Adrien knows he is not a very competent human being when he’s really sick.
The first sign is there on Monday as a vague burning in his throat, followed later that day by a slightly runny nose. Nothing life threatening, really only a mild discomfort that does not impact him. The next day he starts coughing a little, just a small burst here and there when he gets that occasional tickle in his throat. His classmates show concern, but he assures them it’s just a minor cold and he’ll be fine, trying to assuage their worry.
It carries steadily on this level for a few days and it doesn’t bother him too much on patrols or during Akuma attacks. Which is nice, because anything beyond this and he’ll probably be useless. But Saturday is the turning point, and he wakes up feeling absolutely miserable. His breathing rattles in his lungs loudly, and he fears inhaling too quickly as it sets off a terrible bout of coughing. When this happens it rips his throat and leaves him dizzy with head pounding in pain.
He’s so tired, vaguely incoherent at some points and would love to crawl back into bed only minutes after getting up for the day, but they have patrol to do later. And sick or not, he would never pass up a chance to hang out with Ladybug. The sight of her alone could brighten most any of his sour moods. But when they met up later on that night, Ladybug immediately knows something is up and rounds on him. “Chat?” she asks, peering at him curiously as she walks closer along a Paris rooftop. “What’s wrong? You don’t look well.”
“It’s nothing, I’m fine,” he replies, but his voice immediately betrays him. Even to him it sounds congested and rough as a result of the coughing he’s done throughout the day, and he knows this will be a challenge to see how stubborn he can be.
“You’re not fine,” Ladybug bites out sternly, reaching up to feel his forehead. “Chaton, you have a fever, you need to be resting!” she insists. Her worrying is sweet and it makes his heart flutter happily, but he ultimately does not want to worry her. So he lies through his teeth.
“No I’m okay,” he responds, and it’s the quick inhale he takes to add ‘honestly’ that is his downfall, making his breath catch and sparking a spasm of rough coughs that render him totally useless. Ladybug’s face twists in concern as this leaves him doubled over, desperately trying to catch his breath between coughs while she supports him.
Her heart breaks at the wracking coughs that tear through him, loud and painful sounding, and she decides right then and there not to tolerate this. If she has to be the voice of reason and give him a little tough love, so be it. For the moment she remains silent, rubbing his back and keeping one arm around him for support until he catches his breath. Chat wheezes painfully once the coughing stops, gingerly standing upright while blobs of light swim and shift before his eyes. He puts a hand to his spinning head, prompting His Lady to put her foot down.
“Chat Noir,” she says soft, but sternly. “Go home right now. Not only is hopping rooftops the last thing you should be doing right now, it’s cold tonight, and that could make it so much worse. I will not have you pushing yourself like this, you need to rest. Am I clear?” she demands quietly, not with malice, but a furtive concern because the haze in his eyes is suddenly worse and his forehead is so warm.
Chat wants to argue, to protest that it wouldn’t be fair for her to finish patrol alone, but he feels so dizzy and terrible after the coughing that he couldn’t even verbally protest if he wanted to. He settles on a shaky nod, seeing relief paint her face and feeling it’s definitely worth it. “Thank you,” she breathes, setting a hand on his shoulder and peering up a him. “Do you need any help getting home? If it’s a ways off I can get you most of the way there.”
He shakes his head with a fond smile, he doesn’t want to trouble her any more. “It’s fine, My Lady,” he rasps, making them both wince at how bad his voice is after that last round. They exchange quiet goodbyes, Ladybug walking a few feet along the roof with him as she worries some parting advice. Have some soup, make sure to go to bed soon and wear something warm, take something for the fever, stay hydrated. He can’t help the smile that grows with each instruction, and he carefully stops and takes her hands in both of his own. “Thank you,” he says softly, his voice lacking the usual flirt and jest, leaving only his honest gratitude that she cares for him so deeply. His green eyes are hazy but do pretty well to convey how much it means to him.
