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Things I Have Loved I'm Allowed To Keep

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Marinette rubbed at her temples as she tore out yet another sketch from her notebook. Nothing she was designing was good enough lately, and each blundered stitch was another step closer to Gabriel Agreste’s attorneys knocking at her door. The fashion market in Paris was shrinking. Not in terms of consumers - this was Paris - and yet independent clothes stores across the city were shutting down. The pressure to succeed had skyrocketed as the Agreste company bought out more and more small businesses.

Marinette could not let herself be his next victim. She wouldn’t fall prey to some petty power struggle.

If only she could get this damn jacket right.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her shop door opening and a subsequent clatter as a mannequin was almost up-ended.

“It’s okay, Nath,” she called to her flustered co-worker. “I don’t expect you to arrive on time anymore. There’s no need to rush.”

Nathaniel hastily tried to steady the figure, his expression becoming more and more strained as he walked over to Marinette, who was currently slumped across the desk. She watched him through strands of hair as he took in the surrounding pages of crumpled paper and scribbled out designs.

“Mari, I just-” he cut himself off as he looked at the open page of her sketchbook. “That one doesn’t work. The colors clash.”

If possible, Marinette’s posture worsened, pooling into a boneless heap. She groaned into her arms, her voice muffled from her lackluster position,“I know, Nathaniel. You don’t need to point out how much I suck right now.” She swiped her arm out, sending her sketchbook and most of the crumpled paper to the floor.

Nathaniel regarded her uncertainly. He hesitated before reaching his hand out to pat her shoulder - his awkward attempt at comfort during his boss’ breakdown. Marinette automatically tensed up at the sound of his throat being cleared.

“What is it, Nathaniel? Tell me.”

Nathaniel shuffled evasively, pinned by Marinette’s stare. He took in a breath, “I know this won’t help your...situation here, but I saw Alya on the way over and she said that The Plaid Piper - you know, that store a couple streets away with the nice tartan stuff and like-”

“Nath, get to the point, please.” Marinette looked at him in resignation, already knowing what was coming.

“Okay, but you’re not going to be pleased,” he paused, as though willing her to let him stop talking. “She said the Agrestes bought them out - shut off their suppliers. They’re closing down.”

Marinette loosed a sigh. Truthfully, she wasn't surprised. It was inevitable that Gabriel Agreste - her former idol, turned dream destroyer - would soon reach her and her small shop. With this latest act of cruelty, he was one store closer. She just couldn’t understand what his motives were. He had enough money - way more than enough money. What did a couple of independent clothes stores have to threaten his international business with?

She pushed her chair back and stood up, slamming her hands on the desk.

“He’s a selfish man, Nathaniel,” Marinette growled, jostling more paper onto the floor. “This doesn’t shock me anymore - not one bit. I can’t believe I used to look up to him! I used to obsess over knowing his son, over getting to meet him over a video chat in that competition.” The memory of the hat making contest now burned in her mind. The excitement had turned stale and shrivelled over the past few years when she had begun to realise what the man was doing, and turned fully rancid once she saw the danger he now posed to her and her small business. “Now look - he’s going to ruin my store just because he can. Because he has the money and the power and the resources to do it with.”

During her rant, Marinette had begun pacing around the shop’s interior, pulling down outfits and rearranging ensembles. Nathaniel watched warily from the sidelines, knowing there was no stopping her once she began her speeches.

“Let me guess. It was either accept the minuscule amount of money thrown at them or suffer bankruptcy, right?” she asked, whirling to face Nathaniel with a burning fury licking at her. He nodded in confirmation. “Of course.” She finally walked back over to the desk, picking up the paper that littered the floor and smoothing out her sketchbook. “I won’t let it be us next, Nath. He won’t stop now, and there’s no point in convincing ourselves otherwise. But it’s not going to be us.”

Around the store, Marinette’s designs seemed to scream at her. They were hers. She owned them, she owned this whole store. He wasn’t going to take it away from her.

As she tidied up her workspace, she distantly heard Nathaniel groaning to himself.

“And I was going to be on time today…”

***

Marinette hadn’t calmed down since the morning. She was still furious about Gabriel Agreste, but the angrier she got, the more hopeless she began to feel. Her designs weren’t improving, and if anything they were getting worse. She continued throughout the day trying to redraft sketches but nothing seemed to work . All she could think about was the shadow of Gabriel’s logo looming closer, which, unsurprisingly, was not very inspirational. At least she’d gotten out of her half-dead slump on the counter, but her mind didn’t want to cooperate.

She watched as the clock ticked toward closing time. Anticipation churned in her gut for the day to just end already, mixing with the frustration of knowing that was yet another day wasted. This, mingled with the regret of agreeing to go out with Alya after work, had her head throbbing. She’d tried to get out of it, but the reporter had been even more stubborn than usual.

“Mari, if you’re so bummed about the whole Agreste thing, going out can only do you good!” Alya had argued over the phone earlier in the day. Nothing Marinette replied with was good enough for her friend to concede their evening plans, and so she was left closing up shop while half-heartedly running through potential outfits for the night.

Marinette’s reluctance only increased when Alya had refused to tell her what their exact plans were, leaving the designer not only struggling to come up with appropriate fashion choices but also with the intense unease that there was something unwelcome waiting for her.

“I don’t want a surprise, Alya,” Marinette had groaned to her friend. “I’m tired and defeated, and I just want to go to your house and order pizza - if you’re making me do anything at all!”

“Believe me, Mari. You will love it,” Alya said. “Just trust me! It’ll help you relieve stress. It’s cathartic .”

So while Marinette made her way home, she warily began imagining what kind of ‘cathartic’ activities her friend had in store. Something dramatic . Marinette thought. It’s always something dramatic.

***

“Mari, look! I found Nino!” Alya screamed over the music beating through the throng of people crowded around the bar. No time had been wasted in dragging a protesting Marinette across town and into the shabby Colosseum before Alya ran off to buy them drinks.

The club was one of the better ones in the city, despite its flaking walls. The music was played on request, and the bartenders were friendly enough. Live bands occasionally performed on the stage in the corner, but tonight it was just Nino cycling through his playlists (given that he worked there, Marinette was rather underwhelmed with Alya’s skills of detection). A faint smell of vomit could be picked up from underneath the layers of bleach coating the sticky floors, but each wall was covered with unusual pop art to try and distract from the tang. Next to her stood an image of a gorilla smoking a cigarette, accompanied by a Stormtrooper. She didn’t fully understand its relevance, but if she got drunk she was sure she wouldn’t care anyway.

“Hey, Nino,” Marinette said as she caught up with her tipsy friend. She was still unsure how this outing was supposed to help her, but she appreciated Alya trying to cheer her up. Besides, maybe it was time she just let herself relax for a while, as Alya had been practically begging her to do for the whole night. It had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to unwind, mostly because of the threat of losing her business, which all but Alya considered a valid excuse. Mind made up, she dragged Alya away from shouting into Nino’s un-headphoned ear and towards the bar.

The reporter was already drunk enough for Marinette to usually call it a night and take her home, but this time she was feeling reckless. She ordered herself and Alya a drink each (“Yes, girl!” Alya screamed), before marching back round to Nino and demanding the next song be played - she needed something upbeat and exciting to fully give into the night. It wasn’t only Alya longing for the fantastical anymore.

As the two girls danced and drank, Marinette truly did begin to have fun. She stopped worrying so much about her future and started to “be in the moment,” as Alya kept drunkenly screaming into the crowd. She wanted to just be Marinette again for one night, as opposed to Marinette: the aspiring designer whose dreams were most likely about to get crushed by her former idol.

Suddenly, she felt her phone vibrate in the pocket of her skirt. Pulling it out, she couldn’t suppress the huge grin that spread across her face as she looked at the message across the screen:

Hey Bugaboo, guess who’s back in Purr-is? - CN

Marinette squealed at an almost impossible pitch before her drunk mind could register that this would probably raise questions she was not currently able to handle.

“What’s up? What happened?” Sure enough, Alya was as quick as always to interrogate Marinette. Either too drunk or too excited to care, however, Marinette only continued to dance at an alarmingly fast rate. She was filled with a new type of energy as she threw her arms around and leapt in circles. She was exhilarated and she needed to express it.

“Let’s go,” she said, grabbing her friend’s arm for the second time that night.

“Where are we going?” Alya yelled over the music as they tried to push their way out of the club. Marinette was vibrating with excitement. She was glad she had chosen her Chat Noir themed outfit tonight, her own special lucky charm, despite the look Alya had given her when she first came out. The green shirt turned almost fluorescent under the lighting of the club, the cat ears along the collar barely visible in the darkness. But Marinette knew they were there. She also knew her Kitty would either mock her for it or combust from sheer joy at seeing Ladybug dressed in his colors. She could never tell which one with him, no matter how many years they had been partners. Regardless, she couldn’t help but feel the outfit had somehow triggered her partner’s return to the city - logic be damned - after so many years of his absence.

“Mari, slow down! Why are we running?” Alya asked, laughing, as she finally pulled her friend to a stop. Like Marinette, Alya’s outfit also followed a theme. But instead of dressing for the city’s heroes, Alya had chosen Marinette’s designs for her entire ensemble. From the black pantsuit, lined in lace, to her dark ankle boots, Alya was fully clad in Marinette Dupain-Cheng . When she had seen it, Marinette had immediately teared up, shaken from her day at work. She’d felt an intense love for her friend in that moment.

“He’s-I mean. Um,” Marinette broke off, not knowing what to say. She realized now she probably shouldn’t have been so vocal with her reaction to Chat being back in Paris. It’s just that it had been so long since they had seen each other in person. She knew he’d gone away to university, she even knew he was studying physics (with a keen interest in the theoretical), but they still hadn’t revealed their true selves to each other. No matter how much both of them wanted it, it just wasn’t practical. And so began the constant stream of messages between the two on an app Marinette originally agreed to download to keep her partner updated on Akuma attacks or any other important information.

The ‘important information’ soon became more about how Chat’s lecturers seemed to hate him or how Marinette missed living with her family, even if she loved her new place on her own. She wasn’t complaining about this turn of events. It had let her know her partner more than she ever believed she could.

Marinette’s thoughts strayed when she glanced around at where her over-excited running had taken them to. Towering above them, above the houses and shops, stood a billboard plastered with Adrien Agreste’s famous figure. His face was fixed in a perfect rendition of tranquility, serenely looking over the rooftops as a faint dusting of glitter shimmered across the board. The clothes he wore were tailored to meld with his body, appearing to take on his shape in whichever way he moved. A gracefulness overcame the whole image with the Agreste logo shining at the bottom. At first glance, he was clothed in nothing but a simple, form-fitting suit, but on further inspection, lines of colour and decadence painted the gaze of Marinette as she ran her eyes over the soft grey of the jacket sleeves, the indigo tint of the shirt and the shining chains that adorned pockets and cuffs alike. There was no doubt it was an Agreste design, and seeing one always took her breath away, no matter how much she disliked the head of the company himself.

Furiously, she whirled away from the poster. This was not what was supposed to happen tonight. All she wanted was a few hours to be able to forget about the cold grasp Gabriel Agreste had around her life, not be reminded of how powerful that hold was.

Alya looked Marinette up and down. She frowned, “Come here.”

She took hold of Marinette’s hand and walked her back up the street until she reached a twenty-four-hour corner shop.

“Wait a minute,” Alya commanded before striding into the store.

She left Marinette standing outside for a few seconds, confused and starting to lose the distracting haze the drinks had put over the night. When she came back out, she was holding a long rectangular eggbox.

“Why do you look so smug?” Marinette asked warily. She was immediately reminded of Alya’s promise of a ‘cathartic’ experience. All of a sudden her earlier feelings of trepidation began to creep back up on her. The alcohol was losing its effect, and Marinette was beginning to worry about where this night was about to go.

“What’s your plan with all those eggs, Alya?” she demanded, somewhat dreading the answer.

In response, Alya tucked the box under her arm and started marching forward, back toward the billboard at the bottom of the street.

“Just follow me,” she shouted back as Marinette hesitated still outside of the shop.

Making her mind up, Marinette caught up with her friend before she could completely sober up and realize how stupid an idea this entire ordeal was going to be. She watched as Alya opened the box and ran her hands over all the eggs as if she were making an extremely tough decision worthy of lengthy thought.

“Come on, you’re not in a magic show. Get on with it.” Marinette had given up on discouraging her friend, fully aware of the futility in trying to dissuade Alya from an idea she had set her mind on doing. She now resigned herself to finishing the night with a round of egg throwing at posters. And probably yelling.

Alya grinned. Grabbing an egg, she brought her arm back and launched it at the poster of Adrien, splattering on the very bottom of the board and slightly tarnishing his jeans (tight fitting and dark, like the jacket, but embellished with a purple hue running down the seams; it added a sense of informality to the outfit, while keeping it classy).

Stop it, Mari!

“That was rubbish!” Alya lamented, disappointed in her aim. “Go on, you have a go. You’re better than me at these kinds of things.” She brandished the box at Marinette, who, after a little convincing in the form of Alya yelling to “ Just do it! ” took up an egg and looked up at the face of her school crush shining down on the whole of Paris.

“Alya, I don’t really want to. I’m not feeling the-” Marinette tried to protest, reaching for the box to return the egg.

Do. It.”

Halfheartedly, Marinette sighed before she threw the egg up at the billboard. But the anger had started to fizzle. She didn’t care about throwing something at Adrien - it wasn’t his fault his dad was a dick. All she wanted was to get home and go to bed. Tikki would be excited when she heard about Chat, and Marinette just wanted to be able to wake up and see him tomorrow, forget about her work for a while (which she thought this night was supposed to help her with). All of these thoughts resulted in a pathetic throw that barely reached one of the roofs, never mind the billboard. Alya groaned in the background, chastising Marinette on her poor throw.

“I think it’s time to call it a night now,” Marinette said as she turned back to face her friend. She felt bad for keeping Tikki up so late anyway. “I have work tomorrow - so do you, by the way. You should probably do something about that hangover that’s coming for you. Let’s just get home, yeah?”

“No way!” Of course, Alya was putting up a fight. “We haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. Just come here, I have a plan. Please believe me, Mari! Please .” By this point, Alya was nearly dragging Marinette to the ground, latched onto her arm in an unrelentingly drunken attempt to win her way. “Just one more thing, I promise.” She was begging now, looking up with wide eyes as she pleaded with her friend.

“One more thing? Do you swear it?”

Alya let go of Marinette’s arm immediately. She knew she had won. “I absolutely promise. I swear it. I swear it on Chat Noir’s left-”

Okay, Alya. I get it. Just…lead the way, I guess,” Marinette didn’t know what she had just agreed to, and she had the feeling she shouldn’t have done it at all. Too late now, she thought to herself as she was all but dragged once again down the street.

“You know,” Alya said in a conversational tone that led Marinette to believe this was anything but idle chit-chat, “Adrien is meant to be back today. Nino said he texted him.” She looked at Marinette with that I know you’re interested stare that Marinette was really beginning to dislike.

“It doesn’t matter anymore, Alya. That’s from, like, four years ago. Just let it go,” Marinette insisted. Alya dropped her gaze, letting out a small sigh before continuing to lead the designer across the road.

It really didn’t matter. Her school crush had faded over the years when she began to realize how naive she had been to obsess over the guy for so long. She would probably always harbor the feelings that came along with your first love, but she saw now that if she’d truly wanted something to come from it, she should have tried harder to be his friend. Instead, she had idolized him; stuck up his posters and stuttered until she couldn’t even remember what she was trying to say.

Besides, she couldn’t think about romance at this time in her life - especially not when it came to the son of her rival in fashion.

She said little attention to where she was being taken, only stopping to think when she saw them pass her parents’ bakery. Attempting to get anything out of Alya was futile, however, and besides, Marinette was beginning to have a good idea of where they were going. If she hadn’t been still slightly intoxicated, she probably would have guessed it from the start.

“No. No no no no. I mean it. No. We are not going there. We are not throwing eggs there, Alya!” Marinette protested as she tried to pull her friend to a stop. “Don’t do this. It’s not a good idea - how did you think this was a good idea when you were sober?” She ran a hand down her face, feeling Tikki shift inside her skirt pocket.

Alya only grinned in response as they approached their destination. “It’s too late now. Get your throwing arm ready - this is about to get egg-splosive.

The Agreste mansion loomed over Marinette like a vulture waiting for something to just curl up and die . It cast everything in around it in shadow, which, Marinette thought, was fitting considering the dream-crushing designer who dwelled in its depths.

It was ostentatious and lavish in its threat, as though wanting the whole city to know its power. The effect was altogether pretty obnoxious.

It only hurt more to think about how much she used to admire Gabriel as a teenager. His designs were her inspiration, but now she couldn't help but grimace whenever she caught sight of his logo, cringe away from posters of the model son who once was plastered across every surface of her bedroom. And yet those clothes still ignited some kind of spark inside her even now. For the split second before she remembered her situation, Gabriel’s line spoke to her in ways she could only hope to achieve with her own work one day. And then, of course, she would be brought back to reality with the knowledge that, yes, it was this very fashion line that threatened to crush her store. And no, she shouldn’t aspire towards Gabriel’s genius anymore - not if it meant treating those less successful than her like this.

"Just throw them, Mari!" Alya's speech was only slightly slurred, and Marinette absently admired how well the girl could hold her alcohol. She seemed to be becoming more aware of her surroundings, but that by no means meant she was realizing how stupid of an idea this was. Marinette was about to once again try and convince her friend to just go home until she was immediately distracted by the sight of said friend pulling her arm back and letting fly not one, but two of the freshly bought eggs.

Marinette let out a barely suppressed shriek and tried in vain to grab hold of her friend, who was now admiring her handiwork across the front porch of the Agreste mansion. Alya shoved the carton of eggs into Marinette's hands, now missing another two of its contents.

"Do it, girl," Alya implored. "He deserves it, and you know it." Marinette shuffled awkwardly, debating with herself how best to handle the situation. It wasn’t like she didn’t want to do it, but reason dictated that it was basically career suicide if Gabriel were to find out the perpetrators of his egg-covered house. Which he was bound to do because he was Gabriel Agreste.

"I don't know, Alya. We’re going to get caught."

"Oh, please," Alya inspected the eggs carefully in her friend's grasp, hunting for the optimal projectile. "What's he going to do? Sew us together?"

Marinette groaned, watching the yolk slowly drip down the wall of the building. "Alya. He could destroy my whole business. You know, the thing I've dumped the last 4 years of my life into?" She absentmindedly ran her fingers across the eggs. "I can't just let that happen after so much work. After all those nights crying to you over a busted hem, and countless other ridiculous meltdowns. You should realise how important this is to me. I don’t want to jeopardize it just so we can have five minutes of fun trashing a mansion.”

Alya looked up at her friend. Since the first time the two met at school, Alya had barely changed. Her hair, though longer now, remained the same sepia-to-red shade, and her desire for trouble (or to witness and document it, more accurately) had only intensified over the years. "Come on, Mari. What's he going to do that he won't try anyway?" Pressing an egg into the shorter girl's hand, Alya emphatically whispered encouragement as Marinette reluctantly raised her arm.

Was it really that simple? Was her business doomed to fail anyway? Marinette couldn’t figure it out - since opening up her shop, her life had been getting progressively more complicated. During school, the only thing she had ever had to worry about was homework and the occasional stuttered conversation with Adrien. This did not prepare her for the real world of such brutality! Gabriel Agreste had no right to ruin the thing Marinette had been dreaming about her entire life, and she was certainly not going to let him take it away from her. No matter what he did, she would just come up with a better way - a smarter way, a kinder way to get out of it. She was Ladybug. This should be no problem at all.

"Fuck it."

Marinette let the egg fly. She followed through in perfect form, and it landed dead centre on the window at the front of the house.

The simultaneous shrieks of delight were enough to wake the whole street. In the back of her mind, Marinette was still yelling that this was not a good idea, go home! But in the moment, all she could think of was how the yolk was dripping down the window, covering the prestigious Agreste mansion in orange gloop. And Marinette had done it. It was petty revenge, but it was revenge all the same.

The two friends were so preoccupied with celebrating the impeccable assault that neither one noticed when a camera burst out of the wall beside them. Nor did they notice the front door of the mansion open and a tall, perfectly poised figure step out until the Agreste shadow was cast over them, too.

“What do you think you are doing?” The icy voice of Gabriel Agreste froze the two girls in their premature celebration. The words took root in Marinette’s chest as she whipped around to face her former idol, his expression a picture of complete contempt.

She wracked her brain, trying to think of any kind of response. In all fairness, what was she doing? Vandalising private property to get revenge for a threat that hadn’t even been properly posed yet. And Marinette had a feeling that Gabriel Agreste’s own form of retribution would be a lot harsher than some egg white on a window.

For once, Alya was speechless. Words failed the reporter as she stared into the hollow eyes of Gabriel. The noises that tried to come out of her mouth were nothing more than a pathetic stutter of syllables. Whether it be from the alcohol or merely the frost from the man’s glare clogging up her windpipe, Alya had nothing to say.

The gaze of the designer turned to Marinette as she frantically tried to think up something - anything - that could get them out of this. “You,” he said, all aspects of Marinette’s teen fantasy of the man completely and utterly evaporating in that one, snarling word. “Don’t think I don’t know who you are. Miss Dupain-Cheng, winner of my hat competition turned thorn in my side.” He spoke slowly, threateningly, as though considering each word and its impact on Marinette’s morale before delivering the blows. As he continued, he began to prowl, edging forwards until he completely obscured all other lines of sight.

“You think yourself a designer, and yet your work remains trivial and overlooked. And now look at you - vandal as well as incompetent. I hope you’re proud of this...stunt. Needless to say, you will be hearing from me very soon.” He smiled down at Marinette, distorting his features into something almost predatory as he said, “It would do you good to start looking for employment elsewhere.”

Marinette forgot to breathe for the length of time she looked into his smile. She fought the urge to stumble back a step under the his glare as the words slowly registered through her horror. She saw that her business was soon to go the way of The Plaid Piper. She was now, without question, on the Agreste radar.

