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What is Home?

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Chapter 1

Partners

Late.

She was late again.

Of course, Marinette had slept past her alarm again. The akuma battle last night had gone on into the early hours of the morning and she had barely gotten any sleep. She had only woken up thanks to her mother yelling at her from downstairs, warning her she was going to be late.

So, with her hair pulled back in to sloppy pigtails and her stomach growling from missing breakfast, she ran up the steps of the school toward her classroom. She opened the door quietly, hoping to sneak in. She stepped into the room, but her plan to enter unnoticed was not successful. The entire class turned to look at her as the door squeaked slowly open. Alya smiled and shook her head; being late wasn’t anything new for her best friend. Marinette turned toward her teacher. Ms. Bustier was standing in front of her desk, looking at her.

Her eyes then focused on someone standing directly in front of their teacher. Adrien was looking at Marinette too. Why was he not sitting with the rest of the class, she wondered to herself?

She dropped her eyes and said a quiet “Sorry. I was up late doing homework and slept through my alarm.”

Ms. Bustier raised her eyebrows and smiled a little half smile. “Funny, that’s almost exactly what Adrien here just told me.”

The bluenette looked up at Adrien, locking eyes with him for just a second, which was enough time for him to give her a half smile. She then glanced quickly back down at her shoes, trying to conceal the growing rosy hue enveloping her face.

“Well,” Ms. Bustier said, “Adrien and Marinette, will you please both take your seats, so we may begin today’s lesson? As much as I admire your dedication to your homework, please try to be on time in the future.”

Marinette turned to walk toward her seat, just as Adrien did the same. She looked over at him. His normal smile was missing from his face, his normally radiant, green eyes seemed dull, and he had dark circles under his eyes, which were all proof that he hadn’t slept much either. Overall, he looked about as exhausted as she did.

She sat down next to Alya, placing her bag on the ground beside her.

“Wow girl. You look awful.” Alya commented quietly, smiling at Marinette.

“I know. I really did not get much sleep last night” The blue haired girl responded, propping her elbow on the desk and letting her head fall carefully on her hand.

“Yeah but doing homework?” her friend looked her over with eyes that knew all too well that Marinette wouldn’t lose that much sleep over homework.

“Some homework,” Marinette admitted, but then racked her brain quickly to come up with another excuse Alya would believe. Marinette yawned. “I was also working on a sewing project. Time just got away from me” She hoped Alya would buy it and not press for details.

Luckily at that moment, Ms. Bustier, who had finished writing on the board behind her desk, began the lesson.

“What is home? Think about that for a minute.” Ms. Bustier paused, making sure everyone was paying attention. “I don’t just mean the location where you live. I mean where do you feel happy? Where do you feel secure? Where do you have people that you care about? Overall, where can you be yourself? It does not have to be just one location, or even a location at all. Please take a moment and think about it. Where is home for you?

Marinette closed her eyes and started thinking. Well, she loved her room, the bakery, her parents, being with her friends. All those felt like home to her. She felt happy, secure, and like she could be herself. She also felt at home on the roof tops of Paris with Chat Noir when she was Ladybug. She smiled, thinking about her ‘home’. She opened her eyes and looked forward toward the mass of golden wheat on the head sitting in front of her. Yeah, thinking about Adrien, he could be ‘home’ too.

“From the looks on most of your faces, it looks like you had no problems thinking about what home is for you.” Ms. Bustier interrupted the silence that had fallen over the room, continuing her lesson.

Marinette looked around the room. Almost everyone had a small smile on their face. Even Chloe had a tiny smile, or maybe it was just a tiny smirk. She looked at the back of Adrien’s head again. Was his head looking down? And his shoulders were slumped. It seemed like he had an overall air of vulnerability. But she guessed it was because he was tired.

“It is fairly easy to look into yourself and find what makes you feel happy and secure. But what is difficult is finding out what ‘home’ means to someone else. Especially someone you don’t know very well. For this project, you will be partnered up and you will have the next two weeks to really find out what ‘home’ means for your partner. This means you will need to spend time with them and really get to know them.”

Marinette looked over at Alya and they had matching grins in their faces. With the two of them partnered up, this project was going to be easy, not to mention fun! It almost didn’t seem like homework. Marinette was lighting up at the idea of this project, almost forgetting how tired and voracious she was.

“The actual assignment that will be due will be an in-class presentation. You will need to have 10 pictures. Or drawings, if you want” Ms. Bustier directed her gaze toward Nathaniel specifically, understanding his desire to create works of art. “10 pictures or drawings of what is truly home for your partner. You will be showing those to the class, as well as describing them. Now, while I am asking you to share yourselves with your partners, please do not share any parts of your presentation with them. I want those 10 pictures to be a surprise. This final presentation will show not only myself and the class, but mainly your partner, just how much you understand them.”
Marinette thought about the assignment. This would be great! She could hang out with Alya even more than usual. And the 10 pictures wouldn’t be too hard. She could already think of a few pictures she wanted to take that defined ‘home’ for Alya.

“But here is the catch” Marinette’s head snapped forward as Ms. Bustier’s grin grew deviously. Smiling knowingly at the class, “You are not allowed to be partners with the person sitting next to you at your desk.”

Marinette’s frown swallowed her face before she could stop it. She couldn’t be partnered with Alya? That was so unfair. Exasperated, she sighed and slumped back in her seat, sinking lower that she thought possible. Working with Alya would have been so enjoyable. Now who would she work with? She glanced around the room, looking at the rest of her classmates. She definitely did not know them as well as she knew Alya. With a sigh of understanding, she realized that was the point of the assignment. To get to know someone else.

“I have had you all in class for quite a while now, and I know that the person sitting next to you is the person that knows you best. I want each of you to branch out and really get to know someone else from class. This is part of the challenge of this assignment.”

Marinette began thinking of who else she wanted to be partners with. Nathaniel? That could be fun! They’ve known each other for a few years and she’d like to get to know him better. Or Kim? They’ve been in each other’s lives since they were toddlers. Finding out more about him and who he is now could prove to be exciting.

Adrien? Marinette looked at the back of the boy sitting in front of her. No, that would not end well. Yes, she would want to spend time with him, but actually talking to him and delving deep into his life? She could not manage to get more than two sentences out without stammering around him.

She’d never learn anything about him, which would mean she’d have no presentation, which would mean she’d fail the project, which would mean that he’d think she was stupid, which would mean…

Whoa, let’s not get carried away Marinette told herself. Besides, with Chloe around, the chances of her getting partnered with Adrien were next to none. Plus, she doubted she would have the guts to actually pick Adrien as her partner if she got the chance.

“Seeing as how this is out of the ordinary for partnered projects, I will be picking names one at a time for you to choose your partners.” At this, she reached over to her desk and picked up a cup with names written on papers inside of it. “First up to pick their partner is…” She reached her hand into the cup and withdrew a name. “Kim”
Everyone in the class looked at Kim. “Um…” he said. He looked at Max who was sitting next to him. Max smiled and nodded his head. “Um, I’d like to, uh, pick, that is, I want my partner to be, um, Chloe.” He said with growing hesitation.

Marinette turned toward Chloe just in time to see the girl’s eyes go wide. “Excuse me” Chloe shrieked as she turned toward Kim, and anger flashing in her eyes. “I don’t want to be partnered with you! If I can’t be partnered with Sabrina, I want Adrien.”

Marinette shifted her head to glance at Adrien, who was turned in his seat to look at the whole scene. Marinette could see half his face, and on it, there was complete and utter dread. It looked like even though he was friends with Chloe, he did not want to be partnered with her.

Marinette turned to look back at Kim, who was devastated by Chloe’s response. Poor Kim. Kim had had a crush on Chloe for the longest time, and this was actually the perfect chance for him to spend some time with her. Marinette still didn’t know what he saw in her, but if this what he wanted, who was she to judge?

Before she could think to say or do anything to help as Class Representative, Ms. Bustier interjected. “Chloe, you will be partnered with Kim.” Hoping to end the argument before it started.

Chloe stood up, turned to face her teacher, mouth open wide. Then she closed it, smirking evilly, and took out her cell phone. “Oh really? Well, I don’t think my daddy, the mayor,” with emphasis on the word mayor, “will enjoy getting a phone call from his daughter who is being forced into a group project with someone she doesn’t want to be partnered with.” She pulled up her father’s contact information on her cell, threatening to press the call button. Then she looked Ms. Bustier dead in the eyes and grinned with defiance, knowing that nobody ever argued once she brought up her father.

At that, Marinette knew it was all over. Chloe was about to get her way. That spoiled brat always got her way. Marinette folded her arms and slumped back into her desk. She returned her gaze back to her teacher to see what she would do, expecting to hear her announce that Chloe would be partnered with Adrien.


What Marinette actually saw, made her eyes go wide with amazement. Ms. Bustier was grinning back at Chloe with knowing determination. Her teacher began sauntering toward the blonde girl with slow, deliberate steps. When she was right in front of Chloe, she reached toward the phone in Chloe’s hand, and before Chloe could react, she pressed the call button.

Chloe pulled her phone away a second late, then looked down at it, realizing that it was ringing her father’s phone number. Chloe stared up at Ms. Bustier, who was still smiling down at Chloe. Chloe’s face was overcome with shock.

With the growing excitement, any tiredness Marinette had felt was long gone. She glanced around the room. Every single face was awash with shock and amazement. Marinette stole a glance at Adrien. He was almost holding his breath. As the person in the room who had known Chloe the longest, he probably was worried what this would mean for everyone involved. Marinette glanced back at Alya. Being the reporter that Alya is, she had her phone out filming the whole thing. After all, this was not the normal reaction to Chloe being, well, Chloe.

Looking back to Ms. Bustier, Marinette’s face was one of wonderment. She focused on the phone in Chloe’s hand. The speakerphone was on and the entire class could hear the ringing. The suspense was building. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. All of them, intent on seeing how this was going to play out. Until the ringing stopped and was replaced by the Mayor’s voice.

“Hello? Chloe? Aren’t you supposed to be in school, sweetheart?” the voice of her father, the mayor, came through the speakers.

“Daddy, I…” Chloe started, but before she could say anything more, Ms. Bustier began speaking.

“Mr. Bourgeois, this is Ms. Bustier, Chloe’s teacher. We are so sorry to interrupt you during your busy schedule. I believe Chloe had a question for you concerning the new group project we are doing in school. Chloe?” Ms. Bustier fixed her gaze upon Chloe, almost daring her to tell her daddy what she had originally threatened to.


“Um, I…” Chloe took in a deep breath, her eyes filling with tears and anger, unwilling to let anyone see it. She looked from her phone, to her teacher, and then back to her phone. She let out a long sigh, her shoulders falling with the realization that the fight had been lost. “Um, I was hoping…” her voice quivering ever so slightly, “to have my partner… over tonight… for dinner… so we could work” her eyes dropping to her shoes as she did so.

Marinette couldn’t believe what she was hearing! Chloe was not whining and complaining to her father. This was a reaction from Chloe she had ever seen before. This was not the arrogant, stuck-up, brat she had been stuck in class with for year after year. Chloe was actually intimidated by Ms. Bustier. Ms. Bustier had just beat Chloe at her own game!


“Sure sweetheart,” Mr. Bourgeois responded. “Your partner is more than welcome at our place for dinner tonight, as well as for any work you need to get done for class.”
Chloe whispered a small, almost inaudible “Um… thanks” before looking back up at her teacher.

“Wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Bourgeois, and we apologize again for the interruption to your work. Have a good day sir.” Ms. Bustier finished, elation welling inside her, and nodded to Chloe, who was still holding the phone, motioning for her to hang up. Chloe smacked the end call button with her finger, ending the call, slumping, embarrassed and defeated into her seat.

Marinette stared at her teacher in disbelief. No one had ever stood up to Chloe like that. Not one of the teachers anyway. She had seen teachers in the past and even their principal bend at the threat of Chloe calling her father. No teacher had ever called her on it. And no teacher had ever won a battle against Chloe. Marinette looked over at Alya. Alya was dumbfounded.

Ms. Bustier cleared her throat, then spoke gently. “Chloe, you will be partnered with Kim.”

Chloe said nothing, just nodded her head in acceptance of her fate.

Marinette turned her body to face forward again. With all the Chloe drama, she had almost forgotten about the project. Ms. Bustier walked back to her desk. “Before we continue, does anyone have any other questions?” The room was silent, a few people shook their heads. “Good.” Ms. Bustier continued, smiling and continuing with the lesson like nothing had happened. “The next person to pick their partner is… Alya.”

Everyone in the room looked at Alya. Marinette heard her friend clear her throat. The blue haired girl was glad it was Alya that was picked next. Alya was able to speak up confidently and help the rest of the class feel more at ease after what they had just witnessed. “I would like Nino as my partner”

Alya smiled down at Nino, who had turned to look at her and smiled back an undetectable blush on both of their faces. Undetectable to all except Marinette, who gave them both a knowing smile.

“Very good.” Ms. Bustier nodded and drew the next name “Sabrina”.

Sabrina looked around the room, unsure of who she truly wanted to pick. The decision drifting softly into her mind. “Um, Rose?” still slightly unsure. Rose smiled at Sabrina, and Sabrina relaxed , and returned the smile.

Their teacher smiled and nodded again. She then reached into the cup and pulled out another name. “Nino has already been picked.” She discarded the slip of paper, then went to draw another. “Juleka, who would you like for your partner?”

“Nathanael?” She asked, honestly not caring who she picked, since Rose had already been picked by someone else, but worried that he would notice the indifference in her voice. He smiled back, freeing Juleka to let out a small sigh and she gave him a smile in return.

Marinette watched on as the rest of the class was getting partnered up. Her insides began to dance inside her, her emotions starting to get the best of her, wondering who her partner was going to be.

“Ivan?” Ms. Bustier read out the next name on the piece of paper.

Ivan immediately looked over at Mylene, hesitant at first. Then he said her name aloud with such conviction that everyone chuckled to themselves softly, declaring her as his partner. She blushed and smiled in response. Everyone knew that Ivan had the most heartfelt feelings for Mylene. He was never able to get his words out the way that he wanted to, his emotions always welling up inside him, but fear preventing them from releasing them, at least in public.

Ms. Bustier reached into the cup twice more, discarding both papers. Marinette assumed that the names on those papers had already been partnered up. The next paper her teacher pulled out was not discarded and she read the newest name aloud. “Max”

Max looked to the girl in front of him. “I would be honored if Alix would be my partner for this project” wanting to be true to the assignment. He wanted to pick someone that he truly didn’t know.

Alix turned around and gave him a thumbs up before turning back.

Marinette looked around the room, realization starting to dawn on her. Every classmate she looked at had been paired up. Feelings of excitement and dread began to bubble up inside her. There was only one option. The only person left besides her was…

“Adrien?” Ms. Bustier called.

“It looks like I get Marinette for my partner” That dreamy, green-eyed, boy responded. With a smile brimming his face, he turned around to look up at her.

Marinette froze, and her stomach clenched. At that moment everything else seemed to leave her. She looked into those emerald eyes, those amazing emerald eyes, that seemed to be smiling at her too. They were twinkling, shining, sparkling. Oh boy. Adrien, her Adrien, was going to be her partner.  Adrien, the one person she wanted to be partnered up with more than the world itself, but the only person in the world she couldn’t seem to talk to. The only person that caused her thoughts to entangle within her head, the words to crawl back into her mouth, her legs to melt, and her breath to catch. What was she going to do?

Respond; she needed to respond. She stiffly nodded her head in acknowledgement, hoping beyond hope that her legs wouldn’t give way underneath her. Alya understanding the battle going on within her best friend, softly and slowly put a supporting hand on Marinette’s back, ensuring that her best friend would not collapse.

Adrien turned back around to face the front, completely unaware of Marinette’s inner turmoil. Marinette’s thoughts were racing. OK, so what if she couldn’t string two sentences together when she was around him. Maybe this was just the chance she needed to get over that. She now had the perfect reason to really get to know him. After all she had to get to know him well enough to know what ‘home’ meant to him. She was going to learn everything about him! Marinette’s stomach started to release its hold upon her, slightly. She was going to get to hang out with Adrien!

She was beginning to feel a little more relaxed until a certain crippling thought hit her. She couldn’t believe she didn’t think of this before. Now her crush, Adrien, was going to try and get to know everything about her. Everything. Even the fact that she was Ladybug?

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Not as Planned

Adrien was not looking forward to this project. 

The fact that he was partnered with Marinette lifted his spirits.  She was a good friend, even if she acted weird around him more often than not.  However, he was going to enjoy getting to know her. She had a very quirky personality and was beloved by most everyone she met. Hopefully they would be able to become even better friends.  That part of the project wasn’t bad at all, in fact he was almost looking forward to it. 

But when it came to the thought of her getting to know him, that was the part he was dreading.  When his teacher had asked him to think of what ‘home’ was to him, he couldn’t think of much.  It certainly wasn’t his dad. His dad was cold, distant, and overbearing, nothing about that made him feel at home. It wasn’t his house, oversized, empty, and without his mother. It wasn’t anything most of his classmates probably thought of, like being in a photoshoot, or in his room playing with the multitude of things he had, in the hopes of filling his time.  The only ‘home’ he could think of was when he was Chat Noir. Roaming the rooftops, making witty remarks and terrible puns.  Saving the people of Paris, being free of his cage, finally and truly free.  That was really the only time he felt happy or secure.  He had no ‘home’ as Adrien. 

Marinette was going to try to find out what ‘home’ meant to Adrien. A shroud of darkness fell over him when he realized that Marinette wouldn’t be able to find anything, because even he couldn’t think of anything.  Because as Adrien, there was this gaping hole in his life. There was no home.

When Ms. Bustier had commented about how most of the class was beaming and had no problems thinking about what ‘home’ meant to them, Adrien’s shoulders had dropped to the floor, and his eyes fell into a void that encompassed his hands.  He did have problems thinking about ‘home’. 

So, this project was probably going to prove more of a challenge for Marinette than everyone else.  He had no intentions of making this hard on her, but she was the only classmate left when it was his turn to pick a partner.  He really didn’t mind working with her; she was his friend.  He just hoped the next two weeks wouldn’t be awkward. Every time that he had been together with her, things seemed to get awkward, he really wasn’t sure why. Maybe she was just nervous around him, he was the son of a fashion tycoon. He just wished that didn’t make a difference to her.  Again, just another way in which he didn’t feel at ‘home.’

The bell rang, dismissing the class for lunch.  Adrien gathered his school work into his bag, carefully and slowly picking it up, so as not to disrupt Plagg who was sleeping comfortably, curled up with a piece of camembert.  Adrien let out an audible sigh.  Getting to know Adrien, and finding out what his ‘home’ is, was going to be a challenging task for Marinette. Especially since he couldn’t let her find out about his alter ego. If he had to hide the one true thing that he considered home, this was going to be a daunting task for the blue haired girl. He wanted to give her as much time as he could to figure it out.  He didn’t want her to fail the project because of him. 

So, during class he racked his brain for a solution. He thought about it and he would just invite her over to his house.  Tonight, he didn’t have fencing or piano or Chinese, so he determined it would be a good night to work on their project. With his plans laid and ready for action, he finished putting his schoolwork away, stood up and strolled over to Marinette who was just standing up to go to lunch. 

“Hey Marinette” he said warmly, unwittingly ensnaring his classmate within his gaze.  “I was wondering if you wanted to start working on our project this afternoon?  I don’t have anything scheduled today, so I figured it might be a good time to get together.  You can come over to my house.”

He noticed Marinette’s cheeks start to get slightly pink, and her posture began to melt.  “Um, s-sure.  That sounds great.”  She seemed to squeak out, followed by a snap of movement so quick he almost missed it. It seemed to him like she snapped to attention, like Roger the police officer. 

 “Great” he responded hesitantly with an almost questioning inflection at the end of the word.  Adrien had noticed that she stumbled through her words and hoped that she wasn’t going to be this way throughout the whole project.  Deciding she was just nervous about the new project, because he most definitely was nervous, he said “I’ll meet you out front after school is over and my driver can drive us both home.”

“Ok.” She smiled sheepishly at him.  “Thanks.”  She then picked up her school bag and hurried past him out of the classroom, where Alya had been waiting patiently for her in the hallway to go for lunch.

He was glad to be spending more time with Marinette.  Even though they were friends, she never seemed quite as composed or relaxed as she should be around him.  She was friendly and nice to him, just like everyone else, but sometimes she would still stammer just a bit, or she wouldn’t be able to bring her eyes to meet his, or she would be disquietingly quiet.  Things had gotten much better over the past few months as Adrien had become better friends with Alya and Marinette, but things weren’t as smooth between them as Adrien had hoped they would be. Alya had no hesitation when it came to anyone. She was forward and honest, and nothing would stop her. Marinette however was a very different case. She was a kind and amazingly amicable person. Not a single person had a quarrel with her (except Chloe), she was always helping other people; selfless. She had even been known to help his alter ego when she had no other options. However, when it came to him, things never seemed to progress within their friendship. He hoped that would change in the next couple weeks as he and the girl with pigtails got to know each other in depth. 

Adrien readjusted his bag and turned to leave, heading home for lunch, but before he could take more than two steps, he noticed that he was not alone in the classroom like he had thought.  Chloe was still sitting at her desk, facing away from the door, her head resting on her knees, as she had her knees pulled in close to her, a sullen look on her face. 

“What’s up Chlo?”  He asked, concerned, all thoughts of lunch fading from his mind.

At first, she didn’t move or respond, and Adrien wondered if she’d even heard him. Perhaps she was lost within the depth of her own mind.  But then she slowly turned her head toward him, struggling to bring her eyes to rest upon him.  His breath hitched when he looked into her eyes. Darkness began to creep in under her eyelids, and there was a quiver running through her body.  This was a sadness he’d hardly ever seen coming from Chloe. 

He had been friends with Chloe for years, and even though he knew how insufferable she could be at times, she had always been there for him when he really needed her.  Now it was he who could be there for her.  Because she needed someone right now.

He sat down on the bench next to her pulling her into a calming embrace.  She leaned against his shoulder as he looked down at her.  He could feel the shiver of anguish flowing over her.

“Are you ok?” He asked her, concern apparent in his voice.  He had known Chloe most of his life, but he had only seen her like this once before.  He knew that pain more than anyone else. Seeing her like this, again, was positively unnerving.

“I…” Chloe began hoarsely, “I don’t know.  I still don’t really know what happened”

Adrien squeezed his arm around Chloe, giving her a half hug.  “It’s ok, you know.  Being partners with Kim isn’t so bad.” thinking he understood what was wrong.

Chloe shook her head “I know.  I just feel so humiliated.  No teacher has ever done that before.  And when she called my Dad, I didn’t say anything.  I couldn’t.  I froze.  What happened to me?”  And with that last sentence, pools of water started to brim the edges of her eyelids.  She closed them and turned her head into Adrien’s chest. Adrien catching a single tear streaking down her face. It left a lasting impression, as if her face itself couldn’t withstand being in contact with tears.  He could feel his shirt starting to get damp, but he didn’t care. 

“Chloe, I know what happened shocked you, but I was really proud of you and how you reacted.  You were brave and strong in a situation that completely caught you off guard.  And you reminded me of the girl I used to love hanging out with when we were little.  I’ve been missing her a lot recently.”

Chloe sniffed and sat up, looking Adrien in his eyes, rims of rose puffing up under her eyes, overtaking the darkness that was there.  “Really?  You don’t think I’m ridiculous after what happened?  I’m sure everyone else does…” Her voice trailed off, anxiety overtaking her.

Adrien knew that as tough and entitled as Chloe normally acted, she cared more about what others thought about her than any other person he had known.  She did want everyone to like her, even if she went about it all in the wrong way. 

“Chloe, I think the rest of the class was shocked as well.  But I also think that this could be a turning point for you.  I think it’s good that you are partnered with Kim for this project.  It’ll let you get to know him better, but more importantly, it’ll let you give him the chance to get to know the real you.  I think that if you open up to let Kim into your life, the rest of the class will also start to get to know you. The real you.”

Chloe looked down at the floor.  “But, they hate me….” She admitted.  “I know I say everyone loves me, but I know that’s not true.” She wailed, releasing a fresh wave of sobs, collapsing her head back into Adrien’s chest.

Adrien looked down at the blonde girl shaking as she sobbed in his arms.  They had been friends for as long as Adrien could remember.  In fact, until this year, she had been his only friend.  They had been familial as youngsters, but as they grew up, after her mom disappeared, Chloe started to act more and more obnoxious. She had locked away her old self. Hiding it from everyone else. After her mom left, Chloe built up wall after wall, she unconsciously pushed everyone away.  It had gotten to the point that he didn’t enjoy hanging out with her anymore. 

Then he had started coming to public school.  That had made Chloe start acting incredibly possessive, like he was hers and hers alone. He was the only person she let into that fortress she had locked herself in.  But even when she let him in, he never found the old Chloe, his best friend.  She even had Marinette thinking he was just like her, a bully, on his first day of school.  He found himself distancing himself even more from his friend, finding friends instead in Nino, and eventually, Alya and Marinette. 

He loved the amiability his new friends showed him.  He loved how they cared about him.  Unless it was in times of utter need, he never got any of that from Chloe.  So, while the two of them were still friends, they hardly ever acted like it.  She had become a condescending person, and he didn’t want such negativity in his life.  He had enough to deal with already. 

But looking down at her now, listening to her admit that she knows the class disdains her, watching her cry, sobbing in public, he knew that she needed him.  So, he would try and help her, not just now, but help her in the long run.  Those little bricks holding up her fortress had started to shift. Some were loose and all they needed now was a little nudge.

“Chloe, I know that you care.  I know that you really do want people to like you.  And I think letting Kim learn about you, the real you, will do exactly that.”  The sobs stopped, the quaking subsided, she sniffed, still resting against Adrien’s chest. 

“But for this project,” Adrien continued, “you need to really let Kim get to know you.” Pushing the importance of this upon her, “Not just the side of you that everyone normally sees, but all of you.  You need to really open up to him. You need to let him into your life.” 

Chloe lifted her head, gazing reassured into his eyes.  Adrien looking into her glistening eyes and saw that she was considering his words.  She was vulnerable right now and her guard was down.  Adrien’s words were finding their way into Chloe’s thoughts, and into her heart.  Therefore, he pressed on. 

“And then you need to do the same for him.”  Adrien looked fondly into his best friend’s eyes, seeing the true her for the first time in a very long time.  “You need to sincerely delve into Kim’s life and find what ‘home’ truly is for him.  Getting to really know someone, letting them expose their innermost self to you, and doing the same in return, will let you two understand each other.  You might even make a new friend, a true friend, thus warming the rest of the class to you.”

Chloe let out a breath, shifting her puffy, red eyes away from Adrien, not sure she could maintain eye contact with him.  Adrien’s fingers gently closed on her chin with the hand that was not wrapped around her shoulder, warmth flooding out of his fingertips, lending some strength to Chloe. He tilted her head to look back towards him.

“I know you have it in you to be a better person, a better classmate, and a better friend.  You just have to be open to that.  Please.”

She was still for a moment, considering his words.  Adrien wondered what was going through her head.  He was hoping that she would try.  He did want to be friends with her still, but not with the girl she had slowly become.  If she could change, no, if she would change, he honestly thought she would be happier.  She would actually have a chance at having friends.  More friends than just he and Sabrina.  And she deserved that. 

Her eyes locked back onto his and she nodded.  “OK.”  She said at last, not wanting to answer until her confidence returned, her voice still quiet, but sure.  “I’ll try and do this project right.”

Adrien’s hopes soared.  He had been hoping that she would actually try, but it didn’t stop her response from surprising him.  But once the initial shock had subsided, and he realized that she had, in fact, agreed to let Kim into her life, his mouth fast forming an enormous smile as his jubilation burst forth.  He wrapped both of his arms around her shoulders, squeezing tight, in an embracing hug. 

“I’m proud of you Chloe.”  He said, a slight tremble in his voice, as he was swiftly and briefly overwhelmed with pride, and he could feel her arms sliding around his waist to return the hug in response. 

After breaking away from the hug, Adrien stood up and smiled at her.  “C’mon.  We should both go home and get lunch.”

Chloe nodded, shaking away the lingering fears, and accepted the hand he had extended to her, using it to help her stand up.  Adrien’s attention caught on the fact that she looked better, more composed, than she had previously.  The darkness and pain in her eyes had faded away, replaced by nervousness, but more importantly by a growing glimmer of hope.  She gave him a small smile, wiped her eyes, and together they walked out of the classroom. 

 


 

Marinette waited nervously outside of the school for Adrien to take her to his house.  Everyone else had gone home, but Adrien had needed to speak briefly with a teacher before they could leave for the day. 

Her parents had been just fine with her wanting to go over to Adrien’s to work on their project, so long as she was home at a decent hour.  Her parents understood what was going on in Marinette’s world far more than she would ever know. Always exchanging knowing smiles when Adrien’s name came out of their daughter’s mouth, with a small squeak, or giggle accompanied with it.

 “I can do this, Tikki.” She said, talking to her bag. Tikki was sticking her head out of Marinette’s bag, just enough to make sure she could hear everything.  “I get to go hang out with Adrien and get to learn more about him.  Just friends doing a school project.  No need to get nervous” she declared resolutely. 

“Of course not, Marinette!” Her red kwami responded cheerfully, flitting out of the bag, and flying up, level with Marinette’s face.  “Adrien is your friend.  You guys get along well at school.  This is just a continuation of that.“  A broad grin made its way onto Tikki’s face as she said “Plus, you are Ladybug.  You can handle anything!”

Marinette giggled, taking comfort within the thoughts of her alter ego, “You’re right.  Thanks, Tikki.  Now hide before he comes out here and sees you!”

Tikki gave her one last enormous smile, then retreated into her bag. 

Marinette leaned against the outside wall of the school, enjoying the sunshine.  She closed her eyes, letting the warm rays of the sun bathe her face, along with the light breeze blowing gently through her hair. 

“Hey Marinette.”  Her eyes shot open as she jumped up, almost losing her balance.  She reached out for the wall, steadying herself, as her eyes darted around.  Adrien was standing right next to her, but she hadn’t even heard him walk up. 

“Sorry,” he said, sounding concerned.  “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you”

“No-no.” she retorted.  “It’s ok.  I just didn’t hear you.  Um, ready to go?”  She asked, trying hard to mask any anxiety that had creeped up on her.

He smiled and pointed over his shoulder to the silver car that had just pulled up by the curb, with his bodyguard at the wheel, like always.  “Yup.  All good.  Let’s go.”

Marinette followed behind him as he led the way to the car.  He then opened the door, gesturing for her to get in first.  With a gentle bow of his head and a flick of his wrist, “After you, Marinette.” 

Ever the gentleman, she thought to herself as she slid into the backseat of the car.   Adrien then sat down next to her and closed the door behind him. 

She noticed that the car didn’t start moving right away.  She looked forward to the driver, who was a big, muscular man that she had heard Adrien refer to as the ‘Gorilla’.  She could only see the back of him, but looking towards the rear-view mirror, she saw his eyes locked in a cold glare on her.  Confused, she turned to Adrien, about to ask if everything was ok, when the boy spoke up.

“Marinette is my partner for a project we were just assigned in school.  She’s coming over tonight to work on it with me.”  Adrien said, answering the silent question his driver had asked with only his eyes. 

Marinette saw the driver nod his head once, not being one to mince words, and then the car began to move. 

She felt ready for this afternoon.  She and Alya had had a long talk during their lunch break, helping to prepare Marinette for an afternoon alone with just her crush.  Well, if by long talk, you meant Alya giving Marinette a pep talk and Marinette nodding along, determinedly.  They had even written down a list of questions Marinette wanted to ask him to start to get to know him better.  That list was currently in her school bag at her feet.

She looked over at Adrien.  He was looking out the window at the buildings they were passing, she wasn’t sure if she should be worried that he wasn’t engaged with her in conversation.  She took the time that he was distracted to study his face, noticing that he still looked tired.  But it seemed like more than just lack of sleep.  It was a listlessness that seemed to be dragging him down, something that had nothing to do with the amount of sleep he got.  She wondered why that was. 

Adrien brought his attention back in from the window and caught Marinette staring at him.  A grin peaked out of his face as she shot her eyes in another direction, away from him, as a rosy pink hue drowned out her face.  Crap.  She had been caught staring at him. 

But she was supposed to be getting to know him, right?  Yes, but, maybe not by staring at him.  She glanced back up at him to see him still looking at her, the same grin on his face. 

“You alright?” He chuckled, cocking his head in feigned concern, but in such a way that Marinette couldn’t help but smile.  Why was he so cute?

“Yeah.” She breathed, turning to face him.  “Sorry.  Just-” she stopped mid-sentence, starting to get flustered, “Just getting to know you.” snapping back to focus, “Right?”  She gave him a little half smile, hoping he couldn’t hear the loud rhythmic thumping of her heart threatening to pound right out of her chest.

Adrien just gave her a huge smile in return as he let out a chuckle, relieving the tension of the situation

At that moment, Marinette noticed that they had pulled up to the Agreste Mansion.  She looked up at the house.  Well, she supposed the word ‘house’ was an understatement.  It was huge and beautiful.  As soon as the car had stopped, Adrien had opened the door and gotten out of the car, turning around to offer his hand.  She accepted his hand, and followed him out, still looking up at the mansion that she assumed Adrien called his home. 

Oh, speaking of home, she took out her phone and took a picture.  After all, that was the assignment; to get pictures for the presentation.  Marinette figured that it would be best to take pictures of everything that she learned about him and sort through them all later. 

She placed her phone back in her purse next to Tikki, sneaking the kwami a small smile as she did so. She then started walking up the stairs, catching up to Adrien who was already half way up them. 

As she approached the large, beautifully intricate doors, Adrien opened one for her, holding it open for her to enter first.  She smiled at him in thanks, her previous comment making its way back into her mind and walked inside. 

