to Adrien about all week, and damnit, she had thirty seconds left of her Ladybug confidence to force herself to commit to it. She swung around the corner of the building, pushed through the first window she could find, and let out a yelp as she hit the floor in her normal school clothes.

- - - - - - - - - -

“She’s got a point, you know. That’s how villains are made.” Plagg grumbled from inside Adrien’s cupped hand, nibbling on a wedge of cheese but still irritated from his rushed washing in the bathroom sink. “Believe me, I know, you wouldn’t be my first.”

As Adrien stepped out of the bathroom he briefly wondered which had been harder, cleaning the sludge out of his hair or cleaning it out of Plagg. Most of it didn’t stick to the Chat Noir costume, and most of what did had moved to drench the kwami when he dropped his transformation. But Adrien should have known Plagg’s goading commentary would bite worse than the washing.

“No, Alya’s wrong,” Adrien said, and for the moment he believed it.  “Ladybug isn’t going to break my heart.”

“How can you be so sure, huh?”

Adrien hesitated. He wasn’t sure where this certainty was coming from. Ladybug rejected Chat Noir’s advances constantly. But that’s almost what he wanted from her. She acknowledged him. She was playful in the way she turned him down. I’ll stick to you any day, he had said, and as usual she replied in kind, Not this day, kitty. When Chat Noir put his arm around Ladybug’s shoulders, she didn’t merely push him away and flee, but lifted his hand off her shoulder and dropped it by his side.

Adrien didn’t feel like his partner rejected him. She could have asked him to stop, or told him outright that she wasn’t interested, or even have pulled away from him in a clear sign of disdain for his antics. Instead Ladybug played her part, rejecting his flirting with wit and exaggeration, like a game that they played together as friends.

But that didn’t mean they would end up together. How long could their game last? Neither of them was involved with anybody yet – unless she was and never mentioned it, and she wouldn’t do that, would she? They never really talked about those kinds of personal things. Adrien didn’t mean to flirt with a girl who was with somebody else. That’s not the kind of cat he wanted to be.

“She’s not going to break my heart because I know her,” Adrien began, trying slowly to figure out how to justify his certainty to Plagg and to himself. “Ladybug wants to think I’m just in love with a costume, but she’ll feel differently when she understands my feelings are more than that. It’s that bold creativity, her amazing kindness, her talents and bravery. There aren’t other girls like that.”

Somebody let out a yelp from around the hallway corner. Adrien barely heard it.

“That sounds like Marinette,” Plagg said.

“Yeah... I suppose it does.”

Plagg shot out of Adrien’s hand and dived through the fabric into his jacket pocket. Just ahead of him Marinette stepped in from around the corner wearing the expression of a girl in search of something. But her face lit up as she saw Adrien.

“Adri – uhh, hi Adrien!” she squealed, and then her hands ran up to grab her face, as if she could pull her voice back down to normal through a lever in her cheekbones.

“What – err...” Adrien stumbled his words for a moment, his chest tightening at the sight of her. Boldly creative, Marinette had designed a feathered hat that impressed Adrien’s father the fashion designer, and she had put together an album cover for rock star Jagged Stone. Amazingly kind, Adrien knew Marinette to comfort many of their classmates both before and after they terrorized Paris under the control of Hawkmoth’s akuma. Talented and brave, Marinette had kept her head better than he had as Chat Noir when the two of them faced Evillustrator, even advising him on how to use his baton to escape one the villain’s traps.

Plagg had put all of these thoughts into Adrien’s head by accident, he realized. Adrien had misunderstood the kwami like the oblivious dork he was.

“Hello Marinette,” Adrien managed to say after a second. “What are you doing here?”

“I was, uhhm, looking at an exhibition of your fashion victory – I uhh,” Marinette said. “I was. Looking into. A new. Victorian. Fashion. Exhibition.”

What was he supposed to make of that? Adrien never knew, and he usually ignored it. He had come to accept that most girls behaved differently around him in one way or another. As a teen fashion model for his father’s designer label, many girls knew his face, and his name, and some quotes from an interview he had given. He decided a long time ago that the moment a girl threw herself at the model she threw away her chances with him. But that wasn’t Marinette. She had always kept an awkward distance even as they had become closer as friends.

