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Breathless Garden

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Two days earlier...

A tall figure hovered outside of the Rosé Café, fidgeting nervously with their sleeves. They struggled to decide between pulling them down to cover their hands and slip their thumbs through the thumb holes on the cuffs, or if they should simply shove the cuffs up to their elbows. They’d been fussing with their outfit all day, their apartment looking like a whirlwind blew through as they’d dumped half their wardrobe out in their bedroom to make a decent outfit. Honestly it had been a waste of time, as the end result was hardly any different from what they usually wore. Form disguising top, slim fitted trousers, and comfortable but at least somewhat trendy boots. Accessories were minimal, because with hair as flaming red as theirs it was difficult to find anything to pair with it. That and they hated attracting attention.

Except today was the one day they wanted to be noticed, at least by one very specific person. Taking a moment to steady their nerves, they took a few deep breaths, blowing it out slowly and making their overly long bangs flutter about their face. Peeking in the windows, it was hard to miss who they were looking for. Vibrant pink hair that paired so well with his darker complexion, it was tied back in his usual messy bun, his undercut cropped so close it was barely a dark fuzz. Their pulse raced as the anxiety crept up their spine again, leaving them chewing at their fingernails in a habit he had been trying for ages to break them of. Maybe he was right, they should start painting their nails, maybe if they asked him he’d help them, but that would require talking to him, and if things didn’t go well today then…


The anxiety gripped them before they could even finish that thought. What were they doing? They couldn’t just walk in there and tell him. They’d already had so many people push them away. So many disappointments. Just because of who they were over what they were born as. They didn’t want him to think of them like…

Like they were a freak.

Oh God, I can’t do this. Tears stung their eyes as their chest closed up, hand fumbling in a pocket as they turned around and started walking quickly back the way they came. Gripping their inhaler tight, they stopped to use it, but it didn’t help enough. It was too hard to breathe, sweat dripping in their eyes as they picked up speed, trying desperately to put as much distance between themself and the café as humanly possible. I can’t do this, I can’t do this! Their temples throbbed with pain they practically ran, stumbling and tripping over their own feet until they found themselves sinking onto the steps of the Palais de Chaillot. With a coughing sob, they buried their face in their hands and rocked, trying to will away the anxiety attack with everything they had.

How could they possibly explain to him without him hating them too? They were going to be sick. Their skin felt clammy all over and their clothes too tight and everything felt wrong, and they just wanted everything to be easy. They wanted to hear his laugh and be pulled into one of his unbelievably warm hugs and told they were being ridiculous because they were worrying over nothing as usual. Letting their imagination get the best of them. To feel his rough fingers grip theirs as he reassured them that everything was going to be okay. Trembling fingers slipped into the pocket of their hoodie, pulling out the photo from the last Jagged Stone concert they’d gone to. Armand had managed to get them amazing seats, they still weren’t entirely sure how he’d managed to pull it off. They brushed their fingers over his face in the picture as tears spilled down their cheeks. He’d taken the photo but even with the selfie stick he’d admitted to borrowing from his roommate, they’d still had to bend awkwardly to fit in the frame, but they hadn’t minded. He’d laughed so loud that night, tipsy and high on the music and the crush of bodies all around them.

Rema and Armand! Rock and roll for life!

Armand’s handwriting had a surprisingly delicate curl to the letters, and their mouth twitched as they trailed a fingertip over the looping script. Heart aching at the thought they’d basically abandoned him at the café, they choked out a sob and buried their face in their hand, the other clenched tightly on the photo. They never saw the dark flutter of wings until it was too late. A thin outline of a butterfly blazed bright around their eyelids as the photograph was consumed in a boiling black and purple cloud of darkness.

Lonesome Briar, how tangled your emotions are. It's never easy to reveal your true self where love has blossomed. Perhaps I, Papillon, could help you dig to the root of the matter in showing others how truly difficult it is to have love go unreturned. In exchange, I only ask that you help me claim the Miraculous: Ladybug's earrings and Chat Noir's ring.

They could feel their heart begin to pound, chest aching, tears stinging their eyes more than before. It was so…so hard to resist. The velvet purr of his voice was full of empathy, like he understood, like he genuinely wanted to help.

With a deep, shuddering breath, they rose from the steps, looming to their full height as they clutched their treasured photo ever tighter.

“Of course, Papillon. All of Paris will know the thorns in my heart.”

