“Here’s to crippling student debt, unpaid internships, working for ‘exposure’ and massive insecurity,” Nathaniel raised his glass.
“To following our dreams, no matter how soul-destroying it is,” Nino lifted his.
“To pursuing careers in the creative arts,” Marinette added and the three of them clinked their glasses together.
The cafe had been crowded when they first arrived, but the 11pm show at the Moulin Rouge had caused the place to suddenly empty, making finding a table easier. The three friends had pushed their way to the back of the cafe and found a free table. Nathaniel removed his trusty blazer and slung it over his chair and rolled the sleeves of his red shirt to his elbow, revealing muscular arms. Marinette double checked that Tikki was content inside her bag before slinging it over the back of her chair, covering it with her jacket. Nino’s blue hoodie was laid over the fourth seat, in case anyone else arrived later.
They were expecting others to join them, but life after university was more hectic than ever and it was hard to predict who would be available. Rose and Juleka popped by but left after one drink. Max sent a text to say he and Kim were held up at a party, and nobody else bothered to reply to her messages.
“Where’s Alya?” Nathaniel asked.
“On a date,” Nino winced.
“Yikes, sorry man, I didn’t know you broke up,” Nath said.
“They didn’t,” Marinette rolled her eyes. “They have an open relationship.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” Nathaniel began, uncertainly.
“Only if both sides are okay with it,” Marinette pointed out. “And Nino here...”
“...Is not okay,” Nino finished.
“Shit, sorry. Why did you agree to it then?” Nathaniel picked his glass up, absentmindedly running his finger across the rim as he looked earnestly at Nino.
“It was that or lose her and that seemed worse,” Nino stared into his own glass, not wanting to make eye contact.
Marinette looked between the two men, one face a picture of awkwardness, the other regret and sadness. When Alya told her about the decision, Marinette was surprised that Nino agreed to it; now he confirmed her suspicions about why he did. Alya and Nino had been together since collège and Alya had wild oats to sow that, apparently, she couldn’t do with Nino. She suggested the open relationship option as an alternative to breaking up. The couple had a flat together, a split would be messy financially as well as emotionally.
“Okay, I think it’s time for another drink,” Marinette said, looking around for the waiter. “Maybe something to eat, too.”
This wasn’t what she had in mind when she tried to arrange this class reunion. She knew her friends all had lives of their own and they didn’t owe her anything, but she’d hoped they could set those aside for one night.
“It’s on me,” A cheerful voice cut through her self-pity.
“Adrien!” Marinette jumped out of her chair to greet him.
The chair tipped backwards and Marinette somehow got her legs tangled in the legs of the chair and she fell forwards, slamming into Adrien. He caught her around the waist and pulled her close to him to steady her. Lifting her up, out of the clutches of her seat, he set her down next to him and picked her chair up and replaced it under the table.
“Are you hurt?” He turned his gaze on her, hands on her shoulders. Two emeralds sparkled at her from his perfect face, currently the picture of concern.
“No, are you?” She said, feeling the old stammer threatening to surface at her crush’s proximity. It was something she got over in lycée when she resigned herself to be nothing more than good friends with Adrien, though the crush never faded.
“I’m fine,” He smiled.
Yeah, you are. Marinette thought.
The commotion had alerted the waiter to the newcomer at the table and he came over to take their order. As he was doing so, Alix arrived with Mylene and Ivan. Followed closely by Sabrina, apologising profusely for her lateness. They pulled spare chairs from willing donors and all squished together around one small table. Marinette was very aware that Adrien’s thigh was pressed against hers. Their hands brushed a few times and she felt a thrill tingle up her arm when they touched.
“So, what are we celebrating?” Ivan asked.
“Nothing,” Nino replied, still grumpy about the reason for Alya’s absence.
“We don’t need to be celebrating something to get together do we?” Marinette said. “I just missed you all.”
“Aw, we miss you, too,” Mylene held her glass up and Marinette clinked hers against it.
“You’ve always been so thoughtful, Mari,” Adrien said, placing his hand on her forearm for exactly 4.5 seconds (not that she was counting).
It was a sweet moment, abruptly ruined by Alix making fake vomiting sounds.
Three more drinks later, Marinette was outside the cafe, hugging her friends goodbye. Promises to see each other more often were made and in her a-little-more-than-tipsy state, Marinette was proclaiming her love for all of her oldest friends.
“Do you need a lift home, Marinette?” Adrien asked as they waved Mylene, Ivan, Sabrina and Alix off in a taxi.
Marinette looked towards Nino who was slumped against a lamppost, looking sorry for himself.
“Thanks, but I think Nino needs you more right now,” She nodded towards their friend. “I’ll walk. Nathaniel lives near me, we’ll stick together.”
For a second, she thought Adrien might argue with her, but another look at Nino took the fight out of him. “You’re right. I should stay with him. Be safe, okay?”
Marinette turned to find Nathaniel waiting for her, leaning against the cafe wall, arms crossed. She smiled at him and he grinned back.
“Ready to go?” She asked.
“If you are,” He held his elbow out for her and she took it.
Neither of them were particularly steady on their feet, but with each other’s support, they staggered across the road toward the Cimetière de Montmartre. It was a place they occasionally spent time together, seeking out artists’ graves and sketching some of the more elaborate headstones and tombs. They turned up Rue Damrémont towards Rue Lamarck, where Marinette and Nathaniel each rented a studio flat. Marinette’s was fifteen square metres in total, with a loft bed, tiny kitchen, small sofa, folding table and not much else. Nathaniel’s was a little larger, with a bed that he folded against the wall to give himself more space, and a balcony he sat on to draw when the weather was good.
“It was nice of Adrien to pay the bill,” Nathaniel said, glancing at Marinette, searching for a reaction.
“He’s a nice guy.”
“Hmmm,” He sounded like he wanted to say something, but was holding back.
“That was a loaded ‘hmmm’, Nath. Speak your mind,” Marinette stopped walking.
Nathaniel carried on for a few steps before he realised she wasn’t there any more. He spun around and faced her.
He sighed, “I just think that maybe he was trying to impress you.”
“That’s unlikely,” Marinette laughed. “He’s a famous model and I’m a struggling wannabe fashion designer, I’m not even on his radar.”
“You’re a talented, beautiful, caring struggling fashion designer,” Nathaniel corrected. “And he’s a straight male with eyes, he can see how amazing you are.”
Marinette started walking again, taking Nathaniel’s arm when she reached him. They wandered in silence for five minutes before she spoke.
“Thank you,” Marinette said, sliding her hand down his arm until she could weave her fingers through his. “For seeing me as talented and caring.”
“And beautiful,” Nathaniel added and squeezed her hand.
He didn’t see her blush in the yellow glow of the streetlights but he felt her move closer to him. When they reached the door to his apartment, he lingered, still holding her hand.
“Are you sure I can’t walk you all the way home?” He asked.
“I’m sure, it’s not much farther,” Marinette assured him.
She leaned in to hug him and he finally let go of her hand to wrap his strong arms around her. She nuzzled her face into his chest and sighed happily. Nathaniel bent his head to hers and breathed in the vanilla and rose scent of her hair. Marinette moved away from him in surprise. Lips parted, she almost said… something... but at that moment, she forgot the words. Instead, she tilted her face towards his and kissed him. His eyes fell closed as he returned the kiss and his hands moved to her waist, pulling her closer. Soft kisses deepened and Marinette’s fingers raked through his red hair, grazing his scalp with her nails.
When they finally broke apart, they stood staring at each other, panting for breath. Emboldened by adrenaline and alcohol, he nodded towards his apartment door and cleared his throat.
“Do you want to stay here tonight?”
Sunlight streaming through open blinds alerted Marinette to the fact it was morning. She squinted at how bright it was, her hangover making the light seem even more intense. Lifting her throbbing head from a naked chest, she took in her surroundings; the events of last night slowly dawning on her.
Nathaniel was asleep under her, their legs still entwined. His shoulder-length red hair lay tousled on his pillow, framing his face like a lion. One arm was wrapped around Marinette, the other rested on his toned stomach.
Damn, where did those abs come from?!
She looked across the tiny apartment and saw the trail of abandoned clothing leading from the door to the bed and smiled to herself. It wasn’t exactly how she imagined her night was going to go when she left home yesterday, but she was happy that it did. Nathaniel was kind and easy to talk to. They had plenty in common, having known each other since école primaire and sharing a love of art and design. She put her head back on his chest and snuggled in. Nathaniel’s hand moved to stroke her hair.
“You’re awake,” She said.
“I don’t think so,” His voice was deep and comforting, “You’re in my bed so I’m sure I’m still dreaming.”
She laughed and poked her finger in his ribs.
“Just checking. You’re definitely awake. I’m really here,” Marinette grinned.
He rolled onto his side to face her, ran his fingers across her bare shoulders, then cupped her cheek in his palm.
“You really are here, aren’t you? Look, I need you to know, if this was just a one-night deal for you, I promise things won’t get awkward. If you want something more, though…” He trailed off. Without wine boosting his courage, the words were harder to say than he thought.
“It wasn’t just a one-night deal for me, Nath,” She assured him, looking him in the eyes so he could see she was serious. “I like you.”
He kissed her, unable to keep the grin off his face. She giggled and realised how happy she felt.
Their phones chimed almost simultaneously and they reflexively reached out to check them.
“Chloé’s summoning us all to brunch at the hotel,” Nathaniel said. “Do you fancy it?”
“Do we have a choice?” She groaned.
“It’s Chloé so, no.”
The message on her phone was from Adrien, informing her of the same thing. Chloé felt bad for skipping the reunion last night so was hosting a mandatory brunch for all her ex-classmates. She quickly typed a response to him, making sure to inquire after Nino at the same time. A reply arrived quickly, informing her that he took Nino home with him and Adrien was currently rubbing his best friend’s back as he cried and dry heaved into the toilet.
Nathaniel leaned over to kiss her.
“There’s time if you want to go home and get changed? I can come get you in an hour,” He suggested.
“Good call,” She said.
After gathering up her clothes, she threw them on and grabbed her bag, muttering profuse apologies to Tikki as she left. She let herself into her flat and immediately opened the cookie jar, letting her kwami help herself to the contents.
“Stop apologising, Marinette. You've had hookups in the past and I managed to zone out then, too.” Tikki reassured her.
“I know, but I still feel bad,” Marinette put her head around the bathroom. “I’m going to shower real quick, okay?”
Tikki had a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie so she waved at Marinette in lieu of a response. True to her word, Marinette’s shower lasted less than ten minutes, then she spent another twenty minutes standing in her towel trying to select an outfit.
“You’ll look great in whatever you choose,” Tikki encouraged her.
“I just need something cute, but casual. Like I just threw it on, but more considered than that.”
“Human fashion is confusing,” Tikki laughed, “I’m glad I don’t have to worry about it.”
Marinette eventually settled on a black shirt dress, cinched at the waist with a pink belt. She applied mascara and sheer pink lipstick and brushed her hair. There was no time to style it properly so she opted to let it dry naturally in soft waves, but she blowdried her bangs so they sat in the right place. Her buzzer sounded as she was slipping on a pair of black leather pumps and she told Nathaniel she’d be right there. She put her bag over her shoulder and opened the clasp to let Tikki fly inside.
On the street, she shared a nervous kiss with Nathaniel before they joined hands and began walking to the Metro station. At Guy Môquet, they boarded the train, finding two seats together. Nathaniel stroked her cheek with his thumb and she tilted her face toward him, gazing into his turquoise eyes. She brushed his hair from his face and felt electricity where her fingers touched his skin.
By the time the changed trains at Saint Lazare Train Station, they had lost all trace of self-consciousness and were becoming practised at public displays of affection.
At Le Grand Paris, they followed the distinctive sound of Chloé’s laugh to where their friends had already started on brunch. There were two seats left around the table, but they weren’t together. Nathaniel kissed Marinette’s hand before he relinquished it and she sat on the chair next to a grey-tinged Nino. Nathaniel sat between Ivan and Max in the space opposite Marinette.
“Hi, Nino,” She said gently. “How are you?”
He shrugged, lips pressed together, eyes watering. Adrien leaned over from the other side of his best friend and answered for him.
“He’s sick and unhappy.” He passed her a platter of pastries and she took a croissant, resting it on her plate.
“Do you know if A-L-Y-A is coming this morning?” She asked Adrien. He shook his head sadly.
“I can spell my own girlfriend’s name, I’m not a child,” Nino objected.
“I know, I thought it might lessen the pain.” Marinette put her hand on his arm, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I’m worried about you.”
She sliced her croissant in half and buttered it generously before adding jam. She cut each side into three and put one piece on Nino’s plate. He took it gratefully and ate slowly. She gave him another piece when it was finished and the colour gradually returned to his cheeks.
“How did you do that?!” Adrien was astounded. “I’ve been trying to perk him up all morning.”
“As the daughter of a baker, I can’t give away all my secrets,” She winked at him, “but you should know that croissants and jam have restorative properties.”
Adrien laughed, “I yield to your great, mystical knowledge.”
Chloé clinked her fork against her glass until she had everyone’s attention. As she did, waiting staff brought trays of Mimosas and Bloody Marys to the table, placing one of each in front of each guest.
“Hair of the dog?” Marinette suggested to Nino. In reply, he drained the champagne cocktail in one.
“Thank you all for coming to my little reunion,” Chloé began, “I know you all have busy and exciting lives now, but I would hate for us to lose touch because we didn’t make time for one another.”
Marinette rolled her eyes, most of Chloé’s speech was taken word for word from the message she sent to her friends a few days earlier. Across the table, she saw Nathaniel smirk, possibly realising the same thing. She caught his eye and winked. His smirk turned into a snort which he tried to hide unsuccessfully.
“Is there a problem, Nathaniel?” Chloé demanded.
He shook his head, unable to answer through the fit of giggles that caught hold of him. Marinette laughed too, gleeful chortles that made her eyes fill with tears as she tried to suppress them.
“Do you want to share the joke, Marinette?” Chloé asked haughtily.
For all that she was a much nicer person these days, Chloé was still a self-important attention seeker and she didn’t take kindly to having the spotlight diverted from her.
“I know what’s going on…” Alix teased, her quick blue eyes darting between the two laughing figures.
Marinette and Nathaniel shot her warning looks, but Alix wasn’t intimidated easily, especially not by desperate eye contact.
“Marinette and Nathaniel got it on last night!” She announced proudly. “Didn’t you guys?”
Neither of them had to answer, their blushes spoke volumes. Their friends cheered, hugged them and clapped Marinette and Nathaniel on the back and shoulder, asking for details. Only two friends didn’t react. Adrien stayed in his seat, looking pensive, and Chloé continued to wait for everyone to return their attention to her.
“Really? Tell us the story,” Nino said, looking genuinely happy for the first time in days. Marinette didn’t have the heart to refuse his request.
“Uh, well, we walked each other home last night and when we stopped outside Nath’s apartment, we… um, kissed.” A squeal of delight rose from her friends. “Then, well…”
“...I invited her up to mine and…” Nathaniel picked up the story. “...and Marinette and I. We… she stayed the night.”
“Yeah, she did!” Kim whooped.
“You two are great together,” Mylene said as Rose and Juleka nodded enthusiastically next to her.
Juleka muttered something that sounded like, “Double date” but Marinette wasn’t totally sure.
“ANYWAY,” Chloé practically shouted, “I think you all interrupted me.”
The friends groaned and grabbed their drinks, ready to let Chloé finish her plagiarized speech. As she listened to her own words being spoken back to her, Marinette was very aware that someone was looking at her. She glanced towards Nathaniel, but his attention was back on Chloé. She glanced to her right and made eye contact with Adrien Agreste, who was watching her, not the haughty blonde at the head of the table. She gave him a quizzical look, but his expression was brooding and she couldn’t find any answers on his face.
Adrien hung back at the hotel after the rest of his old classmates had left. Chloé had excused herself as soon and the first guest announced their departure and he was worried about her. It wasn't like her to leave an event until the last guest left.
He found her sitting on the floor of her walk-in wardrobe, holding Mr Cuddly the bear and sucking her thumb. He sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulder.
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think they meant to interrupt your speech,” He said.
“That’s not why I’m upset,” Chloé huffed, “I stole that stupid speech from Marinette. It’s just… Why does she get everything she wants?”
“Does she? Oh, Nathaniel,” He realised. “You still like him?”
“Since collège. I was so awful to him back then, I’ve been trying to redeem myself for years and I thought we were getting closer,” Chloé sniffed. “And, then Marinette Dupain-Cheng comes along and jumps into bed with him.”
“Yeah. What does he have that her other male friends don’t?” Adrien added absentmindedly.
Chloé removed her thumb from her mouth with a pop and gasped. “You like Marinette!”
Adrien nodded. “It took me too long to realise that she’s so much more to me than a good friend, and longer to stop pining over Ladybug. I missed my chance.”
“You know, there is something we can do about it,” A wicked expression crossed Chloé’s face. “You want Marinette, I want Nath, so let’s go get them.”
“Split them up?” Adrien was shocked. Chloé had come such a long way over the years, he sometimes forgot how self-serving and malicious she used to be.
“Why not? We’d be there to console them afterwards, nobody really gets hurt.”
“No, Chloé, I can’t do that to our friends.”
“Fine,” Chloé looked unconvinced. “You know where I am if you change your mind.”
Marinette and Nathaniel decided to walk through Place des Vosges on their way to pop into see her parents and tell them the news. It was a beautiful day, and they both felt the need to walk off their brunch cocktails before they reached the bakery. They stopped in the park and sat on a bench to discuss their friends’ reaction to the fact they were a couple.
“I’d have preferred to tell them one or two at a time, not all together like that,” Nathaniel admitted.
“Same here,” She agreed. “Now everyone knows except Alya and I wanted to tell her first.”
“I’m sorry,” He pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m the one who drew attention to us.”
“No, Nath,” She put her hand on his face, “It was both of us, we should have known we couldn’t hide it from that lot.”
He laughed and pressed his forehead to hers. She sighed, and closed her eyes, feeling completely at ease with him. When she felt his lips brush hers, she chased his mouth, willing him to kiss her. Teasingly, he moved away a little so she grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled him into her. Their kiss quickly intensified when Nathaniel sucked on her bottom lip, biting gently on it. She shifted to sit on his lap and he ran one calloused hand up her bare thigh.
Someone near them cleared his throat and the pair broke apart, pink-faced and breathless. They looked to the source of the noise. Adrien Agreste was standing over them, looking crestfallen. Maybe he didn’t agree with public kissing?
“Oh, hey, Adrien,” Nathaniel said.
“Hi,” Adrien replied. “Erm, congratulations, you guys. You seem very happy.”
“Thanks,” Marinette smiled shyly, “We really are.”
“Great,” Adrien muttered and continued his walk through the park.
Marinette and Nathaniel watched him leave, a little concerned by his downcast demeanour. They saw him take his phone out his pocket and, after selecting a contact, he put it to his ear. He was too far away when he finally spoke so they didn’t hear what he said to his oldest friend.
“Chloé? I’ve changed my mind about this Marinette and Nathaniel thing. Let’s break it in two and keep the pieces for ourselves.”
“Kid, you can’t be serious about this.” Plagg pleaded with his charge.
“I’m perfectly serious, Plagg. I was going to drive her home the other night, it could have been me she spent the night with.” Adrien was adamant.
“I’m not sure that’s how it works. In my thousands of years of experience with romance and soulmates and I’ve never encountered a first-come-first-served policy in matters of love.”
The black kwami was exasperated. He knew deep down that Marinette and Adrien were meant to be together (after all, he knew who Marinette really was better than Adrien did), but he also knew that messing with other people’s relationships was a recipe for disaster.
“You’ll drive her away.” He warned before going off to sulk with a large wedge of Camembert.
Adrien knew Plagg was probably right, but the feeling of regret and jealousy he felt when he saw Marinette and Nathaniel making out in the park was too painful to let him see reason. Every time he remembered it, his resolve was strengthened.
He reached for his phone, trying to concoct a plausible reason to text her, but there was already a message waiting for him.
[10.01] Nino: Hey bro, you wanna hang today? Al’s out with Mari and I’m bored.
Adrien sighed. Ignoring Nino would make him a terrible friend and he already felt like a horrible person for what he was plotting against Marinette and Nathaniel.
[10.10] Adrien: Sure, dude. Shall I come to yours or we can meet at the park?
[10.11] Nino: Park sounds good. See you in 30?
[10.11] Adrien: See you then.
“It was amazing, Mari. He took me to this great cocktail bar and we talked for hours.” Alya was still recounting her date from Saturday night. “And he reads the Ladyblog, did I tell you? He loves it.”
“That’s nice,” It was a lukewarm response, but Marinette wasn’t sure she even meant that.
“Isn’t it? And his apartment is huge! Afterwards, he made me an omelette and we drank wine before going again. Do you know the last time Nino and I did it twice in one night?”
“Of course not, it’s been years. Seeing other people was the best idea we ever had.” Alya said.
“Best idea you ever had,” Marinette corrected her friend.
“Yes, but he’s on board,” Alya clarified.
“Is he?” Marinette couldn’t believe how single-minded Alya was being. “Because the times I’ve seen him since you downloaded that app, he hasn’t been very happy.”
“Oh, he just needs time to come round, it’s fine. So, what’s new with you?” Alya asked.
Marinette glanced at the time on her phone. It had taken her best friend forty-five minutes to ask Marinette a single question about her. Not even a ‘ça-va?’ when the first greeted each other.
“I’m good, actually. I have some news. Nathaniel and I are together, as of Saturday night.” She revealed.
“Girl! I’m so pleased for you. He’s a great guy.” Alya hugged her. “Tell me everything.”
Marinette filled in all the events of Saturday night and Sunday brunch, enjoying Alya’s reaction to Chloe’s insistence on giving a speech and her laughter at the mental image of Marinette and Nathaniel blushing like tomatoes under the glare of all their friends. Soon, they were discussing how quiet Hawk Moth had been lately and Marinette listened to Alya’s theory that he must work in the fashion industry because he was always inactive in the lead up to Fashion Week, with a sudden flurry of activity the weekend before it all began. He’d go silent again for the week of shows before resuming business as usual.
“If only Gabriel Agreste hadn’t been akumatised, he’s got all the personality traits to be an excellent maniacal supervillain.” Alya laughed and in spite of herself, so did Marinette.
They were still giggling when they wandered into the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie for pastries. Tom greeted them with a smile before drawing them both into his hulking chest for a floury hug.
“I’ve missed you, girls,” His booming voice enveloped them with the comfort as his arms provided.
“Papa,” Marinette laughed, “I saw you yesterday!”
“Ah, yes,” Tom wiggled his eyebrows comically and addressed Alya, “Did she tell you about her new man?”
Alya nodded, “She sure did. Are they disgustingly cute together?”