“I heard about that,” Adrien said. “It’s being hosted here in the hotel by one of my father’s competitors.”

“Would you come with me tomorrow?” Marinette said as fast as she could, as if the words were a villain killing her from within and spitting them out was the only way to save her life. “A-Adrien?”

“My dad won’t like it, but sure Marinette,” Adrien said. “I’m always happy to ditch my bodyguard for a friend.”

“Then I’ll tomorrow you... see,” Marinette said, looking down at her hand as if she was trying to figure out what she had said wrong.

When she breaks your heart...

Adrien looked into Marinette’s beautiful blue eyes and remembered Alya’s question. He risked the pain of a heartbreak with Ladybug, and that was fine. Superheroes endure pain, inward and out. That was part of being Chat Noir. But what would happen after such a heartbreak? He felt a crushing weight on his heart as he struck a possibility he had never had the courage to think about. For a second Adrien had to fight to keep himself standing, to keep his face from melting, to hold his model pose. Were his festering feelings for Ladybug putting their partnership at risk? Would his jealousy lead him to behave badly, or scare Ladybug into keeping her distance, and poison the incredible trust between Ladybug and Chat Noir which kept Paris safe?

If so, then those feelings might have to go.

“Okay.” Adrien smiled at her. Despite his sudden turmoil, she did make smiling at her easy. “What if we call it a date, Marinette?”

“A – a – date?” Marinette did something weird with her hands, like a mime building a box around her face. Even her bizarre gestures were creative and brave. “Huhmm, okay A-Adrien.”

Marinette let out a happy squee, but then she seemed to find herself speechless, like one of their classmates who had rehearsed their presentation only to stumble unprepared when it came time to take questions.

...will you be the next akuma victim?

From what Plagg had told him, the negative emotions that drew an akuma would have to be intense to break through the power of the miraculous. Adrien wasn’t worried about himself.

“But you have to make me a promise, Marinette.”

“A promise?” Marinette asked.

“So many people at our school have been akumatized that sometimes it feels like you and I are the only ones left who haven’t.”

“It’s scary, isn’t it?” Marinette answered darkly.

“It’s all of that high school drama,” Adrien said. “And I know how you and Chloe fight. I don’t want that to happen to you. So no matter what happens between us tomorrow or afterwards, even if we break each others’ hearts, you have to promise that you’ll still come to me as your friend if you ever feel sad, or angry, or alone, because I promise to do everything I can, whatever I have to, to cheer you up and keep that from happening to you. Even if it’s dumb, or if I’m the problem and you just want to hit me, or if it’s another guy and you don’t think I’ll understand. I’m serious, Marinette, whatever happens between us you are my friend, I am here for you, and I don’t ever want to see you in magical spandex running amok in Paris.”

Somewhere in the middle of all that Marinette had started laughing at him. It was a kind laughter, and she reached out her hand and touched his cheek where Adrien could feel himself blushing.

“Always the kindest, Adrien,” she said. “I promise you I’ll remember that you’re here for me the next time I feel that low. But the same goes for you, Adrien. You can come to me about anything, alright?”

Adrien found himself nodding.

“I mean, wow, you in magic spandex?” Marinette went on. “What would your evil power be anyway? Making the girls of Paris swoon for... uh-humm.”

Chapter Text

Ladybug closed the trapdoor to her room and Marinette Dupain-Cheng fell backwards onto her bed. “This is really happening, Tikki!”

Tikki flew out of Marinette’s vanishing Ladybug costume and dived into her purse. “I’m so excited for you Marinette!” she exclaimed as she pulled into the air taking tiny bites from a cookie. “You’ve earned a little more happiness.”

Marinette smiled to herself, her body flooded with so much energy she couldn’t stop squeezing her pillow. Adrien called it a date. She pushed the pillow tighter into her chest, trying to press her heart into submission, but it was no use, it was beating too fast and did not want to stop. And why should it? Adrien had made it a date, with Adrien.