In an instant, the burning sensation began deep within their chest, and they began to cough so hard they saw red mingling with a brief magical rush of black and purple. So much red, fluttering on the breeze and spilling down the steps of the Palais. With trembling fingers they reached up and pulled their hood into place, feeling something hard push its way past their teeth.

It was late afternoon by the time the pair of heroes were able to rise off the rooftops. For the longest time Adrien could barely stand from the lasting fear of having almost watched one of his best friends die, while Marinette kept dissolving into hysterical tears or frightened rambling. Their secrets were out, even if to only each other, but the fear of Papillon discovering it through one of them had been enough to send Marinette into a panic attack. If it hadn’t been for Adrien holding her close and talking her through it, she would have been left crippled on the rooftop until doomsday. Or until Lonesome Briar found her. Or Papillon himself came looking. So many terrible outcomes flashed through her head and left her anxious and sweating, but her partner was patient. He held her hand, rubbing her knuckles and talking her through it, anchoring her when she realized she’d almost died and made her anxieties worse.

But you didn’t die, Buginette. It’s all right now, you’re safe. Just breathe. It’ll be alright, my Lady. You’ll see.

He rubbed her back until she could breathe, kissing her knuckles until she could focus on his touch instead of the horrifying possibilities her overactive mind was more than happy to supply. When she was able to uncurl from where she was hunched over gripping her knees to her chest, he guided her into his lap and held her, purring up a storm that she could feel in her bones. Marinette clung to his shoulders, burying her face in his neck, listening to his quiet words of comfort as he purred for her. She’d forgotten how safe it felt when he held her, and knowing it was Adrien, sweet and charming and kind and everything Chat was but wrapped in a shyness that hid how bright he could shine until he took off his model’s mask and became Chat Noir was still throwing her for a loop.

But suddenly so much made sense.

Hugging him tighter, she rubbed her face against his shoulder, wrapped in his warmth and the scent of something uniquely Chat. His fresh shampoo and the leather-like suit, with a whiff of camembert and flowers. Marinette had a feeling she’d be avoiding flowers for a while, and she now suspected the camembert was what his kwami ate, but the rest was soothing and helped ease her out of the heart-pounding sweats that had gripped her.

“My Lady, are you feeling better now?” It was that soft smile that touched his eyes, his gaze fixed on her face, and she could feel his hand rubbing her back still. Not trusting her voice, she could only nod, a little sound of disappointment escaping her as he slid one of her hands from his shoulders to kiss her knuckles. “I’m glad, but as much as I want to do nothing more than sit here with you all day and night, Paris still needs us. Come on, Buginette, let’s get you on your feet so we can pull some weeds. Then I’ll treat you to ice cream and we can sit together as long as you’d like. This whole thing makes me think we need a pillow fort, what do you say? I’ve always wanted to build one with a friend.”

His smile was so hopeful, she could barely suppress a laugh, and this time it didn’t even have an edge of fear to it.

“Don’t you need to get home?” She chuckled, but Chat simply scoffed.

Adrien Agreste is at home in bed, suffering in silence from a terrible affliction. Chat Noir, however, is not.” Then his eyes sparkled with mischief, his grin splitting his face, and Ladybug laughed in delight at how his tail flicked to and fro. “So I think it’s entirely up to my Lady if she thinks we need pillow forts and ice cream.”

“I think we do!” Ladybug could hardly talk because of her giggles, Chat’s manic expression and the way he waggled his ears and eyebrows at her was too much for her emotional state. Everything she felt seemed stronger than normal after her panic attack, but Chat pulling her close for a final hug while rubbing his cheek against her face helped a lot. Even if she did end up shrieking with laughter and yelling at him when he started intentionally grinding his face into her hair with the intention of ruining her hairstyle. After days of not being able to breathe from the flowers in her lungs, she couldn’t help but be overjoyed with relief at how it felt to be breathless from laughter. It was, after all, a huge difference.

His limbs still felt wobbly when they took off across the quarantine line, but Ladybug was shooting him shy smiles and her eyes were sparkling again so all was right with the world. He could see the little pieces of Marinette that weren’t hidden by the mask now. Her freckles, the way she’d blush when she looked at him (though he was far more used to seeing it as Adrien than Chat, but it made his heart pound against his ribs in a way he could get used to), the giggles that slipped out when he’d make a face at her.