Once inside the house, she looked around. The sight was wondrous.  She had been to his house before but had only been inside once as Marinette, and even then, she hadn’t had time to really take in the details of her surroundings.  The other times she had been here was as Ladybug, and she had a few more important things to think about at the time. 

The front area here was cavernous!  The ceiling was at least 30 feet above her and she could hear each step she took reverberate around the room.  She could probably fit the bakery and her entire house into this front room.  With eyes wide, she took in every aspect of the area.  The sleek white look, the open windows, the walkway encircling the room up on the second story, the bright hanging lights, the huge staircase descending toward her.  Everything seemed so clean and edgy.  But that was expected in the house of her favorite fashion designer.  Of course, he would have a sleek and fashionable home.  Everything looked perfect, just like out of a magazine. 

She heard Adrien walk up beside her, his footsteps echoing as he did so.  “Wow” was all she could say. 

Adrien shrugged.  “Yeah, I guess” he said.  Marinette figured that since he lived here, he must be used to it.     

“Adrien?  Who is this?” Marinette turned to look at the man who had just spoken.  With his perfectly styled white-blonde hair, his fitted white jacket, and pressed red pants, Marinette recognized him as her fashion idol, Gabriel Agreste, right away.  This was someone that strived to be.  He was one of the most prevalent influences on her, and she wanted to be as good as he was one day.

“This is Marinette Dupain-Cheng” Adrien answered his father, in a cool and collected voice.  “She’s in my class at school.”  Seeing him continue to stare at her, he added “She once won one of your design competitions with her derby hat.”

Gabriel hummed in recognition, nodding his head once.

“Marinette and I have been partnered up to work on a project for school.  Since I had no lessons this afternoon, I invited her over to work on it with me tonight.”  He answered. 

Marinette noticed that Adrien was standing very stiffly and addressing his father rather formally.  For a son addressing his dad, this sure was rather reserved.  Marinette had never had to act so prim with her own parents.  Looking closer at Adrien, she looked at his eyes.  Those eyes that normally held a smile currently held nothing.  No love, ho happiness, just empty nothingness.  She frowned a little, something was wrong. 

 “Oh.  This is unfortunate.”  Marinette turned her focus back toward the man slowly descending the staircase.  Before Marinette could delve deeper into his words, he continued.  “I scheduled a photoshoot for this afternoon that you must be present at.”

“What?  But Father!”  Adrien interjected before his father cut him off.

“You must be present at this photoshoot.  It should only take a couple of hours and Miss Dupain-Cheng is welcome to accompany you, so long as she does not prove to be a distraction.  You may work on your project after you are finished”

Adrien glanced over at Marinette, an apologetic look on his face.  Marinette shrugged it off and gave him a half smile.  She did not mind going to one of his photo shoots.  In fact, she had been to a few before when they were taking place at the park, she had just never been invited to those.  Those were the ones she had just dropped by, trying to get him to notice her.  But she wasn’t going to bring up her borderline stalker tendencies. 

Besides, being a model was part of Adrien’s life, and the point of this project was getting to know him.  So, this worked out well for the project.  She could really see this part of his life now. 

Adrien turned back toward the man now standing in front of him.  “Yes Father.”  He replied, his voice losing all inflection and hope.

“Very good.”  and with a flick of his wrist Gabriel waved his hand as if to dismiss the teenagers.  He started walking to his office.  He called back over his shoulder “Your bodyguard will take you to the shoot where the photo crew will be waiting to get you ready.”  And with that, he disappeared into his office, the gap between the doors slowly fading away and closing behind him, echoing with a dull thud as it did. 

“I’m so sorry Marinette” Adrien apologized almost as soon as the door had shut.  “I didn’t know he had scheduled a photoshoot.  You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.  We could meet up afterwards, if you’d rather do that.”  He looked at her, defeated and sad.  Marinette couldn’t withstand this torture, seeing him like this just made her feel terrible. 

“No, actually, I’d like to go with you.”  Adrien’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, that small sprinkle of hope filling his voice again.  “For the project.  I need to get to know all of you right?  That includes your modeling.  I’d be very interested to see how things work at your photoshoots.”

His face flooded with relief as the emptiness faded from his eyes.  “I’m glad you’re ok with this.  I feel so bad about this happening.  I’m sorry again”

She smiled at him and took a step toward him.  “It’s ok.  Now let’s go, Mr. Model.  You don’t want to be late.”  Remembering Mr. Agreste’s slightly bothersome words, she added “We can’t have your dad thinking I’m a distraction”. 

Adrien’s face pulled into a grimace, a battle raging within himself.  “Don’t listen to him, Marinette.  Don’t let his words bother you.  He’s always thinking of business first and thus has a habit of sounding incredibly harsh and rude.”  Adrien’s grimace turned into a smile, his optimism winning once again, as he continued.  “Honestly, I’m surprised he’s letting you tag along!  You must have made a good impression with your derby hat.  I think he likes you” 

“Likes me?”  Marinette exclaimed with a hint of confusion in her voice.  “That’s him liking me?”  her brows furrowing into a face showing just how skeptical she was of that statement.

“Well, the first time he met Nino, he banished him from the house. So yeah, I think he likes you.”  Adrien wincing slightly as he recalled that moment with his closest friend. Nevertheless, Adrien smiled at her and she couldn’t help but smile back.  “But you’re right, we should get going.  Let’s get this over with”

He walked back toward the front door and opened it for her.  She headed toward the door, stopped for a moment thinking to herself.  It figures that she finally gets to hang out with Adrien at his house and she doesn’t even make it more than ten steps in.  Maybe she will get to see more tonight. 

Back in the car, after they were both seated and on their way to the photoshoot, Marinette turned to Adrien, still struggling with the scene that played out at the house.

“So, is your Dad always like that?”

Adrien’s eyes met hers and he answered, “Yeah, pretty much”

Marinette filled with a pang of sorrow.  She hated seeing Adrien so disregarded by his own father!  That wasn’t fair to him.  He was such a wonderful person and he deserved to be loved.  The fact that such coldness could be shown toward this person filled with such warmth and radiance, and the fact his mom was not there for him made Marinette’s heart ache for Adrien. 

“I’m sorry” she said simply, not wanting to elaborate with the ‘Gorilla’ in the front of the car listening. Not being sure if what they said would be passed along to Mr. Agreste.  Gathering all her courage, letting it guide her actions, and mixing it with the agony that was pooling within her, she took a deep, calming breath and reached out her hand, a small tremble within that faded as she let her courage guide her, and placed it on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. 

He looked a bit startled when she touched him, and she almost removed her hand, scared she had upset him, but after a moment he looked at her hand and a smile emerged, like the sun cresting over the horizon.  He took the hand opposite hers and let his hand close gently over hers, squeezing her hand in return. 

“Thanks” was all he said. But his warm, genuine smile said more than any words he could have expressed. Adrien let his hand drop, which gave Marinette the opportunity to pull her hand back to herself.

She took a deep breath.  She had just touched Adrien!!  She had actually reached out and touched him.  This wasn’t a touch like when she tripped and fell into him, no, this was deliberate.  And what’s even more exciting is that he touched her back!  And he smiled at her!!! Excitement flowing through her, Marinette turned her head to look out the window, trying not to let Adrien see just how flushed her cheeks were. 

As she stared out the window, she realized that she was not sure where they were.  She glanced around, looking for something familiar, but not seeing anything she recognized. There weren’t any trees that she was used to seeing, all of the buildings were different from what she was used to.

“Um Adrien, where are we going?”  Marinette asked, still looking out the window. Waiting to hear Adrien’s reassuring voice in response

“I don’t know, actually.  The photoshoot must be somewhere new.  I don’t even know what kind of photoshoot this is.”  Adrien answered nonchalantly, not a shred of worry in his voice.  While all this was new for Marinette, she knew that Adrien did this all the time. 

“So,” Marinette, wanting to shed this new wave of worry, turned back towards him, trying to get a conversation going.  “What were some of your favorite photoshoots?”

“Well, most of them are just different casual clothes from my Father’s new line.  But there have been some really unique ones.”

Marinette smiled at him, with a gentle dip of her head, encouraging him to continue.

“There was one that was modeling formal suits which was kinda cool.” Adrien began to relax as the words just started pouring out of him. “Or there was this one that had to do with the seasons, so there were crew members throwing flowers or leaves or fake snow over me” Adrien chuckled a bit.  His eyes glossing over as he delved into his memories.

Marinette watched his face, wanting to capture every detail as he remembered some moments he enjoyed.  His whole face came alive and she could see the veil of listlessness ease up a bit.  She liked seeing him like this, especially after things with his father. 

“There was one photoshoot I had to do in the rain.  I actually hated that one.  The water soaked into everything and I ended up getting sick.  But I think my favorite one was a few months ago.  I was just modeling some casual clothes, but the photographer wanted to try something different.  So, he asked me for my iPod and plugged it in, then just started blasting my music really loud.  He wanted me to get into the music and have fun dancing and moving around.  And so I did.  I got lost in my music and just let loose.  That photoshoot was actually a lot of fun.”  Adrien finished, drifting back from the depths of his memories, then looked over at Marinette.

“Oh my gosh, that sounds like it was really fun.”  She responded.  “What kind of music do you like to listen to?”  She asked, out of sheer curiosity.

“I’m really into Jagged Stone and other rock right now.”  Marinette remembered back to when the two of them had gotten to go to one of Jagged Stone’s concerts together after winning tickets at career day at school.  She also remembered Adrien asking for her, Marinette’s, autograph on the album cover she designed. 

“That’s awesome, I really like Jagged Stone too.”  She beamed at him.

Adrien chuckled “Well of course, I remember asking you for an autograph of his new album.” Marinette flushed with his recognition. “We even went to one of his concerts because of you! Oh, that was such a fun day.”

Marinette couldn’t believe that he remembered. Her flush darkening but not wanting to look away this time, so she changed the subject.  “See, even with the photoshoot intrusion, I’m getting to know you better.”

He laughed a light-hearted laugh that made her heart flutter. 

The two had dived so deep into their conversation, neither of them noticed that the car had had slowed to a stop at their destination.  Gorilla cleared his throat, which was still more like a grunt than anything else, catching Adrien’s attention.  Adrien, noticing they were at the photoshoot, got out of the car, letting Marinette out behind him, still just as chivalrous as ever. 

They were outside an old brick warehouse that looked like no one had been to in years.   The warehouse looked about forty years old and was starting to fall apart.  The front door had begun to develop an orange tint, rust starting its inevitable takeover, and some of the bricks in the front corner were missing, with the mortar between the bricks starting to crack.  The ground surrounding the building was bare in most places, except where dozens of wild unkempt bushes sprung up in random places, bursting out of the cracks in the concrete, thriving upon the light as they found it.  There were also some large boulders, some coming up to their hips in height, scattered around in a somewhat grassy field next to the warehouse.  Patches of brown earth swarmed around the grass threatening to suck the life from what remained in the field.

The photoshoot was set up against one of the sides of the building, using the wall of the warehouse as the backdrop.  Both teens looked over at the photoshoot set up. 

Marinette could see the crew working diligently getting everything prepared.  People were bustling about, back and forward with equipment, the lights, the reflectors, the wardrobe tent, and the…

Motorcycle?

Their eyes locking onto each other’s with wide-eyed amazement, both teens broke into smiles.  This was not another normal ‘casual clothing’ photoshoot; this was a specialty shoot.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

In Trouble

Adrien had been carted away from Marinette almost immediately upon arrival at the photoshoot. He was told to sit in a chair while the hair and makeup team got him ready.  He figured that Marinette would just find somewhere to hang out and watch the events that transpired leading up to the shoot.  As a designer, she was probably enjoying this.  At least he hoped so, since that was part of the assignment, getting to know her too.

After about a quarter of an hour, the makeup and hair team informed him that he was good to go. Next, he needed to get changed into his wardrobe.  He wondered what Marinette would think about the process of getting ready for the pictures.  He knew she would be pulled toward the wardrobe part, but unfortunately for her, the outfit he would be wearing was closed away in the tent set up as a makeshift changing room he was entering.   

He looked at what he was supposed to wear.  It reminded him a bit of Chat’s costume in a number of ways. 

“Wow.  That’s some jacket” Plagg blurted out, flying from inside Adrien’s shirt, not being one to withhold his thoughts.

“Yeah” Adrien breathed out, still reveling about the jacket.  He started changing out of his everyday clothing and into the outfit assembled for him. 

“I’m hungry.  Where’s my cheese?”  The little black Kwami asked impatiently.  His hunger, no, actually just cheese, always on his mind. 

Adrien sighed in exasperation and reached his hand into the pocket of his pants that he had just been wearing.  Feeling around in the pockets he found and removed a wedge of cheese, this smelliest type of cheese being one of the Kwami’s favorites, and gave it to Plagg. Plagg took it eagerly and began to shove bits of cheese into his face, which somehow seemed to turn into a miniature black hole whenever cheese was involved. Meanwhile, Adrien resumed getting dressed.

“So,” Plagg mumbled through a mouth full of Camembert, “How long do we have to stay here?  I wanted to go home and take a nap”

“I don’t know.  My Father said that this should only take a couple hours.” Adrien said a little defensively, with a shrug. 

“A couple hours!  I have to wait that long before I get more cheese!”  Plagg complained, his magical flight dipping down in devastation.

“You still have most of the piece I just gave you!”  Adrien gestured to the wedge with a single bite out of it, an edge of irritation in his voice.

“Yeah, but what about when that’s gone?”  Plagg whined.

“You’ll survive.” Adrien said flatly, brushing off Plagg’s grumbles. 

Now fully dressed, he turned his attention onto the full-length mirror that the crew had set up within the tent. 

His blonde hair was mostly slicked back with the exception of a few loose strands that hung down over his forehead, something like a fifties greaser.  He was wearing a white V-neck T-shirt that clung to his body, with a slim fit that was much tighter than his normal shirts.  The shirt was effectively hidden by a very swanky leather jacket.  It really did remind him of the top part of Chat Noir’s suit.  It had a zipper down the front, which Adrien left open to expose the white T-shirt underneath.  On the lower half of his body, he had loose, faded denim jeans. The jeans had a few worn holes, strategically placed by the master designer.  Biker boots, black gloves that fit perfectly on his hands, and sunglasses placed on his head completed the look. 

He was the embodiment of a biker boy.  Brimming with confidence, a swaggering smile split across his face as he looked at his reflection.  He took one more look at his Kwami shoving his face with cheese, rolled his eyes, and left the tent.  He strolled over toward the motorcycle resting near the wall of the warehouse. 

 


 

Adrien had been whisked away to get ready for the photoshoot, leaving Marinette to navigate the scene for herself.  She didn’t mind, she had never seen a photoshoot like this. It was amazing. Her focus was first drawn to the motorcycle.  Marinette didn’t know the first thing about motorcycles, but even still, she could tell that this one was nice.  It was black and silver, perfectly shiny with not scratch, dent, or smudge on the bike.  She understood that it was purchased specifically for this photoshoot. 

Her eyes wandered around the setup, taking in all the lights and the crew members bustling around, until they settled on a large rock that she could sit on. It looked out of the way of everything but still close enough to see the photoshoot in its entirety. 

She sat down on the rock, getting comfortable.  She got out her phone and took a picture of the scene with the lights and people, glad to have a picture of Adrien’s modeling life. 

As she watched the scene being set up before her, her thoughts began to wander.  She thought about Adrien and what she’s learned so far in their brief time together. 

She had learned that Adrien and his father had a very strained relationship, his father was very cold to him and in return Adrien couldn’t show the warmth he shows everyone else.  She learned about his taste in music, but she had already kind of known a lot of his tastes in music. It was helpful to learn that he had more fun at a shoot when he was free to be himself especially when listening to his music. Now, she was getting the chance to learn more about his modeling work. 

Her thoughts stayed on course thinking about their project.  She was glad that this photoshoot still fit into their plans to get to know one another, but she knew that this wasn’t what either of them had in mind.  Adrien had invited her over right away to begin working on it, glad that he had an open afternoon.  Part of her was overly excited that he had invited her over so promptly.  But, thanks to his father, he no longer had an open afternoon.  The disappointment in his face when he was told he did not have the afternoon off had been devastating.

She spent a fair amount of time considering his Chinese lessons, his Fencing practices, his Piano lessons, and the photoshoots he had to do.  As she did so, she drew upon the mental picture of Adrien’s schedule she had in her room.  She had spent so much time just figuring out when and where he was going to be, not at all in a stalker-esque way.  Now that she thought about it, his schedule was filled with school, practices, lessons, and modeling work.  It finally dawned on her that the amount of free time Adrien had was minimal if he even got any at all. 

She thought of her own daily routine, which consisted of school and of occasionally helping her parents in the bakery.  Other than that, she was free to hang out with friends or sew or do whatever she wanted.  

Adrien didn’t have that luxury.  He didn’t have the freedom to choose what he wanted to do.  He didn’t get to be himself.  He was forced to be who everyone else told him to be.  He was caged, and she was starting to understand that.

The more she thought about these things, it caused a sense of dread to fall upon her.  For the better part of a year that she had a crush on Adrien, she hadn’t really known him.  She had been in love with the idea of him, his kindness, his humor, his smartness, but she had never gotten to truly know him.  And now that she was finally getting to know him, she was realizing that there was more going on with Adrien than she had ever known.  There was a darkness inside him that he constantly had to fight away.

That might explain the listlessness she noticed on his face when she had really gotten a good look at him.  He was tired of everything.  He was tired of this life he had to live that wasn’t his. He was exhausted.

Realizing this, she wanted nothing more than to support Adrien, to help make his life better and happier.  She wanted Adrien to enjoy himself and have some fun.  So, she was going to not only get to know him over the next two weeks but use this project as an excuse to spend time with him and help him to enjoy life more. 

She was going to be his friend.  He needed that.  But she would have to figure out how to beat her crippling shyness. It had caused her too many issues when it came to Adrien. Her newfound revelation was possibly the exact motivation she needed to do so.  This was no longer just about her and her crush. Her obsession with him would be over, because this was now about Adrien and what he needs. 

And with a roll of her eyes, and a figurative smack to the forehead, she realized exactly why Ms. Bustier had given them this assignment. Marinette understood the reasoning for making them pick out of their ordinary comfort zones. It all made perfect sense now; this was precisely her goal. 

Breaking through the doors of her mind, something compelled her to look up. As she did, she saw Adrien walking toward the motorcycle in the middle of the set up. 

She.

Couldn’t.

Breath.

The world stopped, her breath was gone, all feeling in her body disappeared, and time froze. Adrien had such a bad boy look going on.  His hair was styled back away from his face, bringing all focus right into his emerald green eyes.  His denim jeans hugged the curve of his hips perfectly, and that black leather jacket encompassed the wide expanse of his broad shoulders flawlessly. 

She saw his gaze searching through the normally vacant lot, finally focusing on her, perched on her rock. A smile snuck onto his face, but it quickly contorted into concern as he looked at her.  That’s when Marinette realized that she was not only staring but gawking at him.  She couldn’t move, she couldn’t look away, and she still wasn’t able to breathe. She knew she should, that she needed to, but she was powerless to do so. 

“Marinette?”  He called over to her.

Hearing his familiar voice seemed to break the spell she was under.  With a start, she blinked her eyes a few times before looking back up at Adrien.  Slowly she found that the world was spinning, and the cumbersome grasp on her lungs let up, and her paralysis drifted away.  She managed a smiled for him, waving as she did so, not trusting herself to speak. 

Adrien’s smile returned just as the photographer approached him to begin the shoot, instructing Adrien in an animated Italian accent.  The same accent and effervescence that he always had whenever she had seen him with Adrien at a photoshoot.

Marinette watched on as the photographer directed Adrien. Calling upon pose after pose, taking shot after shot.  Adrien complying with every direction thrust upon him.  After about five minutes, the photographer called for a break.  He stared into the camera, looking at the pictures he had just taken, a frown deepening onto his face. 

A moment passed, and she heard a sentence that she had already begun to recognize from previous shoots, so she believed Adrien knew what was coming too, “These are good, but there is something not quite right.”  He tapped his finger along the base of his chin, trying to concoct a method for obtaining the photos he desired.

Marinette, letting the seed that was planted moments ago flourish, thought about what would help Adrien. He needed to enjoy himself in order to better get into a bad-boy, biker mood.  An idea blooming in her mind, the solution came to her.

“Excuse me” she said, not a trace of fear or timidity in her voice, she stood up and walked over to the photographer.  “I don’t mean to interrupt, but I have an idea that might remedy this situation, if you’ll let me try it?” 

The photographer, taken aback by the audacity of someone else stepping in, pursed his lips in contemplation. Having not come up with anything himself however, he mentally backed down. “Ok, let’s try it”

Marinette looked over at Adrien, who tilted his head thoughtfully trying to probe into her mind.  She continued to look at him, a knowing grin appearing. “Keep taking pictures, I’ll be right back”

She walked back to her backpack, having laid it up against the base of the rock that she had been sitting on.  She reached into a front pocket and pulled her iPod out.  

She started back to the pair, scrolling through it, she pulled up her Jagged Stone playlist.  She glanced back toward the two to see the photographer continuing with taking pictures, half heartedly, because Adrien’s attention kept drifting back to Marinette.  Marinette, giggling inside, knowing that this was going to work. She slid her thumb across the device raising the volume.  Her confidence growing, she picked up her pace.

Adrien took a moment, still gazing at Marinette, unsure as to what she was doing. The photographer paused, realizing that he had lost all of Adrien’s attention.  But as Marinette’s finger traced over her iPod, the familiar music washed over Adrien.  The biggest smile she had seen from Adrien all day enveloped his face.  Satisfied with her work, she set the iPod down next to the photographer and turned to walk back to her rock to reclaim her makeshift seat. 

 “Marinette,” Adrien called over to her before she could take more than two steps.  “I think you should stay and watch.”

She turned back to see Adrien looking at her expectantly, that wide grin still plastered on his face.  She turned and walked back to stand near the photographer, making sure to stay out of his way. 

This time, the photographer did not have to direct Adrien to the different poses.  With confidence from the music surging through him, he was able to take control of the situation.  Every few minutes, he would look over at her, smiling, almost laughing as she rocked along with the beat of the music.  She was glad she could help with the photoshoot, but more importantly, she was glad she could help him enjoy it. All while enjoying it herself.

Adrien seemed to be really getting into the shoot.  She watched him as he posed leaning on the bike, sitting on it, or simply standing in front of it.  Damn, he looked great, she thought to herself as she watched on, the minutes passing them by.

After a while, Adrien began taking off his jacket.  The photographer went crazy snapping pictures as Adrien slowly peeled the leather jacket off his arms, revealing his white undershirt.  Adrien then swung the jacket over his shoulder using one hand, posing.

Marinette could feel the warmth flooding through her face, flushing as she stared at the blond ‘biker boy’ in front of her.  She hadn’t noticed just how tight that T-shirt was on him until now.  Nor had she realized just how defined Adrien’s muscles were; every chord of his muscles were visible through the shirt clinging to his stunning form. 

She looked at the definition in the muscles of his arms.  When she had squeezed his shoulder, comforting him in the car, she could feel how muscular he was.  But now, seeing every bit of his form wrapped in the tight white shirt, Marinette’s eyes locked onto him, and nothing was going to make them move.  She was going to be lucky if she didn’t start to drool.  Luckily, Adrien was busy at that moment and paid no attention to her. At least until after she found a way to pull herself together. 

Never before had Adrien done a photoshoot with this level of exposure of his body.  This was the exact opposite of his “Adrien the Fragrance” ad.  She had obsessed over that ad, and it almost came back to bite her when she and Adrien were hiding from his fans. She ended up repeating it word for word in front of him.  But this, this was something else entirely.  Marinette stared after him, watching as he turned his back to the camera, then looked back toward it over his shoulder.  She was in trouble.  Hadn’t she just resolved to be a better friend to Adrien?  This was not helping her get over her bashfulness in his presence.  Quite the opposite, actually.

She took a deep breath, trying to cool herself down. She looked away, wanting to conceal her reddened cheeks.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, coming to this particular photoshoot with him. 

Collecting her wits, she took another picture of Adrien modeling, saving it to her project folder on her phone. 

Adrien glanced over at her, chuckling he said “Well, what do you think?”  Relieved that she’d had time to collect herself before he had noticed her.  “Am I doing ok?”  He continued posing for the camera while waiting for her response.

Marinette paused for a moment, racking her brain for a response, knowing full well that he looked amazing.  Landing on a memory that she knew would make him smile, she blurted out, having no time to stop herself, “Radiant.”

Adrien continued posing and Marinette knew he had heard her, but he obviously hadn’t figured out what she was getting at yet. 

So, she continued, inspired by her previous comparison to his perfume ad.  “Carefree”

She could see how tremendously confused he was becoming.  Knowing that the words that she was using did not describe the “bad boy biker” he was portraying or the situation at all.

 “Dreamy.” she said, pausing once more, locking her eyes on his, noticing that he was searching through his mind.

A light turned on in Adrien’s mind and Marinette saw it flicker to life. Together, both trying not to laugh, they said in unison “Adrien, the fragrance.”

Both of them, unable to resist the pressure building up inside them, exploded into a fit of laughter.  Adrien’s reaction was enormous, throwing his head back with a deep genuine laugh bursting forth. 

A small pink hue dawned on Marinette’s face as she giggled alongside him, and even Adrien began to flush just a little.  It seemed like he truly hadn’t had this much fun in a long time.

The photographer gave her a sideways look of disapproval as she finished laughing, so she figured that she should probably return to her rock and let them work.  Locking eyes with Adrien once more, she motioned to the rock and dismissed herself as he smiled after her, still recovering from his bout of laughter. 

Resuming her seat, she proceeded to keep herself occupied on her phone, texting Alya.  She needed something to pull her away from the scene taking place not far from her, and her best friend could provide her just that. 

Marinette: So, I’m in trouble…

Alya responded almost right away. 

Alya:  What happened? 

Marinette: It turns out Adrien’s father scheduled a photoshoot for him after school. 

Alya:  Oh no.  So, no working on your project today?

Marinette: Actually…

Marinette:  I was able to come and watch him do his modeling. 

Alya: What?!

Marinette: We’ll work on the project after the photoshoot is done.  

Alya: Girl!  I need pics!

Marinette sent Alya the picture she had just taken of Adrien, posing in front of the photographer next to the motorcycle.

Alya: OMG! 

Marinette:  I told you. Trouble.

Alya: Girl, how lucky are you?  To see him in person while he’s modeling THAT!  How much drool we talking?

Marinette: Just a little.

Alya:  Only a little?

Marinette: I can’t have him catch me…

Alya:  Haha! Oh girl, what am I gonna do with you?

Marinette didn’t know what she was even going to do with herself, let alone what her friend was going to do with her.  She glanced up at the photoshoot taking place, and saw the photographer talking to Adrien, who had stopped posing.

Marinette: It looks like they’re almost done.  I’ll text you later tonight to let you know how everything goes.

Alya:  Good luck!  And have fun!

 


 

 

Adrien was having a great time.  He was enjoying this far more than he thought he would.  For one, Marinette was here.  He loved having a friend with him, it wasn’t often that he was able to have company at a shoot.  It made him feel so much more relaxed and cheerful. 

But when Marinette had pulled out her own iPod playing his favorite music, it sent waves of ecstasy running through him.  She knew what he needed perfectly, because she had actually taken the time to listen to him.  She had cared.  With the brilliant sound of Jagged Stone engulfing him, he was able to assume the whole ‘biker’ persona he needed for this photoshoot.  Rock was the perfect genre for this shoot. Bikers were raw and edgy, just like the music. Slipping into the mind of a biker was so easy with the music, almost like when he had to transform.

Every chance he got, he would glance over to Marinette, watching her having fun, dancing to the music, or simply watching him and the photographer.  Just having her there made this so much better.  He was saddened a little when Marinette had excused herself to go sit down though. 

“And we are finished!”  Adrien looked over to see the photographer glancing through the photos on his camera, grinning from ear to ear.  He shot a look over to Adrien before declaring “You did wonderful, my boy!  These photographs are amazing!  Your father will be most impressed.”

Adrien couldn’t help but smile sardonically at the compliment.  He wondered if his dad would be impressed with his work.  He never seemed to meet any of his father’s expectations. Would his father even be proud to know that he saved Paris on an almost daily basis? Probably not, he thought feeling downcast.

Thinking about things, his father never seemed to listen to him.  Anything he said to him seemed like it went drifting into one ear and directly out the other.  But when he was talking with Marinette earlier, she had hung onto his words, actually letting them in.  She had heard everything he had to say and then she used that information to help him.  It shouldn’t make him feel this good to just be listened to. 

Adrien, realizing he had been dismissed, let go of those depressing thoughts. He walked over to Marinette, who looked a little preoccupied on her phone. 

“I’m gonna go change,” he informed her, “then we can head back home to work on the project” he stated, flashing a row of beautifully white teeth as she looked up to meet his gaze.

“Sounds great.”  She beamed up at him, as he turned to walk back to the tent where he changed previously. 

As he entered the tent, he found a small black mass curled up, sleeping on top of his discarded casual clothes.  He gently picked up the Kwami and placed him on the ground next to the clothes he needed to change into.  He removed all of the biker gear and began changing back into his normal clothes.

He took a few moments to stop and think about everything.  He really hadn’t ever had that much fun at a shoot before.  Having a friend made all the difference in the world.  Someone that he could laugh with and let him be himself.  Why was it so difficult for him to be himself?  Why couldn’t his father just let him have his own freedom?

After a few minutes alone with his thoughts while he finished getting dressed, he placed the still snoozing Plagg in his inside shirt pocket and went back outside to find Marinette. 

Only she wasn’t sitting on the rock that she had been just moments ago.  He looked around and saw her talking with a tall brunette woman who he knew was in charge of the wardrobe.  He headed over there to meet up with his friend. 

“That is so cool!” Marinette was talking with the lady passionately. 

She turned to fill Adrien in.  “Renae was talking to me about fashion.  It’s her job to make sure she has the right clothing from Gabriel’s new line and make sure it all fits you perfectly before each shoot.”

Adrien looked at Renae and smiled at her.  “Renae.”  He reached out to shake her hand.  “It’s nice to officially meet you.  I’m sorry I’ve never introduced myself before on shoots.  Things get kinda crazy.  But you know that.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about it honey.”  Renae said in a southern American accent, shaking his hand.  “You’ve got enough on your plate, you adorable little cinnamon roll.”  She smiled at him.  “You looked great out there today.” Renae turned away from Marinette completely talking directly to Adrien. “You were having so much fun, I don’t think I have seen you fall so deeply into the work. I was elated to see you with a friend out there today. Especially a girl.” She gave him a sly wink and turned back so she could address the both of them.

“Thanks” he responded, smiling at the warmness this woman was showing him. He flushed slightly when he realized what she had said. Marinette was just his friend, but he did agree. It was a refreshing change to have a friend at this shoot.

“But if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work.  You know how your father is.”  She waved at them as she walked away toward the tent Adrien had left his biker attire in.

“You two seemed to get along well” Adrien stated as he gestured for Marinette to begin walking to the car that was waiting to pick them up and take them home. 

“It’s nice talking to people who are in the fashion industry.  I can’t wait to be in it myself someday.”  Marinette explained as she began to stroll over to the car, holding true to the resolve she had set, wanting to try to be less shy and awkward around him.

Adrien knew that Marinette loved fashion.  He knew that she had a notebook full of designs.  He even knew that she had fabricated quite a few of her own designs.  But to see her come alive talking about fashion was something staggeringly beautiful.  He watched her features become incredibly animated as she continued to talk.  There was no hesitation in her words, no awkward stumbling or squeaks that he had actually grown accustomed to.

“I know that fashion design is what I want to do, but I want to learn to better my skills and further my knowledge about fashion first.  I love the designing, the creating, and watching something come alive.  Taking a blank sheet of paper, putting my ideas on it and then turning it into a reality is nothing short of wonderful.”

She continued to describe her passion as Adrien opened the car door for her.  The passion and fervor gushing out of her as she described her interests. They both slid into the back seat, the car beginning the journey to take them back to Adrien’s house.

“Eventually I want to be a famous fashion designer.  Like your dad, actually.  He’s kind of my fashion idol.” Adrien took notice of Marinette’s blush as she admitted this.  “But I need more practice before I can even think of applying for an internship with Gabriel Agreste or anyone else.”

Adrien knew that Marinette’s work was fantastic.  In fact, he thought she could probably intern for her father as is.  Seeing her unnecessarily insecure about her abilities troubled Adrien.  He was glad that she was determined to be the best, but he already thought she was amazing.  Maybe he could help her see that too. 

“I love seeing you light up sharing what you are passionate about, Mari.”  Adrien declared, the new nickname for her casually rolling off his tongue.  “And I’ve seen some of your work and it’s incredible!  But if you ever need help or a second opinion or anything, I’d love to be there for you.” 

She beamed up at him, her smile reaching her eyes.  He loved seeing her this happy.  She hadn’t stuttered or acted nervous at all while talking to him.  He loved seeing this side of Mari and he was glad he had the excuse to get to know more about her, because the more he got to know her, the more he really wanted her to be his friend.

“Oh, by the way, here is your iPod back.”  Adrien had made sure to grab it before they left. He handed the device to her and she placed it back in her backpack.  “Thank you so much.  That was perfect, and I had so much fun with it.”  Her smile matched his as he spoke.  “You knew just what I needed.”

“Well, I heard what you said earlier, and I figured it might help.  No biggie.”  She said with a shrug, trying to act nonchalant. However, she was internally screaming with joy. 

Adrien knew she had heard him and listened.  But that was definitely not ‘no biggie’.  It had meant the world to him, and he wanted her to know that.  “No really.”  He looked at her, meeting her bright blue eyes with his.  Wanting to hold her eyes with his own “Thank you.”  He said this last bit slowly, never losing eye contact, not even blinking, making sure she truly understood how thankful he was.