She had to tell Alya – uehg, maybe not Alya just yet. But her parents? And Nino? And Juleka, Rose, Alix and everybody else? She accidentally bit her lip trying to picture the look on Chloe’s face when she finds out. And she’d have to tell–

She sat bolt upright and dropped the pillow to the floor. Damnit, no, no, damnit. The shock hit her so hard she almost didn’t realize the low pain rising in her chest. “This is really it, then, Tikki. I’m going to have to tell Chat Noir.”

Tikki finished off the last crumbs of cookie. “What do you mean, Marinette?”

“What Alya said this morning, Tikki,” Marinette began, looking into Tikki’s eyes. Didn’t she realize how serious this was? “I’ll have to tell him I’m with somebody else. You know how he feels about me. If things go well with Adrien, I have to break Chat’s heart.”

“Ohhh Marinette,” Tikki let out. “Chat Noir may be in love with you, but he’s also your friend. He’s stronger than Alya gave him credit for. And so is your partnership.”

“Is it?” Marinette asked before she could help herself. She remembered Chat Noir’s smile as he crashed into Pipeline, his giddy expression when he quipped and bowed to her. “He always has so much fun out there with that cocky grin on his face.”

“What are you afraid of Marinette?” Tikki asked as she hovered there, looking as if they weren’t in the middle of a crisis. Did kwamis just not understand?

“I have to hurt him, Tikki,” Marinette began slowly. Inside her all of that happy energy, that romantic enthusiasm for her date with Adrien, began to turn against her. Her chest felt hollow, her eyes watered, her hands began pinching into the blankets on her bed. “What if this changes things with him? What if I can’t make it fun for him anymore?” She wanted to stop, to claw onto her sanity for another moment, but she couldn’t stop herself. She had spent a year hiding from this moment with Chat Noir only to find that she’s stockpiled a year’s worth of dread. The tears flooded down her face, each droplet pulling two or three more from her eyes. “Ohh Tikki. What if he stops showing up? I can’t do this without Chat Noir. Adrien isn’t worth it. My happiness isn’t worth it. Not when all of Paris is at stake. I can’t lose my partner.”

“Ohhh Marinette,” Tikki grabbed a tissue from Marinette’s desk and landed on her shoulder, dabbing at her face. “Chat Noir will be alright.”

“I can’t lose my friend, Tikki...” her words caught in her throat, even as her tears stopped. “Can I even call him that when I keep pushing him away? I don’t know anything about him.”

“Of course he’s your friend!” Tikki dived the dirty tissue into the trashcan, flying out through its sides with a scolding shake of her head. “I know that if he heard you say that it would hurt more than the heartbreak, Marinette. And you’re not going to lose him. Has he given you any reason to doubt him?”

“No, he’s been the perfect partner...” Marinette said, and then began to smile, just a little. It was nice to see a bit of emotion from Tikki, who was usually calm with her wiseness. And she was right. “All of my doubts are coming from me. I’m the one behaving poorly here. I push him away, and I keep him at a distance. I act like I don’t trust him. When I do. I trust him completely.”

“Then trust him now,” Tikki said.

“You’re right, Tiiki.” Marinette picked up her pillow and lay back on her bed. She had a date with Adrien and a partner she could trust. It was silly to think they had to be at odds. “Still, Tikki, I can’t just hurt him and expect him to go out there and risk his life for me. I’m in love with Adrien. But I owe Chat Noir better than this.”

“You owe him your honesty.” Tikki nodded and flew near the bed to hover next to Marinette.

“You’re right, Tikki. And more than that, I owe him a fair chance.” While Marinette was talking, Tikki twitched in the air and put one hand to her head. Marinette didn’t notice in time. “I need to make a real effort to get to know him...”

“Eahh!” Tikki clutched her head with both hands and shrieked, and then she fell down through the side of the bed and straight through the floor.

“Tikki!” Marinette leapt from her bed. What had – there was no time for thought or confusion. Tikki was in pain and fell down into the bakery. Marinette grabbed her phone and hurried down the ladder after her.