So many memories falling into place now that he knew without a shadow of a doubt that Ladybug was Marinette. So many little things she’d done either with the mask or without that made more sense. Things were so much better now, even if it meant they had to be more careful against Papillon. The wind whipped his hair out of his face as he sailed feet-first towards the trees, his baton collapsing quickly as the blue sky seemed so much bluer now. Everything seemed more vivid, his pulse racing with excitement as he let himself tumble through the air. Catching a branch, he let his momentum carry him forward, swinging upward and out to bound from one tree to the next. A flash of red caught his eye, his teeth bared in a grin as he took off after her, racing towards Lonesome Briar’s last known whereabouts.

Chat no longer feared the flowers, it was just another fight with a villain that had whip-like attacks, bolstering his confidence to a degree that had made his Lady scowl at him and boop his nose. His face warmed at the memory, but he pushed it down, even if he couldn’t control his smile.

His Lady had turned him down because she loved his civilian form this whole time.

If he didn’t somehow end up singing from the rooftops because of this new gem of knowledge, it would be a miracle. Knowing that his anxious friend Marinette was actually Ladybug and didn’t hate him because she had the world’s biggest crush on him and he knew it for a fact was almost enough to land him sprawling in the dirt because he nearly took a branch to the face while daydreaming. Pausing just long enough to shake himself, Chat took off again with renewed energy, chasing his Lady as she flew through the trees toward their wayward Briar.

All his overwhelming emotions were making him dizzy with giddiness, but he’d have to hold them for later. He could do this, he was a professional. A fourteen-year-old professional who had just had the best reveal of his life drop into his lap and he was going to take Ladybug on a date as soon as they beat this akuma. Well, best in that knowing Ladybug was actually his second-closest friend in his civilian life. The circumstances could certainly have been far better, he wasn’t about to let that bring him down. He had never had better motivation in his entire LIFE!

Ladybug had to grab him by his tail and yank him back so he wouldn’t bulldoze clean into the villain, pulling him close enough that he almost ended up smashed against her chest. His purr stuttered to life and his smirk was dopey, he knew, but he really couldn’t control his face and all he wanted was to beat Briar and get back to cuddling. He couldn’t tell if it was nerves from the day, his shock wearing off, or the fact that his hormones had finally decided to hit him between the eyes with the unforgiving force of a sledgehammer. Or maybe it was all three at once.

Easy, kitty.” Ladybug sounded exasperated, pushing his face back because he’d been leaning closer with every second they were standing almost on top of each other on the branch. “Focus!” She’d have snapped her fingers just in front of his nose if it wouldn’t attract Briar’s attention, he knew, but he could barely hold still.

“I’m pretty sure the akumatized item is a photo Briar keeps in their pocket.” Chat whispered, his ears flicking forward as Ladybug studied the villain, and she nodded, reaching up to run her fingers through his hair because she couldn’t flick his bell without losing their surprise element. She’d already blown their cover once by coughing, she didn’t want to make a habit of it. Chat was just happy the deep thrum of his purrs hadn’t tipped them off either.

“Clever kitty,” she smiled, and Chat felt his heart swell with the affectionate tone she used. “Maybe we can get Briar all wrapped up before we search their pockets.” The playful smirk she sent him was such a far cry from how she’d looked on the rooftop mere minutes ago that he couldn’t help the way his shoulders relaxed with relief. There’s my Buginette.

“An excellent idea, as always, my Lady. Shall we nip this in the bud, then?” He swept a hand towards the villain as if offering her a dance, and watched in delight as her eyes sparkled. Chat was well and truly done for, he was never going to get tired of that look on her face.

“Follow my lead, minou!” There was a giggle hidden in her voice, and his cheeks burned with the sound of his nickname tumbling from her lips just before she leapt into the fight, bandalore snapping out to tangle around Lonesome Briar’s legs. The villain let out a barking cough of surprise as they were snapped out of their daze, thorny vines erupted from a sleeve towards Ladybug. Chat dove down behind them, aiming a blow to their shoulder that never connected. Ladybug yelped as she was snatched from the air, Lonesome Briar spinning on their back foot to fling her into her partner. The pair were knocked from the air and sent rolling down the pavement.

Hacking coughs followed them as Briar began to pick up speed, stumbling through the park’s decorative shrubs and using their vines to help pull them over the fences blocking the park off from the sidewalk. Looming over the downed heroes, Briar wheezed, chest rising and falling with great effort, and their glassy eyes red-rimmed.