“Sooo disgusting,” Tom said and he and Alya laughed.
“Is Nino still depressed about his girlfriend dating other guys?” Plagg asked from his hiding place in Adrien’s collar.
“What do you think?” Adrien quipped.
“You should pick up some cookies then, that bakery near the park make his favourites,” Plagg suggested.
Adrien couldn’t quite believe his ears, Plagg was actually being considerate for once.
“And get me some cheese gougères while you’re in there.” The kwami added.
Nope, not considerate after all. Adrien should have known, Plagg was only interested in cheese. The bakery was on his way to the park, though, so he pushed open the door to find Marinette and Alya already there. Tom Dupain was joking with them about something and both the girls were laughing heartily.
“Adrien!” Tom noticed him. “How lovely to see you, come on in. I’m getting to see all of Marinette’s school friends this week.”
“Hi, Mr Dupain, how are you?”
“I’m very well, thanks. And, it’s ‘Tom’, please. We’re all friends here.” Tom grinned.
“Okay… Tom, I’m just here for some of your amazing salted caramel cookies and half a dozen cheese gougères.” Adrien always felt a little overwhelmed by Tom and Sabine’s generosity and kindness; his own father wasn’t as solicitous towards him.
“Ooh, those cookies are a good choice,” Marinette said approvingly.
He smiled, “Thanks, they’re Nino’s favourite. I’m going to meet him at the park.”
Tom handed him a paper bag full of cookies and busied himself with the gougères. Adrien had a sudden thought.
“Do you two want to join us? We don’t have any real plans, we’re just at a loose end. Maybe we could hang in the park for a bit then get some food and come back to mine for dinner?” He suggested.
“I’m up for that,” Alya shrugged.
“Sure,” Marinette was hesitant. “I was going to see Nath tonight, though.”
“Invite him,” Adrien tried to sound nonchalant.
“Really? Brilliant, thanks.” Marinette smiled.
“It’s nothing,” Adrien grinned winningly and took out his phone to text Chloé.
Marinette could fit her studio flat into Adrien’s apartment at least six times, she worked out during the tour. The bathroom alone was probably bigger. He moved out of the mansion after university, his father finally accepting that he needed his own space. Marinette suspected Gabriel carefully chose this place, given its vicinity to home.
“It’s amazing, Adrien,” She breathed, taking in the enormous open plan living room and kitchen.
“Come with me,” He smiled, eyes twinkling and he took her hand.
He led her to his bedroom and opened a set of double doors at the far end, revealing a Juliette balcony. Inviting her to step into the small space, he stood behind her. With one hand on her shoulder, he brought his head in line with hers, their cheeks almost touching. He pointed to a gap between two buildings on the opposite side of the courtyard.
“Notice anything familiar?” His voice was low and conspiratorial.
She faltered, his proximity making her cheeks flush. She was with Nathaniel now and she cared deeply for him, but her feelings for Adrien would take time to fade. Their closeness now was disconcerting and exciting. Looking at the spot beyond his outstretched finger, she focussed.
“Is that… my terrace?” She asked.
Adrien’s bedroom overlooked the top of the bakery and the roof terrace where Marinette spent so many happy hours. It was where she relaxed with Tikki and tended to her flowers, where Chat Noir would stop by and flirt and where she and Alya would hang out after school, talking about her latest theory on Ladybug. Happy memories washed over her and a contented sigh escaped her lips. She leaned into Adrien, his strong chest taking her weight.
“It’s a shame you don’t live there anymore, we could have waved to each other in the mornings,” He said longingly.
“Mmhmm,” Marinette agreed, closing her eyes as his voice washed over her.
Simultaneously, though, they both remembered themselves and suddenly straightened up, putting as much distance between themselves as the small balcony area would allow.
“Uh,” Adrien scratched the back of his neck, “We should go back and join Nino and Alya.”
“Y-y-yes.” Oh, no. Why was she stuttering again?
The arrived in the living room in time to answer a knock at the door.
“Adrikins! Look who I found on my way over,” Chloé stood in the hallway, draped over Nathaniel.
She was getting used to waking up next to Nathaniel. It brought her joy to see him looking so peaceful, a contented smile on his face as he slept. After their late night at Adrien’s, they caught the last Metro home. Marinette’s apartment was the first stop on the walk back and they were both too weary to contemplate going any further.
They woke up in the same position they fell asleep, Nathaniel on his back with Marinette tucked under his arm, head resting on his chest, one knee bent over his leg. She felt like she could stay that way forever, but he was teaching an art class that morning so she dragged herself out of bed to make coffee.
“Are you going to open these?” Nathaniel pointed to a pile of letters in the kitchen.
She had collected the mail from her box last night but was too exhausted to do more than drop the bundle on the countertop as she slumped through the front door. Unenthusiastically, she picked up the first envelope and opened it. The letterhead alone perked her up better than caffeine ever could.
“It’s from Gabriel Fashion,” She yelped. “I got an internship for Men’s Fashion Week!!”
Marinette did a happy dance and Nathaniel jumped excitedly from his seat.
“Amazing! What will you be doing?” He asked, hugging her.
“I’m going to be backstage for Gabriel’s showcases. I’ll be doing whatever they ask me to do, dressing models, preparing outfits, sewing buttons, fetching coffee… It’s not going to be glamorous, but the pay’s good and the experience will be even more valuable.”
“I’m so proud of you. I guess I’m not going to see much of you that week?”
“Or the week before,” She said apologetically. “There will be rehearsals and lots of preparation to do, sorry. And, if it all goes well, I’ll have to do it all again for Haute Couture week in July.”
“Never apologise for following your dreams, Mari.” Nathaniel kissed her forehead, her nose, then her lips, lingering longer on the last one. “We should go out tonight to celebrate. I’ll send some messages out after my class.”
Adrien was in makeup when Chloé called. He hesitated before answering, Melodie wouldn’t be happy if he messed up the base she’d just airbrushed on. Too many late nights were starting to show as dark circles under his eyes.
“Hey, Chlo, what’s up? You’re on speaker.” He warned her.
“Did you hear?” She demanded.
“Hear what?” Adrien tried to keep still as Melodie combed through his brows before filling them in with a light brown pencil.
“Marinette got an internship with Gabriel for Fashion Week. She’s going to be working backstage at your shows.” Chloé caught him up.
“That’s amazing! Those internships aren’t easy to get.” Adrien said admiringly.
“Yes, yes, very impressive.” Chloé replied, “Now, how are you going to capitalise on it?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Come on, Adrikins, you’re smarter than this... You’ve got two weeks with Marinette, sans Nathaniel, to convince her that you’re the better choice. How are you going to do it?” Chloé sounded exasperated.
He shot an apologetic look at Melodie, who was now waiting patiently to apply a coat of brown mascara to his blonde lashes so they’d show up in the photos.
“I don’t know if I’ll do anything, Chlo. Fashion Week is a big deal and I don’t want to jeopardize her chances for a permanent job.”
“Hmmm, I think you’d be a fool to pass up this opportunity, but whatever.” Chloé huffed. “At least say you’re coming out tonight to help her celebrate? I got a text from Nath.”
“Of course,” He checked his own phone and confirmed that a text notification was there. It was from Nathaniel, inviting him to drinks. “See you tonight Chlo.”
“Sorry, Melodie. Can I just send a text, then I’ll put the thing away?” He asked contritely.
After replying to Nathaniel to confirm his presence, he shot a quick message to Nino to ask if he’d be there, too. Suggesting Nino came to Adrien’s first and they could travel together. If his father insisted on Adrien having a chauffeur, he might as well use the privilege to the benefit of his friends, too.
“Ok, Melodie, I’m ready.”
“I got an internship, bro!” Nino greeted him at the door wearing the widest smile he’d seen on his friend’s face in some time. “A photography placement with Vincent Otturatore for Fashion Week.”
“That’s brilliant, Nino! We should make it a double celebration.” Adrien slapped him on the back.
“I don’t want to steal Mari’s thunder,” He protested.
“Nonsense, you know Marinette will be delighted for you, she’s great like that,” Adrien assured him. “What will you be doing?”
“It’ll be backstage stuff, nothing as glamorous as what you do during Fashion Week. Mostly carting equipment from one location to another, lots of standing around holding a reflector, probably getting lunch for everyone. Then afterwards I’ll do some editing and retouching.”
“That’s great Nino,” Adrien encouraged him.
He wanted to build his friend’s confidence, this business with Alya and the open relationship had seriously knocked his self-esteem. He made a mental note to list all of Vincent’s peculiarities for Nino to help him make a good impression on the eccentric Italian.
The cafe Nathaniel had chosen was a few minutes walk from the Eiffel Tower and equidistant from Le Marais where Adrien, Kim, Max, Juleka, Rose, Alix and Chloé lived, Grandes-Carrieres where Nathaniel and Marinette were, Pigalle, where Nino and Alya’s flat was, and Montparnasse, where Ivan, Mylene and Sabrina shared an apartment. The food was reasonably priced, the wine was drinkable and the cafe owner was happy to let them take over the back corner of his business for the evening.
“Urgh, I saw you all last week,” Alix complained. “Why did we have a reunion if we were getting together so soon?”
“Oh, simmer down, Alix,” Kim laughed. “We’re celebrating Mari’s first step into dominating the fashion world.”
“And Nino’s,” Adrien said.
“What?!” Marinette grabbed Nino’s wrist, “Did you get the internship?”
When he nodded in response, Marinette flung her arms around him. Adrien felt a warmth in his chest at how fiercely she cared for her friends. She was like Ladybug in that way.
“The two of us working Fashion Week! It’s going to be amazing,” She glowed with joy and pride for Nino.
“Actually, it’ll be three of us working Fashion Week,” Nino pointed out. “Adrien’s modelling.”
“Of course.” She grinned at Adrien.
He was sure that she wasn’t as happy as she seemed about the possibility of working with him. It was more likely that some of her excitement for Nino was rebounding on him, but he’d take it. Having Marinette turn her celestial smile on you, even as a ricochet, was a gift.
“I guess it’s a double celebration,” Marinette announced to the group as they jostled for seats around the table.
“See?” Adrien whispered to Nino, “Of course she wants to share her moment with you, you deserve it as much as she does.”
“Thanks, man,” Nino said uncertainly.
Adrien managed to snag the seat next to Marinette, Nino on his other side. He noticed with amusement that Chloé was sitting next to Nathaniel.
Marinette felt like she could float into the clouds with happiness. Not in an oh-no-Nino-got-akumatised-again-and-I’m-in-a-bubble way (although with his current state of mind, Marinette couldn’t say she wasn’t anticipating it) but in a light and carefree sort of way. She looked around the table of her friends, truly grateful for every one of them. Nathaniel on her left was talking animatedly with Ivan and Max about a new comic book store that was opening in town, Adrien on her right was laughing with Nino and Alix about her and Kim’s latest dare. Across from her, Rose and Juleka were speaking softly to each other, sharing a private moment. She caught Chloé’s eye and asked how the midsummer ball was coming along.
After university, Chloé had taken a job at her father’s hotel as an events planner. The midsummer ball was her debut event. It marked the end of the June Fashion Week and many designers and top models considered it to be the only afterparty to be seen at.
“It’s going well, but the next few weeks are so important,” Chloé explained. “I’ve decided to have a cubist theme because the rumour is that several designers are using it as their inspiration this year.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Marinette said, Chloé had a creative side that she often kept hidden. “And if you need any help with the theme, Nathaniel specialised in abstract art in his final year at ENSBA.”
“So he did,” Chloé smiled knowingly, “I’d completely forgotten that. I imagine you’ll be so busy with your new job that you wouldn’t mind if I stole your boyfriend for a few weeks, would you?”
“He’s all yours, Chloé,” Marinette said brightly.
The day before her internship began, Marinette was full of nervous energy. She’d already picked out her work outfits for the first week, arranged her shoes in order of heel-height, Cleaned her minute kitchen from top to bottom, manicured her nails and reupholstered Tikki’s little bunk in new scraps of fabric. It was only 11am and she was sure she’d go mad if she stayed in her flat much longer so she grabbed her bag, sketchbook and pencils and headed out to her favourite cafe.
She settled into a corner table with a large latte, intending to stretch the drink out for a few hours, and opened her sketchbook. Along with numerous designs for clothing and accessories, there were several portraits of her friends, Alya, Nino, Adrien, Chloe, Juleka, Nathaniel, anyone who sat still for long enough in her company. Today, she felt like picking someone in the room and designing an outfit for them so she scanned the cafe for someone who inspired her. That was she saw him.
Luka Couffaine, in the opposite corner, strumming quietly on his guitar with his hair falling over his eyes, looked up at the exact moment she looked over. His face broke into a wide smile when he saw her and he immediately got up and brought his guitar and green tea across the room to join her.
“Hi, Ma-ma-marinette, how are you?” Luka smiled.
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?” Marinette blushed at the memory.
“Never, it was too adorable,” Luka sat down facing her. “So tell me about you.”
Marinette told Luka all about her internship, her excitement to be part of Fashion Week and the chance to work for her hero’s company. Luka shared her enthusiasm for the opportunity, asking questions about the type of work she’d be doing, the possible paths it could take her career and encouraged her to grasp every chance that came her way.
“You’re so talented, Marinette, if you can get the right person to notice, you’re career will skyrocket,” He told her earnestly.
“Thanks, Luka, I’m full of nervous energy today, I really can’t wait,” She said. “Oh, and there’s something else that’s new. I have a boyfriend, someone you know from mine and Juleka’s class.”
“Congratulations,” Luka grinned. “Adrien and you finally got your act together?”
“Oh, you and Nino? I thought he and Alya were an item?” Luka suggested.
“Not Nino, no,” Marinette grimaced.
“Well, I could have seen you with Kim, but I know he and Max are together… I can’t guess,” Luka frowned.
Marinette felt a little dejected, but perhaps Luka had merely forgotten about, “Nathaniel.”
“Huh,” Luka frowned. “Really?”
“Yes, why?” Marinette huffed.
“Nothing, I’m sure he’s great, I just never pictured you with him.”
Marinette said nothing for a moment. She and Luka were good friends and his opinion meant a lot to her, but in this instance, he was wrong. She knew how much she liked Nathaniel and how much they had in common. She’d just have to convince Luka of that.
“Actually, I’ve come to care for him a lot over the past few weeks. We have a great relationship.,” She defended.
“Okay, but I can hear the music in your heart, and it isn’t singing for Nathaniel,” Luka started to play a familiar tune.
Marinette closed her eyes to let the music wash over her. It was a melody that soothed every nerve in her body, yet sent a thrill up her spine. Luka was right, he did know her heart and the tune hadn’t changed since they’d first met. Her heart moved reflexively to her chest as she listened, lost in the music
“This song gives me goosebumps,” A familiar voice broke into her thoughts.
“Hey, man,” Luka stopped playing and stood to greet Adrien and Nino.
Marinette felt herself blush involuntarily as she realised who the song reminded her of. Who she danced with to it. She was sure he could feel the heat in her cheeks as he kissed them in greeting. Adrien and Nino each took a seat at the table between Marinette and Luka, sitting opposite each other.
No. Luka didn’t know what he was talking about. She and Nathaniel were good for each other and she cared deeply for him. They had shared interests, enjoyed spending time together and were definitely physically attracted to each other. Just because she hadn’t been harbouring a crush on him for years, didn’t mean that what they had was any less real.
“Marinette?” Nino looked concerned, “Did you hear me?”
“Uh, no. Sorry, I was lost in my own thoughts,” She admitted, throwing Luka an accusatory look.
“I was just asking how you’re feeling about tomorrow.” He smiled patiently.
“Oh, right. Well, I’m here because I’ve already picked out all my outfits, rearranged my shoes, cleaned my kitchen and done my nails. Does that answer your question?” She quirked her eyebrow as she asked.
“Same,” Nino laughed. “Alya threw me out the apartment because my nervous energy was distracting her from her work.”
“So he decided to call me,” Adrien finished he story. “I figured lunch would be a good distraction and I love this place.”
“Funny, it’s Marinette’s favourite place, too,” Luka added.
Marinette shot him a warning look. She knew he meant well, but he wasn’t helping and she wasn’t above kicking him in the shins under the table if he carried on.
Luka was being weird, Adrien decided.
They had ordered lunch, he and Marinette opting for the plat du jour, Nino ordering a Croque Madame and Luka had a salad. When the waitress brought their chicken chasseur to the table, she brought one basket of bread for he and Marinette to share. Every time they both accidentally reached for the same piece of bread and their hands briefly touched, Luka’s expression was gleefully moustache-twirling. He didn’t know what was causing it and it was driving him mad.
“Sorry,” He said as his hand brushed Marinette’s again. “We need to coordinate our bread eating better.”
She giggled. “Don’t worry about it. I think we keep reaching for the best bits. I’m all about the crust.”
“Me, too,” He agreed. “My father would freak out if he saw all the carbs I’m eating right now, but this food is too good to care about that.”
Marinette laughed, but looked concerned, “What if he finds out? So close to Fashion Week, it’s quite a risk.”
“He won’t,” Adrien winked.
What Marinette, his father, dietitian and personal trainer didn’t know was that he ate far more than anyone knew because his extra-extra-curricular activities as Chat Noir burned off so many calories that if he stuck to his meal plan, he be starving.
“Adrien eats more than anyone I know, except maybe you, Mari,” Nino said. “And you’re both the fittest people I’ve met. I don’t know what either of your secrets are, but you’d make a fortune if you shared it with the world.”
“Haha! Sure. I… Uh, I-I-I’m not that fit,” Marinette stuttered.
“Yeah, I… Haha. I… don’t eat that much.” Adrien stammered at the same time.
He looked at Marinette’s pink cheeks and nervous expression and wondered… No, surely not? Whatever her secret was, it wasn’t the same as his. Was it?
Marinette checked her phone as she walked back to her apartment after lunch. Still nothing from Nathaniel. She knew he would be busy helping Chloe with her ball, but she selfishly hoped he’d be available for her today. She opened her purse to put her phone back in and Tikki flew out.
“Are you okay, Marinette?” Her kwami asked.
“I wondered if you’d dwell on what Luka said about you and Nathaniel,” Tikki admitted.
“I won’t lie and say I’m not going to think about it,” Marinette said. “But Luka doesn’t know everything about love, no matter what he believes.”
“I’m glad. It’s been good for you to move on from your crush on Adrien” Tikki spoke close to Marinette’s ear as she flew alongside her.
“Right? I spend so long waiting for him to notice me, then when I pushed my infatuation to the side to focus on university, I let things simmer away in the background. Now, though, I’m realising that I can be happy with someone else and I can take my feelings for Adrien off the table. I’m happy with Nathaniel.” Marinette mused.
“I think Luka ships you and Marinette,” Nino looked sideways at Adrien as they walked towards the Metro station. “He was being weirder than usual today.”
“Really?” Adrien asked, trying to keep the excitement from his face. “I mean… Why would he ship that? She’s with Nathaniel.”
“I know, but she’s been in love with you for, like, eight years,” Nino said.
“She what?!” Adrien stopped walking.
“Dude, I thought you knew? Everyone else did.” Nino turned to face him.
“Do I look like I knew that?!” Adrien gaped. “Eight years? Since when?”
“Uh, not long after you started school. You gave her your umbrella or something?” Nino shrugged. “Ask Alya, she knows better than I do.”
Eight years… Marinette had been in love with him for eight years and he hadn’t noticed. Adrien felt like kicking himself. He’d been so caught up in his obsession with Ladybug that he’d let Marinette slip through his fingers.
“Why didn’t you say anything to me?”
“For one, Alya made me promise not to, and she’s scary when crossed. For another, you always seemed like you had a thing for someone else, I didn’t want to mess with that,” Nino explained.
And yet, Adrien and Chloe were trying to mess with the ‘thing’ Marinette had with Nathaniel. Nathaniel, who had been pining after Marinette for as long as Adrien could remember. Was it really his place to mess with what they had?
“There will be thirty tables with eight guests on each. All of which need decoration of some sort. The dance floor will be here,” Chloe stood on one side of the ballroom and held her arms out. “There will be a banner on this wall, one over there, and another outside.”
Nathaniel made notes in his sketchbook, adding a diagram next to the list. His mind was swirling with ideas.
“The dress code is white tie so everyone will be dressed elegantly and in mostly muted colours,” Chloe continued. “White tablecloths, napkins, crockery…”
“Why don’t we take our inspiration from synthetic Cubism, then?” Nathaniel suggested. “We can use bright colours and simple geometric shapes to contrast the neutral colours of the room.”
“I don’t know what that is so I’m going to trust your judgement,” She laughed.
“You don’t know the difference between synthetic and analytical cubism?!” Nathaniel gasped.
“I didn’t even know there was more than one type of cubism,” Chloe admitted.
“What?! We need to remedy that. What are you doing right now?” He asked.
“Get your bag, we’re going to Centre Pompidou,” Nathaniel announced.
“We will construct the runway in the morning, the show will happen at dusk. You will all sign non-disclosure agreements before the location is discussed with you. If ANY mention of the collection, the show, its location or any other detail is discovered on social media before the show, you will be asked to leave, we will sue you for breach of contract and you will never work in fashion again. Is that clear?”
The four interns nodded, speechless. Nathalie was a frightening woman when she wanted to be. Marinette knew from experience that she was stern and rather emotionless, but this was the first time she’d encountered her in a professional setting. It was unsettling.
“I have assigned tasks for each of you, based on your strengths,” Nathalie continued, handing a folder containing a number of sheets of paper to the interns in turn. “You all have a schedule for the next two weeks, a to-do list and the contact details of everyone you need to report to. I will check in with you sporadically throughout the week, but you will be monitored by many others all the way through. On Thursday morning next week, you will report here at 5am. Rest well on the Wednesday, show day will be full on. Now, are there any questions?”
The interns looked at each other, none of them wanting to be the first to speak. Nobody exhaled until the door closed behind Nathalie. Marinette opened her folder and rifled through the pages. Each sheet was headed with a date, the contents of each was a daily schedule, a list of tasks to be ticked off and names, titles and office and phone numbers. At a glance, it looked like this week would involve putting finishing touches to the collection and sizing pieces to the models; sewing on buttons, hemming trousers, taking measurements.
She followed the others down to the large open plan studio where a genial-looking woman called Mme Ouvrage was overseeing a hive of activity. She waved them over as they sidled into the room.
“Welcome, mes petits travailleurs!” She beamed at the interns. “I’m sure you’re all feeling very nervous after your pep talk from Ms Sancoeur, but please, relax and enjoy the experience. Fashion week is what we all live for in this place.”
Marinette felt her nerves begin to dissipate as Mme Ouvrage started to allocate jobs to the group. One by one, the group was whittled away until only Marinette was left.
“And you must be Miss Dupain-Cheng,” Mme Ouvrage smiled. “I have heard much about you.”