Bankruptcy and humiliation. She looked towards Alya to see if her friend had any more great ideas to get them out of this, but on seeing her pale face and limp egg box hanging by her side, Marinette lost all hope.

This was it. The end of her hard work, thanks to some stupid eggs and a man too powerful for anyone else’s good. Gabriel continued to stare at her as if daring her to reply or defend herself, but Marinette could think of nothing logical or clever to get herself out of trouble this time. That was Ladybug’s job, and right now, Marinette felt the furthest away from Paris’ hero as was possible.

She needed to do something, anything, to fracture this ice encasing her more and more with each second that Gabriel remained unchallenged.

Abruptly, she started speaking. And her words were definitely not logical or clever. “Mr.Agreste - Sir, you see, um, th-this isn’t what it...um, we didn’t mean to-”

“Miss Dupain-Cheng, I would advise you to pull yourself together, or stop speaking,” Gabriel snapped, as his eyes continued to bore into Marinette’s. “If you wish to retain any possible chance for your business-” he spat the word mockingly, “to remain open, then I would strongly advise the latter.”

However, Marinette did not stop talking, no matter how frantically her brain was trying to tell her to Shut up, shut up, shut up . Her mouth took over and spewed words at the feet of her former role model. “You see, this wasn’t any attack on you! Not at all - We would - I would never dare to do anything so…” she groped for the word, somehow willing herself to hold eye contact, “ stupid. We weren’t trying to offend you, Sir, but-”

“But you did offend me, Miss Dupain-Cheng, and that is not something I am likely to forget. So unless you have a concise, reasonable explanation as to why you have defiled my house without ‘meaning to offend’ me, then I suggest you go home.”

He made to turn around, as though already aware that Marinette would have no reason worth his while when she all but yelled at his back, “ Adrien!” Absently, she saw Alya move, as though snapped out of her shock by the sheer audacity of Marinette, and how little sense she was definitely making. “Your son,” she continued in a stronger voice than she expected.

“Yes, I know who my son is. Now, what is your point?” His glare appeared to have reached new heights of terrifying. His grey eyes sapped all color out of their surroundings, leaving Marinette unsure of where she was going with this line of argument after getting his attention. “What relevance does my son have to this?”

Marinette swallowed. She felt Alya’s presence beside her, but was otherwise completely alone in the insane fabrication she was attempting to reel off, point blank.“He wronged me.”

Gabriel did not offer any response other than a slight twitch of an eyebrow. Taking that as a good sign (for some reason Marinette couldn’t define), she continued her lie.

“We were dating for a while - a few years ago. And, um, he wronged me,” she trailed off towards the end of the sentence, aware that she had no clue what she was saying, or how it would actually help her situation. She’d just started saying words, and now she was digging herself an even deeper hole. She heard Gabriel repeat her weak story back to her, as though forcing her to see just how many problems she had in it. She looked back up at him, meeting his gaze once again.

“He ‘wronged you’, Miss Dupain-Cheng, a few years ago and you saw fit to come and vandalize my house now in order to enact revenge.” Gabriel did not sound incredulous, which would have been bad enough. Instead, his words held barely a hint of emotion. It was as though Marinette had surpassed her status as an unworthy rival, to become the smallest, most insignificant bug imaginable, barely worth the man’s time and easily swatted.

Suddenly, Alya stepped forwards, at last facing Gabriel with her trademark stubbornness. She wasted no time before launching into her story as though she were reporting breaking news. “Marinette isn’t lying, sir. She’s been in contact with Adrien during his time at university, and he continues to show no remorse for his actions.” Alya glanced at her friend, who attempted to disguise her relief at being backed up behind a mask of passive determination. She valiantly tried to hide the fact that every word that had been spoken by both girls had been a surprise to her. “When she found out that Adrien had returned to his house today, she wanted to get revenge for the hurt that your son has caused.” She looked at him with understanding and just the right amount of guilt as she finished her explanation, “It was never an attack on you or your business, Sir. I hope you can find it in yourself to believe and forgive us for our lack of foresight.”

For about two seconds, Marinette believed they’d gotten away with it. She could return to her flat, wake up in the morning still able to open her shop and pay her rent. Her designs would improve, and inspiration would hit as she worked in the fashion industry for the rest of her employed life. For two seconds, until she saw Gabriel’s frown still irrevocably set on his face, his glare still as cold as it had been when he first found them outside his house.

“Your lies to me have done you no credit - either of you. You can be sure that your little escapade owning a clothing store will reach its conclusion soon, Miss Cheng, and if you for one second think it appropriate to bring my son into this again-”

“Father.” All eyes whirled to face the intruder, who had so unceremoniously interrupted Gabriel’s rant. “It’s fine, you don’t need to punish them. It’s all true.”

Chapter Text

Adrien Agreste didn’t think he had changed much since graduating from school and moving to university. Sure, he was taller, perhaps broader in his shoulders, but he still retained the same blond hair, the same green eyes that were currently roving over his former classmates as they stood just outside the gates, inexplicably holding an egg box. And yes, he still harbored the same fear in him every time he looked at his father - who was currently terrorizing Marinette and Alya. He didn’t think any amount of growing up would ease that rush of discomfort he felt in the presence of Gabriel Agreste, and the power the man held over him.

Adrien had arrived back in Paris a few hours ago. His first task had been to let his Lady know, followed by asking Nino if he wanted to catch up sometime soon. He had dumped his suitcase on his bed and allowed Plagg to refamiliarize himself with their surroundings. Neither of them had come home for any great length of time since moving across the country to attend university.

“How does it feel to be back, kid?” Plagg had immediately curled up on Adrien’s pillow, barely even pausing to grunt a thank you before devouring the petri dish of cheese Adrien laid out for him.

Adrien considered the question, weighing up his different answers. He would miss the tall buildings and spotless labs from uni, but to be honest, he was ecstatic to be home. Ladybug would be waiting for him tomorrow night in their spot, Akuma or not, and nothing could stop him from being there. A smile began to stretch itself across his face, but before he could respond, a loud shout cut through the night. Plagg’s ear twitched on the pillow, but otherwise the Kwami showed no sign of interest. Adrien would have acted the same were it not for the fact that the shout had been a name - his name. Reflexively, his pulse kicked into overdrive as he searched for any sign of a threat outside - maybe I’ll get to see her tonight! He felt somewhat selfish for the thought, for hoping that something dangerous enough would happen to warrant Paris’ superheroes being called. A glance out of the window proved it fruitless anyway. Standing below him, just outside of the gates, were Marinette and Alya - two people he had barely seen since moving away.

Why would an Akuma be shouting your name, anyway, you idiot? Adrien mentally chastised himself, as he disbelievingly took in the scene below. He let out an incredulous laugh as he marveled at his former classmates, both dressed for a night out and holding - was that an eggbox? He looked harder, toward his father, whose figure towered over the girls, and that successfully fractured any nostalgia he might have been feeling. Adrien could tell from Gabriel’s presence alone that whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.

The door to his room opened soundlessly (obviously even that had been well taken care of in his absence) as he went to investigate the drama happening outside. He ignored Plagg’s questioning until the Kwami gave up and slipped into his pocket with an exasperated sigh.

Adrien felt coldness rush through him at the pure anger his father was exuding. There was no time to question the story, to think for a minute about the consequences, he simply had to act before his father did.

“Dad, it’s fine. You don’t need to punish them,” he walked towards the group outside the house, and said with as much conviction as he could muster, “It’s all true.”

Adrien refused to meet anyone’s eyes but his father’s. He distantly heard a muffled squeak, possibly from Marinette, as he corroborated their story. Yes, he had dated Marinette, and yes, he was some no good scum who had hurt her, and yes , it was his fault they were here, nothing business motivated at all.

“In what way, Adrien,” his father turned to face him, ice in his eyes, either at the interruption or because he could no longer blame solely Marinette, “Could you have ‘wronged’ Miss Dupain-Cheng so much that she resorted to egg throwing four years later?” Gabriel regarded his son, a sense of triumph alight in his eyes. He had him stumped and he knew it.

Maybe he doesn’t quite know it for sure , Adrien thought as he analyzed his father’s stance - he’d backed off a bit, lowered his hackles. He could still turn this around. For Marinette, he could do it.

Adrien sighed, fully committing himself to the role of reluctant confessor. He brought a hand down his face as he spoke through his fingers, “Just drop it, Dad. I’d really rather not talk about it.” He hoped his father could see his shame, feel his embarrassment as he lowered his gaze and began to turn and walk back into the house. “It’s nothing to do with you, okay? I have a life outside of being an Agreste, you know.” He took a gamble on that last sentence, meeting his father’s eyes as he challenged him to dispute it. In reality, Adrien’s life outside of modeling truly was a mystery to the man. He had never attempted to engage in his son’s social life or hobbies; not the ones that meant something to him, anyway. And Chat Noir was another matter entirely.

Gabriel glared towards Marinette as she continued to try and stammer something, but was soon shut up by an elbow to the ribs. At least Alya had learnt when to be silent over the years. Adrien himself didn’t dare meet either of the girl’s (women’s -  they were women now, he realized) questioning eyes - he had to commit himself, and if he looked at them he didn’t doubt for a second his father would notice the cracks in his facade. So instead, he glanced at his father, slumped his posture, and walked back through the door.

***

“Adrien!” The boy in question didn’t get far before the powerful steps of his father echoed through the hallway after him. He felt he had pushed his luck enough outside to know there was no escaping this conversation, so he made no attempt to shut it down. Instead, he turned to face his father.

“Tell me now. Was that the truth, or were you merely trying to protect them?” Gabriel’s neutrality coated every word, slicking them up into something toxic.

“It was true. I said it was true.” The resolution in Adrien’s words did not falter as he stared down at his father. He rarely challenged Gabriel, this being among the few situations where he would not bend to Gabriel’s desires. Right now, Adrien was smart enough to know that if he didn’t stick to his story, if he allowed Marinette to get any of the blame for what had happened, she would be without a job.

Adrien was not oblivious, and he certainly wasn’t stupid. He knew what his father had been doing to clothing lines across the country, seemingly crushing them for sport now more than any potential threat they might pose. And he knew that Marinette wouldn’t be happy about that. That she herself probably felt targeted, and her and Alya had wanted revenge on Gabriel Agreste and his whole business, no matter how small the retribution seemed.  From the few times Adrien had seen or heard from Nino about how Marinette was doing since he’d moved away, he knew that her small clothes store was her absolute joy, and he would not let his father take that away from her. Whether from some deep shame in him for the actions of his family name or purely because of the almost-friendship he had had with the young designer, he would do his utmost to keep his father off her back.

The staring match continued between the two men. I may not be Chat Noir right now, but that won’t stop me from helping her .

Adrien’s unrelenting focus must have shown, because finally his father clenched his fist, and sighed. His anger did not leave but transformed into something blunter, less sharp, less fixed. The ice made way for steel as he spoke once again to his son. “I will drop this particular incident tonight. I am trusting your word that you’re telling me the truth right now, Adrien. But don’t think that some complicated relationship history with that insignificant girl changes anything.” He drew himself up to his full height, a man done with merely tolerating. “Now that you are back, I expect you to surround yourself with better company, and not waste your time on a silly-”

Adrien interrupted his father for the second time that night. He couldn’t remember ever being so bold with, fiercely disgusted by his last name as he snarled, “You will not talk about my friends that way. They are worth more than you and your whole damn fashion enterprise.” Adrien did not look away from his father as he growled, And you will not touch Marinette’s store.” Gabriel was seething, all pretense of neutrality gone, but Adrien would not allow him time to insult his friends again. “You will leave her alone, or I’ll stop modeling for you right now. I won’t be the face of your company, and I won’t advertise our name. You have no right to threaten her - or anyone else - purely because you think it makes you powerful.” And now Adrien truly relinquished any fear he might have felt for his father. Where Gabriel was ice, Adrien was fire, passion and heat. His father’s steel wilted under the inferno that was Adrien Agreste as he turned and left through the front door, no sneaking out of a window or waiting until Nathalie had left. Adrien burned, and he wanted his father to feel every ember.

***

Patrol wasn’t scheduled for another night, but Adrien didn’t even think twice when he called for Plagg and ran across Paris’ rooftops until he reached the old meeting spot on top of the Louvre. He was still trying to calm himself down from what he had said to his father before he left - he left! He couldn’t believe the words that had erupted out of his mouth as he defended Marinette from his father and the icy fist that he wielded over the fashion world. And he knew he would go right back there and say it all again if it was necessary. Because his father was going too far.

Adrien saw it the second he heard about the Agreste enterprise shutting down a ‘rival’ business. It had been on the news that this particular clothing line had been bought out by the Agrestes due to “financial difficulties”, but Adrien knew that that wasn’t the case. His father, he saw, had finally snapped. From then on, no matter how small or private the business, Gabriel Agreste would allow no other clothing line to have any sort of presence in Paris. His father didn’t need more money, he didn’t need to worry about competition, and yet his hours grew longer. His time in his study extended from unhealthy to downright obsessive as he spent more and more time working on the business. Adrien had never been particularly close to his father, but over the last few years, he was struggling to see the man as anything other than his boss. If that tie severed, there would be virtually nothing left between them.

It was not a new realization to Adrien that his father was not really a father, but it stung all the same. He slowly sank down until his booted feet were dangling off the roof, the streetlights below casting him in shadow against the moonlit sky. The skyline here had always been Adrien’s favorite view, and his time away from it had only cemented that. When there were no Akuma or threats to the city, this was where a vigilant fan could always spot the half-hidden hero, too high up to be bothered, but close enough to have the odd blurry picture snapped. Without Ladybug, though, the roof felt emptied of its usual energy.

Almost in a trance, Adrien glanced down at his baton, opened to show a screen of text messages sent back and forth between him and his Lady. A smile threatened to overtake the brooding as he saw the string of exclamation marks in response to his earlier pun. He couldn’t wait to see her again after so many years apart. Their messages had been the one thing that kept him from combusting entirely at their separation, and he had seen to it that Ladybug was kept up to date on everything that he did until she gave in and responded in turn. He had learnt more about her over texts than he had in person, as she gradually dropped her guard more and more until remarks about her day, stories about her annoyances and happiness, became commonplace.

He knew she’d worked with her parents until she scrounged together enough rent to lease a shop and small apartment above. He knew that whatever she sold were her own creations (he’d received enough capitalized complaints about artist’s block to realize that much), and he knew that she loved doing it. Although recently, her wording had become more subdued, less excited and more tense. He had yet to find out why.

It was while he considered this, wondered about what Ladybug might be up to tonight, somewhere in this city that he had missed so much, that his ears twitched towards a soft clattering of steps. Roof tiles and light feet, but he couldn’t dare to believe it. It was too convenient, too miraculous-

And there she was. Panting lightly, and looking as wide-eyed as he knew he must be. Suddenly, they were both moving. She ran to meet him as he clambered to his feet and threw his arms around her. They were laughing, unable to believe the fact that they were here, together, back in this city that needed them so much. Neither of them made to pull away, even as Adrien felt his neck dampen under her tears, as his own eyes threatened to leak in response into her hair - her same hair tied in the same way that it had always been. Adrien pulled back enough to look at her, the face of the girl he had loved - would always love - turned into the face of an adult. Her cheeks had thinned slightly, her lips fuller, and he saw that her hair now grew past her shoulders. But other than that, the same person stood before him that he had always known, her eyes shining beneath the happy-tears that trailed down the lip of her mask.

Adrien crushed her against him once again, until she was laughing harder and trying her hardest to pry herself free from his vice-grip. “Nope,” he said, eyes still closed, “you’re not getting free. Never, ever again.”

“Need I remind you, Kitty, that you are the one who left, not me. So you can say those words right back at yourself.” Ladybug grinned at him as she finally wriggled out of his arms, but didn’t move further than a step or two away. It seemed she was as reluctant as Adrien to break the contact they finally had with each other again.

Adrien smirked as he bowed low, sweeping his arm back in a dramatic gesture of apology as he took her hand to his mouth, brushing her knuckles lightly against his lips. “My sincerest regrets, My Lady, for being the cat- alyst of such loss.” Adrien didn’t expect the genuine laugh that came from Ladybug as he straightened up, keeping hold of her hand.

Still laughing, she choked out “I did miss you, Chat Noir.” Then she was hugging him again, quickly but with a force that squeezed all the breath out of him. “Now, tell me everything that you didn’t send over the phone.” She seemed to sober up suddenly, a soft concern settling in her eyes. “And tell me why you looked so sad when I first got here.”

A dramatic sigh escaped him as he settled back down on the roof once again, but this time he felt whole. He had Ladybug beside him, sat closer than she used to as teenagers before he’d left her here to defend Paris alone. Guilt still ate at him for that, but he tried to trust in her frequent reassurances over texts that she was ‘fine’ and he should just ‘go worry about being a nerd’.

“It’s nothing that important,” he didn’t look at the skyline anymore, not now that she was shifting beside him, breathing and talking as he had longed for these past four years.

He could almost feel her frown as she stared at him, not caring for his evasive answer. Why was it always so much easier to tell the truth over a text, when you didn’t have to see the other person’s face? He didn’t want her pity, and he didn’t want her to worry about him. Just as well that he could never tell the full extent of everything, or else he would give away his identity. He accepted that that was something Ladybug hadn’t budged on, despite how he hoped for a day where they could be open with each other, know each other by name, and not just alias.

“Chat, if something is bothering you, you know you can tell me. I haven’t missed you this much just to have you shut me out as soon as you’re back.” His heart swelled as he took in her words - she really had missed him! But he didn’t see how he could explain that his father was the man threatening people and taking away their hard work merely to fuel his greed. Not without telling her who he was.

He grimaced before starting, phrasing it in a way that he hoped was ambiguous enough. “My father - you know how he is, I’ve complained enough about him to you over the years…” he paused, unsure how to continue. Ladybug’s gaze didn’t waver, and he wondered how she would react to Gabriel’s actions. She would probably find a way to stop him, he thought, momentarily jealous of her resourcefulness, but quickly shoved it away. “We just got into a fight. I finally snapped, I guess.” He watched her take this in, knowing as she did how scarcely fights with his father happened, no matter how often he longed to ignite one.

“Do you regret it?” Such a simple question, and yet Adrien was shocked to realize he didn’t have to think long to come up with the answer.

“No, not at all,” he replied. As he had thought earlier, he would never allow his father to hurt his friends, and he would go through the whole thing again if it meant protecting them from him.

She smiled, “Then I know that you were right. Whatever it was about, whatever you might have said, he clearly deserved it. So don’t beat yourself up about it. You were right,” she said everything with such conviction that he couldn’t question it. After a few seconds to consider, he began to laugh. “Chat? What’s so funny?” A grin stretched itself across Ladybug’s face as she watched him devolve into a whole host of emotions. He was so grateful that she was here, so relieved by what she said, but most of all he was downright bewildered at what he was only now beginning to process.

“I’ve just realized something,” he laughed in confusion. “I’ve recently committed myself to something pretty... undesirable. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do with it. But I guess it’s who I am now.” Soon, Ladybug was laughing too, with an understanding alight in her eyes he couldn’t fathom. “I mean, I don’t know who believes it, or how I’m meant to act. I can barely understand the thought process behind it, but…”

“I think I can nearly get how you feel. I’ve saddled an old friend with something, and I’m kind of only just realizing what that means for us.” She wiped a tear away just before it could fall, still laughing as she gripped his hand harder - the hand he had not taken away since greeting her. She looked up at him, a glint of mischief in her eyes as she said, “Don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll both figure something out eventually.”

***

Ladybug and Chat Noir remained on the rooftop for far longer than was appropriate for Adrien’s impending early-rise the next morning, but he couldn't seem to bring himself to care. Eventually, both the heroes had yawned enough to warrant their returns back to bed, but every time they would stand to leave, they would begin talking about something else and ultimately sit back down again. The beginning of dawn was approaching by the time Chat Noir once again became Adrien, walking through the front door of the Agreste mansion to face what he had said.

He had considered sneaking in through his window but figured it could raise too many questions of how he’d done it if Nathalie or his father were to notice. As it was, the entrance of the house was empty, unsurprisingly at nearly four in the morning, but Adrien never quite knew what to expect in his household.

The kitchen was unchanged from what he had known before he left for university, and he tracked down a slice of camembert for Plagg before slinking up the stairs and into his bed. Just before he closed his eyes, he unlocked his phone to find an unread message blinking at him in the semi-darkness.

Thank you for everything you said tonight. I’m really sorry for the eggs. - Marinette

Chapter Text

The next morning shoved itself through Marinette’s window, her phone alarm blaring at her to wake up. She had barely been in bed for four hours before having to heave herself up and out of the room. Blearily, she began her walk to the kitchen, half asleep as she allowed Tikki another half-hour rest before she would have to leave with Marinette to get to work. Marinette had never been a morning person, but today she was feeling hopeful. The warmth and excitement hadn’t faded from seeing Chat again last night and she was looking forward to their scheduled patrol coming up this evening.

It hurt her to think of Chat being upset. She desperately hoped she’d been of some help in comforting him. All thoughts of her own problems had vanished upon seeing him sitting there on that rooftop, where she had pictured him being for the last four years so often that it took her a second to realize that it wasn’t just her imagination. On closer inspection, she had noticed there was something off about him, seeming so distant that he didn’t even realize she was there until she was standing on the same rooftop, sprinting towards him as fast as her powers could go.

She checked her phone absently while she waited for the kettle to boil, expecting maybe a message from Alya or even a greeting from Chat. Immediately, however, her calm splintered.

Don’t worry about it. I’ll rack my brain for some dating ideas if anyone ever checks our story - Adrien

The message was simple, closely followed by a smiling cat emoji, and yet it succeeded in fracturing Marinette’s lazy morning. All at once, the events of last night prior to her meeting with Chat caught up with her as she was launched completely into the land of the conscious. Marinette’s subsequent groan was loud enough to rouse Tikki from her perch and come flitting over. The Kwami moved quickly, despite the hour, darting this way and that around the designer as she tried to calm her down. Marinette, however, merely proceeded to sink into her familiar slump of defeat and scream, her arms muffling the sound.