Ladybug smiles back at the blonde, not her usual fond exasperation or coy smirk. It’s warm and caring and pure and reminds him so much of someone else, but in his addled state he can’t think of who. He’ll figure it out later, for now he relishes that open expression on her face, giving the back of her hand a kiss before releasing her and turning to go. She watches him walk towards the edge of the roof, and her heartbeat quickens to see him stumble a little. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, she needs to make sure he gets closer to home before letting him out of her sight. “Chat, wait,” she calls, beginning to walk towards him.
Chat turns around at her request, and while it’s not exactly a fast movement it’s still too quick for his near non-existent equilibrium. The world spins nauseatingly around him to the point where he doesn’t even feel himself tilting, he just sees the rooftop slope an unnatural angle. It only takes a few moments for his body, weak and tired from the acrobatics across the city, to call it quits. As his vision fades and sounds become muffled, the last thing he sees is Ladybug running full speed towards him, desperately throwing her yo-yo as he falls into open air above Paris streets.
- - - -
When Chat wakes up, it’s a slow, labored affair that seems akin to waiting for a long elevator ride, complete with the nauseating flip of his stomach when he hits the bottom floor. His senses come back in hazy bursts of light and sound, a dizzying array of sensations that almost makes him want to throw up because it’s just too much. But he soon he realizes there’s something wrapped around him, he thinks it’s a pair of arms. He starts to weakly struggle and the someone behind him soothes, “Easy, it’s just Marinette.”
At the familiar voice, he immediately stills his squirming and lets himself stay in her protective hold, as that little burst of albeit pathetic fight leaves him exhausted. He lays there for a few long moments as something nags at him for attention, eventually making him blink. That’s right, he hadn’t been with Marinette, he’d been with his crime fighting partner. He’s certain that was the last thing he remembers. “Where’s Ladybug?” he asks curiously.
“You just missed her,” Marinette replies. “She had to go, and she asked me to watch over you.”
“An Akuma??” Chat asks in alarm, trying to sit up. Was she out there fighting alone?
“No no, easy there,” the girl soothes, reeling him in with a soft pat to his shoulder and those gentle words. “No Akuma, she just had to go take care of something very important. Even if there was an Akuma, you’re in no shape to gallivanting off to her rescue,” Marinette chastises, albeit a very gentle reprimand.
The hero deflates, letting himself once more sag tiredly in her comfortable embrace. “That wouldn’t stop me,” he mumbles petulantly.
“I know,” Marinette sighs very quiet, sadness hovering in the air as she speaks. “You’re a good person Chaton. I’m sure you’d go off to save her even if you were on your last legs,” she tuts, pulling the blanket up further over his chest. Chat blinks as he realizes said blanket was wrapped around him, and his confusion does not go unnoticed. “Sorry, I wanted you to rest on my bed, but even with two people, getting an unconscious you through the window and down a ladder without hurting you was not happening.”
Something else suddenly occurs to him at this mention of 'two people.’ “I’m sorry she dumped me on you,” he mumbles sullenly, feeling an uncomfortable weight settle in his stomach knowing that she was seeing him so helpless like this.
“No Chat,” the girl immediately rebukes, soft but stern. “She didn’t 'dump’ you on me like some chore, she had to leave and she trusted me enough to ask me to watch over you. Which, by the way, I was very happy to do,” she adds. “I would never turn away a sick friend.”
Chat snorts at the attempt to make him feel better. He knows Ladybug has a life and she still had patrol to do, but she shouldn’t have burdened a civilian with his care taking, friend or not. “Still, I don’t want to be bother, I should go-”
“Don’t say that,” Marinette snaps quietly, surprising him and stopping his attempts to sit up. “You are never a bother, don’t even entertain such an idea. I’m just worried about you, so is Ladybug. You have no idea how scared I- she was when you passed out. You fell over the edge of a 10 story building, you know. She ran so fast, and she had to dive off to catch you. She just barely caught a railing with her yo-yo and you at the same time,” Marinette rambles, her arms closing tighter around him from behind as emotion trembles her voice. “And you were just dead weight by the time the yo-yo caught and she almost dropped you.”