“M-miraculouses, I...I need them…” They sounded so tired, swallowing and choking, and then with a heave, Chat and Ladybug found themselves being buried in wet red roses and petals. Chat had barely enough time to throw an arm up to protect their faces, but it was still alarming feeling so many flowers pelt them all at once. When Lonesome Briar straightened to gasp for more air, Chat and Ladybug stared at the pile of petals around them before their expressions set in determination. Briar barely had a moment to realize the attack didn’t affect them at all before they took Ladybug’s bandalore to the chin, stumbling back to fall against the park fence. With a quick shuffle to get their feet under them in the mass of slippery petals, the heroes bounded away, taking up fighting stances across the street from Lonesome Briar’s slumped form.

“You know, that’s pretty old news by now!” Ladybug grinned, her bandalore spinning at her side and shimmering a glowing pink. Chat smirked at her side, casually leaning on his baton after he extended it to staff length.

“You could say it’s last week’s clippings at this point.” His tail flicked, proud of himself even if Lonesome Briar’s groan of discomfort was a lackluster response at best. Ah, well. Not everyone had good taste in humor. Soon the villain was dragging themselves to their feet, shaking off what must’ve been the start of a headache in a shower of petals.

“You...why aren’t you sick like me...?” Briar’s voice was almost lost, rough with tears and coughing, their bangs hanging in their face as they watched Ladybug and Chat with something akin to betrayal. The hero pair paused, eyebrows arching as they glanced at each other. Chat shrugged, and they turned back to Briar, Ladybug’s smile growing sympathetic as she watched Briar stumble towards them.

“We realized that sometimes it’s better to face your feelings than keep them bottled up. Holding things in isn’t always the best solution, and sometimes it’s better to take a chance before you miss out on what’s really important.” Ladybug’s words made Chat’s heart flutter again, his staff spinning in his grip before he dropped to a crouch, ready to strike if Briar attacked. But the villain clutched their face, fingers digging into their mask-like markings as they let out a choked sob.

You wouldn’t understand!” Their voice sounded raw and broken as they shouted, petals spraying from their lips as new blooms crowded so high around their face it was a miracle they could even see straight. With a choked groan, Lonesome Briar crouched down, sweat dripping from their face, then unleashed a tidal wave of flowers and vines at Chat and Ladybug, forcing the two to leap for higher ground and race off down the street.

“Looks like tying them up won’t work, my Lady!” Chat called across the rooftops, casting a quick glance over his shoulder at the villain that was struggling to chase them through the thorny overgrowth.

“Maybe not at the moment, but we’ve got more tricks up our sleeves than that!” Swinging to an open rooftop, Ladybug landed lightly, tossing her bandalore high into the air the moment it returned to her hand.

Lucky Charm!

A red and black spotted travel cup with an etched rose design on the side and a molded flower motif at the base landed in her hand, a fancier version of the sort of cups that cafés handed out to customers. She tipped it at every angle, taking in its unusual appearance. The flower designs had to mean something. Her nose wrinkled as she looked around, her pigtails flopping and the corners of her mouth tugging into a frown.

“Chat, I don’t….I don’t see anything to work with aside from Briar! What am I supposed to do, ask them on a coffee date?” Raking her fingers through her bangs, she started to chew her lower lip, Chat’s sudden snap of his fingers as her comments and design of the cup gave him a sudden idea, startling Ladybug out of her thoughts.

“I’ve got it! My Lady, follow me! I think I know where we need to be.” He didn’t give her time to argue before he was bounding away, keeping low enough to have Lonesome Briar hot on their heels. Chat Noir heard her yelp at being left behind with little warning, followed by the tell-tale zip of her bandalore wire and Lonesome Briar’s frustrated coughs. Good, it was a start. Now he just needed to hope that Ladybug’s seemingly endless good luck would stay on their side.

They were almost there when Lonesome Briar took a page from their books, latching their vines to opposing street lamps and slingshotting themself forward with a raspy shout, sending all three of them tumbling to the street when they crashed mid-air. Chat Noir tore himself loose from the thorny vines with his claws, scrambling free of their tightening grip as Briar dragged themself closer. A thick trail of rose petals littered the street behind them, their breathless shouts almost incomprehensible around their mouthful of blossoms. Ignoring them for the moment, Chat jumped across the tangle of vines to the spotted hand flailing from the depths of a heap of thorns. Plunging his hands into the rose vines, he was secretly grateful that he couldn’t feel more than a dull pressure from the thorns as he sank in his claws and ripped the mound open with a single heave. Ladybug’s head popped up, sporting only a few small nicks on her cheeks, and he held out a hand to her with an apologetic smile.