“What have I done, Tikki?” She said, her face remaining hidden under her hair. “I nearly destroyed my whole career, and now Adrien is mixed up in it.” She raised her head briefly enough to lock eyes with a concerned Tikki before resuming her groaning into the tablecloth. It was too early to be worrying about so much, and yet Marinette’s mind couldn’t slow down.

She had basically screamed excuses at Gabriel Agreste, the man holding her entire livelihood in his hands. Then, to make matters worse, she had lied to him about dating his son, making Adrien out to be such a terrible person that revenge was a necessity. She’d condemned herself.

Adrien. That was another thing in her life. Her crush had subsided since his move away, but even just glimpsing him had made her feel fourteen again. Maybe it had been the suddenness of it all or the lingering intoxication, but when he had first come out of that house she hadn’t felt scared anymore. All her focus had been on Adrien, on how he had changed so much and yet could still have the same effect on her as he had back at school. But that was ridiculous - she wasn’t at school anymore, and she shouldn’t have been so worked up about him yesterday. Besides, his father was Gabriel Agreste - the man she had sworn to destroy for what he had done - or, more accurately, avoid.

“He is my enemy,” Marinette grumbled deliriously, confusing Tikki further as the Kwami tried to force her charge’s head back up.

“Come on, it’s not even that big a deal,” Tikki insisted, eventually succeeding in convincing Marinette to resume her morning routine if only as a distraction to all the yelling in her head. “Adrien probably doesn’t even care about what happened! He backed you up with his dad, you thanked him, and now you can both move on from it and focus on what actually matters: getting to work! We can’t have Paris’ hero turning into a self-pitying layabout, now, can we?” Tikki regarded Marinette with large eyes until the girl finally relented and grumbled something about getting dressed. Tikki was right, she didn’t need to dwell on this anymore.

***

The shutters creaked as Marinette tugged and yanked on them to open. Her shop stood the same as usual, perched on the corner between one street and the next, unchanged despite everything that had gone on the night before. Its reluctance to open echoed inside of Marinette as she prepared herself for another day of uninspired sketches and worry over bankruptcy - especially after last night.

No, you will not think like that, she chastised herself, moving onto the next window, Today is going to go well and you will be fine. The clattering and groaning coming from the front of the store drowned out Alya’s approach until she was at Marinette’s elbow, leaning her shoulder on the wall as she watched her friend claim victory over a particularly stubborn screen.

“Hey, girl,” Alya said, making Marinette start slightly in surprise. “Would you mind making a bit less noise?”As Marinette looked up from her shop she took in her friend’s red eyes, heavy with sleep while her fingers briefly massaged her temples.

Marinette scowled, unwilling to forgive Alya so soon. “Sorry, Alya. You mean like this?” She gave a hard tug on the final shutter, sending it racing upwards before crashing at the top and triggering a harsh moan from her friend.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry for making you throw eggs at things,” Alya said. “But don’t deny that you enjoyed it. I saw your face before Mr. Shits-Money came out to ruin the fun.” She smiled through her headache, waiting until Marinette cracked and returned her grin, laughing at Alya’s term of address.

Marinette opened the door for Alya to follow her inside, continuing to set everything up for the day while her friend threw herself into Marinette’s chair behind the register. The mannequins in the window were artistically arranged, almost interacting with each other in their themed clothing. Marinette frequently swapped the outfits around to display new ensembles for passersby to notice and hopefully come inside to see. Today, they were dressed in an assortment of checkered and tartan items, a homage to yet another fallen ally in the fight against corruption. She finished up in the window before moving on to check each hanger was labeled correctly for every piece of clothing, and Alya began speaking, interrupting Marinette’s routine once again that morning.

Alya’s phone was on the lowest brightness to avoid aggravating her hangover, but it didn’t stop the girl from thrusting it under Marinette’s nose. “I’ve made a list of possible ways to deal with your problem.” The Ladybug phone charm swayed mockingly before Marinette’s eyes. She stifled a glare. “So, Gabriel, Daddy Agreste-”

Marinette snorted, “Alya, you can’t call him that!”

Alya waved her hand flippantly, brushing off her friend’s protest, “Please, he doesn’t deserve any respect from me. Adrien on the other hand…” She trailed off expectantly, looking to Marinette for some kind of reaction. The designer refused to perform, keeping her back turned as she tried to continue with the chores before opening up. She knew this would be coming, she had just expected Alya to at least wait until the afternoon. Alas, there was no delaying her determination. “Come on, Mari! He took the fall for you. His dad now thinks you dated, which I know fourteen year old you would be freaking the fuck out over, so you must have something to say.”

Honestly, Marinette didn’t know what to even think. She said as much to Alya as she busied herself with ribbons and felt swatches that didn’t technically need to be messed with, but her hands needed something to do before she just choked her own life out. She felt her brain threatening to go into useless-lump mode again under Alya’s scrutiny, so she finally turned to face her interrogator.

“Look, I’m not going to blame you for yesterday. I know that if I really hadn’t wanted to get my own back on him, I would have just gone home. But you also need to understand that I’m trying to run a business now, and I can’t afford any more slip-ups. So unless your plan offers a completely airtight, foolproof solution to everything going on right now, I’d rather just focus on what’s here in front of me.” She gestured to the surrounding shop with a lace-draped hand. “I love you, Alya, but your plans don’t always work out for the best.”

“Hey, name one-” Alya’s protest was loud and sincere, but was quickly cut short.

“Last new year’s,” Marinette said blank-faced. Without needing to elaborate, Alya’s expression drooped. The party had been a happy mess when Alya had stormed into Marinette’s conversation, successfully uprooted her from her spot beside a rather attractive tipsy guy and thrust her face first into some other man’s drink. Insisting Marinette and drink-guy would get along, Alya left them alone, as step one of her brilliant plan. Soon enough, midnight rolled around, and Marinette politely declined his romantic advances. The resulting Akuma had been difficult to deal with due to the fact Ladybug was not only on her own but was also pretty damn drunk. Albeit, Alya didn’t know the last part of the story, but still, Marinette had not been happy the next morning.

Again, Alya waved off her friend’s reasoning, “Okay, I admit that wasn’t my finest hour but just listen. Please.” She swiped through her phone before stopping on a page headed with Reasons to Break Up with Your Partner and other dating advice. She shushed Marinette’s protests before they had even surfaced. “If you and Adrien used to date, then you need to come up with what you did. And if it ended so badly, then you need to think of why you called it off. So, step one is thinking up a story.”

“And step two?” Marinette asked apprehensively.

“Getting it straight with Adrien.”

Marinette had believed herself to be completely groaned-out, and yet the disgruntled whine that came out of her was enough to have Alya patting her head in comfort. She could see where Alya was coming from, and it was a good plan, even if it did contrast her own intentions of completely and utterly blocking the whole situation from her mind and ignoring Adrien for the rest of her life.

“Do you really think this is necessary?” Marinette said, at last putting down the loose fabric she had been twirling obsessively around her wrist. “I mean, can a thank you text to Adrien not just be the end of it? I doubt Gabriel is going to come in and insist I spill all the dirty dealings of my ‘relationship’ with his son.”

“So it’s dirty now, is it? Marinette, you minx ,” Alya smirked and bumped Marinette’s shoulder good-naturedly. She blocked the half-hearted retaliation attempt easily and leaned back against the wall. Alya loosed a sigh before continuing, “I know you said you don’t blame me, but I still feel like it was my fault what happened last night. So I need to know that nothing’s going to bite you in the ass because of it. I helped come up with the lie, so now we’ve got to work it through together.” She grinned, winking. “Besides, isn’t part of you excited to reconnect with supermodel Adrien Agreste, the love of your life and subject of your wildest teenage fantasies?”

She could not block the next blow from her friend as Marinette laughed and shoved her away.

“You’re the worst, Alya.” Marinette walked over to the door to at last flip the sign to open the shop. “I get where you’re coming from, believe me. But I don’t want to have to have anything more to do with the Agrestes. I’m sick of worrying when that letter might arrive with the logo demanding I give up all of this and go home. I don’t want to have to deal with a guy who thinks what his dad does to people like me is okay. Maybe, somehow, he doesn’t feel that way, but I can’t know for sure. All I know is that his poster is still up in every shopping centre, his face plastered across the billboard around the corner.

“He is an Agreste, and therefore the enemy.”

Marinette looked back at Alya at the end of her speech, folding her arms. The other girl still looked determined, despite all that had just come out. Marinette didn’t want to have to fight about it - she didn’t want to have to think about it. The Agrestes weren’t worth her time.

“Just read through the link, at least,” Alya said as Marinette’s phone buzzed in her pocket to signal a message from the girl in front of her. “Don’t lose hope, Mari. You’re the strongest person I know. You can handle whatever is thrown at you - whether it’s one Agreste or a whole family of them.”

Soon after, Alya left the store. She managed to avoid getting bowled over by Nathaniel as he hurried to get inside, frantically shouting apologies to his laughing boss.

***

The rest of the morning passed with relatively few remarkable moments. Nathaniel had busied himself in the back of the shop under Marinette’s orders. His task was to find new ways to make up the outfits displayed in the window and around the store, and Marinette had continued brainstorming in her notepad. Customers had wandered in and out during the course of the day, most notably Chloe, who seemed to have been dragged there by Sabrina. While Sabrina had been bright and excitable enough, Chloe had barely deigned to make eye contact, and left without a word. Some people will never change, Marinette thought drily.

Life in Marinette’s small shop was generally very peaceful. Once Nath had made his noisy appearance, there was little else to cause disturbances other than Marinette’s own complaining. This day had been no different, something that Marinette saw as a blessing after such a busy evening the night before. The only downside was that the silence couldn’t keep away the constant nagging in the back of her head that sounded suspiciously like Alya as she kept drifting toward the link on her phone. So far, she had managed to leave the website untouched, busying herself with customers or design ideas, but now there was a lull in shoppers, and she was solidly stuck on a jacket plan. Should it go peplum? Draped? Should she add buttons or take them away? And still under all the shapes and patterns running through her mind was Alya’s damned voice. She should just click the link.

Shouldn’t she?

Marinette stared at her phone until her eyes ached, unsure what to do with herself. Jacket abandoned, her sole focus was now on that one hyperlink.

If she clicked it, it would be as good as admitting Alya was right - which would give the girl an unending sense of satisfaction, but that was beside the point. She would be giving in to the fact that contact with Adrien was probably a necessity, and then she would forever know she was her own traitor. A conspirator of her own making.

As she was thinking over her options, the phone vibrated in her hand. Her mind had been so focused on that one cobalt blue strip of text that the sound nearly triggered a dramatic phone tossing across the shop.

Hey Bug, we still on for purr-trol tonight? - CN

He followed up the text with a series of cat emojis, broken up by a ladybug and a winking face. Marinette rolled her eyes before replying, momentarily distracted from her predicament.

Of course we are. I wouldn’t waste an opportunity to beat those puns out of you. - LB

The app that they texted on was optimal for their situation. There was no information required other than a username and password, meaning there was no way for their identities to somehow slip out. The freedom with usernames, however, allowed for a whole other opportunity that Chat had not let go to waste. When they had first started their correspondence barely a day would go past without him changing his name to something ridiculous. Eventually, Marinette had managed to whittle him down to only renaming himself for special occasions, such as holidays or birthdays. Last Halloween had seen Chat redubbed as Bat Noir, which he had argued was sufficiently spooky. Remembering it, Marinette rolled her eyes, smiling slightly.

How dare you, LB? My puns are ameow-zing! - CN

It’s called negative reinforcement. If you stop now I won’t be forced to physically maim you on sight - LB

Chat continued to pester Marinette with puns, stretching them further and further until she finally sent one right back at him - purely to shut him up, of course, not because she enjoyed the idea of him getting that stupid grin on his face like he did every time she joined in on his jokes. She’d completely forgotten about Alya and the link until Chat asked her what she was doing - a question that they both had found pretty challenging to answer over the years, scared to reveal too much. It was comical, really, how much deliberation usually went into answering something so mundane.

I’m trying to decide whether I should go through with something or not. Keep in mind the person who wants me to do it is ridiculously stubborn, so I don’t actually know how much of a choice I have. - LB

She didn’t have to wait long for his reply.

Just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? - CN

Once again, Marinette was left staring at her phone. Typical - he wouldn’t even question it. She thought over his response, teetering on the verge of overthinking it until something just clicked in her. That was the second time that damned phrase had been used on her in two days, and despite how badly the first instance had gone, something in Chat’s words made her decide.

Yeah, Mari, what’s the worst that could happen? She repeated the words again to herself as she swapped out of the app and opened up a new message window. Alya’s text from earlier sat there, mocking her as she hovered her finger over the link. This shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but something inside of her still screamed danger at anything related to the Agreste name now. Not to mention her lingering childhood frenzy when thinking about Adrien.

She clicked it.

The next half an hour was spent scrolling through various dating websites, each one elaborating on When It’s Time to Let a Relationship Go or listing different Fun, Cheap First Dates! Luckily, during her research, there had been only one customer, dealt with by Nathaniel who had appeared from the back looking very pleased with himself. Absently, Marinette smiled at him - he must have made a breakthrough with the outfit compositions.

As the day wore on, Marinette was feeling much more relaxed in both her work and her personal life. She was secure now - or at least starting to be, in what kind of things she could say if anyone other than Alya ever confronted her about her love affair with Adrien. Plus, the sketches in her notebook were shaping up to be worthy of some actual sewing. It was while she was starting to gather material when the bells on the door chimed to signal another customer. Nathaniel had returned to the back, so Marinette looked toward to source of the sound, friendly work-voice at the ready.

“Hello, welcome to-” She cut off abruptly. Looking back at her, Adrien waved sheepishly, his hand reaching up to rub the back of his neck. Marinette felt a familiar heat rush to her face as she continued, “What do can you? I mean, I can do you for- no, um…” She felt like a complete idiot. Had she not changed at all since school? What happened to her breakthrough of realizing Adrien was just a guy, for god’s sake? Here she was, stammering stupidly in front of Adrien for the second time in just as many days. She bet he regretted spending all that fake time fake dating her.

“Fuck,” she muttered.

“Hi, Marinette,” he said as he walked further into the shop. He looked around, taking in all the outfits displayed around the room and the open sketchbook at the desk. Marinette snapped out of her daze long enough for her to register what was going on. Adrien was in her shop. Why was Adrien in her shop? She asked him as much, half screeching the question, but managed to get the words out in the right order. That was an improvement, at least.

“I wanted to apologize,” he replied. He came towards her desk and stood awkwardly in front of her. Taking in his uncomfortable appearance, something inside her clicked into place. This was just Adrien, she didn’t need to get so worked up over him - no matter how green his eyes were.

She snorted, “Apologize for what? You saved me yesterday. Without you, I would probably be out of a job.”

“Yeah, but that’s what I need to apologize for. You shouldn’t have to worry about stuff like that. Especially if it’s my dad’s fault.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I feel horrible.”

Okay, so Adrien felt bad. He obviously didn’t agree with Gabriel’s methods, but he still worked for him. She couldn’t let herself relax too much.

“I swear I didn’t hear what he was saying until I came out - otherwise I would have tried to stop him earlier,” he continued earnestly. “I hate what he’s been doing. I just wanted you to know that.”

“It’s alright, Adrien. I honestly think you’ve given me some more time, at least, to keep this thing running. I should be apologizing to you - I made you sound awful!”

Adrien laughed, finally beginning to relax. Marinette felt herself smile in response, hit by an intense wave of nostalgia at the sound. She truly had missed him, and not just because he was her first crush. She wished in that moment that they had been better friends.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said as a grin spread across his face. “I’m sure I had my moments of being a perfect gentleman, too!” He began laughing again at her expression, leaning on the desk so they were eye to eye.

She smirked, narrowing her gaze, “Don’t get too cocky with me. You still cheated.”

“Cheated? Marinette, I would never!” He held a hand to his chest, face dramatically contorted into a look of complete horror. She began laughing with him, all thoughts of his father rushing away with each unattractive snort.

“Oh yes, you scum! You broke my heart - left me with the burning desire for egg-themed revenge,” she cried, fake-glaring at him as he continued with his act of surprise. A small voice in the back of her head was screaming that she was actually having a real conversation with Adrien. She ignored it.

He whipped his hand to his forehead, as though swooning. “After all we’ve been through, and it’s come to this. Egg vengeance. Vegg-geance, if you will.”

“I will not!”

“Oh, Marinette. How you’ve changed since our first date!” Adrien pouted, bracing his hands either side of the sketchbook, which was still open on the table. “You used to love my puns. Don’t you remember that time when I took you up to the top of the Eiffel Tower and we confessed our undying love for each other under the stars?”

Marinette’s stomach ached as she tried to hold back the laughter and match Adrien’s serious shift in tone. He gazed longingly at her, and she was momentarily transported back to the classroom at Lycee, camera rolling as Adrien Agreste leaned in to kiss her during the school play.

“You what?” Both Marinette and Adrien jumped back from each other in surprise, blinking at the new arrival in the room. They must have been laughing too loudly or gazing too hard because neither of them had heard the telling chimes that welcomed a customer into the shop. They hadn’t noticed the footsteps marching across the floor, or glimpsed the bright blond ponytail storming behind Adrien’s shoulder.

There, holding her bag so tightly it looked like her fingers would cleave through the straps, stood Chloe.


Chapter Text

“Well?” Chloe cried. Neither Marinette or Adrien had moved from their frozen positions since Chloe had interrupted them.

Marinette glanced across to Adrien, hoping he would come up with something to get them out of this.

“We...broke up?” Adrien said, making it sound more like a question than anything else. It was clear he had an equal lack of ideas as Marinette did, doubly conveyed by the panicked looks he kept flashing in her direction. Instead of calming Chloe down, the sentence made her explode. She marched up to the counter until she was eye to eye with Marinette. She could see Adrien over her shoulder moving to intervene, but she shook her head at him before meeting Chloe’s gaze.

“Is there anything I can do for you, Chloe? Is there a particular item you’re looking for, or would you just like to browse?” Marinette locked eyes with the girl in front of her, reeling off her regular spiel expressionlessly.

Seconds passed.

Chloe screamed and pushed herself away from the desk. “This isn’t over, Marinette Dupain-Cheng!” She flashed an unexpected glare at Adrien. “Don’t think you’re off the hook, either.” The door crashed behind her, sending the chimes into a frenzy and summoning Nathaniel from the back of the store. He gave Marinette a questioning look, before getting the hint and retreating back to his boxes.

“Phew,” Adrien breathed, smiling apologetically at Marinette. “That could have gone a lot worse.”

“I learned how to deal with Chloe during school. It’s turned out to be a very necessary life skill - especially when in the retail business,” she said while she finally straightened up. She kind of felt bad for Chloe, but she’d found the best way to get rid of her tended to be to just not react. It helped that Adrien had been there, or else Chloe probably would have forged ahead in her anger.

She glanced around, reset the pot of pens that had been disrupted during Chloe’s outburst and closed her notebook. Her face tightened. Like a blast from a particularly heavy Akuma, she came to a terrible realization. Everyone was going to find out now. Chloe would tell the whole world about her and Adrien’s ‘dating’ and they would never be free of it. What had she done? Why had she thought it was a good idea to start lying about things like this?

“Mari? What is it?” Adrien said worriedly in response to her groan. Slowly, his face fell, “Oh. Yeah, right.”

She sunk back into her desk chair and looked up at him unhappily. Her new ex-boyfriend, she supposed. She always had to go and make everything way more complicated than it needed to be.

Adrien reached out his hand in comfort and began to say something before he was cut off by a shrill ringing. He quickly retracted the hand and fished in his pocket until he pulled out his phone.

“Oh, crap. I’m really sorry, Mari, I’ve got to go. I was meant to be at a shoot ten minutes ago. We can talk about this later, okay? I promise.” He rushed out of the store, pausing briefly to wave before dashing down the road, phone to his ear.

***

Marinette felt like this was probably the longest day in existence. Since Adrien had left, she had tried returning to her sketchbook, and even collected her sewing kit to fashion a prototype of the jacket, but had been struck with zero inspiration. Nathaniel had tried to ask her what happened, but she’d quickly shut the conversation down before looking back to her pins.

Just as she’d decided to give up for now and go to lunch, the bells chimed once again.

“Three times in one day,” Marinette remarked. “I never expected such dedicated patronage from you, Chloe.”

Chloe glared, throwing the bag she had been holding earlier down in front of Marinette. “I told Sabrina to buy me these in lemon yellow. These are canary.” Marinette picked up the gloves, inspecting them before stitching on her best customer service smile. She didn’t need Chloe complaining to her father on top of everything else.

“Of course. We can offer you a full refund or an exchange for another shade of gloves. I’m afraid we don’t do lemon yellow, however. Would you like to see some other options?”

The other girl sniffed and folded her arms. “I don’t want anything less than what I asked. If this was a real clothes line like Adrien’s you would have every color in the book. ” At the mention of Adrien’s name, Chloe seemed to flinch back from herself. Marinette was surprised it hadn’t come up already - it wasn’t like Chloe to beat around the bush.

Marinette grimaced slightly before conjuring up an even brighter smile, eyes dead. “Well, I am happy for you to make a commission for those particular gloves, it will just be a bit extra on the cost to cover the materials and a few days’ wait for them to be ready.” Even as Marinette was speaking, she could tell that Chloe had long since moved passed gloves - another oddity, not usually one to let things go so easily. Marinette prodded, “How does that sound?”

Suddenly, Chloe’s face contorted, twisting into a snarl as she slammed her hands down on the desk, just as she had done that morning. But now she was less restrained, perhaps because Marinette was alone, no longer accompanied by Adrien. The woman before her warped. Marinette was undecided on whether she looked more like a wild animal or the fourteen-year-old classmate she had once known.

