Adrien closed the door to his bedroom behind himself and leaned back against it with a groan. His day had been terrible - he supposed he could count himself lucky that there wasn't much left, but he didn't want to tempt fate that much.
Nino was out of town, visiting family overseas, and wouldn't be back for another week. Adrien got along reasonably well with the rest of his class, but he didn't really feel like he knew any of them well enough to hang out with; Alya had invited him to eat lunch with her and Marinette, and while he'd gratefully accepted at the time, the whole thing had turned into an awkward disaster. He and Alya had done their best to include Marinette in their conversation, but she'd mostly ended up stuttering and knocking over her food; Adrien was pretty sure that more of it ended up on the floor than in her stomach. She'd ended up making some excuse and practically running away half-way through, to Adrien's dismay; Marinette seemed like a great person, and he was sure they could be friends if she only got over her shyness around him.
After class, Chloe had cornered him and tried to get him to sign something yet again - which he had reluctantly agreed to do at first, then turned down firmly when he caught a glimpse of the rest of the paper: it was some cheesy fake love note that she'd wanted to claim was actually from him. She'd thrown an absolute tantrum when he'd refused and tried to emotionally blackmail him into signing anyway, claiming that they were 'already pre-dating anyway' and would 'be official before the end of the year,' and shutting that down had taken nearly half an hour.
He'd had a photoshoot almost immediately after that, which he'd ended up being late to, thanks to the whole Chloe mess. The shoot itself ended up going poorly with Adrien's concentration faltering badly, but the worst part was that, during a break to change outfits, Adrien got a text from his father that something came up and he wouldn't make it to dinner that night, which Adrien had been looking forward to for weeks.
He muddled through the rest of the session somehow, managing at least passable modeling work, but didn't bother trying to keep his fake smile up for the ride home. The cook had to warm his supper up since the photoshoot ended up running long, which told Adrien that he probably would've missed eating with his father even if business hadn't interrupted - not that it was any consolation.
Adrien looked sullenly at his school bag. He should probably be starting on his homework now, for class or his extracurriculars, but that really wasn't what he wanted to do. He pulled the side of his jacket open and asked, "Any chance we can go out tonight, Plagg?"
The kwami floated languidly from his hiding place in Adrien's pocket. "What's the occasion? There's not exactly any akuma around right now, you know."
Adrien scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I just... really need a break from being Adrien right now."
Plagg regarded him for a moment, then nodded. "Fine. Only two hours, though, got it?"
Adrien smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Plagg. Claws out!"
Minutes later, Cat Noir was running across the Parisian rooftops, feeling the day's troubles beginning to melt away. The mess with Chloe, his father bailing on him again, the week remaining before he got to see Nino again, all of it seemed farther away when he was out here, bounding over the skyline. Funny how he needed a mask to be himself, he thought.
A flash of red caught his eye, and Cat skidded to a stop near a chimney, throwing out a hand for balance. He grinned when he saw the spotted figure a few roofs away; he hadn't expected to see Ladybug that night, but if there was anything that could truly turn his day around, it was time with his Lady. He extended his staff and bounded in her wake.
It wasn't too long before he caught up with her; for all her quickness of movement, Ladybug didn't seem to be in a hurry that evening. He stopped not long after she did, coming to a landing on a roof in the business district. "Good evening, Bugaboo."
Ladybug whirled around and barely managed to miss hitting him with her yoyo. "Cat Noir! What are you doing out here tonight?" She frowned. "Has there been an attack? Is there trouble somewhere?"
Cat shook his head. "None that I know of, my Lady. I'm guessing from your question that you're not out for business, either." He flashed a grin at her. "Purr-haps you're looking for a bit of com-paw-ny?"
Ladybug rolled her eyes at him, a small smile gracing her pink lips. "The new Gabriel ads went up this afternoon and I didn't get a chance to see them yet," she explained. "I've really been looking forward to seeing them, but then I had so much homework to catch up on, and - well, it's not important."
Cat looked at her carefully in the dim light, picking up the traces of a blush under her mask. He then followed her gaze to the billboard she was looking at - one that featured him as Adrien in a button-up he'd thought at the time was a little too tight. Given the color of Ladybug's cheeks, maybe he'd have to reconsider that. "You sure you don't just have a crush on that model there?" he teased.
Ladybug's started and glanced nervously at him. "I--"
Cat Noir stared at her, stunned. "Wait, really?" A thousand thoughts swirled in his head as he watched the blood rise further in her cheeks, staining them almost dark enough to match her mask. Him? She liked him? Civilian him? The person he was so tired of having to be that he'd practically begged his kwami to let him transform tonight?