“All good, I assure you.” The kindly woman assured her. “Let me introduce you to Marcel Fringues. He is supervising the fittings for all the models today and tomorrow and you will be assisting him.”
Marinette nodded eagerly and remembered Adrien’s suggestion to ask, “Do you have any advice for doing a good job?”
“You have an eye for detail, use it. Exact measurements are vital here. Work quickly, but efficiently,” Mme Ouvrage said.
“Thank you,” Marinette acknowledged as Mme Ouvrage left her to introduce herself to Marcel.
Nathaniel couldn’t stop looking at Chloe’s face. The expression of wonderment was a beautiful sight.
“I had no idea there was so much beauty to cubism, I honestly thought it was all just indecipherable shapes, but this…” She breathed.
“This is one of the works that contributed to cubism,” Nathaniel explained. “Look at the use of perspective and space.”
They were looking at Le Grand Nu, by Georges Braque. Nathaniel wanted Chloe to understand what cubism was and how it developed and evolved. If they were going to create a ball around the theme, it would be easier for them to make decisions together if she had a grasp of the topic. On the walk from the hotel to the museum, he explained the basics to her but wanted to wait until he had the artworks in front of them before he got into detail.
“I see it, the 2D thing you were talking about.” She turned to him, her face glowing with delight, “Thank you, Nath, you’re an amazing teacher.”
He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed, “Any time, Chlo.”
“Okay,” She pointed to her museum guide. “I’m ready for Violin and Pipe.”
“Marinette Dupain-Cheng, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Marcel shook her hand. “I had the pleasure to examine your feather derby hat many years ago and the level of craftsmanship impressed me so much that I still remember it now.”
“Wow, I’m honoured.” Marinette blushed.
“This week, there will be no hat making, I’m afraid,” Marcel smiled, “Rather, we will measuring inseams and altering waistbands.”
“I can deal with that,” Marinette replied and fished her tape measure, pencil, pin cushion and dressmakers chalk from her bag.
“If you’re always this organised, Marinette, you and I will soon be best friends.”
“You’ll have to fight me for that honour, Marcel,” Another voice spoke.
Marinette spun around to the source in time to see Adrien and Marcel greeting each other like old friends, which she realised, they probably were. Marcel had been part of Gabriel Fashion for decades, he probably watched Adrien grew up.
Wait, did Adrien just imply he was my best friend?! Marinette wondered in alarm.
“Hey, Mari, how’s it going?” He turned his emerald gaze onto her.
“Exciting,” She beamed.
“Please,” Marcel laughed. “This is the boring bit.”
“Not to me,” She insisted. “Everything about the industry still excites me, I don’t care if I’m sewing on a button or backstage at a fashion show, it’s all still new and exhilarating to me.”
Adrien smiled affectionately. “I love your passion, Marinette.”
She felt her cheeks burn at the combination of his compliment, the way he was looking at her and the word ‘love’. Marcel cleared his throat and shuffled a stack of papers.
“While you’re here, Adrien, shall we take your measurements? Let Marinette get used to the form before everyone turns up and things get hectic.” Marcel suggested.
“Sounds good to me,” He replied, although he was still looking at Marinette.
Marcel handed her a pre-printed form on a clipboard. She filled in Adrien’s name in the first space before resting it on the table and reaching for her measuring tape.
“Chest first,” Marcel read out.
Adrien lifted his arms for her and she wrapped her arms around his chest, passing the tape behind his shoulders and across the fullest part of his chest. As teenagers, he had always been a little less than a head taller than her, but he shot up to a lofty 6’2” during university while Marinette grew less. He giggled when he noticed that she barely came up to his collarbone now. Ignoring his guffaws, she read the number aloud before grabbing the clipboard and writing it down in the appropriate space.
“Nicely done, Marinette, neck next please,” Marcel continued to watch her.
Suddenly, Adrien didn’t find the difference in the height as funny, but then she did have a tape measure around his neck so maybe he knew better than to joke with her from such a vulnerable position. She noticed his Adam's apple bob as he gulped when she had to stand on her tiptoes and get close to him to read the measurement on the tape.
Marinette wrote the number down before moving to measure his shoulders, arms, sleeve length, waist, hips, outseam and inseam. She looked at the last requirement on the list.
“Height,” She read. “Do we have a stepladder?”
Adrien laughed and put his hands on her shoulders. ”Why don’t I tell you that one? Save you from getting altitude sickness up here.”
“Haha,” She huffed then looked at Marcel for advice.
“I think we can simply ask the models for their height. It is something they should know.” Marcel reasoned. “Once you get to know the form better, your pace will pick up and we’ll get through this job in no time, Marinette.”
“I told you she was amazing, didn’t I?” He said and winked at her.
“Today was amazing, thank you,” Chloe grinned, still clutching her new book on cubism to her chest.
“Any time, Chlo, I had fun with you,” Nathaniel kissed her cheeks before bending over to pick up his bag.
Chloe leaned against the frame of her doorway and watched him check the time on his phone.
“How long will it take to get home?”
“Oh, not more than an hour,” He replied.
“Nathaniel! It’s too late for you to start that journey now especially after such a tiring day. Stay here, I have a second bedroom you can have.” Chloe offered.
He looked at the time again, it was late and he was tired… besides, he was due back here early tomorrow morning anyway.
“I don’t have a change of clothing with me,” He tried to protest, even though he’d already made up his mind.
“I can get my chauffeur to take you home tomorrow morning if you need. Come on, Nath, I’ll worry about you if you go now.” Chloe fluttered her eyelashes at him, turning on the charm.
“Okay, thank you. I will stay, I don’t think I could face the journey right now anyway.”
He quickly sent a message to Marinette to let her know where he was before powering down his phone and chucking it in his bag.
Adrien saw Marinette’s smile falter after she read the message that had just arrived. They had met up with Nino and Alya after their respective internships and jobs ended for the day for a drink and some dinner. She left her phone on the table while they were eating and he noticed that she kept glancing at it.
“Everything okay, Mari?” He asked.
“Yes, it’s just…” She sighed.
“Marinette,” He took her hand, “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head. “It’s stupid. It’s just that I was going to meet Nathaniel at the station here to travel back to Guy Môquet together, but he’s staying at Le Grand Paris tonight. It’s not a problem, but I should leave now so I’m not getting back too late.”
“Or, come back with us and stay the night, Mar,” Nino offered. “Then you’re not travelling alone.”
“Thanks, but I need to get home. I’ve got things to prepare for tomorrow.” Marinette started counting out notes, leaving her share of the bill.
“No. I’ll take you home,” Adrien insisted. “What’s the point in having a chauffeur if I can’t help out my friends?”
“Are you sure? It’s not exactly on your way,” She asked.
“I’m positive,” Adrien stood up and dropped money on the table next to Marinette’s. “Come one, no arguments.”
In his pocket, his phone vibrated. While Marinette said goodbye to Alya and Nino, he read the message.
[22.21] Chloe: I hope your day went as well as mine did. The plan is working!
He felt a pang of remorse. His and Chloe’s plan was the reason why Nathaniel left Marinette to travel on her own across town at night. Adrien knew Nathaniel wouldn’t leave her in the lurch under normal circumstances. This was his fault.
[22:22] Adrien: I don’t know, Chlo, I don’t think I can do this.
[22:22] Chloe: Don’t you dare grow a conscience now. The plan is working, Adrikins, don’t ruin it.
[22:23] Adrien: Gotta go, but we’ll discuss this tomorrow - lunch?
[22:23] Chloe: Sure. Go sleep on it. I’ll convince you I’m right tomorrow.
“Ready?” He asked Marinette.
“Yes, thank you, Adrien,” She smiled. “You’re a good friend.”
Ouch. Guilt was a painful emotion.
Oh, it's gone all angsty...
“I’m out, Chloe. I can’t do this to Marinette, I care too much about her.” Adrien set his menu down and faced his oldest friend. “If Nathaniel makes her happy, then that’s good enough for me.”
“But,” Chloe began.
“No.” He interrupted. “I know you too well, you’ll try to convince me to keep going and I’ll agree because I don’t want to hurt you so please, spare us both and don’t try to convince me.”
In the silence that followed he distinctly heard Plagg whisper, “That’s my boy,” but fortunately, Chloe didn’t appear to hear anything.
She closed her eyes and took a breath in and out through her nose. Adrien wasn’t sure if she was going to cry or shout so he braced himself for both. Oddly, she did neither. Instead, she looked him straight in the eye and spoke calmly.
“I understand that standing up to me was hard for you and I get that this is important to you so I won’t push it. Just know that if you change your mind, all you have to do is call and we can start this up again.” She smiled thinly.
“Are you sure?” Adrien asked, “I was expecting a bigger reaction.”
“Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m not disappointed but, and this is difficult to admit, you’re right. I don’t want to break Nathaniel’s heart.” She said.
He held his glass out to Chloe and she clinked hers against it.
“Here’s to us growing as people.” He toasted.
“Don’t push it,” Chloe laughed. “I want Nathaniel to be happy, but I still believe he’d be happier with me than with Marinette.”
When Marinette reached Square Berlin she found Nathaniel easily. It was a small park and his red hair was something of a beacon against the greenery. He was sitting on a bench under the trees, a wicker basket next to him. He was bent over a sketchbook, scribbling furiously so he didn’t see her approach.
“This is pretty,” She said as soon as she was in earshot.
He looked up and smiled when he saw her. “Not as pretty as you. Hi.”
“Hi,” He stood up to embrace her and she kissed him, “I missed you.”
“Same here,” He agreed. “Sorry about last night, I wished I’d come to meet you almost as soon as I sent that message.”
“Don’t be, Nath. We both knew these few weeks were going to be hectic. I got a lift home with Adrien so I didn’t have to get the train alone.”
“So, what’s in the basket?” She ran her hand over the wicker handle.
“Lunch,” He removed the cover with a flourish. “It’s just some sandwiches and fruit, I didn’t know how long we’d get together.”
“It’s perfect,” She assured him. “I have to head back at 2pm so we’ve got thirty minutes. Tell me about the ball, how are the plans going?”
“Great, actually. I spent yesterday educating Chloe on cubism so she now understands it better. I’ve been drawing up some suggestions for the table decorations this morning, I have so many ideas,” He patted his sketchbook.
“I’m so excited to see what it all looks like, make sure you get loads of photographs.”
Nathaniel was invited to the ball as Chloe’s plus one, her thank you for all his help. Marinette would have loved to have gone, too, but tickets sold out in record time and she didn’t manage to get one. Alya was going to cover it for her gossip column so she knew she’d be able to see Nathaniel’s handiwork somehow.
They both chewed on their sandwiches in comfortable silence for a while before Nathaniel asked.
“How is preparation for the fashion show going?”
“Good,” She grinned. “I’m working closely with a man, called Marcel Fringues. He’s the guy that turns all of Gabriel’s ideas into reality and I’m learning so much from him. I wish I could tell you about the collection and the show, but I signed a contract so it’ll have to wait until Friday next week.”
“Oh, the intrigue,” He joked. “What are you up to this afternoon?”
“I’m fitting the finale outfit to Adrien. I so want to tell you more about it, but…” She trailed off.
“Contract.” He finished for her. “You’re seeing a lot of Adrien this week.”
“Well, it is Men’s Fashion Week and I am working for his father, and Adrien is the face of Gabriel’s pour homme line.” She said.
“Sure, but he’s literally all you’ve talked about,” Nathaniel said.
“No, I’ve talked about other things. I can’t help it if Adrien is there, though. You knew he would be when I got the internship.”
“I didn’t know he’d be driving you home last night.”
“Only because you cancelled on me, it wasn’t premeditated.” Marinette was an angry crier and she could feel the emotion rising in her chest. She tried to push the tearfulness back down and stand her ground calmly.
“Oh, because I’m unreliable and hero Adrien came to your rescue.”
“Nathaniel, no. Are you jealous of Adrien? Because you have no reason to be.” She tried to reassure him.
“Please,” He scoffed. “I know how much you like him, I just never thought you’d rub it in my face like this.”
“Like what? I’m not doing that.” She insisted.
“You know what? We both need to calm down so I’m going to go back to work.” She told him.
“Back to Adrien,” He huffed.
“Back. To. Work. Cool off before you go anywhere Nathaniel, I’d hate for you to be akumatised over something like this.” She turned and left the park, employing all of her restraint to not turn back and check on her boyfriend.
Hot tears were flowing down her face when she reached Avenue Montaigne so she didn’t see Adrien stepping out of his car until she was on top of him. Literally.
“I’m so sorry! Stupid, clumsy…” She sniffed picking herself off the ground.
Adrien stood up and dusted himself off. “Hey! You’re not stupid or clumsy. What happened?”
“It’s nothing, really,” She tried to walk away, but Adrien grabbed her arm.
“Whoa, whoa, it’s not nothing, Marinette. Who upset you?” He entreated.
His earnestness broke her and she wept openly. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight until he felt her sobs die down.
“Sorry,” She finally said and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“Are you feeling better?” He asked, pushing her hair away from her face and tilting her face up to look at his.
She nodded, “I’m so embarrassed that you saw me like that, it’s so unprofessional.”
“We’re not inside the building yet, right now we’re friends, not colleagues, okay? Don’t be embarrassed. What happened to upset you so much?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Adrien. Shall we get back to work?” She smiled half-heartedly.
“Sure. If you need to talk, though, I’m here for you, okay?” He said.
“Thanks, that means a lot.”
“I thought you’d given up on that horrible plan, kid.” Plagg implored.
“I have, this has nothing to do with that,” Adrien tried to convince his kwami. “She was so upset today, I want to check on her, that’s all.”
“And you can’t do that as Adrien because..?”
“Because she didn’t want to talk to me about it. When I’m Chat Noir, she’s less guarded with me. I’m sure she’ll open up to me.” He reasoned.
Plagg sighed. “Fine, but I expect more cheese than ever before after this.”
“Plagg, claws out!”
Chat Noir had made it as far as Folies Bergère when he heard a familiar sound. The angry cry of a recently akumatised person. For one panicked moment, he considered it could be Marinette after seeing her upset earlier. The shouting was coming from the direction of the Champs-Élysées , though, not Montmartre. He changed direction and ran towards the source of the commotion.
“Hawk Moth is ahead of schedule,” Ladybug said, landing next to him on the roof of Grand Palais.
“What’s that, Bugaboo?”
“He usually waits until the weekend before Fashion Week to unleash hell. I guess he’s more organised for his show than past weeks.” She smiled.
“So you still think Hawk Moth is in fashion?” He surmised.
She pointed to the concourse in front of the palace to where an impossibly tall man with chiselled cheekbones was striding down the road, screaming about a zit. Whenever he encountered a passerby, he shot something at them from a tube of what looked like lotion and the innocent bystander instantly broke out in spots.
“I think our most recent victim is definitely in fashion,” She winced.
“Yikes, should we call Dr Pimple Popper?!” He quipped.
“Or... “ Ladybug shook her head. “We try and get that tube from him?”
“Fine,” He sighed comically, “We’ll do it your way.”
He looked at her, waiting for a reaction. An eye roll, a scoff, anything, but she wasn’t paying attention. She was staring down at Square Berlin.
“M’Lady? Are you ready for this?”
“Sorry,” She shook her head as if to clear out the thoughts in it. “Let’s do it.”
Chat Noir frowned, Ladybug was usually more focused than this. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. You get the bystanders to safety and I’ll try to direct our guy towards the river, see if was can surround him on Pont Alexandre III.” She said, more resolved this time.
Vaulting down towards the pavement, he spun his staff in front of him, protecting himself and onlookers from the akuma’s weird lotion. He managed to direct everyone up the street and down into the nearest metro underpass for safety. Looking around to make sure that nobody was still in danger, he smiled when he saw Ladybug trying to lead the villain into their ambush.
“What do you think you can do to me? I’m a ladybug, I’m already covered in spots.” She taunted, swinging her yo-yo, deflecting his attempts to hit her.
“I am Pimpler! You can’t escape me! Nobody can escape me!” The akumatised man yelled.
They were nearing the bridge so Chat Noir ran stealthily towards it, reaching the north entrance by the time Ladybug and the spotty akuma were at the midpoint.
“Hey, Clearasil, You’re surrounded, it’s time to surrender.” He called.
Whirling around to face his new foe, he didn’t notice the other one summon their Lucky Charm.
Chat Noir saw a hand mirror land in Ladybug’s arms and watched her eyes dart around, calculating the best way to capture this akuma. He waited for her to burst into action but that far-off look was back.
“Bugaboo? We good?” Concern tinged his voice, fighting this guy was tiring and he desperately hoped she was ready to end it soon.
“Sorry,” Another shake of the head. “Ok, got it.”
She angled the mirror to catch the rays of the now setting sun and bounced them off the shiny surface of Chat Noir’s bell. The light went into Pimpler’s eyes and he recoiled. Ladybug shifted the light and blinded him again.
A strange impulse came over Chat Noir and he found himself wanting to chase the reflection and try to catch it. He fought the instinct with every fibre of his self-control. His Lady needed him to keep a clear head right now.
Pimpler turned around to face Ladybug, who kept moving the shaft of light into his eyes until he held his hands over his face, dropping the lotion.
“Chaton! Now!” She shouted.
“Cataclysm!” He put his hand on the discarded tube and destroyed it. The evil butterfly flitted out.
“No more evil-doing for you, little akuma.” She swung her yo-yo and caught it. “Time to de-evilize! Bye-bye, little butterfly.”
Chat Noir watched the now pure white insect fly off into the distance. Ladybug threw the mirror into the air and all around them returned to normal.
Pimpler transformed back into himself and Adrien recognised him as a model he’d worked with in past shows. Kneeling down to console him, he noticed a large angry blemish on the side of his nose.
“When’s your show?” He asked kindly.
“Monday. I had my makeup test this morning and the artist wouldn’t listen to me, I told her the concealer she was using would break me out,” The man started to sob.
Chat Noir put a hand on his shoulder, “Go see your dermatologist tomorrow and get a cortisone shot, you’ll be fresh-faced and fabulous in plenty of time for your show.”
“Thank you, Chat Noir, Ladybug,” He looked to each of them and nodded before walking back across the bridge, towards the Grand Palais.
“Cortisone shot, huh?” Ladybug smiled. “You have hidden depths, kitty.”
She grabbed her yo-yo and was about to release it when Chat held her wrist.
“Wait.” He implored. “Something is wrong with you and I think you should talk about it. Go feed your kwami and meet me at the Eiffel Tower in ten minutes.”
He thought she was going to refuse, then her shoulders dropped and she sighed. Her body language was that of a woman defeated, it was so unlike her. He wanted to scoop her up into a hug then and there but her earrings bleeped a third time.
“Okay, I’ll see you soon,” She agreed and threw her yo-yo across the bridge to the south bank and disappeared.
Marinette wanted to go back to her flat and find Nathaniel. She wanted to straighten everything out with him, but she owed Chat Noir an explanation. She knew she’d dropped the ball out there and he at least deserved that.
Fortunately, she had cookies in her purse so she transformed behind Musée de l'Armée and fed her kwami, apologising for the fact she needed to transform again so soon.
“Don’t worry about it, Marinette,” Tikki squeaked. “It’ll be good for you to talk to someone, you’ve had a rough day.”
Tikki was right. After not enough sleep, she’d worked hard all morning, the incentive of taking forty-five minutes out at lunchtime to see Nathaniel driving her forward. Then jealous Nathaniel happened and she humiliated herself in front of Adrien. She’d pushed all her emotions down and was able to carry on like nothing had happened, pinning Adrien’s outfit, watching him sashay across the small workspace to make sure he could move in it. Then, Marcel and Adrien left to confer about something and Marinette put her head down and completed all the alterations by the end of the day.
Yes, Marcel had been impressed by her work and he praised her for the quality and efficiency of her alterations, even claiming he wanted her by his side for every fashion week in the future. His compliments fell on deaf ears, though, she was already rehashing the conversation with Nathaniel in her mind and overthinking everything she said.
All she wanted to do was go home and talk to him, but she was just leaving the Metro station when the unmistakable sounds of an akumatised victim carried across the city.
She looked at her watch, “Okay, it’s time. Spots on, Tikki.”
Chat Noir was waiting for her when she arrived, pacing impatiently.
“Bugaboo! I’m glad you came,” He said.
“Hey, sorry about earlier. My mind wasn’t where it should have been,” She admitted.
“I had your back,” Chat grinned. “I get the feeling you might have something to get off your chest.”
She closed her eyes, fighting back tears. His show of concern, like Adrien’s earlier, was too much. She felt strong arms close around her, holding her tight. Chat put his chin on top of her head and simply stood there, hugging her. The familiar comfort of the embrace was everything she’d been craving since she broke away from Adrien at lunchtime. She didn’t want him to ever let go, but when he finally did, she took a deep breath and let the events of the day spill out.
She omitted names and was intentionally vague about the details of her work, but she explained how she had a fight with her boyfriend, that she was upset that he didn’t seem to trust her, that her job was pressured and she had to impress this week if she wanted to advance. She told him that the argument started in Square Berlin and seeing the park bench again from her vantage point atop the Grand Palais, which brought the feelings rushing back.
When she was done, he wiped the tears from her face and hugged her again. She returned it this time, welcoming the moment of affection between her and her teammate.
“Thank you, Chaton. You’re a good friend and an even better partner.” She smiled and threw her yo-yo towards the structure of the tower, saluting at him before she swung away.
“A good friend,” He repeated. “Meow-ch.”
When he arrived at Rue Lamarck, it was late and he wasn’t sure Marinette would even still be awake. He was considering just how much cheese Plagg would expect in payment for his cooperation tonight when he noted that her light was still on.
Using his staff, he raised himself to the height of her window and knocked on the glass. She looked up from where she was making a cup of tea and half-laughed and half-grimaced at his presence.
“Kitty!” She admonished. “Get inside before you fall to your death!”
She stepped back and allowed him to hop into her small living room.
“Sorry for such a late interruption, Princess, but I had a ‘feline’ you needed a friend tonight.” He grinned winningly.
She giggled. “That’s quite an instinct, Chat. But, if I let you stay, you’ve got to lay off the puns.”
“I make no promises,” He smirked.
“Do you want tea?” She asked, pointing at the cup she was preparing for herself.
He nodded gratefully, unable to remember that last thing he ate or drank. It was always the way in the run-up to fashion week, business and stress impacted his appetite. She must have read his mind because she brought a plate of cookies from the kitchen area along with two mugs of tea. Placing them on an upturned crate that doubled as a coffee table, she gestured to him to sit on the tiny sofa.
“So, Princess, tell me how you are.” He said, reaching for his mug and snuggling into the sagging but surprisingly comfortable sofa.
She sighed, then laughed, blinking tears away. Shaking her head like Ladybug did earlier to clear her thoughts. “This will be the third time today I’ve cried in front of a cute blonde man.”