Chat jerks when he feels her cheek rest on his head. “It was really scary, she almost lost you…” Marinette whispers shakily, the strength of upset in her voice suddenly resonating in his chest like a physical force.
Something in her tone makes his heart pound, and he’s not entirely sure why, but something is setting off alarm bells. Why does she sound so scared herself over a second hand story from Ladybug? Why does she know all these little details about the rescue? Wasn’t there a stammer somewhere, she’d said 'I’ instead of 'she’ at some point that he just now registers.
Suddenly his heart leaps into his throat and he realizes what his brain is trying to piece together. He swallows thickly against the lump in his throat, and he wonders why this thought had never crossed his mind the entire time he’s known Marinette. But suddenly it seems so alarmingly possible as he mulls over the deep and personal fear in her voice just now. “M-My Lady?” he asks hoarsely, a careful venture.
“Hm?” she mumbles softly, not quite catching on just yet. Until suddenly he hears her sharp intake of breath, catching in her throat like a heavy weight had been dropped on her chest. “What? N-no! Sorry what did you- I don’t-”
“Oh mon dieu,” Chat whispers, eyes wide as he tries to crane his head back to look at her surely alarmed eyes. “Marinette- You- You’re-”
“No!” the girl exclaims frantically, realizing right away she’s made another mistake because she shouldn’t even know what she’s denying right now. She backpedals, trying to fix her blunder and she’s really messed up now- “I- I mean-”
Chat sucks in a sharp breath before he can stop himself, and the action brings about another rough coughing fit that rips his lungs like a force.
Marinette squeaks a little and fusses between wanting to hold him closer and giving him room to breathe. She helps him sit up so he can hopefully get a better gasp of air, rubbing his back and whispering quietly but frantically to him, it’s okay, try to slow down, oh mon dieu Chat please breathe.
After what feels like an eternity the hero manages to get his coughing under control, taking a long, raspy wheeze of a breath and trying so hard not to incite another attack. Marinette is near tears, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his shoulder in relief that he can finally breathe, if only a little. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to get you riled up, are you okay?” she asks in a wobbly voice, sniffing.
“It’s okay, I’m fine,” he wheezes, his raspy words nearly non existent after the awful fit. He can’t take much more of this, and he’s sure his voice will go out the next time.
“Oh Chaton, you’re so sick,” she warbles in a tone that is just shy of breaking into tears. “I can’t believe you even came out for patrol, you’re in an absolutely state, you big idiot,” she chastises weakly, still hiding her eyes against him.
Somehow, Chat holds back the snort that wants to escape and avoids another round of coughing. “Princess…”
“I’m serious,” Marinette demands, picking her head up to glare at him with glossy eyes. “What were you thinking?”
“I wanted to see…” he trails off, his face pulling into a thoughtful frown as he eyes her, wondering if he should press the subject again.
Marinette stares back resiliently at him for a long moment, trying to keep up her no-nonsense glare that says don’t you dare even suggest it. But at his flushed face and pathetically inquiring eyes, her resolve breaks and Marinette lets out a big sigh. She realizes that it’s too late, he knows, and her ungraceful attempts at denial has made him even more sure. She’s terribly unkempt under scrutiny. “Okay,” she finally relents in a sigh, making Chat’s eyes widen. “I… I am..” She can’t even finish, but she knows by his slack jaw and incredulous expression that he understands.
Of all the scenarios and possibilities she’s imagined of him finding out who she is under the mask, she’s never come up with a good idea of how she thinks he’d react. He’s so sweet and kind to her as Marinette, she can’t imagine that he’d be disappointed, and she certainly was not ashamed in any way. But has he ever possibly considered that Marinette could be his Lady? Would he be happy that it was her?
Because Chat leans forward and wraps her in a hug so tight, squishing Marinette to him like his life depends on it. She blushes hotly for all of two seconds before he stifles a cough, his whole body tensing as he tries to fight off another fit.