She felt that this was the ‘a lot worse’ Adrien had been referring to earlier.

“That sounds, Marinette-” she spat the name out of her mouth and watched it splatter on the floor, “like you have whored yourself out at the first flicker of interest from Adrien - a man a hundred times your superior. You probably had to beg and cry for him just to let you pretend you once had anything to do with him.” Her tone turned icy, no longer reminiscent of the whining teenager, but something colder of someone who had mastered the fastest way to hit others where it hurt the most. “We may have all been in the same class, but I was his friend. Not you. You could barely even manage to spit a word out in front of him. As if you would be able to actually date him - as if he would let you. It’s laughable!”

Chloe paused as she allowed her words to sink in, breathing hard. Marinette considered them all, unnerved at how, in a way, Chloe was closer to the truth than she probably realized herself. She tried not to let any of what she’d said affect her, despite how the other girl had clearly upped her game in eviscerating her victims. But Marinette felt her own anger bubbling under her skin. She knew Chloe had targeted her because Marinette somehow stood in her way right now, and this verbal beat-down was better than a complaint to the Mayor, but she never had been one for standing down when it came to Chloe.

Chloe leaned in close until her lips brushed the hair beside Marinette’s ear. She felt every syllable as Chloe whispered with a deadly calm, “You’re pathetic, Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

Marinette jerked back out of Chloe’s reach, the words finally gutting logic and reason. All she knew right now was that Chloe would not talk down to her like this. Marinette made a mental note to buy out all lemon fabric in Paris and burn it.

Chloe had no right to come into Marinette’s store and demand information on her personal life with Adrien - even if it was false. No matter what she claimed, Marinette knew insecurity when she saw it, and Chloe was very unsure of herself right now. For all her bravado, the girl had no idea whether Marinette and Adrien had been together. She almost felt bad for her, were it not for the sheer amount of insults just spewed at her in the middle of the shop.

“I’ll have you know, Chloe Bourgeois,” she hissed, “That what me and Adrien had with each other was mutual. In spite of it being none of your business, I want you to understand me here when I say that he definitely did date me, and it lasted for a long, l ong time.” Marinette didn’t know what she was saying, but she was satisfied with the effect it had on Chloe.

Chloe’s face reddened as she took a step back to sneer, “As if, Dupain-Cheng. Even if you did have something with him, I bet it wasn’t anything more than a one time fling. I bet he dropped you the second he realized how wretched you really are.” She raked her gaze over the designer, letting it linger on the cuts on her fingers and smudges of pencil Marinette had forgotten were on her face. “Who could blame him?”

Marinette heard nothing then, except for the riptide of blood crashing in her head. She shouldn’t care what Chloe thought, but something about the other girl just got to her, it always had. She had made no solid decision on what to say before words were just pouring out of her, too late to take back, “We were the most loving , most intimate couple you could ever find. For two years! Adrien didn’t break up with me.” She narrowed her eyes. “I dumped him as soon as I realized what he’d done. I assure you it was my decision to end the relationship.

“Don’t talk down to me just because you’re hurt that he hid it all from you. Neither of us had any obligation to tell you anything.” By the end of it, Marinette was breathing hard, still submerged under waves of anger. She needed to prove Chloe wrong like she needed air, uncaring at the moment what her methods were to do it by.

“Adrien could never do anything wrong. I don’t believe a thing you say!” Chloe screamed at her. Marinette could see the fissures working their way through the girl’s insides, cracking through to the lurking doubt underneath. “What could he ever have done?”

“He - he, um,” Marinette floundered. She was finally out of words, but the rage remained. An idea occurred to her then, not because it was smart or even plausible, but because it was dramatic enough that it just might work. “He cheated on me! All the time!” She nodded emphatically at her words, urging Chloe to believe them.

“Adrien would never- he’s not like-” Chloe cut herself off, matching Marinette’s gaze again. She must have seen something in the designer’s eyes, because after a few seconds her face crumpled. “I still don’t believe you, Cheng. And I don’t need your stupid gloves. It was Sabrina’s idea anyway.” With one final look at Marinette, Chloe stormed back out of the shop. The bells chimed for a long time afterwards.

Marinette had a blissful moment of nothing but satisfaction at the sight of Chloe’s retreating back, before realization came tumbling down on her.

What have I just done? Marinette thought frantically. I need to fix it, I need… But she didn’t know how. She pulled at her hair, running back over all the words she’d said. Oh God, she’d made Adrien out to be such a horrible person. She couldn’t believe what she’d done. What if she’d just caused another Akuma? She put her hands to her face and screamed.

“Hey, are you okay?” a voice asked in front of her. Marinette started, removing her fingers to reveal Rose and Juleka, looking at her in concern. And there to her right was Nathaniel, obviously having come back after hearing all the commotion.

Shit, how much did they hear?

She was saved asking it herself was Rose timidly said, “Did you really date Adrien?”

That was enough for Marinette. She grabbed her bag and strode passed the three person crowd that had formed around her. She couldn’t deal with more talking and lies right now. She needed to tell Adrien.

“I’m going to lunch.”

***

Marinette stalked around the park for about twenty minutes, unsure of how to begin this conversation. Adrien should know what she’d said, if only so he would be able to back it up if he was asked. But for the life of her, she just couldn’t bring herself to admit what she’d done.

To put it simply, she was ashamed of what she’d said to Chloe. So far there hadn’t been an Akuma, but that felt more like luck than anything - maybe Hawkmoth was having an off day, too. She knew that she should have been more careful, should have actually considered her words before saying them. It was just, well, Chloe.

Around her, the world was going on as usual. It was a pretty sunny day, causing children to flock to the park and picnickers to take up most of the grass space. She could see the carousel turning happily, the light casting a cheerful glow on everyone around it. Marinette felt very out of place. She could almost see the shadows crawling from her.

You need to calm down, Mari, before you get Akumatised, she thought desperately. What would Paris do then?

She palmed her phone again, swiping aimlessly across her home screen to pretend like she was doing something. Just as she was about to take the plunge and call Adrien, a message popped up at the top of the screen.

Why does Chloe think I cheated on you, like, a billion times? - Adrien

Well. That certainly threw a wrench in it. She clicked on the text to reply, hoping he was out of his shoot by now.

Can we meet? I’m in the park - Marinette

***

The shoot ended earlier than Adrien had expected. It had just been a short one for the new range of ties his father was bringing out, so luckily he managed to get away quickly. What he hadn’t expected, though, was to be bombarded with accusations from Chloe on whether or not he was the worst person in existence.

He hadn’t really known how to reply when she’d phoned him. In the end, he’d just settled for letting her rant it out while making vague noises of agreement. It had ended with her hanging up on him - a feat he had never been faced with before from her.

Bemused, he’d stared at the screen for a number of seconds before texting Marinette. What had that girl said?

Now, he stood in front of her as she awkwardly avoided eye contact. He coughed, snapping her attention to his face for half a second before she averted her gaze again. He was about to say something before her mouth opened and she mumbled something to his feet.

“What was that, Mari?”

Again, she shuffled and stared at the ground. “I told Chloe you cheated on me. A lot.” After she spoke, she buried her face in her hands and peered at him through her fingers. She had turned a vibrant red.

“Um, okay?” Adrien said, puzzled. It made sense, he supposed, after she’d told his father that Adrien was so awful. He just wished it hadn’t gotten to Chloe first. Suddenly, she shifted so she was actually looking at his face, still steaming with embarrassment.

“I’m so sorry, Adrien. I really didn’t mean it to happen. It’s just, Chloe was saying all this stuff, and I know there’s no excuse, but me rattled her - I mean she mattled-”

“Hey, hey, it’s fine,” he said comfortingly. He placed his hands on her shoulders so she would stop talking for a second and just calm down. “It was bound to come out eventually, right?” He winked at her, watching her face flame brighter. Maybe he took it a bit too far. He coughed again and took his hands back, but stayed holding her gaze.

“I’m just really so-”

“Mari. It’s okay,” he smiled at her. He was a bit down that now all of his old friends would think he was a cheater, and on Marinette of all people, but it couldn’t be helped. It was out there now, so they should probably get their stories straight in case anything like this ever happened again. He said as much to Marinette, and listened as she explained everything that had happened in the shop. By the end of it, she was apologising again, no matter how much he tried to get her to stop.

“It’s just now everyone will think the worst of you,” she said. Her eyes returned to the ground again as her toe began scuffing up dirt. Seeing her like this was making him feel worse than the actual idea that people would think he was a cheater which was an odd thought to have, but he decided to focus on it later.

He smirked and folded his arms, “It’s alright, because now I’ll just tell everyone that you used me for my money.”

“What? Adrien-”

“Yep. You only dated me to get to the trust fund. And all of my connections in the fashion industry, of course,” he grinned at her, making it as shit-eating as possible. “God, Marinette, what a gold digger.”

She started laughing then - mission accomplished - and punched him on the arm. She snorted once before snapping her hands to her face, mortified. Adrien thought it was one of the most adorable things he’d ever seen. That’s another thought to come back to, he mused absently.

She was choking out giggles still as she tried to speak, “Fine, then I’ll tell them that you were never apart from your precious mirror. What a pampered little model.”

“Hey! This is all natural, princess.” The nickname just slipped out, and he froze for a second. He desperately hoped she wouldn’t make the connection. She was staring at him oddly - he needed to move past it before it became awkward. “You snore in your sleep.”

Snapped out of it, she frowned at him, “Well, you - you never help with chores!”

“You suck at cooking.”

“I’m a baker’s daughter, Adrien. Keep it believable.”

“What, so me cheating on you and becoming are narcissist are believable to you?” he asked jokingly.

She blushed again, “No, I just meant...You know what I meant!”

“I’m not so sure Mari, I think you might have sucked at cooking.” He laughed at her pout, poking her cheek.

“I think the most unbelievable thing about this whole story,” she said, mock-glaring at him, “is that I would ever actually date you. ” She snorted again at his affronted expression, but something inside of him seemed to wilt a bit. He didn’t know why, but he felt like someone had just let all the air out of him. Still, he grinned again and jabbed her in the ribs.

She shrieked, dancing out of his reach and ran to the nearest tree. “Stay back, you oaf!”

He roared with laughter, pretending to run towards her. Despite everything that had been said, Adrien was elated that he was able to talk to Marinette. He wished they had been able to spend more time together like this at school. Maybe then something could have gone differently. He watched her face, puffing up in irritation as he came towards her, and hoped that maybe now was their chance. He hoped that, no matter how crazy or separate their lives were, he could become her friend.

Chapter Text

Adrien moved his arm to better display the three-quarter length style sleeves on his father’s latest jacket. The photographer clicked furiously, shouting words of encouragement. While the shoot continued, Adrien tried to keep his expression clear, but behind it he couldn’t help feeling dirty.


It had been two days since joking with Marinette in the park. He’d seen Ladybug again, which had been wonderful, but since he’d reconnected with the designer he couldn’t seem to rid his mind of the guilt. Now every click of the camera seemed to yell at him that was he was doing was wrong.


Flash - Stop.


Stop.


Stop!


He was allowing this to continue with his father. It’s not like he could exactly get him to leave everyone alone, but he could at least stop giving his face as a stamp of approval.


“Okay, that’s enough for today!” the photographer called. Adrien let out a sigh of relief before shrugging off the jacket. He handed it to Nathalie before collecting his normal clothes and going to change. As he walked, he tried to take his mind off his father and focus on his next step. He was seeing Nino today for the first time in ages. He would be able to look at his friend as he spoke to him, not just hear his tinny voice from his phone speakers. He’d been busy working in the nightclub these past few days, but now he was free and eager to invite Adrien out to catch up.


He changed quickly and asked the gorilla to drop him off outside of Nino’s apartment. His gig at the club and freelancing for parties had allowed Nino to scrape together just enough money to rent out a tiny flat in the city, as long as he didn’t eat much during the day and stocked up on the free crisps offered to workers at The Colosseum. As Adrien approached the door, he felt his excitement building.

He rung the bell, to have Nino immediately burst out and throw his arms around him. “Adrien!” his friend shouted, hugging him tightly. “How’s it going, dude?” He pulled back to allow Adrien air before yanking him into the flat.

Adrien grinned at his friend and took in his surroundings. Directly in front of him was the small living area, taken over by various monitors and mixing desks. There were scattered crisp packets and old clothes strewn around the floor, and the kitchen to the left was piled high with unwashed dishes. On the right was the door leading to Nino’s bedroom, no doubt another bomb site, with a bathroom beside it.

Nino followed the blond’s gaze and grimaced, “I’m sorry, bro, I was totally gonna clean up. I swear! I just got distracted.”

“It’s cool. I like seeing how you live,” Adrien laughed. In all honesty, it was nice to see a home that actually looked lived in, unlike his own spotless house. He’d taken to leaving his clothes lying about around his room just to make it feel more like his own space rather than a hotel, to have them always be put right back where they belonged by the time he got back.

“I would give you the grand tour, but this is basically it,” Nino said, snapping Adrien out of his reverie. “Oh! Do you wanna hear my latest tracks? I’ve been working on them all morning.”

The next hour was spent listening to Nino’s different mixes, interspersed with questions about Adrien’s course and working with his father. On the topic of modelling Adrien’s face scrunched up.

“What is it, bro?” Nino asked. He looked at his friend in concern, detaching himself from his headphones for once - a sign that Nino wanted his full attention on something other than music for a change. “Your dad still being a dick?”

Adrien rubbed his hand across his face. “No-I mean, yes. But I don’t know,” he said. The more he thought about it, the more dejected he began to feel. His hand stuttered along his ring in a subconscious attempt to comfort himself. He felt Plagg nuzzle into his chest from his inner pocket - a rare sign of affection, but always welcome. Nino didn’t say anything, merely waiting for Adrien to go on. “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

This time, Adrien paused long enough for Nino to gently step in, “What do you mean? About your dad?”

“Yeah. And just modelling in general. I mean, it’s not like I don’t like it, and I love my dad, of course, because he’s, well, my dad. It’s just recently I’ve been realising more and more that I’m not happy being around him, or doing things for him that only further his career.” He clenched his hands into fists, feeling the ring dig in. Even after leaving home to study, he still felt like that ring was the only source of freedom he had. But he couldn’t talk to Nino about that. Couldn’t talk to anyone about that.

“I don’t want my dad only being my boss, you know?” Adrien let out a humourless laugh, “And I don’t want him as my boss at all right now. Have you seen what he’s been doing to people?”

Nino nodded, eyes hardening. “Yeah, I’ve spoken to Marinette about it. Alya’s really wound up, too. She keeps pushing to write an expose on the guy, but Marinette doesn’t want him somehow shutting down the blog.” He shrugged, looking at his friend warmly. “But I know you don’t have anything to do with it, bro. So you don’t need to feel this bad.”

Adrien groaned and stood up, beginning to pace around Nino’s limited space. “That’s the thing, though. I do have something to do with it if I’m still working for him! I’m not doing anything to stop it, so I’m basically endorsing it all. He nearly got Mari’s place the other day, you know? That’s my fault.

“I just...I can’t quit. Because if I do, what then? What will I have to do with my father if he doesn’t have the excuse of work to talk to me?” He raked his hand through his hair, mussing up his parting. “I’ll lose any shred of a relationship we have, and I just can’t bring myself to do that. So what do I do?” He looked at Nino desperately, begging him to have some kind of answer.

His friend simply shook his head. Nino placed his hand on Adrien’s arm and led him back to the sofa. “I can’t tell you what to do, Adrien, I’m sorry. But you gotta remember the things you have done to help. Like, Alya told me what you did for Marinette the other night. That was awesome, bro! You totally stood up to your dad, and you saved Mari’s shop while doing it. That wasn’t nothing. Maybe there’s some good to be found working for your dad - maybe you can try and put him off doing those things to people. It’s worth a shot.”

Adrien considered his friend’s words, and wondered if he really could help. It was true he’d helped Marinette, even if it had kind of been spur of the moment. Now she could continue working and creating new designs without having to worry so much about his father’s shadow.

A tiny bubble of hope swelled inside him as he pictured her little shop. Maybe it could work like Nino said.

At the thought of Marinette, a small smile began to grow on his face. She’d looked so happy in the park once he’d got her to calm down a bit. Her laugh was amazing, too. He wished he’d been able to know that years ago, because now he felt like he’d missed so much already. He didn’t even care about what people thought of him, as long as she was able to enjoy herself like that.

He caught Nino’s eye, who immediately began to smirk. He said smugly, “What you thinking about there, Adrien?”

“What? I’m not thinking about anyone - I mean anything!” Adrien insisted, but he knew it was futile. Like Alya, Nino wouldn’t give up on something once he began caring about it. Adrien thought that was why Nino had put so much effort into teaching him how to interact with people at school after a life shut away from them.

“Are you sure you’re not thinking about our favourite little designer, dude?” Nino laughed.

“It’s not like that. We’ve just been talking more since I had to admit to being a douche. Which I think you pull of much better than me when you make that stupid face!” Adrien punched his friend on the arm, trying to wipe away his suggestive grin.

Nino put his hands up in surrender, still laughing. “Fine, fine. Just talking more, okay. But are you sure it’s not anything more than that? You looked super sappy and gross for a minute back there. I think my little Adrien might have developed a crush.” He drew out the last word in a sing-song voice, not even bothering to defend against the follow-up punch.

Adrien began sputtering in his seat. He felt his face flame at Nino’s words as he desperately tried to defend himself. He couldn’t have a crush. He was in love with Ladybug (an aspect of his life that Nino had no need to know about), not Marinette. Years of pining after the hero would not be blown away so easily by a half-hour of joking around in the park. Besides, he’d only seen Marinette a couple of times - definitely not enough to begin falling in love with her, a fact he repeated to Nino indignantly.

“Well sure, but I didn’t say love. I said you have a crush, dude,” Nino replied.

Adrien couldn’t see it. He couldn’t be thinking about some other girl, no matter how nice she was, when Ladybug was only just now coming back into his life again. He felt guilty even considering Marinette as any more than a friend, which he wasn’t even sure they were yet. Besides, things with her would never work out with his father there. Adrien suspected she wouldn’t want to get any closer to Gabriel than she had to.

He was snapped out of his reverie as Nino stood up and shut his laptop. “Look, bro. You don’t have to act on anything, just think about it. Alya invited me out to go get lunch with her and Marinette this afternoon, and she wanted to know if you would tag along too. Before you can say no, remember it’s literally impossible to deny that girl anything.”

Adrien stared at his friend in disbelief. He couldn’t have a bombshell like that just dropped on him and then be expected to move past it and go see the girl he might be developing a crush on. It was all moving too fast. However, Nino was right. He would never be able to say no to Alya if she was determined enough to fight for it. Plus, he supposed it would be nice to catch up together. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. He just needed to push all romantic thoughts from his head. Easy.

***

Marinette frantically dashed around her house, desperately looking for her purse while Alya waited impatiently in the hallway. They were supposed to have left ten minutes ago, but one way or another Marinette had dragged them behind. Nino was probably already waiting at the cafe by now.

Finally, she found the purse buried under her discarded clothes and raced out the door, Alya on her heels. The other girl scolded Marinette on the virtues of arriving on time - if it weren’t for her punctuality, she would never capture such great footage for the Ladyblog! And so on. Marinette had half a mind to tell her just who that punctual hero was if only to stop her talking about it.

The cafe loomed up ahead, and Alya waved at Nino waiting at their regular table through the window. And Adrien.

“Alya!” Marinette hissed, fixing a strained smile on her face as she waved back at the blond. “You never told me Adrien would be here.”

“If I’d have told you, you would have freaked out and not come,” she replied, equally through her smile. Marinette couldn’t deny that her friend would probably have been right a few days ago, but after talking to Adrien since everything she found herself much more at ease around him. It just would have been nice to know.

They entered the cafe and slid into the booth. Adrien smiled at her and her whole face erupted in a plume of red. Okay, so maybe she wasn’t completely comfortable around him. Old habits die hard, alright?

Orders made, they relaxed into easy conversation. She even felt comfortable enough to ask Adrien how the photoshoots had been going for his dad, but he seemed to deflect it and focus on Alya’s most recent hit on the Ladyblog. Marinette tried not to feel put out. Halfway through her story on the sudden return of Chat Noir, Adrien cleared his throat and complimented Marinette’s outfit.

“I love your shirt, Marinette. Did you design that yourself?”

She looked down and immediately blushed. In her haste to get out of the house she’d thrown on whatever she could find - which just happened to be another one of the few - she was sure she couldn’t have made many - Chat Noir inspired shirts. It wasn’t an obvious homage to him, but she still felt a bit stupid wearing it now he was back in Paris. There were paw prints trailing diagonally along the shirt, and the breast pocket was adorned with cat ears and a tail.

“Uh, yeah, but it’s nothing! I mean, it means nothing, um…” Marinette trailed off, feeling like even more of an idiot. Adrien merely laughed and winked - winked - at her.

“Well, I think it’s the cat’s meow,” he joked, successfully stopping her blush in its tracks.

“Adrien, no! That was awful!” she laughed and threw a piece of bread at him from across the table. He batted it away and grinned widely.

“Are you sure you don’t mean pawful?” She hounded him with more bread, laughing at his rubbish (paw - stop it Mari!) attempts at catching it. “Paws-itively a-paw-ling?”

The two of them were so enthralled in their squabble that Marinette only realized they were being watched when Alya said, “Come on, girl. You’re meant to hate his guts, Mari! Quit flirting.”

Marinette could have sworn Adrien’s face lit up as brightly as hers, before he ducked away and turned to face Nino.

“We were not flirting!” Marinette shouted into the silent cafe. Her blush deepened further as all heads turned towards her. “Stop laughing, you two,” she whisper-yelled as Alya and Nino didn’t even attempt to hide their amusement. She heard Adrien chuckle from behind his hand, and she glared at him in betrayal.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he choked out, trying and failing to stop laughing. “I’ll try and act more like a douche from now on.”