“A thousand pardons, my Lady. I was in a prickly situation of my own or I’d have pulled you out sooner.” The partially grumpy look in her eyes at his pun made him chuckle, his tail coiling and waving behind him. A sudden cough reminded him they weren’t alone, and he was quick to clear the street around their feet with a flick of his baton, spinning it in front of them to protect them from more of Briar’s attacks. The wheezing was growing louder, Briar struggling for air, only to cough so loud it was almost deafening. The wave of petals Briar spit out washed over them, parting around them and flung high into the air from the force of Chat’s baton spin. If it weren’t so disgusting knowing where they came from, Chat Noir might have considered the sight of the air full of rose petals to be rather pleasant.

“We’re almost to the shop, my Lady! We should fall back and see if anything else catches your eye along the way.” He shot her a rakish grin over her shoulder, and she nodded, turning to run only to draw up short, her eyes going wide as she took a look at the cup in her hand and back at Briar. Chat’s nose wrinkled for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder to see what stopped her in her tracks. His eyes widened in recognition, his ears and tail flicking upward in surprise.

It was the same guy he’d nearly bumped into earlier! The man was frozen in the doorway of the café, his phone on the akuma tracker once more, a strange look on his face as he stared behind them at the villain. Chat almost shouted at him to get back inside, but Ladybug’s voice drowned him out.

“Chat, look out!” Her bandalore shot out, whipping around him to slice through a wall of vines that threatened to sweep past his baton. Whirling in place, she used the recoil of her bandalore and sent it curving in the opposite direction, catching Lonesome Briar across the temple. The villain staggered back, hood falling away to reveal their rose-red hair as they let out a pained groan, covering their face with a hand as some of their rose blossoms tumbled away, knocked loose by Ladybug’s weapon.

Rema?!” The grungy café patron sounded incredulous, squinting at the villain’s face as his grip on his phone tightened, knuckles going white. The effect of that one word was immediate. Lonesome Briar’s face went even paler, and they let out a startled wheeze that sent flower petals spilling down their front.

“A-Armand….?” Lonesome Briar looked panicked, the name a desperate whisper as their face went visibly clammy and they seemed to desperately look for an escape route. “T..there’s...R-Rema doesn’t...doesn’t exist anymore, it’s--!”

Armand didn’t wait for the akuma to finish that sentence, already advancing with a fierce scowl on his face. Every stomp of his steel-toed boots on the cobblestones had Lonesome Briar backpedalling as fast as they could, but their long limbs worked against them. In a move that was all too reminiscent of Marinette, Lonesome Briar’s thorn-wrapped boots tangled in their own vines and they toppled to the ground in a fwump of flower petals and a plaintive whine of pain. A cough buried them in their own petals, and there was a mad scramble to get back to their feet as Armand closed in on them.

“I’ve been waiting for you for days! Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?” Armand’s voice rose from an irritated growl to a shout, reaching down into the pile of petals to grab Lonesome Briar by the front of their hoodie and yank them out. “I’ve been calling you and leaving texts, and you haven’t responded to anything. And then. And then I find out there’s been an akuma loose ever since we were supposed to meet! Do you think I’m stupid?” He reached up to bring Briar’s face down closer to his, nearly smashing them together in the process, and the akuma visibly swallowed. They tried to look everywhere but at Armand’s face, shrinking into the rose blossoms clustered in their collar.

“N-no….?” Briar’s voice sounded small and breathless. Armand closed his eyes, sucking in air through his nose before he glared at the villain who was nearly folded in half as they hung from the smaller man’s grip. If the akuma hadn’t nearly killed people it would’ve been far more amusing to watch. Ladybug and Chat Noir glanced at each other before she discreetly waved Chat forward, knowing he was far more stealthy on his feet than she was.

“I had to call out of work because I couldn’t sleep. We’ve all been tearing the city apart looking for you, you overgrown beanstalk.” Armand pinned Briar with his glare, but there was something affectionate in his words, and his glare had lost some of its blistering heat. “I’ve been worried sick, looking everywhere for you. Come home, Rema. Please.”

He smiled, and Briar looked on the verge of tears, wheezing and coughing until entire rose buds fell from their collar and petals spilled over their lips. A burning outline of a butterfly lit up around their eyes moments too late, perhaps to warn his victim. Neither of them saw Chat Noir’s claws slip into the folds of Briar’s hoodie, snatching the photo from its hidden pocket and cleanly ripping it in half. The image became clear as the corruption rolled away hastily and the light vanished just as quickly.

It was a photo of Armand tugging Rema into a one-armed hug, a blush obvious on Rema’s face. Something Chat didn’t get a good look at was a line of neat, curly handwriting on the back, too distracted by the akuma trying to make its bid for freedom.