Marinette sighs sadly, rubbing his back again and wishing she could soothe the burning coughs he was trying so hard to keep at bay. “Come on Chaton, come inside,” she advises gently, moving to stand and helping him up slowly. She steers the hero towards her window, holding it open while he carefully climbs down. She brings the blanket with her and descends after the blonde, shutting and latching the window. Chat sits on the bed and she throws the blanket around his shoulders, making sure it covers him as much as possible. “I’ll be right back. Are you hungry at all?” she asks, even though she knows eating anything would probably be too painful for his sore throat.
Chat confirms her suspicion, shaking his head as he pulls the blanket close in front of himself. “No, I’m fine.”
She nods before climbing down the ladder to leave the room. Chat finds himself sitting in silence, the quiet and solitude suddenly bringing up an array of images in his head as he reevaluates every interaction they’ve had together. Things that he thought only Ladybug had seen now included Marinette, and vice versa. The thoughts swirl around in his head, this particular dizziness having nothing to do with sickness but the ground shaking revelation.
Marinette is Ladybug. Marinette is Ladybug. Holy cheese and crackers Marinette is Ladybug.
His existential crisis comes to a halt when she comes back up through the trap door, holding a small wooden serving tray in her hands. She walks over to the foot of the ladder and holds it up carefully, and without needing to be asked, Chat takes it from her so she can climb up unhindered.
She carefully crawls over so she doesn’t jostle him and the contents of the tray. Close enough, she sits down in front of him and takes the tray, sorting through the supplies she’d brought. “Do you feel achey?” she asks, earning a nod. “Acetaminophen for that and the fever,” she says, shaking two tablets out of a bottle and handing it to him. She then uncaps a bottle of liquid medicine and measures into the cap, handing it to him. “For the cough, it should also help you sleep and it will probably knock you out in minutes.”
Chat takes this too, looking down at the little cup with disdain before tossing it back like a shot. He resists the urge to gag as the foul taste coats his mouth, just barely keeping it together because he’s not a little kid anymore, he should be able to handle this. Marinette smiles at his look of disgust, before handing him a mug. “Chamomile tea, good for sore throats and coughing. I wasn’t sure if you like plain tea, so there’s some lemon and honey in there.”
With a careful movement Chat takes the mug, feeling warmth seep into his hands through his gloves and his face softens. “Mari, you’re really too good to me,” he says honestly, taking a careful sip of the still hot tea.
Marinette smiles at him, taking her own mug and having a sip as well. In the ensuing silence, a patter starts up on the roof, growing louder over the span of several minutes until there’s full on pouring outside. The girl hums to herself as she stares up at the skylight, where splattering raindrops distort the world outside. “Well, I probably wasn’t going to let you leave before, but now I’m definitely keeping you overnight.”
Chat looks like he’s been socked in the stomach, face going redder than ever at the indication. “But- But Marinette- I- Your parents-” he stutters, suddenly feeling nervous and out of place. She wants him to stay overnight? In her room?
Marinette smiles at his obvious shift in demeanor, finding the bashfulness cute. “They’re asleep, and as long as you’re quiet they have no reason to come up here,” she tells him with a calm insistence, patting him gently on the knee. “Besides, I can take you on no problem, Ladybug or not. I don’t want to, but I will if you make me,” she smiles sweetly, making his heart thump in a painful drum against his ribs.
“Yes ma'am,” he squeaks, drinking his tea obediently as the blush continues to spread over his face like a wild fire, fueled by her confident promise.
Once the tea is gone and the two are sufficiently sleepy, Marinette takes the tray down to her desk, moving quietly as Tikki is asleep in one of her scarves where she’d hid earlier. She smiles at the Kwami and carefully makes her way back up to the bed to see Chat is starting to nod off where he sits. He’s easy to coax into laying down, since he can barely keep his eyes open and is weak from sickness and cough medicine.
Marinette smiles softly while covering him with an extra blanket, before she settles down with him under the covers. If Chat were more awake and aware, he’d feel guilty for being so close to her and possibly getting her sick as well, but he’s so warm and dazed that he can no longer wrap his head around the idea. He just knows she’s comfortingly close to him and her presence is enough to make him happy despite everything else.