“You’re welcome Adrien” she said, returning his gaze. She started to get lost within his eyes.  He had never held her gaze for this long, or more accurately, she had never been able to keep her gaze locked with his for this long. It felt like an eternity for her, until she felt the car stop, signaling they had arrived at their destination, and allowing her to crash back down to reality.

Both of them looked away, simultaneously grabbing their respective school bags and exiting the vehicle. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Getting to Know Me

As Marinette walked up the steps of Adrien’s house for the second time that afternoon, the sun was just beginning to set, casting radiant orange rays over the mansion, making it look warm and inviting. 

As she entered the house, the familiar waves of awe struck her yet again, just by simply looking at the rooms within.  This time there was no one standing at the top of the stairs. No ominous figure looming over the entryway. 

She was able to focus on the portrait that hung at least ten feet tall on the wall above the staircase.  It was of Adrien and his father.  But whereas most family portraits involved everyone smiling, looking genial or familial, this one was different. 

Gabriel, wearing all black, had his normal stoic gaze and an indifferent look etched into his face.  His mouth could even almost be considered a frown.  This was the same look she had seen the man wear earlier today, and most likely every other day. 

But when she looked at Adrien’s likeness in the portrait, her expression changed to one showed her inner sorrow.  There was no genial smile.  He was not relaxed.  He stood stiffly with his father’s arm on his shoulder, a deadpan look on his face, his eyes empty and distant.  He seemed trapped, almost caged in by that grasp of his father.  He was also clad in black clothing, revealing just how colorless and depressing the picture really was.  If she had needed any further proof about Adrien’s forlorn relationship with his father, this had confirmed everything. 

Knowing she would not be using it for her project but wanting to be able to look back on this sight, she took a picture of the portrait.  

She looked over at Adrien who was looking at her curiously, and realized that it probably looked funny, her taking a picture of the sad portrait. 

“I’m sorry” she whispered to him, not wanting her voice to carry in the cavernous space.  She then gestured to the portrait.  “That…” but she trailed off, not knowing what she actually wanted to say. 

“It’s ok.” Adrien said, a dull ache audible in his voice.  “That was done not long after my mom disappeared and neither of us were holding up too well.”

Marinette nodded solemnly.  Realizing that she had just made this moment unbearably grim, she cleared her throat and managed to muster up an eager expression, in order to alleviate the situation.

“So, do I get to see more of your house this time?” sounding more serious, and less playful than she had expected. “Or should we work here?” Gesturing to the cavernous entryway and smiling at Adrien. 

Adrien chuckled once, grabbed her hand, led her up the staircase, past the depressing portrait, and up the stairs to the right. 

When he reached his room, he predictably opened the door for her and held it open, so she could enter first.  As always she blushed slightly, letting that rosy hue wash over her face yet again.

If Marinette thought she was impressed by their front entry, she was awestruck with Adrien’s room.  She looked around spotting a skate ramp, a rock climbing wall, a basketball hoop, a huge TV in front of a large couch, a foosball table, arcade games, a grand piano, 3 monitors for his computer, and a king-sized bed.  She looked up and spotted a zip line over by the spiral staircase that led to a second level balcony in his room.  She stepped into the room further to get a better look at the second level.  There were shelves upon shelves of books, movies and video games. 

“Um, Adrien?”  She said, still staring around his room in amazement.  “This is not a bedroom.”  She giggled as she asked, “How much do I owe you for admission to this fun park?”

“Haha” he retaliated, rolling his eyes. “For you, admission is free today.”

 


 

Adrien watched as Marinette looked at his room.  It always made him uncomfortable to have anyone who visited him ogling at it.  Most of the stuff in here was “from his dad”, even though it was always Nathalie who ended up buying the things. Gabriel was always trying to make up for never being present in Adrien’s life, even though he couldn’t be bothered to do it himself. 

He looked away and inwardly groaned as she took out her phone again and took a few pictures of his room.  He hoped she didn’t use pictures of his room as his home for their project.  This wasn’t home for him.  It was more like a prison with how often he was confined here. 

She walked over to his large windows that took up the entire wall and looked out at the view.  He followed her most of the way but stopped to sit down on the couch.  He watched Marinette look out at the view. He did enjoy seeing her smile.  It was a nice view of Paris.  Almost as nice as the view from her balcony, which he had visited as Chat Noir one evening not so long ago.  

Marinette turned to face him and then walked over to sit on the couch with him, purposefully keeping herself a few feet away. 

“Thanks again for coming to the photoshoot with me.  That definitely takes first place as my favorite photoshoot.”

Marinette smiled up at him, her blue eyes sparkling.  “I’m glad.  Plus, it really wasn’t that bad.  I enjoyed myself.  From the looks of it, you did too!”

Adrien could feel his smile growing as he thought back on the photoshoot.  “Yeah, I did.”  They looked at each other smiling for another couple seconds before Marinette turned away quickly, reaching down toward her school bag.  Adrien thought he saw her normal blush adorn her cheeks as she turned away.  She grabbed a notebook and opened it to a page with a bunch of writing on it, her face shifting into a more professional expression.  And with that, the blush he thought he saw had vanished, leaving him to wonder if he had only imagined it.

“So, I have some questions I would like to ask you to get to know you better,” she said, looking at him.  She paused, and he looked down at her notebook, realizing the page she had opened to had a list of questions for him.  There must have been at least 20 questions!  When had she had the time to prepare this?

He wondered briefly if any of those questions would help her to learn about his ‘home’.  He still hadn’t come up with anything himself, but he was honestly hoping she could.  And from the looks of that list, as well as the events of the afternoon, he knew that if anyone could figure him out, Mari could. 

“If that’s alright?” she enquired at length, interrupting his thoughts, and jarring him back to reality.  Adrien realized that he hadn’t responded to Marinette, whose professional composure had slipped into a slump of uncertainty. 

“Sorry” Adrien said, his eyes snapping back up to her face.  “Of course!  What would you like to know?”

 


 

After going through her list of questions with Adrien, Marinette excused herself to the (huge!) bathroom.  On her way out, her feet got tangled up underneath her as she was walking, tripping her and causing her to fall into his desk.  The monitors sprang to life and the picture on the desktop captivated Marinette.  On his computer screens was a picture of a beautiful woman. Her hair was blonde and wonderfully kept, but what captivated Marinette were her large green eyes. Those eyes were almost exact replicas of Adrien’s. The exact shade, the shape, they were even filled with the same life as his.  She was stunningly beautiful.  Marinette couldn’t help but stare at the picture.  Adrien’s voice came out of nowhere startling her out of her trance.

“That’s my mom” he said quietly, coming to stand right behind her. 

“She’s gorgeous” Marinette responded, still not taking her eyes off the screen.  She remembered seeing this photo briefly before, but that was as Ladybug and the akuma called Simon Says had cut their interaction short.  Now, taking the time to look at it, she saw just how much Adrien looked like her.

 “You have her eyes” she finally remarked, after a long silence.  Her eyes went wide as she realized that was the exact thing she had said to him as Ladybug when she had first seen this picture.  She hoped he wouldn’t notice. 

Marinette took a breath and drew her attention away from the computer to glance at Adrien, who had a small, reminiscent smile on his face while looking at the woman on the screen. 

Well, he wasn’t gaping at her, so it looks like her secret is still safe.  He was just as engrossed in the moment as she was. She smiled at him.  Then before she could stop herself, she found herself asking “What happened to her?”

 


 

Adrien shouldn’t have been surprised at the question, but hearing Marinette ask about his mother, the pain and sadness he was suppressing, began to bubble over.  He knew he wasn’t going to be able to continue pushing those feelings down, like he always does.  Some of this must have showed because Marinette instantly looked like she regretted asking. 

 “I’m- I’m sorry.  You don’t have to tell me.  I shouldn’t have asked.”  She dropped her face, her eyes downcast, and turned away from him.

As much as he would like to just let it drop, he felt he should tell her.  There was something begging him to talk to her.  They had been getting closer as friends for the past many months, and she had been so helpful to him today during the photoshoot.  Deep down, he knew he wanted to tell her.  He couldn’t describe why, but he felt like telling Marinette might make him feel better.

“It was almost a year ago.”  Adrien said, almost inaudibly, the words coming out as more of a breath than a sentence.

Marinette turned to him, her eyes wide.  She opened her mouth to protest, but nothing came out.  Her jaw just dropped and she seemed dumbfounded, so Adrien continued.

“I don’t really know what happened.  She just disappeared.  The police and my Dad searched everywhere, but there was no sign of her.”  Adrien couldn’t bring himself to meet Marinette’s eyes.  He knew that all the pain and agony simmering inside of him would show through his eyes.  “I don’t know where she is, or why she left, or even what happened to her.  One day, she was just gone.”  Adrien took a few steadying breaths, hearing the quivering emerge in his own voice.  He had to try to keep his composure, still not able to look at Marinette. 

His head jerked up in surprise as he felt Marinette wrap her arms around him and enfold him in a hug.  She didn’t say a word, but after a few seconds of comprehension, Adrien wrapped his arms around her. 

Adrien didn’t know the last time he had been hugged.  He didn’t count all the times Chloe trapped him in her hugs at school; those weren’t real hugs.  This was a real and heartwarming hug.  His father never hugged him like this.  No one ever did anymore.  Overwhelmed, a shudder slipped through Adrien’s defenses. He couldn’t suppress the feelings, he needed this more than he had ever known.

And it wasn’t until being wrapped in Marinette’s embrace that he realized how starved he was for physical affection.  That was why he was so surprised when she had reached out and touched his shoulder in the car.  It had felt so nice and natural, something he was not accustomed to.  Just like when he had carried Marinette, as Chat Noir, from her balcony to the date he had set up for Ladybug.  Even then, he had been searching for affection, and Marinette had encircled her arms around him and curled into his chest.   

Marinette was such an affectionate person, he loved the warm sensation he felt spreading through him at her touch. It was intoxicating, as he felt every part of his body tingle from the spreading warmth; it was a warmth that he hadn’t felt since the last time his mom had held him.  He wrapped her tighter in his arms and breathed a contented sigh.  The cold pain from his mother was currently a dull ache, warmed by the embrace of his friend.  No longer a stinging pain that he shoved as deep down within himself as he could.

She pulled away from him, sooner than he wanted her to, and looked up at him. 

“I am so sorry about your mom.  And I’m sorry I upset you by asking about her” Adrien took a deep breath, determined to tell her that it was ok, but before he could, she continued.  “But thank you for telling me.  It means a lot to me that you trust me enough to tell me that.”  She smiled warmly at him, then gave him one more brief hug. 

Adrien did not know what to say to that, and when she pulled away again, he could only give her a diminutive smile.  She returned his smile, before pulling out her phone and taking a picture of his computer screens. 

Was that home?  Adrien thought about that.  Yes, his mom was home, or at least a large part of his home.  Marinette had done it.  She had done what he had thought was impossible; she had found something that was ‘home’ for him. 

 


 

Marinette sat at her desk looking at her notebook.  She had gone over her whole list of questions with Adrien earlier that day and written down all the answers.  She looked over them now, letting his answers swirl through her thoughts.  His favorite color was green.  His favorite season was summer.  His favorite sport was fencing.  He loved watching anime.  His favorite animal is a cat. 

But the more she looked at these questions, the more she realized that this didn’t help her get to know Adrien as much as spending the afternoon with him did.  Sure, she now knew his favorite food was croissants, but how did that help her know what home was to Adrien?  Spending time with him today, seeing him interact with his Dad, watching him model, and just talking to him was more enlightening than her list of questions. 

Looking over her questions and thinking back to when Adrien answered them for her, she realized that he just kind of rattled off the answers.  He didn’t go into depth about anything.  Looking at her list, she understood that was because none of her questions probed deep.  They were all simple questions that, if she hadn’t been such a stuttering mess around him all the time, she would already know as his friend. 

No, if she wanted to really get to know him, she was going to have to ask some deep questions.  She was going to have to delve deep into his life.  Questions that she would have not dared ask before.  But after her promise to herself to be there for Adrien and really get to know him, she had to do this.  She sat down at her computer and started researching some good questions to ask. 

Who inspires you?  What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?  What do you wish you were better at doing?  What is something you fear?  Now those were questions that would get the ball rolling.  These questions would require explanations from her school partner, and in those details, Marinette could get a better sense of Adrien and what he considered home. 

She took out her phone and looked through the pictures she had taken so far.  Adrien’s house, the photoshoot, him modeling.  She then got to the picture of the portrait of Adrien and his father.  Just looking at this photo made her heart ache for her crush.  She flipped through a few more pictures until she found the one she had taken while at his house earlier.  The one of his mother. 

Marinette looked at the picture.  She remembered how Adrien had looked so fondly at his mother.  She knew he missed her and wondered what happened to her.  But she also knew that he loved her, and she made him happy. 

Of all the photos she had taken that day, this one was the only one that actually meant ‘home’ to Adrien. 

She blushed as she remembered back to when she had hugged him.  She hadn’t realized what she was doing until she had already wrapped her arms around him.  Looking back now, she was proud of herself.  She was able to put Adrien and what he needed ahead of her crush and her nervousness. 

But she sure had enjoyed hugging him.  She had hugged Adrien!!  And the best part was that he hugged her back!  It had felt so good wrapped in his arms, breathing in his scent, feeling his warmth.   She had hated to pull away.  But her nerves had caught up to her boldness and she had left his house not long after, since they were done with her list of questions. 

Her head was swimming with memories of Adrien’s pain filled eyes, his arms around her, his laugh as he modeled on the bike, and every other event of the long day that had just passed.  She needed to get out and clear her head.

“Tikki?”  She turned to look over at her desk, where her kwami was munching on a cookie. 

“Yes, Marinette?” Tikki answered sweetly before finishing off her cookie.

“I need to clear my head.  Spots on!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

The Right Words

 

Ladybug swung from rooftop to rooftop through Paris, enjoying the freedom that being Ladybug gave her.  It also gave her time to clear her head from all the day’s events.  It had been a full day, and a day full of Adrien too. 

But now she was able to let all that migrate to the back of her mind as she focused on using her yo-yo to travel across Paris.  Letting her yo-yo wrap itself around various objects as she propelled herself over and through the rooftops of Paris.

After about a half hour, she found herself alighting on the Eiffel Tower.  She placed her yoyo back on her hip, then turned to look over Paris.  This was her favorite view of the city.  The view from Adrien’s room had been nice enough, but nothing compared to looking down over Paris from the Eiffel Tower.  From up here there were no obstructions, nothing blocking the view.  She could look out and see the entire city.

She sat down, letting her legs dangle without a care, over the edge.  She leaned back onto her hands, closed her eyes, tilted her head back and just sat there, motionless.  This was her chance to just take in the moment, ignoring everything else in her life, in Marinette’s life.  She listened to the birds chirping, the felt the wind whipping her pigtails, and she felt the cool evening air alive with energy.  It was peaceful.  This is where she could always come for some peace and quiet.

“Well hey there Bugaboo!”

She jumped, startled, and not for the first time that day.  Her eyes flew open and she looked around her.  Her eyes found her onyx clad partner standing, nonchalant, not five feet away from her.  He really was quiet on his feet.  Darn cat!

Chat Noir continued “I’m sorry.  Did I disturb your cat nap?”

Ladybug rolled her eyes in exasperation and responded “Hello Chat.  What brings you out this evening?”

Chat strode over and plopped himself down next to her.  “I just needed to get out and clear my head.  It was a long day.” 

Ladybug turned to look at Chat, with complete empathy on her face; she knew that all too well.  “Oh?  That bad?”  She asked, honestly curious how his day was.  It wasn’t often that Chat actually talked like a normal person.

Chat chuckled.  “Not at all.” An open smile cracking his lips.  “It was a great day, actually.  Just a lot happened.  So how about you, M’lady?  What brings you here on this purrfect evening?”

Ladybug looked out over Paris and smiled, answering vaguely “Just enjoying the quietness of the evening.” She looked over at Chat with a playful accusatory glare.  “Or at least I was.” 

Meowch” He retorted, laughing at her teasing.   

They fell into silence. Both of them just sitting there, not wanting to disturb the peace, looking over the city they protect.  This city was truly wonderful.  Paris was undoubtedly home for Ladybug.

Ladybug thoughts slowly stole away from her and wandered back to her school assignment.  It lifted her spirits knowing that she was getting to know Adrien and what ‘home’ meant to him.  Of all the people she was closest to, he was the only one who she didn’t have some semblance of an idea if what ‘home’ was to him.  She knew Alya’s and had a good idea of Nino’s, especially now that Alya and Nino had been spending so much time together.  But not Adrien’s.  And those were the people closest to her.  Well, except…

Ladybug looked over at Chat Noir and briefly wondered what ‘home’ meant to him.  She had often wondered about his life outside of the suit. 

But she knew she couldn’t ask.  It would reveal too much about their secret identities, and those were something had to remain safe.  They had to protect their friends and families, and the only way to do that was ensuring that no one knew who the superheroes really were, not even each other.

That didn’t stop Ladybug from wanting to know.  She really was curious about who Chat was under his mask.  An underlying part of her knew that if she knew more about the person underneath the mask, they might be even more coordinated, but that was not worth the risk.  She knew he was curious about her as well.  Brushing off Chat’s advances at learning more about each other was always hard. It was something that she didn’t entirely agree with, but it needed to be done. 

Speaking of needing to be done, she sighed as she remembered the physics homework she still had to do that was waiting for her at home.  She has spent her entire day working on this one project, and physics just slipped through the gaps.  Her mind felt refreshed from the events of the day and she was ready to return home. 

“Well, I should really be getting home.” Ladybug said. 

Chat’s shoulders drooped, he looked hurt that she was leaving.  “What, no evening cat chase around the roofs of Paris?”  There was a pleading sound to his voice,

“I don’t think so Chat.  I have homework.” She said, standing up.

“Oh, homework.  I get it.” He said, standing as well.  “You’re just scared you would lose to me.  I totally get it.  There’s no way you would catch me anyway.”  He grinned, and she knew he was baiting her. 

Her physics homework could wait, couldn’t it? It sounded like Chat could really use some playful banter.

“Sorry Chat,” Ladybug said, watching his face fall in disappointment.  Smiling she said, “But there’s no way you’re faster than me.”

And before he could react, she had sent her yoyo out to latch onto a nearby chimney and was off, soaring above the rooftops of Paris, leaving Chat behind stunned. 

 


 

Chat jerked his head up in surprise at Ladybug’s taunt just in time to see her swing away.

He grinned and slid his baton out in order to chase after her.  He loved it when they got to hang out without the threat of impending akumas hanging over them. Time with his lady was hard to come by.  Any amount of time he could spend with the girl that captivated his attention was treasured. 

He let out a loud whoop and went soaring after her, leaping and bounding over the rooftops of Paris, a genuine smile plastered to his face.  He could hear Ladybug laughing as she flitted around just ahead of him. 

Seeing her like this reminded him of just why he loved her.  He loved her confidence. The way she could take command of a situation, but still remain the sweetest person. He loved her wits and her skill, she was able to move through the city with ease. And her bravery, she never let herself slip in the moment, or if she did, it never got her down.  Then there was her beauty.  Ladybug was such an amazing person and he loved being able to be her partner.

He wished he knew who she was under the mask.  From day one he has said that whoever she was under that mask, he loved her.  The problem was he only knew her as Ladybug.  She wanted to keep their identities secret, even from each other.  He understood that it was to keep their friends and families safe should anyone ever find out who they were, but he didn’t understand why the two of them couldn’t reveal themselves to each other.  They were a team, and through the time that they had been together they had proven their loyalty to each other. He knew, and he hoped she knew that their secrets would be safe with each other.

He wondered what his lady was like outside of her mask.  Who was this smart, confident, sassy girl when she was not wearing her spots?  What did she like to do?  What were her friends like?  He knew he would be just as infatuated with her without her spots as much as he loved her with them.

Chat Noir knew that Ladybug did not return his affections, at least in the way that he wanted.  He was alright with that.  He knew that she liked someone else.  Chat could only hope that, given time he and Ladybug would have their chance to be together, even if it meant waiting.  He would wait for eternity for her.

The two superheroes chased each other around the city for another 20 minutes while the sun went down, casting its beautiful orange and red glow over their beloved city, before Chat landed on a rooftop right behind Ladybug. Both stopping to catch their breath in the darkness of the standing twilight. 

They both collapsed on the roof and lay next to each other, Chat listening to both of their breathing quickly return to normal.

“Chat?”  Ladybug broke the silence.  “What is home to you?”

Chat looked over at Ladybug with a disbelieving gaze.  Had she really just asked that?  If his mind wasn’t reeling so much from the shock of her question, he might have noticed Ladybug’s look of alarm on her face, an expression that would have told Chat that she couldn’t believe she had just said that.  But Chat’s mind was swimming with other, far more important, thoughts.  

What were the chances that Ladybug would ask him what home is for him on the exact day he was assigned his home project in school?  This had to be more than just coincidence, right?  Does this mean that Ladybug attended his school?  Or knew someone who attended his school? 

Paris was a huge city, so he had never considered he might actually know Ladybug as a civilian.  What were the odds of that, especially with his accursed bad luck?  Chat couldn’t believe it!  Ladybug might be closer than he ever thought possible.

He stopped himself from carrying his train of thought further.  He knew that Ladybug wanted their identities to remain a secret.  So, as much as he wanted to, he vowed he would not try to find her.  He couldn’t forget that she might attend his school, but he was not going to actively seek her out.  As much as it went against what he wanted, he intended to respect what she wanted. 

Which meant that he had to react like he hadn’t been thinking about ‘home’ all day when he responded.

“Home?” He said, rearranging his face to one of purposeful uncertainty.  “What do you mean?  Like where I live?”

He was proud of his answer.  He was even more proud of the swiftness in which the answer came to him.  He looked at Ladybug, eager to hear what she said next.

“No.  Like, where do you feel happy?  Where can you be yourself?”  Ladybug specified, hesitating a bit.

For Chat, that was the nail in the coffin.  That was almost the same way his teacher had explained it to him that morning!  Ladybug went to his school!

But he had to not think about that.  He had to try and leave that information alone.  Because Ladybug was right.  They did need to protect their friends and family.  He couldn’t bear it if Hawkmoth used Nino or Alya or Marinette or even his father to get to him. 

Chat smiled, composing his response.  After all, he had been thinking about home all day.  He just couldn’t share his true answer with Marinette.  But here, with Ladybug, he could be honest. 

“It’s right here, milady.”  He said, smiling and looking over at her, warmth radiating from his genuine smile.  “Here, as Chat Noir, with you, leaping around Paris, that is home for me.” 

Ladybug hesitated before asking her next question.  “What about out of the mask?”

Chat looked at Ladybug in wonder.  Was she really asking about his civilian life?  She was the one so adamant about keeping their civilian lives separate.  Or at least she had been.  His thoughts began to churn once again.  What had changed recently?

After a long moment, “Well, out of the mask, home is hard to come by.”  He answered, keeping his answers vague so as not to reveal too much.  “Normally, I am not very happy, and I cannot be myself.  But here, I have the freedom to be myself and to be happy.  This really is my home.”

Ladybug looked at him for a short length of time, with a sympathetic look.  But then she smiled, and a playful look grew on her face.  “Wow!  I think that’s the longest you’ve gone without making a pun!  I’m impressed.”  Her eyes, glowing with sarcasm.

“Well that is a pawsitively clawful thing to say, my lady.  I thought mew enjoyed my puns” Chat quipped back at her as she rolled her eyes and sat up, still smiling.  Chat followed suit before standing up and offering Ladybug a hand. 

She took his hand, letting him help her up, but once she was standing, Chat did not let go of her hand.  Instead he raised it to his lips and planted a kiss on her knuckles.  “Until next time, My Lady.”

He thought he could see just the faintest hint of a blush peeking out from under her mask, but before he could inspect closer, she had removed her hand from his and turned away, taking out her yo-yo once again. 

“Good night, Chat” she said, looking back over her shoulder at him before she swung away.  Chat watched her go for a moment before he started heading back toward his house, bouncing giddily the whole way home.

He couldn’t help but grin.  He had just had the perfect end to a great day. 

 


 

He knew he shouldn’t be doing this.  He had told himself he wouldn’t do this.  But he couldn’t help himself.

Now that he suspected Ladybug went to his school, he couldn’t stop himself from looking around, trying to find her.  He wasn’t going to actively seek her out, but if he happened to find her while just looking around, that was different, right?

Ugh, he knew he shouldn’t be looking for her. He couldn’t even lie to himself, trying to justify his actions. A mental picture of Plagg giving him a disapproving look at this reasoning kept popping into his head, just like the one the Kwami had actually given him the night before once he had gotten back from spending time with Ladybug.  

He had to get his thoughts away from Ladybug; he had to distract himself from uncovering his lady’s secret that she didn’t want to be revealed.  He knew he had to be his normal chivalrous self. He needed to put her thoughts before his.

Luckily, just at that moment, Nino walked into the classroom and sat down with Adrien at their desk.

“Yo dude” his best friend greeted him.

“Hey Nino” Adrien replied, bringing up his own fist to perform a proper fist-bump with Nino. 

“How did working on your project with Marinette go last night?”  Nino inquired.

Adrien chuckled under his breath before saying “Well, my dad scheduled a photoshoot he didn’t tell me about.”  Letting some suspense build, for his friend’s benefit.

“Aww, dude.  Bummer!”  Nino said, probably thinking that their night had been a total bust.

“Yeah, but he let Marinette come with me. She made it a lot of fun.  And then we worked on the project after.”  Adrien looked back fondly at the memory once again.  He was starting to have a lot of fond memories to look back at.

“Sweet dude.  Alya and I haven’t been able to work on our project yet.  She had to babysit her little sisters last night.  But she invited me over for dinner tonight with her family.”  Nino smiled in anticipation.

Adrien grinned at his best friend.  He knew that he and Alya liked each other.  He hoped that after this project they might finally start dating.  After all, he was ‘meeting her parents’ tonight.

 “Marinette invited me over for dinner tomorrow night.  And since it is for school, my father rescheduled my piano lesson that I was supposed to have.”

“Sweet!”  Nino exclaimed right as Alya and Marinette walked into the classroom. 

As Marinette’s gaze caught hold of Adrien’s, her face couldn’t resist the smile that emerged, which he returned whole heartedly as she walked over toward him on her way to her seat. 

“Good morning, Adrien” she said as she strode past him and sat down at the desk behind him. 

He turned around in his seat to return her greeting.  “Good morning Mari.”  He beamed up at her as she flushed ever so slightly, her customary (when talking to him, anyway) pinkish hue returning to her face.

He would have tried to start a conversation with the bluenette girl, but just at that moment he had to turn back around as Ms. Bustier began their morning lesson.   

 


 

“Girl, you should just tell him.”  Alya remarked, a touch of annoyance in her voice.  The girls were alone in the locker room getting their books after returning from lunch.  Marinette had given Alya a play-by-play of the events of the previous day, filling her in on everything that happened. 

“Alya, you know I can’t do that.  I never have been able to and I never will!”  Marinette thought about all the times she lost her words and stuttered around him.  Every time she had tried to talk to him in the past, she had gotten so nervous.  “I always lose my words around him.”

“Yeah, but what about what you told me happened last night?  You were so proud that you hardly stuttered and you were able to talk to him like a normal person.” Alya retorted.  “You even hugged him!”

Marinette thought back to the previous day and the progress she had made at being there for Adrien.  She had been more like the friend he deserved, than just the girl crushing on him.  And she hadn’t stuttered, that was true.  Maybe she could say something to him?  Eventually?

But yesterday she was talking to Adrien about himself.  Bringing up her crush on him was something else entirely.  But maybe this project could have an added perk?  Maybe she could get close enough to him to finally bring herself to reveal her crush to Adrien. 

“But how do you expect me to talk to him about this?”  Marinette asked.  She remembered all her previous attempts to tell him that she liked him.  Her unsigned Valentine’s card, her unintentional voicemail, the time she tried to meet him for Andre’s ice cream and he hadn’t come, and even the time she had her friends help her to ambush him in the park with Operation Secret Garden all came to mind.  It’s not like she hadn’t tried to tell him in the past.  Things just never seemed to work out in her favor. 

“Well, just don’t over think it.  You have two weeks to work with him on this project.  And look how far you’ve come in one day!  I’m sure of you get to know him more, talking to him will get even easier and you might finally be able to tell him.”

“What do I even say?”  Marinette asked incredulously.  Then she stood up straighter, putting on a ridiculous façade.  She looked directly at Alya, trying to pretend that her friend was Adrien.  “Hey hot stuff!  Getting to know you better has only made me like you even more and I’d love it if you would accompany me on a date or even be my boyfriend!”  Marinette huffed as she got that off of her chest.

Alya started laughing.  “Girl, you saw how well that ended when you left a similar message on his voicemail months ago.”

“I know!”  Marinette said, smiling, having fun thinking of things she could only ever say to Adrien in her daydreams.  Getting another idea, she channeled Chat Noir and said “What about this?  You know Adrien, even if there wasn’t gravity on Earth, I’d still fall for you”

Alya had doubled over with laughter at the thought of Marinette saying anything like that to Adrien.  That was so out of character for Marinette, but it would be the most amazing thing if Marinette actually did it.

“Wait, I have one more.”  Marinette said and Alya calmed her laughter to listen.  “Hey Adrien, what is your next class?  Because I think we have Chemistry!”  Marinette, locked her eyes onto Alya’s, looking deeply into her eyes, making a ridiculous smoldering face.

Alya’s smile was so large, Marinette could tell she was trying to hold back another round of laughter.  But Marinette couldn’t help it.  She burst out in a fit of giggles and Alya joined in with her thunderous laugh. 

After a minute, their laughter died down and the girls gathered their school bags. 

“Come on,” Alya said “We should get to class before the bell rings.  If you ever do get up the courage to tell him you like him, I know the right word will come to you.”

Still smiling as they walked toward the door, Marinette replied “I hope so.  IF I ever tell him.  Thanks, Alya.”

The girls exited the locker room and headed to class, completely unaware of the blonde model who was grabbing his stuff for class, just out of sight on the other side of the lockers, who had just overheard their entire conversation.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Deep in Thought

Marinette’s emotions were still in turmoil about the fact that she had asked Chat what ‘home’ meant to him the night before.  And it exasperated her even more that she had asked him about his civilian life!!  She was the one saying how important it was that they needed to keep those secret.

But after the night not so long ago when she had learned that Chat Noir really did love Ladybug, she had started seeing him in a new light.  Not just as a cocky flirt, but as a sensitive and complex person.  She had realized that she might have been wrong about him.  She had begun seeing him more as a true friend, as well as her superhero partner. 

She had locked that away in the back of her mind for the past couple of months.  She found her thoughts wandering to him more often during the day.  Was he in school right now?  What was he learning about?  Was he in the same year as she was?  Last night he had said he was not very happy in his civilian life, nor could he be himself.  So, what was he like out of the mask?

Ugh, she should have just gone home to do her homework when she had the chance.  Now she was plagued by these thoughts of her partner and his home.  She was just glad that Chat didn’t give away any clues that would reveal his identity.  Looking back, she was also glad that he had reacted in such a positive manner.  He hadn’t judged her for asking such a personal question, but he also hadn’t gone to the other extreme of thinking this was her way of suggesting an identity reveal. 

Marinette was jarred from her thoughts when she felt the sting of her sewing pin pierce through her skin.  She had tried to do her homework when she got home, but she couldn’t focus on it.  So, she picked up the dress she had been starting to make. She had begun working on pinning the cut pattern pieces together.  Sewing always made her feel better. 

She continued to mindlessly pin the pieces together as her mind slipped back to thinking about Chat.  She mulled his answer to her question over and over again.  He had said that as his civilian self, he was not usually happy and could not be himself.  His only home was as Chat Noir.  Pangs of sympathy tugged at Marinette’s heart strings, as what she felt for her feline partner was almost unbearable. 

No wonder he always seemed a little sad when she said she had to go home.  He didn’t want to go home; he wanted to stay out with her, out in his beloved city, with someone he loved.  That was what made him happy. 

Wow!  This home project was opening her eyes in all sorts of ways.  Her crush on Adrien had blinded her to his reality, and her desire to keep their lives secret had caused her to not see beyond Chat Noir’s flirty exterior. 

Marinette sighed, moving to her sewing machine to start stitching the pieces she had just pinned together.  How had her life change so dramatically in the past two days?

Little did Marinette know that her inner turmoil had nothing on that of her partner’s.

 


 

“Kid, you need to relax.  Here, have some cheese.”  Plagg said, reluctantly offering a piece of his beloved camembert to the frazzled boy that was starting to wear a hole into the floor from all of his pacing.

The normally collected teenager had made it through the rest of the day, school and fencing distracting him enough that the entire day passed by in a blur.  However, as soon as he had gotten home, the entirety of his day came crashing into him like a freight truck, and his thoughts and emotions began to frantically lose control.

“Plagg!  You don’t get it.” Adrien’s voice filled with aggravation as he snapped at his Kwami, whirling around to glare at him. “Your stinky cheese won’t help me right now!”

“What do you mean?” The cheese obsessed Kwami asked, in honest ambivalence. “Cheese solves all of my problems.  What problems do you have that can’t be solved by Camembert?” Plagg asked, shrugging the attack off and taking a bite of the cheese he had just offered Adrien.

“If you’re not going to be helpful, then just go away!”  Adrien yelled, unable to control his anger. He began to run his hands through his hair, pulling his hair tight in his fingers, trying to diffuse his anger with a little pain.

“Geesh, what’s got your claws tangled?”  Plagg asked, in a rare show of empathy from the black flying cat toward Adrien.  Plagg, always playful, let loose his retort understanding that Adrien needed to calm down. 