No one aside from Chat Noir heard Ladybug capture the akuma and cleanse it, immediately followed by the coffee cup flying into the air and transforming into a glittering pink swarm of healing ladybugs to fix the damage. However, Armand absolutely noticed immediately when Lonesome Briar disappeared from his grip and Rema was left in a confused tangle of limbs in the middle of the street. The dark greens and vivid reds of Lonesome Briar’s thorny costume swept away to leave a puzzled redhead in a loose, hooded olive tunic glancing around through a limp sweep of ginger bangs. Before Armand could swoop over, Chat rested a hand on his arm as Ladybug moved to kneel down next to the trembling victim.

“Hey, you doing okay?” Her voice was quiet, and she could tell Rema was on the verge of tears again. They were all long limbs and soft features, their willowy figure mostly hidden by the tunic, and their long hair styled to hide as much of their face as possible. Tugging at their sleeves, Rema looked down at their lap, sniffing as if struggling to keep their emotions under control.

“Yeah, I didn’t...I was scared to go on our coffee date thing.” Blunt-nailed fingers toyed with their bright ginger fringe, the nails worried to the quick as if bitten off. “I’m not...I’m not like everyone else, you know? If I told him, and he freaked out, I don’t think I could handle it.” Their voice was so quiet Ladybug could barely hear them, and she reached out to gently squeeze their shoulder. Her face betrayed nothing as her earrings beeped shrilly as the first spot disappeared.

“It’ll be okay. Everyone’s different, and it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with telling him. But maybe he’ll love you for who you are no matter what since he did confront you as a highly dangerous supervillain. But if anything happens, you at least have Chat Noir and I in your corner, okay?” She smiled, trying to give them confidence with just a squeeze and a smile. Rema swallowed hard, their hands tangling in the asymmetrical hem of their soft green tunic before they closed their eyes and took a steadying breath. Getting their feet under them, they slowly climbed to their feet, dusting off their dark-dyed skinny jeans and picking at a loose thread on their sleeve cuff as they crossed to Armand, still struggling to look the smaller man in the eye. Chat gave Armand a hearty pat on the shoulder before slipping away to give the couple some privacy.

Ladybug watched them with a soft smile, hardly noticing as Chat oozed over until his arms entwined around her waist and she let out a soft sigh and shook her head. His chin settled on her shoulder as they watched the pair. Rema anxiously plucked at their clothes and ducked their head to hide behind their hair, while Armand’s scowl dissolved into something so soft it looked almost jarring paired with his rough punk appearance. Rema’s shoulders began to shake, and Ladybug had a flash of worry before Chat hugged her tighter to keep her from rushing forward.

“Aw, babe, hey! Don’t cry, come on…” Armand laughed affectionately, and if there were tears in his eyes too no one saw as he tugged Rema close, rubbing their back as he held them until the tears faded to exhausted sniffles. Their conversation was muffled, Rema bowing over Armand so their faces were closer, and at one point they shyly tugged their hood up, and dipped even lower. From the way their nervous fidgeting soon went still, Ladybug had a distinct feeling that Armand had just kissed Rema. Clearing her throat quietly, both she and Chat found something else to look at before her earrings let out a second beep. She was about to jump away when Armand led Rema over, their fingers interlaced and Rema hiding behind the collar of their tunic, their cheeks flushed brighter than their coppery red hair.

“Ladybug, before you go, Rema and I...well, thanks.” He glanced up at Rema who let out a nervous chuckle and waved shyly at Ladybug. Giving them the brightest smile she could muster now that her exhaustion was beginning to creep up on her, she nodded.

“Any time. If it wasn’t for Rema, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the person I care about most my true feelings either. Though I could have gone without the lungs full of flowers part.” She teased gently, unable to help the way her gaze slid to Chat, their eyes meeting as he returned her smile. Cheeks flushing bright and warmth flooding her to her fingers and toes, she stifled a quick giggle before giving Armand and Rema a wave and tugged her bandalore wire taut. “Take care of each other, okay?”

“Will do!” Armand grinned, giving Ladybug a lazy salute, squeezing Rema’s fingers gently. Rema could only stare after Ladybug, relief making them feel lighter and more comfortable in their skin than they had been in years. Chat bid the new couple a good evening, then left them to their happy moment, chasing after Ladybug as if his boots were on fire.

After all, he had a date to catch.