He broke his stare and shook his head, breathing out a short, humorless laugh. "My Lady," he said, "I can assure you that if you're really not interested in me, you wouldn't be interested in him."
All at once, Ladybug's embarrassment vanished. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
Cat opened his mouth to repeat himself, realized what he had just said, and nearly choked on his tongue. What the hell had he been thinking? Never mind, he clearly hadn't been. Maybe he could still fix things? "Exactly what it sounded like, my Lady," he improvised. "I actually know him pretty well in my civilian life," true enough, "and we have a lot more in common than you might think." Also true, especially if by 'a lot' he meant 'everything, because we are literally the same person'.
Ladybug narrowed her eyes. "Funny, because it sounds to me like you're trying to wrangle a date by comparing yourself to a literal model and one of the nicest people I know."
His eyebrows shot up. One of the nicest people she knew? It sounded almost like... But that couldn't be. He would have noticed if he knew her as Adrien, surely.
"Tell you what," he proposed instead. "If you can come up with five things that he and I have in common, things you admire about both of us, then not only will I stop flirting with you, I will set the two of you up on a date myself." There were about a million ways this could backfire on him spectacularly, Cat Noir was aware, but he suddenly found that he had to know. Did she like him for who he really was, or was she just interested in the plastic boy model on the billboards? If it were the latter, he almost wouldn't mind if she never showed romantic interest in either of his selves, but if it were the former...
It might be worth being Adrien, if it meant he had a chance with her.
Ladybug regarded him shrewdly. "Sure you're not just fishing for compliments, Kitty?"
Cat put one hand over his heart and raised the other one high. "Hero's honor."
"Okay, you've got a deal." Ladybug seemed to consider him for a moment, then spoke.
"You're both kind. You show it in different ways, but the two of you are so kind that sometimes it takes my breath away. You, Cat, you always check on the Akuma victims after battle, whenever you have time to. Even when it's been a really long battle and you look like you're about to fall over. Adrien... On his first day of public school, he was having a rough time. I--a girl I know, she assumed he was just like this other girl in her class, thought he would be completely stuck-up and rude, and treated him like it - and he still gave her his umbrella after class that day when it was raining."
Cat's eyebrows went up. He hadn't quite expected her to have answers so quickly. On top of that, she'd had to have talked about him with Marinette to get the story about the umbrella, which was... interesting.
She scowled before starting the next one. "...You're both funny. I think his timing is better than yours, and it helps that he doesn't pun non-stop, but you both make me laugh, sometimes when I'm really down and sometimes hours after."
Cat grinned. "I'll have you know that his timing is just as bad as mine when he's relaxed. He can pun for hours if given the op-purr-tunity."
"Not helping your case, Cat," Ladybug retorted, eyes narrowed. Still, she continued.
"You're loyal. Adrien does everything he can to keep from letting his friends down, and always tries to make up for it when he does, and you... You have never let me down at all."
He outright blushed at that one. It was also really starting to sound like Ladybug knew someone from his school, or maybe even went there herself? Or maybe she and Marinette were just closer friends than he'd thought.
"You're dedicated; you both work really hard at what you do. I remember in the beginning, when we were still getting used to our powers, I could tell you practiced on your own time. Adrien devotes a lot of extra energy to making sure he does well in school, and he's got so many extra-curriculars you'd think one would fall through, but he still keeps up with them! I'm sure you have a lot to do in your ordinary life, too, but you're still always able to help me out. I really admire that."
That was four down right off the bat, he realized. Maybe she really did like Adrien for himself. The idea was becoming less ludicrous with every observation. Hell, he was willing take the loss with just the four reasons she'd given already, but he really wanted to hear the fifth one now.
Ladybug took a deep, fortifying breath before starting the last one. "I could see myself building a life with both of you. I liked him first, and you shouldn't be a second choice or a replacement for anyone - but that doesn't mean I can't still see it. I can imagine you there with me years in the future, decades, just as dedicated and devoted and perfect as you are now, and I can see him being just the same - if he'd ever fall in love with me. And I can't imagine ever falling out of love with him, or ever not loving you, no matter what kind of love it is."
Cat Noir was floored. She - she considered him, as Cat Noir, a possibility? Even if she liked Adrien first and possibly more, she still thought she could love him? That was - that was...
God, that was everything.
"Cat? Are... you okay?"
Oh right, the wager. Cat Noir wracked his brain for the best opening in his schedule.
"Of course, my Lady." Cat wondered if she thought it was weird that he was smiling about this. Considering the circumstances, he wasn't entirely sure if he could stop. "I believe Adrien is free this Sunday. If you'd like to meet him in the park around, say, two o'clock, I'm sure he'd love to spend the afternoon with the girl of his dreams."
For the first time in what felt like years, Cat Noir was looking forward to being Adrien.