“Sounds serious,” He leaned towards her, inviting her to continue, fighting the urge to mention the ‘cute’ comment.
“It’s stupid, really. I had a fight with Nathaniel, that’s my boyfriend.” She went on, “He was acting jealous over the amount of time I’m spending with our friend, Adrien.”
His stomach jumped to hear his own name. “Uh, does he have reason to be jealous?”
“No. Well, I’ve had a crush on Adrien forever and Nathaniel knows about it, but I’m committed to Nathaniel now. He’s spending loads of time with our other friend, Chloe but I’m not upset about that. I trust him.” She took a long drink of tea.
She's had a crush on you FOREVER. You idiot, you missed your chance.
“And, now he’s working late so I can’t even talk to him and straighten things out. If I’d never gone to Square Berlin, I wouldn’t be in this mess. I’m bringing a packed lunch to work tomorrow.”
Square Berlin? Chat couldn’t help but notice the ways in which Marinette and Ladybug’s problems were similar. Jealous boyfriends were de rigueur, it seemed. It was curious, because he hadn’t realised that Ladybug had a boyfriend, he must be new, too.
“I’m no expert, but trust is vital in a relationship. Look at me and LB, without complete trust in each other, we couldn’t work together like we do.” He noticed Marinette’s cheeks flush with… pride? Odd. “You obviously trust this guy. He needs to learn to trust you, too.”
“How do I get him to see that, though?” She asked.
“Like I say, Princess, I’m no expert,” He laughed sadly.
“Still hung up on Ladybug?” She tilted her head sympathetically.
“Actually, no. While I was still chasing after her, I didn’t notice I was falling for a good friend. By the time I worked it out and tried to pursue her, she found someone else.”
“I’m sorry. I understand how rough unrequited love can be.” She consoled him.
He shrugged. “As long as this new guy continues to make her happy, I’ll be happy for her. If he causes her pain… Well, if he upsets her, I’ll be there for her.”
“You’re the sweetest, you know that, kitty? I hope this girl realises it.”
I had insomnia so it's a two chapters in one day sort of a day!
Adrien stared at the blurry photograph the journalist had thrust into his hands as he exited his limo. It wasn’t a clear image, but he could tell that it was of him and Marinette. He hugged her when she was upset and, somewhere, a paparazzo captured the moment.
“Do you care to comment, Mr Agreste?” She smirked. “My sources tell me that she’s in a relationship with someone else, did you know that? I’m also reliably informed that you have feelings for her. Can you confirm?”
“Alya,” He sighed. “What are you doing? You’re better than this.”
She took the photo from him and tore it into pieces. “So are you, sunshine. You’re lucky this arrived in my inbox and not someone else’s.”
“Thank you, Al. You know that wasn’t what it looked like.” Relief washed over him.
“I do. But, equally, I know that you’ve got it bad for Marinette.”
“I suppose I should be glad that you and Nino are still communicating about something, even if is my private life.” He quipped.
“Look, Adrien,” She put a hand on his shoulder. “This thing with Nathaniel? It’s new and I don’t think it’s serious yet. You still have time to tell her how you feel.”
“No offence, but you’re the last person I’m going to take relationship advice from right now.”
“What’s that meant to mean?” She stepped back, offence had been taken.
“I mean, Nino’s my best friend and he’s miserable. Whatever you think this open relationship is doing for you guys, it isn’t working for him.” He shrugged.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Just… speak to Marinette, she’s yours if you ask.” Alya spun on her heel and stormed off down the street.
Adrien watched her leave, heart still racing from the encounter. He wasn’t sure if she might still publish that photo to spite him, except that she’d be throwing Marinette to the wolves, too.
“That was intense,” Plagg popped out from his jacket as soon as Alya was far enough away.
“Was I wrong, Plagg?” He asked.
“No. It might not have been your place to say it, but it probably needed to be said.” He admitted.
Adrien sighed. Something was bothering him. Alya’s words wouldn’t leave him, ‘ speak to Marinette, she’s yours if you ask’ . They combined with Marinette’s words to Chat Noir, ‘I’ve had a crush on Adrien forever’. Could she be happy with him? Could he make her happier than Nathaniel?
“Kid? These pensive silences make me nervous.” Plagg’s voice snapped him out of it.
“I have to make a phone call.”
“I can’t believe we’ve only got a few days to go before the tech rehearsal,” Marinette didn’t take her eyes off the trousers she was hemming.
“And only two days until the dry tech,” Marcel added. “At the rate you’re sewing, though, we’ll be ready with time to spare.”
She looked up and smiled at him. “I’m glad I was assigned to you, M. Fringues. I feel like I’ve learned more about the inner workings of the industry in a week than I did in three years at university.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Marinette. I’ve truly enjoyed working with you.” Marcel regarded her kindly. “I’ll be recommending you for Haute Couture week and, if there’s the budget, I’d love for you to come and work for me full time.”
“Really?! Oh, that would be a dream come true, thank you!”
“Speaking of dreams,” He nodded towards to doorway. “It looks like love’s young dream is waiting for you.”
Marinette frowned and glanced back at where Marcel’s eyes were focused. Nathaniel was standing nervously in the hallway, not sure where to look.
“How is he here?” She gasped.
“You have good friends who care about you.” Marcel’s eyes crinkled in a smile. “Go on, go talk to him.”
She ran to the doorway and he turned to face her.
“Marinette!” He breathed.
“Nathaniel!” She threw herself into his arms. “I’ve missed you.”
“Me too. About the other day…” He said.
“I’m sorry.” She interrupted. “I shouldn’t have walked away mid-argument.”
“No, I’m sorry. I trust you, it just stings that you get to spend your time with Adrien when I want to be the one you hang out with.” He admitted.
“It’s hard for me, too. I’d rather be with you.” She assured him.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. A sudden noise broke them apart and they turned to the source of it. Everyone in the studio had crammed themselves into the doorway to watch the reunion and, at their kiss, they all cheered softly.
Marinette blushed and hid her face in her hands. She leaned into Nathaniel’s strong chest and he wrapped his arms around her, laughing.
He kissed the top of her head. “I have to go, I have thirty cubist table centrepieces to make by next week.”
“Thank you for coming by.”
“I’m not the only person you should thank,” Nathaniel grinned. “I had help getting past reception.”
She frowned in confusion until he pointed past her. She turned and saw Adrien, holding the door open for Nathaniel to follow him back out. A delighted laugh fell from her lips.
“Keep Sunday free for me?” She asked. “We’ll spend the day just the two of us.”
“That’s a promise,” He kissed her again.
As he walked towards the exit, she caught Adrien’s eye and mouthed, ‘thank you’. The lopsided grin and wink he gave in return were distinctly Chat Noir-esque, she thought.
“Adrien! What the crap did you do?!” Chloe’s voice was so shrill, Adrien had to turn down the call volume to preserve his eardrum.
“The right thing, Chlo. They were never going to sort things out if they didn’t see each other.” He explained.
“You’ve undone all my good work!”
“Wait, I thought we were done with the plan?” He said.
“No, you were done with it. I still think Nath belongs with me.” Chloe laughed haughtily. “Please don’t get in my way again, or I’ll have to tell Marinette what you were trying to do."
“You wouldn’t,” He gasped.
She ended the call and Adrien stood staring at his phone for a few minutes, stunned by Chloe’s reaction. Plagg patted him on the side of the face.
“Adrien? Is everything okay?” The kwami looked uncharacteristically concerned.
“New plan, Plagg. This one is, keep Marinette and Nathaniel together while Chloe tries to break them apart.” He said, resolved.
“You’ll need a snappier title, kid.”
Marinette checked the outfits against the running order then cross-referenced it against her to-do list of alterations. Once she was happy everything was correct, she attached a label to the hanger and placed it on the rack.
“Marinette, please. This is the third time you’ve checked this. We’ve never been so organised going into show week, go home.” Marcel stood at the studio door, pleading with her.
“Sorry, I just want everything to be perfect.” She said.
“I know, and it is, thanks to you.” He smiled kindly. “You’ve got a day off tomorrow, promise me that you’ll relax and enjoy the day and NOT think about work until Monday?”
“I’ll try.” She lied. She knew she’d think about work multiple times.
She glanced at the time, it was 8.30pm and most of the building had already gone home.
“Have I held you up?” She asked, suddenly feeling guilty.
“Not at all, I’m usually here until nine, but we are all ready, there’s no point going back over work we’ve already done. Come on, get out of here.”
She grabbed her bag and headed to the door with Marcel. They left the main doors of Gabriel HQ and Marinette spied Nino waiting at the bottom of the stairs. She bid goodbye to Marcel and called out to him.
“Hey, how is your internship going?” She asked.
“Really well,” Nino enthused. “I can’t believe how much I’m learning and how fast the time seems to go. There’s nothing like being thrown into the deep end, right?!”
“Absolutely. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. This week has been like a dream for me, too.” She said.
“So, do you have plans with Nathaniel tonight?”
“No, he’s staying at the Grand Paris to get everything done for the ball. I’m going to meet him tomorrow.” She explained.
“Come out with us, then,” He offered.
“No, you have plans, I don’t want to intrude.” She insisted.
“Please, join us.” Adrien placed his hand on her shoulder, laughing when she jumped. “The more the merrier.”
“Do you hide around the corner, waiting for the perfect moment to do that?” Marinette huffed. “Nobody has timing that impeccable.”
“Come on,” He chuckled, “My car is here, let’s go get something to eat.”
“Nathaniel, you have to eat.” Chloe chided him.
She had cleared out one of the larger meeting rooms in Le Grand Paris for him to use to create the decorations for the ball. Hundreds of lights dressed in brightly coloured paper cubes, pyramids and spheres littered one half of the room. He had made incredible progress, but he’d barely left the room in the past two days. Chloe was worried about him.
“What time is it?” Nathaniel looked up, squinting as his eyes tried to focus on something farther away than a metre away.
“Almost nine at night. Come on, we’re going out for dinner.” She demanded.
He knew better than to argue with her. He set his tools down on the table and followed her out the hotel. On the street, she linked her arm through his and directed them towards the banks of the Seine. They wandered alongside the river until they reached Pont Louis Philippe where she steered him up towards Chez Jeremy, a cosy and intimate restaurant with candlelit tables for two.
“This looks like a good place to eat,” She said and guided Nathaniel inside.
Chloe was glad when the waitress brought the menus over before Nathaniel noticed the self-congratulatory smirk on her face.
“Woah,” Nino gasped when the limousine pulled up outside the expensive looking bistro.
“Yeah, Adrien…” Marinette started.
“It’s on me,” Adrien cut her off. “I want to help you both celebrate your first Fashion Week in the industry. Please, just humour me?”
He watched his two friends trying to make a decision between them through a series of meaningful looks and burst out laughing.
“What?” Nino objected.
“You’re both as stubborn as each other. Can we please just go inside and have a nice meal?” He shook his head in amusement.
He was still chuckling to himself when the maitre’d met them at the door.
“Monsieur Agreste! What a pleasure to see you. How can I accommodate you and your friends?”
“Bonsoir, Julien.”Adrien greeted him warmly. “A table for three… oh, actually… Is that Chloe in the corner?”
He pointed to a dimly-lit corner of the restaurant where a blonde and a redhead were browsing menus and talking quietly.
“It is indeed, M. Agreste, do you wish to be seated nearby?”
“The table next to them is free, yes?” Adrien asked. “We’ll have that one, thank you, Julien.”
Julien led them to the table and held Marinette’s chair out for her to sit down.
“Thank you,” She smiled at Julien.
The sound of his girlfriend’s voice caused Nathaniel to look up.
“Marinette?! What are you doing here?”
“Yes, Adrien? What is Marinette doing here?” Chloe glared at Adrien.
“Chloe?! I totally forgot that this is your favourite restaurant too!” Adrien tried to keep his tone airy but failed. “How weird that we’d both turn up here! I definitely didn’t ask my chauffeur to call the hotel and find out where you made reservations so, wow, strange.”
He shuffled his table closer to Chloe and Nathaniel’s, effectively turning it into a table for five.
If looks could kill, Adrien knew he’d be lying lifeless in the bread basket right now.
Adrien was being weird. Something was going on between him and Chloe.
“This is a nice surprise,” She said to Nathaniel, trying to ignore the tension between the two blondes at the table.
“It’s quite the coincidence,” Nathaniel agreed.
“Ha!” Chloe interjected.
“So, how are preparations for the ball going?” She asked.
“I’ve made some great headway over the past few days,” Nathaniel grinned, excitement about his work bringing colour to his cheeks. “I can’t tell you the details, because…”
“Contract?” She winked at him.
He laughed, “No. I want to keep everything a secret so it makes the right impact on the night. A little trick I learned from you designer-types.”
“I can’t wait to see it all, Nath,” Nino said.
“You’re going too?!” Marinette blurted out, louder than she meant to. “Am I the only one that’s not going to the ball?”
“Oh, poor Cinderella,” Chloe quipped.
Marinette was trying to think of a witty retort when the sommelier arrived with the wine. By the time Adrien had tasted it and everyone’s glass was filled, the moment had passed.
Forced to take the high road, she raised her glass. “A toast, to Fashion Week.”
“To hard work, steep learning curves and not enough sleep,” Nino added his glass to hers.
“To inspiration, papercuts and blisters,” Nathaniel raised his glass and looked at Chloe to go next.
“Oh, um, to glamour and beauty…” Chloe said uncertainly.
“To putting on a show.” Adrien clinked his glass against the others.
Marinette drank her wine and surveyed her friends with gratitude. She remembered a time at coll è ge when she had no close friends. Nino and Nathaniel were acquaintances, Chloe made her life miserable. Then Alya and Adrien arrived in the class, Marinette got her miraculous and her life changed for the better. If she had been told eight years ago that one day she’d be eating dinner with Nathaniel as her boyfriend, her arch-nemesis, the son of her idol and that quiet guy at the back of the class in headphones, she would never have believed it.
If only Alya could be there, too, then this moment would be perfect.
Their food arrived and the table fell into chaos as they critiqued their meals and sampled each other's.
“Oh, my days, this is the best risotto I’ve ever had. Marinette, you have to try it.” Nathaniel passed his fork to her.
“How’s the salmon, Nino?”
“Amazing, you want some?” He offered.
“Sure, do you want to try my cod?” She placed a piece on his plate as he deposited some salmon on hers.
“How’s your veal, Chlo?” Nathaniel asked.
“So good, here,” Chloe sliced a chunk of meat and held it out to him.
Nathaniel leaned across the table and ate the veal from Chloe’s fork. Marinette couldn’t help but notice the way Chloe looked at the pleasured look Nath’s face as he tasted the veal. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were glassy. It wasn’t until Chloe subconsciously licked her lips that Marinette worked it out; Chloe had a crush on Nathaniel!
How long had that been going on?
She felt bad for Chloe. It couldn’t be easy to see your crush in a relationship with someone else. Marinette made herself a vow that she wouldn’t be overly affectionate with Nathaniel whenever Chloe was around.
“What’s your steak like, Adrien?” Nino inquired.
“Mmhmm,” He nodded, unable to answer because his mouth was full.
“I’m a bit jealous that you got fries,” Marinette joked.
Adrien pushed his plate towards her. “Take some.”
“No, I was kidding,” She insisted.
“You won’t find it so funny if my clothes don’t fit next week,” He looked at her meaningfully, she had been responsible for alterations on all of his outfits. “Go on, have a few fries.”
Grinning, she stabbed her fork into the middle of his plate, withdrawing it with several fries speared on it.
“I said ‘a few’,” Adrien said in mock outrage.
She stuffed the lot in her mouth and looked at him with an innocent look on her face. After chewing and swallowing, she batted her eyelashes at him.
“I’m sorry, do you want them back?” She suggested sweetly.
Adrien pointed his fork at her, laughing. “I’m watching you.”
Gatecrashing Chloe’s ‘date’ had been a gamble so Adrien was delighted that it turned out to be such a pleasant evening. He was glad, too, that he and Marinette were able to continue their playful banter in front of Nathaniel. He guessed they’d been able to clear the air and the jealousy Marinette mentioned to Chat Noir was no longer an issue. It was worth losing half his fries to a smug looking Marinette if it meant she kept laughing.
“Beginner's mistake there, Adrien.” Nathaniel chuckled, “I learned on day one of dating that if you share food with Marinette, you have to take control of the portion size.”
“The girl can eat.” Nino agreed.
“Dude!” Marinette objected.
“What? We've discussed this before. I wish I knew how you eat what you do and manage to have that bod.”
“Right? She's a knockout, but she eats like an overexcited toddler at a birthday party.” Nathaniel confirmed.
“And she's always sneaking snacks into her bag for later,” Chloe added.
“Really? What kind of snacks?” Adrien had to ask.
“Cookies, macarons, that sort of thing, “ Nino said.
“I'd never noticed.“ Didn’t Ladybug’s kwami eat cookies and macarons? He was sure she’d mentioned it on a few occasions.
“That's because you're too busy stuffing cheese into yours,” Nino teased.
Marinette’s spine straightened as she suddenly sat to attention “Wait, what? What kind of cheese?”
She knew… He stared into her eyes as they scanned his face, both searching for a sign that they were looking at…
Nino's phone fell from his hands and hit the side of his plate with a clatter. It bounced off the table and skidded across the floor. Adrien got up and retrieved it and saw that the message that spooked Nino was still open on the screen, he couldn’t stop himself from reading it.
[22.32] Alya: Got a date at home, you can stay at Adrien’s tonight, right? Thanks! xx
“Oh, man. I’m sorry.” He looked at his friend.
Fury at Alya coursed through his veins, only extinguished by the devastated look on Nino’s face. He was broken. Nino’s face was ashen and his hands were shaking. Marinette was holding his arm, her other hand on his forehead, checking for signs of illness.
“He’s not sick, Mari, Alya is,” He held the phone out for her to read and he saw righteous anger flow through her.
Her jaw tensed and nose twitched in the same way Ladybug’s did when she was seriously furious. Adrien saw her grip on Nino's arm involuntarily tighten for an instant before she remembered herself and let him go.
“I… I can’t, I’m sorry,” Nino whimpered and ran out of the bistro.
“I've got him,” Marinette stood up and grabbed her purse from the back of her chair.
Adrien saw her look towards Nathaniel and mouth the word ‘sorry’ before she followed Nino out the door.
“I hate to end the evening on such a downer, guys. I’ll make sure everyone gets home safe.” He summoned Julien to the table and quickly paid the bill.
Before he left, he gave Nathaniel a wave, then patted Chloe on the shoulder and whispered in her ear, “behave tonight, please?” She didn’t respond.
Outside, he found Nino and Marinette crouched on the side of the road. She had her arms around his hunched form as sorrow racked his body through convulsing sobs. Adrien called Gorilla and asked him to come back to the restaurant to collect them.
He knelt down and placed his hand on Nino’s back, unsure if would offer any comfort at all right now. Marinette looked at him helplessly, he could see her heart breaking for their friend and he knew exactly how she felt.
His driver pulled up alongside them so Adrien put Nino’s arm over his shoulder and dragged him to his feet. Marinette did the same with his other arm. Inside the limo, he directed his driver to take them all back to his flat.
He saw Marinette’s confused expression.
“My place is nearest and I have a spare bedroom and a large sofa. You can stay for as long as Nino needs us.”
Nino was in a fetal position on Adrien’s sofa, head on Marinette’s lap as she stroked his hair soothingly. He didn’t speak, he just sobbed. Adrien couldn’t think of anything he could say to make Nino feel better, couldn’t imagine Nino feeling better for some time. What did this mean for him and Alya? Would this be the end?
The thought weighed heavily in his chest and he excused himself to escape to the kitchen to shed a tear of his own. Nino was loyal and caring and put others first all the time. Hell, when he was akumatised, his first thought was to throw Adrien a birthday party! The guy was pure heart and it pained Adrien to see how crushed he was at this moment.
Composing himself, he made three cups of tea with milk and sugar. He remembered his old housekeeper saying sweet tea was good for someone who’d had a shock. Carrying the mugs back to his friends, he rested them on the coffee table with a thunk. He thought he saw a streak of red whizz towards the kitchen where he’d left Plagg, but he couldn’t be sure of anything right now.
“How are you coping, dude?” He asked Nino.
Not quite cried-out, but getting there, Nino sat up and hugged his knees to his chest. “I’m tired. Tired of crying, tired of getting my heart broken every time she goes on a date, tired of feeling like a doormat for giving in to her. I don’t know if I can do it anymore.”
“Oh, Nino, you don’t deserve any of this.” Marinette wiped a single tear from her cheek.
“Thanks, Mar, Adrien. I’d never have got through any of this with you.” He managed to smile. “Actually, I really am tired, do you mind if I sleep here tonight?”
“Of course you can sleep here tonight, stay as long as you need.” Adrien jumped up and directed Nino to the guest room.
After making sure he was settled, Adrien went back into the living room and flopped on the sofa. When he landed, he felt something in his back pocket that shouldn’t be there. Lifting himself off the cushions to fish it out, he discovered that he was still holding on to Nino’s phone.
“It’s probably for the best,” Marinette said, nodding towards the phone. “Stops him making any heat-of-the-moment calls he’ll regret.”
“True,” Adrien lay it on the coffee table before picking up his mug of tea and passing another to Marinette.
She acknowledged it with an exhausted smile.
“This is not how I imagined the night would end,” He admitted, taking a drink of his tea.
She laughed bitterly, “I’ve been waiting for this to happen for ages.”
As the conversation stilted, Adrien considered that he’d been talking about the business with Nino and Alya, but what he said could have easily sounded like he was talking about he and Marinette ending the night together. Alone. On his sofa.
“I meant, the stuff with Nino, not… uh, anything else.” He decided to clarify.
“Oh, yeah, me, too.” She sounded nervous. “I mean, I haven’t been waiting to get you alone for ages, haha! Obviously.”
‘Speak to Marinette, she’s yours if you ask’ ... ‘I’ve had a crush on Adrien forever’. ..
“Sure, of course!” He hastily added. “You really expected Alya would do something like this?”
“I’m afraid so. Once she gets an idea in her head she lets herself get carried away by it. I’ve been bracing myself for something like this for a while. Look at the Ladyblog, she’s put herself in danger over that more times than I can count.” Marinette sounded regretful.
“I guess you’re right. I just wish we could fix it, you know?”
Neither of them spoke, there was nothing more to be said about the matter. They both drank their tea in the easy silence that fell between them. Until a clatter in the kitchen caused them to look up.
Adrien ventured into the room to investigate the noise. Plagg peered out from behind an upturned bowl, looking remorseful. He shook his head at his kwami and reached out to pick up the bowl.
Plagg stopped him. “You don’t want to do that.”
“Why?” Adrien whispered through gritted teeth.
