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Under Lock and Key

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Marinette Dupain-Cheng was grateful for many things.

She was grateful she had such loving and understanding folks, who trusted her to no end, therefore easing her double life in a way she never would have dared to hope. 

She was grateful for the friends she had been able to gather around her through the years, for their unwavering support through whatever crazy project she put her mind to.

At seventeen, she was grateful for the future she had laid before her, for the leisure to actually choose her career path, a luxury that didn’t grace all of her classmates.

And these days, she was grateful that her best friend Alya was dating Nino Lahiffe. Because, wherever Nino went, Adrien Agreste usually followed. And despite the two long years that had passed ever since they met, Marinette was still head over heels for the blond, that had only grown more kind and more handsome.

At that precise moment, they were all seated at some quaint café, sipping on some fancy caffeinated drinks, cheerfully chatting about their days and their projects for the future. Somehow, Marinette seemed to be the only one to notice how unusually silent Adrien was on the matter, so she sensibly kept it to herself. But somewhere in the midst of hearing Alya gushing about the great journalism program she was about to enroll into and Nino ramble on just how much the music program in his first-choice-university was awesome, something within her snapped. She couldn’t bear the kicked puppy look on her crush’s face a single second longer, so she did the only logical thing and swerved the discussion on a brand new subject. “Have you guys seen the news? There’s a new expo at the Louvre, about past heroes and how they served the country. Wanna check it out with me, Alya?”

Against all odds, the redhead merely shrugged, her eyes never leaving her phone. “Meh. I’m more interested in today’s heroes. Like, did Chat Noir finally confess to Ladybug? It’s been two years for God’s sake! Surely she would have realized by now how much he loves her and is devoted to her heart and soul, wouldn’t she?”

If anyone found odd the way both Marinette and Adrien choked on air at the very same time, they didn’t feel the need to bring it up.

Whether it was solely to bring the subject back on track, or out of genuine interest, Marinette couldn’t say, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to care when Adrien said in a somewhat subdued voice, “If you really want to see that exhibit, Marinette, we could go together. I was planning to anyway.”

“Really?” Marinette heard herself answer in an unsure voice, mentally facepalming. How lame could she get, honestly? She would probably hear an earful from Alya later on, but she really couldn’t help herself. Even if she didn’t dissolve in a stuttery mess anymore around her blond friend, her nerves were still skyrocketing whenever their discussion would stretch a little bit too long for her hard-maintained composure or if she was unlucky enough (lucky?) for their skins to brush in any possible way.

All things considered, she was quite proud of herself: she hadn’t squealed, fallen off the café bench, or ran away flailing. Yup, so far, the “Be normal around Adrien” mission was a huge success.

Well, maybe not so much seeing how the young man was now looking at her expectantly, obviously waiting for some answer she couldn’t give him, having missed the last few minutes of the discussion.

“I’m sorry Adrien, I didn’t get that, I got lost in thought.” she shamefully admitted, hoping with all her might that wouldn’t ruin her chances with the handsome green-eyed young man.

He smiled, that sweet and kind smile of his that only the sun could rival in Marinette’s enamored heart. When he spoke, his voice was soft, caring, “No worries, you seemed to pretty far away just now. I asked if you wanted to go this afternoon, I’m actually free for once.”

The young woman did her best to ignore the elbow painfully nudged in her ribs, and the less-than-subtle snicker Nino lamely tried to hide as he took a sip of his Coca-Cola. Focusing on forming a coherent sentence, the blue-eyed girl smiled softly and answered in a low-key voice, “That would be perfect. Thanks, Adrien.”

This is how Marinette Dupain-Cheng found herself at the Louvre’s steps on a sunny Saturday  afternoon, looking at her crush without knowing what to do with herself. Adrien, in his infinite kindness, gently nudged her, still smiling (did this soft and subdued smile ever leave his face?), “This is nice, some friendly time without Alya and Nino playing tonsil hockey every single second they think we’re not looking.”

Marinette giggled despite herself, the awkwardness somehow still lingering between them but much less stifling all of a sudden, “They sure do that a lot, and to think they’re convinced they’re subtle!” They both chuckled, shaking their heads as they thought about their friends’ uncomfortable public display habits. “So, were you looking forward to that exhibit?”