They lay for several long minutes during the time that Chat still is able to keep his eyes open, listening to the rain drum soothingly on the roof above them. Chat tries to keep from falling asleep right away because he wants to savor this moment, this tender closeness with Marinette that makes him feel so safe and cared for. Finally, in the dark Chat’s voice punctures their silent bubble. “Princess?” he asks softly.
“…Do you ever wonder who I am?”
Marinette is quiet for several long moments. “I have thought about it…”
“…Can I… show you?” he asks hesitantly.
Marinette’s heart leaps into her throat at the question. She knew this would be coming, ever since that moment on the roof she’d admitted to his suspicions. He’d always been the one who wanted to share their identities, so it only followed that if one half of the facade fell, he’d want to complete it. “Chat… you really shouldn’t, it could put you in danger…” she tried to argue.
Chat cuddles a little closer under the blankets, burrowing towards her in a true catlike manner. “You’re in that danger from me knowing, it’s not fair. If any risk falls to you, I want it to fall to me too,” he insists quietly, truly abhorring the thought of not sharing this weakening of their defenses as a team. Not just as heroes, but as friends, as partners. He’d promised to himself from day one that he would be her shield, to protect her with everything he had if it came down to one of them getting hurt. He won’t spring the reveal on her if she protests, but he knows that if she does protest he will never sleep easy at night.
Her secret falling apart had been an accident, but not for lack of trust. She’s always had their safety in mind when setting up this rule, and he appreciates how hard she’s fought to keep it in place. Chat is ready and willing to show he trusts her with his identity as well, and while he’s always respected her wishes to keep the secret from everyone, including each other, he wants to level with Marinette.
There passes several long moments of silence between them, until she swallows thickly against the lump in her throat. Finally, she speaks. “In the morning,” she says quietly, and she can’t see it but she can picture the smile that brightens his face. She knows he’s wanted this for a long time, and though she knows she should refuse to protect him, Marinette just can’t find it in herself to turn him away anymore. Because now they’re out of balance, so if one shoes has already dropped it’s probably best to even it out. “In the mean time, you should drop transformation, you’ll rest better.”
A flash of light suddenly starts to penetrate the darkness, and Marinette closes her eyes. She sees spots from that brief hint, and it hits her that she’s cuddling up with an unmasked Chat Noir, whoever he may be. She can’t see him, but the idea that he’s there in the dark and the fact she can feel his embrace makes her stomach erupt in butterflies. “I’ll see you soon, Chat Noir,” she whispers to him, laying an arm over his shoulders and threading her fingers through soft hair. Chat melts into her, that soft touch being the final straw and putting his exhausted body to sleep. “Whoever you are, you are still my Chaton, my best friend,” she whispers, smoothing strands of hair away from his face as he hums in content.
Her thumb brushes over his forehead, unhindered by the mask that’s usually there and making her shiver at the gravity of it all.
She stays awake for a while longer, reveling in the closeness and savoring this last bit of familiar anonymity with her partner. For tomorrow, come daylight, things will be different. Not to say that different is bad, but she knows that things definitely will change, and she’s ready. Or she will be, hopefully.
Marinette falls asleep to the sound of rain and Chat’s soft breathing, their tangle of limbs keeping each other close and secure through the night.
- - - -
She’s warm. It’s a nice, hazy sort of feeling that makes her never want to move from the comfort of her bed. Her mind still hovers on the side of sleep, as she feels the arms around her but doesn’t immediately register what this means. She just wants to savor this feeling a little longer before getting up, as she so rarely wakes up so pleasantly without the alarm screaming that she’s late for class. But, all good things must come to an end, and she knows there’s something important to do today. She just needs to sit up and give her brain a few minutes to get in gear, because it’s not quite come back to her yet.
But when her eyes open, Marinette sucks in a breath of air and wonders if she’s still asleep, swearing up and down in her frantic mind that she must definitely be dreaming.
Staring back at her are a pair of familiar green eyes, more familiar than she’d ever realized, and a smile so soft and happy that was meant only for her. Her breath hitches, before a silly smile curls her lips upon hearing that voice in a new light.
“Good morning, Princess.”