“I, uh, caught a bug?” Plagg lied badly.
“You’re lucky I have company right now.” He shot a warning look towards the living room. “Keep it down.”
Adrien returned to Marinette trying to look like there’s was no problem, only to find her searching in her purse with a concerned look on her face.
“Everything okay?” He asked.
“Yes,” She was wide-eyed and trying too hard to act cool. “You? Was, uh, everything okay in the kitchen?”
“It was… Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Of course! I… thought I saw a bug.” She stuttered.
Weird. That’s what Plagg said, too…
After Marinette, Nino and Adrien left, he and Chloe stayed at the bistro and kept eating and drinking. Rather, he ate, Chloe drank. As the restaurant closed, Nathaniel was half carrying her back towards the hotel.
Nathaniel got Chloe into her suite and sat her on her sofa. He removed her shoes and bag to allow her to lay down, then he located a wastepaper bin to leave next to her head in case she was sick later. Readying himself to leave, he felt her grab his wrist.
“Stay with me?” She begged.
He couldn't say no.
Marinette and Adrien were awoken at 5am by stereo akuma alerts blaring from both of their phones. At some point last night, they had fallen asleep on the sofa with their heads at opposite ends, feet entwined in the middle. They both grabbed their phones with a start before eyeing the other suspiciously.
“I, uh, I’m going to go to my room now,” Adrien said. “I kind of get the feeling you’d like to be alone for a while. And, if it’s useful to know, the big window there opens into the room.”
“Okay…” Inside her head, a voice was screaming, HE KNOWS! He knows because he has to go transform too.
Adrien left her alone and Tikki flew to her side. A loaded look passed between kwami and holder but neither was ready to put a voice to the suspicion. Instead, Marinette opened the large window and called out.
“Tikki, spots on!”
Chat Noir was waiting for her on the roof terrace of her parents’ bakery.
“Good morning, M’Lady.” He greeted her cheerily. “This one is airborne.”
She followed the path of his pointed finger to where an odd half-man, half-bird was swooping.
She sighed, “I guess we should go introduce ourselves.”
They ran across the rooftops until they reached the street the akumatised man was circling. Below them a newspaper delivery truck was upturned and the papers were strewn across the street. The delivery guy was cowering behind a bus shelter preventing the birdman from capturing him whenever he nosedived to the ground.
“I am Early Bird and I will catch my worm!” He shouted furiously at the delivery man.
“You know,” Ladybug said loudly enough to divert the man’s attention. “The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
“And, we all know who gets the mouse,” Chat Noir leaned his elbow on her shoulder, pointing to his own chest with the other hand.
Early Bird flew towards them. “I came to visit this city of yours, but when I arrived, nothing was open! What am I meant to do in a closed city?!"
“I think Starbucks opens in three hours?” Ladybug offered helpfully.
“Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques is open 24 hours a day,” Chat added.
“A park?! A coffee chain?! What else was I meant to in the meantime? Fortunately, I made a friend. Hawk Moth has been so kind to me, it’s time to repay him.” He squawked and pitched towards them.
They split up and ran. Ladybug descended to the street while Chat leapt across the gap to the building opposite and headed away from their starting point. Early Bird followed Chat so she took her chance to help the delivery man get to safety. She took him several streets away and encouraged him to take shelter. Then a black shadow crossed her peripheral vision and she instinctively tossed her yo-yo towards it.
She caught her partner by the ankle, mere centimetres from the ground.
“Your timing is perfect, Bugaboo,” He blew her a kiss, still hanging upside down.
She dropped him. Not because he annoyed her when he did that these days, rather, it was now such part of their routine it felt odd not to. He jumped up and dusted himself down.
“So any ideas?” She asked him, referring to the object the akuma was trapped in.
“Do you see the train timetable in his back pocket?” He pointed to the villain’s human legs and she saw the shiny paper peeking from his trousers.
“Good call kitty,” She tickled under his chin as she praised him. If he really is Adrien, is this weird? She wondered.
Summoning her Lucky Charm, she caught the oddly shaped polka-dotted spanner wrench that dropped from the sky. She spied a fire hydrant up the street, noting the shape of the bolt, and looked at Early Bird’s feathered wings.
“Can you divert our feathered friend while I get into position, then bring him past me?” She asked Chat Noir.
By way of answer, he ran in the other direction down the road and shouted at the man.
“Hey, bird-brain? I don’t see any worms, but if you want my miraculous, you’ll have to catch me first!”
Ladybug opened the hydrant before sliding the wrench over the valve. When Chat ran past, she turned the wrench and a jet of water hit Early Bird, waterlogging his feathers so he couldn’t escape. She ran to him and removed the timetable from his pocket, tearing the wet leaflet easily.
The akuma fluttered out and she caught it and purified it quickly. She saw Chat Noir approaching the man as his feathers disappeared and his evil transformation dropped. She retrieved the wrench and tossed into the air, yelling the magic words.
“Miraculous Ladybug!” The world returned to normal.
After she and Chat directed the man to Fontaine des Innocents and a fast food restaurant that opened extra early, they both headed off to detransform.
In the same direction.
They stood on the rooftop opposite Adrien’s apartment and silently faced off, each waiting on the other to make the first move until raised voices carried across the courtyard on the morning air.
“WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM EXACTLY, NINO?”
“IN OUR BED, ALYA. YOU HAD HIM IN OUR BED.”
Ladybug’s earrings bleeped and panic rose in her stomach. Nino and Alya were in the living room of Adrien’s apartment, the window she left open allowing their argument to be broadcast throughout the neighbourhood. Chat Noir took her hand.
“We don’t have to talk about it until you’re ready, but come with me and detransform.” He said.
“I… Our identities...” She tried to object.
She screwed her eyes shut, but nodded her head. She knew she had no choice, and knew, too, she could trust him to keep her secret. This wasn’t how she’d imagined it would go when she revealed herself to Chat Noir.
They landed in Adrien’s bedroom one after the other as her earrings bleeped a fourth time. He turned to face her and she threw herself into his arms. Holding each other tightly she held her breath.
“Claws in,” She heard him mutter over the sound of blood pounding in her ears.
It was now or never.
Chloe woke up on her sofa with no memory of how she got there or why Nathaniel was asleep next to her. Squinting into the brightness of her phone screen she noted the time, it was half nine. She remembered Adrien and Marinette leaving the restaurant after Nino flaked. She and Nathaniel stayed and, oh god, she drank all the rest of the wine.
He must have stayed here to make sure she was okay through the night. She wanted to disappear before he woke up, save herself the embarrassment of explaining anything she might have said or done before she passed out, but she was in her own room, there was nowhere to go. Instead, she decided to call reception and order room service. Breakfast and profuse apologies should make the situation less awkward.
He could have held her all morning. His lady, Marinette. The shouting from down the hall was too much to ignore, though, and they both knew they’d have to show their faces.
Reluctantly, he dropped his arms and moved back just enough to look at her face. She gazed back up at him with a fearful expression, bluebell eyes wide, bottom lip quivering. He stroked a stray hair behind her ear and smiled affectionately.
“I meant what I said, we don’t have to talk about it until you’re ready,” He assured her.
She turned to her kwami, a cute red bug with large black spots who was sitting on his bed next to a contented-looking Plagg, and stroked her head.
“I have cookies in my bag, but it’s next door. I’ll get them as soon as possible,” She promised.
Adrien watched Marinette take a deep breath and realised that he was holding his. They emerged from his bedroom and walked into the middle of their friends’ argument.
“You were on board with this, I don’t get what changed.”
“No… I… I was never…”
“You can’t change your mind now-” Alya stopped mid-sentence to acknowledge their entrance. “Oh-ho, what have you two been doing?!”
Marinette crossed her arms. “Nothing, Al, I was just…”
“...She was using the phone in my room to call Nathaniel, her phone has no signal, then you guys started shouting and we weren’t sure if we should come out.” He improvised.
“Until we realised that this argument could go on for days and I need to eat.” Marinette continued. “So, I’m going to grab a few things and we’ll take them back there so you two can carry on.”
Alya wasn’t convinced. “Are you two a thing now?”
“No! Alya, I’m with Nathaniel.” Marinette insisted.
“So?” Alya scoffed.
“So, fidelity means something to me, unlike… No. I’m not doing this here.”
“No, go on,” Alya challenged her.
Adrien wanted to step in and stop this in its tracks but he was frozen to the spot. He couldn’t speak. A glance at Nino confirmed that he was transfixed, too.
“Fine,” Marinette squared up to her friend. “You’re so set on having this open relationship, on living your best life, that you can’t even see that it’s tearing Nino up. He’s a shell of his former self.”
“So what are you saying?” Alya asked.
“That you’re selfish.”
“You think that because you have a boyfriend now that you’re suddenly an expert on these things?” Alya sneered, “Well, you’re not.”
“No, I’m not an expert in relationships, but I’m the one that’s spent almost every day with Nino for the past few weeks and I’ve seen how broken up he is. He’s drinking way more than he used to, he’s cried most days and he’s slowing dying inside. All because you want to have your cake and eat it too.”
“You don’t know anything, Marinette. Shut up.” Alya snapped. Marinette’s last comment hurt her, Adrien saw it in the way her shoulders dropped and fists clenched.
“I know I’m not going to stand by and let this continue. Grow up and make a decision; do you want Nino or do you want to shag around? You can’t have both, for Nino’s sake.” Marinette stood her ground.
Adrien braced himself for Alya to start shouting. Her jaw tensed, her hand twitched and he briefly wondered if she might slap Marinette. Instead, she turned on her heel and stormed out of the apartment without a glance back at her boyfriend or best friend.
Nathaniel woke to the sound of a trolley being wheeled into the room. It was covered in croissants, fruit, ham and cheese and he wondered exactly how many people were coming for breakfast. Underneath were a large cafetiere of coffee and a jug of orange juice that Chloe placed on the table in front of the sofa.
“Nath?” She looked worried. “About last night, the things I said…”
“Chlo, you didn’t say anything. You passed out on the sofa as soon as I got you back here.”
She leaned back against the sofa and exhaled. Whatever she thought she’d said to him was embarrassing or upsetting enough to have rattled her in a way he seldom saw. Chloe was usually so composed, it was reassuring to know she had moments of insecurity, too.
He poured two cups of coffee and passed one to her.
“Thanks,” She smiled gratefully.
“You know, Chlo, I like to think we’re close enough that you can tell me anything. Whatever it is you’re worried that you said last night, you can trust me with it.” He said.
“Maybe one day,” Chloe sipped her coffee, peering over the cup at him. “Just, not yet.”
He helped himself to breakfast, offering a platter to Chloe as he did. She picked at the fresh fruit, ignoring the pastries.
“We should get you measured for your tailcoat today,” Chloe suggested. “I can get the tailor to come here or we can go there? What do you think?”
“Sure,” He replied.
“Then we can grab a late lunch and talk about the ball. When people see what you’ve done with the theme, work is going to start flooding in.”
“About that,” Nathaniel had had an idea last night after Chloe fell asleep.
“I still haven’t started the banners and I wondered… Can I paint a portrait of you for it? In a cubist style, of course.” He rushed his words, already sure she’d refuse. “I know you’ll be too busy to sit for me so I could just do the initial sketches with you, or even work from a photo?”
“Nathaniel?” She laughed. “Yes. I’d be honoured if you painted my portrait.”
Marinette’s hands flew up to her face. “Oh, Nino, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have involved myself. I’ve ruined everything.”
Nino lunged towards her lifted her off the ground in an enthusiastic hug.
“Thank you Mar,” He giggled.
“Wow, okay, I thought you’d be mad.”
“Mad? No! You said everything I wanted to say but couldn’t.” He assured her. “I was too upset to get my thoughts straight.”
She shot a concerned look towards Adrien, silently begging him to get Nino to put her down.
“Alright, there. Maybe put Marinette on the ground and sit down? I’m going to fire up the coffee maker and we can talk about what’s going on.” Adrien said.
Nino let her go and dragged her to the sofa to sit down.
“Uh, actually, I just have to check something down the hall. I’ll be right back.” Marinette excused herself as a plate bearing two cookies and a wedge of Camembert appeared around the kitchen doorway.
Unable to think of a valid reason why she needed it, she took it without explanation and dashed into Adrien’s bedroom.
Inside, Tikki and Adrien’s kwami were deep in conversation on top of a pillow. She placed the plate on the bed and they both flew to eat. Marinette crouched down until her head was level with the kwamis.
“Hi,” She smiled at the black cat, “I’m Marinette.”
“What’s up? I’m Plagg.” He nodded. “Keep bringing me cheese and we’ll get on just fine.”
“You’ve got a deal.” She laughed and left them alone, chattering like old friends, which she guessed, was exactly what they were.
Back in the living room Adrien and Nino were already drinking coffee and discussing the morning’s events.
“Sorry about that man. I got up through the night to get a glass of water and saw that I’d left my phone on your table. I sent Alya an angry text and I guess she picked it up early and decided to confront me about it.” Nino said.
“When did she come by?” Adrien asked.
“We’d been arguing for fifteen minutes when you came in, I guess.” Nino looked confused. “But you know that because you were just next door.”
“Sure. We, uh, must have just missed you out here.” Adrien scratched the back of his neck in a way Marinette hadn’t seen him do since school.
Spotting Marinette, Nino made space between himself and Adrien and gestured for her to sit down. She did and Adrien handed her a coffee. White, with one sugar. Exactly how she liked it.
“You know, you guys don’t have to pretend around me, I know why you’re acting strangely.” Nino looked between them.
“You, uh, you do?” Marinette inquired.
“Of course, I said I woke up to get a drink? I saw you both sleeping on the sofa.” He grinned knowingly. “Don’t worry, it looked completely innocent from my angle.”
She and Adrien looked at each other as the back of her hand accidentally brush his. For a millisecond, their fingers intertwined before they both flinched away.
“Wh-wh-when are you meeting Nathanium, Nasturtium, I mean, Nathaniel?” Adrien stuttered.
“Not until ten, I have loads of time, thanks to our early wake-up call.” She assured him.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Nino said.
That wasn’t the wake-up call she was talking about, but Nino didn’t need to know.
“I’m going to go back to my flat and pick up a few things, I’ll tag along with you, Mar,” Nino suggested. “That’s if the offer to stay here still stands?”
“Of course it does, bro. Do you want me to come with you? Help you carry your stuff?” Adrien offered.
“No, I have to do this myself.”
After the suit fitting, he and Chloe wandered through Marais, popping into boutiques to browse and stopping in Place des Vosges to sit and watch the world go by. They chatted about the ball, wondered aloud how Nino was feeling this morning and discussed their plans for work after Fashion Week and the ball were over. The bells of Notre-Dame rang to announce 2pm when they decided to find something to eat.
They ducked inside a nearby crêperie and ordered lunch. Moments after their pancakes arrived, the owner locked all the doors.
“I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but we’ve just received an akuma warning and I’ve been instructed that it’s unsafe to go outside. I’m sure Ladybug and Chat Noir will deal with it quickly. In the meantime, please, enjoy your meals.” She addressed her customers.
Nathaniel looked at Chloe and shrugged, they had nowhere to be anyway.
“Two akumas in one day should be illegal,” Chat Noir grumbled as they watched the purified butterfly flutter away.
“I hear you, kitty.” Ladybug yawned. “At the very least there should be a time restriction on when they strike, I’m ready for a nap after this morning’s one.”
She tossed her Lucky Charm in the air, a red and black spotted tennis racquet. Everything around them returned to normal and the akuma victim shrunk down to her normal size and turned back into the harassed boutique manager who had one too many irate customers in her store. She was shaken by her ordeal, but her husband arrived to take her home so the two superheroes were free to talk for a few minutes.
“Do you need to rush back to Nathaniel, or do you have a minute?” He asked.
“Actually, I have more than a minute.” She sighed. “Nath stood me up.”
“That doesn’t sound like him.” It does sound like Chloe, though.
“He loses himself in his art sometimes, turns his phone off, it happens.” She shrugged.
His ring blinked and Ladybug’s earrings bleeped. It was time to go.
“There’s a high school across the road from the big hotel in Montmartre, we can detransform there and walk back to mine.” She suggested. “”Have that talk.”
They each approached the school from different paths. They’d already been seen to leave together earlier, they couldn’t risk it again. Hawk Moth could use that information against them. Landing at opposite ends of the playing field, they detransformed under cover of the trees that lined the grounds and met on the street.
Their kwamis disappeared into Marinette’s bag and she laughed when Plagg’s exclamation carried through the fabric.
“You brought cheese?! You’re officially my favourite.”
“So, where do we start?” He said. “M’Lady.”
Marinette blushed and dipped her head. Her hair fell in front of her eyes so she swept it behind her ear. As she did so, Adrien saw a shy smile.
“I used to hate that name, you know? And Bugaboo, too, but over time... They’re special nicknames between me and Chaton and I can’t hate that.” She looked at him earnestly. “Now I find out that you’re that sweet talking, pun-loving, mangy cat and, honestly? It feels right, like I knew all along.”
Adrien’s heart soared. The reason he wasn’t freaking out about finally revealing himself as Chat Noir was just as Marinette described. The fact that Ladybug and Marinette were one and the same felt right.
It was easy to talk about this with her; they understood why the other had to conceal their true selves, how difficult it was to lie to the people they care about, how much they wished they’d told each other sooner. They were nearing the top of Rue Joseph de Maistre, just past the hospital when Marinette’s brows knitted together and she bit her lip. Something was bothering her.
“Mari, I like to think we’re close enough that you can tell me anything. Whatever it is you’re worried about saying, you can trust me with it.” He said.
She looked at him and her frown softened. “When you said I... Ladybug was the girl of your dreams, what changed?”
“I fell in love with someone else.” He stated.
“I was hung up on Ladybug for a very long time. While I was still chasing after her, I didn’t notice I was falling for someone else… a good friend. By the time I worked it out, it was too late.” The regret was still raw, his smile strained.
She put her hand on his arm to comfort him. “Who is she? Or, would you rather not say.”
“I fell for this smart, funny, talented, beautiful girl who was one of my first friends at school, my number one fan, my soulmate…” He braced himself. “I fell in love with you, Marinette.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. I have been informed that the akuma threat has been lifted.” The cafe owner unlocked the door and several patrons stood up to leave.
“Urgh, thank goodness.” Chloe sighed. “These attacks are a major inconvenience.”
This particular attack had been rather pleasant, though. They were far enough away from the action that they weren’t in any danger and the crêperie owner brought free banana and Nutella crêpes and cider out for everyone while they waited. She and Nathaniel spent the time planning the portrait he was going to draw and arranging a time that she could sit for him.
“I hope everyone is okay. I should phone Marinette and check on her.” Nathaniel reached for his phone, frowning when he realised the battery was dead.
“I’m sure she’s fine.” Chloe tried to divert his attention before he remembered the thing she’d been distracting him from all day.
“Oh, crap!” He jumped up. “I’m meant to be spending the day with Marinette! I can’t believe I forgot.”
He started gathering his pencils and sketchbook into his satchel, suddenly in a hurry to leave.
“Wait! It’s too late now. By the time you get to Montmartre, it’ll be past dinnertime and she has to get up early for her internship tomorrow. Use my phone and reschedule.” She reasoned.
He puffed his cheeks out an exhaled loudly. “No, I should go.”
“Stay!” Chloe surprised herself with the desperation in her voice.
It was enough to stop him in his tracks. “Why, Chlo? What’s up?”
“Because,” She was really going to say this… “Because, I love you, Nath. I’m in love with you and I want you to be with me, not her.”
It's the one with all the flashbacks to yesterday...
Marinette left her flat early on Monday morning. She had to catch three trains and a bus to get to Paris Le Bourget Exhibition Centre by 8.30am in time for the first dry technical rehearsal. A chill in the air made her shiver, the sun wasn’t strong enough to warm her yet, although the forecast predicted a hot summer’s day. Nathaniel was waiting on the pavement outside with a large coffee for her.
“Wow, you must be sorry you stood me up, if you’re willing to get up this early,” She teased.
“Again, so sorry about that.”
“I’m not mad at you, Nath,” She assured him and snuggled in under his proffered arm.
“I’m mad at me,” He admitted. “We weren’t even doing anything important, just mooching about town, I can’t believe I forgot about you.”
“At least you had a restful day, I was dealing with Nino and Alya drama at far-too-early o’clock.” She sipped her coffee. It needed sugar but she was grateful for the warmth and the caffeine so she didn’t complain.
“How is he now?” Nathaniel asked.
“Better. Stronger. He’s staying at Adrien’s for a while until they can sort things out.” She explained.
♡ “I’m just here to collect some clothes, then I’m going back to Adrien’s.” Nino announced as he pushed open the door to his and Alya’s flat.
“Nino. Please, stay. We can talk it through.” Alya begged.
Nino grabbed a holdall and started stuffing clothes into it. He was done talking, there was nothing more to say for now. In time, he might be ready to open up the lines of communication but he had nothing left for her in this moment.
He glanced at the bed. Their bed, the one she had a stranger in. He turned away and felt anger rise up again. The sooner he got out of there, the better.
“I’m sorry, okay? Is that what you want me to say?” Alya stood at the bedroom doorway.
“Are you? Sorry? Sorry you hurt me?” Nino’s nails dug into his palms. “Or are you just sorry that I’m not standing by and letting you do what you want any more?”
“I’m… I’m sorry you feel this way.”
“That’s not an apology, Alya. That’s lukewarm at best.” Nino shook his head. “Have a nice life.”
“Is this goodbye? Are we over?” She asked, tears forming in her eyes.
“That’s up to you, Al. Call me when you know what you want. ♡
“That’s intense,” Nathaniel said.
“Yeah,” Marinette agreed. “It’s heartbreaking to see them go through it, but at least everything’s in the open now. Maybe they can start to heal.”
They were at Guy Môquet and should have taken separate trains, but Nathaniel wanted to stay with Marinette a little longer. He offered to travel with her as far as Place de Clichy station; he could catch the number 81 bus towards Le Grand Paris from there while Marinette headed out of the city to the exhibition centre.
“Speaking of getting things out in the open… Yesterday, Chloe admitted she has feelings for me.” He cringed as he said it, unsure of how Marinette would react.
“I know,” She shrugged. “Well, I knew she had feelings for you, I worked that out the other night at dinner. She told you?”
“Yes, after the akuma attack yesterday afternoon, she sort of blurted it out.”
♡ “Because, I love you, Nath. I’m in love with you and I want you to be with me, not her.” Chloe revealed.
“Ooookaaaay,” Nathaniel sat back down. “Since when?”
“It’s been years, Nath.” She whispered, taken aback by her own outburst. “I’m in awe of your talent and passion for art. I could listen to you speak for hours and when you’re with me, everything feels right. I’m the real me when you’re around, Nathaniel.”