“I don’t know how we made it all the way across town without spilling it.” Marinette laughed, breathless from their dash and how they’d both nearly fallen down her loft stairs. Adrien helped her down, the pair of heroes having decided it was better if he carried the ice cream down the steps before she followed, and he set their treat well away from where it could possibly be knocked over. Hurrying to her closet, Marinette got out extra blankets and pillows, and after a few hurried shushings because she could hear her parents in the rooms below, they set about building their fort.

It was a simple affair, comparatively, mostly because the actual stash of clean blankets and pillows was downstairs. Still, they made a fort big enough for them both, stripping Marinette’s bed for a few last pieces before standing back to marvel at their handiwork. It was a little droopy in a couple places, but Marinette was fairly certain it would last the evening, and she’d managed to string her fairy lights through it so they’d have some light to see by when it got darker. Her long cat pillow was now prominently flopped near where their heads would go, and she’d found the fluffiest pillows she had and lined the fort with them. It was soft, pink, and smelled fantastic from what Adrien had discovered when she’d piled a ton of blankets into his arms, but he wasn’t going to say that out loud no matter how hard his heart thumped against his ribs.

Satisfied with their work, Marinette left her shoes under her desk and her jacket on her desk chair before curling up in the depths of the fort. With a grin, she patted the spot on the blanket next to her, and Adrien didn’t make her tell him twice. Taking care with the ice cream, he marvelled at the fort from the inside, surprised at how cozy it felt. This was nice.

“Marinette?” He didn’t trust his voice not to crack strangely, so he spoke softly, glancing at her through the fringe of his bangs as he took a spoonful of blueberry cheesecake near the bottom of the ice cream stack. He caught her just as she’d stuffed her spoon in her mouth, eyes wide and an embarrassed blush coloring her cheeks. It was a much better look than the feverish flush he’d seen her in that morning. “Thanks.” There was a lot of feeling put into that word, more than he had actual words for.

“For what?” She still sucked on the spoon and it made him chuckle, her eyes were so big when she looked at him like that.

“For...for everything, I guess?” He prodded the ice cream, his other hand raking through his hair before he stuffed the bite in his mouth, savoring the creamy sweetness as he gathered his thoughts. “For this, and the date. I know it was really fast after we found out our secrets, especially since you wanted to keep things secret as long as possible, but it really meant a lot to me.” He was poking at the ice cream more than he was eating it now, and her growing silence was worrying him. Chancing a look at her face, he was greeted with the sight of Marinette staring firmly at her knee, spoon clenched in her teeth as her face, ears, and what little he could see of her neck and shoulders burned a vibrant red. Oh. Oh. Now he felt embarrassed, his smile wobbly as he raked his fingers through the hair across the nape of his neck.

“It’s…” Marinette started, chewed on her spoon, and then her hands began to flap. “It’s fine, I’m still getting over how everything happened and I’m not sure how I feel that we both know, but I really wouldn’t want to change anything since I hate how I had to say it but I meant everything that I said and--!” It was like watching a dam burst, everything pouring out of her all at once and he had to carefully move the ice cream out of her way so she wouldn’t knock it over by accident. Through the constant stream of words with surprisingly few of her speech hiccups that normally happened when he wasn’t Chat Noir, he managed to parse out what she was saying.

She was still upset she’d been forced to confess before she was ready, but that didn’t mean that she was going back on what she’d said. She meant everything she’d said both as Marinette and Ladybug. She was upset that they’d both had to reveal themselves, and was still wrapping her head around the fact that Adrien was Chat, but she was so glad to find that they were the same person. She had apparently been starting to crush on Chat and was torn over it, but relieved now that she was just getting to know him better and loving the person she saw. All of which had him flushing furiously and stuffing ice cream into his mouth to cool his face, model diet or no model diet.

Marinette finally came to a stuttering stop when she got to the date. And how much she’d wanted to go on one with him since basically as long as she’d had a crush on him. Adrien was impressed by his own self control, as he neither shoved the whole ice cream in his mouth or smashed his face against hers in an overwhelming surge of emotions. Ladybug had wanted a date with him this whole time. Marinette had been struggling to work up the courage, and had been telling Chat no only because she’d been trying to catch his attention as Adrien. But he’d been too busy seeing spots the whole time. It was a mess.

“Princess.” It was amazing how her whole thought process visibly screeched to a halt when he said the word without the mask, and his heart raced as he couldn’t help but chuckle. “Here, take some ice cream before I eat it all.” He offered her the dish, and she had the cutest look of surprise on her face. He just had to resist squishing her cheeks again like he’d done on the rooftop earlier that afternoon. Luckily she remembered how to breathe and took the dish from him. While she started to eat, Adrien got comfortable, stretching out beside her so he was pressed against her leg. For a moment she froze again, but slowly began to relax as he reached across her thigh to scoop up more of their dessert.