“Well, you’re succeeding!” she threw at him, mostly joking.

“So, Mari,” Alya said, swiftly moving the conversation along. “How does it feel in your shop now? Any less stressful since you broke up with Adrien?”

Marinette transferred her glare to Alya, but answered honestly, “Yeah, I do feel more at ease in there now. But it’s still just the knowledge that it could go at any moment. Sure, your dad’s distracted for now, Adrien, but what about in a couple weeks? A month tops? I don’t know how to defend against that.” She sighed and tried to focus on the pastry in front of her instead of the gazes she could feel boring into her from around the table.

“I’m so sorry, Mari,” Adrien said, causing her to look up. He genuinely did look upset, which only made her feel worse.

“It’s okay. Not your fault,” she said and offered him a reassuring smile. “I’ll figure something out.” It really wasn’t Adrien’s fault at all. She was silly to think that it could have been - calling him her enemy and everything. She knew now that he was trying his best to go along with the lie she’d told, all to protect her from his own father. She just wished he didn’t have to.

All of a sudden, Alya slammed her hands down on the table, causing yet more looks to be cast their way from around the room. “Right. Let’s all stop feeling sorry for ourselves and do something about it!” she said firmly. “Give me ideas. Come on.” She whipped her phone out and opened the notes page.

The remaining three friends glanced at each other, all hoping someone else would have something to offer.

“Well,” Nino began, clearing his throat, “Me and Adrien were talking earlier about how he might be able to get his dad to lay off for a bit. We didn’t come up with anything solid though.” He smiled sheepishly at Alya, realising he hadn’t posed a real solution. However, she proceeded to type something into her phone and looked up determinedly.

“Okay, that’s a start. Adrien, what kind of stuff are you thinking? This is for Mari, everyone, nothing is going too far!”

Marinette felt warmth bubble up inside of her as her friends starting throwing ideas around - all just to help her. They were all trying so hard for her. Adrien had only been back a few days, and he’d already thrown himself fully into this, barely a question asked, and Alya and Nino had been incredible support since the whole ordeal had first begun. She resolved to pay them all back for it, somehow. Maybe she could offer Alya an exclusive interview as Ladybug?

“What about going to the press?” Adrien asked, cutting into Marinette’s thoughts. “I’m sure someone would be willing to have a segment on it.” Adrien paused, considering. “Or I could at least threaten my dad with the idea of it.”

Nino leant forward and muttered something to Adrien that sounded a lot like, “You sure, dude?” Adrien waved him off and whispered something back that Marinette couldn’t catch.

The four of them discussed more options while waiting for the bill before leaving the cafe. When they left, Alya dragged Nino up ahead to talk about “something private”, while winking at Marinette. She stuck her tongue out in response, but she was kind of glad to be able to talk to Adrien alone.

“Hey,” she ventured. He turned his eyes toward her and she tried to ignore the quickening of her heartbeat. Now was not the time to revert to some silly schoolgirl crush. “I really appreciate everything you’re doing for me with all this. I just wanted you to know that.”

He grinned and threw his arm around her shoulders. She froze. Through her rigid position she could have sworn she caught a blush tinting his cheeks, but that would be ridiculous. He probably was just warm or something. Anyway, nothing could rival the heat radiating from her face right now at the physical contact he was making. “Don’t mention it. I feel like I have to do something, you know, considering.”

“Yeah, but it must be hard for you, doing all this behind your dad’s back,” she insisted. She tried her best to ignore the arm still draped around her and attempted to settle her heart rate back down. “Besides, you still work for him, right? So it’s not like you’re separate from the business.” She had meant it to sound grateful and sympathetic, but Adrien’s face changed. The arm retracted and slithered back to his side; his expression shuttered.

“Adrien, are you-” The sound of screaming cut her off, rising over the usual din of the city. Suddenly, the shop to her right exploded with movement, people streaming past.

“Get to safety! I’ll go this way to - to throw it off!” Adrien yelled over the new round of screams. Marinette reached out a hand to stop him - he should get to Alya and Nino - but he was already running. Willing him to stay safe, she ducked into the nearest alleyway and opened her bag.

“Tikki, spots on!”

Chapter Text

By the time she came back out of the alley, the streets were in chaos. Pedestrians ran in all directions, trying to avoid something Marinette couldn’t see, while cars screeched and honked at each other to avoid the building traffic.

There!

Through the crowd of people she could just make out what seemed to be colourful swatches of fabric, humanoid and moving as though possessed. As she watched, two living rag dolls gripped the arms of a struggling man, forcing him still. Before she could get to him, the Akuma burst through the nearest wall, turning the bricks into no more than cotton blocks and threw a sewing pin at the man. It struck home, sending him into a short frenzy of twisting and writhing before he finally went limp, skin flattening out into block colour and stitches, eyes turning to buttons.

Marinette whipped around just in time to see a woman being grabbed by another doll. She raced toward her, flinging out her yoyo to swing herself around. Grabbing the woman around the waist, she propelled them both over the rooftops before setting her down in the clearest spot she could find.

“Get to safety,” she said, echoing Adrien’s words from earlier. Adrien. She hoped he would be okay - he’d completely separated himself from the rest of the group. She considered chasing after the way he’d gone, but eventually decided against it - she needed to focus on the main threat here. Then, even if something had happened to him, he would turn out okay.

“S’up, Bug,” she heard from behind. Chat Noir prowled round to face her, grin slightly off, but present all the same. It must have been daunting to be thrown right back into an Akuma fight after so long, she figured.

She tugged her yoyo back and peered over the rooftops, mentally documenting and categorising. Personal matters could wait, she decided as she witnessed yet another stream of rag dolls exiting the cafe she and the others had just been sat in.

“Chat, we need to get close to her without getting caught up by her cronies. You think you can handle distraction for a minute?” she asked, still staring across the city. She just had to get close enough to figure out where the Akuma was hiding, then they could both work together to get it out.

Chat swept a low bow and pressed a kiss to her hand, “My pleasure, My Lady.”

She looked at him in surprise, weirdly caught off guard by his theatrics. It had been too long since she’d actually had a partner in all this. “You sure you still remember how to do everything, Kitty?” she prodded.

“Why of course! No Akuma is going to pin me down,” he winked, grinning at his own joke.

She rolled her eyes, “I wish she would stitch your mouth shut. Let’s go.”

Chat and Marinette flew over roof tops, easily sinking back into their old routine. Marinette couldn’t get over just how nice it felt knowing someone had her back again. And not just someone, but Chat, her best friend, her partner. She’d had too many close calls while he’d been away.

Soon, Chat was breaking off to go deal with the dolls, leaving Marinette to the Akumatised woman in the centre of the square. She was laughing maniacally as she threw out pin after pin at any fleeing pedestrian. Marinette prayed Alya had been smart enough to stay out of this one.

She surveyed the Akuma, trying to be discreet up high. Nothing on her body screamed source of evil power, but she persisted with her run-down. The woman had on a floral dress down to her knees, hair tied back in childlike pigtails. Her own skin was crocheted and stitched together, with rouge cheeks painted on in large circles. The sleeves of her dress were long and covered her hands down to the fingertips.

“I see you up there, Ladybug! Give up your Miraculous or I’ll come and rip it off you myself!” Marinette was snapped back to reality at the sound of the Akuma yelling up at her. She was no longer hidden, the Akuma having whipped round to be able to spot her in full view. “I am The Seamstress, and I will have my revenge on Gabriel Agreste. Someone else just needs your Miraculous before I can do it!”

Marinette leapt across to the next building, glimpsing Chat Noir still facing the army of rag dolls down below. Of course, Gabriel Agreste had caused this Akuma. It was bound to happen eventually with all the shops he’d been shutting down. Part of her kind of wanted to see what The Seamstress would do to him.

The Akuma surged upwards, pulling herself up by thick threads of string lassoed around a chimney. Marinette stepped back and spun her yoyo in front of her like a shield. All the while, she kept her gaze roaming over The Seamstress, searching for any sign of the Akumatised object.

There was a large crash from down below, and then Chat was propelling himself to the roof, rag dolls feebly scratching at the bottom of his baton.

“Well I’ll be yarned - I’m missing all the fun!” he smirked.

“Chat, don’t be sew inappropriate,” Marinette shot back, still with her eyes locked on the Akuma.

Out of the corner of her eye she caught Chat putting a hand to his chest dramatically and clutching at his heart, “My Lady, did you just pun for me?”

“Don’t get used to it,” she quipped before darting forwards out of The Seamstress’ attack of pins.

She swung herself up and over the Akuma, landing behind her to check her back for any weaknesses.

Suddenly, she saw the cuff of her sleeve twitch, before Chat was hailed with a barrage of pins - all of which he expertly dodged. He twirled his baton in front of him to deflect another onslaught, grinning. Marinette closely watched the hand of the Akuma while Chat kept her distracted. It seemed every time the pins would appear, she would fiddle with something beneath her cuff.

Mind made up, Marinette lunged for the Akuma’s hand, attempting to twist it up to release its grip on whatever she was holding. She barely skimmed her sleeve before she was roughly yanked back. Chat yelled too late as Marinette was buried under the cloth bodies of the Akuma’s victims.

She saw Chat run towards her, before his path was blocked by even more rag dolls. It seemed like they had managed to find a way up to the roof. Marinette spun her yoyo again to scatter her assailants, but they were relentless. Over the top of the dolls, she saw the trademark glowing mask hover briefly over the Akuma, before she turned towards Marinette, arm outstretched.

Marinette let out a yell and threw off the dolls closest to her. Not letting her brief moment of freedom pass her by, she hurled the yoyo up into the air.

“Lucky Charm!”

She caught the object, barely taking in its appearance, when the Akuma was in her face. Before she could move, the Akuma had let loose a host of pins, less than a foot away. Marinette had no time to think of any route around it, before there was a familiar shout. They rusted and clattered to the floor. Chat stood before her, hand returning to his side, and breathed heavily.

He turned towards her, clearly about to say something ridiculous, but she shouted, “Chat, duck!”

Without hesitation, her partner dropped to the ground as Marinette deflected more pins sent their way. The rag dolls had begun untangling themselves and were starting to advance again. She had to do something quick.

She looked down and spun the charm around in her hand. For once, she knew immediately what to do with it, without even having to look around. The tool was self explanatory - a seam ripper, designed to unpick unwanted stitches. Well, she could see a whole lot of unwanted stitches at the moment.

“Chat, hold off the mob,” she said, giving him a grateful smile. He saluted in return before jumping up and yelling more sewing puns at the approaching dolls.

She stared down the Akuma, who was currently fidgeting with something in her hand again. She smirked and lunged, this time picturing clearly what to do. She snapped out the charm at the last second, tearing through the stitches along the Akuma’s sleeve and revealing her cloth hand. Within its grasp was a pin cushion, crushed up in her fist and rapidly sprouting more pins that didn’t seem to pierce her at all.

The Akuma snarled. She tried to yank her hand back from Marinette, but the hero was too fast for her. Marinette hooked the cushion in the charm and swiped upwards, tearing it in half.

The resulting butterfly was apprehended and purified swiftly. Marinette threw the seam ripper into the air, sending her usual wave over the city. Chat held out his fist and Marinette was overcome with a such a sense of right that she hesitated before meeting it.

“We’re a seamless team, my lady,” he winked.

She huffed out a sigh. “Way to ruin the moment.”

“What moment? We were having a moment?” Chat sounded genuinely worried, frantically moving his arms about to fix whatever had just been broken. “Ladybug?”

Marinette couldn’t help it. She started to laugh, a real, snorting, stomach-aching laugh that he watched in quiet fascination. She blushed and attempted to cover up her snorts, but it was no use. “I’ve missed this, Chat,” she said after she managed to calm herself down. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure what had just happened, but the warmth on his face told her it didn’t matter anymore. They were a team again.

He reached a hand up and rubbed the back of his neck, grinning, “So, our first Akuma back together again, caused by Gabriel Agreste. Who would have thought it, huh?”

She shrugged, “I’m not too surprised. I can understand why it happened - I mean, just because he’s famous doesn’t me he can’t be cruel, does it?” Marinette’s smile faded away. It was all too close to home here. Over these past few months, she had often worried late into the night what could happen if she was ever so put down by the man that a butterfly came for her. She’d tried as hard as she could to make sure that that wouldn’t happen - even if her shop were to close. But still, it was unnerving.

“Ladybug, are you-” Chat’s ring beeped shrilly, alerting them both.

“We’d better go,” Ladybug said. She unfurled her yoyo and prepared to leave, shooting a last smile Chat’s way. “I’m glad to have you back, Kitty.”

***

Marinette thought she would try and find the others again, but a text from Alya told her not to bother. Apparently, Nino had gotten rag-dolled so Alya was taking him home to get an interview for the Ladyblog. She sent back a text affirming everything was fine on her end, and was about to send a follow up checking if she knew if Adrien was alright, before she saw the blond jogging up to her.

The sight of the model sent an unfair flash of resentment through her. She knew it wasn’t Adrien’s fault that the other designer had been Akumatised, but it was hard to separate him from the Agreste logo that constantly accompanied his portraits. She just needed to go home and think everything through, but it looked like she wouldn’t be allowed to just yet.

“Marinette! Are you okay?” he asked, worriedly looking her up and down. Everywhere his eyes landed seemed to burn; she couldn’t take his concern right now. “When the Akuma appeared I lost track of you.”

She bit back a retort, trying to calm down her nerves. It wasn’t his fault. It was Gabriel, not Adrien. He was just being a good friend. “I’m fine,” she snapped. The words came out more clipped than she intended, and she inwardly cringed as his concern turned to confusion.

“Are you sure?” he asked, frowning. “You don’t seem fine. What happened? Did the Akuma get you?”

It was all too much. She just kept seeing the face of the Akuma, twisted into painted cloth all because of Gabriel Agreste’s hunt for more. “No, Adrien. The Akuma didn’t get me, and you know what?” Marinette couldn’t hold back anymore. Words were spewing out of her like black pustules, infecting and slaughtering the air around her. Just as with Chloe, she couldn’t stop herself as anger surged over reason. “I wish it had. I wish it had got everyone in this city just so Gabriel Agreste could learn that there are consequences to his actions! I can’t understand how you can still work for him when you know exactly what he’s doing to people. People like me, your friend, and others all across the city.”

He stared at her, surprise and hurt etched into his face. His hands hung loosely at his sides, his mouth silently open as though he were going to say something then thought better of it.

She shook her head and pushed passed him, immediately feeling terrible. “I just...I’ve got to go home, Adrien. I’m sorry.” It was a kind of sickness taking route in her, making her feel as though she were about to vomit, pass out and scream all at once. The words she had just said to him - there was no going back from that. They were out now, and she regretted the way it had happened, but part of her still stood by what she’d said.

She just wished he would defend himself, say something like “It’s not my fault that my dad is doing this,” or “The family business has nothing to do with me anymore!” but he just stood there, watching her leave without saying a word.

***

Back in her apartment, Marinette threw herself down on the sofa and clutched at her pillow. She hadn’t even bothered to turn the lights on.

The entire walk home she’d kept replaying how crushed Adrien had looked when she had said all those things. She hoped there was still something salvageable between them, but for the moment she didn’t think she would be able to come up with anything better to say to him.

After everything, after the bankruptcies and the sell-outs, after the Akuma, Adrien still stood there, part of the shadow of the Agrestes, and Marinette was finding it very difficult to look past it.

A flash of red flew by in the corner of her eye and then Tikki was before her, no trace of the cookie she’d been devouring in Marinette’s bag. The Kwami scowled at her charge, no sympathy in her gaze. Marinette knew what was coming.

“Marinette, you know those things you said to Adrien were very unkind,” Tikki scolded, as close to anger she had ever seen her. “I hope you apologise to him - and soon - before you ruin everything you’ve built up between you.

“He didn’t deserve what you said. You know that what Gabriel is doing has nothing to do with him, even if he is working with him! And you have no right to assume him position in it - none at all!” The Kwami ended her speech, still frowning at Marinette.

“But everything his dad’s done-”

“Exactly - his dad, not him,” Tikki corrected. “Don’t you see how hard that must be for him?” The Kwami frowned, but it softened as Marinette’s face crumpled.

“You’re right, Tikki,” Marinette choked, throat tightening. Tikki’s words hit home as she realized what she’d done. “I’ve ruined everything. Even if he doesn’t hate me, he won’t want to keep pretending to have dated me. He was holding his dad off - he told all of us that he was going to try hard to stop Gabriel from doing this, but I just…” she broke off, tears beginning to pool and drift silently down her face. “I’ve doomed myself now. I was so cruel to him. He looked so broken when I brought up his dad. I don’t know what to do, Tikki. What can I do?”

Tikki smiled softly and stroked Marinette’s face. “Only you have the answer to that, Mari. I believe you’ll do the right thing, or else you wouldn’t be Ladybug. You wouldn’t be you.

***

Adrien didn’t bother going to his room when he arrived home. Instead, he marched straight to his father’s office, passed Nathalie’s protests, and pushed open the door.

Since being rebuked by Marinette, he found himself completely unable to come up with any kind of response. There was no counter-argument he could make, no way to stick up for himself while he was still obediently modelling for the very company trying to trample on his friend’s - and many others’ - business.

He couldn’t deny that what Marinette had said to him had hurt. God no, it had crushed him not only to know that was what she thought of him, but also because what she thought was right. He couldn’t defend against someone who was telling nothing but the truth, even if the truth devastated him.

So, Adrien had vowed on his way home to change. He would stride confidently into his father’s office and demand to be listened to. Gabriel would stop what he was doing right now, or Adrien would quit. His plan was solid, coming up with more branches and spreading different vines out for what more he could do to persuade his father, and he would be heard.

Only, his father wasn’t there.

Adrien took a confused look around the room, taking in his mother’s portrait and various objects scattered on the desk, but no Gabriel. Behind him, he heard the tell-tale sound of Nathalie approaching.

“If you’d have stopped for one moment before coming in here, you would have been informed that your father is away on business.”

“What?” Adrien asked, dumbfounded at how quickly his plan had fallen through. “I thought he didn’t go away until next week.”

Nathalie sent a cursory look down at her clipboard before returning her eyes to Adrien’s. “He was called away on urgent business. Something has happened at the branch in Milan that requires his assistance.”

Adrien just blinked at her, before wordlessly leaving the office and walking to his room on autopilot. He mumbled a quiet “thank you” to Nathalie at the top of the stairs, then pushed open his door.

Inside, his room was dark. He didn’t bother to turn on any lights - he felt it matched his mood appropriately. All he had wanted to do was show Marinette that he wasn’t merely a puppet for Gabriel to brandish. More than that, he wanted to prove it to himself, consequences be damned. What use was a father-son relationship when all that came out of it were occasional barked orders and a broken heart of a friend.

Adrien sank onto his bed, Plagg curling up quietly beside him. It was a large show of comfort from the Kwami that he hadn’t bothered Adrien for cheese or made any kind of snide remark since the exchange with Marinette. He’d merely offered him a small smile and the words “It’ll be okay, kid” before joining him the darkness of his duvet.

The words Marinette had said couldn’t stop replaying themselves in his head. The face she had made when she left - she couldn’t stand to be around him any longer. On top of that, the way Ladybug had acted after the Akuma had been defeated was bothering him. She’d been laughing, real, genuine laughter, until he’d brought up his father. Then she had turned cold. Distant. He couldn’t help but see a connection there. It seemed both of the important women in his life hated his father. Typical.

He barely noticed when he started drifting off to sleep, only waking up again hours later when the sky was dark and empty. He tried to bury himself back into the blissful ignorance of sleep, but his thoughts were moving too fast.

Marinette’s words and Ladybug’s face wouldn’t leave his mind. Eventually, he gave up and swung his legs onto the floor. He’d slept in his clothes, which were now rumpled and unkempt, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care. His movements jostled Plagg awake, who took him in blearily before coming to rest on Adrien’s shoulder.

“Hey, buddy,” Adrien whispered into the darkness. “Would you mind if we transformed?”

Plagg rolled his eyes in mock exasperation, but replied, “Sure, kid. Just say the words.”

Adrien figured he must really look bad for Plagg to agree without even the bribe of camembert. He smiled gratefully at the Kwami before transforming.

***

Paris was quiet when he reached his old perch on the Eiffel tower. He hadn’t bothered to check the time, but he figured it must have been late.

On the other side of the tower, Adrien could glimpse a hunched figure swinging their legs down at the city below. He smiled gently and walked over to her.

Ladybug jumped when he sat beside her, clearly having been deep in thought, before she returned her gaze outwards to the lights of the sleeping city.

“My Lady, we have to stop meeting like this,” Adrien joked softly. Ladybug’s lips twitched upwards slightly, but otherwise she showed no reaction to his presence.

They sat quietly for a long time, Adrien taking comfort in just having her there, and hoping that she could do the same. He had resigned himself for a silent night of mutual brooding until she opened her mouth and began speaking.

“I did something horrible today,” she admitted into the darkness. Adrien felt it was best to stay quiet and let her explain before jumping in, so he just listened as she continued. “I said something completely undeserved to a friend - if he even still is my friend. Or if we were in the first place?” She put her head in her hands and cursed. “I don’t know, Chat. What I said - it was so cruel. I’m not sure if there’s any coming back from it, or if he’ll just resent me forever now.” She turned to face him, eyes glistening before she rubbed at them violently.

He took all of her in, her slumped posture, her damp eyes and the downward tilt of her mouth and knew, with absolute certainty, that whoever it was, whatever she’d said, she would be forgiven. He told her as much, taking her hand in his, and said firmly, “I couldn’t hold a grudge against you for one second, Ladybug. I’m sure if this guy is worth anything, he’ll feel the same.” She laughed wetly, sending a tear streaking down her face. He brushed it away with a gentle touch. He wished, then, that there wasn’t the wall of identities between them. That he could truly feel her skin without the rough surface of his suit getting in the way. “If you apologise, I’m sure everything will go back to normal. He would be an idiot to think any less of you.”