He wouldn’t pretend that his ego wasn’t stroked by her eloquent words, because it was. He liked Chloe. Loved her company, her forthrightness and ability to say what she meant without sugar-coating it. She had passion and talent, too, and he was inspired by her. At coll è ge she was often mean, but he watched her grow into an understanding and sensitive woman and he was so proud of who she’d become.
He was with Marinette, though. Had crushed over her for years, loved her from afar and now, she wanted to be with him. He was off the market.
“Chloe.” He finally spoke. “I love you, too, but I’m with Marinette. I can’t commit to you when I’m with her.”
“So, leave her.” ♡
“Wow. How do you feel about it?”
“It’s flattering, but it doesn’t change the fact that I love you, Mari.” He assured her.
She smiled, not quite ready to say those words back to him. She drank some more coffee, wincing at how strong it was.
“While we’re on the subject of friends confessing their love… Adrien has feelings for me.”
♡ “I fell for this smart, funny, talented, beautiful girl who was one of my first friends at school, my number one fan, my soulmate… I fell in love with you, Marinette.” Adrien said the words she’d longed to hear since collège.
She stopped in her tracks, frozen to the spot. Her jaw dropped.
A smile full of sunshine filled his face. “Yes, Marinette, you. I fell in love with you twice. Once as Ladybug, then again as you.”
He drew her towards him, holding her tight and she felt him kiss the top of her head. He smelled like citrus and fresh laundry and she breathed in the scent and committed it to memory. He loved her! This was everything she wanted.
“Adrien…” She looked up at him and he tilted his face towards hers.
Their faces were almost touching, lips millimetres apart. She felt his breath grow ragged, hers matched it.
“Mari, I… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
Why? Oh, right, Nathaniel. In the moment, she’d forgotten about him
“I’m not sure I can walk away from you right now,” She admitted. “I need you to be the bigger person.”
“I’ll be whoever you want me to be, Princess.” ♡
“I guess your jealousy was justified,” She told Nathaniel.
“Not really, I should have trusted you and not let my insecurity about your old crush cloud my judgment.” He said. “How do you feel, knowing he has a crush on you now?”
“It’s odd.” She was honest. “It doesn’t change us, though, does it?”
“It shouldn’t, no... ” He hesitated.
“But, somehow it does?” She suggested.
He nodded. “What now?
She met Nino at La Courneuve where they caught the bus to Michelet. He looked brighter than he’d been in weeks and he bounded towards her.
“Hey, Mar, you ready for this? He asked.
“I can’t wait.” She grinned. “They’ve set up the whole stage inside the exhibition centre so we can iron out all the kinks before the day of the show.”
“Still don’t know the location?”
“Nope, I think only about five people in the company do. Marcel definitely does but he’s not telling.” She laughed.
In spite of signing an NDA, the interns hadn’t yet been trusted with the top secret location on the show. They would be told just before the location was released to the public, the day before the show.
“Do you think Adrien knows?” Nino wondered.
“I don’t know.”
“Hmmm. Adrien got home incredibly late last night, do you know anything about that?” Nino’s question was loaded.
“I know that we hung out for a while,” She admitted. “Why?”
“You know he’s got it bad for you?”
“I’ve recently been made aware,” She confirmed.
“Does Nathaniel know?”
“He does. We discussed it this morning.” She paused, then figured she might as well tell him the whole story. “We also discussed the fact that Chloe has feelings for Nathaniel.”
Nino winced, a hissing noise escaping from his mouth. “That’s awkward. You’re both working closely with someone who has feelings for you. And, who you’ve both had feelings for. Have feelings for? Where does that leave you two?”
“Up in the air. We’ll discuss it when we see each other next, on Sunday.” She sighed.
“Dude, that’s tough.” He consoled her. “If you need to talk in the meantime, I’m here for you.”
Marinette and Nino walked into the exhibition and stopped dead. A massive runway and scaffolding filled the hangar-sized space. A hive of activity surrounded them. Tech crew were up ladders and cherry pickers, feet poked out from under the stage and voices sounded from behind a curtained area.
Gabriel’s company had taken over the exhibition centre for two days in order to rehearse the fashion show. He was going all out in terms of theatricality this year and there was sound checks to do and lighting cues and special effects to test before they brought the models in tomorrow for the full dress rehearsal. All Marinette knew about the show’s ultimate venue was that it was a public place, they couldn’t build the stage until the day of the show and there wouldn’t be time to run extensive rehearsals.
“It’s spectacular,” Marinette breathed.
“I’ll see that spectacular and raise you a wow.” Nino gasped beside her. “Say what you like about Gabriel, the guy’s got flair.”
“I knew he was a genius, but this is next level brilliance.”
“Thank you Miss Dupain-Cheng, I’m glad you approve.” A stern voice spoke behind her.
She jumped and spun around. Gabriel Agreste stood in the entranceway of the exhibition centre, a thin smile on his face. Beside him, Marcel winked conspiratorially at her.
“I more than approve, sir, I’m in awe.” How she managed to say anything to her idol, she’d never know. It was pure fluke that the words she spoke formed a sentence.
“Well, Marcel here has been singing your praises. Keep impressing us and you can be awestruck by our next show, too.” He said.
At that, he and Marcel walked away and Nino slapped her arm excitedly.
“He noticed you, Mar! And he as good as offered you a job for Haute Couture week! Any praise from Gabriel is a big deal.” He grinned at her. “This is a real opportunity.”
“They both know how we feel, it’s just a matter of time now,” Chloe announced confidently.
Adrien didn’t share her faith. They were having lunch in Chloe’s office at the hotel because she had too much to do to go out. She was in a celebratory mood and opened a bottle of Champagne to go with the meal.
“I doubt it changes anything, Chlo,” Adrien shrugged.
“On the contrary, this is a real opportunity.” She toasted him with her empty glass before pouring herself another. “Now would be a good time to rejoin the game.”
“Splitting up a relationship isn’t a game, Chlo. If we love them like we say we do, we can’t be the cause of their unhappiness.”
“Don’t you want to be with Marinette?” She asked.
“More than I can describe. She’s beautiful, talented, kind, honest and amazing and I’m sure I’ve loved her for lifetimes before this one.” Adrien sighed and shook his head. “But, if she’s happy with Nathaniel then it’s not my place to stand in the way.”
“Nonsense, of course it is,” Chloe exclaimed. “And when I have Nathaniel, Marinette will be a free agent and you will thank me. I guarantee it.”
“I’m not playing any more, Chloe, I’m serious. You have to quit this game before you hurt him.” He pleaded.
The door swung open. A paint-flecked, red-faced Nathaniel stood in the doorway.
“It’s too late. I heard everything.”
Marinette pulled the door closed behind her, checking her bag for phone, keys, purse, cookies and kwami as she did. Tikki was snoozing on top of her pencil case after a late finish and long journey home last night. She had contemplated transforming and getting home Ladybug-style, but she’d arranged to travel back with Nino and couldn’t abandon him.
Outside, she found Adrien, leaning against his limousine. When she emerged from her apartment building he opened the door and invited her into the car.
“We need to talk,” He said.
“Uh, okay?” She got into the car, moving across to make room for Adrien.
He slid in next to her and the limo started moving. She stared at him, concerned. His expression was stony, whatever he needed to talk about was serious. When he was ready to speak he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then turned to her.
“I love you.” He began. “And when you started dating Nathaniel, it crushed me.”
He paused and Marinette put her hand on his knee, imploring him to continue.
“I was jealous,” He went on. “Then, Chloe suggested something to me. She said we should work together to split up you and Nath so we could pick up the pieces for ourselves. At first, I said no… Until I saw you in the park that day after brunch.”
“You were trying to split Nathaniel and me up?”
He nodded. “Then he cancelled on you after the first day of your internship and I saw how sad it made you. I couldn’t do that to you, couldn’t be the source of your pain. I realised that your happiness was more important than anything else and I stopped.”
“But Chloe didn’t?” She guessed.
“So, why are you telling me this now,” She asked.
“Nathaniel found out yesterday. It’s only fair that you’re aware of it too.” He leaned back in his seat, disappointed in himself. “I was selfish, I’m sorry.”
Marinette didn’t know what to think. On one hand, she was hurt that Adrien would play any part in a scheme to drive her and Nathaniel apart, no matter how briefly. On the other, he had stopped it the minute he realised his actions could hurt her. His remorse was clear and she knew he’d beat himself up about it, what good would it do for her to condemn him, too? Besides, she’d let jealousy get the better of her in the past, she knew how corrosive it could be.
“Oh, Adrien,” She took his hand in both of hers. “You’re not the first person to be jealous.”
“What I tried to do, though…”
“I’m not condoning it, but I’d be a hypocrite if I pretended that I’ve never felt that way. Chloe can be persuasive and, well, I forgive you.”
“I don’t deserve your friendship, Mari,” Adrien managed a small smile.
“You’re stuck with me regardless. We’re partners, remember?” She playfully booped his nose with her finger, eliciting a genuine laugh from him. It was a welcome sound.
“Nath? Can you just hear me out?” Chloe begged.
“I can’t even look at you right now, Chloe,” Nathaniel snapped. “Just leave me to do my thing and you can do yours, okay?”
He felt so betrayed by Chloe that every time he looked at her, he felt anger rise up inside him. He trusted her and all along, she was plotting against him and Marinette. The hurt ran so deep he couldn’t see a way past it.
He’d considered calling Marinette last night to tell her about it, but this was something he should share face to face. She adored Adrien, knowing this about him would crush her. He would have to break the news gently.
In the meantime, Nathaniel planned to keep his head down and work hard on finishing the table decorations for the ball. If he could get them done by the end of the day, he’d be free to focus on the banners for the rest of the week.
It was going to be a long day, and possibly a late night.
“You will stay here until you get it right,” Nathalie told the assembled group.
Choreographer, designers, dressers, models, stage crew, in-house photographers and interns stood on the runway inside the massive exhibition centre. Gabriel was nowhere to be seen, but Nathalie informed them that he would be watching via video link.
“If that means we’re still here tomorrow morning, so be it,” She continued. “This will be a show that everyone in Paris and the entire fashion world will be talking about for years to come and M. Agreste insists that it be perfect. Models, please listen to Mme Danseur, she will take you through your walk. Everyone else, find your supervisor.”
Marinette found Marcel briefing the dressers. Her carefully organised racks of clothing lined the backstage area and Marcel was explaining the system. He saw Marinette and waved her over.
“This is Marinette, my right-hand woman until the end of Thursday.” He introduced her before turning to her, “And if I get my way, for a lot longer than that.”
She waved nervously at the group of dressers and interns.
“This is the only day we have to iron out all the kinks and become a well-oiled machine. Learn your cues, familiarise yourself with the outfits and models, be ready to go the minute Gabriel decides we’re ready for dress rehearsals. I do not want sloppy costume changes to be the reason we’re all still here at 3am, do you hear me?” Marcel finished and turned to Marinette.
“You’re quite intimidating when you’re being strict, “ She said. Marcel laughed.
He led her to a row of folding chairs at one end of the runway and invited her to sit. Handing her a sheaf of paper and a stopwatch, he explained their next step.
“We need to watch these run-throughs like hawks. Hawks with magnifying glasses and a love of detail. Jot down timings, how long do we have from when a model leaves the runway until he’s back on it again? What are our cues?” He asked. “Write down everything. We want to be the department that has no notes from Gabriel at the end of the day, okay?”
“Got it, boss. Hawk-like attention to detail, coming up.” She assured him.
Across the room, Nino and another intern were being briefed enthusiastically by Vincent. Flailing arms, huge facial expressions and occasional Italian expletives (coincidentally, the only parts of the language her nonna ever taught her) were clear from dozens of metres away. Something else that was clear was Nino’s excitement. He bounced on the balls of his feet, raring to go. Marinette grinned at seeing her friend’s zest for life return.
“It’s about time he looked truly happy again,” Adrien said, approaching her.
“It is,” She agreed.
“Oh, before my father starts shouting at me from a remote location and I forget, Chloe asked if I could get you to call her when you get the chance.” He looked at her hopefully.
“I don’t think I want to hear what she has to say right now,” Marinette admitted.
“Please? For me?” His eyes were wide, his face angelic, eyelashes fluttering.
“You need to stop with the kitten eyes, Agreste,” Se tried to stay strong, but she couldn’t resist. She vaguely wondered if Adrien had been talking to Manon Chamack recently. “Fine! I’ll call her when we break for lunch.”
“Yes! Thanks, you’re the best, Mari.” He shouted as he ran back to where the models were lining up to begin their first run through.
“Hey, thanks for calling,” Chloe sighed in relief, she wasn’t sure if Marinette would want to speak to her. “I guess Adrien told you what we tried to do?”
“Hi, Chloe, yes he told me.”
“I’m so sorry, Marinette. I know now that Adrien was right, we should never have tried to break you up. I can’t stand seeing how hurt he is now.” Nathaniel was ignoring her and it was agony, her heart broke every time she saw him.
“Look, Chloe, I’m not going to pretend I’m not upset by your scheming, but I get why you did it. Love makes you do crazy things.” Marinette said.
“Then, can you make Nathaniel talk to me again, please?” She knew it was an odd request, but she had belatedly realised that it didn’t matter if she and Nathaniel together. His friendship was enough. “I just want him to be my friend again.”
“You know I can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to, right?” Marinette was reticent.
“You say that, but you can, Marinette. People listen to you and you inspire them, you can persuade them of anything you want.”
A frustrated sigh on the other end of the line told Chloe that Marinette was contemplating helping her.
“Okay, I’m not promising it’ll work, but here goes. Give him space right now, I’ll speak to him tomorrow and help him to see that despite how petty and misguided your stupid plan was, at least your motivation came from love.” Chloe allowed the insult, Marinette was justified. Then, do something to show him what he means to you.”
“I could buy him…”
“...No. He’s not impressed by money, Chloe. You need to make a gesture. Show him that his friendship matters to you.” Marinette clarified.
“I can do that.”
“Good. And Chloe?”
“This is the last time you meddle in someone else’s relationship.”
“I promise.” Chloe meant it.
“Well done, everybody. The boss is finally happy with the show.” Marcel addressed his team. “If we can do it exactly like that on Thursday, we’ll be the talk of Fashion Week. Go home, rest and I’ll see you all at five on Thursday morning.”
The group plodded towards the exit, exhausted after working an intense eighteen hour day. They had a much-needed day off tomorrow and all Marinette wanted to do was sleep for the entirety of it.
Marinette wasn’t finished yet, though. She would be assisting Marcel and Mme Ouvrage with transporting the clothes back to HQ. She had to check every item off on her list, ensure they were hanging on the correct rail with the right label and supervise them onto the truck. She would then travel back in Mme Ouvrage’s car into Paris behind the truck and oversee the unloading there.
She’d been chain-drinking coffee for the past five or six hours and now, at 5am, as Mme Ouvrage dropped her off outside her apartment building, her body was exhausted but her mind was racing.
Tikki flew around her head while she climbed the stairs to her flat.
“Plagg said that he tried to dissuade Adrien from the plan, but he couldn’t.” Tikki shared the information she gleaned from her kwami companion that day. “What Adrien said about changing his mind, that’s how Plagg remembers it, too. Apparently, he’s been trying to help you and Nathaniel out since then to counteract Chloe’s attempts to come between you.”
“I’m still reeling from the fact she asked for my help,” Marinette admitted. “I don’t think she’s ever asked anyone’s for help before, definitely not mine. She must be serious about making up with Nath.”
The rounded the corner from the stairwell to her door and Tikki squeaked and ducked into Marinette’s bag. Nathaniel was waiting for her outside her flat.
“Nathaniel! What are you doing here? It’s five in the morning.” She hugged him.
“I know, but I was working late at the hotel and when you texted me an hour ago, I knew you’d be home soon so I figured I’d come here and wait for you.” He explained.
“I wasn’t expecting you to be awake when I sent that.” She admitted. “Come inside.”
Marinette climbed the first few steps to her bed and carefully lay her bag on the duvet. Poor Tikki was exhausted and she didn’t want to consider the consequences of a poorly rested kwami.
Nathaniel hovered nearby, he looked impatient.
“Are you okay?” She asked, “You seem on edge.”
“Yeah, sit down,” He sat on her tiny sofa and invited her to do the same. “I have to tell you something and it’s not good.”
“You’re scaring me, Nath.”
“It’s Chloe and Adrien. They've been plotting to split us up, Marinette,” He announced.
She did her best not to smile, “I know, Nathaniel. Adrien told me this morning before rehearsal and Chloe spoke to me at lunchtime. They’re both very sorry.”
“You… You spoke to them and didn’t tell me?” He accused her.
“I’ve been working all day, Nath, when was up to me to tell you something you already know? Both Adrien and Chloe spoke to me because they were concerned they’d hurt you and you weren't talking.”
“Sorry, I’m not mad at you, Marinette. I want… I wanted to be the one to tell you, but it needed to be done in person and we’re both so busy.”
Marinette ran her finger over his furrowed brow and down his nose. She could see how wounded he was by Chloe’s deliberate attempts to drive a wedge between him and his long-time crush. When Marinette wasn’t there to talk to immediately after it happened, the pain grew and spread. Now she needed to soothe his heartache.
She moved closer to him, drawing him into a hug.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but they tried to do those things because they were blinded by love for us. It’s just that they were so blinkered by their own desires that it took them a while to figure out that they would hurt us in the process. Chloe took longer than Adrien to get there, but she did get there in the end. She’s more remorseful about this than I’ve known her to be about anything, she’s devastated that she hurt you, Nath.”
He sighed such a long deep sigh that Marinette wondered if he was deflating. “I wish I was as understanding and forgiving as you, Mari, but I’m not.”
”Take your time, Nath. We all heal at different rates.”
“I miss you,” He kissed her temple. “At least we’ll have some more time to spend together next week, right?”
For the first time ever at a fashion show, Adrien had fun.
It was usually such a serious affair, all stress and urgency, with hair, makeup, dressers and stylists buzzing around adding to the tension, while the spectre of his father’s expectations increased the pressure further. Today felt much lighter, more organised. The chaos backstage was the same, the diva behaviour and clamour was still there. The only difference was Marinette.
She and Marcel made a formidable team. Adrien never thought he’d meet anyone as ruthlessly efficient as Marcel during fashion week, the man was the reason why Gabriel shows ran so smoothly. Marinette’s part in it somehow managed to make it all run at swiss-precision levels of clockwork.
From a selfish perspective, too, he loved having her there; Marinette’s smiling face brightened up his day. He watched her now, dressed in tailored black wide leg trousers, black pumps and black notch neck top, moving effortlessly among the dressers, ensuring they were doing their jobs properly. She had a tape measure draped around her neck, pincushion strapped to her left wrist and two pencils holding her topknot in place. She was in her element here and his heart swelled with joy for her.
He loved her so much and seeing her so happy and confident was serving to increase that affection even more.
Marinette approached him. “Take your clothes off.”
“What?!” He said, taken aback by her forwardness.
“Gina, your dresser is caught up with a foot-through-a-hem emergency so I’m going to get you ready for the finale. So… take your clothes off,” She laughed and held up the items he needed to wear next.
His cheeks darkened as he realised where his mind had gone. He hoped she hadn’t noticed, but the cheeky look on her face when she repeated the offending phrase suggested that she knew exactly what he thought she’d said. He had never felt self-conscious in a situation like this before, but he was suddenly very aware that he was stripping down to his briefs in front of Marinette Dupain-Cheng.
“Adrien?” She was blushing as well. “I don’t know if your little plot with Chloe was behind me being allocated to Marcel this week, but, well, if it was, thank you.”
He took the proffered shirt from her and slipped it over his arms. “It wasn’t. Marcel and Mme Ouvrage have worked with father for so long that he trusts them to choose their own interns. Marcel handpicked you himself.”
He fumbled with the top button so Marinette reached out to do if for him. “So this is all on my own merit?”
Adrien nodded and pulled his trousers on. Marinette expertly tied his cravat before holding his waistcoat out.
“So what exactly did you to do to try and woo me?” She wore an amused expression.
“Erm, I showed you the view from my bedroom and gatecrashed your lunch with Luka.” He wracked his memory. “Oh, and I flirted with you when you took my measurements,”
She held out the jacket for him to put on. “You’re such an oblivious dork. Shoes.”
He stepped into the black brogues and Marinette kneeled down to tie them.
”Hey! I’m a smooth operator,” He argued.
“It’s lucky you’re beautiful,” She tightened the second shoe and tied a symmetrical knot before standing up to face him. “Because if you had to rely on your chat up technique to attract women, you’d be alone for a long time.”
He couldn’t help it, he laughed. “You’re so rude to me, I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“You’re not the only one with a pretty face, Agreste.” She winked.
God, he wanted to kiss her. He had to bite his lip to suppress the urge as she fastened his suit jacket and smoothed the fabric over his shoulders.
She handed him his top hat and let him place it on his head before she passed him a cane. He was about to walk away when she called him back.
“I need to adjust your hat, can you crouch for me?” She asked.
He didn’t. Instead, he put his hands on her waist and lifted her up until she was at eye level. She barely held in a giggle as she tilted his hat slightly towards his right eye. He put her down and she surveyed him a final time.
“Perfect,” She pronounced.
“Likewise,” He said under his breath as he headed towards the stairs to the runway.
Marinette was on cloud nine.
She had just completed her first fashion show for fashion week and it had been a massive success.
A massive runway had been constructed over the fountains in Jardins du Trocadéro so that the Eiffel Tower herself served as a backdrop to the stage. As soon as it fell dark, the tower was lit up and the floodlights turned on, each following their cue to the second. The music began and the models started to walk.
The atmosphere backstage was electric and she would be buzzing for days. Each number followed perfectly and the precision changes she and the dressers had practised worked exactly as they had rehearsed. The only snag was right at the end when one of the models ripped open a hem by catching his foot in it. Gina got him sewn up and on the catwalk with time to spare, but it meant Marinette had to dress Adrien for the finale instead.
Before she left, she found Marcel. She wanted to thank him for all the guidance he’d given her during her internship.
“Goodbye, Marcel. Thank you for everything.” She said. “It has been a joy to work with you.”
“I’ll see you on Monday, Marinette,” Marcel hugged her.
“Wait, what? Why are you going to see me on Monday?” She was confused, did she miss something?
“Haute Couture Week starts on the 1st July, I’m not doing it without you,” Marcel stated.
“For real?! You’re extending my internship?”
“No, I’m offering you a permanent job, Miss Dupain-Cheng.” Marcel smiled. “In the space of two weeks, you have become utterly indispensable to me. I’m hiring you as my assistant.”
Marinette was speechless. She could only gawp at him.
“Thank you,” She managed to squeak.
He laughed. “Have a good weekend, Marinette. I’ll see you bright and early on Monday morning.”
She spun around and bumped into Adrien.