“Yes Alya, I’m ready for that assignment!” she said as loudly as she could into her phone while she walked past her parents going through invoices at the table. At the display counter behind them, Tikki was quietly sobbing and gasping, crying from a plate of macaroons. It was only luck that nobody had heard her.

“Tikki, what happened?” Marinette whispered, lifting the kwami in her hand. Tikki’s eyes were half closed, and her color was red instead of pink. Marinette felt her neck tighten. She needed to make Tikki better. “Are you alright?”

“It’s Schtitz,” Tikki whispered, her words frazzled and shaken. “The dragonfly Kwami... I can sense him… he’s in so much pain...”

- - - - - - - - - -

Ladybug sat in a blue chair on the theater balcony, at ease in a way that wasn’t, offering a pleasant half-smile without committing an ounce more of her joy to the moment. She looked straight ahead, her hands and face oddly still, her eyes curious and calm.

“So Chat Noir is a huge flirt,” Alya’s voice came slowly, and Ladybug nodded in turn. “Does he flirt with all of the girls or just with you?”

Ladybug halfway rolled her eyes and then giggled. “You’d have to ask him that.”

“Did you ever ask him to stop?” Alya asked.

“Chat Noir’s flirting annoys me to pieces,” Ladybug began with a light groan. But then she blushed, and her voice became warm. “It’s also really sweet. Fighting these villains could be a nightmare, and Chat Noir keeps it light and fun. That means everything to me. I wouldn’t ask him to change at all.”

Adrien paused the video and threw the remote into his couch.

Ladybug wouldn’t ask him to change at all. His flirting is really sweet, keeps things light and fun –means everything to her. She had said all of that to Alya in a public interview, but Alya was still certain that Ladybug would break his heart.

“Is Alya seeing something here that I’m not?” Adrien asked the question aloud to his room. The light rustling of a cheese wrapper answered him. “Plagg? Plagg, get out of the trash can and talk to me.”

”Ohhhh. How should I know?” Plagg groaned, flying out of the trash with a small piece of tinfoil dropping from his mouth and falling back into the can beneath him. “You’ve watched it eleven times now. You’re hopeless.”

“Come on, Plagg,” Adrien told him. The kwami wasn’t always upfront with his advice, but Adrien had nobody else he could turn to when it came to Ladybug. “You’re like ten thousand years old. You must have learned something about romance by now.”

“Fine…” Plagg said. He flailed his hands about with sarcasm as he went on. “One-time only, because you’re not going to like it. Are you sure you want it?”

No, between Alya’s scathing question, the kwami’s change in attitude, and Adrien’s own growing doubts, he suddenly wasn’t sure he wanted to hear more pessimism for the day. “Tell me, Plagg.”

“Fiiiine.” Plagg crossed his arms and frowned. “Forget about whether or not she likes your bad come-ons. There’s only one thing that matters.” Plagg flew right in front of Adrien’s face and looked him in the eye. “You’ve been throwing yourself at Ladybug for over a year now, Adrien, and she’s still saying these things to Alya, not to you.”

Alya has the guts to ask, Adrien wanted to counter, but the remark died in his heart. He could feel his heart sinking. If he wasn’t so tense his hands might have been shaking. Plagg was right, and that was it. He had been partners with ladybug for over a year and he still knew nothing about her.

She probably knew even less about him.

He used to try, but their secret identities got in the way. There were too many questions that they just had to ignore. How did you know that name? What are you doing here so quickly? Horrificator just sealed off the entire school building and you were already inside? Some questions you just didn’t ask. Some clues you just didn’t follow. He forced himself to ignore and forget them. More than wanting to know her identity, he wanted her to trust him with it. So she put up a wall and he respected it. He kept clear of the line.

Maybe he kept too far from that line. Their partnership was solid and growing stronger by the week. They saved each other’s lives, they saved Paris, and they had fun doing it. But on a personal level they stagnated a long time ago. He didn’t know her name, her age, her favorite color, whether she was dating, or had siblings, or had hobbies, or what she wanted to do with her life. He stopped asking, and she never offered. And he made excuses for it.