Adrien smiled again, effectively deflecting all logical thinking from his shy but still eager friend. “Actually a lot. I think it’s a really awesome exhibit, looking back on our past heroes is something that—”

“Marinette!” a familiar voice interrupted him. “Oh thank God! Do you think you could keep an eye on Manon for me while I do this reporting gig? I’ll happily pay you double the wage I usually do. That sneaky little imp won’t stay in place for even a split second, I swear,” exclaimed an obviously relieved Nadja Chamack, barrelling down on the startled pair.

Marinette warily eyed Adrien, trying to gauge his reaction. Knowing his selfless personality, his endless kindness, she should’ve predicted what followed, “No problem, Ms. Chamack, Mari and I are going to keep tabs on this lovely little lady.”

“Oh! You’re Adrien Agreste, right? It’s a pleasure to meet you, young man. Well, I guess that if you’re one of Marinette’s friends, I can trust you as much as I trust her with my little monster. Please just try to keep Manon out of trouble, okay? She has an unsettling habit of getting herself involved in… situations.”

Regaining her composure at last, the blue-eyed girl quickly assured, “Don’t worry, Ms. Chamack, we’ll keep her safe. Do your gig, we’re going to check out the exhibit with her.”

Minutes later, while a seven-year-old Manon was busy checking out some artifacts, Adrien unexpectedly slid his hand into Marinette’s. “I hope I haven’t made you uncomfortable by answering for you, but you seem to be pretty fond of her.”

Smiling softly, trying with all her might to ignore her inner self squealing in delight at Adrien’s skin brushing her voluntarily, Marinette tried to overcome how painfully her heart was thumping in her chest and replied timidly, “Yes, I love that kid. Been babysitting her for a while now.”

Hearing those words, Adrien’s already kind expression softened considerably. “Well then, let’s make sure she has the time of her life.”

Right there and then, Marinette Dupain-Cheng fell in love all over again with Adrien Agreste.

She watched, in utter awe, as Manon seemingly got along with the blond without further hitch. He patiently listened to her incessant chatter as they walked at a leisurely pace through the exhibition, happily stopping to find the answer to her never-ending flow of questions or to look at whatever the little girl had put her fickle interest into.

It was the first time Marinette ever saw him interact with a child ever since that impromptu photo shoot in the park two years ago, and untimely fantasies of a green-eyed black-haired girl running in a white-fenced backyard with two blue-eyed blond boys came crashing back on her all at once. Gosh, this man was going to be an amazing father, and the thought made her insides churn in a delightful yet problematic way. How could she ever hope to keep her composure around Adrien if her mind was busy making up future plans?

She tried to shake those thoughts away as she followed the adorably enthusiastic pair to a specific kiosk, still smiling to herself before the scene. Adrien and Manon were gushing over the various artifacts that were laid on a table for them to examine and mess around with. It was something unusual to actually be allowed to touch anything in a museum, and Manon was bouncing out of excitement knowing she wouldn’t get grounded for playing around with really old and precious things.

In retrospect, knowing the mischievous little imp tendencies as well as she did, Marinette should have been wary of her whereabouts and should have kept a closer eye on her. But Adrien’s presence beside them kept distracting the blue-eyed girl, her mind filled with his explanations about how and why a certain veteran had left his imprint in France’s history, and she left her guard down for a moment — a fatal mistake.

Because when Marinette finally snapped back to reality, it was to the cold sensation of metal clasping around her right wrist. Effectively startled out of her daydreams, Marinette looked down to see at first a very smug Manon, and then some iron handcuffs safely locked on her arm.

As well as on Adrien’s left one.

“I’ve caught the baddies! I’m a superhero!” boasted the little girl, completely oblivious to her babysitter’s sudden inner turmoil.

“Great job, Manon. Now can you hand me the key so I can set us free?” Marinette asked in what she hoped was a calm and composed voice.

“Uh-oh.” answered the seven-year-old with a droopy look, shoulders slumping in sudden realisation.