“Where do I begin?”  The blond boy said, frustration coming off of him in waves. Adrien fell into the seat at his desk.  “Ok, let’s start with last night, with Ladybug asking me about my civilian self.  What was that?” This being the most prevalent thing on his mind.  His lady was always first on his mind.  “She is the one always saying that we need to keep our identities secret!  She has been so adamant about this from the start.  But last night she went and asked me about my civilian self? How did that even happen?  A few months ago, she never would have done that.  What has changed?  Was it something I did?  What would cause her to talk to me so seriously and not just playful jesting? 

Plagg tried to get a word in edge wise, but realized it was futile. He had already opened the can of worms.  “And she asked about my home!!  Which means that she goes to my school.  The entire collège got that assignment, which means she is so close to me!  But I can’t look for her because we still need to keep our identities secret.”

Adrien’s frustration took hold of him yet again, moving his limbs like a puppeteer. Up he went and began his furious pacing once more.

“And then there is the question of if I tell her that I know.  Or do I keep it to myself?  I think it would upset her to know that she gave something away.  Plus, if I explained how I knew she went to my school, it would almost be like me telling her who I am.  She would also know we went to the same school.  She would hate that.  Especially if we worked out who the other was!  But, quite honestly, I also really want to know!”

He was being pulled apart.  The side of him that loves Ladybug knew that he had to respect her wishes. The side of him that was Adrien, wanted the chance to build that relationship with Ladybug, and whoever she was as a civilian. But Ladybug’s thoughts might be changing and so both sides of him have grabbed hold and began to pull. Stretching him to his limit.

“And then we circle back around to my thinking that maybe she might want to know too?  Why else would she ask about my life without the mask?  She not only asked me about Chat’s home, but my home!  Does she want to know?”

Adrien took a breath, finally able to breathe. He had been able to clear part of his mind, even if it came out as a verbal vomit. Adrien looked over at Plagg who was calmly sitting on the desk, his cheese lightly sitting in his hand and his eyes thoughtful.  Adrien was surprised to find the Kwami actually listening to him.  Plagg had even paused his devouring of cheese.

“Kid, I’ll tell you what I said to you last night.” With hint of agitation in his voice, Plagg flew right up to Adrien, making sure Adrien’s eyes were level with his. “Your identities need to stay secret for your protection, as well as the protection of your loved ones.  You can’t try and find her.” The Kwami ended that statement abruptly, making sure the point got through to Adrien.  “And I would highly recommend you not telling her for this same reason.  Even if she does want to know.”  His point made, Plagg flitted back over to the desk and plopped down without a sound.  “Right now, focus on school and that project of yours.”  Plagg said before shoving the rest of the piece of camembert in his mouth.

Adrien’s eyes opened wide, and the steam began to rise within him once again. “Ugh, the project with Marinette.  That’s the other thing!”

Plagg’s head dropped, a look of utter devastation on his face.  He looked like a pile of cheese had been snatched right out from under his nose.  Which essentially is what had happened.  Plagg had hoped he had been done listening to Adrien vent, but Adrien was ensnared within his own mind and never even noticed.

Adrien continued “I’ve been trying to get to know Marinette better and be her friend since the beginning of the year.  But she was always shy around me.  And then yesterday was amazing!  She was such a great friend and made my day so much better.  I had hoped that she finally might be starting to like me.”

“And now I learn that she has liked me the whole time!  And that’s why she was always so shy around me!  How did I not notice?  What else have I been missing?  Marinette likes me.”  Confusion sneaking its way back into his mind.

“But then we add on the fact that in her conversation with Alya, she came up with some of the smoothest lines I have ever heard!  She’s more Chat than I could ever hope to be…”  Despair taking hold of his heart, the thought that someone else could be better at the one thing that made him feel whole, ripped him in two. “I think those lines are what made my heart stop.  I could never have imagined Marinette saying anything like that.” 

Plagg saw the shadows falling over his master. He flew off the desk and right up to his master’s shoulder.  “You are Chat Noir.” Patting him on the shoulder, his voice taking on an abnormally serious tone “You were chosen for a reason.”  Plagg paused, then added “There is not another person that could deal with me and my stinky cheese.” A ‘cheesy’ grin brimming the Kwami’s face.

Adrien’s demeanor calmed significantly at the oddly reassuring words from his obnoxious Kwami.  He stopped to regard the black flying cat and immediately wished he hadn’t.  The Kwami’s mouth was stuffed with cheese yet again.  Adrien flicked his obnoxious friend on the head and sent him flying back to the desk.

“But how did I not realize she liked me?  This just proves I know nothing about girls!  I can’t get anywhere with Ladybug, and I was completely oblivious to Marinette’s crush!” His spirits had been lifted by Plagg a little, but not enough to fend of the anger fighting for his attention.

“And oh, the project!  How am I supposed to do this project now knowing that she likes me?  Marinette is my friend, and she is a really good friend.  I’m supposed to go over to her house tomorrow and have dinner with her parents.  Now that I know she has a crush on me, how do I not make this awkward?” He took moment to catch his breath, “Oh, what am I gonna do?”

The blonde-haired boy glanced over at where Plagg was still sitting and sighed.  The Kwami, realizing that Adrien was looking at him said, “Well, if she has had a crush on you this whole time, she must have put it aside yesterday to be the friend you needed.  If she can do it, so can you.” Some unusually wise words. “Just keep going like nothing has changed.”  Plagg raised an eyebrow.  “Unless, you like her back?”

“No Plagg, I am in love with Ladybug.” Adrien said flatly.  “You know that.”

“Then stop complaining and focus on your project.”  Plagg said with finality.  “Now, I think you owe me more cheese to go with your whine.”

Adrien let out a loud sigh before getting up to get his Kwami more of his pungent cheese. 

 


 

The following afternoon Marinette was walking with her friends toward their favorite ice cream shop a couple blocks from school.  Alya had suggested they all hang out and get a cool treat that afternoon since it was such a warm spring day. The sun was beating down, not overly hot, but in a pleasant cast of its warm light.

“Ok, so, somehow I found myself sitting right in between Ella and Etta at the dinner table.  They both kept looking at me and giggling.  It was weird.”  Nino was reliving his evening over at Alya’s for Adrien and Marinette. 

“Yeah,” Alya added.  “Nino didn’t realize that when he was looking at Etta, Ella was taking one of his French fries off his plate and eating it, and then when he looked over at Ella, Etta became the thief.”

“I hardly got any of her Mom’s delicious homemade fries!  And what sucks is I didn’t even know what had happened until Alya explained it to me after dinner was all done and cleaned up.  I wondered why I was still kinda hungry after my plate was empty.”

Adrien let out a chuckle and patted his best friends shoulder.  “Wow.  Looks like they’re as devious as their sister.  You never stood a chance.” A playfully mischievous smile creeping onto his face, winking at Alya.

“No, I didn’t” Nino said quietly with a small smile adorning his face.  Marinette noticed the subtle glance Nino gave to Alya as he said this and wondered how the rest of their evening went. 

Marinette knew that Nino and Alya had developed feelings for each other.  They hung out all the time and went on what could almost be called dates, but they were still not official yet.  Even after getting their ice cream together at Andre’s, and how they acted when Alya fell victim to Zombizou’s contagious kiss.  The two of them had approached the sweetheart’s ice cream man with their arms around each other, giggling as they accepted their frozen treat.  And after Alya had been kissed and knew she was about to lose herself, she told everyone else to go on without her, but Nino didn’t hesitate to stay by her side, adamant in the fact that he would stay with her no matter what happened to him.

Marinette couldn’t fathom why her two friends were not just giving into their feelings and legitimately dating.  Alya and Nino were perfect for each other!  They were so cute together and they made each other so happy.  Plus, they balanced each other out.  Nino knew how to reign Alya in when she got a little too passionate about things.  And Alya was just what Nino needed as a support system with his music, plus she helped pull him out of his shell.  She was also helping him keep his grades up in class. 

If it were Marinette and Adrien in this same position…  No, she wouldn’t let her thoughts go there.  She couldn’t let her thoughts go there, at least right now.

“So, how did the project go?”  Marinette inquired, as she opened the door to the ice cream shop for them all.  She was trying to subtly get more details about their evening together, without having to blatantly ask for the details. 

She noted that as Adrien passed her, he didn’t give her his usual smile.  In fact, he didn’t even really look at her as he thanked her for holding the door.  That caused a wave of unease to wash over her.

“It went really well, actually.  Nino and I were just able to talk about ourselves for hours.”  Alya responded to Marinette’s question.  “He got to see my family, my room, and my whole home life closer than before.  Luckily we already know quite a bit about each other.”

“Yeah, but now I got to take pictures of it all” Nino responded enthusiastically.

The four of them ordered and paid for their respective ice creams, then went to go sit down at a booth to eat them.  Marinette’s face turned a faint pink color when she realized Adrien was going to be sitting down next to her. 

“I can show you guys the pictures later.” Nino then began whispering “But I can’t let you-know-who see them.” He then chuckled.

Alya, having heard every word Nino had just whispered, looked at him with an incredulous look on her face.  “Really?”

“What?”  Nino seamed to crawl into a defensive shell.  “That’s the rules of the assignment.  I can’t show you them until we present our projects.”

“Well, I know that!  I meant…” shooting a quick glance over at Marinette and Adrien, “I’m right here. Do you need to whisper and avoid my name?”

Marinette listened to her friends bicker and looked over at Adrien.  He was eating his ice cream slowly and he seemed lost in his own little world.  She nudged him with her elbow and his head jerked up towards her. 

Quietly, so as not to interrupt Alya and Nino’s conversation, she asked “Hey, you ok?”  She tilted her head in concern for him, really wanting to know if he was alright.

He looked into her eyes for a second more before turning his head back toward his ice cream.  “Yeah, I just have a lot on my mind.”

“Anything you want to share?”  Marinette asked.  If something was troubling him, she wanted to help him.  She was really going to try to be a good friend to Adrien.

“Not really.”  Adrien said after a beat.  Marinette waited for him to say anything more, but when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to, she turned back toward her own ice cream.

Yesterday morning he had greeted her warmly when she walked into class (on time!) and they had talked in between their classes.  It was wonderful, and Marinette felt like she was finally getting over her awkwardness with Adrien.  Ever since she had vowed to be the friend he desperately needed, things seemed to flow better between the two of them. 

But this morning, when he had seen her enter the classroom, he only gave her an awkward smile before looking away again.  He had sat at his desk working on his school work for most of their time in between classes, so they didn’t talk at all.  All of this concerned Marinette; it was really out of the ordinary.

When had he become the awkward one?  When had they switched roles?  He still seemed to act normal with everyone else.  It was just her that things seemed different. 

A week ago, things might have been different, but after their time together on Monday, Marinette could feel their relationship changing.  They really were becoming good friends.  Or so she had thought. 

Turning back to look at Adrien, she asked him in a voice that was barely above a whisper “Was it something I did?”  A slight quiver in her voice.

Adrien’s eyes snapped to hers and his mouth opened to respond.

“Earth to Marinette.”  The voice did not belong to Adrien, but rather to her best friend sitting across from her.

Adrien closed his mouth and looked across the table.  Pulling her thoughts back to the present, she looked at Alya, who was waiting expectantly.

“Um, what?”  Marinette hadn’t heard anything that was being said across the table from her.  She had been so focused on Adrien and her thoughts that she had tuned out her other friends. 

“Girl, I need to go wash up in the bathroom.  Come with me?”

Marinette knew very well that this was an excuse for the two of them to talk somewhere in private.  “Sure.”  The girls excused themselves to the bathroom after finishing the last bites of their ice cream, leaving the boys to chat. 

They entered the bathroom and Alya went over to the sink to wash her hands.  Marinette waited for Alya to start the conversation, since it was her idea to talk privately. 

“Marinette, I don’t know what to do.”

Marinette was mentally knocked back.  Alya always knew what to do!  What could she be talking about that changed her confidence to uncertainty?

“About what?”  Marinette prodded, trying to get Alya to expand more.

“Well, I really like Nino.  Like, I really like him.  But I’m scared.  I don’t know if I’m ready to be in a fully committed relationship.  Plus,” Alya looked down at her shoes. “things have been changing recently.  I’d rather not go into it.  But I’m scared that anyone close to me might get hurt.  I couldn’t stand if Nino got hurt because of me.  And I don’t want to hurt him”

Marinette knew exactly what Alya was talking about: Rena Rouge.  After all, Marinette had picked her to become the superheroine herself.  And being Ladybug, she knew exactly what Alya meant, even if she could never say as much.  After all, Alya couldn’t know Marinette was Ladybug, nor could she know that Marinette knew she was Rena. 

“Alya, you are amazing.  And you are strong.  And you like Nino.  I know you would never hurt him, nor would he ever hurt you.  You don’t need to be so worried.  I’ve seen the two of you together, ever since Ladybug locked you in that cage at the Zoo together.  You two are meant for each other.”

Alya smiled as she turned off the water and went to dry her hands “Yeah, but I can’t help thinking ‘What if’”

Marinette knew the ‘What if’ game.  She often found herself thinking many ‘What if’s’.  Like, what if Adrien found out she liked him?  What if he rejected her?  What if Adrien actually liked her back? What if Hawkmoth found out she was Ladybug?  What if her parents got hurt because of her?  What if Chat got seriously hurt or died in battle?  The list went on and on. 

Marinette knew just what to say to her friend to reassure her.  “Yeah, what if you and Nino are truly happy together?  What if you two complete each other and make each other better?  What if you two really are perfect together?”

Marinette smiled at Alya, who returned the gesture.  Alya let out a visible sigh of relief.

“You’re right girl.  I’ll never know unless I try.  And I want to be with him, so I need to stop holding myself back” Alya stated confidently. 

“There’s the Alya I know and love!”  Marinette chided. 

“But you know, that advice doesn’t just go for me.  It goes for you too.”  Alya walked over to Marinette and gave her a hug.  “Thank you, Marinette.”

She hugged Alya back, then they pulled away and left the bathroom, ready to rejoin the boys at the table. 

 


 

After Alya and Marinette had excused themselves to the bathroom, Nino instantly broke the silence.

“Dude, what’s bothering you?  You’ve been so quiet and awkward all day.”

Adrien took a deep breath.  “I just learned that Marinette likes me…” he admitted softly.

Adrien had debated talking to Nino about this, not wanting to wrap his friend up in all his drama, but Adrien needed to talk to someone other than Plagg.  So, he decided to open up to his best friend and tell him the truth.  

He was not expecting Nino’s reaction though.

“You just figured that out?!  Aw, man, took you long enough!”  Nino couldn’t hold back his laughter.

Adrien stated at Nino with his eyes wide.  After a minute, he was able to string together a sentence.  “What do you mean?”

Nino, still laughing.  “Dude, everyone knows Marinette has a crush on you.  Well, everyone except you.  How did you figure it out?”

“I overheard Mari and Alya talking about it yesterday after lunch.”

Nino’s laugh deepened.  Adrien just sat there, watching Nino laugh, starting to frown.  This wasn’t funny!  It had turned his world around and now he wasn’t sure what to do. 

“Nino…”  Adrien said, exasperated, totally unsure of what to do.

Nino calmed his laughter and then took a deep breath, steadying his breathing.  “Ok, sorry dude.  So, tell me about it.”

Everything Adrien had been bottling up (well, about this situation anyway) started spilling out.  He needed to get it all out and get help, because today was awkward, and he couldn’t stand it. 

“All I’ve wanted from the start of the school year is to be her friend.  She is always so sweet and brave and nice to everyone, but she always seemed uncomfortable around me.  She always stuttered and couldn’t act like herself around me.  And I never knew why.   Well, I guess now I know.  But still!  Over the past many months, she’s opened up more and more and we started becoming better friends.  And then we started this project and suddenly she was an amazing friend.  I loved where our friendship was, and I enjoyed how we were together.  And then I go and learn that she likes me!”

Adrien’s shoulders drooped and he slouched back in the booth staring over at Nino, catching his breath after his tirade. 

Nino thought about everything for a minute before tentatively asking “Well, how do you feel about her liking you?”

Adrien’s mind went blank as he looked down at his hands.  He never actually thought about that.  And when he vented to Plagg, well, Plagg was never one to ask about feelings. 

“Well, I mean, she’s a good friend.  I don’t really like her in that way.  But if we can just be friends, that would be great.  It seems like we’ve been excellent friends recently, so it doesn’t really change anything, I guess.”  Adrien looked back up at Nino, who was giving him a skeptical look.  “What?”

Nino smiled and shook his head knowingly.  “Nothing bro.  I think it’s great that you can keep being as close with her as you have been.  Honestly, nothing has really changed.  Just keep being her friend and it’ll all work out.  You’ll see”

Adrien knew that there was more to what his friend was saying than he was letting on, but before he could think too much about it, Alya and Marinette had returned to the table. 

“Well, I should be heading home” Alya announced to the group. 

“Me too” Nino added, finishing off his ice cream.

Adrien turned his green eyes to meet the blue eyes of Marinette for the first time all day.  “And it looks like it’s time for us to go work on our project.”

Marinette beamed at him as she responded “Yeah!  Let’s get going.”  Seeing her reaction to him brought a smile to his face as well. 

Adrien discarded the remains of his ice cream, what with it having melted while he was so lost in thought earlier.  All four of them exited the parlor and he and Marinette bid their friends goodbye. 

He smiled at Marinette as they set off toward the Bakery and her home. 

Yeah, even though he now knew the truth, nothing between them had really changed.  And for the first time in over a day, he was looking forward to spending more time with her again. 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 7

Getting to Know You

 

As Adrien walked into the Tom and Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie, the smell of bread and sweets and other baked goods hit him in full force.  Even thought he had just eaten ice cream (well, some anyway) he was instantly hungry again. 

“Hi Papa!” Marinette greeted her father warmly, walking back behind the counter to give him a hug.  The bakery only had one other guest currently and she seemed to be perusing her options of the various types of bread. 

“Sweetie!”  Adrien saw her dad’s face, mainly his mustache, break into a wide smile upon seeing his daughter.  He hugged his daughter back in a warm embrace.  His arms enveloping his daughter to the point that she seemed to disappear within his massive form.

Adrien found himself looking longingly at the sight.  The two of them were wrapped up in each other’s arms looking so happy.  His father had never hugged him like that.  The last time he had felt that kind of warmth radiating from a hug was back when his mom was still here.  He really missed hugs like those.

“Dad, you remember Adrien?” Marinette gestured over to him as he took a few steps closer. 

“Of course I do!”  Tom exclaimed and walked around from behind the counter over to where Adrien was standing. 

Tom then did something Adrien was not expecting. 

He hugged him. 

Exactly the way he had just embraced Marinette.  That exchange he had just witnessed between his classmate and her father, the sight he had felt a pang of jealously over, Tom was now bestowing upon him.  Adrien only hesitated a second before hugging him back, a slew of emotions overwhelming him causing his delay.

It felt really good to be greeted this way. 

“How are you doing, son?  It’s been too long!”  Tom greeted Adrien as he pulled back.

“I’m well, Mr. Dupain.”  Adrien answered, unable to keep a smile off his face. 

“Tom.”  He corrected the boy.  “Well, I know you kids have a project to be working on, so here, take this plate of croissants upstairs and have at it.  I’ll see you both for dinner.”

He gave Marinette the plate of tasty looking pastries and then turned to walk back behind the counter, the lady who had been perusing her options, was now ready to purchase her bread. 

Marinette motioned for Adrien to follow her as she led him through the door to the staircase that led to her home. 

“Sorry about that.”  Marinette said over her shoulder as they began walking up the stairs. 

“Sorry about what?”  Adrien asked, thoroughly confused.  He couldn’t think of anything that had happened for which Marinette should be apologizing.

“My dad.  He’s a very friendly guy and likes to greet all my friends like that.”  Marinette paused and looked back over her shoulder at Adrien.  “You just looked a little surprised.”

“Surprised, yes, but I thought it was great.  You’ve seen how my father greets me.  It was nice to get such a warm welcome.  So please, don’t be sorry.”  Adrien responded with a smile up at Marinette, which she returned before resuming her trek up the stairs.  Marinette’s smile caught hold of him for a moment. It was such a warm and genuine smile.

They walked up the last set of stairs in silence before Marinette opened the door to her home.  Adrien had, of course, been here before when Mari’s uncle had been in town for the Cooking Competition, as well as when he and Marinette were practicing for the Mecha Strike tournament.  So he remembered the quaint and cozy feel of her house and felt comfortable there right away.  

He had walked not four feet into the house and Marinette’s mother was walking around the corner out of the kitchen. 

“Adrien!” she beamed at him before closing the distance between them and giving him a hug as well.

 I could really get used to this, he thought to himself. 

“It’s great to see you again Mrs. Cheng” Adrien said as they separated.

“Oh, please, call me Sabine darling.  It’s great to see you again” she said as she turned and walked back toward the kitchen.  “I’ll call you both down when dinner is ready.  Have fun working on your project!”  She called back toward the two teens.

Adrien looked at Marinette, who was already climbing the stairs to her room, still holding the plate of croissants her dad had given her.  He followed her up the stairs, through the trap door, and into her room. 

It was just as he had remembered it.  Pink walls, the chaise lounge, the desk with her computer, some books, her sewing machine, her dress form, and another smaller set of stairs leading to her bed above her desk.  Everything in this room fit Marinette perfectly. 

And unlike his room, which was large, full of stuff, yet lonely, Marinette’s room felt so full of life.  He felt secure here and that made him happy.  This room was full of the things that Marinette loved, the things that made Marinette who she was. Whereas his room was full of “things”, the most expensive “things” his father could buy, but nothing that made Adrien who he was.

He suddenly realized that Marinette had been watching him look around her room.  She blushed ever so slightly when he noticed her and she quickly ducked her head to try and hide it.  The blush was faint, much fainter than it used to be. Adrien liked that she was starting to feel more comfortable around him.  She placed the plate of croissants down on the desk, then took a seat in her desk chair.

Adrien walked over to the plate and grabbed one of the tasty looking treats.  He then turned around and leaned against her desk while he took a bite. 

“So,” Marinette began.  “What do you want to do?”

Adrien knew that today was about getting to know Marinette more.  He had put aside the knowledge that she had a crush on him and was focused on learning more about one of his best friends. 

“Well, I see your sewing machine over there.”  He gestured toward the machine sitting on the other side of her desk.  “You mentioned before that you love to sew.  Tell me about it.”

He watched Marinette’s face light up as she began to talk to him about her passion.  Seeing her glow like that, just the simple way that she could light up the room; that was something he wanted to be able to do more often.  Her genuine warmth seemed to permeate into him.  It was infectious.

“So this is just a basic sewing machine that I use to sew together all my projects.  I’ve had it for a few years now, but it is such a great machine and I love it.  It works well with all kinds of fabrics, including cotton, stretch knits, and even denim.”

As Marinette continued to talk to him and show him her fabrics and the project she had been working on, Adrien took out his phone and took a few pictures of her.  She was so animated, and he could tell that she was loving this, having the opportunity to share her passion with him. 

“This is a dress I’ve been working on.  I designed it, then I had to create my own pattern.  That part takes a bit of playing and working to get it just right.  Once the pattern was perfect, I was able to cut the fabric out after I hand dyed it, then pin it, and now I’m sewing it all together.  So, even if the sewing is only partially done, the whole process from design to dress is almost finished.”

Adrien looked at the partially finished dress Marinette was holding up. It was a sleeveless, one shouldered sun dress that was form fitting through the chest and waist before billowing out into a full skirt that would stop just above the knees.   But what made it look even more amazing was that the color changed throughout the dress.  At the top, where the sleeve is, it was a pale pink, but as his eyes glided down the fabric, he saw the pale pink slowly fade into darker shades of pink until the fabric finally faded into black.  It was beautiful.  And he knew it wasn’t even done yet.

“So I still need to hem the neckline and sleeve, as well as add some beadwork to the bottom of the skirt and to the neckline, and I need to attach the zipper to the side.” 

Adrien snapped a picture of Marinette holding up the dress.  He then looked closely at Marinette, who was studying her latest work, almost as if she was unsure about something on it. 

“That looks amazing, Mari.” Adrien said truthfully.  “And I bet it will be even more amazing once you finish it.  I can’t wait to see it then.”

She looked at him, her blue eyes meeting his gaze, and she was smiling.  Even her eyes were smiling as they stared at each other, their eyes locked. He actually had an opportunity to look into her eyes.  He was finally able to see the depth of them, to see the sparkle as she smiled.

However, after a minute, Marinette startled and looked away.  Oh yeah, her crush.  He didn’t know how to react, now that he knew that her reactions were from her liking him.  So he just kind of stood there and continued watching her. 

She placed the dress back down next to her sewing machine, by her pins and fabric sheers.  She started to organize her supplies a bit, so Adrien took this as an opportunity to look around a little more. 

He wanted to take a few more pictures of her room, because he knew this was home to her.  He walked around a bit, then went to the corner of the room behind the chaise lounge to get a full shot of her room.  As soon as he took the picture, something caught his eye. 

“Is that…”  He trailed off, but his eyes stayed trained on her bed.

“What?”  Marinette suddenly had a worried look on her face.  What was she scared that he had seen?

Instead of answering her, he just climbed a few of the stairs up to her bed to get a closer look.

“It is!”  He looked at Marinette and pointed toward something at the head of her bed.  Marinette looked confused, and maybe it was his imagination, but she looked slightly paler than she had a moment ago. 

“It’s a giant cat pillow!”  He exclaimed, his excitement exploding. 

He saw Marinette out of the corner of his eye let out a small breath, looking relieved.  He wondered what she was worried about.  But that worry quickly left his head as she started giggling as Adrien came back down the steps and jumped up and down in front of her like a little kid. 

“You have an enormous cat pillow!  Mari!  I didn’t know you liked cats!”  He said, delight was pouring from him; this was an amazing moment.

Ever since becoming Chat Noir, he had really come to like cats, and now, finding that his friend slept on a giant cat, made him ecstatic.

“I’ve had that pillow for years.  It’s very comfy.  I’ve always liked it.”  Marinette explained, still smiling at him. 

Adrien stopped jumping and fidgeting and instead placed his hands on his hips.  “So, you have a thing for cats, Mari?”  He asked, throwing her a smirk. 

Only after the words had left his mouth did he realize that he was acting more like Chat than the reserved boy he usually needed to be.  This surprised him a bit.  He loved that he was able to be himself around Mari.  And he loved Mari’s reaction to the real him even more. 

She threw her head back and laughed for a few seconds before taking a deep breath as she rolled her eyes.  While he didn’t think he’d ever seen Mari roll her eyes at him before, the gesture seemed familiar.  “Yes.  I am somewhat fond of cats, even more and more recently.  They make me smile and are even kind of cute.”

Adrien reveled in her words.  As a cat himself (kinda), it gave him a thrill to know that his friend liked cats.  Even if she could never know why her statement had just made him so happy. 

But Adrien was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to see the slight blush that adorned Marinette’s cheeks at her admission. 

“So,” Adrien decided to change the subject.  “What else do you want to tell me about yourself, Mari?”

Marinette sat down on the chaise lounge as Adrien walked over to her desk, grabbed another croissant, then sat in her desk chair facing her. 

They talked about many things over the next half hour, including her favorite colors, music, food, her ambitions, her other hobbies, etc.  The conversation flowed smoothly between them.  Adrien didn’t hear Marinette stutter once and he loved where their friendship was at.  He loved listening to her talk.  Listening to her actually talk, not having to figure out what she was trying to say throughout her incoherent babbling. 

Once they got on the topic of video games, particularly Mecha Strike, Adrien remembered how good she had been while they were practicing for the tournament a few months back.  An idea popping into his head, he challenged her to a rematch, which she happily accepted. 

“You ready to get your butt beat again?”  Marinette taunted Adrien, her confident demeanor making him smile.

“Ah, but this time I have a secret weapon.”  Adrien disclosed as he sat down next to her at her desk after pulling up another chair. 

Marinette cocked her head questioningly at him, but instead of replying he just smiled and looked at the screen. 

Then the game began.  Adrien had a great start and was hopeful that he was going to win, but Mari caught him with a combo he couldn’t escape, thus declaring Marinette the winner.  They tried two more rounds, both ending with the same result. 

After his third loss, Marinette paused the game and turned towards him.  “Secret weapon, huh?  What was this supposed secret weapon?”

Adrien reached into his pocket and withdrew the lucky charm Marinette had given him before the tournament.  He saw Marinette’s smile evaporate, only to be replaced by a look of surprise.

“You still have that?”  She asked incredulously.

“Of course!”  Adrien replied.  “I usually keep it in my bag.  It has brought me such great luck the past few months.  It’s helped counteract all the bad luck I seem to attract.”

He saw Marinette’s face grow warm as a blush crossed the bridge of her face. She hadn’t blushed that much in a while now.  She smiled, then reached into her purse that was now hanging off the back of her chair.

“Well, I know why it didn’t work today.”  She said, producing the lucky charm he had made her for her birthday.  “Our good luck charms must have balanced each other out.”

Now it was Adrien’s turn to be struck with awe.  She had kept the lucky charm he had made her? Warmth flooded over him, and he was exceptionally happy to have such a great friend. 

They just looked at each other, holding their respective lucky charms, grinning at each other.  And once again Adrien had the chance to get a good, long look into the bluenette’s eyes.

Before either of them could look away or say anything, they heard Sabine yell from downstairs.  “Marinette, Adrien, dinner is ready!”

They both turned away and Adrien placed the charm back in his pocket.  He then stood up and followed Marinette through the trap door, down the stairs and into the kitchen, which was giving off a delightful aroma. 

 


 

“That was delicious, Maman” Marinette said as she finished the last bite of her dinner.  Then she looked over at Adrien and giggled.  “And I think Adrien agrees.”

Adrien was already almost done eating a second helping of the pasta her mother had made.  With his mouth full, he nodded his head in agreement.  His eyes gleaming with agreement.

Both her mom and dad laughed heartily at that, happy that they had impressed another one of Marinette’s friends. 

Her father stood up, began clearing the table of the dirty dishes, and cleared his throat.  “So, Adrien, is it true that you are rather good at Mecha Strike?”

Oh, this is going to get interesting.  Marinette knew how good Adrien was, but she also knew how good her dad was.  Of course, she could beat them both, but she wondered how the two of them would do against each other. 

“Yeah!  I can usually beat almost anyone! The only exception to that is your daughter.  She’s amazing.”

Marinette blushed at the mention of her video game skills.  And more so at the compliment he had just given her.  True, she was enjoying being his friend and just hanging out with him, but her crush on him hadn’t just disappeared.

Marinette had felt she had been doing great all day.  After seeing Adrien’s home life and how his father treated him, she wanted to really show Adrien the warmth in her home and share it with him.  He could really use some familial kindness. 

And it seemed to be working.  Adrien gave the impression that he was enjoying his evening with her and her family.  She smiled, happy in knowing that her friend was having a great time. 

“She’s the best Mecha Strike player I know!” Her dad replied back to Adrien, “But I’ll have you know, I’m also pretty good.  How about a few rounds before we have dessert?”

Marinette glanced over to Adrien.  His face had a look that Marinette hadn’t seen on him before.  It was a mix of surprise and of happiness, but with just a little pinch of sadness. 

Marinette found that she knew exactly what that face meant.  She knew that Adrien’s father would never offer to play video games with him, and that left a bitter sting.  Yet the idea of playing with another father-like figure had taken him by surprise, and he was excited by the prospect. 

The fact that Marinette was able to discern what his look meant made her feel warm all over.  She was really getting to know him.  She was growing closer to her friend.  And she was starting to succeed in her new goal of being there for Adrien to support him and make his life better and full of joy. 

Marinette knew she was doing the right thing in being Adrien’s friend, because he desperately needed this.  And she really enjoyed being the one to help him. 

“That sounds excellent” Adrien responded to her dad, taking his now empty plate over to the sink in the kitchen. 

“You two go set up and start practicing.”  Marinette got up and playfully shooed them out of the kitchen.  “We’ll finish cleaning up.”

Her father exited the kitchen and walked toward the couch, but she saw Adrien hesitate. 

“But…” he began.  She knew that his politeness wasn’t going to let him go play games while she cleaned, considering he was her guest.  That is, unless she gave him no choice. 

“No buts!”  She stared at him and pointed her finger toward the couch.  “Go try to beat my dad.”

When he didn’t move right away, she placed her hands on his arms and forcibly turned him toward the couch.  She then gave him a push toward where her father was now sitting, setting up the game.

Adrien looked over his shoulder at her, but upon seeing the tenacity written in her features, he just rolled his eyes at her.  “Ok” he said reluctantly, a small smile creeping onto his face as he walked over to sit near her dad on the couch. 

Her mom chuckled as she brought her own plate to the sink.  Marinette turned toward the sink as well and began washing the dishes. 

“He’s a sweet boy.  I can see why you like him.”  Her mom whispered to her.   

“Maman!”  Marinette shrieked, then looked over her shoulder at the thankfully oblivious males in the living room.  She then whispered, “I don’t like him like that.”

Her mom just gave her a disbelieving look as she grabbed a towel to dry the clean plate Marinette had just given her.  That rosy red hue enveloping her face once again, as she felt that look boring into her.

“Ok, so maybe I do, but you can’t just go saying things like that while he is sitting right there!”  Marinette used her head to gesture to where Adrien was sitting. 

Her mom chuckled softly.

“Besides” Marinette continued slowly.  “This project has really helped me get to know him.  And I really just want to be his friend right now.”  She looked over at him again, mashing buttons on the controller, looking jovial.  “He could really use the support.  Even if he won’t admit it. Even if he doesn’t realize it.”  She looked back to the bowl she was washing.

Suddenly she felt her mom’s arms wrapped around her.  She used the hand she had free to hug her mom back.  When her mom pulled away, Marinette watched her, waiting for enlightenment.