She sniffed and squeezed his hand. “I hope you’re right, kitty. I don’t know if it will be that simple.”

“Of course I’m right! My advice is always purr-fect.”

Ladybug chuckled lowly at his joke, perking up his ears. He was glad he’d been able to get her to smile again.

“How about you, Chat?” she asked, still smiling softly. “Is everything okay on your end?”

Before she’d reminded him, Adrien had almost forgotten about his own problems, so intent on helping Ladybug think through hers. Only now did the words from earlier come flooding back. He felt the wave of disappointment at the absence of his father crash into him all over again, and his shoulders slumped in response.

“It’s not that big a deal. Just something a friend said,” he replied.

“It would seem we both have troubles with friends tonight, huh?” she half joked, squeezing his hand again. “Go on, you can tell me. I don’t want to be the only one exposing their secrets.”

His smile felt more like a grimace before he began explaining. It was hard telling her what had happened without revealing too many clues about himself, but in the end he managed to say enough to have her nodding in response.

“So your dad’s away again?” she asked. He’d told her of his hopes to speak to his father, but not why. He nodded in the affirmative, staring out at the city again, until he was roughly yanked to his feet.

Ladybug still held onto his hand, using it to drag him back from the ledge. She grinned, a trace of sadness behind it, but now clouded with a harsh determination.

“Let’s go, Chat,” she said. She pulled on his hand again, starting to lead them further away from the drop.

He let out a surprised laugh, frowning at her quizzically, “What are you on about? Go where?”

“Don’t you remember? Have you really been gone that long that you’ve forgotten the old ways, Chat Noir?” Ladybug chastised teasingly. They’d reached the furthest point from the edge now, and Ladybug unleashed her yoyo. She started spinning it, picking up speed.

“Wait, you’re not serious,” Chat deadpanned. It couldn’t be - they hadn’t done this since they were kids. She just looked at him, motioning for him to take out his baton. He did so, beginning to grin for real now.

“We are going to outrun our problems, Kitty. Just like before. No more homework, no more boys,” she gave him a sidelong look before saying, “no more dads.”

He laughed at her determined expression, still gripping her hand. “Let’s go, Bug.”

They ran.

They reached the edge of the tower and flung themselves off into the darkness below. They waited for as long as possible before casting out their respective weapons and slamming down onto rooftops. Ladybug released his hand and shouted “Race you to the Louvre!”

Watching her figure glide and sprint in front of him, Adrien couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he thought about how much he had missed his partner. He knew in that moment that, whatever happened, they would always have each other. He would make up with Marinette tomorrow and then he would finally begin to sort through everything waging war in his head.

Chapter Text

Adrien woke up the next morning fresh-faced and far too alert for someone who had spent most of the night running across Paris. Nathalie had left a note pinned to his door informing him of his father’s return flight home, and there were only a few hours before Gabriel Agreste would quietly slink back into his office.

Adrien needed to come up with a smart plan this time. He couldn’t just storm into the room like he tried to do yesterday - his father would never respect that. It was a testament to how upset Adrien had been before that he’d even considered it a good idea.

He dressed quickly before finding Nathalie and asking her to schedule him in for an appointment with his father. Then he fished out his phone and sent a series of texts to Alya, asking her to get things running on her end. Gabriel would not ignore him today.

An hour passed, leaving Adrien staring blankly at his phone. It had all been very dramatic when he first got up, but now all this waiting around was beginning to sap away his bluster. He still believed in what he was doing, he just wished he could get it over with faster. While he waited for the sound of Gabriel’s car to pull up through the gates, he involuntarily kept returning to the day before. Something that Marinette had said bugged him - not just how the words had hit true and deep, but the actual knowledge in them. Adrien had run into her not ten minutes after the Akuma had disappeared, so word had yet to spread about its cause. So how could she know it was Gabriel who had triggered it?

She’d already insisted the Akuma didn’t get to her, so there was no way for The Seamstress to have passed a message onto her somehow through her network of dolls. Maybe Alya was just that good, and she’d told Marinette already. But it just didn’t add up.

And there was more too - the things Ladybug had told him, about what she’d done. Could that really be a coincidence, or was there something more going on? Not to mention the spark that had flickered to life in Adrien at the sound of her laughter. He knew that laugh from somewhere, but-

The sound of tyres on gravel snapped Adrien back to attention. Plagg flew back into his pocket as the blond stood up and quickly opened his door. Nathalie hadn’t been a minute off Gabriel’s arrival time. Any second now, it would be time.

Gabriel Agreste strode through the doors of the mansion, not bothering to glance up to where his son stood at the top of the stairs, peering over the banister. The sound of his office door closing reverberated around the whole house, only doing more to increase Adrien’s tension.

“It’s now or never, Plagg,” Adrien whispered to the Kwami, more to psyche himself up than remind Plagg of what he already knew.

Then, Adrien was in front of the ornate doors, his father on the other side no doubt wondering how long it was going to take his son to work up the nerve and come in already. Adrien knocked.

“Enter,” Gabriel’s voice called out.

His father was perched in his usual desk chair, computer already whirring at his side. He wasted no time in getting settled after his trip away. His face was blank, utterly void of any hints about whether he suspected why Adrien was there, and his steely eyes offered nothing but a distinct coolness. Posture rigid, Adrien stepped forward and made a solid effort to mirror his father’s apparent aloofness.

“Father,” he began, keeping his gaze steady on the man in front of him. “I came here because I wanted to talk to you about the business strategies you’ve been utilizing these past months.”

Gabriel raised one eyebrow, still keeping his expression clear. “What more do you have to add since our discussion in the hallway after Miss Dupain-Cheng’s revelation?” he said coldly. Adrien resisted the urge to look away to his mother’s portrait, anywhere to avoid the intensity radiating from Gabriel. But that was why he was here - he needed some intensity right now.

Adrien’s voice was firm as he replied, “It’s come to my attention that your actions have been having additional effects. Not only are innocent people’s livelihoods being taken away by your business, but now those very people are being forced into an evil they can’t control due to your exploitation.”

“Adrien,” Gabriel said, tutting and shaking his head. “Each designer I have come across has been fairly compensated when they have been forthcoming. It is none of my doing if they are then too weak to hold off the consequences.”

“Consequences? Father, those people are used in their grief,” Adrien bristled, no longer caring if his face remained blank. “They have allowed you to take away their stores because you give them no other choice! You bully and you threaten, and you have a reputation for it. Nobody wants to risk what more could happen to them if you were to find their response undesirable.”

His father’s mask began to crack. Underneath, his scowl shone through, his tone becoming icy. “You are my son. I will not be disrespected by you. If you continue to talk this way, you may leave my office.”

Adrien approached the desk, lips drawn back in a flash of teeth. He couldn’t stand how his father was simply brushing everything off, only caring when Adrien personally insulted him. Well, he had much more where that came from. “I don’t care if I’m your son - someone needs to tell you this, and you clearly won’t listen to anyone unless they spell it out for you.” Gabriel pushed himself up from his chair, and for the first time Adrien realized he had grown taller than his father. “You need to stop treating people like they don’t matter. You need to stop taking away their jobs because you get some kind of sick kick out of it. I won’t stand by and let it happen anymore.”

Gabriel surged into Adrien’s face, and the blond resisted the urge to flinch back. It was the first time he had seen such pure rage on his father; gone was the cool exterior, now he was seeing through to the fury beneath. “This is the price of success, Adrien!” he snarled, eyes alight. “What can’t you see about that? Do you want to prosper in this world or not?”

“No, I don’t. Not if this is the way it’s done.”

Gabriel whirled back, pushing his chair out of the way as he came to truly stand in front of his son. “You have worked as the face of this company for years. You can’t tell me you never enjoyed it, never wanted the fame and wealth that it brought you. You didn’t want to succeed?”

Adrien looked at his father then, truly looked at him. He took in the madness in his gaze, the way his hands clenched and unclenched themselves periodically while he panted loudly for breath. Suddenly, all the fight drained out of Adrien. Before him stood a man so intent on winning that he’d lost all sense of what he was actually competing for. He turned to the door. He was drained.

“No, I didn’t. I just wanted a chance at a dad.” Gabriel stilled then, face contorting into a halfway point between confusion and anger, as if he didn’t know what to feel at Adrien’s words. The blond reached the study doors and pulled them open, feeling Plagg shift in his pocket. “I quit.”

***

Adrien’s steps took him to the front gates before he realized what he was doing. Usually he would have transformed by now, escaped his problems as Chat Noir and leapt across the city. But today it hadn’t even crossed his mind until that moment. The more he thought about it, the less appealing it seemed. Instead, he was overcome with an intense urge to just be Adrien.

He needed to tell her.

As he walked passed the gates and onto the street he expected to feel guilt or regret over what he’d said, but there was only relief. He was finally free of his father dictating his every move. He didn't care right now what that meant for his future or his home, only that there had been an unimaginable weight crushing him down his whole life, and now there wasn’t. He could stand tall.

He let out a breath, smiling slightly. What had he done? Inexplicably, he began to laugh, a hard, proper laugh, tears streaming down his face as he walked passed the bakery. To anyone around, he must have looked insane, but he couldn't find it in himself to care.

Before long, he had arrived. Through the shop window he could see Marinette as she pinned a jacket together, before she accidentally caught herself on something sharp and cursed. He grinned at the image and pushed open the doors. He needed to apologise to her, explain himself so he wouldn't lose her. She’d told him nothing but the truth, and he needed to prove he could make things better. For both of them.

At the sound of the bells chiming, Marinette looked around with a stitched, ready to greet the latest customer kind of smile. Upon seeing Adrien, however, she immediately froze.

Adrien started to open his mouth - to greet her, apologise, he wasn’t sure yet, at least say something - but, suddenly, she was right there. She stood in front of him, a loose piece of cloth trailing from a pin on her sleeve. The mannequin bust she had been working on toppled and fell to the floor, jacket and all, sending a scattering of needles across the shop. But she didn’t turn to look.

“Adrien!” she all but shouted, “You’re here - I mean, of course you’re here, you know you’re here. I mean-”

“Hey, hey, Mari,” Adrien tried to soothe her as she began working herself up into a frenzy. “It’s alright, really. Everything’s fine.”

She flapped her arms maniacally, cloth still attached, and said, “No, no, no! It’s not alright! Adrien, I am so sorry. I said such awful things to you and-”

“No, Mari, listen-”

“And now you’re here, but I wanted to be the one to go to you, I need to apologise. I wanted to show you that I’ll do anything to be forgiven. I am so sorry, Adrien, please-”

“Mari-”

“You didn’t deserve any of what I said. I was just - just mad and upset, and I took it out on you, which isn’t okay - could never be okay.” Her arms were moving at an increasing pace as she became more desperate for him to hear all she had to say. “I know none of what’s going on is your fault. You were being so kind to me and the cafe, but I just-”

Marinette!” Adrien shouted. He gripped hold of her wrists so her arms would stop flailing. “Marinette. I quit.”

***

The words registered slowly in Marinette’s head, arms still trapped in Adrien’s hold.

“You...what?” she asked, perplexed.

He laughed, eyes crinkling at her bemused expression. “I quit,” he stated simply. “I don’t work for my dad anymore. I’m no longer an Agreste model.” He frowned, “Well, I mean, I’m still an Agreste, so if I were to get modelling jobs somewhere else, then technically I could still be called-”

“You quit,” Marinette cut in. She couldn’t comprehend it. Nothing he was saying made any sense. He’d been working with his dad since as long as Marinette could remember, and she’d wanted to talk to him purposely to tell him not to quit. She couldn’t have him throwing everything away just because she had a little outburst. But he was just grinning .

“I sure did, princess.”

“But - Adrien no!” she cried, going to move her arms in distress but finding them still locked in place by his grip. She frowned, but continued, “I was going to tell you that I was being an idiot. Completely stupid and selfish. You didn’t need to do this for me! Now you’re out of a job, and you’re bound to have upset your father, and - and-” She grasped for something more to say, but there were just so many emotions going through her that she could barely organise them in her mind, let alone out-loud.

Adrien smiled softly, letting her words trail off before he brought her arms down between them, still holding onto her wrists. “Mari, everything you said was right. No, just wait okay?” he asked when she tried to speak. “You were completely honest when you said those things to me, I could see it. And yeah, sure, it didn’t make me feel too good at the time, but guess what?” She stared at him, disbelievingly. She wanted to stick up for him, tell him that she was wrong, but he just kept smiling. “Right now, I feel the best I’ve felt since I was a kid.”

She narrowed her eyes. Looking him up and down, she couldn’t catch any hint of a lie, exactly, but she was finding it incredibly difficult to accept his sudden change in heart. Only, had it really been so sudden? She thought back to when they were children, Adrien bemoaning the fact he couldn’t hang out with Nino because he was needed at a shoot. Or when they’d reunited that fateful evening, and Adrien hadn’t even questioned her before contradicting his father. His enthusiasm to help stop Gabriel in the cafe, his willingness to go along with her stupid dating plan.

“Are you getting it now?” he asked, hopeful. “I realised that I didn’t want to keep working for a man like that. I don’t care if he’s my dad or just some guy, Mari. What he’s doing isn’t right. I didn’t quit for you, even if I’m glad we can be fully on the same team now. I quit because you helped me see what is right. So will you stop looking at me like that?”

Marinette blinked, realising her mouth had opened slightly as he spoke, eyes growing wide.

“But what about your dad?” she asked finally allowing herself to accept that he was being honest. “Is he angry with you?”

Adrien released her wrist to rub the back of his neck, and Marinette blushed as she realised how long he’d been touching her. He quickly dropped his other hand from her too, and she could have sworn there was colour in his cheeks, but she dismissed it. Wishful thinking, she insisted.

“Well, my dad is...another matter,” he smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “But that’s nothing new. Maybe separating myself from his work could end up being a good thing. A chance to build up a real bond, instead of just feeling like colleagues, you know?”

She nodded, hoping he was right.

Suddenly, his eyes widened and he brought his hand back down from his neck, “Oh yeah! Don’t worry about your shop. I’ve told him to back off, and if he doesn’t, I’ve got it covered.” He winked.

Marinette was surprised that the thought hadn’t already crossed her mind. Truth be told, she was so focused on apologizing and then freaking out that she hadn’t even considered if anything could backfire on her. She found that less worrying than she expected.

“I believe you,” she said simply. Amazingly, she found she did. The weight was off her, at least for now, as she allowed her trust to place itself fully in Adrien’s lap. After all, he’d stood up for her before.

Marinette startled as she went to brush her hair out of her face and found a piece of cloth dangling unceremoniously from her arm. Adrien let out a low chuckle, and she sent a sharp glare his way. She told him to shut it before unpinning the material and going to right everything she’d knocked down earlier. She’d barely noticed when she’d done it, but now she inwardly sighed at her clumsiness.

“So, what’s this you’re working on?” Adrien asked. She looked at him, half-surprised at his interest. He raised his hands in innocence under her stare, protesting, “Hey, I’m not your competition anymore! I swear I won’t pass on your schemes to Old Gabe.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, before relenting. She placed everything back on the table and repinned hems where they had gone awry in the fall. She explained her design, showing him her preliminary sketches to her final design concepts, growing more and more animated with each turn of the page. To her joy, Adrien seemed to get just as into it as her, complimenting her ideas and even making a few suggestions, which Marinette was quick to scribble down. All his years in the fashion world had taught him about more than just looking pretty.

Marinette was barely aware of the time going by. Soon enough, Adrien was asking to see more of her designs, and they were working together to brainstorm on the next few pages of her sketchbook. She got back on the jacket, implementing extra tweaks they had discussed and laughed at a ridiculous sewing pun. He repeated a couple of Chat’s from the Akuma fight the day before, and Marinette internally chastised herself for falling for not one, but two idiots.

Wait, what? She paused at the sewing machine, letting Adrien’s latest joke wash over her. Had she really just thought that? She scrambled to reason with her mind, insisting that No, no way. Not going there.

She realised suddenly that she must have missed something as Adrien was looking at her quizzically. She smiled apologetically, turning to say something, but-

“Are you two back together?” Nathaniel half-screamed in excitement. He stood in the doorway to the back room, box in hand and face lit up in hopeful wonder.

Marinette’s face flamed. She stuttered out her protests, mingling with Adrien’s own.

“No way! We’re not-”

“Of course not, how could you-”

“I mean, it’s just ridiculous that you would assume-”

Nathaniel’s face fell, but the smile didn’t fade completely. He gave Marinette a knowing look as he said “Sorry, my mistake.”

He retreated back to his boxes, leaving Marinette and Adrien still talking over each other in a panic.

She turned to him in bewilderment, aiming to convey a What gave him that idea? Kind of thing, but when she looked, he had his eyes cast down, face tinted a red she could feel still colouring her own face. She would have to give Nathaniel a talking to.

***

The rest of the day passed by quickly, Marinette finishing up the beginnings of the jacket while Adrien flicked through some of Nathaniel’s old comics.

Nathaniel had gone home over an hour ago, and Marinette should have closed up around the same time, but she’d been so focused on her work that she’d barely noticed her surroundings. It was only when she’d finished hemming the final seams that she looked at the time, then guiltily over towards Adrien.

“Sorry for making you stay so late,” she said, clearing away her supplies. She finally began closing down for the night, flipping the sign over the door.

“I don’t mind,” he replied. He laughed awkwardly, “Besides, it’s not like I’m in a huge rush to get home.”

Marinette inwardly cringed at herself. No wonder he’d stayed here the whole time.

Suddenly, an idea struck. She didn’t think before she was asking, “Do you want to come have dinner at my place?”

“Marinette!” Adrien smirked, “Is it true? Are we really getting back together?” He ducked with a scream as she threw a thimble at his head.

“Not like that, you idiot!” she exclaimed, trying to dampen down the blush. “Just, you know. I still feel partially responsible for all this.”

He walked towards her and began helping her put things away. She wordlessly pointed at the designated place for everything he picked up. “We’ve been over this, Mari,” he said as he folded up some fabric sheets. “It’s not your fault.”

“I know, I just want to offer you something nice to take your mind off it. So, what do you think?” If Marinette could have told her fourteen-year-old self that Adrien Agreste might be coming round for dinner, she was sure she would have exploded. But now, all she saw was a big dork with nowhere to go.

“It sounds amazing,” he grinned.

***

The lights to Marinette’s apartment flickered on, illuminating the clothes and old sketches strewn around the living room. She immediately grimaced, wishing she’d remembered to tidy up the day before. She tried to shield the mess with her body as Adrien followed in after her, but it was literally spread everywhere.

He let out a low whistle as he took it all in. “I see someone’s a bit untidy,” he mocked.

She pushed him out the way as she gathered up the clothes and papers, sticking her tongue out.

“Don’t offend the cook, you ingrate,” she said, and dumped everything behind her bedroom door. She ignored the look he gave her as she turned back around and walked into the kitchen. “So, any preferences, or should I just make whatever?”

“Whatever sounds perfect. Thank you, Marinette.” He gave her a genuine smile then, filled with relief and something warmer. She looked back, remembering him as a teenager, kind but so unattainable that this kind of thing had always remained a fantasy. Until now. Only, she’d never really pictured it like this.

As a girl, Marinette had planned out her romance like the plot of a movie. She would pine for Adrien, unrequited, until he finally saw her for the vision she was. They would fall in love against the backdrop of the city skyline, living happily ever after.

Looking at Adrien trying to work out the right amount of spaghetti for two people while hiding out from his father was not what she’d had in mind.

While his back was turned, she allowed Tikki to flit out of her bag before walking up behind him. “Give me that, you idiot,” she said as she snatched the packet from his hands. “God, what did you do at college if you can’t even cook pasta?”

“Hey! I can cook,” he protested, trying to grab the spaghetti back. She darted away from him, measuring out the amount before dumping it into the pot. “Besides, I thought it was you who was the kitchen dud in the relationship.”

“As if,” she snorted. She tipped in the hot water, then started on the sauce. “Just you wait, Mr Agreste. I’ll show you.” She flicked the spoon out aggressively in mock irritation, forgetting the sauce coating it. He screamed and ran out of the kitchen, bemoaning his now red-stained t-shirt. She gasped, stuttering out frantic apologies. She was such an idiot sometimes.

“Mari, it’s okay,” he reassured, tentatively entering the kitchen again. “Don’t worry.” He grinned, and her apologies stopped short as she saw his hand dart out. Before she could move, he’d swiped his sauce-dipped finger across the bridge of her nose, leaving her with a war-paint stripe of tomato bleeding down her face. She yelled, brandishing the spoon again, as he tried to make a hasty retreat out the room.

***

The dinner was a success - despite the spattering of sauce across the counter. The first bite had had her smirking in triumph as she watched Adrien take it in, having to admit his mistake in mocking her cooking.

Afterwards, he helped wash up - forcing her to concede her own earlier argument about Adrien’s uselessness in chores - and then they spent some time deliberating movies to watch. It all seemed so natural, so domestic, that Marinette kicked her old-self for being so stupid. Adrien wasn’t some perfect model, he was just a guy with a love of dumb films and puns.

In the end, they settled on Howl’s Moving Castle, flopping onto the sofa with a bag of popcorn and about four blankets. The sun had long since set, and they turned the lights off for ‘full immersion’. Tikki was off somewhere, likely in Marinette’s room, and she tried not to feel bad for leaving her alone this evening. Beside her, Adrien shifted into a more comfortable position, legs brushing hers under the blankets. She smiled softly. She was glad she’d offered him a place to go after all that had happened. It was the least she could do, considering the whole ruse between them.

The film was nearing the end, castle falling apart, when she felt Adrien’s head droop onto her shoulder. His eyes were closed, his body curled up tight. The blankets began slipping off his shoulder, so Marinette automatically tucked him back in.  For the remainder of the movie, he stayed like that, sleeping against her, and she found herself less flustered and more just warm. It felt right, comfortable, like this.

The credits came on screen and Marinette debated leaving him there or not. After a few minutes, she gently shook his arm to wake him up. “Hey, sleepy,” she whispered. “Want me to set you up here?”