Never before had four letters sent a shot of panic through Marinette like those did and she froze, refusing to acknowledge what Manon’s sheepish expression truly meant. Hopefully, Adrien was quick to catch on, “Let me guess, there was no key on the table?”

The little girl shook her head, tears quickly welling up in her eyes.

“Don’t cry, Manon, we’ll find a solution. Maybe we can break them off?” Marinette tentatively reassured her, trying her best to ignore her own panic rising in her chest.

“Let’s find an employee that could help us, they probably put the key elsewhere for safekeeping,” offered Adrien, his kind smile never wavering despite their less than ideal situation.

Walking with someone attached to you was a new experience in itself. Being a model, Adrien was used to walk in long, efficient strides, while Marinette, being considerably shorter, usually had to make smaller, faster ones, and keeping up with each other was a unique challenge. Being his gentlemanly self, the young man tried his best to slow down for her sake, which she was infinitely grateful for.

The first security guard they approached merely shrugged his shoulders, stating that he had no business with the experimental kiosk. Asking for directions to someone who could actually help them did no good either, the man sighing heavily before uttering through clenched teeth that the museum’s dean was likely somewhere in the building, surveying the whole exhibit.

With a little help from Manon (throwing a tantrum over how sorry she was was always a good and efficient way to attract attention), and Adrien’s outstanding social skills despite his sheltered childhood, they eventually managed to get a hold of the dean in another part of the museum. The elderly woman eyed them warily while she listened to their explanation about their “situation” before sighing with obvious concern, “They seem to be rather old artifacts to me. They certainly weren’t meant to be a part of the experimental kiosk. We’ll have to find someone able to remove them without damaging them.”

Dread instantly filled Marinette’s core. She didn’t like where the conversation was headed. “Can’t we just cut them off with some metal saw?”

“Certainly not!” squealed the lady, obviously offended they even had thought of it. “Do you kids even have an idea about how much these could be worth? Given their antique look and the way the metal is still in pristine condition to this day, it would be complete madness to damage them in any way. I don’t think they even still have a key; once I find the person that put them there, their job is on the line. This is a serious safety hazard! Not to mention they could have been altered, or even worse, stolen! You two go sit over there while I make a phone call or two.”

Marinette let Adrien navigate them to a nearby bench, her insides painfully churning in apprehension. She was barely starting to manage small conversations with her crush; asking her to be functional in close proximity to him for an extended time was expecting way too much out of her.

Before she could dwell too much on her worries, though, said crush gently nudged her in the ribs, forcing her to awkwardly extend her arm toward him in the process, “Don’t worry, Mari. A locksmith is a key man to have on your side, after all!”

Shocked, Marinette blankly stared at him for a second, bringing her arm back to herself, which tugged uncomfortably on the blond’s arm. She blinked, processing his words, and brought her right hand to her mouth (which also brought Adrien’s hand along. This would need some adjustment), “Did… Did you just make a pun?”

Grinning, the young man nodded eagerly. His familiar green eyes lit up with mischief as he leaned toward her, “Hey, I have a plan! I should take you to my barber, this man is amazing when it comes to cutting locks.

That was the last straw. The ridicule of their situation, her on-edge nerves around Adrien added to the untimely realization that, apparently, her long-term crush shared an uncanny love of bad puns with her dear partner, that was all taking his toll on her, and she lost it. She burst out laughing, a hearty laugh that made Adrien’s already more than wide smile grow even bigger. “Never knew you liked puns that much, Mari!” he added, visibly smug.

Whatever Marinette had been about to retort, she was cut short by the museum’s dean approaching them. “You’re in luck, kids. I managed to get a hold of a specialized locksmith competent enough to remove the handcuffs without damaging them. He’ll be able to come two business days from now.”

“TWO DAYS?” asked Marinette and Adrien in perfect sync, completely taken aback by the rather unsettling news.

The museum’s dean slightly frowned, readjusting her glasses on her nose. “Well, yes. Specialists like Mr. Clavier are in very high demand, you can’t expect him to abandon his tightly packed schedule for two teenagers who played with centuries-old handcuffs.”

This time, when Marinette’s eyes met Adrien’s, his expression exactly mirrored hers.

They were screwed.