“I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.  You have such a big heart.”  Marinette couldn’t help but beam at her mom’s kind words.  “And if that boy needs the support of someone close to him, I can’t imagine a better person to help than you.” 

Replaying her mother’s words in her head as she continued washing the dishes, Marinette thought of how she had put her crush aside to be his friend.  At least, that was what she had originally done.  But now, the more she thought about it, she realized that being his friend and being her crush were not separate things.  Rather, they were melding into one.  As she got to know Adrien better, she found her crush on him growing.  But now, her crush was on the real Adrien, not the one she assumed she knew.

Of course, she still had to focus on their friendship first.  Even with it including her evolved crush.  He wanted and needed her friendship. 

Her mom grabbed the last dish that Marinette had just finished washing and quickly dried it. 

“Now go have some fun with your friend.”  Marinette’s mother gestured over to where the guys were playing before putting away the bowl. 

Marinette smiled at her mom, then turned and took a couple steps toward the living area.  As she surveyed the scene, she saw the boy she had been blindly crushing on up until a few days ago, happily playing a video game.  He currently had no obligations, no demands on his time.  He was doing something he enjoyed, with people he enjoyed spending time with. 

He looked truly happy. 

And Marinette knew she was doing the right thing.  She was being the friend he needed.  She was putting his happiness above her crush.  And it was working.  Right now, he was in high spirits. 

For Marinette, seeing Adrien so content, seeing his real smile, hearing his genuine laugh, that is what made Marinette glad in this moment. 

Walking over to sit in the open spot between Adrien and her father on the couch, Marinette watched her father and her friend locked in an epic battle.  She had to admit, they were pretty evenly matched.  Every time it looked like one of them might win, the other made a comeback and the fight continued. 

This went on for almost eight more minutes before Adrien got in a lucky blow, which resulted in him winning the match. 

“Yes!”  Adrien shouted and pumped his fist, as onscreen, his robot leveled up and the words ADRIEN WINS popped up on his side of the screen.  He then dropped the controller onto his lap and slouched back into the couch.  He was slightly out of breath from the battle.  “That was fun.” He said, smiling.  “You are a hard man to beat, Mr… uh, Tom.”  Adrien said, looking over at the man sitting on the other side of the couch. 

Marinette looked over at her dad, who was also slightly winded.  The look of defeat he wore was the same one Marinette had often seen when she had beat him.  But so was the smile that appeared on his face at Adrien’s words. 

“That was a pretty good battle!  You’re very talented, young man” her father responded to Adrien. 

Adrien let out a small laugh.  “Thanks.  But I was just lucky, that’s all.” He said while reaching into his pocket to produce the lucky charm Marinette had given him.  “A while ago, Marinette gave me her lucky charm, and it works pretty well.”

Her dad leaned over to look at the charm Adrien was holding.  Marinette knew what must be going through his mind.  Her dad then glanced over at Marinette and Marinette began to start inwardly panicking.  But it was when her dad then looked over at her mom and Marinette saw him wink at her that she knew she had to do something before this situation got any more awkward. 

Luckily, it seemed Adrien hadn’t noticed any of the silent exchanges that had just occurred.  She saw him jump a little bit when Marinette suddenly exclaimed “Ok, how about another round you two?  Winner plays me?”

Marinette glanced around her and it seemed that the uncomfortableness she had been feeling was dissipating.  Her dad had turned his focus back to the screen.

“Oh, it’s on, Tom style!”

 


 

“Boo-ya!” Marinette yelled as she won her battle against Adrien. 

He had barely beaten Tom in their second match, only to be promptly defeated by Marinette.  He sighed, accepting that he would never be able to beat Marinette at this game.

“Well, I don’t know about you, son, but I could use some dessert after that beat down.”  Tom smiled at Adrien before standing up and walking to the kitchen, where Sabine had just gotten the macarons out. 

At the sight of the delicious treats, Adrien was also on his feet and found himself striding over to the kitchen.  He felt Marinette following right behind him. 

“You know, there was once a time when I used to beat you at every video game” Tom reminisced, speaking to Marinette.

Marinette smiled her adorable smile.  “Papa, that was back when I was 6.  And even then, you let me win!”

As they sat around the table again to enjoy the sweet course, they continued to talk about when Marinette had surpassed Tom at each of the video games they liked to play. 

Adrien couldn’t help his mind wandering.  He glanced around him and saw a family, all sitting together, happy.  He missed this.  He wanted this.  And he was very happy right now to be a part of this, even just for tonight.  It had been so long since he had truly felt like part of a family.

He was glad he got partnered with Marinette for this project.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here right now.  He wouldn’t be enjoying his evening with her and her family. 

He could be at home right now, in his giant empty house, alone, with nothing to do.  But he wasn’t.  He was here, in such a warm and friendly environment.  He couldn’t be happier right now. 

He looked over at the girl he had been partnered with as she continued to talk with her parents.  She was so animated, so joyful.  The way she could light up the room with her smile.  She was pretty, really pretty.

He enjoyed getting to know her and spending time with her this afternoon.  He enjoyed watching her talk about fashion, watching her gracefully beat him at video games, watching her help her parents, and now, he just enjoyed watching her, being with her.

He took a bite of a macaron, still lost in thought.  He was looking in Marinette’s direction when she looked over at him.  Suddenly, all Adrien could focus on was her eyes.  They were beautiful bluebell eyes that sparkled and seemed to see into his very soul. 

He broke his eyes away from hers, only to let them wander over her face.  Her hair brushing her forehead, her cute button nose, her perfectly pink lips… What was going on?

Her lips moved and said his name.  The sound was heavenly; warm, full of life, almost melodious…

“Adrien?”

Adrien was suddenly pulled back into reality.  He hadn’t realized he had zoned out so much.  “Um, sorry.  What did you say?”

She smiled her perfect smile at him.  “I was just asking of you would like another macaron?”

“No thanks, I’m good.”  Adrien responded. 

He wasn’t hungry anymore.  He couldn’t focus on food.

He could only focus on one thing: the realization that he liked Marinette.  He really liked her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Realization and Progress

 

This new realization came crashing down upon Adrien.  He liked Marinette.  He really liked her. 

He liked the sound of her laugh, it was always so light-hearted and uplifting.  He liked the brightness of her smile.  He liked how her nose scrunched up when she was angry.  He liked her shyness; he had always found it endearing even if he never understood it before, but he also loved her courage.  She was always willing to step out of her comfort zone to help others, including him, and his family drama.  He liked how much she did to make him happy.  He liked so much more about her that he couldn’t put into words at this moment. 

All in a moment, he realized the warm feelings that had slowly been enveloping him recently were associated with her; they were feelings of fondness.  Marinette had become so close to him the past few days, and in that time, he had been able to get to know her true self.  And he liked that; he liked her. 

Yup.  He really liked Marinette.  And now he had to survive the rest of the night at her house. 

“Adrien, dear, are you alright?” Sabine was looking at him with concern etched across her face. 

“Oh, uh, yeah- yeah.  I’m alright.”  Adrien stuttered out, unconvincingly.

Suddenly there were three people looking at Adrien with concerned faces.  His thoughts had been racing and he had lost himself.

“Sorry.” Adrien pulled his thoughts together enough to form a coherent sentence.  “My mind just kind of wandered off.” He smiled at them, then added with a small laugh.  “But it’s back now.”

Tom let out a chuckle and Marinette smiled at him.  That warm smile washing over him yet again.

“Well that’s a relief.  That was the first time I’d seen you pass up food all night” Sabine said with a grin on her face.

Adrien grinned at Sabine as Tom brought up another video game he and Marinette had played when she was little.  As they all reminisced over the old game, Adrien chanced another glance at Marinette. 

That, it turned out, was a mistake. 

Some of the ganache from inside the macaroon she had just finished was smudged on her upper lip.  His first instinct was to reach out to her and use his thumb to wipe it off.  He could feel his arm starting to reach toward her, it took every fiber of his being to force his arm back down and resist the temptation.  Especially here in front of her parents. 

Instead he cleared his throat slightly, then whispered “Mari.”

She looked over at him and he pointed to his own upper lip, prompting her to wipe at hers.  Adrien wished he could have been the one to remove the ganache from her lip, but he couldn’t do that.  Not right now.  He had only just recognized his crush on Marinette.  Unaccustomed to feelings like this he felt like a war was raging inside of him, and he wasn’t sure which side was going to win. More importantly he didn’t know which side he wanted to win.

But when he saw her blush and turn away after she had removed the food from her upper lip, he couldn’t help but think of how cute she was.  He couldn’t help but smile at her adorable reaction.  He felt the strong twinge again, and he knew that one side of the battle was starting to gain the advantage.

Marinette turned back towards him and return his smile.  He didn’t see Sabine and Tom exchanging glances as they smiled too. 

His phone chimed, and he pulled it out of his pocket to look at it.  There was a text from the gorilla letting Adrien know he was parked outside.  Reluctantly he shoved the phone back into his pocket and addressed Marinette and her family.

“That’s my body guard.” Adrien explained as he stood up.  “He’s here to take me home.”

“Well, it was wonderful having you over dear.” Sabine said as she stood up and walked around the table to him.  She gave him a warm and motherly hug which Adrien melted into.  Adrien did not want to let go, and in the end it was Sabine who first moved to end the embrace.

When they finally pulled away from each other, Tom, who had stood to join them, clapped his hand on Adrien’s shoulder.  “You’re welcome back any time, son.  Besides, I want a rematch soon.”  Tom shot a subtle wink toward Sabine.

Adrien beamed up at the gentle giant “Of course, Tom.  I look forward to it.”  Adrien knew as soon as he said it that he truly meant it.  He did look forward to coming back to Marinette’s home and spending time with her family.  Her house felt more like home than his ever did, and that thought both excited and terrified Adrien.

Adrien then turned to the cute blue-eyed girl that was waiting to say goodbye to him.

Adrien froze, suddenly unsure what to do.  Did he hug her?  Shake her hand?  Wave at her? He knew this was something he should have known and not had to fret over, but looking at Marinette’s gorgeous face, he forgot what he was supposed to do.  What did they normally do?  Staring into her eyes, he couldn’t seem to remember anything more than how to breath. 

“I enjoyed today, Adrien.” Marinette said as she beamed at him, breaking into his inner monologue.  “Thanks for coming over.”

Marinette then leaned in and wrapped Adrien in a friendly hug.  Adrien felt her warm arms wrap around him.  His skin tingled where it connected with hers.  He hugged her back and reveled in the feeling of holding Mari in his arms.

All too soon, Marinette pulled back from the hug, leaving Adrien wanting more.  But he knew he had to go. 

Not wanting to take his eyes off of Marinette, he slowly backed toward the door.  “I had a lot fun tonight, Mari.”  He awkwardly reached behind him and fumbled with the door handle.  He turned it, creaking the door open.  Watching Tom, Sabine, and especially Marinette, he sidled through the door, never taking his gaze from them.

“Um, have a great night” he said, or perhaps more accurately, squeaked out, before quickly exiting through the doorway, slamming the door behind him in his wake.

 


 

Marinette cocked her head, wondering what had made Adrien act so out of character just now.  That simply wasn’t like him.

Suddenly the door opened again, and Adrien poked just his head through.  “Thank you, Tom and Sabine, for having me over and for dinner.  It was absolutely delicious!” and then he was gone again, the door closed behind him once more.

Marinette saw both her parents start chuckling to themselves as they turned back to the table to clean up their dessert. 

What was that all about? Marinette wondered to herself.  The past two days had been incredible.  They had been talking and interacting like normal friends should, and she was loving it. 

But then all today at school, Adrien seemed weird around her, almost avoiding her.  She had asked him if it was something she had done, but he never had the chance to answer.  Then, when it was time to leave and go to her house, things were great between them again.  That was until dessert, when he started acting all weird once more.  A different kind of weird, but still weird.  He was suddenly the one stuttering and awkward, almost as if he and the Marinette from last week had switch places. 

She excused herself to her room. As soon as the trap door was closed and she had made sure her parents were still cleaning up from dessert, she pulled out her phone and called Alya.

“Hello?” her best friend answered the phone.

“Hey Alya.”  Before Marinette could get another word out, Alya interrupted.

“So, give me all the deets on your night with Adrien!  How did it go?”

Marinette sighed, smiling and shaking her head.  She should have expected this. 

“It was great!  We had a lot of fun.  We just kind of chatted for a while, he asked a lot about me, and then we got to playing video games together.  And I didn’t have issues talking to him once!  It was really nice hanging out with him and spending some more time with him.  He’s really incredible.”

“That’s awesome girl!” Alya commented.  “I was worried that tonight would be weird because of how he had been acting toward you today.  Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“Well…” Marinette responded slowly, slumping down at her desk.  “After dessert, he did kind of get weird again.”

“What?” Alya roared with surprise.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, when we sat down for dessert, he zoned out a little bit, then he declined more of my dad’s macarons.  That in and of itself was weird.  You know teenage boys.”

Alya laughed.  “Yes I do.”

“But then he kept looking at me funny.  He stuttered a couple times.  And when it was time to go, he was acting rather uneasy and very un-Adrien-like.”

“Mmm hmm” was all Alya responded with.

“I have no idea why he was acting so strangely.  Do you?” Marinette asked, hoping her best friend had answers. 

“So let me get this straight.  He was staring at you, stuttering, and acting awkward.  Was he also grinning like a fool?”

“Yeah…” Marinette said, starting to put the pieces together.

“So you’re telling me that he was acting like you used to act around him all the time.  Do you remember why you acted like that?”

Marinette rolled her eyes.  “Of course I do.  It was because of my major crush on him.  You know that.”

“I do” Alya stated.  “So if you used to act like that around Adrien because you liked him, and now he’s acting this way around you, what can you conclude?”

Marinette’s chin dropped open.  No way.  This couldn’t be happening.  Could it?  After almost a year of crushing on Adrien and him not reciprocating (not even knowing, actually), she had finally put her feelings away to be his friend.  And now, he might have a crush on her?

“Marinette?” Alya asked after a minute, worried about the well-being of her friend. 

“Yeah?”  Marinette squeaked out.

“Talk to me” Alya said in her commanding tone.

“But... But, I decided to put my feelings aside to be his friend!  We’re finally friends!”  Marinette was still trying to make sense of her thoughts.  She stood up and began walking around her room, trying to calm her mind. 

“Maybe working on this project together has let him get to know the real you.  Not the nervous you he’s only seen, but the remarkable person you truly are.  And once he got to know you well enough, maybe he decided he liked what he saw.”

“This is too much.  I can’t even think right now.”  Marinette sat down again, resting her head down on her desk.

“What do you mean?  You spent almost a year wishing that Adrien would like you, and now when he possibly might, you are freaking out?”

“Maybe...” Marinette admitted, sitting up again.  “I think I just need time to wrap my head around this.  It’s all still very new.  We can talk more tomorrow.” 

“Are you gonna be ok?” Alya queried, concern evident in her voice.

“Yeah.  I’ll be ok.  Thanks, Alya.”  Marinette said her goodbyes to her friend, then dropped her head back down onto her desk.

“Are you ok Marinette?” Tikki asked, floating down to Marinette’s head level.

“Tikki, I’ve wanted this for as long as I’ve known him.  Why am I so distressed?”

“Because you might finally be getting what you’ve been wanting.”  Tikki sat down on the desk.  “You’re learning how great the real Adrien is, not the Adrien you thought you knew.  With everything you’ve learned about him, have your feelings changed?”

“If anything,” Marinette admitted, “they’re growing stronger.  I think I like Adrien more than ever before.”

“That’s great!” exclaimed Tikki.  “Then I want you to not jump to any conclusions or over-think this.  He only started acting weird just now, and we don’t know for sure why that is.  Just wait and see how he is tomorrow.  Don’t worry about anything until you see him and interact with him then.  Got it?”

Marinette took a confident breath.  “Ok, thanks Tikki.”

 


 

 “Yo, Adrien!  What’s up?”  Adrien heard Nino greet him as he stepped out of the car the following morning.  Adrien had texted Nino and asked him to meet up early before school.  Adrien halfheartedly waved in response as he walked up the stairs toward his best friend.

“Whoa dude!  You look horrible.  Your old man got you burning the midnight oil?” Nino commented as Adrien got closer to the top of the steps. 

Adrien let out a large sigh and shook his head.  He had made it to the top of the steps, but instead of stopping to talk to Nino, he walked past him until he reached the wall, then turned around, leaned his back onto it, then slid down into a sitting position.  He let his head fall onto his knees.

He heard Nino sit down next to him.  “What’s going on?” Nino asked, his voice full of concern.

Adrien took a deep breath, composing his thoughts into words.  “You remember how I found out that Marinette likes me?”

“Yeah…” Nino answered, prompting him to continue.

Adrien picked his head up and turned to his friend.  “And how yesterday you asked me how I felt about her?”

“Yeah.”  Nino responded, slightly more enthusiastic.

“Well, last night, I was at her house for dinner and I realized that I actually do like Marinette.” Adrien admitted.

“Yeah!” Nino exclaimed with glee on his face, then sombered up when he saw the look Adrien was giving him.  “What?”

Adrien shook his head.  “Nino.  Marinette is amazing.  And it took getting close to her with this project for me to start liking her back.”

Nino looked thoughtful for a moment, like he was trying to find the right thing to say.  “So, you just started liking her?”

“Yeah.” Adrien answered in a matter-of-fact tone.  “Last night.”

“You sure about that, man?” Nino gave him a questioning look, along with a smirk.  As if to finish off the look, Nino raised his eyebrows inquisitively. 

“Well, yeah, I…” Adrien trailed off as certain memories came flooding back to him. 

Memories of the two of them training for the gaming tournament together, of them partnered in Clara Nightingale’s music video, of helping her when her uncle was in town,.  There was the memory of just how much help she had given him when he really needed it after his fragrance commercial aired; he remembered specifically hiding in the fountain, being extremely close to her.  He remembered how much time he put into making her a new lucky charm for her birthday. 

Then the memory of the look she gave him as he gave her his umbrella when they first met came to the front of his mind along with memories of the two of them dancing at Chloe’s party, memories of them almost kissing when making their student film, and the memory of her curled up against his chest as Chat Noir the night Ladybug stood him up. 

 “Oh…” Adrien’s eyes went wide as he sat there dumbfounded, as the reality of the situation hit him.  “You mean… I… Oh.” Adrien turned toward Nino, the expression on his face not changing.  “Nino, I’ve liked Marinette for a while now, haven’t I?”

“Ding ding ding!”  Nino exclaimed, happy that his friend finally knew the truth about himself.

Adrien let out a breath and let his head fall back down onto his knees.  Nino reached out and placed his hand on Adrien’s shoulder in support while Adrien’s cranium exploded yet again. 

This was more than anyone should be able to handle in four days.  First, he finally gets to be close friends with Marinette, then he finds out Ladybug goes to his school.  Then he learns about Marinette’s crush on him, followed by the realization of his crush on her.  And now he discovered that his feelings for her had been there for months and he’s liked her all along. 

Last week, he just wanted to be friends with Marinette, the girl who always seemed uncomfortable around him.  Last week, his only hope was that he and Marinette could progress their friendship past the nervousness she usually exhibited around him.  Last week, he was blissfully ignorant. 

And now, he didn’t know what to do with so much information.  He just had to focus on one thing.  He liked Marinette.  He has liked her for a while.  

Wow, he really was inexperienced with girls, super or not.  That was a slightly depressing thought. 

Adrien’s head snapped up.  “Nino, what am I supposed to do!  I have no idea how to handle this!” 

“Well, let’s look at things from a very simple view.  You like Marinette.  She likes you.  You two seem to get along great.  Do you want to stay just friends, or do you want something more?”

Well, looking at things like that really was simple. 

“I want to be more.” Adrien admitted.  “But I have so much to figure out first.”

“Well, you don’t have to do anything right now.  I think you two would be great together.  But until you figure your stuff out, just keep being her friend.”  Nino tapped his hand on Adrien’s shoulder before standing up.  “But for now, we should get up and get inside before everyone else gets here and sees you like this.  That would certainly raise some questions I don’t think you’re ready to answer quite yet.”

Adrien looked up, grateful of his best friend.  Nino extended his hand and Adrien took it, using it to hoist himself into a standing position. 

As Adrien walked inside the school with Nino at his side, he thought about everything he had to still figure out.  He thought about Ladybug and how she went to his school.  As soon as thoughts of the super heroin crossed his mind, he suddenly had guilt gnawing at his insides. 

He still loved Ladybug.  She was amazing.  But now that he knew that Ladybug had someone else in her heart, he had made good on his promise to be respectful and be just a friend to her.  It didn’t mean that he didn’t still like her though.  He was hopeful that the future held something for the two of them. 

But now, realizing he also liked Marinette was making him feel torn.  He had loved Ladybug for a while, but she had feelings for someone else.  Now that he knew he liked Marinette, and she returned those feelings, he wanted to be with her.  But he still felt guilty over Ladybug. 

Of course, knowing Ladybug went to his school was throwing another curve ball his way.  But until he figured out his feelings and what he was going to do, he couldn’t find Ladybug.  Not like this.  So even though he hadn’t really been looking, he vowed to not look at all.  Not until he figured things out. 

 


 

With only a few minutes left of class, Ms. Bustier wrapped up their current lesson to check in on the class’s projects.  Adrien gathered his notes as he listened to his teacher.

“I hope all of you have made some sort of progress in your projects.  I expect that by Monday, you and your partner will have both gotten to know each other better.  It is at that time that I recommend starting to gather your photos for the presentation, if you haven’t already.”  Ms. Bustier straightened her blazer as she looked over the class. 

Adrien considered how their project was going.  He and Marinette had certainly gotten to know each other better.  In fact, he’d gotten to know her very well.  He had a few pictures already and he knew of a few more pictures he still had to take to encompass what he knew was ‘home’ to Marinette.  He thought his side of the project was going great!

Adrien worried about Marinette though.  Was she able to find anything that meant ‘home’ to him?  He hoped so.  He really didn’t want her struggling with this project too much.  Maybe he just needed to spend more time with her? 

Yeah, that could help in a lot of ways he thought, as his stomach filled with butterflies at the thought of spending more time with the girl he liked.  He should definitely find a way to spend more time with her. 

“Do any of you have any questions now that you’ve all be able to dive into the projects?  Any concerns that have come up?”  Ms. Bustier asked the class.

Ivan raised his hand.  “How are we supposed to present these photos?  Like, do we need to print them out or use the projector or what?”

Ms. Bustier smiled.  “This project is very open to interpretation and it changes depending on the person you are getting to know.  Just as the pictures you will be presenting will be different from person to person, so will the method of presenting them.  So, to answer your question, it’s up to you how you want to present them.”

Ivan nodded his head in understanding.

Adrien wondered how he should present Marinette’s photos.  He would have to think hard on that.  He wanted his presentation to be as brilliant as the girl he would be speaking about. 

He turned his head to try and catch a glimpse of her.  He saw her with her head down, concentrating on whatever she was working on at her desk.  Probably a new sketch, he thought, smiling to himself.  Her hair was a striking blue as the sun bounced off it, and her face seemed to glow along with the smile adorning it.  Oh, he had it bad for her. 

Turning his head back toward the front, his eye caught at the sight of Chloe.  She was sitting there, quietly listening to Ms. Bustier talk.  He wondered how her project was going. 

“Does anyone have anything else?”  When no one spoke up, Ms. Bustier continued.  “Well, if you need anything for these projects, just let me know.  I can’t wait to see what you all have come up with!”

And with those final words, she dismissed the class. 

As the class all rose to exit the classroom for lunch, Adrien knew he had to talk to Chloe and check on her.

Chloe and Sabrina were walking towards the door to the classroom, chatting with each other.

Adrien stood up and moved around to the front of his desk.

“Hey Chloe!” Adrien called out, causing her to pause and look over her shoulder at him.  When she saw who it was calling her name, she motioned for Sabrina to go on without her, then she turned around to face Adrien. 

“How are you doing, Chlo?”  Adrien asked, genuinely curious as to her wellbeing. 

He wanted to know if she had followed through on what she had told him she would try and do.  Adrien had been there to comfort her earlier that week, and in doing so, he had been able to have a heart-to-heart with his friend.  She had been open to seriously trying to complete this ‘Home’ project with Kim as her partner.  She had told Adrien that she would let Kim into her life, and in exchange she would delve into Kim’s.  

Adrien felt a little guilty for not checking up on Chloe sooner.  His own drama with Ladybug and Marinette had been monopolizing his attention recently.  If he really wanted to help Chloe, he needed to be better about aiding her through this potential transition in her life. 

“I’m fine.  Why wouldn’t I be?”  Chloe responded, sounding too much like her bitter self. 

Adrien gave her a skeptical look, then looked over her shoulder to watch the last of their classmates exit the room, shutting the door behind them. 

“Chloe” he said, giving her a serious look.  “How are you doing?  Really?”  He looked deeply into her eyes, pleading with her to open up again and tell him the truth.

Chloe looked behind her, and seeing that they were alone, sighed.  “Fine” she said, and she visually relaxed.  “I’m doing alright.  I’m just trying to not cause any issues until I can figure all this out.”

“I haven’t heard anyone talk about you the past couple of days, so it looks like you are being successful in flying under the radar.”  Adrien smiled a reassuring smile, hoping his confirmation would help her be more comfortable in opening up to him.  “What all have you been trying to figure out?”

Chloe turned and leaned back against Adrien and Nino’s desk, turning her head to stare straight ahead of her.  “Well, I am actually working on this project.  Kim came over for dinner on Monday night and we started getting to know each other.”

Adrien moved his hand to rest on Chloe’s shoulder offering support, but not saying anything so she would continue.  Chloe took the incentive and leaned into his hand, accepting the warming offer.

“It was actually really nice.  I…” Chloe took a deep breath before continuing.  “I told him about my mom.”

Adrien waited for her to continue, but she didn’t. There was a long silence that passed between them. So Adrien prompted her to go on by giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“We talked about her a lot.  And then we just got to talking about lots of other things.  He was really supportive and didn’t judge me like I worried he would.  It was really nice hanging out with him.”  There was a calm light growing within her eyes. “He came over again Tuesday night and we were able to talk and spend some more time together.  I am opening up more than I ever have before, which scares me.  But Kim is being so sweet about it all and he is really listening.”

Chloe looked over at Adrien and he could see that she was telling the truth.  He could see that she was making a deep connection with Kim. She was embracing the advice that he had given her.

“I’m so proud of you Chloe.”  Adrien said, truly proud of his friend.  All those walls that she had built up were starting to come down.  He was starting to see more and more glimpses of his friend from long ago. 

He stepped in front of her and wrapped her in a hug.

“Thank you, Adrien” she said as she tightened their embrace.  “Thank you for encouraging me to do this.” Her voice was overwhelmed with sincerity.

“Of course, Chloe.” Adrien’s honest demeanor was shining through. “I’m here for you.  You were my first friend, after all.”

Adrien could feel Chloe smile against his shoulder at his words.  She nestled into him for just a bit longer, and he held on for a bit longer too, each of them drawing strength from each other.

They both pulled back from the hug.  Adrien took a step back to give Chloe some space before continuing the conversation.  “What about you getting to know Kim?”  Adrien asked, curious about the flip side of this project.

“We talked a lot about him as well when he came over to my place.  And he’s invited me over for dinner on Friday, so I can meet his family.”  Chloe looked down at her shoes, then back up at Adrien.  “How do I get to know Kim better?” she pleaded, obviously having never been in a situation like this before.  “He’s been so great to me and I want to be there for him too.  How do I do that?”  Adrien was shocked by the absolute honesty he felt coming off of her.  She was really trying to do this, and he couldn’t be more proud.

“Well,” Adrien began, thinking about his dinner at Marinette’s the previous evening.  He tried to focus on the part when they were hanging out before dinner and not letting his thoughts wander anywhere else for the moment, knowing full well his mind was treading into dangerous territory.

“What do you want to know about him?  What does he want to share?  What does he like?  What does he dislike?  You said that you just got to talking about things when you were together before, so just continue that.  But keep the focus on Kim.”

“I think I can do that.” Chloe said sheepishly as she nodded her head.  Chloe seemed so vulnerable at that very moment.  More than Adrien had seen her in a very long time.

“I know you can” Adrien said, giving her a reassuring smile, letting the true depth of how much he believed in her take her over. 

Chloe returned the smile.  A genuine smile, not a “Chloe” smile, but one that almost reminded him of Marinette. It was warm, and truly appreciative.

Adrien loved seeing this side of Chloe again, and if she continued down the path she was traveling, he knew others would too. 

 


 

Marinette let her bag drop to the floor as she collapsed into her desk chair. 

“What’s wrong, Marinette?”  Tikki asked as she flew from Marinette’s purse.

“Today. School just seemed to take forever.”  Marinette answered, looking utterly beat.

“Are you sure that it was because of school?  Or is it because of everything you have going on in your head.”

Marinette thought about it for a bit.  “Both” she said at last, smiling at her Kwami.

That day with Adrien had gone great.  They were both acting like they had been all that week, like great friends.  Marinette enjoyed the day with her friends.  But it didn’t answer any questions about if Adrien liked her back.  She would need more time to figure that out.  So, for now, she was focusing on other things. 

She thought about the project she and Adrien were partnered on.  As much as she had enjoyed getting to know Adrien, she still had to figure out what ‘home’ was to him.  So far, she had found out more things that were not home, rather than things that were.  She wanted to do really well on this project to show Adrien how much she cared for him and was there for him.  In order to do that, she needed to spend more time with him. 

Getting an idea, she sent off a group text to Adrien, Alya, and Nino, asking them over on Saturday to hang out, maybe do some project work, etc.  That would be a good time to hang out all together, and a way to find more of what Adrien thought of as ‘home’.  

“I’m going to go take a shower” Marinette announced to Tikki, who was sitting on Marinette’s desk, nibbling on a cookie.  Tikki nodded her head, then floated up to turn on the computer so she could watch some TV while Marinette was gone, before sitting back down to enjoy the rest of her sweet treat.

Marinette couldn’t help but let her thoughts wander to Adrien.  She hoped that he liked her back.  Now that she had had time to digest the events of last night, she was hopeful again.  If Adrien did not like her, then she was going to just focus on being his friend.  She was enjoying being friends with him.  But if he did like her back…

Marinette stepped into the shower and began shampooing her hair.  The last thing she was expecting was Tikki to come racing into the bathroom yelling “Marinette!  There’s an akuma!” 

Marinette sighed, rinsed her hair off quickly, then turned off the water.  “Alright, let’s go” she said.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Alfonzo the Duck

 

Ladybug arrived in an outer area of Paris where the news had reported the sighting of the Akuma.  She landed on the roof of a building to survey the area.  There were numerous buildings in this area, but there was also a large pond and park that everything seemed centered around. 

She looked around at the buildings and saw that many had been damaged as if something large had come through recently.  Rubble littered the streets.  Chunks of stone had been knocked off of some of the buildings, bricks and glass was scattered everywhere. But she couldn’t find what had caused it.  She didn’t see any civilians out in the streets; they must have all taken shelter when, well, whatever it was had come through.  With a quick flick of her wrist she let fly her yoyo and sailed down to the street.

She cast her gaze throughout the area and something, or rather someone, caught her eye.  She saw a strange looking man facing away from her, seeming to talk to a bunch of ducks swimming in the pond. 

His head was bright white. All of his skin, from the top of his head to the tips of his toes, was bright white. What looked to be a baseball cap was on his head.  The hat was mostly white, just like his skin, but a black stripe ran across the top of his head from front to back.  The bill of the hat was a pale blue color and it looked like the seams were starting to fray.  From the neck down, he was dressed in a reddish-grey suit, which looked rather strange when worn with the oddly colored hat. 

Ladybug glanced over at the birds he was currently talking to.  Their coloring was almost identical to the Akuma’s. 

“Oh great, another bird Akuma” Ladybug muttered to herself.

“Achoo!” Chat sneezed, announcing his arrival as he landed next to Ladybug.

“Oh great!  Another bird Akuma.”  Chat said, way more disheartened than how she had just said it. 

Chat looked over at her, then gave her a funny look.

“What?”  Ladybug said defensively.

“Your hair?” Chat said, still staring at her.

Ladybug reached up and ran a hand through one of her pigtails and felt it still quite wet, despite her recent flight across town.  In fact, the top part of her outfit was covered in splotches of water that had dripped off the tips of her hair.

Ladybug rolled her eyes.  “I was in the shower when my kwami informed me of the Akuma.  I didn’t have time to dry it.” 

She saw a small blush appear on her partner’s cheeks.  This was not helping them bring down the Akuma. 

She rolled her eyes at him again and when she did so, something blue on the ground caught her eye.  It was a flyer advertising for an environmental meeting.  She bent down and picked it up, continuing to read it. 

Save the White-Headed Ducks!

There are only 700 left in this species.  If we don’t do something now, the White-Headed ducks will be outbred and cease to exist!

Come to our informational meeting to learn more about how we can save these beautiful birds.

Ladybug saw that the date and time on the flyer matched what would have been 20 minutes ago.  She looked at the location where it was supposed to take place.  Of course, it was here next to the pond.  She looked around and saw a small podium set up a ways down the bank of the pond with a dozen chairs facing it.  There was another dozen chairs scattered all around the area, as if they had been overturned and thrown about. There was a man lying unconscious on the ground near the podium.

“Come on” Ladybug uttered to Chat, who had been reading the flyer over her shoulder.  They ran the distance over to the podium, moving with the stealth accustomed to her feline counterpart, so as not to attract the Akuma’s attention. 

Ladybug approached the unconscious man.  She bent over him just as his eyes flitted open.  He groaned loudly and sat up, holding his head.  Ladybug had to glance over her shoulder to make sure that the Akuma hadn’t notice the sound of the man groaning.

“Sir, are you alright?”  she asked.

“I think so” the man replied in a shaky voice.  