“Did you know?!” She squealed.
“Know what?” Adrien looked perplexed.
“Marcel has just offered me a job as his assistant.”
“Wow, Mari, that’s huge! Congratulations!” He hugged her so hard he lifted her feet off the ground.
She just hoped Nathaniel would be as pleased for her.
Every time he didn’t look at her, she felt her heart crumble a little more.
All she wanted was for him to acknowledge her, even if it was to shout and scream at her. It would be better than this. It was like she didn’t exist to him any more and that was the worst punishment he could inflict on her.
Give him space right now… Marinette advised.
She was right, Chloe couldn’t break through the shield he’d put up and she knew that trying too hard would only make things worse. Chloe was used to getting whatever she wanted, but Nathaniel was more complicated and precious than any mere possession, he was everything. She would give him all the space she could manage to ensure he came back to her in the end.
You need to make a gesture... She drummed her manicured nails on her desk as she considered what that gesture could be.
Chloe was in awe of Nathaniel’s talent and passion for art, she could listen to him speak about it for hours, watching the light dance on his face as he enthused about his favourite artists and works that inspired him.
...Artists like Georges Braque. Her eyes alighted on the cubism book she bought during their visit to Musée National d'Art Moderne at the start of last week.
Yes. This felt right.
This would be how she could show him what his friendship meant to her.
He didn’t know why he did it. It just felt right.
“We should celebrate,” He suggested. “How would you like to go to the ball on Saturday as my plus one?”
“Well, Nathaniel will be there, and Nino, Alya, Chloe and me. Instead of feeling like Cinderella left behind, let me be your fairy godmother.” Adrien insisted.
“Are you sure?” Marinette asked.
“If you want it, the ticket is yours,” He smiled. “I’ll arrange everything; dress, shoes, hair, makeup, the lot. Text me when you wake up tomorrow and you shall go to the ball.”
“Thank you Adrien,” Tears of happiness welled in her eyes. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
Adrien climbed the stairs to Marinette’s apartment as Plagg buzzed around his head.
“Do you think she’ll have cheese?” He asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never thought to ask her.” Adrien rolled his eyes.
“You need to sort out your priorities.”
“Yes, Plagg, I’m the one whose priorities are skewed.” Adrien was still amazed by his kwami’s capacity to eat.
He raised his hand to knock on Marinette’s door as someone opened it. It was Nathaniel. His eyes narrowed when he saw Adrien.
“Hey, Nath, how are you?” Adrien greeted him.
Nathaniel didn’t reply, he turned to Marinette and said goodbye before kissing her passionately, his fingers tangled in her hair and her body arched into his. When he pulled away, they both looked flushed and breathless. Adrien felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and jealousy boiled in the pit of his stomach.
At that, he left the flat without a word to Adrien.
“He’s still upset with me, then?” Adrien deduced.
Marinette looked regretful, “Yes. And Chloe. Actually, he’s a little mad at me, too.”
“What did you do?”
“Forgave you.” She explained, “He thinks I’m being a pushover.”
“Oh.” Adrien considered this. “Did I take advantage of our partnership?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, now that we know we have… history… as Chat Noir and Ladybug, maybe you are quick to forgive and forget because of how it might affect us as a team?” He suggested.
She leaned back against the kitchen counter, contemplating this. “Maybe? Is it wrong that I want to see the best in my partner, though?”
“Not at all, Marinette. Your ability to focus on the good is nothing to be ashamed of,” Tikki settled on her shoulder. “Of course, you are probably more forgiving of Adrien than others, on account of your bond. From the outside, though, it must be difficult for Nathaniel to understand. He doesn’t have your perspective on it.”
“Wait, bond? What bond?” Adrien asked.
Plagg swooped in. “You two are inter-connected, yin and yang, you have an understanding with each other that runs deeper than a normal relationship. It’s instinctual. That’s why you’re so in synch during battle.”
“Yin and Yang?” Marinette repeated.
“Yes, water and fire, moon and sun, femininity and masculinity. Interrelated, interdependent …” Plagg continued.
“Soulmates,” Tikki finished.
That word hung in the air between them as they considered its connotations. The air was so thick that Adrien felt like he should be able to see it move.
“...Did you ask her about the cheese yet?” Plagg asked Adrien in a stage whisper, utterly ruining the moment for everyone.
“If you’d rather look for another job, be my guest,” Jacques Potins laughed smugly.
Alya wanted to punch him square in his self-satisfied face, but she really needed to stay calm.
“That’s not what I’m saying, Jacques, I just want to write something of consequence every now and then. I’m the creator of the Ladyblog, why can’t I report on their activity for the paper?” She pleaded her case.
“Because I’m paying you as a gossip writer. You should be proud of what you do, not many twenty-three-year-olds have their own column in a newspaper. If you think it’s beneath you though… There’s the door.”
“I’m not… I just…” She sighed.
Words were her thing, the way she made a living. Right now, when they mattered, she couldn’t find the ones she needed. She opened her mouth but no sound came out.
“I thought so. Tell me what your plan is for this ball, then. I’ll need something juicy for the Sunday edition.” Her editor leaned forward with his elbows on his desk.
“Well, Chloe Bourgeois is hosting it so you can guarantee that something will go down.” She laughed bitterly. “I will leave no stone unturned, Jacques, I promise.”
“Excellent work, Alya.”
Nathalie helped him convince his father to let Marinette pick a dress from his boutique off Place Vendôme. She reasoned that it would be expected for Adrien’s date for the ball to turn up wearing Gabriel. She would be photographed with him on their way in, which would be great exposure. Nathalie said the right things; she knew that Gabriel never turned down an opportunity to get publicity for one of his creations. He immediately arranged an appointment with the boutique manager.
When Marinette emerged from the fitting room wearing it, he knew instantly that this was The Dress. He momentarily lost his ability to breathe.
It had a silk strapless sweetheart bodice in a blue the same shade as her eyes. It was ruched towards the left-hand side of her waist and where the material was gathered, diamantes and faux sapphires formed the shape of a butterfly. The full, floor-length skirt flared out from her waist, dozens of layers of pale blue tulle giving the dress a fairy tale princess silhouette. Clear glass beads were strategically scattered over the skirt so that it appeared to sparkle in the light.
As awe-inspiring as the dress was, though, it couldn't dim Marinette’s beauty - it only enhanced it. Her eyes twinkled more brightly and face shone. She was a vision.
“Adrien, this is beautiful, I can’t…”
“Yes,” He stopped her. “You can. You’re breathtaking, you have to let Nathaniel see you in this.”
“I wouldn’t say breathtaking, but…” She blushed.
“I would.” He stood behind her and angled her shoulders so she was facing the full-length mirror. “Look at yourself, you’re magnificent, Mari. Say you’ll wear it?”
She bit her lip, “Okay. I’ll wear it. Thank you, Adrien.”
“I’m confused,” Tom admitted. “I thought she was dating the artist boy, Nathaniel.”
“She is” Sabine explained patiently. “Adrien is escorting her to the ball so she can spend the evening with Nathaniel.”
He didn’t look convinced. “You’ve never been a twenty-something male so let me make this clear. A boy doesn’t invite you to a fancy ball, take you dress shopping and escort you to visit your parents at their bakery for another man's benefit. Not unless he wants something.”
“Like croissants?” She suggested with a twinkle in her eye.
“You may think you’re funny, Sab,” The reluctant smile on his face proving that he agreed. “But Adrien is more than just a good friend to her and I think he’s looking for more from her now, too.”
She nodded. “I’ll have a mother-daughter heart-to-heart with her. Make sure she knows what she’s doing.”
The bell on the door jingled as Marinette and Adrien pushed through it, the latter carrying the biggest garment bag Sabine had ever seen. The pair smiled, exhilarated by their day together. They turned their grins onto Tom and Sabine.
“Maman, papa! How are you?” Marinette kissed each of her parents.
“Wait, I know you,” Tom teased. “Aren’t you the new assistant to legendary tailor, Marcel Fringues?”
Marinette beamed with joy, laughing at her father’s joke and behind her, Sabine noticed Adrien’s chest swell with pride as a dopey look glazed over his eyes. Tom was right, this boy wanted more than friendship with her daughter.
Outside, a shout sounded from the direction of Pont au Change and people started running past the bakery.
“Quick, papa, the shutters!” Marinette took control. “Adrien, we should, uh, take my dress up to my old room.”
He nodded vehemently and the pair disappeared up the stairs.
“Well, looks like they won’t be back for a while,” Sabine noted.
“In the middle of an akuma attack?!” Tom was incredulous.
“Because of the akuma attack…” Sabine waited for Tom to catch on. He continued to stare blankly. “Never mind. They’ll be fine, trust me.”
Ladybug and Chat Noir landed simultaneously on the bridge and looked around for the reason for the crowds running away from this point. There was nobody to be seen.
“Are we in the wrong place, Bugaboo?”
“I don’t think so. Are we looking at an invisible akuma?”
“So to speak…”
She was about to tell him off for making stupid jokes when something rose out of the water. Half person, half rowboat. She had oars for arms and legs, a long fibreglass body and a furious expression on her face.
“I am Water Boatwoman! You will not tell me I can’t be on the team just because I’m a woman!” She shouted.
Her oars came crashing down on the bridge close to Chat. Ladybug threw her yo-yo and pulled him towards her.
“Thanks, cats aren’t exactly fans of water.” He kissed her hand.
“Focus, kitty,” She pushed him away by his nose. “It looks like we’re going pond dipping.”
“Time to make a splash, M’Lady.”
She groaned. He was a ridiculous dork in and out of the mask.
Water Boatwoman returned to the water and moved with surprising speed along the Seine. Ladybug and Chat Noir were running flat out to keep up.
“We need her to stop running. We need to get her to fight.” Chat called over to her.
“How?” She shouted.
“Quick! On the bridge!” Chat pointed to a figure on Pont Royal, hanging over the side, phone in both hands, filming the action.
She would be knocked into the river when Water Boatwoman reached her.
Ladybug growled in annoyance, “Damn it, Alya!”
“Need a boost?” Chat extended his staff towards her.
Ladybug stood on the staff and Chat propelled her through the air with all his might. She flew through the air over the top of where Alya was standing. Swinging her yo-yo, she managed to wrap the string around Alya’s waist before retracting it, yanking her friend into the air and catching her before redirecting her yo-yo towards the hotel opposite, slowing their progress to a stop on the banks of the river.
“You know, you can’t file your story if you’re dead, right?” Ladybug chided Alya.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying, LB,” Alya grinned devilishly. “Don’t need any help today?”
“Please, just… stay safe.”
She swung her yo-yo again and caught up with Chat Noir, who was pacing on Pont de la Concorde.
“She’s too fast, Bug. We’ll never catch her.” He shook his head.
“We have to,” She said and shouted. “Lucky Charm!”
A kid’s science kit fell into her arms and she smiled as a plan formed in her mind. She scanned her surroundings, looking for everything she would need to make this idea work. A large water canteen lay on the deck of a narrowboat on Port de la Concorde. She grabbed it and checked that it was empty.
Opening the science kit, she found the white powder she was looking for and tipped it into the canteen before replacing the lid. She tossed it into the air.
“Batter up!” She called to Chat, who struck the canteen with his staff, sending it flying up the Seine, landing in the water ahead of Water Boatwoman.
Lassoing Chat, she propelled him in the same direction, using her yo-yo to transport herself as far as Passerelle Debilly. Meanwhile, she heard Chat shout “Cataclysm!” and destroy the canteen, releasing a massive quantity of water gel into the Seine where their foe was swimming, turning the liquid into a solid.
Landing on the bridge, she jumped out into the river and onto the oar that had replaced Water Boatwoman’s right arm. It snapped and the offending butterfly flew out. She purified the akuma and tossed the remainder of the science set into the sky to reverse Hawk Moth’s havoc.
The akuma victim transformed into a small, strong-looking young woman dressed in a rowing club polo shirt, still clutching her oar to herself. Ladybug crouched down to check on her.
“They said I couldn’t join the team,” She woman said meekly. “I’m just a girl.”
“I think we all know that women are capable of everything a man can do,” Ladybug flashed a look at Chat Noir.
“And some,” He agreed. “Start your own team and beat the other guys. Show them what you’re made of by making them eat your dust… or, water.”
The woman smiled, “Thank you.”
“Oh, and if you want to speak to a reporter about it, expose the gender inequality in your club? There’s a great one over there,” Ladybug pointed to the banks of the river where Alya was jogging to catch up with the action.
“I come bearing pastries,” Marinette pushed open the door to the meeting room that Nathaniel was using as a workshop.
He looked up from the conference table and smiled. “You’re just in time to see my banners.”
All Marinette knew about the banners was that Nathaniel was excited about them. He had spent the week painting his own cubist inspired creation to be made into three enormous vinyl banners to be hung in the ballroom and outside the hotel. It was an incredible chance to showcase his art to a huge audience (and a wealthy one at that).
He unfurled the banner and Marinette gasped. “Nathaniel! It’s amazing.”
She squeezed his hand and nodded as she examined his work. On a yellow background, read the words, ‘Le Grand Paris présente: Un Gala du Solstice d'été’. The painting, vivid and strong, was rendered in white, black, yellow and blue. She tilted her head and focused on the detailing, she felt sadness and hurt on behalf of the subject. Picking out a blue eye, yellow hair, a proud mouth, she worked out who she was looking at.
“It’s Chloe,” She deduced.
He nodded, chin set in that obstinate expression that Marinette was growing tired of seeing these days.
“Why is she so sad?” She asked.
“What do you mean?” Nathaniel looked at her.
She turned to face him, “I mean, she looks upset, did you project your own pain on her when you painted it or is she genuinely this heartbroken right now?”
He shrugged. “Why should I care?”
“Come on, Nath. The reason you’re so angry at her is precisely because you care so much.” She appealed to him.
“Did. I did care about her.” He corrected her.
“Miss Bustier once said something to me that stuck in my head, she said ‘people like Chloe are capable of great things. The problem is, they only think of themselves. They don't understand the meaning of love.’ Now Chloe has learned to love, and she loves you, Nath.” Marinette held his face in her hands, looking him in the eye. “She’s been hurt so many times in her life by people who should have shown her love. Don’t stomp on her potential for greatness because you got your feelings hurt.”
He groaned. “Invoking Miss Bustier is a low blow, you know?”
“I’m aware. It felt like time for the big guns, though.” She smiled.
He hugged her and she felt some of the tension in his shoulders ease. Marinette was hopeful that he was finally softening to the idea of forgiving Chloe and Adrien.
“I wish you could be there tonight, Mari.” He sighed. “It’s not going to be any fun without you.”
She kept holding him, not wanting him to see her smirk, “I wish I could be there, too.”
“What are you going to do instead?”
“Juleka and Rose are coming over to maman and papa’s and we’re hanging out.” Which was true, Juleka was doing her makeup and Rose had volunteered to style her hair.
“Have fun,” He kissed her on the top of her head. “I’ll come over tomorrow morning to see you.”
“It’s a date.”
Alya ran her hands down her dress, smoothing the chiffon fabric. It wasn’t hugely creased, but she hung it in her bathroom so the steam from her shower could release the wrinkles that were there.
Marinette made her the dress last year. She was going to her cousin’s wedding and needed something to wear. Just a few days after mentioning it to her friend, she turned up with the orange ombre fitted maxi dress. The plunging neckline and deep v back flattered her curves and the long gathered skirt pooled around her feet, adding a romantic touch. She didn’t ask her to make it, she didn’t have to; Marinette understood her and knew what she needed.
So what went wrong? How had she managed to drive away her beloved Nino and distance herself from her dearest friend at the same time?
Nino would be working at the ball tonight, too, perhaps she could speak to him. Jacques expected her to network, schmooze and root out scandal all night, but a girl needed a break at some point, surely?
Maybe she could catch up with Marinette in the week? Now that Fashion Week was over, she’d have some free time.
“Mademoiselle, your dress has been delivered,” Jean-Michel informed her, handing over the garment bag.
She took it into her dressing room, hanging it on the back of the door before unzipping it.
The dressmaker had taken her vision and performed a miracle. Chloe was going to be the talk of the ball.
Hopefully, she’d capture the attention of the sweet young artist whose feelings she’d hurt so much, too.
Nino was organising his photography equipment when he heard Adrien arrive home. Vincent was trusting him to get reportage-style photos from the ball so that he could concentrate on the formal shots that every guest would pose for as they arrived at the hotel. He usually favoured his 50mm lens for portrait shots but was debating whether the f/2.8 aperture would be suitable for low light. He decided to take a second camera with an 85mm f/1.2 as well.
A soft knock on the door distracted him.
“Come in, bro, I’m just sorting out my cameras for tonight.” He called.
Adrien entered, carrying a suit carrier which he hung in Nino’s wardrobe.
“That’s for tonight,” Adrien said. “Chloe is insisting that everyone wear white tie, including photographers and reporters and I didn’t think you had tails.”
“Thanks, man.” Nino smiled. “You looking forward to your date with Marinette?”
“It’s not a date.”
“Sure,” he smirked.
Adrien crossed his arms. “It’s not. I had a plus one and she wanted to see Nathaniel’s work. It’s a convenient arrangement.”
“It only convenient because you get to take Mari to the ball and you get to pretend it’s entirely noble,” Nino suggested.
“No… I. Okay, it’s a little bit that, but it’s still not a date, Nino,” He finally admitted.
Nino shook his head and felt compelled to warn his friend. “Your secret’s safe with me, dude, but Alya’s on duty tonight so make sure she doesn’t catch on or you and Mari are going to make headlines.”
“I’ll be on my best behaviour, I promise.”
Rose stood back and surveyed her girlfriend’s handiwork. Marinette was pretty anyway, but Juleka had enhanced her natural beauty in such a skillful way that their petite friend was now a jaw-dropping stunner.
A smoky eye in grey and silver, with just a touch of vivid blue under the lower lashes, made her eyes seem more intensely blue than usual. The shape of her almond eyes was emphasised with dark grey liquid liner and mascara took her lashes to such lengths that they almost touched her eyebrows. Juleka added the sheerest amount of pink blusher and added glossy peachy-pink lipstick. She was adding a soft gold highlight to the highpoints of her cheeks and finishing the look with a setting spray when Rose stepped in to start removing the rollers.
Marinette’s hair fell around her shoulders in soft ringlets and Rose considered leaving it down. She parted her hair on the side, sweeping her bangs across her forehead in the same direction, before styling Marinette’s black tresses into a loose braided bun. She pulled tendrils out of the do, letting them fall around her face, softening the look. Copious amounts of hairspray followed.
While Juleka zipped Marinette into her dress, Rose kneeled down to fasten her ice blue strappy heels. White opera gloves and a silver satin clutch bag completed the transformation from Marinette to Belle Of The Ball.
The Ball - Part 1
This chapter just keeps on going so I'm going to post it in two parts!
Thanks for your amazing comments so far, they make me so happy :)
Sabine smiled at the nervous young man in front of her. She’d never seen the self-assured model look quite so uncertain about anything before. Tom had gone up to help Marinette downstairs since she couldn’t see her feet anymore and the risk of her falling over had now increased tenfold. That left Sabine and Adrien to have a little chat.
“I know she’s with Nathaniel, Mrs Cheng, I’m not looking to get in the way of that.” He tried to persuade her.
“Call me Sabine. And, I’m not accusing you of anything, but I think you might have already unconsciously gotten in the way. Marinette adores you and I can see that you feel the same about her. Just don’t hurt my little girl.” She said.
“I can keep my feelings in check, Sabine, I know I can.”
Tom pushed the door open and led Marinette into the hallway. Adrien’s mouth fell open and his eyes almost popped out of his head. Marinette was beautiful and Adrien was under her spell.
“Woah,” He breathed. “You look… stunning.”
She bowed her head demurely, accepting the compliment.
Adrien held out the box he’d been clutching. “Um, this is for you to wear. It was my mother’s and father said you could have it tonight.”
He opened the box and both Marinette and Sabine gasped. The necklace contained more diamonds than Sabine had ever seen in one place. It glittered in the light.
“Is it Art Nouveau?” Marinette managed to ask.
Adrien nodded. “It’s from the Belle Époque. My great-grandmother gifted to my mother for, uh, well, for her wedding. It was her something old.”
Tom looked at Sabine, his eyebrows momentarily disappearing into his hairline to convey the significance of such a necklace.
“It’s beautiful, Adrien. Shall I hold the box while you put it on her?” Sabine smiled kindly.
He passed her the box and carefully removed the necklace and unbuckled the clasp. He stood behind Marinette and put the necklace around her neck. Marinette pulled a few tendrils of hair free from the area. Adrien fastened the clasp and secured it with a little chain. When he was done, he lingered, unable to take his eyes off her neck and shoulders. His hands ghosted across her shoulders, a few millimetres from her skin.
Sabine cleared her throat and it broke the trance.
Marinette turned to Adrien, cheeks flushed, face glowing. “Shall we?”
As Marinette kissed her father goodbye and moved gracefully towards the door, Adrien turned to Sabine with panic in his eyes. This kid was in deep.
When they exited the limo, Marinette exhaled. She was sure she’d been holding her breath since Adrien put the necklace on her. His breath on her, the way he moved his hands across her shoulders, not quite touching her but still making all the hairs on her neck stand up. If her parents hadn’t been watching, it would have been the most romantic moment of her life.
Adrien- who looked like a prince in his black tailcoat, white shirt with mother of pearl studs, white waistcoat and bowtie- loaned her his mother’s necklace, the one she wore on her wedding day. It was like a fantasy. Except that Adrien wasn’t her boyfriend, Nathaniel was.
The red carpet on the concourse outside the hotel was lined with paparazzi. Flashbulbs and shouts to look at specific photographers were dizzyingly distracting. Adrien took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. She looked up at him and he winked and smiled before leading her through the gauntlet of cameras. At the door, they turned and posed for a few seconds before retreating into the sanctuary of the hotel lobby.
“Wow, Chloe has worked magic in here.”
“Right?” Adrien agreed, awestruck.
Spotlights, mounted on the two most central columns, projected a Mondrian-esque pattern onto the walls. Servers milled around, offering guests geometrically shaped canapes from bright acrylic trays. Even the champagne flutes were rectangular.
Across the room, Nino captured their reverential stares as they took it all in.
“I spy Nathaniel,” Adrien pointed to the alcove by the stairs when an enormous floral arrangement usually stood.
Damn. White tie was a good look on him, too.
“We should go over,” She said. “Why am I so nervous all of a sudden?”
He squeezed her hand. “He’ll be delighted to see you.”
Adrien let her go ahead, possibly reticent to encounter Nathaniel if he was still butthurt about the whole tried-to-come-between-us thing. She approached, waiting until she was a metre away before clearing her throat and making herself known.
“I believe you made a wish?” She said.