Adrien groaned and wiped a hand across his face before opening his eyes wide. He sat up, sending the blanket to the floor, and said, “No, it’s fine. I can just go.”

She shook her head firmly, “No way. Come on, I’ve got some of my dad’s old stuff you can put on. I’ll go grab it, and bring you a pillow.” She waved off his protests as she extracted herself from the deep crease their bodies had made in the sofa. She walked into her room and rummaged through her drawers until she fished out an old t-shirt, then got a pillow.

When she came back out, Adrien was just leaving the bathroom, still looking tired but more aware of his surroundings. She handed him the bundle of things, apologising for the t-shirt and once again shutting down his objections. She paused before going back to her room.

“Thank you, Adrien,” she said lowly into the dim light. “Good night.”

Chapter Text

A week had passed since Adrien had spent the night at Marinette’s. Since then, she’d spoken to him almost every day, either through texting or when he would drop into the shop to say hi. She’d noticed after a while of talking to both Adrien and Chat that they consistently used the same cat emojis. She rolled her eyes.

A few times over the last couple of days, Adrien had picked her up from work during her lunch break and they’d gone back to the same cafe as with Alya and Nino. She couldn’t help but feel, after the third time this happened, that they weren’t really doing a great job at looking like they hated each other. But, for some reason, she just couldn’t bring herself to care. Similarly, patrols with Chat had picked up in their mood. Both of them were always excited to see each other, Marinette finding she still wasn’t over him being back. Every time she saw him, she was struck with how different he looked from when they were kids. There hadn’t been another Akuma since The Seamstress, which they were both pleased about, and the patrols had been mostly devoid of trouble. This allowed for them to fill each other in on everything they hadn’t conveyed over text - to an extent, of course, but still enough for Marinette to know Chat had finally taken a stand against his father, and was in a good place right now.

She tried not to draw parallels with Adrien - wishful thinking. Just because two guys used the same puns and had similar stuff going on in their lives didn't make them the same person.

As she left for work, she absently replied to a ‘good morning’ message from Adrien before putting her phone away and reaching the store. When she entered, she immediately knew something was off.

Nathaniel stood in the doorway, for once there before her. This was an oddity in itself, but he wasn’t moving.

The sound of the bells above the door seemed to snap him out of his trance, jumping and turning to face his boss. His skin was ashen, freckles standing out clearly beneath his red eyes. In his hand was an envelope, pale and efficient looking.

Marinette didn’t need to know more than that.

Her heart stopped in her chest as she took the letter wordlessly from his hands and tore it open. If the Agreste seal on the front wasn’t enough, then the contents of it certainly cleared things up.

Dear Miss Dupain-Cheng, it read. She frantically skimmed down the page. Ah, there it was.

You are advised to tie off any loose ends and be ready to move out by the end of the month.

That one sentence said it all. He’d finally come for her.

She read the letter through over and over, waiting for it to fully sink in. Right now, all she felt was numb. End of the month. She had two weeks to get out or she would have a lawsuit on her hands. She couldn’t understand it.

Nathaniel stood behind her, trying to offer words of comfort, but she knew he was just as heartbroken as she was.

She tried to manifest the rage that had engulfed her before whenever she’d seen Gabriel’s name or heard about his abuse, but she only felt empty. There was a loud hollowness in her chest that blocked out everything else. And still the words wouldn’t settle in her mind.

Generously compensated, that was what it said if she were to comply. As if any amount of money would make this okay.

Somehow, something in her thought to call Alya. She was barely aware of what she said, but Alya understood.

“Don’t move, girl,” she heard from the other end of the phone. “We’re going to fix this.”

***

Over the next few days, Marinette was stuck in an empty trance. Nothing seemed to matter to her - even the impending deadline of leaving the store was blunted. She couldn’t wrap her head around what was going on, and so she continued to just exist, living underwater.

She was dimly aware that she’d only received one message from Adrien since the news (I’ll fix this. Trust me.) and only a single text from Chat to cancel their patrols for the week. She hoped he - they - were okay.

Maybe the blankness in her kept an Akuma from coming, she wasn’t sure. She didn’t really care. She’d spent so much of her time fighting against this exact scenario that now that it was here, she was...nothing.

She felt bad for Tikki. The Kwami had had to deal with her moping, but she’d never once complained or chastised. Tikki knew it wouldn’t help right now, so she was just simply there for her.

Alya had come round every day since the news, offering to make food or just sit and watch TV. Neither girl had suggested making a start on packing.

“Come on, Marinette,” Tikki encouraged. “There’s still hope.”

Marinette offered a watery smile before leaving for work. She didn’t care if it was closing down - she would not stop working there while she still had the chance.

Coming into the shop, she found Nathaniel smoothing down one of the dresses on display. Finally, after years working there, he’d mastered the art of arriving on time. It was a shame he wouldn’t be able to put it to more use after this week.

She took her regular place behind the desk, offering Nathaniel as cheery a greeting as she could manage, and set to work on her sketchbook. She may be empty, but she wouldn't give up.

Time passed slowly, both a blessing and a curse. The shop had more customers frequenting it than Marinette could ever remember coming in one day. She was sure she saw nearly every classmate from her old school. Only Chloe had yet to make an appearance. Each person bought something and offered encouragement to her and Nathaniel. They were all the same words - “Don't lose hope.”

She found it hard to comply.

***

“Hey, Dupain-Cheng!” Marinette sat up from her sketchbook sharply at the shout. Chloe stormed over to the desk, face a picture of contempt. She mentally prepared herself for gloating or insults, but what came out surprised her. “I guess those gloves weren’t completely hideous,” Chloe sniffed, not looking her in the eye. “I’ll take them.” The blond dropped the yellow gloves from the weeks before down on the counter.

Marinette looked at her in shock, catching Nathaniel’s eye who merely shook his head before turning back to pin a dress.

“Well?” Chloe demanded. “Is there a closing down sale or not?” There it was, one of Chloe’s jabs. But Marinette found she didn’t mind. The girl still refused to look her in the eye, cheeks slightly coloured, and Marinette knew she had good intentions. She smiled, the first genuine smile she’d had since receiving the letter, and scanned the gloves.

Just as she was about to hand over the bag and wish Chloe a ‘nice day,’ the blond coughed awkwardly, something Marinette could never remember happening before.

“You make him happy, right?” Chloe asked, finally meeting Marinette’s gaze. Her eyes were hard, but they lacked the edge they usually held.

“What do you mean?” Marinette said, confused. She couldn’t figure out where any of this was coming from.

“Adrien. He’s happy with you, isn’t he?” she clarified. Marinette felt her face heat, beginning to protest, but Chloe cut her off. “Look, I know you said you broke up, but there’s obviously still something there. He’s had a dumb enough look on his face recently to make that pretty damn clear.”

Marinette shook her head, and tried, “No-”

The other girl interrupted her again, “Just don’t hurt him, Cheng. You’ll be sorry if you do.” Then she stormed out of the store in much the same way as she’d come in, bag swinging at her side.

Marinette stared after her in shock, before she heard Nathaniel snicker. He looked away sharply at her glare.

***

It had been an hour since Alya had left the apartment. Marinette had been manning the store in the morning, and her friend had picked her up for lunch. She was just getting ready to get back to work, unwilling to extend her break more, when her phone rang.

Something in her hoped dimly that it was Chat Noir. She was so unused to not being in contact with him - even when he’d been away, they’d texted almost daily. But, they’d never phoned each other before; she wasn’t even sure the app could do it. She considered letting it go to voicemail, but Tikki forcefully picked it up and placed it in her hand.

Swiping across, she saw it was Nino calling and rolled her eyes. Her friends probably figured it was time for her to snap out of it at this point, and she almost agreed.

“Hello?”

“Mari, turn on the news.”

Marinette blinked in confusion. “What?” she asked. She didn’t have time to watch something now - she was meant to be back at work already.

“Just do it. Please.”

At the sound of the sincerity in Nino’s voice, she flicked over to the news.

Her breath caught.

“My father has been purposefully targeting the new and independent clothing lines across the city for the past few years now. It's time for him to stop.”

Adrien sat on the sofa of the news show. His words were blunt, spoken directly to the camera as Nadja Chamack began asking the next question.

She couldn't understand it. Why was he doing this? It will ruin his relationship with his dad. She dropped her phone and stared at the screen. This was his plan - he was fixing it for her.

Marinette couldn’t help it. She started to cry.

They were the first tears she had shed since the letter, and all of the emotions she’d been suppressing the last few days came pouring out of her. She sunk onto the sofa. Adrien was speaking again, addressing the whole city as he explained everything Gabriel had been doing.

She felt Tikki brush her tears away with her paw, but more kept coming. Adrien never once mentioned her name, but he didn’t need to. This wasn’t just for her. This was for everyone who had been affected by his father, everyone on the list to shut down. She hoped the woman behind The Seamstress was watching this.

“Now, I’ve heard there’s been an uprising in support on the website dedicated to the heroes of Paris, The Ladyblog,” Nadja said. “What more can you tell me about this? How much input has Chat Noir had in it all?”

Marinette let out a sob, scrambling for her phone to pull up the site. Sure enough, plastered across the top of the screen were the words “SAVE OUR STORES”. Underneath, Marinette saw through watery eyes what must have been thousands of messages of support. Each comment was either condemning Gabriel or rallying the affected designers, and at the side was a link to a fundraiser page dedicated to helping the victims get up and running again.

Beside the header was an image of Chat holding a sign echoing the title. Marinette’s cries grew louder, raspy and broken, as she pulled up the only person she could think to call right now. She opened the app and found a small phone button next to her partner’s name. She waited with baited breath for Chat to answer, but the app rang out.

On TV, the interview continued. “This is both a call to end the senseless attacks on the designers of our city, and to help raise the victims back up. Our citizens have been under attack from my father, so I see no reason why Chat Noir shouldn’t speak out for them,” Adrien was saying emphatically. “The support has spread across social media, stemming from the Ladyblog to other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. I hope this will force my father to face his actions and deal with the consequences.”

“Yes, I’ve seen the tags calling for a boycott of Agreste designs,” Nadja replied, leaning forward. “How does that make you feel, knowing you’re helping in the fall of your family business?”

Marinette didn’t need to see anymore. She knew Adrien didn’t care about being a part of the family business, he’d said so himself over a week ago. She unlocked her phone again and dialed Alya’s number.

By the time the other girl picked up, Marinette had managed to control her breathing more and only croaked a little as she demanded Alya come to her house right now.

“Are you happy, girl?” her friend asked. Marinette couldn’t understand why she would even need to ask such an obvious question.

“I just - I can’t believe you’ve done this, Alya,” she said softly into the phone. Her heart was still pounding, her brain still whirring loudly. “Please come here so I can talk to you in person. I don’t know what I can do to thank you enough, but…” Marinette trailed off as Alya started laughing.

She smiled into the phone as she said, “Please, Mari! You don’t need to thank me for this. It was all Adrien’s idea, anyway.” She heard some rustling as Alya continued, “I’m bringing cookies and blankets. Get ready for some wholesome friend-time.”

Marinette didn’t have the chance to insist she should at least be the one to provide snacks before Alya had hung up the phone. As always, once that girl set her mind on something, she couldn’t be dissuaded.

***

The car ride home from the interview was eerily quiet. After everything he’d said and done, it seemed a rather anticlimactic way to end. His heart still wouldn’t stop pounding.

Don’t get him wrong, he didn’t regret any of it. He was grateful for the simplicity, too, it just felt...strange, knowing for once he had his father on the back foot. He desperately hoped he’d done enough to help Marinette, and everyone else affected by his father.

He unlocked his phone to pass the time in the taxi ride back, and was immediately bombarded with messages and missed phone calls from - Ladybug? Why would she have called him? Unless, of course - Stop it, Adrien! Don’t make assumptions.

He scrolled through everything, many of the notifications from Marinette thanking him, and others from his friends either congratulating him or demanding answers. There was nothing from his father.

Come round to Mari’s, we’re baking cookies. I finally got her to stop crying - Alya

The message pinged itself to the top of the screen, unmissable in the swarm of everything else. Adrien thought for a second or two before giving the driver Marinette’s address. It would be good to see her again after so long - plus, he needed to check he’d actually done the right thing.

He’d wanted to tell her his plan almost as soon as he came up with it, but Alya had been adamant it was a surprise. He could see where she was coming from - if it worked out, great, amazing, but if it didn’t, the last thing he wanted to do was give her false hope. So he had agreed to Alya’s ruling before they got to work on the details. She helped him spread the news across the Ladyblog, while he prepared for his interview. A part of him had remained reluctant to go through with it, the final sever to the thin cord connecting him and Gabriel. If he were to do the interview, he knew it would be the end of something big between them.

But Adrien had warned him something would happen if he didn’t stop. His father just hadn’t listened.

Besides, the many, many messages of thanks from Marinette were enough to tell him that he’d made the right choice. He wished he’d been able to see her more after she got the letter, but things had been moving too fast by then. He was managing multiple social media platforms, ensuring the information got to the right places at the right time, and pre-recording interviews at various news stations. He’d promised Nadja the live deal, though.

The car pulled up at Marinette’s place just as he was replying to Alya. He couldn’t think of what he would say to Marinette. It had just never crossed his mind, after all the planning of the actual thing. He hoped he wouldn’t make a fool of himself. He rang the bell, and only had to wait a few seconds before the door was flung open by Nino.

“Dude!” his friend exclaimed. He turned his head back to the house and yelled, “Adrien’s here!”

He could have sworn he heard a muffled shriek and clatter from the kitchen, but before he could ask, there she was.

Marinette stood in front of him, apron covered in flower and eyes puffy, as though she had only recently stopped crying. Despite this, she had a huge smile tugging at her lips, threatening to burst into a full-on grin. They stared at each other for a moment before Alya came bursting through and yanked Adrien properly inside.

“Stop making eyes at each other across the room, you freaks. Come and eat cookies.”

Adrien coloured at her remark, and he noticed Marinette ducked her head down. Interesting.

He walked over to the kitchen with her to collect the snacks while Alya and Nino went to pick out a movie. He heard some intense whispering going on between them until the kitchen door swung closed behind him. Alone in the kitchen with Marinette, he wracked his brain for something to say. The way she was looking at him left him off guard.

“So, let’s take a look at these bis-cats,” he said. He didn’t know why, it just sort of...happened. She stared at him blankly before cracking.

“I can’t believe you, Adrien,” she laughed, shaking her head. “After everything, and you begin with a cat pun.”

“Just thought I’d slip one in there for good mew-sure. They’re always a-paw-priate,” he winked, beginning to feel more at ease. She half-heartedly flicked some flower off the counter onto him, then turned to face him properly, smile now gone.

“Adrien, what you did…” she trailed off, moving to lean back on the counter and hugged her arms around herself. “It was just amazing. I don’t know how I can ever make it up to you. You - you put everything on the line for me today and I…” she uncrossed her arms, eyes turning fierce. “Thank you, Adrien. No matter how cheesy it sounds, I am forever in your debt.”

He brought his hand up to rub the back of his neck awkwardly, unsure of how to handle the situation. He knew she would never have to do anything in return - he hadn’t done it for that. One look at her, and he would do whatever she asked. But, he didn’t know if now was the right time to say that. Not if she didn’t feel the same way.

“Honestly, Mari, no thanks required,” he said, cheeks heating slightly at the intensity of her stare. “I warned my dad, and, well, nothing changed. So me and Alya - it was mostly Alya! Thank her more - we decided it was time to make him stop.”

“What do you think your dad will do now?” she asked, for once not apologising. He smiled a little.

“Not certain. I mean, it’s possible he’ll see the error of his ways. It’s also possible he’ll just see the fall in profits and try a new tactic. Either way, I think he’ll stop with this one.”

She smiled and came to stand beside him so they were both leaning against the counter, shoulders brushing. She said, “Thank you.”

His heart started beating faster at the proximity, but he tried to remain calm. “No purr-blem.”

She hit her shoulder into his arm, groaning, “That was awful! Please stop.” She swiped her hand across the front of her apron and smeared a dusting of flour across his nose. He didn’t even bother to dodge it, just grinned at her scrunched up expression. She looked truly happy. “How was the interview, anyway?” she asked, wiping the rest of the flour onto his shirt. “I missed the beginning, since nobody told me it was happening.” She levelled him with a glare.
Adrien raised his hands in innocence, explaining Alya’s plan to keep it a secret. She just scowled.

“The interview was pretty terrifying.”

“What? Really?” she asked, sounding shocked. “You’ve always seemed fine in them before - I mean, not that I’ve watched your interviews or anything, but-”

She cut herself off, face reddening. For her sake, he chose to ignore it. “Well, yeah, when they’re just regular interviews about modelling or weird questions about my love life, I can generally handle it. It’s just it was different today, you know?

“I’m not used to speaking outright against my father to begin with, so to be saying all that stuff live on TV felt a bit surreal. They’re the kind of things I’ve only ever thought about in my head, or maybe told Nino.” He grinned and rubbed his neck again. “Plus, I knew that I would probably have a lot of people tuning in who know me, or at least know of me. Fans or designers, and even our old classmates. It was a bit intimidating to start off with.”

All the time he was speaking, Marinette just listened. She didn’t try to interrupt or contradict what he was saying, only giving the occasional nod to show she was paying attention. Once she saw he’d finished, she took his hand and squeezed tight.

“Well, I thought you were claw-some.”

And with that, all the tension blew out of him. He started laughing and pulled her into a hug. He didn’t care if she heard how fast his heart was going, or how much flour she was going to leave on his clothes. It all struck him in that one moment. Everything between them, all that these few weeks had brought them. He was falling in love with her.

After a while, she pulled back, just slightly, eyes glistening. He looked at her, confessions wanting to spill out, but he held them back. Just for now, just until he knew for sure who was standing in front of him.

Their noses were almost touching, barely an inch apart, and for a second he could have sworn she leant in. Suddenly, the door was slammed open by Alya, inexplicably trying to drag Nino away from the kitchen, despite the racket she’d just made. He was whining about wanting snacks, but stopped abruptly when he saw Marinette and Adrien. They had sprung apart as soon as the doors opened, but Adrien could feel the bright warmth on his cheeks, and a glance at Marinette told him she wasn’t doing any better.

Nino and Alya smirked in unison and he had the intense urge to strangle them both.

Chapter Text

The days after the interview left Adrien’s head spinning. There was so much to do - dealing with the press, running the campaign, halting the deadline on the letter. He had yet to see his father.

And on top of all of it was the knowledge that he had fallen for Marinette. The girl who sat behind him in class for years. The girl who, he suspected, he might have always been in love with. He was still reluctant to force Ladybug into revealing anything she didn’t want to, but the mixture of guilt and excitement was eating him up.

“Plagg, what if Marinette isn’t Ladybug?” Adrien asked, head hanging off the bed as he stared at the ceiling. “I mean, there have been so many times where I’ve been certain who she was, but what if they were all just massive, weird coincidences?”

Plagg sighed dramatically and flopped down on the pillow. “I have never understood your weird mating rituals. Just get on with it already!” he complained.

“For example,” Adrien continued as if Plagg hadn’t spoken. “Marinette knew who caused The Seamstress, but it’s possible that the word just got out quickly. If that’s the case, then doesn’t that make me majorly disloyal to Ladybug? We’ve grown so close, and I’ve always known I was in love with her. So aren’t I technically cheating? In a kind of a way?”

He turned his head so he was eye-level with Plagg, who remained disinterested in the whole thing. When Adrien refused to drop his gaze, the Kwami finally relented. “Fine! If you want my advice, just ask her. You’ll be able to tell from her reaction - easy.”

Adrien groaned, “But that’s the whole problem! She still doesn’t want me to know, so if it is her I’ve now betrayed her trust by figuring it out. I can’t just confront her with it.” He let out an anguished moan. He glanced towards the clock and cursed. Patrol was meant to be starting in less than five minutes and he needed to compose himself before he saw her.

Hoping to clear his head a little, he splashed some water in his face before transforming. Ladybug would probably be at the Tower by now. He hadn’t seen her since the whole ordeal with Marinette’s business, and he needed to apologise in person for not getting in touch sooner. Unless, of course, he’d just seen her the other day after the interview. Shut up, Adrien!

Sure enough, when he arrived at their meeting spot she was already there, swinging her legs over the edge of the roof. She turned towards him at the sound of his steps, beaming.

“Look what the cat dragged in!” she said as she stood up.

“Purr-lease, My Lady,” he replied, bowing and kissing her hand as usual. Halfway through the move, his face flushed, imagining it was Marinette he’d been doing this to for so long. Well, she hadn’t complained yet. He straightened and gave her a wink, blush be damned.

“I need to talk to you,” she said. She pulled her hand back to her side and sat down again, patting the ground next to her.

Suddenly, he remember the missed call he’d had a few days ago during the interview. She’d texted him later and insisted it was nothing, but he wasn’t so sure. It had never happened before, for whatever reason, so something must have compelled her to do it. Inside, a tiny voice was reminding him of the timing of it. But he needed to slow down - it didn’t prove anything.

“So, I’d like to apologise for the phone call,” she said. “It was just a kind of spur of the moment thing, so I hope it didn’t bother you.”

Adrien looked at her quizzically. “My Lady, you could never bother me. Especially not with something like that.”

She smiled and rocked her shoulder into his. “Quit flirting, you furball.”

“No, I’m serious!” he said, wanting her to understand. “Phone me, throw rocks at my window, blast me a ballad from your boombox - you won’t annoy me.” He put his hand down so their fingers were just touching. He looked at her silhouette against the lights of Paris, shining in the darkness. Her hair blew softly in the wind and her eyes seemed to glow as they crinkled into a smile. He hoped desperately that his suspicions were correct or else he was well and truly fucked.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied. “So, how have things been lately? Busy, I’m guessing, since I haven’t seen you in a while.”

He let out a sigh and tried to figure out how to word his answer. As much as he wanted her to know, he still needed to protect his identity if that was what she wanted. “Very busy. But on the bright side, it’s been worth it.”