“What happened here?” Chat inquired before turning away to stifle a small sneeze.

The man shook his head as if to clear it, then took a deep breath.  “I was walking by and that man” he pointed to the Akuma “stopped me to talk to me about some ducks.  He said he was supposed be having a meeting, but no one had come.”  The man looked down nervously at his hands.  “I told him that no one cared about his stupid duck problem and walked away.  Not three minutes later, I hear a great commotion and see that same man, but he had changed. He and a giant duck were now terrorizing the city.”

The man looked Ladybug directly in the eyes.  She could see him reliving the events in his mind. She could see the fear and pain in his eyes. “The duck came after me.  It flapped its wings and I got caught by one of them.  It sent me flying through the set of chairs and I must have hit my head on the podium or something.  That’s all I can remember.”

“Oh no” Ladybug said, understanding completely the scene that had unfolded without them.

 “It’s all my fault.”  The man said, rubbing the back of his head, which Ladybug was glad to see was not bleeding. 

Ladybug looked at Chat, and the look in his eyes said that he agreed with what she was going to say. She then turned back toward the man.  She bent down so that his eyes met hers.

“No, this is Hawkmoth’s fault.  While I may not agree with the way that you declined his event, Hawkmoth is the one who is preying upon those with hurt feelings.  Although, in the future, I might suggest being a bit more polite when passing up anything like this.” Ladybug placed a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder.  “For now, you need to find better cover.  Go get inside somewhere and stay safe.”

The man nodded his head and stood up, bolstered by her reassuring words.  “Thank you, Ladybug” he said before he ran to a nearby building.

Seeing the man was safe, Ladybug turned back to her partner, who had his attention focused on watching the duck man. 

“Well, he certainly doesn’t fit the bill.”  Chat said, using his thumb to gesture to the Akuma.  “When it comes to Akumas, that is.”

Ladybug let out a heavy sigh at Chat’s pun. 

“No, I mean it.” Chat said.  “He’s just standing there, talking to those ducks in the pond.  If what that man said was true and there was a giant duck terrorizing the city and chasing him, it’s gone now.  This Akuma isn’t on the rampage like most of the other villains we face.”

“You’re right” Ladybug affirmed, still not quite sure of the situation.

“Maybe he already got his personal revenge?  On that man that insulted his cause?” Chat suggested. 

“Maybe.  If that’s the case, then he’s probably just waiting for us to make our move, so he can try to capture our Miraculous’ for Hawkmoth.” Ladybug’s mind was racing with how to solve this.  “We have to plan our next move carefully.”

Of course, any plans she had in mind were instantly dashed when Chat let out a loud sneeze that echoed off the surrounding buildings.  The Akuma turned towards them.  His silhouette looking strikingly similar to that of the ducks behind him as he turned.

“Sorry” Chat whispered sheepishly, as the superheroes took a defensive stance. 

The Akuma started walking towards them, not saying a word.  It wasn’t quite a walk though; it was as if he was waddling toward them.

Ladybug was not sure what the Akuma wanted, what his power fully was, or what he was going to do.  She looked over at Chat whose expression disclosed that the same thoughts were on his mind as well. 

The only thing they could do was to try and be ready for anything.  This was an abnormal situation; Akumas usually went straight to the action.

Ladybug figured it was worth a try to talk to the man.  It was worth a try to see if she could free his Akuma without any more conflict.

“Sir?” The man didn’t react, only kept walking closer.

“Excuse me, sir?” Ladybug asked once more, her muscles tightening, still holding her defensive posture.

“Sir?” The Akuma snarled mockingly, reacting for the first time. A wry grin creasing his features.  “My name is Alfonzo the Duck!” a short pause after each word, emphasizing the name.

Ladybug looked at Chat and they both shared an exasperated look as they recalled memories of Pigeon Man.  She hoped this man would not be as eccentric.

“We want to help you.” Ladybug called out to Alfonzo, hoping he would see reason.  She would always try to appeal to someone’s better judgement before going in for an attack.  That was, of course, the way of a superhero.

“Help me?” Alfonzo questioned.  “Help me?”

Ladybug wondered at the reflection in that last question. What would make him put the emphasis on the word me? He was the one that was akumatized. Obviously, she would want to help him, but before she could say or do anything, the Akuma continued. 

“I am not the one that needs help, Ladybug.”  Ladybug could hear the poison dripping from her name.  “They are the ones that need help.”  The Akuma stopped walking, stopping ten feet away from them, then used his hand to gesture to a group of ducks swimming by in the pond. 

The flyer.  The memory of it came back into her head.  The flyer was advocating for the White-Headed Ducks.  This man had been trying to raise awareness for them, yet his meeting had no one in attendance.  Once she pieced it all together, she knew exactly what had driven this Parisian to be akumatized.  And, unfortunately, it wasn’t just the rudeness of his first victim as she had originally hoped. 

“Alfonzo, I know that the problem regarding these ducks needs to be addressed, but this isn’t how you help them!” Ladybug cried.

“Oh really?” Alfonzo countered.  “I tried to promote awareness with a meeting.” He paused for a moment and gestured around him. “That failed.  No one seems to care about the White-Headed Duck problem right now.  Not one person showed up to support the ducks.  You say that you understand, and that you know this problem needs to be addressed.  But did you show up? No, there was not a single person that cares enough about this problem.  But maybe…” the Akuma trailed off, an evil grin adorning his white face. “Maybe if I make these ducks as large as this problem, no one will be able to ignore it anymore!”

He waved his hand toward the pond, which Ladybug now saw was labeled as the protected breeding grounds of the White-Headed Ducks, where a group of six ducks were swimming about.  The ducks seemed harmless enough, until suddenly, that whole group of ducks began to grow and grow until they were each ten feet tall.  A few of them started running about, sending waves of water everywhere as they exited the pond, crashing into buildings left and right.  A few more started flapping their wings and tried to fly, sending gusts of wind down every side street causing all of the debris to swirl around and fly through the streets. What was worse, was that due to their size, they could not fly.   This only made them flap their wings and run around more in panic, destroying everything around them.  As the birds tried to flap their wings harder, they left overly large duck feathers strewn about the street along with the building wreckage. 

Ladybug now knew exactly what had made all the damage previously.  Alfonzo must have used his powers to enlarge a duck, which he then sent after the man who insulted him.  In the aftermath of that short-lived destruction, the duck must have somehow shrunk back down to normal size.  That’s why Ladybug couldn’t find what had caused all the destruction. 

Did the enlargement wear off?  Or did Alfonzo change the size of the duck back to normal?  Only one way to find out, and that was to wait and see what happened with the ducks currently obliterating the city as they ventured further from the pond in their panic.

Chat sneezed again and again as overly large feathers fell down around them.  With his nose clogging up he managed to say, “Dithpicable!” which came out sounding just like Daffy Duck. 

Ladybug tried hard to hide her smile. But it still crept onto her face, and a slight chuckle came out, quiet enough that nobody else, including Chat, could hear.

Her smile quickly vanished as soon as she heard screams coming from their left.  Without needing to say anything to her partner, they were both off running, like a well-oiled machine, in the direction of the chaos causing ducks, leaving a smirking Alfonzo behind them. 

“What’s the plan, M’lady?” Chat asked.

“First, we need to make sure everyone is out of danger.  Then we need to go after Alfonzo.  Going after the ducks is not going to accomplish anything; they’re just innocent, not to mention endangered, animals.”

 Chat gave an affirmative nod of his head as soon as they arrived where they heard the screams.  There was a man and his daughter trapped in an alley against the back wall.  The little girl couldn’t have been more than six years old.  She had a doll grasped tightly to her chest, and the man, obviously her father, huddled around her protectively.  The alley ended in a dead end, and there was a duck blocking the only way out, trying to snap its overly large beak at them. 

Ladybug jumped up onto the rooftop and threw out her yoyo to wrap it around the duck’s bill, trying to stop it from snapping at the civilians. The duck was stronger than she was expecting, and she found herself exerting more energy than she had anticipated.  She dug her heels into the rooftop and tightened her yoyo string.  The duck’s head was now fairly immobile and pulled toward one side of the alley entrance.

She heard Chat yell “Duck and cover!” as he vaulted into the alley past the duck’s head.  The father, taking note of Chat’s directions, wrapped up his daughter in a tight embrace and hurtled himself down to the ground, just as Chat sailed over them too. 

Ladybug had to pull harder on her yoyo string as the duck thrashed his head back and forward, trying to get free after being startled by Chat flying right by its head.  Luckily, the duck’s attention was now focused on freeing itself, so Chat was able to escort the father and his little girl out of the alley past the duck as quick as he could and into a nearby building.  Once Ladybug saw that the two of them were safe, she reeled her yoyo back to her, releasing the frightened duck.  The duck ran off, seeing its previous target gone, and glad to be away from his entrapment.

Ladybug did not have the intention of ever harming the ducks; they were not to be blamed for this situation.  These ducks had been enlarged to a size that was so unfamiliar to them.  They weren’t used to being larger than people.  The ducks were just scared and frightened animals.  They probably believed that anything smaller than them could be eaten as food.  The one who turned them into such a frightened being should be held responsible.  Alfonzo was the one responsible. 

Ladybug found it ironic.  Alfonzo was trying to save the ducks, but it was because of him that these ducks were now frightened and scared.

This only proved the point that Hawkmoth was truly a wicked villain.  When Hawkmoth’s victims accepted their akumatization, they saw what he was offering as help.  But Hawkmoth was only using these people.  He was not helping them, not really. 

Yes, the man was upset that no one had come to his meeting to support the ducks he loved so much.  But now that he was Alfonzo, his only focus seemed to be getting revenge, and he was getting it, but at the cost of the ducks he had cared so much about.  In becoming akumatized, he had lost sight of what really mattered. 

Chat drove his staff into the ground and extended it so that he could vault himself up to join Ladybug on the roof upon which she was standing. 

“Do you see any more civilians in danger?” Chat asked, looking around.

Ladybug brought her attention back to the issue at hand.  “No, I think that’s everyone.  It looks like everyone else was either still inside from when the first duck appeared, or they were able to get to safety in time.”

“Good” Chat said relieved.  “Then let’s go get Alfonzo.”

Ladybug threw out her yoyo in the direction of the pond.  After only a few swings, the pond came into view between two buildings.  Ladybug couldn’t see Alfonzo yet.  She hoped he was still standing by the lake.

Her luck did not hold out this time.  Right as she was thinking that she would see Alfonzo, a very large duck rounded the corner.  This one was almost twice as big as the others, as tall as the buildings themselves.  And riding on its back was Alfonzo.  So much for him standing openly by the lake.  This gigantic animal looked formidable, even for a duck. The size alone was enough to give pause to Ladybug. How on earth were they going to get past such an enormous duck?

Ladybug used the momentum from her swing, trying to aim a kick at Alfonzo’s chest, hoping to knock him off his feathered mount. 

Her aim was true, and it would have worked.

Unfortunately, her swinging actions had startled the duck and his wings flew up as he charged in Ladybug’s direction. 

She heard Chat exclaim her name as she flew past Alfonzo and got hit with the duck’s wing as it flapped.  The sheer force of the large bird’s wings sent her crashing into a nearby car.

“Ow” Ladybug said as she rubbed her shoulder, which had been the first thing to make impact with the vehicle.  If she hadn’t been Ladybug at the time, her shoulder would have probably been fractured and she would have been in a lot of pain.  Luckily, she only felt a numb throbbing; nothing that would bother her too much as the fight continued.  The powers of the miraculous were, simply that, miraculous.

She looked in the direction Alfonzo and his exceptionally large duck were currently walking.  They had turned around and were heading back to the pond.  To her horror, she saw Chat attempt to vault onto the back of the duck behind Alfonzo, only for the duck to unexpectedly turn next to the pond, and for Chat to miss the duck’s tail and fall straight into the ground beneath him. 

“Chat!”  she exclaimed as she ran towards him. 

By the time she reached him, he was already back on his feet.

“Are you ok?”  They both asked each other at the same time.

Ladybug smiled, and Chat did the same.

“Yes, I’m fine” Ladybug answered.

“Good.  I am too.  But I think we need a better strategy.  Any ideas?” Chat prompted as he placed his baton behind his head and held it in place with his hands leisurely.

Ladybug thought about it.  “Alfonzo has chosen to ride a very large duck.  And this one he seems to be able to control somewhat.  Out here in the open and even in between those buildings, he has too much room to maneuver around us.  We need to lure him somewhere where he can’t move as well.”

Chat and Ladybug watched as Alfonzo used his powers to enlarge more of the ducks still on the lake.  There were hardly any left that hadn’t been engorged.

“I have an idea” Chat said, and he took off running toward the lake.  As Alfonzo was turned towards one particular group of ducks, Chat grabbed one of the endangered white-headed ducks from the pond and tucked it safely under his arm.

He returned to Ladybug and she couldn’t help but give him a questioning look. 

“He cares about these ducks so much, and now he’s trying to enlarge them all.  If he wants them all, he’ll want to get this one back from us.  We now have bait to lure him where we want to go.  Normally the Akuma chases us for our Miraculous’, but this one hasn’t even mentioned them, so I grabbed something else.”

Ladybug smiled.  “Good thinking, kitty.  Now, where do we lure him to?”

“I know of the perfect place that’s enclosed.  Meet me on top of your school.” Chat then used his baton to go up onto the roof, get Alfonzo’s attention, and then start traveling across Paris, right towards her school.  Ladybug grabbed her yoyo from her hip and was about to throw it up towards a nearby rooftop when she stopped.

Wait a second…

Did he just say, ‘your school’?

Her school?

HER SCHOOL?!?

How does Chat know where she goes to school?  Does Chat know who she is?  Ladybug’s mind started racing before a distant scream brought her back to reality.

“Ladybug help!” 

Ladybug would recognize Alya’s voice anywhere, even from quite a few blocks away. 

Ladybug swung towards the direction of the scream.  She couldn’t see Chat at the moment and hoped he was alright.

As she traveled, she saw that the ducks had spread out all over Paris and were wreaking havoc everywhere.  Ladybug noted that the enlargement doesn’t seem to be wearing off after all.  Alfonzo must have the powers to shrink the ducks too, which he must have done with the first duck.  That makes things a bit trickier.  Everyone else still seemed to be safe inside, and the ducks had no interest in the buildings. 

When she finally saw where the scream was coming from, she paled.  Of course, this building was an exception.  The entire storefront of her parent’s Boulangerie Patisserie was destroyed.  There was a duck attempting to eat every bit of bread or other pastry it could find, its body blocking almost the entire smashed entrance. 

Through a gap in the open storefront that was momentarily not blocked by the duck’s body, Ladybug looked at the back entrance to the shop and saw it blocked by wreckage.  Ladybug then saw her parents and Alya hiding in a far corner, trying to stay out of the way of the hungry duck’s large, snapping bill. 

“They’re sitting ducks” she said quietly as she assessed the situation, then groaned when she realized what she had just said.  Chat’s puns were rubbing off on her.

But how could she save them?  She couldn’t employ the same technique she had used earlier; the duck’s head was so far in the shop that she couldn’t get her yoyo around it.  And with the back door blocked…

If only Chat were here to use his cataclysm.

As if on cue, Chat Noir landed on the street near her, then sneezed a couple of times.  The duck was still tucked safely under his arm. 

“Sorry to keep you waiting, M’lady.  I had to go the long way around to make sure Alfonzo followed me here without running into any obstructions.  Plus, all the sneezing slowed me down a bit.”

 “Chat,” she called to him.  “There are civilians trapped inside.  Can you help get them out the back?”

 


 

Chat looked at the building that Ladybug was talking about.  This was Tom and Sabine’s bakery!  That must mean that the people trapped inside were…

Chat swiftly went in the side door of the building and tried to open the back door to the bakery.  It wouldn’t budge.

Chat transferred the duck under his other arm, trying not to sneeze so he could call on his destructive powers. 

“Cataclysm!”

He placed his hand on the door and watched as it and the wreckage leaning on the other side of it dissolved.  He poked his head through the door and saw Marinette’s parents and Alya crouching in the corner.  He briefly wondered where Marinette was, but set that thought aside, hoping she was safe upstairs in her room. 

He glanced at the duck and saw that Ladybug was spinning her yoyo, distracting the duck momentarily with its movement and sound, giving him a window of opportunity. 

“Come on!”  He yelled to the trio, and the three of them quickly scooted along the back wall and then ran out the door after Chat. 

“Oh, thank you Chat Noir!” Sabine said appreciatively.

“Get somewhere safe, there are no ducks feather down the back alley.” he told them.  He looked at Alya, or rather the phone in front of Alya’s face recording his every move.  “You too.”

“But…”  Alya began but was promptly cut off as Tom’s large hands grabbed her by the shoulders and directed her away from the action.

Satisfied that they were safe, he traveled the short distance to the roof of his (their) school only sneezing once more on the way.  He saw his partner arrive just a second before he did.  He stopped on the rooftop, hopefully visible to Alfonzo when he got close enough. 

“So, what’s this plan of yours?” Ladybug asked.

“Well, I figure if we can trap him in this courtyard, he can’t get out on that monstrous duck of his.  And if he tries to shrink the duck, it makes it easier for us to get to him.”

“Great, good.  Then what?”

Chat stared back at his lady.  He hadn’t planned anything beyond that.  Normally she was the one with ideas.

After a couple seconds, he just shrugged.  Ladybug let out a small sigh, then threw her yoyo up in the air.  “Lucky Charm!”

A duck call fell into her hands. 

“Seriously!  You mean I didn’t need to steal this duck to lure him over here?” Chat said stifling a sneeze, unsure of what more a duck call could do to help them.

Ladybug looked around her.  “I have no idea what to do with this” she said, disappointed. 

Chat’s attention was suddenly drawn to his arm, which felt like its cargo was getting heavier.  Chat looked down and saw the duck he was carrying beginning to grow.

“Alfonzo’s here!  Quick, jump down to the courtyard!”  As soon as Chat disappeared from the rooftop, the duck’s size stopped changing.  He must be out of sight of Alfonzo.  Chat saw an open classroom door and placed the slightly bulky duck inside, so it would be safe.  He was glad that school had let out a while ago and the building was empty so there were no civilians to worry about.  Plus, maybe now he would stop sneezing so much. 

Chat then ran back to the middle of the courtyard next to his Lady to wait for the Akuma.  It was only a couple of seconds before Alfonzo and his steed turned the corner and entered the courtyard.

“Where is my duck?!” Alfonzo cried upon seeing Chat’s arms empty.

“What duck?  I don’t have a duck.  See?” Chat said holding out his hands, smirking.

“Give me back my duck or I’ll…”

“Or what?”  Chat interrupted smugly.  “You’re gonna take a quack at me?”

Chat knew that if they made the Akuma angry, they were more likely to act out of rage as opposed to logic.  It made getting the Akuma easier for the superpowered duo. 

“What did you do with it?” Alfonzo yelled irately.  “I will find my last precious duck.  But first, I will defeat you and take your miraculous, so you cannot take him from me again!”

Luckily, at that moment, it seemed as though Ladybug had finally figured out how to use her lucky charm.

“Chat! Of course! The Akuma must be in his hat. We’ll need to break the bill of his cap.”  She yelled as she ran to the side and threw him the duck call.

“As you wish, M’lady”.  Chat blew the duck call, which grabbed the attention of the duck Alfonzo was riding.  The duck started running directly toward Chat, oddly reminding him of a rampaging bull. 

“Uh oh” Chat said, right before he used his staff to launch him up onto the second floor, safely out of the way.  He looked down and saw Ladybug throw out her yoyo to create a net between the bottoms of both sets of stairs.  She then braced herself and pulled the string taut.  The duck ran right into the net, his momentum suddenly hindered.

The same could not be said for Alfonzo, who went flying forward.  Chat leapt from his perch above and grabbed the hat from Alfonzo’s head in midair.

 He landed and yelled “Let’s cap off this Akuma” as he threw the hat to Ladybug

She caught it and tore it in half with ease.  A black butterfly escaped the broken hat and began flying away.

Chat glanced over at Alfonzo, who had fallen on the ground and was currently trying to get back up. 

Chat turned back to watch as Ladybug recoiled her yoyo from the ‘net’, then used it to catch the Akuma.

“No more evil-doing for you, little Akuma.”  As she released the cleansed butterfly, Chat walked over to her and smiled, handing her the duck call.  She smiled back at him, then threw the duck call up into the air. 

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

Suddenly all the giant ducks that had been rampaging around the city were back to their proper size, including the one in the school courtyard, then they were sent back to their place at the pond.  Any damage that was done was instantly repaired. 

No matter how many times he had seen it before, Chat could never get over how breathtaking the sight was of everything being put back as it should be. 

‘Except my crazy week,’ he thought.  ‘That one, I have to figure out on my own.’ 

Ladybug smiled and rubbed her shoulder, which Chat knew was not sore anymore thanks to her miraculous cure.

She removed her hand from her shoulder and held it out in front of her in a fist.  Chat met her fist with his.  “Pound it!”

As Alfonzo returned to his normal self, he and Ladybug walked up to him. The man kneeling before them was dressed in a casual suit and had a baseball cap on his head, advocating for awareness of his cause. 

“Ladybug!  Chat Noir!”  He exclaimed upon seeing Paris’ superheroes in front of him.

Ladybug bent down to his level.  “I’m sorry that your meeting didn’t go as planned.  But if you really want to help raise awareness of the White-Headed Duck problem, we’d be happy to help.  We can put you in contact with our friend Nadja Chamack at the TV station and she can help you spread your message.”

“Oh Ladybug, thank you!” the man exclaimed before giving them his real name and contact information, then walking off in the direction they had first found him, back towards his beloved ducks. 

Ladybug then looked around her at the school building, then looked back at Chat.  What was that expression on her face? 

“Chat, can I ask you something?”  Ladybug asked cautiously.

Chat wasn’t sure what was coming, but he answered confidently anyways.  “Of course, Ladybug.  What’s on your mind?”

Hesitantly, she asked “Earlier, when you took the duck from the pond, you said ‘Meet me at your school.’  Can you explain?”

Chat’s face lost all trace of color. 

Had he really said that?  Had he really slipped up like that? Oh no.  Just his luck…

His mind went reeling.  He was always so cautious when it came to their secret identities.  She had made it so clear to him that they couldn’t know who each other was.

Although, she had been the one to ask him about his home.  Maybe she was starting to rethink things? 

What should he say? 

After a split second of throwing around ideas, he knew there was only one course of action.  He had to tell the truth.  He knew he couldn’t lie to his lady. 

He was going to tell her exactly how he knew this was her school, or rather, their school. 

But before he could get a word out, his miraculous beeped, giving him his final warning.

With the seconds ticking down and the pressure on, Chat became conscious of the fact that as much as he wanted to tell her the whole truth, he had to remember why they were keeping their true selves hidden.

After his slip up with ‘your school’, he now knew why it was so dangerous if they knew each other’s real selves.  If Hawkmoth had overheard that, it could have put Ladybug’s life in jeopardy, not to mention all of her schoolmates (himself included).  And it would have been entirely his fault. 

What if they revealed themselves to each other and learned each other’s real names and he let that slip too?  What if Hawkmoth found out who they really were under the masks?  Hawkmoth would be able to seek out Ladybug in her civilian form and hurt her.  He couldn’t stand to think of Ladybug, whoever she was under the mask, being hurt by Hawkmoth. 

So, he did what he had to do.  He looked at Ladybug at a loss.  He couldn’t risk staying to explain now and revealing his identity.

“I’m sorry, M’lady.  I’ll explain another time.”  And then he ran into the locker room behind him, shutting the door right as his transformation wore off.  He caught Plagg from mid-air and placed the exhausted Kwami inside his shirt pocket, where a slice of camembert was waiting in a sealed bag. 

Guilt tore at Adrien’s chest as he leaned back against the door.  Guilt at letting himself let slip something that he shouldn’t have.  Guilt about still loving Ladybug, even though he knew she loves someone else.  Guilt over liking Marinette while still having feelings for Ladybug.  And now guilt for leaving his partner to worry about what he had said. 

He was stirred from his thoughts with a knock to the door behind him.

“Chat?”  Adrien turned towards the door.  Ladybug was speaking softly to him through it. “I have to know.  How did you know this was my school?”

Adrien was stunned.  He had been feeling guilty about running away from Ladybug’s question, but she hadn’t left him.  She had stayed to talk to him. 

But more surprising still, she had willingly admitted a personal detail to him.  She had divulged that this was indeed her school.  Yes, he had already puzzled that out, but to hear her admit it was shocking. 

And yet when she had asked him, her voice was only full of concern, not anger or annoyance.  She didn’t seem upset that he knew this fact about her. 

What could be making her so open to Chat recently?

“Chat?”

He was brought back to the question at hand.  He already knew he had to tell her the truth.  But now he knew he couldn’t tell her the whole truth.  

“Monday,” he said slowly, “when we met on the rooftops, you asked me about my home.  I knew that this school had just gotten that assignment.”  I knew I had just gotten that assignment, he added to himself.  “I figured it out from there.”

“Oh” was all Ladybug replied with. 

“Are you upset with me, M’lady?”  Adrien asked unsure of what he would do if she was.  “I didn’t mean to find this out about you.  It just happened.  I’m sorry.”

“No.  I’m not upset.” Ladybug’s voice carried through the door, soft and forgiving.  “Thank you, Chat.”

Adrien then heard her yoyo extend, and he knew that she had left before her own transformation was broken. 

“You finally get the chance to tell her, and you don’t say anything?!”  Plagg said incredulously from inside Adrien’s pocket.

Adrien sighed.  “I learned one thing about her, and I already messed up by blurting it out without realizing it.  At least I didn't mess things up more by saying 'our school'”  Adrien closed his eyed his eyes and took another deep breath. 

“I know I’ve always been the one pushing to reveal our identities, and now that it seems like Ladybug is warming to the idea herself, I should be thrilled.  But I’m scared of what could happen if we learn more about each other.”

He opened his eyes again and made a move to open the door.  “C’mon, Plagg.  Let’s go home.”

Plagg was unusually silent the whole way home. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Peace of Mind

 

On his walk home, Adrien’s inner turmoil was represented very clearly in his outward appearance.  His eyes were downcast, his walk was slow, one arm hung limply at his side while the other reached across his body grabbing his upper arm, and the smile that was usually in place on his face was nowhere to be found. 

Adrien couldn’t stop thinking about Ladybug and his mistake.  How could he have been so stupid to let slip what little he knew about her identity.  And right in front of an akuma!  Hawkmoth could have heard that.  This is why Ladybug had always insisted that they keep their identities a secret.

Adrien had always wanted to know who the girl he fell in love with was under her mask.  He loved Ladybug enough to respect her wishes to remain secret.  But now, he too, finally understood why she had been so adamant about it. 

Adrien still couldn’t contain his desire to know Ladybug’s identity, but he was now worried that he could cause her to be hurt if he messed up again.  And that was something he couldn’t stand happening. 

So even though he knew she was close to him and he knew she went to his school, he had to leave her identity alone. 

It seemed Adrien was slowly having to give up all the things he wanted.  He wanted Ladybug to love him, but her heart belonged to someone else.  He wanted to know who Ladybug truly was, but he couldn’t.  He wanted his dad to love him and to spend more time with him. To actually take an interest in who he was, but his dad wouldn’t do that. He wanted to have the freedom to do the things he liked and wanted to do, but his dad wouldn’t let him do that. He wanted to have a place that he felt was “home” and he couldn’t even find that.  What if soon he had to give up Chat because he would continue putting Ladybug at risk?

Adrien let out a long sigh just as he arrived at his house. 

He snuck into the house, knowing that everyone assumed he was in his room. After all, that was where he was after completing his piano lesson before he transformed to go fight the akuma.  He didn’t want to come up with an excuse as to why he wasn’t there the whole time.  Luckily, he knew the best way to slip into the mansion without running into his father or Nathalie. 

As he closed the door to his room behind him, a runaway thought seemingly tackled his mind. 

Mari!

He hadn’t seen her during the battle. He began kicking himself yet again for this screw up as well, but he hoped she was safe upstairs in her room.  He felt obligated to check on her, to make sure she was alright. 

He reached into his book bag and pulled out his phone.  Before he could even unlock it, he saw that he already had a text from Marinette. 

He quickly opened the message.  It was a group message to Nino, Alya and himself, sent just before the akuma attack.

Marinette: Hey!  Did you all want to come over to my house on Saturday afternoon?  We can all hang out, maybe work on our projects a bit? 

Alya: Count me in girl!

Nino: *thumbs up emoji

The other two had responded promptly to Marinette’s message.  Adrien hadn’t even seen it thanks to the akuma attack.  He really wanted to go and hang out with them, especially Mari.  But first, he had to get permission. 

He left his room and walked downstairs to his father’s office.  He knocked three times on the door, then waited for a response. 

“Enter” said the cold voice of his father.

Adrien opened the large office doors and walked a couple steps into the office.  He looked behind him and saw Nathalie working at her desk in the corner.  He turned back towards his father.

His father was standing on the far side of the room, critiquing a mock up design laid out on a dress form. 

“Father?” Adrien asked, unsure if his father even noticed his entry.

“Yes, what is it Adrien?” Gabriel responded, not taking his eyes off the clothing.

“Marinette invited me and a couple other friends over to her house on Saturday to hang out.”  His father began to frown.  “We would also be working on our school projects.” He added hastily. 

“What about your photoshoot Sunday morning?” Gabriel asked, moving around the dress form to inspect the back. 

“I won’t stay over too late.  I’ll be ready for the shoot, bright and early.” Adrien replied, somewhat hopeful.

Gabriel paused for what seemed like eternity. 

Finally, he lifted his eyes from the fabric in front of him and met Adrien’s.  Adrien hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath.  He dreaded conversations like this with his father.

“Very well, since it has to do with your school work.  I will have your bodyguard drop you off and then pick you up promptly at 10.”

Adrien smiled.  “Thank you, father!”

Gabriel nodded his head in acknowledgement as well as dismissal, and Adrien quickly turned and exited the room, excited to tell his friends he could come. It wasn’t often that he was able to convince his dad to let him do anything that deviated from his pre-ordained schedule.

He took the stairs two at a time until he reached his room.  He grabbed his phone, which he had left sitting on his desk, and wrote out his reply.

Adrien: That sounds wonderful!  I can’t wait.

Then, remembering his original reason for pulling out his phone, he sent another personal message to Marinette to check to see if she was alright. 

 


 

Marinette had landed on her balcony just two seconds before reverting back to her everyday persona.  As soon as her transformation was gone, she looked down to find herself in her bathrobe.  Oh yeah, she had been in the shower just before the akuma attack.  She was suddenly very thankful she had made it home before the detransformation. 

She held out her hand, which the physically spent Tikki flew to and landed in right away. 

She opened the trap door and climbed down into her room, holding her exhausted kwami.  She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a tin of cookies she had stashed away for Tikki.  Tikki thankfully grabbed one and began eating, replenishing her strength. 

Satisfied her kwami was taken care of, Marinette got dressed.  She wanted to check on her parents after the attack. 

She knew that her miraculous cleanse had repaired the shop, but seeing it demolished like that had been devastating to her.  She could only imagine how her parents had felt. 

She went downstairs but found the apartment empty.  Where were her parents?

As if on cue, the door opened to reveal her mother, father, and her best friend. 

“Maman!  Papa!” she shouted as she ran forward to give them both a hug.

“Sweetie!” her mother exclaimed as she was embraced by her daughter.  “Oh, I was so worried!”

“Are you alright, darling?” her father asked as she moved to embrace him next.

“Yes.” Marinette answered as she hugged her father, then took a step back to let them in the apartment.  “I’m alright.  I was upstairs in my room and thought it was safest to stay there.”

“Girl, you won’t believe the footage I got!”  Alya exclaimed waving her phone around excitedly.  Suddenly, Alya froze and cocked her head.  A look of amused confusion adorned her face. 

“What?” Marinette asked defensively.

“I don’t think I’ve seen your hair like that before.” Alya said, her face breaking into a smile. 

“Like what?”  Marinette said as she walked over to the mirror on the wall.

She looked at her reflection. 

Her bangs were swept back almost off her forehead, and her pigtails looked like frayed paintbrushes.  While Marinette didn’t look bad, she didn’t look like her normal cute self. 

“Gah!” Marinette exclaimed as she ran upstairs to fix her hair, leaving three laughing people in her wake as she did so.

She grabbed her brush and sat down at her vanity and began fixing her hair.  She glanced around and saw Tikki had fallen asleep on her desk surrounded by cookie crumbs.  She turned back to her likeness in the mirror.

“First Chat comments on it being wet, and now Alya comments on how it dried (thanks to Ladybug’s exertion).  Ugh!  I hope an akuma never comes when I’m in the shower again!” Marinette complained to herself.

A moment later and her hair was back in place.  With a nod of her head, she was ready to go back downstairs. 

As she descended the steps, Tom looked up at his daughter.  “There’s my beautiful little girl.”  He then chuckled. 

Marinette blushed slightly from embarrassment, then delivered her prepared excuse.  “I had just gotten out of the shower and back to my room when the duck started destroying the shop downstairs.  I was a bit scared, so I hid under my blankets.  My hair must have dried funny from that.”

“Oh, Marinette.” Alya said shaking her head. 

“We can’t all run towards danger every time, hoping to get footage of the fight for the Ladyblog” Marinette quipped back.  Marinette was always worried about her friend getting hurt while trying to film the akuma battles. 

“Hey!” Alya exclaimed.  “This time I didn’t go find the action!  It found me!” she said defensively. 

“I was coming to visit you because you looked a bit off at school today.  I was talking with your parents downstairs in the bakery when this giant duck stuck its beak through the open front door and started destroying the shop in his quest for food.  Of course, I recorded it, but I didn’t ‘run towards the danger’ this time.”

Alya used her hands to make air quotes around the last bit, quoting what Marinette had just accused her of doing. 