Nathaniel made a noise, somewhere between a yelp and a cheer. “You’re here?! Wow, you look beautiful!”
She nodded, “Cinderella got to go to the ball, didn't she? So do I.”
“Same as Cindy, I have a fairy godmother.” She pointed to where Adrien was loitering awkwardly.
“He did that for you?” Nath half-laughed.
“He did it for you, too. He wanted us to spend the evening together.” She explained.
Nathaniel waved Adrien over and shook his hand. “Thanks, man. I can’t believe you did this for us, you’re one of the good guys.”
“I think that means you’re forgiven,” Marinette winked at him.
Nathaniel poked her in the ribs and all three of them laughed. It wasn’t a completely comfortable moment, though, and Marinette considered that Nathaniel, Adrien and she hadn’t ever spent time together without Chloe, Nino, Alya or other friends there. Now she knew why; it felt weirdly strained, like everyone was trying too hard.
A waiter passed by and offered them champagne, they all took a glass, grateful for something to distract them.
“It looks amazing in here, Nath. I can’t wait to see the ballroom.” Marinette tried to break the awkwardness.
“I’ve never really got cubism,” Adrien admitted, slightly embarrassed. “Explain it to me.”
Marinette opened her mouth to speak, but someone behind her interrupted.
“The cubists believed that 3D realism was trickery and it didn’t give the viewer a true experience of the object. They broke the world into flat geometric objects to emphasise the two-dimensionality of the canvas.” Chloe said, descending the stairs behind them. “I should have known that a man who placed such an importance on honesty and integrity in art would expect it in life, too. I don’t know when you’ll be ready to forgive me, but I want you to know that I’ve learned my lesson, Nath. I’m ready to be truthful with you.”
She stood in the centre of the staircase, one hand on her hip, waiting for his reaction. Marinette’s jaw dropped. Chloe was wearing a floor length, white satin ballgown. The material shone and looked silver in the bright lights of the lobby. The high-necked bodice was shaped like the body of a guitar, cut out at the waist. The centre of the bodice depicted the guitar’s strings and the area was sheer from neck to waist. The gathered skirt fell in ruffles that were higher on the right of the dress, revealing the many layers of fabric underneath. Her hair was rolled into a French twist that was utterly flawless. A cube-shaped bracelet and triangular drop earrings finished the look.
“Damn, Chloe. As gestures go, this one is tremendous.” She gasped appreciatively. Adrien looked impressed but confused. “It’s a guitar. Like Georges Braque painted.”
Chloe turned to face Nathaniel, appealing to him. His expression softened, genuinely touched by the effort she’d made for him.
Adrien put his arm on her arm. “We should let these two talk. Come on, let’s go make faces at Nino.”
Alya didn’t know that Marinette was coming to the ball. Last she checked, her friend was bemoaning lack of money and fast-selling tickets. Yet, here she was, arriving on Adrien Agreste’s arm, even though (as far as Alya knew) she was still dating Nathaniel. And Marinette had the gall to judge Alya and Nino’s open relationship!
She and Marinette hadn’t spoken since Alya stormed out of Adrien’s flat and she didn’t have the emotional energy she needed to tackle that particular mountain right now. Instead, she snapped a photo of Marinette and Adrien hanging off each other, laughing as they distracted Nino from his job.
As much as she didn’t want to face them, she had a job to do and Adrien was a celebrity. She came up behind them, clearing her throat as she got close. On seeing her, Nino made his escape to capture the action elsewhere.
“Hey, guys. It’s gorgeous here, right?” She smiled.
“Hi,” Marinette tilted her body towards Adrien, her shoulder behind his arm like she was expecting him to have to jump in between the two women at some point.
“I love your dress,” Alya continued. “Did you make it yourself?”
“I wish,” Marinette laughed. “It’s a Gabriel.”
“Wow, that’s quite the gift, Sunshine.”
“Well, if Gabriel can’t allow one of his most promising new employees to wear one of his creations when she escorts his son to a ball, who can he?” Adrien winked at Marinette.
“I’ve been hired as Marcel Fringues’s assistant.” She explained. “I start Monday.”
“Congrats.” Alya couldn’t keep the icy tone from her voice. It hurt that she was only just learning this, not long ago, it would be the sort of thing Marinette would have shared with her immediately. “So, are you two going to admit to dating now?”
“Alya,” Marinette sighed. “What are you doing?”
“My job.” Alya stood tall, cheeks burning at having to ask these questions, indignant that she didn’t already know this about her supposed best friend. “Are you? Dating?”
“Nope.” Marinette’s mouth made a popping sound as she over-pronounced the word.
“Is that true?” She turned to Adrien.
“Yup.” That popping sound again.
“So you have no comment to make?” She pressed.
“That depends. Are you asking as our friend, or as a journalist?” Adrien frowned.
“Which one would you be most likely to tell your story to?” She asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Bye-bye, Alya,” Marinette said. “We’ll talk later, when you’re not working.”
Burned, she walked away. She turned back and watched Adrien take Marinette’s hand and run his thumb over her knuckles. The look Marinette gave him was not one you give a friend. She snapped another photograph and made a few notes to accompany it.
Nathaniel couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was a vision.
And it was all for him. She had gone to all that effort to show him what he meant to her and Adrien had helped her do it. He’d misjudged him. All of his concerns and doubts from the past few weeks washed away.
Until Chloe arrived.
Until she made him realise that he was the threat to his relationship, not Adrien. It wasn’t Marinette’s old feelings that were the problem, it was how he felt for Chloe. Marinette was right when she said the reason he was so hurt by Chloe and that stupid plan was that he cared so much for her. Then, she said those things. Those sweet wonderful words that meant more to him than she could ever know.
“We should let these two talk. Come on, let’s go make faces at Nino.” Adrien read the situation.
Chloe looked as unsure of herself as she had in the creperie last week, before she blurted out her feelings for him. It was his turn to blurt tonight.
“I love you, too.” He said.
Her jaw dropped. “You do?”
“Yes. I do, and that’s why I was so angry.” He took her hand and held it against his heart. “This belongs to you.”
“You’re going to make me cry and I spent too long having my makeup done for that.” She sniffed.
He laughed. “We can’t have that, can we?” He paused. “I have to speak to Marinette.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Chloe announced. “Welcome to Le Grand Paris and the midsummer’s ball. Please, make your way to the ballroom”
Adrien held his arm out to her and she linked hers into it. They followed the rest of the guests through the now open ballroom doors. Inside, Marinette stopped in her tracks.
Nathaniel’s banners hung on either side of the stage, Chloe’s heart-wrenching portrait on display for all to admire. In the centre of every table, gravity defying strings of geometric shapes lit the room with a colourful glow. The white dancefloor was decorated with a yellow grid; blue, grey and red boxes interrupted the lines.
“It’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie,” She told Adrien. “This is tremendous. I won’t be surprised if Nathaniel is hired to design every gala here after this.”
“I’m with you,” Adrien gazed around. “I’ve been to more than my fair share of these balls and this is beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.”
As if saying his name had summoned him, Nathaniel appeared at her elbow. “Can we talk?”
Adrien squeezed her arm and pointed across the room. “Our table’s over there, I’ll see you in a bit.”
She nodded before turning her attention back to Nathaniel. He kept adjusting the cuffs of his shirt and he looked uncomfortable.
“Is everything okay, Nath?” She touched his hand, trying to still his nervous fidgeting.
“Uh, I’m not sure. It’s… Well, it’s Chloe. I have feelings for her, too.” He stared at the skirt of her dress, not willing to look her in the eye.
“And what do you want to do about it?” She asked.
“I don’t know.”
She lifted his chin between thumb and forefinger, making him look at her. “Well, which one of us makes your heart jump in your chest at the mention of her name? Who makes your palms sweaty and your head spin? Which one of us infuriates you and delights you in the very same moment?”
“It’s… I don’t know, Marinette.” The restless cuff adjusting started again.
“Yes, you do. Your heart is already crying out her name, listen to it.”
He screwed his eyes shut and Marinette let silence fall between them as he tried to figure out what she already knew.
“I’m sorry, Mari. It’s Chloe.”
“Then what are you waiting for?!” She smiled.
“What about you?” He asked, concerned.
“I’ll be fine. I think we both know that the minute Chloe and Adrien admitted their love for us, we haven’t been entirely present in this relationship. I care so much about you, Nath, but I don’t love you like she loves you. Go get her.”
He hugged her hurriedly and rushed off to join Chloe at the lead table. She watched him leave and felt a mixture of melancholy and relief wash over her. She did care about him, but she was never in love with him. Chloe adored him and she could already see that they brought out the best in each other. A look around the spectacular ballroom was proof that they made an unstoppable team.
Through his viewfinder, Nino watched Alya. She looked sad, lost and, in spite of everything, he felt sorry for her.
Things had only changed after she got the job at the newspaper. No, it changed after her new job prevented her from catching live footage of Ladybug and Chat Noir defeating another akuma. The Ladyblog had to rely on footage shot by its readers. Alya retreated into herself; she felt like her day job was encroaching on her dream job.
They stopped sharing about their days because Alya didn’t want to talk about it. When they stopped talking as much, home life became strained. She finally came out from her dark cloud when she suggested the open relationship. He agreed because he didn’t want to lose her, he was afraid he already had.
Like everything she did, though, she ran away with it and let it get out of control. When she brought that date back to theirs, he knew she’d taken it too far and he had to get some space. He still loved her, still cared about her welfare and right now, she looked friendless and alone.
He should talk to her. At least say hi.
“Nino, great work so far,” Vincent slapped his hand on Nino’s shoulder. “Now we work the ballroom. I will take shots of each of the tables and the speakers on the stage, you keep taking candid photos of the guests.”
He could talk to her later.
Five men stood as she approached her table. She couldn’t help but smile at the adherence to tradition and the sense of occasion. Adrien held out her chair for her, pushing it under the table once she was seated.
To her left, Marcel Fringues smiled at her. “Fancy seeing you here, my dear.”
“Marcel! I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Of course,” He shrugged. “M. Agreste doesn’t do social occasions but always buys a table at this event so it has become an annual tradition.”
“Nice. You look very dapper, I like the handkerchief,” She pointed to the brightly coloured two-tone pocket square in his breast pocket. He had folded into a two-point square and each point looked a different colour in the low light,
He nodded his thanks. “I’m forgetting myself, let me introduce you to everyone else.”
One by one, Marcel presented her to the other Gabriel representatives at the table. Next to Marcel sat his husband, Adam who greeted her warmly.
“I’ve never heard Marcel so enthusiastic about an intern during Fashion Week,” He smiled. “You must have something special.”
Next, Mme Ouvrage- who insisted she call her Anaïs now that they were colleagues -and her husband Remy. Lastly, Jean and Mimi, Gabriel’s Head Buyer and his fiancée, who also worked for Gabriel in the finance department.
“And, of course, you know Adrien,” Marcel grinned as Adrien winked cheekily at her.
Introductions over, the group fell easily into a discussion about the Men’s Week show, dissecting their performance. Adam was a journalist and had been at the show so he was able to give the perspective of the audience. All present deemed it an enormous success.
“We were more organised than ever before,” Marcel said. “Thanks to Marinette, I’m sure.”
“I’ve never known the atmosphere backstage to be so calm,” Adrien added. “It was still busy and the adrenaline was definitely going, but there was no panic.”
“Your girlfriend keeps her head in an emergency,” Anaïs commented.
“Oh, no.” Adrien corrected her. “We’re not… She has a boyfriend.”
Marinette spoke up, “Actually, as of ten minutes ago, she doesn’t have a boyfriend.”
A chorus of ‘aw’s and ‘oh no!’s sounded around the table and she could help but giggle at the sympathetic expressions regarding her.
“It’s fine, honestly. There’s someone else he’s better suited for and I didn’t want to stand in the way of their happiness.” She assured them.
“Do you want me to kick his ass?” Adrien asked.
She snorted with laughter. “Thanks, but if he needs his ass kicked, I can do it myself. I could use a friend right now, though.”
“That I can do,” He beamed.
Her fingers were threatening to cramp up as she live blogged the speeches. She couldn’t keep up with the comments and replies, she’d have to respond to them later, doing it now would only slow her down.
The surprise speaker was Jagged Stone, talking about the significance of fashion in rock and roll. Of course, he mentioned Marinette and those stupid Eiffel Tower glasses. The Gabriel table exploded with applause for her when he referenced them.
The Gabriel table. Her new colleagues. Because, obviously, she was continuing to shine and impress everyone she met and that had opened yet another door for her. Unless Adrien had opened this one? There was more to their relationship than met the eye and Alya was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Yeah, she knew she was jealous but Marinette was always so lucky and Alya was struggling to make her dreams happen. She and Marinette were meant to reach these milestones together, especially in their first jobs. It was meant to be the first rung on the ladder towards dominating the fields of fashion and investigative journalism. Instead, Alya was stuck in a role that didn’t fulfil her, while Marinette caught the attention of the legendary Marcel Fringues and fell into a job at the most sought after fashion house in Paris.
It wasn’t fair.
Nino had his internship with Vincent, Nathaniel was showcasing his art at the biggest annual event in Paris society, Chloe was acing it as an events planner, Adrien was still rocking as a model and would surely have a role in his father’s company whenever that ended, Juleka was a promising makeup artist, Rose was apprenticing with a perfumier… The list went on.
Her life was unravelling at the seams while all her friends were all on the rise. It was understandable that she was resentful.
It’s just that she was the only one who agreed.
He should feel worse that Marinette and Nathaniel were no longer a couple but he couldn’t. It meant he got to share the first dance with her instead.
Her hand was on the back of his neck instead of her shoulder and he held her around the waist. They were close, though not as close as their first dance together in this hotel. In other ways, they were closer than ever before. Their friendship had grown stronger during Marinette’s internship and, before that, through supporting Nino through his relationship crisis.
Then it occurred to him. Alya was her best friend and she hadn’t spoken to her since their argument at the flat a week ago. Now Nathaniel had broken up with her to be with another woman. When she said she could use a friend right now, she wasn’t kidding. He pulled her closer until they were almost hugging.
He wanted to protect her from the world, even though he knew she could take care of herself. She might be the defender of Paris but that didn’t mean she didn’t need someone to look after her sometimes. As her partner, that was his job and he vowed to always be there for her.
“I love you, Mari,” He whispered in her ear.
She looked up at him, lips parted. He continued before she could speak, “I know you need a friend and I’m here for you. I’ll be your shoulder to cry on, your punching bag, an ear to chew off or whatever else you need right now. And, when I feel like I’ve waited the appropriate length of post-breakup-mourning time, I’m going to ask you out on a date. Is that okay?”
She laughed and it was music to his ears. “That sounds perfect. Thank you, Adrien.”
“And, I love you too, you massive dork.” She grinned, blushing at finally admitting it aloud.
“That’s better,” He chortled.
Then, they carried on dancing. Nothing more needed to be said.
“Hey,” Alya replied, not looking him in the face.
“How’s the gossip tonight? Anything newsworthy?” Nino tried to engage her.
Her body language was defensive and he knew he was unlikely to break down any walls. He had to try, though.
“Oh, I don’t know… How about the fact that Marinette is working for Marcel Fringues now? Or that she’s wearing a €15,000 Gabriel dress tonight? Maybe that diamond mine on her neck is worth reporting? What about Nathaniel being high society’s favourite young artist? Or that in spite of the fact that everyone insists that Mari and Nathaniel are a couple, the dancefloor looks like this.” She pointed to where Marinette was gazing lovingly at Adrien as he patiently tried to teach her how to waltz and Chloe and Nathaniel were nuzzling each other affectionately.
“Yeah, well, those four are… complicated,” Nino admitted. “But all the rest you could have known if you just spoke to Mar.”
“How could I do that when you’ve turned her against me?”
“No, Al. You know that’s not what happened,” He stood his ground “If anything, you pushed her away because you knew she couldn’t support you to self-destruct like you’re doing.”
“How dare you,” Alya’s eyes narrowed. “You know nothing.”
“That’s true. But only because you chose not to include me in your life. In our life, Al. Start letting people in and maybe they’ll share their lives with you again.”
Y'all. I know. I'm so sorry about Alya. Imma try to fix her, I promise.
Phew, we've reached part 3 of the ball!
Carriages were at 1am. As the double doors opened and the guests started to spill out onto the street, Chloe grabbed Adrien and Marinette by their elbows, pulling them back.
“The paparazzi are out in force.” She warned them. “Do you want to hang back for a while to avoid the worst of them?”
She looked at Adrien who shrugged and nodded. He was used to photographers, and even if he didn’t like them, he’d accepted them as part of his life. She wasn’t so used to it and was grateful for the opportunity to skip it.
“Thanks, Chloe, we’d appreciate that.” She said.
“Can I invite Nino?”Adrien asked.
“Sure, whomever,” Chloe waved dismissively and led Nathaniel to the lift.
Adrien went to find Nino to give him the news and Marinette opened her bag to check on Tikki. She found her kwami sleeping, snuggled next to Plagg. She closed it carefully, leaving the magical creatures to their cuteness. When she looked up, she saw Alya making her way over.
Steeling herself for more coldness, she attempted a warm smile but it might have just as easily been a grimace.
“If you’re not dating, why are you wearing Emilie Agreste’s necklace?” Alya came straight out with her question without even a perfunctory greeting.
“I had a lovely night, thanks for asking,” Marinette responded acerbically. “I’m wearing this necklace because Gabriel said to Adrien I could. Why do you care?”
“It’s very generous, considering you and Adrien aren’t a couple. I Googled it and it’s worth more than I earn in a year. Hell, more than I’d earn in five.
“We aren’t a couple, Alya,” Marinette insisted. “It hurts that you think I’d lie about this to you.”
“You’re not with Nath anymore, though, are you?” Alya pressed.
“And thanks for your concern, I’m coping just fine, with the support of my friends .” Marinette’s tone dripped with sarcasm.
“Care to make a statement about his new relationship with Chloe Bourgeois?” She held her recorder towards her and Marinette fought the urge to slap it out of her hands.
“No comment, Alya,” She spoke into the device then looked her friend (ex-friend?) in the eye. “If you’ll excuse me, I have friends who genuinely care about my wellbeing to hang out with. I’d invite you along, but I’m sure you have a story to file.”
“You look like you saw a ghost, Mari, what happened?”
“I had a run in with Alya,” She explained.
She was pale and a little shaky, whatever had been said wasn’t positive. Adrien pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. This height difference had its benefits.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked.
“Not right now.” She sighed and it was heavy with sadness and regret. “I will talk about soon, I promise. It’s just…”
“If you start, it’s all going to come flooding out and you’re not ready for that quite yet?”
“That’s disturbingly accurate, Adrien.” Marinette looked up, shocked. “Is there stuff you want to talk about too?”
He shrugged. “Probably, but not tonight.”
The lift arrived at Chloe’s level and they found Nathaniel and Chloe already there. Chloe was sprawled over one sofa, her dress taking up all the remaining room on the seat so Nathaniel was sitting on an armchair. It looked oddly formal until Marinette flopped next to him on the other sofa and Adrien was smothered in layers of skirt.
He moved to an armchair, too.
“So, this has the potential to be weird,” Nathaniel grimaced.
“It’s not going to be weird, though,” Marinette assured him and Chloe. “Anyone can see that you two are great together, I can’t begrudge that.”
“Besides,” Chloe reasoned. “Now that you and Adrien are a couple, it all worked out for the best.”
“Oh, we’re not a couple,” Adrien informed her.
Chloe sat up and stared at Adrien open-mouthed. “Why?”
“I’m about to start a job at Gabriel and I’d rather people weren’t speculating about whether I got the job because I’m sleeping with the boss’s son,” Marinette explained. “Besides, I rushed into things with Nath and it didn’t work out so I want to take my time with this.”
“You want to sleep with me?” Adrien spoke before thinking about what he was saying.
“Why is that what you heard?!” She shook her head at him.
Adrien was saved from explaining himself by Nino’s arrival. He was ashen when he entered the suite and Marinette recognised the symptoms immediately.
“Have you been talking with Alya?” She asked rhetorically.
“How did you know?”
“I was modelling a similar shell-shocked expression a few minutes ago.” She explained.
He shook his head. “I don’t understand her. She seems sad and angry and…”
“...utterly unapologetic?” She offered.
“Yes! Like she refuses to believe that she’s part of the problem. I’m happy to take some of the responsibility for our breakdown in communication, of course, it’s half my fault, but in order to share the blame, she has to take some, too.” He sighed.
Adrien hugged Nino. It was hard to know what else he could say or do. He wished there was more he could do for him, and for Marinette. In all of this, he felt like the only one who’d noticed that she lost her best friend.
“I know,” Chloe exclaimed. “Let’s get into our sweats, order junk food on room service and binge on Queer Eye. The sad people can cry at the emotional breakthroughs and I can judge their fashion choices.”
Sometimes, Chloe reminded Adrien why he stuck by her through her obnoxious phase. She had a massive heart and knew how to get her friends out of a funk. There was just one problem.
“I refuse to believe that you own sweats,” He said.
Chloe got that look, the one she got when somebody challenged her. One eyebrow raised and she flounced towards her bedroom. At the door, she stopped and turned to look at Marinette expectantly.
“Are you coming or not?” She demanded.
“Me? Oh, right.” Marinette looked a little shocked at being summoned by Chloe.
She tried to get up from her chair but a combination of tiredness and a massive skirt meant that ended up like an upturned turtle instead. Laughing, Nino and Adrien grabbed a hand each and lifted her to her feet.
Marinette squeaked her embarrassed thanks before Chloe dragged her into the bedroom and slammed the door behind them.
Marinette looked completely out of her comfort zone and Chloe didn’t blame her. The two of them were on better terms these days but they weren’t exactly best friends.
“Hey,” She needed to say this. “I just wanted to say that I really wasn’t trying to take him from you. In the end, I mean.”
Marinette put her hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “I know that, Chloe. Are you ever going to forgive yourself?”
Chloe took a deep breath through her nose and let it out through her mouth. “I can try.”
“You hold yourself to an impossible standard, you know that?” Marinette laughed.
“You’re one to talk,” Chloe shot back. “You’re such a perfectionist.”
“We’re more alike than either of us realised, huh?” Marinette smiled.
She was right. She and Marinette came to blows at school because they were so similar in many ways. All that wasted time…
“Right, now to something really important,” Chloe rooted around in her closet and returned with two pairs of fleece lounge pants. “Ladybug? Or Chat Noir?”
“Chat, please.” Marinette reached out for the black trousers.
“Oh, thank god, I was worried I was going to have to fight you for the Ladybug ones.”
“There’s no danger of that, I’m a big Chat Noir fan,” Marinette blushed at her admission.
“Do you… have a little crush?” Chloe asked.
“I have a big crush, but don’t spread it around. He’d get a big head if he found out.”