But then she told Alya in an interview that his flirting meant the world to her. That wasn’t secret identity stuff. That was cat and bug. She took this tidbit of truth about their relationship, the kind of information that he craved so desperately from her, and she handed it to Alya, not to him.

Was that it? Was that one fact the proof he was looking for that he didn’t have a chance with her – that she was going to break his heart? That it was time to move on? He hated this kind of guesswork.

There was a quick double knock at the door. Adrien had just enough time to shut off the television while Plagg dashed into his jacket pocket. The door opened. Upright and looming, Adrien’s father stepped into the room, his eyes taking in the empty cheese dish, the remote on the couch, and Adrien’s guilty face. Mr. Agreste’s hands were locked behind his back. The only emotion he ever showed came through the furrowing of his eyebrows.

“Adrien, I need to speak with you.”

“What is it, father?” Adrien answered. His body wanted to pull away, but he didn’t move.

“Nathalie informs me that you have a date tomorrow night.” Mr. Agreste’s eyes narrowed in on his son’s.

Adrien quickly wondered what had given him away and decided that he dropped too many hints to pinpoint one. Was it the dumb grin on his face? His sudden concern about whether his favorite scarf could make it home from the cleaners? Or had she heard him stutter while he made reservations on the phone at two different restaurants?

“Yeah… I do,” he answered. He wouldn’t keep it from his father, not when he was taking an interest in him. Even after all this time he had to give him the chance, to believe for a moment that he cared, even if it meant his own disappointment. “I’m going out with Marinette.”

“Ahh, the girl who designed the derby hat at your school.” Was there a touch of approval and satisfaction in his voice? Adrien may have imagined it. But he remembered her. His father had remembered his friend Marinette. “Is it... serious, between the two of you?”

“I don’t know,” Adrien said, and he wanted to stop talking. But his father still stared at him motionless, offering a silence that expected more. “I think she’s wanted to do this for a while, but I love having her as a friend.”

Adrien felt like his father saw right through him, even though he knew that was nonsense. His father’s stare searched for fault, not truths. But Adrien sometimes accepted a head-canon for his father, a vision of his father that he imagined to be true, even if it wasn’t. His loving head-canon father forced Adrien to see himself through better eyes, to see his decisions more clearly. Was it normal to have head-canon for your father? Should he ask Nino? Maybe it was better to keep that question to the anime forums.

Marinette liked him. All of the girls liked him. It wasn’t real. If Adrien was going to start dating, and get over Ladybug, he could start by doing this for a friend. They would look at the fashion designs and chat over dinner. Then Marinette would quickly realize that he’s not the guy she likes in the magazine, she can drop her nervousness, and they could end up being better friends. In the meantime, he could try and get his mind off Ladybug for a while and see if that changed anything between them.

Or everything could go wrong.

“Marinette’s amazing,” Adrien went on. “And I want to try being with her, but I don’t want to hurt her if it doesn’t work out.” Adrien looked up at his father and decided to give him a chance. “What do you think I should do father?”

“Go. Enjoy your date, son,” his father answered. He seemed to try and smile. “Perhaps we will know more about Ms. Dupain-Cheng and your feelings for her afterwards.”

He turned for the door before he looked back at him and added, “Make no mistake, Adrien, I expect you to handle your dating life with the same integrity and professionalism as all of your other endeavors.”

And just like that, his father walked out, closing the door behind him.

“What was that about, Plagg?” Adrien wondered aloud. “Was he actually trying to be... fatherly?”

But Plagg didn’t answer. He gave Adrien a moment of silence.

And then the kwami screamed. He screamed like death, like a fire that was shivering in the rain, like a lightning bolt in terror, like a cat in Schrodinger’s toilet. Adrien rushed to Plagg’s side, cupping him in his hands and close to his heart. “Plagg! Talk to me. Tell me what I can do. Plagg?”