“I’m glad to hear that Alya, and I’m glad your safe.”  Marinette said, moving to hug the auburn-haired girl.

“Thanks.  But I should get going.  My parents will be wanting to know I’m safe.” Alya said, pulling back from the hug.  “You okay?”  Alya checked with Marinette, fulfilling the original reason for her visit.

“Yeah,” Marinette answered.  “I’m okay.  Thanks.”

Marinette watched as Alya left, closing the door behind her. 

Marinette turned towards her parents, who were now sitting on the couch.  She moved to go sit by them.  “And how are you guys doing?”  She sat down next to them, concern in her face.  “Watching your shop being destroyed must have been upsetting.”

Her mother shrugged as her father answered “It was hard to see our shop in ruins, but we have the utmost faith in Ladybug.  We knew that she and Chat Noir would defeat the akuma and that she would fix everything in the end.”

“And she did!” Sabine cut in.  “The shop is back to normal.  And everything is the way it should be.  We’re just glad that you were safe through it all.”

Marinette tried to hide the tears welling up in her eyes at her parent’s praise.  She was so happy to hear that they were proud of her alter ego as well.  They might not know who her alter ego was but having such blind faith in her made her overwhelmed.  There was never a time that her parents didn’t have faith in her, Ladybug or not.

She got up and gave them both a hug, hiding the tears in her eyes.  “I love you both.”

“Oh, we love you too, sweetie.”  Sabine said back. 

Right then, Marinette heard her phone go off in her purse. 

She straightened back up, and knowing that her parents were alright, excused herself to her room to work on homework. 

As she climbed the stairs to her room, she heard her phone go off again. 

She closed the trap door to her room and walked over to her desk.  She carefully moved Tikki over to the pillow on her day bed, taking care not to wake her. 

Marinette then sat down at her desk, cleared all the cookie crumbs away, and pulled her phone out of her purse. 

She first looked at the group text she had sent out before her shower earlier. 

She wanted to spend more time with Adrien, both for the project as well to see if maybe he really did like her back.  But knowing that he might like her back still made her uneasy for some weird reason.  So, inviting Alya and Nino over as well seemed like the perfect solution.  Plus, since the two of them were partners as well, they could also call this project work.

She saw that Adrien had responded just a moment ago, saying he was able to come, in addition to Alya and Nino.  That was great! 

She was worried his father might not allow him to come, hoping that since they could work on their project, that Gabriel would let him.  Talking to him was probably what took Adrien so long to respond.  That, and probably one of his many lessons. 

Marinette sent a response to the group text, letting them all know when to come over.  She then looked at the other text she had gotten.

It was from Adrien.

Adrien: Hey Marinette.  I heard about what happened to the bakery during the akuma attack.  Are you okay?

Marinette: Yeah!  I’m fine.  I was hiding upstairs the whole time.  And luckily, thanks to Ladybug and Chat Noir, everything is back to normal!

Adrien: That’s great to hear.  I’m glad you were safe. 

She could feel the butterflies starting to flutter within her stomach at the thought that Adrien really cared about her.

Marinette: Thanks for checking on me.  It means a lot. :)

Adrien: Of course!

Marinette put her phone aside and then got her homework out.  As she did her homework, her thoughts drifted to reflecting about that day.

She found her thoughts drifting toward Chat and what he had said to her. She was originally concerned when she learned he knew where she attended school.  But after hearing his honest admission, she found that it didn’t bother her. 

After seeing a more sensitive side of Chat as well as acquiring more information about his home, she found that she enjoyed getting to know him more.  She realized that her desire to keep their identities secret had resulted in her not being able to see beyond Chat’s flirty exterior. 

So even though Chat knew where she attended school, Marinette found that it did not trouble her.  She liked getting to know more about her partner and letting him know more about her. 

Not their identities, of course.  After all, they needed to keep those secret to protect their friends and family from Hawkmoth. 

But getting to know her friend better made her feel happy. 

With her homework finished, she went downstairs to join her parents for dinner in a good mood. 

 


 

Adrien awoke for school the next day feeling refreshed.  This surprised him, seeing as how he kept tossing and turning trying to get to sleep. 

Last night, thoughts of Ladybug had plagued him.  On Monday, she had inquired about his home.  It was eating at him. Why would she have asked that?  She had been the one to start bringing down the walls they had built between them to keep their identities secret.  And then she had brought the wall down further yesterday by confirming her school. He was being pulled in two different directions, and none of it made sense.  For almost a year now, she had been so adamant on keeping things professional so as to keep their identities safe, but now, she was starting to let Chat in.  She was more open and warmer with him, and he loved it.  But he had an obligation to her, to not learn her secret identity.

Having made the mistake yesterday, of letting the comment about her school slip was driving him mad; and after how bad he felt the rest of the day, he knew that he would watch himself and never make that same mistake again.  Just as he had always been tight lipped about his personal life when he was his leather clad self, he now knew he would also keep secret everything he learned about his lady. 

He would protect any secret she trusted him with.  After all, his trust in her could never waiver.  He wanted to give her every reason to do the same.  Just like when they fought Troublemaker and the akuma as able to get one of Ladybug’s earrings, Chat had dived straight for Troublemaker without thinking, making sure that he had done whatever possible to keep her identity safe.  His motivations would never falter, always doing the same thing for her, no matter what he learned.

This morning, his feelings were uplifted, more so than the previous afternoon.  So, with his heart currently at peace, he got ready for the school day. 

 


 

Saturday had finally arrived.  Adrien’s excitement was overwhelming this day, with the anticipation of going over to Marinette’s house to hang out with her again. As well as hanging out with Nino and Alya, of course. 

The Gorilla drove him to the front of the bakery, the place wherein he had most recently felt at home.   Adrien got out of the car and bid his driver farewell, not letting the knowledge that he would be seeing him again at 10pm sharp cast a pallid light on his mood.  He turned to face the shop, warm feelings beginning to rise within him, then strolled forward and pushed his way past the door. 

“Hello Sabine!” Adrien cheerfully stated as he approached her at the counter, a wide smile brimming his face.

“Adrien!  Welcome back” Sabine responded, wrapping him in one of her customary hugs.  Adrien’s return embrace was as heartfelt as Sabine’s, if not more. He had been looking forward to coming back here, not just to spend time with Marinette, but because this place was so warm and inviting.  Having eagerly anticipated the welcome he would receive, he was reveling in the warm hug from Sabine. 

“Thanks for having me back.” Adrien said sincerely, as they both pulled back from the hug.

“Marinette is upstairs.  You can just head on up; you know the way!” Sabine smiled at him as she turned back to the counter, returning to the inventory sheet she had been working on. 

Adrien walked through the back of the shop and through the back doors.  He smiled to himself, recalling the last time he had been through these doors.  That was when he was saving them all from Alfonzo, and he much preferred this time. 

He went all the way up the stairs to the main door and rang the doorbell. 

‘Coming!” he heard Marinette call through the door.

The door opened to reveal Marinette smiling at him.  “Hey Adrien, come on in!”

Marinette looked beautiful.  She was wearing her everyday clothes and her hair was styled like normal, but there was something about her smile that made every feature glow.

He walked into the familiar home, smiling back at her.  “Thanks for having me over Marinette.  I’m so happy my father permitted me to come.”

“Me too!” Marinette said as she closed the door behind him, then went to greet him with a hug.  Adrien loved the affection that was shown to him here.

“You’re the first to arrive, so just make yourself comfortable until Alya and Nino get here.  It shouldn’t be long.” Marinette said, as she returned to the task of getting some snacks from the fridge and cupboard, so she could set them out on the counter. 

Adrien took a seat at their table facing toward Marinette in the kitchen.

The fact that he had been able to spend time with this amazing girl and her family this week made him feel as good as he did when he was Chat.  Being assigned this project was the best thing that could have happened.  In reality, being assigned Marinette to be his partner for this project was the best thing.

“So, how are things going with your side of the project, Mari?” He asked, still worried that she was struggling with the overwhelming task of finding a “home” for him.

Marinette smiled up at him.  “It’s coming along.  But that’s also why I invited you over today.  I still need to get a few more ideas together.  But overall, it’s turning out well”

Adrien was somewhat surprised by her words.  “Really?” he asked, incredulity lining his face.

“Of course,” Marinette looked at him.  “Why?”

Their relationship had started to develop to the point that he believed he could be honest with her about his concerns. “Well, I was kinda worried you’d have issues with finding anything that meant home to me.” He said slowly, feeling uneasy, unable to look up after revealing this raw truth.

Marinette stopped what she was doing, causing Adrien to remove his gaze from his hands.  Green eyes met blue as she stared at him.  She seemed immensely troubled by his words.

Adrien could feel what he thought was tension rising. He shouldn’t have said anything.  He should have just kept his mouth shut.  Fear raked its gnarled fingers over his heart once again. 

He was worried, no, terrified of what her reaction was going to be.  If it hadn’t been for the worry, he would have become lost within the sparkling pools of the eyes staring back at him.  But his fear had hold of him and would not let go.

“Adrien,” Marinette finally said, walking over to him.  Color began to fade from his skin as she approached him.  But to his relief, she enclosed him in her arms securely, holding him close to her in a hug, releasing the paralyzing grasp on his heart.

Adrien couldn’t stop the tears from pooling in his eyes as he embraced her back.  The loneliness that had been bottled up inside him broke free, like a cork bursting out of a champagne glass, as he was held securely by his friend.

“Adrien.” He heard Marinette say, “I’m so sorry” her voice was quavering as if she was trying not to cry as well. 

“It has been so wonderful getting to know you this week. I’ve learned that there are some things that make you feel at home, but…” her voice trailing off.  “There is so much that doesn’t.”

Marinette pulled away from Adrien, keeping her hands resting on his shoulders.  He wished she wouldn’t pull away, her embrace was intoxicating.  But when his eyes met hers, he saw the tears sliding down her cheeks for him, and he couldn’t move.

“I never knew just how lonely you were before this project, and I want you to know that I will always be here for you, no matter what.”

She smiled at him.  After a moment’s pause Adrien reached out.  Pulling her back close to him, into the hug he desperately needed.  Without a pause her arms closed back around his, embracing him tight, affirming everything she had just said. 

They stayed like that for a long moment.  Adrien’s tears soon came to a stop and he found he was comfortable wrapped in her arms.

“Adrien,” Marinette said softly, breaking the silence.  “are you okay?”

Adrien squeezed her once more before pulling back a little, a sad, yet still heartfelt smile on his face.  “I think so.” He paused, to look her in the eyes. “Thank you, Mari, for being there for me.  You don’t know how much I needed that.”

He felt Marinette’s hand touch his face, and she used her thumb to dry the tear track under his eye.  Adrien pressed in against the warmth of her touch. 

“Anytime” she spoke tenderly.

At her words, Adrien found his gaze drawn to her lips.  They looked so soft and delicate. They were the most beautiful color of pink. They were shining and radiant, and they were only inches away from his own.  It would only take but a soft breeze to push him in close enough to kiss this incredible girl.

His mind racing with the possibility, he looked into Marinette’s eyes, asking permission.  He heard the quick intake of breath, but she didn’t make any move to turn away. 

He began to lean towards her, his head tilting slightly, his nose brushing against hers as he pulled in close to her, but as his lips got within an inch of hers the front doorbell rang five times in quick succession, breaking the spell. 

Marinette jumping slightly, took a step back and shook her head quickly.  “That must be Alya.”

Marinette slid her hand across her now flushed face, drying any leftover wetness on her cheeks as she walked toward the door to let her best friend inside. 

He had almost kissed Marinette.  So many things had just transpired; he’d broken down, let out all his pent-up worries, cried in her arms, and then he had almost kissed her.  Everything told him that he should be embarrassed about it, but he wasn’t. It all felt right. 

In fact, he was left with a longing to connect his lips to hers. 

But now was not the time to think about that. 

Adrien composed himself just as the front door was opened and he caught sight of the two friends they had been waiting for.

“Hey dudes!” Nino called as he entered first with Alya trailing slightly behind him. 

“Hey Nino!  Hi Alya.” Adrien leapt to his feet to greet his friends.  As he was walking towards them, he noticed something that faltered his steps. Not only were both Alya and Nino smiling uncontrollably, but their eyes were both alive and sparkling.  He then saw their hands were intertwined, locked together as one; it was impossible to tell whose fingers were whose.

Marinette had just walked around to stand in front of the newcomers and followed Adrien’s gaze to their friends’ hands.  As Nino respectively followed the gaze, his grin grew on his face until it was from ear to ear.  His eyes glistened and he stroked Alya’s fingers with his own, displaying far more affection than normal.

Marinette was the first one to break the silence.  “So, does this mean…?” she asked excitedly, not even able to finish her sentence. 

Adrien looked up to both of their faces, which were both sporting amused features.

“Yes!” Alya squealed so loudly, catching Adrien off guard making him flinch just a little.  “Nino and I are officially dating!”

Elation welled up inside Adrien, after having a moment to process the information.   “Congrats you two!”  He congratulated them, successfully hiding the envy and longing building a home inside of him.

“Thanks, man.” Nino said as he gave a half hug to Adrien with his free arm. 

“When did this happen?” Marinette inquired.

“We talked about it yesterday after school while hanging out.  I took your advice, Marinette, and stopped holding myself back.” Alya answered, moving in closer to Nino.

Nino turned his attention from his friends and moved in toward Alya.  With Alya’s attention clearly still attached to Adrien and Marinette, Nino leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.

Alya’s eyes went wide, and she turned on Nino.  Looking him straight in the eye, she used their linked hands to pull him closer once more and planted a prolonged peck on his lips.  Alya took a step back, her attention falling up her two friends yet again.  She couldn’t help but smile and shrug.

Adrien was truly happy for Alya and Nino.  They deserved to be happy.  Somewhere inside of him, something was building.  In this moment he discovered something about himself.

He longed for happiness. He longed for the touch of others. He longed for the affection this family showed to him.  He longed for his own special someone. Someone he could hold hands with. Someone who would hold him.  Someone he could kiss. 

He longed for that kiss.  He longed for her. He longed for...

Marinette.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Truth or Dare

 

With all three of her guests in attendance, Marinette grabbed the snacks she had pulled out and brought them upstairs along with her friends. 

Marinette was ecstatic for her best friend.  And she could feel the bliss radiating off of Alya because of her new relationship.  Alya and Nino had been through so much together, it seemed fitting that they were finally a couple.

Marinette placed the food she brought up on her desk as she entered the room.

Nino snagged a bag of chips and grabbed a seat on the floor in front of Marinette’s daybed, resting with his back against it.  As quick as a fox, Alya sat next to him.  She nestled herself comfortably into his side and took a handful of chips as Nino wrapped his arm around her.

Seeing the two of them together, both fawning over the other, was nothing short of adorable.  They were being so sappy as they explored this new level of their relationship that Marinette couldn’t help but smile.

She took a seat at her desk chair, tucking one leg up under her.  It was only once she sat down that she noticed Adrien looking around, obviously trying to figure out where he should sit.  She realized that she had just taken the last seat currently in her room.

“Oh, sorry Adrien.  You can sit here” she said as she began standing up.

Adrien waved a hand at her emphatically to stop her. “Nope” he said, “I’m good” and began climbing up the ladder to her bed! 

What was he doing?  If he was going to sit up on her bed, then he wouldn’t be able to see or interact with any of them.  Her thoughts became a jumble as she tried to figure out why he was going up there.

She startled back to reality as her giant cat pillow suddenly fell on the floor at her feet.  Adrien promptly followed in the same fashion, landing with a soft thump.  Moving the cat pillow over to the side of the room opposite her, between her daybed and the trap door, he then sat down on the floor, leaning his back against her pillow, looking comfortable and quite proud of his ingenuity.

Marinette was blown away by his creative solution.  He really had just made himself at home in her room.  She subtly snapped a picture of him, hoping to capture the moment while he was blissfully unaware of what she was doing. A smile brimmed her face when he didn’t notice a thing.

“So,” her blonde friend chimed in from across the room, “what do you guys want to do?”

Nino shrugged as he continued snacking on his chips and Alya looked over at Marinette, wondering if their hostess had any plans. 

Marinette smiled.  “Actually, I had an idea that would also count as us working on our projects.”

Her eyes met each of her friend’s intent stares, before she continued.

“I thought we could play a game of Truth or Dare?  We are already having to learn more about each other for this project.  So why don’t we make it fun?”

Truthfully, Marinette was looking forward to asking Adrien a few of the deeper questions she had looked up earlier that week to better get to know him.  The more she learned about him, the better she could find what really felt like home to Adrien. 

Plus, being able to play this classic game with her favorite group of friends also sounded like a lot of fun.  Two birds with one stone, right?

“Awesome idea Marinette!” Nino exclaimed, getting excited at the prospect of playing.

Adrien smirked at Marinette as if he knew her ulterior motives. That didn’t bother her in the slightest.  After all, she needed to get more ideas to finish their project.  She had told him as much downstairs.  She had just over a week left to finish, and she was determined to do this assignment well.  Not for the grade or for her teacher, but for Adrien.  This had become completely about Adrien for her.

“Sweet!” Alya exclaimed.  “Well, since it was your idea, you can go first.” Her eyes narrowed a little.  “Truth or Dare?”

Marinette’s eyes went wide.  She hadn’t expected to go first.  

Oh, well.  Someone had to start, so it might as well be her.

“Truth” she answered, thinking she would play it safe at the start.

Although, looking at her best friend, a mischievous smile encroaching upon her face, she no longer felt like “truth” was the safe choice. 

Alya’s eyes darted over to Adrien and Marinette’s face lost all color.  She realized what she thought Alya was planning. Maybe this game wasn’t a good idea after all. 

“Ok.” Alya said after what felt like an eternity.  “What is the clumsiest thing you have ever done?”

The tension released from Marinette’s shoulders.  She had been completely convinced that Alya was going to have her reveal her true feelings about Adrien, which had Marinette’s stomach tying up in knots.  Marinette realized in that moment, just how dangerous this game was going to be, she would have to be more careful in the future. As the game progressed, Marinette knew Alya would continue to grow bolder and bolder with her line of questioning.

Marinette pondered the question posed to her.  She remembered how awkward and clumsy she had been when she first became Ladybug, crashing right into Chat Noir.  But she couldn’t use that as her answer. 

“Um, well…” she began as she glanced over at Adrien, the knots in her stomach tying up again. Taking in a deep breath, she blurted “On the first day of school this year, my Dad gave me a box of macaroons to share with my new class and I was running to the school and came very close to dropping the whole box because I almost ran into a car driving by, but then I saw an elderly man crossing the street with another car coming right toward him so I pulled him out of the way and I dropped the box causing me to lose half the macaroons.”

She paused so she could catch her breath and began again. “Then when I got to school, I lost my footing when Chloe made me move to a new seat, which caused me to drop the box again as I fell, which at that point meant I only had one macaroon left.  All of that happened within five minutes.  I felt like such a klutz.”

All three of her friends burst out in laughter at her retelling.  She had reverted back the awkward version of Marinette she had been before really getting to know Adrien, which caused her to blurt the entire story out at the speed of sound.  Marinette smiled, realizing that her friends didn’t actually care about the story and what had happened. They were enjoying the fact that Marinette was just being Marinette.

“Ok, my turn to ask.”  Here was her chance to find out what she needed about Adrien.  “Adrien.  Truth or dare?”

“Truth” Adrien said.

“Wow, you two are so exciting.” Alya teased, rolling her eyes.

Adrien shrugged. “How is a dare going to help her with her project?”

Marinette smiled at him as she asked, “Who inspires you?”

Adrien’s face lit up with emotions as he thought about her question. After a brief moment he finally answered “Ladybug.  She is so amazing. So brave and sure of herself.”  Marinette watched his smile grow, obviously content with himself.

She on the other hand, had to cover up the goofy grin trying to peek its way out.  He had just complimented her, even if he didn’t know it.  The fact that he liked both sides of her, made her heart flutter.  She felt the butterflies in her stomach begin to make their reappearance.

“Nino, truth or dare?” Adrien inquired as Marinette reigned her attention back to the group.

Nino looked right into his girlfriend’s eyes, watching her with the utmost defiance as he said “Truth.”

“Really?!” Alya exclaimed.  “You’re doing that just to annoy me, aren’t you?”

Nino chuckled and shrugged sheepishly as he turned back toward Adrien. 

“Nino, who is your favorite of Paris’ superheroes?”

An innocent question, except that Marinette knew that three of those superheroes were sitting in this room, including Nino himself!

She wondered how Nino would answer, and whether or not he would pick himself.

“Um, well dude, if I had to pick one, it would have to be Chat Noir.  He’s so cool and suave, not to mention smart.  Plus, he would do, like, anything for Ladybug.  I think that’s kinda awesome.”

Nino looked back to Adrien, who was smiling at him, satisfied with his answer. 

“What?” Alya exclaimed, looking directly into Nino’s eyes, “Not Rena Rouge?” she asked flirtatiously, smirking as if she knew some secret.

“No way!  You’re my one and only, babe!” Nino responded, grinning at her.

“Aww, you sap.” Alya said bringing her arms up to wrap Nino in a hug, still smiling.

Nino returned the hug, then asked Alya to pick a truth or a dare. To no one’s surprise, she picked dare.

“I dare you to do your best impression of Chloe.” Nino said, smirking.

Alya stood up and assumed Chloe’s classic pose with her hands on her hips, her nose up in the air with that hint of defiance, and a scowl on her face.  “What do you mean I have to wait for my sushi to be ready?  Don’t you know who I am?  Or who my father is?  This is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous!”

Marinette couldn’t help but laugh along with Nino, but she noticed that Adrien’s eyes had glossed over, and he appeared lost in thought.  Then it dawned on her that Adrien was actually friends with Chloe.  Even though Chloe wasn’t always the best of friends to Adrien, he was always there for her, for anyone really, and suddenly felt bad about laughing at Chloe’s expense. 

Completely oblivious to Adrien, Alya sat back down and turned to her boyfriend.  “Ok, Nino, back at ya.  Truth or dare?”

“Dare.” Nino said, preparing himself for whatever his mischievous girlfriend might throw his way. 

Alya’s eyes drifted upward toward the ceiling in thought, and then took a surveying glance around the room as she contemplated a good dare. 

“Hmmm” she said, settling her focus once again upon Nino.  “I dare you to try on that dress that Marinette has hanging on her mirror behind us.”

Nino looked over Alya’s shoulder to see the white sundress that was hanging off Marinette’s full-length mirror.  Nino glanced to Adrien and Marinette, dread washing over his face, for any sort of relief, but they were both watching him in anticipation.  Adrien smiled and nodded his head slightly, trying to egg Nino on.  So, the flabbergasted young man grabbed the dress and pulled it on over his head.  Marinette had just finished making that dress within the past month. Having made it out of a knit fabric, it stretched neatly over Nino’s clothes.

Nino viewed himself in the mirror. Wearing the dress on top of his clothes was ridiculous.  There were bulges everywhere from where his own clothes bunched up.  His proportions were completely wrong, and while the dress was able to stretch to fit on him, nothing really rested in quite the right location.  After surveying his reflection, he then turned around to show his friends.  That’s when Marinette heard the unmistakable sound of Alya’s camera taking a picture.

“No!” Nino yelled.  “Delete it!”  He promptly took the dress back off, throwing it to the floor as he tackled Alya, trying to get her phone. 

Nino charged at Alya by jumping over Marinette’s day bed, all of his mass propelling him into her, causing them both to fall to the ground. Alya seemed to be able to keep her phone just a hair’s breadth away from Nino as he clawed at her arms trying to get at it. Marinette watched as the two of them tussled. Neither of them seemed to be paying attention to anything but the other. Nino finally made some progress and was about to grab her phone, when Alya planted her lips upon Nino’s. This obviously caught Nino unprepared, because his attempts to grab her phone ceased immediately.

Marinette could see them getting lost in their own little world as Nino returned Alya’s kiss and she was quite content with giving them that one moment to themselves. But then the kisses deepened as they continued, and it was no longer just one simple kiss.  They started to lock their lips together passionately, Nino holding on to the back of Alya’s head, pulling her in close to him.

Marinette, who was starting to get a little uncomfortable watching the intimate scene before her, cleared her throat. The couple broke apart, Alya’s hair a jumbled mess, Nino’s hat sitting crooked on his head, and embarrassed blushes growing on their cheeks.  Alya and Nino looked at each other, and they noticed the rosiness on each other’s face. “Sorry” they exclaimed in unison.

The two troublemakers sheepishly settled back down in their previous spots on the floor, the room starting to fill with awkward tension.  Marinette glanced over at Adrien, not sure what to do to relieve it.

But Adrien just smiled over at her, then stood up and walked over to the discarded dress on the floor.  As he picked it up, placing it back on its hanger on the edge of the mirror, Adrien joked “Nino, I gotta hand it to you.  You looked pretty stylish in this dress.  Maybe you should be the model!”

Marinette glanced over to her friends sitting on the floor.  They still seemed a bit embarrassed, but they were both smiling timidly.

“In fact, the next time I have a photoshoot, you should go in my place.  I positive my dad won’t mind.” Adrien continued, grinning absurdly as he returned to his seat. 

Marinette knew of Gabriel Agreste’s opinion of Nino, and the thought of Nino showing up at one of Gabriel’s photoshoots to model was laughably absurd. 

Apparently, the others agreed because within a few seconds they were all laughing at their own imagination’s conjuring of Gabriel’s reaction, easily cutting through the tension in the room. 

“Yeah right.” Nino said as he continued chuckling. 

As Marinette reigned in her laughter, she saw Alya stealthily pick her phone up off the floor and place it back in her pocket, the humiliating photo apparently forgotten by everyone else.

“Alright dudes, my turn to pick.” Nino said, nodding in Marinette’s direction.  “Marinette. What do you choose?  Truth or Dare?”

Knowing it was Nino asking her and not Alya, she felt she could safely choose a dare.

Nino pondered her choice.  As soon as Nino glanced over at her sketchbook sitting on her desk, he began to smirk, and Marinette knew that he had developed an idea.

“I dare you to sketch designs for formal wear inspired by Paris’ heroes.”

That was it?  Marinette had to stop herself from laughing.  She already had so many ideas along those lines, finding inspiration in her teammate’s costumes.  She stood up and retrieved her sketchbook and a pencil, opening it to a blank page as she resumed sitting.

“Alright.  I’ll start sketching.  It’ll take just a bit though.  So, for now, Adrien?  You’re pick.”

“Wow, Marinette asking Adrien again?  What are the odds?” Alya said teasingly. 

Marinette gave her friend a pointed look before turning back to Adrien, right as he said “Truth”

Marinette had been honestly curious about his expression just a bit ago when Alya was doing her Chloe impression, so she asked, “What is your honest opinion of Chloe?”

Adrien was visually taken aback by the question.  Probably since it was coming from Marinette, the ‘arch nemesis’ of his childhood friend. 

“Well,” he began.  “She was my first and only friend for a while.  We enjoyed playing together all the time as young kids, and she was a good and nice person.” Adrien paused as he recalled those fond memories of Chloe.

“But once her mom left to go to New York, leaving Chloe behind, she just closed herself off.  She began acting more like her mom, trying to get her to come back.  In Chloe’s eyes, her mom no longer cared.  She had been abandoned and the pain was too much for her.  She turned into a completely different person after that.  She put up a wall, using her nastiness and anger as the guard, and she hasn’t let anyone in since.”

Adrien had to pause once more, as he tried to collect himself.  “Chloe was so young when her mom left, you never got the chance to see her before that.  But I know that she’s still a good person, and if she were to open up and try and change, I think she could be a great friend again.”

The room was completely silent, none of Adrien’s friends could find their voices. Marinette herself was completely dumbfounded.  She had known some of their history but seeing Chloe from his perspective was eye opening.  Marinette had never taken the time to understand what had led Chloe to her bitterness, and when she viewed things this way, she started to feel sorry for Chloe.

Started to.  It was hard to forget years of being bullied by her.  Chloe may have become a pretty decent superhero recently, however as a person, she was still rather spiteful.  Marinette could only hope that Chloe might eventually change, for everyone’s sake, especially Adrien’s. 

 


 

Adrien laughed along with the others as Alya attempted her dare of trying to do a handstand while blindfolded.  After the fifth attempt, she finally got her legs above her head, only to topple immediately over, landing on the floor right in front of her boyfriend. 

“Ouch!” she exclaimed as she removed the piece of fabric that was her blindfold. 

While still laughing, Nino reached out and drew her into his arms, guiding her to sit back down next to him.

“Ok.” Alya said with a sigh.  “Moving on.  Adrien, truth or dare?”

He had chosen to take a dare the last time she had asked him, and he had wound up pretending to model down the runway in a pair of Marinette’s high heels. Dares from Alya were brutal.  Her truths could be just as brutal though. He couldn’t decide what he really wanted to do, but finally settled on his choice and said “Truth.”

Alya, having clearly followed his train of thought, decided she could give him a break.  He had risen to the challenge every time she picked on him, so she asked him what he knew she believed would be a simple question.  “What was the most surprising thing that happened to you this past week?”

Adrien considered this seriously.  Obviously, anything with Ladybug was out.  It could have been Marinette’s parents welcoming him so warmly, or Marinette’s musical assistance at his photoshoot. In fact, almost every moment that jumped in his head was about this wonderful girl who kept surprising him. But then another memory struck him.

He grinned a devious grin, and he began formulating his plan.

As the game had progressed, they had all gotten more comfortable with each other.  Comfortable enough that he felt like he could share this particular memory.  Normally, he was only this confident as Chat, but something about being here with Marinette made it easier for him to be his true self. 

He chuckled softly, knowing how much fun he was going to have with this.  It was time he called her out on it.

“I heard a couple of really cute pick-up lines earlier this week.” He smiled wider in anticipation, keeping his eyes focused on the blue-haired girl.

Alya looked at him incredulously, unable to believe that hearing pick-up lines was the most surprising thing about his week.  However, she stayed quiet, allowing him to continue.   

“The first one was ‘You know, even if there wasn’t gravity on Earth, I’d still fall for you’”

Marinette’s smile dropped.  He could see the wheels in her head turning.  He knew precisely what she was thinking.  There was no turning back now.  At this point, he had to continue. 

“The other one was ‘What’s your next class?  Because I think we have Chemistry!’”

Marinette’s jaw dropped to the floor.

“B-b-but… W-what?  But I…” she stuttered in between gasping breaths.

Adrien watched as Marinette’s attention flashed between him and Alya.  Her gaze settled down on Alya, whose hand was clasped over her mouth in shock.  Alya’s expression was the perfect cocktail of horror and amusement.  He could see Marinette internally pleading with Alya, having no clue what to do.  Obviously at a loss as well, Alya shrugged and shook her head in defeat.  His admission surely counted as something unexpected to her as well. 

Nino was looking around the room, trying to catch hold of one of his friends’ attention at a complete loss as to what was going on.

“Anyone gonna clue me in here?”  He asked.

Alya couldn’t contain it anymore and burst out laughing.  Adrien couldn’t stop a laugh of his own escaping from his mouth.  As soon as he heard himself laugh, he brought his full attention back to that beautiful bluenette.

Marinette seemed to just wilt in her chair.  Her shoulders sagging, her whole posture dropping to the floor, just like her mood.  He watched as all of the color left her face.  

She was scowling at Alya and her boisterous laughter, more so than he had ever seen Marinette scowl. 

Beginning to worry that he approached this in the wrong fashion, he walked over to Marinette.

He heard Alya’s laugh die down and he heard her start whispering to Nino. The only explanation he could think of was that she was explaining the situation to him.  As long as she was talking to him, Adrien had hope that he could have a modicum of time to comfort Mari without observers. 

He kneeled down in front of her, so they were almost at eye level.  Her eyes briefly locked with his and he could see she was mortified, tears beginning to fall down her face.  The anger within her that was previously directed toward her best friend, seemed to have changed into complete despair.

“Marinette.  I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before, but I overheard your conversation in the locker room earlier this week.”  Marinette brought her hands to her face and shook her head back and forth, seemingly willing herself to just disappear.   Seeing the soft shudders coursing through her body, he placed his hand tenderly upon her upper arm.

“Hey,” he said gently.  At the warmth of his touch she removed her hands, letting them fall into her lap, still unable to look up and meet his gaze.

“It’s ok.” He smiled at her.  This wasn’t the smile he pulled out in front of the camera; this was a genuine smile in response to the girl in front of him that he wanted to make feel secure again.  But she wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Please, Marinette. Look at me.”

At that, her eyes rose to meet his. “Not only were those pick-up lines absolutely amazing, but the girl who delivered them is even more so.”  A glimmer of hope began replacing her embarrassment.  Even with the tears welling up in her eyes, or maybe because of the tears, her eyes sparkled like sapphires, the tears catching the light and reflecting it a million times.  He saw one of the tears stream down her face, and she seemed to lose control again, feeling another soft tremble from her as she pulled her gaze from his.

He couldn’t bear it anymore.  He knew he had taken this one step too far.  This wonderfully amazing girl was completely devastated.  That’s when he realized that her whole world must be crashing down around her.  She’d had a crush on him for the longest while without him knowing it.  One of her greatest fears might be being realized, that he was making fun of her. 

He knew he had to do something more, something to prove to her that he was serious, something to convey his feelings to her.  Drawing upon his inner strength, both his and Chat’s, he softly touched Marinette’s cheek, stroking his thumb over her soft skin as he moved in closer to her.  As he pulled his fingers tenderly away from her face, he found her raising her eyes to meet his yet again.

Just as her eyes met his, his lips met hers.  It was for just a moment, but to him, it felt like an eternity.

He pulled back to see Marinette’ eyes wide with shock, but thankfully it was very clearly shock and not horror.  She was blushing heavily, a small smile adorning her face.  There was no more sign of any shame, anger, or despair anywhere on her features.  An ear to ear smile grew upon his face, as he pulled his body back and began to stand up in order to return to his seat. 