“Your dad’s not annoying you again, is he?”

A grin broke out across his face. He hadn’t see Gabriel Agreste in almost two weeks now, and it was liberating. A part of him hoped that maybe there was still something to be salvaged there, but for now he was enjoying the space. “No, pretty much the opposite. I think I might have finally broken free.”

She gripped his hand and turned to towards him in excitement. “Chat, that’s amazing!” Her eyes shone in the darkness and he looked at her fondly.

After that, they had to properly start patrol. They split up for a while, before meeting again to report anything of interest. As it turned out, Paris was pretty quiet at the moment, and so they opted to stick together for the next half of the patrol to make it more interesting.

As they raced over rooftops, he heard Ladybug whoop and cheer in excitement. She was vibrant, lighting up the city. He surged up to join her, racing along beside her as she whipped across to the next building. She smiled widely at him as they continue putting each other through their paces.

“What’s got you so happy, Bug?” he shouted over the roar of the wind.

She grinned sheepishly, almost overtaking him before he caught up again. She yelled, “It’s nothing. Just, things are finally looking up.”

He dropped behind again as he narrowly avoided colliding with a chimney, too focused on the girl instead of his surroundings. “That doesn’t sound like nothing.” He wasn’t sure if she heard him or not, but he saw her laugh, noise carried away on the breeze, before they continued scanning the city below for any trouble.

***

It had been a couple of hours since patrol had started, and Adrien could feel his energy waning. Finally, they both seemed to skid to a stop at the same time, panting for breath.

They hadn’t come across anything too untoward, only splitting up the occasional drunken brawl. To be honest, it was rare that anything worthy of their presence actually happened when they did their night patrols, but it was a mixture of what ifs and the pure desire to see her that Adrien didn’t suggest calling them off.

“That was fun,” Ladybug said, having caught her breath. She walked over to him to lean against the wall at his side and looked him up and down. “You been out the game too long, Chat?”

Adrien straightened up from being doubled over in exhaustion and scowled. “Leave me alone,” he groaned, flopping back against the wall. “I’ve been off learning, not just slacking off and running around every night like some people.

She shuffled closer until they were eye to eye, looking serious. Adrien wondered for a second what was about to happen, before she poked him in the nose with a “Sure, Kitty.”

He let out a dramatic gasp. “You booped me!” he cried, “You actually just booped me!” She began laughing uncontrollably, close enough for Adrien to feel each breath ghost his face, each movement vibrate across his body. Suddenly, he didn’t find it funny anymore.

Ladybug seemed to notice his shift in demeanor, as her laughter trailed off. They stared at each other, eyes locked, as Ladybug whispered “Chat?”

He didn’t know what he was doing, only that Ladybug was in front of him, hair mussed from the run, and he had missed her. For a split second, he could have sworn she leant in, and his mind was suddenly thrown back to the other day in Marinette’s kitchen. He felt his body pitching forward in response, thoughts still lagging behind. Just as quickly as it had happened, Ladybug drew back. Her face almost matched the colour of her suit, and her eyes now refused to meet with his own.

Abruptly, she stepped away from the wall and pulled out her yoyo. “Good patrol, Chat Noir,” she said in a wobbly voice. Still, she wouldn’t look at him. “You see around - I mean, I’ll around - I mean, um…” she trailed off before flashing him an awkward smile and swung away.

“Bye…” Adrien said to the spot she’d just occupied. What had just happened?

***

Marinette’s heart was still pounding by the time she was back in her apartment.

On autopilot, she took off her shoes and turned on the TV. The background noise served as a kind of comfort, but the buzzing in her brain was enough to drive her crazy. Tikki flitted off somewhere as soon as the bag was open, getting the hint that, for now, Marinette needed some space.

She threw herself onto the sofa and tried to rationalise what she’d done. God, she must have looked like such an idiot. She’d literally just ran away from her problems. She’d left Chat standing there on the roof. He was probably just confused as her - more so, considering he had no clue what that had all been about. She let out a high screech and scrubbed her hands down her face.

She’d almost kissed Chat Noir. Her friend, her partner. She didn’t know what had come over her, only that at the time it had seemed like such a good idea.

Except, she kind of did know.

Sure, they’d parted as just best friends when he’d left for university, but the constant texting and joking - flirting - had changed them into something more than that. She was sure she wasn’t the only one who’d felt it, but she was yet to define what it was.

“Fuck,” she said out loud, summoning Tikki from her spot in the kitchen. Oh God, don’t think about the kitchen.

“Chin up, Marinette!” the Kwami encouraged, ever her cheerful self. “I’m sure if you just talk to Chat everything will work out fine.”

Talk to Chat. Yes, that would make sense. She hoped he didn’t think she left because of him. She had so much explaining to do.

But, what about Adrien?

As much as it pained her to think about, there had been that moment in the kitchen. She was almost certain they would have kissed if Alya hadn’t barged in. At least, she’d wanted to kiss him. So what was all that with Chat?

“Tikki, I don’t know what I’m doing,” she groaned, stuffing her face into a pillow. “I thought I had my life finally back on track, and then stupid boys happened.”

The Kwami came and perched herself on Marinette’s knee, resting a comforting hand on her leg. “Marinette, get it together,” she said sternly. “Narrow down what it is that’s so confusing, okay? Then we can work to figure it out as a team.”

Marinette peered over the top of the pillow, eyes resting on Tikki. She was so lucky to have such an understanding friend in her Kwami. She resisted the urge to squish her into a hug in favour of lowering the pillow. She took a deep breath.

“I feel fourteen again,” she said, half joking and half deadly serious. She wondered how she’d gotten herself into this mess - with the same boy who had caused her such heartache as a teenager.

Adrien. Kind, smart, dorky Adrien who had come back into her life in such a dramatic way that it had taken a while to fully sink in. By that point, he was just always there - coming to the store, taking her out for lunch, watching movies in her apartment. And she found herself smiling at just the thought of it.

She remembered how she’d tried to teach him how to bake a victoria sponge cake once. Starting off simple, she’d said. Then how he had managed to completely destroy her kitchen and mess up the cake so badly she’d given up and sent him to the shops to just buy one. That night on patrol Chat had bemoaned his lack of skill in the kitchen, cracking her up with his genuine disappointment. She’d promised to teach him one day, which had perked him right back up. From then on, there had been nothing but baking puns shouted across the streets of Paris.

Chat had kept her up late into the night for years, nonstop texting and joking around. Suddenly, he’d come back, and she could barely believe that even now. It had hurt her every time she patrolled the city without him, or battled an Akuma without her partner at her side.

All the time she was thinking Tikki just waited for her to speak. Finally, Marinette faced her.

“Tikki, am I in love with Adrien?”

The Kwami smiled, “It would seem that way, yes.”

Marinette loosed a breath. She said, “Tikki, am I also in love with Chat Noir?”

“It looks like it.”

“I’m going to have to speak to them, aren’t I?”

Tikki lazily flew up to rest on the pillow still in Marinette’s grip. She looked at her, eyes warm and wise, as she said, “It’s up to you, Mari. But that would probably be smart.”

***

As it turned out, Marinette didn’t have to wait long at all to see Chat again. All night, she stared up at the ceiling, trying to come up with what to say to him on their next patrol in a day’s time. She was still thinking it through by the time the sun had risen, Tikki fast asleep on her perch. She thought it was almost time to be getting up for work soon when suddenly a loud boom echoed down the street.

She raced out of bed and stared through the window. The noise had roused Tikki, who flew over just in time to see the building across the street shatter into shards of broken glass. Where it had once stood remained figures crystallized in glass, frozen in their fear as they tried to escape.

Marinette and Tikki locked eyes.

***

The Akuma was one of the easier ones to deal with. Neither Ladybug nor Chat had had to use their abilities, and Marinette was conflicted about whether she appreciated the extra time she now had with him or not.

Their initial meeting had been awkward, neither hero knowing how to act anymore. It wasn’t until Marinette was almost hit with a blast from the Akuma that she snapped herself out of it and started coming up with a plan. From there, things had flowed more smoothly, both more accustomed to fighting than trying to work through weird romance problems.

By the time the Akuma had been defeated, they were both panting in exhaustion. Chat stopped in front of her and held his fist out, smiling.

“Pound it,” he said happily, ring glowing bright with all the time he had left.

Marinette hesitated. She brought her hand up, but instead of meeting his fist in victory she gently lowered his arm.

He stared at her in confusion, eyes becoming unsure again. She didn’t want them to go back to feeling awkward, but she knew now was the best time to do it. She needed to get this out there, because if she didn’t she would have a lot more sleepless nights to deal with.

“Chat,” she began resolutely. “I’m ready to meet.”

He froze. Around them, the city carried on as usual, already over the latest attack, but the two of them were locked in a bubble. His fist fell loosely to his side.

“Chat?”

Still, he didn’t speak. He frowned slightly, as though trying to work something out, and it sent Marinette’s heart pounding again. She desperately hoped she was making the right decision.

“I mean face to face, you know, without the masks,” she continued, less sure of herself now. But she needed to keep going now she’d started. “I spoke to Tikki last night - she says it’s okay, as long as it’s just us who know.” She resisted the urge to poke him just to make sure he was still there. “Is that...okay?”

“Ladybug, I…” he finally said, trailing off. He looked in shock. He started moving his hands about, as though he didn’t know what to do with them.

“You don’t have to, obviously!” she corrected, becoming more uneasy with each tense second that passed. “It was just a thought, it’s not like-” She realised she was moving her hands now, too. Oh God, where do hands go?

“No, Ladybug!” Chat burst out. He gripped her wrists, ending both of their struggles. Marinette was hit with a wave of deja vu from back in her store, but she shook it off. Suddenly, Chat was beaming, almost shouting, “I would love to!”

“You would?” she asked, dazed. Was this really happening? Had she really just said all that? He was so close now, nose to nose, and she couldn’t help but think of the night before.

“What? Of course I would,” he insisted, looking confused that she would even ask such a thing. She could feel his hands trembling over hers - or maybe she was the one shaking. Everything was happening too fast after such a stretch of nothingness. He’d been frozen, and now he wouldn’t slow down. “What time - when do you want to? What made you do it? Holy shit, Ladybug, are we really doing this?”

“If you’re okay with it, then yes, we’re doing this,” she said, beginning to laugh. It was ridiculous, when she thought about it. She’d wanted to do this for so long, but she had always second guessed herself - it wasn’t professional, it was dangerous - but now those reasons seemed like nothing at all. It wasn’t professional to text each other pictures of cats and stupid puns; it was dangerous every time they came face to face with the latest Akuma.

She’d wasted so much time not knowing him.

Chat asked again when they could meet and all thoughts banished from Marinette’s head. She hadn’t thought it would happen this soon. She needed to come up with another plan. But, she couldn’t wait any longer now that it was out there.

“I’m meant to be at work right now,” she said, still vibrating with excitement and nerves. “But I’m free after five?”

Chat released her hands and scrubbed his face. After a few seconds of this, he finally said “That’s fine by me,” he tried to make it sound cool, she could tell, but the effect was ruined by the grin that split his face ear to ear. “Fuck, I can’t even come up with a pun!”

She laughed again, unclipping her yoyo. She’d done it, she’d said everything. Now all she could do was wait. “Wow, you must be flustered,” she joked. “I should probably get back now, but...I’ll see you later?”

He started nodding before he paused. “Wait, where are we meeting?”

Oh, yeah, she thought. She’d forgotten one of the key details. Her mind blanked at the prospect, and she was left with nothing to offer.

“How about the Eiffel Tower at six?” Chat suggested. He looked hopeful, maybe slightly unsure of himself, but above it all was sheer euphoria. “At the bottom, though, not where we usually meet as, well, us, ” he clarified, gesturing to their suits. “I don’t think my legs could take having to climb all those stairs.”

“Sounds purr-fect,” she managed. The pun came out wobbly and strangled, but he laughed all the same.

“See you there, My Lady.”

***

Marinette couldn’t focus.

She spent the whole day trying to design and sell clothes to the people who came in to congratulate her, but each time they left it was back to thinking about Chat. The moment when she’d first entered the store after Adrien’s interview had been incredible - Nathaniel had cried, she had cried. Then came all the customers, old school friends, parents, many of them crying, too.

She was thrilled at having her shop back as her own again - nothing could make her happier than sitting back behind her desk, sketchbook open in front of her. It was just that whenever she tried to pin a dress together she would inevitably end up stabbing herself. Or, when Nathaniel had asked for some water, she had immediately tripped and spilled the entire glass all over him.

“What’s got you so distracted today, Mari?” he had asked as she desperately tried to clean up the water.

So now she sat herself down, perfectly out of the way of anything else she could mess up, and waited for the clock to reach five.

She wished she’d been able to talk to Tikki after seeing Chat, but there hadn’t been any time. Still, she’d felt the Kwami’s encouraging pat before flitting back into her bag when she entered the store.

Staring at the blank page of her sketchbook, her mind wandered back to the upcoming meeting. Was she doing the right thing? Should she call it off? No, of course not! She was doing this for a reason. It wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision - it was time to know. She’d been having the same conversation with herself all day, constantly fluctuating between excitement and trepidation.

It’s just Chat, she reminded herself. He’s not going to judge you. Thinking of him, of the reason she was doing this, always calmed her back down again. She was fighting against years of determination to keep this secret that now it was coming out, it was hard to remember how to act.

Finally, the clock read ten to five and she couldn’t wait any longer. She called to Nathaniel that they were closing slightly early in ‘celebration,’ then darted around clearing everything away. By the time he came out, she had her coat on and was walking out the door with the last order to lock up after himself. He waved, puzzled.

***

She raced up to her apartment, shedding clothes before she’d even closed the door behind her.

“Tikki, I need something to wear,” she said, flustered. The Kwami flew ahead of her, opening up the cupboard. She had just under an hour before she would see him. She was slightly freaking out.

“Calm down, Mari!” Tikki insisted as she helped her look for a top. “It’s just Chat. He already knows who you are, when you think about it.”

Marinette threw tops aside - she was definitely not wearing one of her Chat Noir styled outfits. He would never let her live it down.

“I know, I know. It’s still just a big step,” she said, finally settling on a plain blue top with a white collar. “Do you think this is okay?”

“It’s perfect. You look amazing.” Tikki’s encouragement helped to slightly lighten the butterflies in her stomach now that the time was getting so close. She knew that what Tikki was saying was true. She and Chat were best friends. The only new thing would be his face, but her heart wouldn’t slow down no matter how much she reasoned with it.

Once she’d finished picking out her outfit, she hoped to have wasted enough time to be able to just go already. Unfortunately, the clock still read another half an hour before it was time to leave. She considered making something to eat, but just the thought of it sent her stomach to knots.

Maybe she would just go. If she walked slowly, she wouldn’t be too early. She needed to be moving to calm herself down, to do something other than wait around.

“Just leave, girl,” Tikki prompted understandingly. “I know you want to. It doesn’t hurt to be early.”

Mind made up, she smiled at Tikki before putting her coat on and walking through the door. She stopped short at the sight of the sudden downpour outside. It had gone unnoticed in all her stressing about the meeting, but now it sent her retreating back into the hallway.

“Shit, Tikki, where’s my umbrella?” she asked as she frantically threw her possessions around. Finally, after at least five minutes of searching, she uncovered an old, beaten up black umbrella buried under piles of old clothes and books. She stared for a second, surprised that she still had it after so many years. Glancing at the clock, she swore again, not giving the umbrella another thought as she opened it out into the rain.

She was glad the Kwami would be with her for support. Every step she took closer to the Tower sent her deeper and deeper into a pit of anticipation.

***

“Just go already!” Plagg yelled at Adrien as he debated yet another shirt to wear. It was finally happening, he was meeting Ladybug. He needed to make a good impression. Why was getting dressed so hard?

He still had a while before he needed to go, but obviously his excitement and nerves were getting to Plagg.

“I’ve just watched you change into seven different tops,” the Kwami berated. “You like fine. Just please get out.”

“Are you sure?” Adrien asked, beginning to freak out even more. “What if she sees me, then leaves? Or what if-”

Plagg rolled his eyes, trying to tug Adrien towards the door. “You have known this girl for how many years? Do you really think she would honestly do that?”

“I guess not…” Adrien admitted. He didn’t know why he was getting so nervous - wasn’t he the one who had been hoping to meet her since the beginning? She would never do any of the worst case scenarios running through his head. It was just disorientating knowing his fantasy would finally come true.

Relenting, Adrien allowed Plagg to drag him through the door.

***

Marinette reached the Tower in record time. Her feet had flown over the concrete, despite how she tried to slow her steps. She was early, but that was fine. She could wait.

She stood there, at the base of the Tower, for about thirty seconds before her head was whipping around in every direction. Which way would he be coming from? What would he be wearing? Should they have specified something to mark them as each other, like a white rose or whatever they wore in movies? Oh God, what if she couldn’t tell if it was him or not and she made a fool of herself!

The rain was picking up speed on the roof of the umbrella, and Marinette prayed it wouldn’t start leaking.

She checked the time. Five fifty-eight. He should be here by now.

She desperately stretched up to look passed all the swarming tourists - even on a rainy day, they were everywhere. She craned her neck for any sign of a blond head.

***

Adrien couldn’t believe it. He was going to be late, after everything.

He’d left the house with more than enough time to get to the Tower, but as soon as he’d closed the door he had started second guessing himself. He should have gone with the plain white shirt, he should change his jeans, and so on. Then it was back inside, tearing through the house for any trace of an umbrella at the sudden onslaught of rain. It had sent Plagg crazy. In the end, he’d given up, stuffing the Kwami back into his pocket and braving the weather as he was.

Finally, after jogging down streets and dodging cars, Adrien arrived at the Eiffel Tower, dripping wet and panting.

He flicked his gaze everywhere as he waited for a group of tourists to disperse.

***

The tourists finally moved. Marinette’s heart picked up its pace as they at last cleared the space in front of her.

She caught sight of blond hair. A white shirt. And suddenly she couldn’t breathe.

The umbrella dropped to the floor as her grip loosened. Her hands rose to her mouth as Adrien walked towards her, wide eyed and soaked. He looked like he’d run the whole way.

They both froze, just staring, until Adrien cracked a grin and then she couldn’t help it. She laughed. Uncontrollably and unattractively. She felt tears begin to slip down her cheeks as she looked at her Kitty without his mask on.

“Ladybug?” he asked, suddenly in front of her, hands raised to her face as though he needed to touch her to know that what he was seeing was real. She reached out and mussed his hair, destroying his parting until his forehead was covered. She couldn’t believe that she had never seen it before - after having such a crush on him at school, and still she hadn’t figured it out. It was only because she had gotten to truly know Adrien over these last few weeks that she wasn’t completely freaking out.

“I wanted it to be you,” she said, sniffing as her tears merged with the rainwater soaking into her skin. “I wanted it to be you so badly.”

Her chest ached for the boy in front of her. The boy who had confused her and annoyed her and and infatuated her for so long, all one in the same. She’d had her suspicions, but nothing could have prepared her for this.

He pulled her into a hug, so tight she could barely breathe. “I wanted it to be you, too,” he said into her hair. She grinned wetly and pulled her face back. She didn’t even think before she was kissing him.

Their mouths collided harshly, both of them having the idea at the same time. Their teeth clacked as their lips moved against each other, rivulets of water running down their faces, but she didn’t care. She softened it, revelled in it, as she thought about everything they’d been through and all he’d done for her. In that instant she was grateful for Gabriel Agreste and her dumb egging, or else this whole thing might have never happened.

It felt like she was in one of the movies they watched, the Eiffel Tower lighting up behind them, a rainstorm above. He held her tightly as she smiled against his lips. They were in their bubble again, separate from the world of tourists and cliches as she kissed her best friend, her first love.

That was, until a grumpy voice complained, “You’re squashing me!”

Adrien laughed, pressing his forehead to hers, panting slightly. She stepped back a fraction, smiling. He never broke contact.

“Marinette, I’d like you to meet Plagg,” Adrien introduced lowly so only they could hear. From inside his jacket, Plagg poked his head up, scowling.

“I told you human rituals are dumb. You almost killed me!”

“Sorry, he’s a bit of a dick,” Adrien lamented. Plagg frowned harder, sticking his tongue out at Adrien.

Marinette stared at the small black cat floating between them and glaring. He was adorable. “Don’t say that about him!” Marinette said, scolding the blond. “I’m sure he’s very sweet if you treat him right.” She lifted her hand and scratched Plagg under the chin. She marvelled at the way he purred, unused to seeing a Kwami that wasn’t Tikki. “Oh yeah, this is Tikki, by the way.” Marinette unclipped her bag, catching Adrien’s affronted expression at how quickly she’d sided against him with Plagg. Tikki flitted up under the cover of their bodies, which were still pressed together.

“Hello, Adrien,” Tikki smiled. “I’ve been waiting to meet you for a long time.”

Adrien let out a huff, “See Plagg? That’s the way you’re supposed to talk to people.” He gestured towards Marinette in irritation. “Why did you get the nice one?”

“Probably says something about our personalities,” she teased. She couldn’t stop smiling.

He grinned back, all traces of annoyance gone. “I knew it was you, by the way,” he said proudly. “Totally called it.”

“You did not!” she shouted, alerting a nearby tourist. “Not for sure.”

He raised a hand to rub his neck sheepishly. “Well, no, not for sure. But I was pretty certain.” He let out a barked laugh. “I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t have been, though.” He suddenly looked to the side and gasped, “Hey, is that my old umbrella?”

She smiled as the rain dripped down her hair. “Sorry I never gave it back.”

He didn’t reply, just smiled widely before lowering his mouth to hers.

Plagg didn’t interrupt them again, thankfully, and this time Marinette pulled back of her own accord. Her heart was fluttering wildly in her chest. “I think I love you, Chat Noir,” she whispered into the space where their breath met.

He locked eyes with her, not even hesitating as he spoke. “I think I love you too, Ladybug.”

The umbrella lay forgotten on the ground.