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Chat Noir sat perched on the roof of Notre Dame, looking over the river with his baton between his legs and one claw flicking occasionally on his bell. Ladybug watched him from the distance, taking a nervous breath before throwing out her yoyo and swinging in beside him. “I knew you’d be out,” she said, trying to be casual.

“I wish it was a happier night,” Chat Noir muttered in a tone that was unlike him. He didn’t look at her but stared into the night sky. “Plagg said transforming would help with the pain. I’ve never seen him so shaken up. How is Tikki?”

“She’s not taking it well,” Ladybug answered. “And Tikki’s in a fraction of the pain Schtitz must be in. I’m worried, Chat. What could do this to a kwami?”

“I figure it’s either something magical, like an akuma, or it’s something high tech, like a weapons lab.” He finally turned to look at her, and Ladybug’s stomach lurched when she saw the sadness on his face. Was it only about the kwami? Or had the morning affected him? “I saw on the tracker that you stopped by Master Fu?”

“I did… he said there hasn’t been any sign of Schtitz or the Dragonfly Charm since World War I. Unless the miraculous bearer comes forward, I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”

“No,” Chat Noir lowered his head. “It’s going to be a long night for the kwami.”

That means a long night for the two of us here on this roof, in costume, with no Akuma in sight. So tell me about yourself, Chat.

“While we have a moment,” Marinette began, her Ladybug confidence beginning to drift. “I wanted to talk to you…” Wait, did that sound too forward? She didn’t want to put him on the spot. She just wanted to talk as friends, to get to know him a little better, to give him a fair shake after…, “after what Alya said.”

Chat Noir jumped up from his spot. “Right. No. You don’t need to say anything, Ladybug.” He ran his claws through his hair, looked at her, and smiled, his deep green eyes begging her to stop breaking his heart. “I, hrmm. I’ve decided to start dating.”

What? Start? …dating. She had tried to never think about it, but she knew. Chat Noir was the flirt of Paris. That’s what everyone believed. Every week he could pick a new princess for the night. And she usually played along as if that were really him. “You’re the only one, Marinette,” Alya had once told her. “People send in their stories to me all the time on the Ladyblog, and while everyone knows Chat Noir is a huge flirt, as far as I can tell you’re the only one he’s actually flirted with. Just you and Ladybug.” That is, in costume. Out of costume… Marinette knew the boy at her side, and he flirted the way he did because he was as nervous about relationships as she was.

“What do you mean start, kitty?” she asked, trying to keep casual and hoping to keep him talking. “I’m sure you’re the life of the town.”

“I mean what I said, Ladybug.” Chat Noir took two steps back and turned to look over the Paris skyline. His voice was shaky and he seemed determined not to look at her. “I’m taking somebody out, a friend from my normal life, and... I think you and all of Paris know how I feel about you, and that hasn’t changed yet, but I can see what’s happening, that it was always inevitable… so if I start acting a little differently towards you it’s because I want to respect her.”

And just like that, all of her fears faded away. She had spent a year dreading the day she would break his heart, and now, perhaps, he had taken the hint and spared them both. About time, Chat.

But this isn’t what she wanted tonight. And he looked so... heartbroken.

“I know I keep pushing you away, but I care about you, Chat, more than I know how to put into words.” He still didn’t look at her, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him. He deserved more than the sadness in his face. “This girl you’re dating had better be good enough for you.”

And then his expression lit up, and he turned to look at her with a smile, and his eyes, somehow, transformed him back into the optimistic kitten she had always known. “I can tell you that much for sure, Ladybug. This girl’s incredible.”

Chat Noir was moving on. Ladybug was so relieved. He should step back that annoying flirting he does. He might pay her less attention and focus more on the supervillains. It was a relief to be free of that burden of fearing his heartbreak. The cat could find a new human pet. Maybe he would finally take saving Paris seriously.

This is what relief feels like, right?

The weight was off her shoulders. He was going to be with somebody else. Ladybug tried to picture a normal guy, a normal girl, a boring conversation, a girl who would know the real person behind Chat Noir.

And she would have no idea of the incredible and selfless things he did all the time. For Paris. For everybody.

For her.