As he stood up, Marinette’s hand met his and grasped hold.  He turned his head to look back at her, her smile growing bigger when he didn’t let go.  He couldn’t let go.  He wouldn’t let go.  With their eyes meeting once more, he saw her’s begin to well once again, but this time she didn’t seem sad.  She smiled harder still, and mouthed the words thank you.

Crossing the room to the cat pillow on the floor, he managed a glance at Alya and Nino.  Their eyes were wide, their mouths gaping, and their attention was bouncing back and forward from Marinette to Adrien.  Neither were able to fully comprehend what had just transpired, or so Adrien believed. The whole room was silent, Alya and Nino transfixed upon the miraculous moment, Marinette still caught in the throngs of it herself.  The only one that seemed to be able to center himself was Adrien, so he took his seat.

The room remained silent for many heartbeats.  Adrien found himself lost within his thoughts yet again. Marinette was obviously dazed, but she wasn’t looking horrified anymore.  And once again, he couldn’t get the thought of being with Marinette out of his head.  He wanted to be with her.  He wanted to feel her lips against his.  And he wanted her to know the truth, that he finally knew she liked him.  But most importantly, he wanted her to know that he liked her back. 

Judging from the awkward silence that had fallen over the room, along with the look on her face and the lack of input from the other two, his kiss had communicated all of that.

“So, Marinette,” he said, breaking the long silence, pausing as everyone snapped back to reality.  “Truth or dare?”

She took a deep breath, composing herself. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, looked him dead in the eyes as she said “Dare.” A confident smile emerging from the shadows.

“Wow!  Gutsy move after that, girl” Alya commented.

Marinette just smiled, seeming to have found some new sense of assurance, awaiting whatever he could come up with. 

Caught off guard, Adrien had to think.  She usually just picked Truth.  The last time she had chosen a dare, she only had to sketch some designs.  They were beautiful, for she had shown them all when she had finished, but he wanted to pick something a little more meaningful after everything that just transpired. He wanted to benefit from this a little as well.  The kiss with Marinette felt wonderful and the fact that she had enjoyed it too left him wanting to be closer to her. 

“Dance with me.” He said, a challenge in his eyes.

Her bluebell eyes met his, intensity burning within her, and he knew his challenge was met.  He had expected her to be nervous, given her clumsy nature, but she was showing no signs of apprehension.  

He heard a rustling to his right and saw Nino reaching into his bag of chips, Alya sitting next to him patiently, both of them preparing to watch them.  The phrase ‘dinner and a show’ came to mind.

Adrien stood up and walked over to Marinette, extending his hand to her.  She took it and stood up with determination.  Adrien looked over his new dance partner and smiled appreciatively as he used their interlaced hands to draw her into his dance frame. 

If it bothered her that there was no music, she never said anything.  Instead, she just smiled up at him as he began to slowly lead them in a small circle. 

Moving around the room as one, wherever he led, she followed.  They danced together effortlessly, and Adrien couldn’t help but feel like they were perfectly matched partners.   

The warmth of the hand that was holding his was intoxicating.  Her other hand rested perfectly on his shoulder, and her feet moved with his in impeccable harmony.  He smiled.  She might be known for being clumsy, but right here, with him, she was the most graceful person in the world.

She smiled back at him, and in that moment, he knew that he was in love with Marinette.  If he played his cards right, he could kiss her again.  A true kiss. 

“Ready?” He asked after another moment of dancing.

“Ready for what?” She responded, somewhat confused. 

“Our grand finale, of course!  I’m going to spin you.  Here we go.” He lifted the hand that still clasped hers and used his opposite hand to guide her under their arms.  She gracefully spun out as Adrien took a step back, before pulling her swiftly back into him. 

At least, that’s what would have happened if he hadn’t run into Marinette’s desk while taking his step back, causing a huge crash behind him. 

Instead of the picture-perfect spin he had been hoping for, followed by pulling her in for a kiss, he now had his horror-struck classmate in front of him, gaping at whatever disaster he had just caused behind him. 

He let go of Marinette’s hand and turned around to find her treasured sewing machine on the ground, broken into at least two dozen pieces.   

The guilt came crashing over him; like a shell on a beach, he was washed away in the undertow. He had been lost in their dance and hadn’t noticed where they were in her room.  He hadn’t realized that they were right next to where she kept her sewing supplies.  And now, it was because of him that the device her favorite interest depended upon was destroyed. 

“Marinette, I’m so sorry.” The apology gushing out of him as he turned back to face her.

She had tears in her eyes as she looked down at her broken sewing machine.  Before any of those tears could fall, she took a deep breath, calming herself, and met his gaze.  “It’s ok.” She said, sincerity in her eyes.  “It’s not your fault.  Accidents happen, right?”

Adrien started to protest, needing to explain that this was his fault, but suddenly the trap door to her room opened, revealing Sabine.

“What was that?” Sabine asked, having heard the commotion from down below. “Is everyone alright?”

 Adrien began forming his explanation in his mind, but before he could get it out, Marinette answered.  “Yes, Maman.  Everything is fine.” she lied, turning to face her mother while positioning herself in front of the fallen, now destroyed, machine.

“Alright.” Sabine said as her eyes caught sight of the calamity. She looked her daughter in the eye. Seemingly taking her daughter at her word, she continued.  “Well, dinner is almost ready.  Why don’t you kids come downstairs and help me get everything finished up?”

Adrien looked over at his two other friends.  Between dancing with Mari and trying to deal with the aftermath of his misstep, he had completely forgotten they were there.  Alya was staring apologetically at Marinette, while Nino was looking at the shattered mess on the floor.  None of them were able to drag themselves away from the scene.

Marinette looked at her friends.  “Really, it’s fine.” she said flatly, “You all go downstairs.  I’m just going to clean this up really quick and I’ll be right down.”

Alya walked over to Marinette, grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze.  “You sure?”

Marinette smiled at her.  “Yes, I’m sure.  Please, just go.”

Adrien knew that she believed it was fine.  But he also understood what it meant to someone when they lost something very precious to them. “I’m going to help Mari.  We’ll both be down soon” he said to the departing couple right before bending down to help pick up the shattered pieces. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Scaredy Cat

Marinette bent down, starting to pick up the shattered remains of her beloved sewing machine. 

“Mari, I’m so, so sorry.  I should have been watching where I was…”

“Adrien!” Marinette snapped, a hint of anger in her voice, cutting him off as she lifted the largest remaining piece of her sewing machine onto her desk.  “We were both dancing together.  It’s not like you planned to bump into my desk.” Marinette heaved a sigh, letting go of all of her frustration.  “Plus, I should have remembered to put it back against the wall instead of leaving it at the edge of the desk.”

Adrien stood up next to her, placing the last few pieces on her desk “Yeah, but…”

“Adrien.” Marinette interrupted him again, this time however, there was no anger within her voice.  “It was an accident.”  She grabbed both his hands in hers and let her eyes meet his.  “Truly, it is okay.”

His eyes glistened as he suddenly and tenderly said “Oh, Mari.” He took a half step toward her, closing the distance between them, and wrapped her in a friendly hug.  She knew that Adrien must feel terribly guilty about it breaking.  He was being really sweet and caring, even if it really wasn’t his fault.  So, she returned his hug whole heartedly, doing her best to reassure him that it was fine.  There were plenty of other things in his life that were constantly dragging him down; he didn’t need any more worries from this accident.  Especially because that’s all it was, an accident.

“Don’t let this bit of bad luck dampen your memory of dancing with me.  I really enjoyed that.” She said through the hug, letting her relentless optimism shine through, trying to give him something less sorrowful to dwell on. 

She felt Adrien smile over her shoulder as she relived the memory of their dance.  “I enjoyed it too” he responded, and they both pulled away from each other just enough to face one another.  “You really are a miraculous person, Marinette.  Nobody else would have seen things the way you see them.”

They stood there for another moment, smiling at each other, at peace in each other’s arms. 

The silence was broken when Marinette said quietly “You should probably go help downstairs.  I’ll be right down.”  She dropped her arms from around him, letting him know that he should go. 

Adrien looked at her, and for a moment she didn’t think he was going to leave her.  But then he looked deep into her eyes, nodded his head, and turned to go downstairs.  “I’ll see you down there.”

After going down only a couple of steps, he hesitated, looking back at Marinette, then at her sewing machine once more.  She could see another apology forming on his lips, but at the last moment he managed to continue down the stairs, closing the trap door behind him. 

The second the hatch was closed, Marinette fell to her knees, sobs shaking her whole body.  She let herself fall back against the wall of her room and let her tears fall freely. 

She needed a little bit of time to mourn the loss of her dependable sewing machine.  This machine had been a Christmas gift from her parents a few years ago when she had first taken a serious interest in fashion designing.  She would often stay up late using it on a new sewing project, too much drive to stop and go to bed.  She had used this machine to bring several of her favorite designs to life.  And now it was gone.

She had meant what she had told her friends though.  She knew that it was an accident, and it was just an object that could be replaced.  It really would be fine.  She could get another one.  A sewing machine just like the one she had wasn’t overly expensive.  Maybe she could work a few extra shifts in the bakery for her parents; they would understand her need to save up.  If not, she could offer to babysit Manon a couple more times.  And until then she could use the one in the art room at school. 

Her sobs slowly diminished and her tears slowed. 

She started to think about the machine itself.  It was quite a few years old and tended to not move as well as it once did, breaking her sewing needles more often than normal.  Plus, just last month the automatic buttonhole setting stopped working all together.  So, getting a new one wouldn’t be bad.  Besides, it was just a machine.  At least it wasn’t any of her designs or completed clothing. 

With her emotions of grief released, she felt better.  She stood up and walked over to her vanity.  She looked at herself in the mirror, drying the tear tracks on her face.  She splashed some water on her face, then dried it with a towel.  When she looked back towards her reflection, she took a deep breath.

She was okay.  Just like she said she would be.  She knew it was just an accident.  Things would truly be alright. 

She looked at the reflection of her trap door.  Adrien must have known she needed a minute to herself, which is probably the only reason he left and then shut the door behind him.  He really was an amazing person, and she felt her heart drawn even more towards him. 

Thinking back to their dance, Marinette couldn’t help but swoon internally.  She had danced with Adrien before, but this time, he had asked her to dance (without Alya’s intervention)!  He could have picked any other dare, but he had chosen to dance with her!

And let’s just stop ignoring the giant elephant in the room: he had kissed her!

Marinette’s insides began doing somersaults, twisting and knotting itself over and over again, joyfully reliving that moment.  Adrien had been listening in the locker room!  He had heard her entire confession to Alya, and all those smooth Chat inspired lines. 

At least he thought those lines were good.  Thinking about it, Adrien and Chat would probably get along well. 

Not only did Adrien hear her admit to liking him, but he then responded to that with a kiss, which solidified her theory that he liked her back!  He no longer thought of her as just a friend.  Her spirit soared, free as a bird in the sky.  No matter what else went wrong tonight, her evening couldn’t be ruined.  Everything she had been wishing for for almost a year was starting to come true. 

The enlightening reality that Adrien finally liked her back was blissful.  He had kissed her!  Not long after they had almost kissed downstairs.  Knowing that Adrien finally wanted her as much as she wanted him made her melt inside.  Especially because she now knew and liked the real Adrien, not her previous surface-deep impression of him. 

She glanced away from the mirror and over towards the remains of her sewing machine splayed across her desk.  What worried her now was Adrien.  She knew the guilt would be racking him with pain.  She needed to assuage his fears and show him that she really was okay. 

Taking one last look in the mirror making sure she looked presentable after her emotional fiasco, she went to join her friends downstairs.

On her way down, she saw Alya, Nino and Adrien all helping her papa set the table as her mother finished cooking over by the stove. 

Adrien must have heard her coming down because he turned to look at her, unable to hide his remorseful demeanor.

She smiled as she walked over to him and wrapped him in a hug.  It took Adrien a moment to return her embrace.  Within that moment Mari realized that this was not the reaction he had been expecting.

When she pulled back, he looked confused, but hopeful.  It was necessary for her to make sure he knew she was alright now.  She needed him to know she was okay. 

She leaned forward onto the tips of her toes and kissed his cheek.  She pulled back just enough to meet his eyes.  “Thank you for giving me a moment to myself.  I’m good now, really.”

She searched his eyes, looking for a glimmer of understanding within them.  She had to see for herself that he believed her and was happy to see relief in his eyes.  “You sure?” he asked.

“I’m sure.” She smiled at him, and he smiled back, both lost in the other’s eyes. Those green eyes pierced into her soul, as deeply as she had just delved into his.  He was returning the gesture, making sure everything was as it seemed on the surface. 

“Ahem” Alya cleared her throat, breaking the spell between Marinette and Adrien. 

She took a step back from Adrien and looked around the room. As she took in the scene, it dawned on her that she had just kissed Adrien on the cheek in front of everyone, including her parents.

Alya and Nino were smirking at her as they finished setting out the silverware.  Her papa was frozen in place with a love-sick grin on his face, and her mother was looking at her adoringly while still stirring the food on the stove.

Marinette could feel her face turning as red as Ladybug’s suit.  “H-Hey.” She stuttered out, her embarrassment showing.  “Um, I…”

Before she could even offer up an explanation, her mother came to her rescue.  “Alright everyone, let’s take our seats.  Dinner is ready.”

Thankful of the reprieve, Marinette walked over towards the table, taking her seat.  Alya took the seat next to her, whispering “You sure you’re okay?”

Marinette nodded her head and whispered back “Yes, I am.  Thanks, Alya.”  Marinette then smiled at her, and Alya seemed to believe her. 

She watched as Adrien sat down across from her.  His phone chimed and he quickly pulled it out, smiled as he read the message, then put it away.  He then glanced over at her, meeting her stare, his beautiful smile lighting up his face.  He reached over and placed his hand over hers, which had been resting on the table. 

The feeling of his skin against hers flooded her with warmth.  Even with the small stroke of bad luck tonight, she was happy for everything that had happened today. 

 


 

\

During dinner, Adrien had not been able to keep his mind off Marinette.  He had kept looking at her, making sure she really was okay.  It was astonishing to Adrien that she was.

When he had first broken her sewing machine, he had expected her to lash out and yell at him.  He expected anger and disappointment, like he usually got at home or from Chloe.  But none of that came.

Instead, Marinette was understanding.  She had taken a few moments to herself, but now it looked like she truly was fine.  She had even come downstairs and immediately went to comforting him.  Adrien couldn’t believe how wonderfully selfless Marinette was. 

He looked over at her now, as they all sat on the couch in the living room after dinner.  She smiled, oblivious to his staring as she got up and pulled out a few DVDs.  Her parents had chosen to go downstairs to their room after dinner and give Marinette and her friends some privacy.  So now they were trying to decide upon a movie to watch. 

She looked over to Adrien and caught his eye, and he blushed slightly at having been caught staring.  She only smiled back at him, her cheeks adorning a rosy hue of their own, before setting a small stack of movies down on the coffee table and then walking over to return to her seat next to Adrien on the couch. 

“Ooh!” Nino cut in.  “I love this movie!” he said, going to grab the DVD on top of the stack.  Before his fingers could even brush the case, Alya had grabbed the stack off of the table and started going through the movies on her lap. Adrien couldn’t help but smile at the small pout on his best friend’s face. 

Alya suddenly stopped flipping through the movies and Adrien saw the all-too-familiar evil grin spread across her face. She looked up at Nino.  “Hey, babe, I know you were hoping for that superhero movie, but how about this one?”  She showed the case to Nino, but Adrien couldn’t see what the movie was from where he was sitting. 

He looked over to his other side where Marinette had settled in next to him, giving her a questioning look.  She just shrugged, apparently not sure which movie Alya was talking about. 

Nino looked at the case, then over at Adrien.  “Totally.  Great pick, babe.” Nino said, still looking at Adrien.  Apparently Alya’s smile was contagious, because Nino now sported it as well. 

“Alya,” Marinette cut in, sounding tired of the secrets.  “Majority pick.  You and Nino can’t pick the movie by yourselves” she said, sounding satisfied at her solution to their friend’s plotting. 

Adrien looked back towards the grinning duo.  Alya took the rest of the stack of DVDs and placed them on the couch behind her and Nino, seeming to hide away all the other options.  “How do you guys feel about horror movies?” she asked as she revealed the cover to them.  It read Paranormal Activity

Adrien had no issues with horror movies.  He enjoyed watching them, although he had never seen this particular one.  He looked over at the bluenette sitting beside him. She shrugged, then said “Fine with me.”

Adrien turned back to the couple and chimed in with “Sure.”

Alya jumped up off the couch, set the stack of other movies on the table, and quickly put the DVD in.  Marinette stood up to turn off the lights in the room.

Once the main lights went out, the only lighting in the room came from the TV.  In the eerie glow from the screen, Adrien saw Alya take her seat back next to Nino, leaning back against him as he wrapped his arm around her.  They looked so happy and comfortable with each other.

Marinette came back and took her seat next to Adrien.  As she sat down, he felt the couch dip next to him, much closer than before.  He could feel her leg press against his as she sat close to him.  His heart raced, the pounding in his chest growing stronger, as he realized just how close he was to Marinette.  She had so much room on the couch to sit down anywhere she wanted, but she chose to sit down right next to him. 

He glanced down at where their legs were touching.  Her hand was resting casually against her leg.  His fingers interlaced with hers before he could even realize that he had just taken her hand in his.  Marinette didn’t pull away though. 

Not that he expected her to; he was pretty sure of Marinette’s feelings toward him.  

The last time he had tried to make advances with a girl, Ladybug had rebuffed him.  But this was different, and he knew it. 

He felt Marinette squeeze his hand gently and the smile that spread across his face was involuntary.  Out of the corner of his eye, he sneaked a glance at her, and saw that she sported a matching expression. 

As the movie began, Adrien felt Marinette lean her head tentatively against his shoulder, resting against him.  He melted into her, leaning his head on hers.  His thumb absently stroked the back of Marinette’s hand as they watched the intro to the film. 

Adrien couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so comfortable.  Here he was, cuddled up with an amazing girl, hanging out in a place that felt like home, full of food that her parents had made, and watching a movie with his best friends.  He could stay like this forever.

Or, at least that had been the plan until Adrien realized just how much this horror movie scared him.  He usually loved horror movies.  The blood, the suspense, the eerie music.  But this one was different; apparently paranormal horror terrified him.  His heart raced as he continued to watch the demonic horrors on the screen. 

While he had been gently caressing Marinette’s hand earlier as she rested against him, now he was leaning into her, clinging to her arm like his life depended on it.

Alya and Nino were still cuddled up against one another, both seemingly enjoying the film.  Fittingly, neither of them seemed to be affected by the horror movie.  Alya was the type of person to run toward danger, especially if it meant capturing something for her Ladyblog, and Nino was so relaxed all the time that something like this would never bother him.  Adrien wasn’t sure how Marinette was fairing, considering the fact that he was desperately hanging off her.  He felt her jump at the same times he did though, and he hoped that having him close was comforting her as well.  He was enjoying every moment though.  The close proximity to Marinette, the amplified emotions, the need to be closer.  This was the perfect excuse to get as close to Marinette as he wanted. 

He made it through the end of the movie, seeking more and more comfort from Marinette.  He was relieved when the credits rolled and Alya stood up to turn on the lights. 

The light brightened the room, and after a moment to adjust to the sudden change in lighting, Adrien was able to realize the position he found himself in.  He had ended up practically on top of Marinette, as every time he jumped, he had pulled in closer to her. 

With his heart still pounding, and beads of sweat brimming his forehead, he realized just how tightly he had been holding on to Marinette.  It turns out he was a bit of a fraidy cat. He was suddenly very worried that he might have been squeezing her a little too tightly.

Adrien took a deep breath, composing himself as he sat up, trying to calm his still racing heart.  “Ok, I think I’ve had enough of horror movies for a while.” He said with a small chuckle.

Alya and Nino laughed at his comment, but Marinette did not.  Instead she leaned in towards him and whispered in his ear “I don’t know.  I quite enjoyed that.”

She pulled away and smiled at him.  The blush spreading across his face could not be helped.  He knew she was referring to their proximity during the film, and not the horror movie itself.

Oh man, just when he thought he couldn’t fall for Marinette any more.  She really was amazing. 

“So, what now?” Alya asked, still grinning at the two of them.

 


 

“Well, I don’t have to go home yet” Adrien said.  “Anyone up for playing some video games?”

Marinette smiled at the suggestion.  Adrien was still visibly shaken from the movie.  Doing something fun together should relieve him of some of those unwanted feelings.

Plus, she would take any time she could spend with Adrien.  And she always enjoyed playing video games with him. 

“How about Mecha Strike?” Marinette suggested.

“NO!” all three of her friends exclaimed in unison.

For a moment she wasn’t sure how to react. At first, she was startled by their reaction, but then she just started giggling.  She couldn’t blame them for wanting to play something that they could all enjoy.   She was the best at that game, a fact that everyone knew after the school’s Mecha Strike tournament.

“What about Extreme Racing 3?” Adrien offered after Marinette’s giggles had subsided.

“Yeah!” Nino exclaimed, pumping his fist into the air. 

“I don’t have that game.” Marinette said solemnly, watching both Alya and Nino’s smiles drop to the floor.

But before she could do anything else, Adrien chimed in, “Actually,” he said with a wide grin, “I brought my copy.”

Alya and Nino’s faces matched her own incredulous stare, wondering how he had had the foresight to bring the game.  He must have wanted to be prepared for any circumstance. Marinette beamed, as the excitement at playing a new game began to take over.

Adrien excused himself to go grab his bag that he had left in Marinette’s room. 

Alya immediately sat in Adrien’s recently vacated spot on the couch next to Marinette.  Nino seemed to know what Alya was up to and walked away toward the kitchen to give them privacy. 

“Okay, we only have a minute, so are you really alright?  With everything that has happened today?”  Not even giving Marinette a chance to respond, Alya continued.  “I mean, first with learning he overheard you expressing your unrequited love for him, then with him kissing you, then him daring you to dance with him, then the sewing machine breaking, then whatever happened during that horror movie.  I mean that’s a lot for anyone in one day and…”

“Alya!” Marinette barked quietly, cutting off her rambling.  “Truly,” she smiled at her best friend “I am alright.  The thing with my sewing machine was just an accident.  It’ll be okay.  But more importantly, I think something might finally be happening with Adrien.”

Alya’s face was almost comical, and Marinette realized that Alya had known something was happening between her and Adrien long before Marinette had known herself.  “But” she said, causing Alya’s face to drop just a bit, “as much as I appreciate your help, please let me try this myself?”

She knew that her best friend would always help her in any way possible, probably too much in this regard.  But she also didn’t want to hurt Alya’s feelings, so she continued, “Knowing that he finally likes me back, plus everything else I’ve learned this week makes me feel like I can do this now.”

Alya’s face looked proud and she wrapped Marinette in a large hug.  “You got it girl.” She said, pulling back just as Adrien climbed back down the stairs from Marinette’s room with his bag.  Nino wandered back from the kitchen, holding a plate of cookies her parents must have left out for them. 

Nino set the plate on the coffee table next to the stack of rejected movies, while Adrien loaded the game into the system and Marinette got out the controllers. 

Soon the four of them were ready to play.

Marinette had never played this game before, but racing games tended to be very similar to one another.  At least this one didn’t have any stupid blue shells.  

She had always been a natural at video games, starting out good and getting better each time she played.  Adrien owned this game, so it made sense that he had played it before and was probably pretty good.  She was going to have to keep her eyes on him.  Nino seemed like he had played it before as well, but she still got the feeling that she was going to be better than him.  Alya only ever played video games with her, so she doubted Alya had played this before either.

The race started and somehow Marinette was able to take the lead.  She smiled as the competitive side of her came out, ready to play.  She was doing well and was still in the lead as she got close to finishing the first lap.  Two cars suddenly came shooting out of what appeared to be just a wall.  She recognized them as both Nino’s and Adrien’s cars. 

“What?!” Marinette exclaimed, suddenly in third.  “How did you do that?”

She heard the smirk in Adrien’s voice as he said, “Hidden shortcut!”

She scowled, the tiger that was her competitive side getting ready to pounce, as she tried to fight to get back in the lead.  This time she looked everywhere on the screen, looking for anything she could use to get an advantage.  Unfortunately, it looked like Adrien knew this game much better than her.  She ended up taking a different approach.  With Adrien and Nino right in front of her, she was able to watch them and see their tricks.

Right before entering their third and last lap, she saw Adrien turn off the main track.  Following suit, she veered her car off the track and discovered his shortcut from before.  As they raced through the shortcut and joined the main track again, Marinette saw that she had pulled in front of Nino, who for some reason hadn’t taken the shortcut this lap. 

Marinette was in second place, which for any normal person was pretty good.  But she wasn’t just a normal person here, this was her element and she wanted to win. 

No matter what she tried, she could not get in front of Adrien to take the lead.  They both took the shortcut once more right before the finish line, which in the end secured Adrien the first-place position and Marinette the second-place spot.  Nino came in third behind them, and Alya managed sixth.

“That was gruesome!” Alya exclaimed, stretching. 

Nino reached over and patted her shoulder a couple times in understanding. 

“Next race.” Was all Marinette said.  Now that she knew what she was up against, she wanted another chance with a fresh track.  Her competitive side had been engaged and she wanted to win at least once. 

Adrien chuckled at her but selected a track for the next race.  Marinette smiled, a new strategy forming in her mind. 

The race began and Marinette made sure that Adrien pulled ahead of her.  No way was he pulling any more surprises from behind her.  Surprisingly, Alya had pulled ahead of Adrien and was currently in the lead. 

Marinette watched Adrien’s every move and when he suddenly got off the track for an off-the-path detour, she followed him.  Once he rejoined the main track, he stayed on it the rest of the lap.  Thanks to their detour, Alya fell back into third.  Marinette wasn’t sure where Nino was. 

As the second lap began, Marinette put her plan into action.  Right before going for the detour, Marinette slammed her car into Adrien’s, causing him to start spinning out.  He regained control right away, but he missed the detour because of it. 

“Yes!” She exclaimed as she used the detour to claim the lead.  Halfway through the second lap, she felt pretty good about her lead.  Until Adrien’s car suddenly appeared on the track in front of her. 

“What? But…” Marinette was at a loss for words and the adrenaline inside her began pumping.

“I saw you following me earlier.  You didn’t think I’d give away all my secrets, did you?” He said grinning and spared her a glance. 

She looked at the smirk on his face and another idea came to her.  She wasn’t going to lose this time.  She turned her attention back to the game and continued trying to pass his car unsuccessfully.  On the third lap, they both managed to make use of the detour and continued around the track in the same order. 

With the finish line in their sights, Marinette put her plan into action.  She knew it was a straight shot to the finish line, so with her fingers holding the correct buttons, she leaned over to place a kiss on Adrien’s cheek, hoping to distract him long enough for her to win. 

As she leaned in to kiss him, he turned to look at her, and unexpectedly she found that her lips were pressing against his lips and not his cheek.  Marinette’s eyes went wide, and her emotions began bubbling again, but she did not pull back.  Neither did Adrien.  In fact, as the emotions started to roil she discovered that she couldn’t bring her attention back to the game.  Marinette closed her eyes and found herself kissing him again, and he was kissing her back.  She could feel her thumb slipping off the buttons as she lost herself in the kiss. 

“WINNER!” The TV announced and Marinette felt their kiss break.  They both blushed a little as Marinette pulled herself back. 

They both looked toward the screen to see who had won.  Remarkably it was Alya’s character who was being displayed on the screen!

Marinette knew she had been successful in her goal of distracting Adrien, but her plan also backfired, and the unexpected kiss distracted her as well. 

She looked over at Alya.  Instead of finding her with a controller in her hands, Alya held her phone up, the little red light on the back as proof she had been recording all of that. 

Alya hit a button on her phone, stopping the recording, and started howling with laughter.  Nino joined in, dropping the controller in his hand.

“But Alya, you won…” Adrien asked, questioningly as their friends attempted to reign in their laughter. 

“No, dude, I won using Alya’s controller.” Nino said, not at all ashamed.  “She and I traded controllers in the beginning for a chance to dupe you guys, but once she saw what was going down, she just had to get her phone out and record you two.  That was awesome!”

“I just wanted to capture how competitive you guys were, but you both definitely went above and beyond!” Alya exclaimed, looking down at her phone. 

Marinette glanced over at Adrien, expecting to see him blushing furiously like she probably was, but to her surprise, he wasn’t.  He was only smiling.  He reached over and grabbed her hand, holding it affectionately in his. 

“You bet we did!” He said, placing a chaste kiss on her hand.  Adrien wasn’t at all embarrassed to have been caught kissing her.  In fact, he was just able to take it in stride along with everything else that happened.

This whole school year up until this point, she had dreamed about them being together.  Then today, she had begun to hope that they really could be together.  But now, she had no doubt that they would be together. 

With the way they had been getting closer all week, and then the strides they made today, Marinette knew that everything she had been hoping for was finally right in front of her.  And better yet, it was Adrien who was offering it to her.  She just had to reach out and take it. 

Marinette felt happy with herself, and she felt Adrien squeeze her hand before letting go to hold his controller with both hands.  He set up the next race for all of them and they all continued to play casually for another hour, enjoying having fun with each other.

 


 

Adrien heard his phone go off.  Once the current race was over and he had won again (but only barely, thanks to Marinette), he pulled it out of his pocket and checked the message. 

Perfect. 

He put the phone back in his pocket and glanced up at Marinette and smiled. 

“Time to go?” She asked a little sadly.

The last time he was here for dinner, the Gorilla had texted him when he had arrived at the bakery to pick him up.  She must have thought that was what that text was, since it was almost 10 o’clock. 

“Nope.  Not quite yet.” He responded, hiding the real reason for the text and selecting the next race track for them all to play. 

Alya had given up on actually racing and was currently laying across Nino’s lap, munching on a cookie, watching the rest of them.  The three of them had been having so much fun trying to win each race. 

Although, it was Adrien who had won every race that evening, except the one ‘Alya’ won.  But that still didn’t stop Nino and Marinette from trying to beat him, or each other.  Luckily, it was all in good fun, with Marinette’s previous need to win was replaced with her enjoyment of playing. 

Suddenly the doorbell rang.  Adrien paused the race. 

Marinette got up to answer the door.  “Who would be coming over so late?” she wondered.

Adrien grinned, for he knew exactly who it was.

Alya sat up off of Nino’s lap and they all looked expectantly over towards the door.

Marinette opened the front door to reveal the Gorilla.  He didn’t do anything or say anything; he only stood there.  Adrien saw the confusion on Alya and Nino’s faces; the Gorilla usually just waited in the car for Adrien. 

Marinette’s voice was perplexed as she asked, “Are you here to pick up Adrien?”

Adrien stood up and walked over to stand with Marinette in the doorway.  Marinette took a step back to give them some room.  His bodyguard turned and picked something up from outside in the hallway, his massive form preventing anyone from looking past at what he was doing.  When he turned back around, he handed a large box to Adrien.  Adrien immediately turned around and presented this box to Marinette.

The lightbulb that went off in Marinette’s mind as she realized what she was holding was clear on her face.  It was a brand-new sewing machine.  An exact replacement of the one broken upstairs. 

“What?  But… Adrien…?” She said, obviously baffled and unable to form a coherent string of words.

As Marinette stood in front of him, her mouth opening and closing but no words forming, Adrien decided to ease her panic and explain. 

“Marinette, I know that bumping into your sewing machine and breaking it was an accident, and I know you don’t blame me, but I still felt really guilty about it.  So, I hope you don’t mind, but to make it up to you, I got you a new one.”

Marinette went to interrupt him, probably in protest, but he cut her off by continuing.

“I know how much you love to sew.  I’ve seen you so passionate about your work, and I couldn’t stand for you to lose something so important to you. Especially with that beautiful pink and black dress you are finishing up.”

Adrien watched as the tension in her shoulders began to decrease. He hoped his message was getting through to her.  

“Please, accept this replacement from me.  I am not giving it to you because you need it, but rather because I feel the need to replace it.  So please, accept it for my sake.”

Adrien paused, waiting for Marinette to respond.  Her gaze going from the box up to him.  With hesitation, she walked forward and took the box from him.  She then bent over and placed it on the floor next to her.   

Before he knew it, she was wrapping him in a crushing hug, which he returned whole-heartedly.

“You shouldn’t have” she whispered to him over his shoulder.

“I know, but I wanted to.  For you.” He whispered back to her.

She pulled back to face him, and he could see the emotions welling up in her eyes.  He knew then that he had earned her forgiveness and more.  She then began closing the gap between them, her face nearing his.  With the warmth of her breath on his face, he closed his eyes.  In the moment her lips connected with his, he could feel the spark between them becoming tangible.

He returned her kiss with a few of his own, before she drew her lips away from his.  He couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes, for he was too engrossed in the moment, as she wrapped him in another hug.

He returned the hug for another moment before remembering he had another surprise for her.

“Oh, one more thing.”  His eyes popped open and a smile creased his face from ear to ear. He stepped out of her embrace and back towards the doorway.  

He managed to steal a quick look over at Nino and Alya who were still sitting on the couch trying, a little too hard, to look like they were not paying attention.

The Gorilla bent down once again to pick up something else.  He righted himself and handed another, even larger box to Adrien. 

The blonde turned back towards Marinette.

In his hands was a Serger, a specialty sewing machine used to make professional level seams, along with many other useful stitches.  He watched Marinette’s eyes go wide as she realized what was in this box. 

Adrien knew that this machine was three times as expensive as the replacement sewing machine he had gotten her, but with how much he was falling for this girl, he wanted to give her something special. 

Besides, this still cost less than he normally spent on cheese in two weeks. 

As he watched her eyes narrow at him, he braced himself for what was coming. 

“Adrien Agreste!”