This was nice. He propped his head up and watched her, sighing happily as she grew more and more comfortable with his presence. Marinette had been stiff-shouldered at first, but soon she was smiling down at him as he rambled about little things. School things, home things, whatever came to mind to fill the comfortable space between bites of their treat. He was in the middle of telling her about a particularly boring photoshoot when he felt something in his hair. It startled a purring chirp out of him that left both of them frozen.

“Did you just--?” A giggle was bubbling out of her and she pressed her lips together, desperately trying to squash it.

“I don’t know?” He felt his face go three different shades of pink before burying his face in the crook of his arm and groaning in embarrassment. “I thought purring as Chat was weird enough!” Yet as much as he moaned about it, Marinette just laughed and it was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard. Even if it was at his expense, but it was kinda funny in retrospect so he let it slide. Moreso when her fingers returned to his hair, and the tentative way she stroked it and brushed her fingertips across his scalp made him go tingly all over. Okay, it was weird, but a good weird. A good weird that had him tipping sideways until his head was resting on her knee and his eyes drooped closed as his purr started up again.

Okay, so apparently the purring was an all the time thing, he guessed. Weird, but he was okay with it if it was Marinette doing it to him. And really he didn’t want her to stop, having her fingers in his hair felt so nice that he started rubbing his cheek against her jeans before he could stop himself. Which earned him another giggle to his dismay, his ears pinking faster than her fingers could get him purring.

“Adrien Agreste, top teen model in all of Paris, purrs with hair petting.” Marinette giggled, tousling his carefully styled hair until he was groaning in defeat.

“When did you become mean?” He pouted, stealing the ice cream and taking a bite from the molded waffle cone cup instead of breaking it off like a civilized human being. The chocolate and sugary crisp was amazing, and he rolled away from Marinette when she tried to reach out and snap off a piece for herself. “No, cruel bullies don’t get any treats.”

“Aw, Adrien, come on!” She laughed, trying to reach but he had longer arms, so she resorted to retaliation sulking. “I didn’t mean it. Besides, the purring is cute.” The last few words were almost mumbled, but he was close enough to hear her just fine.

“Well, I guess you can have some since you called me cute.” He huffed, offering her the waffle cup so they could split it. By the time it was gone and they’d both licked the chocolate from their fingers, they’d sunk into the pillows, Marinette pulling the fluffiest blanket up until it was nearly to their chins. The desire to reach out and pull her close was so strong, he found himself squeezing one of the pillows. Squeeze, release, squeeze, release. It wasn’t until Marinette was watching him with her eyebrows creeping towards her hairline that he realized what he was actually doing.

Why was he kneading pillows? Why was this a thing now? He never noticed doing anything like this at home, so why now? Her soft laughter was sleepy, and she reached for his hand, gently squeezing his fingers. This was so much better when they didn’t have their magical costumes on. Her fingers were so delicate, and yeah he’d grabbed her hands dozens of times before but now there was something decidedly different about it. Now it was like his whole body focused on their fingers, her thumb brushing his knuckles. This time Adrien didn’t feel embarrassed when he felt himself purring.

“Awww, minou.” There was something different about how she said that, too. Her cheeks dusted with color as well as her blush, and she was scooting close enough so he could see it so much better. He thought his heart would stop when she was close enough for their lips to touch, knowing all it would take would be one of them to tip their head just so. “Somebody’s a happy kitty. I’m glad.”

Her nose brushed across his and he thought his heart would leap clean out of his chest. If he died tonight it would be fine. This was fine. He couldn’t quite form words but Marinette had pulled out her Ladybug confidence and had tugged him closer until their breath mingled and their foreheads rested against one another. For a while, they simply lay there, nervous and a little embarrassed but enjoying the warmth of being so close too much to want to push each other apart. That and after the last few days, he hadn’t realized how tired he was until he was wrapped in Marinette’s blankets and practically tucked against her side. When Marinette finally spoke, she sounded half asleep and it was wonderful.

“Thanks for everything, Chaton. I had a great time.” Warmth wriggled through him at the nickname, her tone so fond and her gaze tender, and Adrien was so glad he got to see this side of her. Comfortable and sweet and full of warmth and affectionate touches that he wanted to soak up all day. Was he going to get to see this side of her all the time, now? Oh man, he hoped so. He really, really, really hoped so…

“I did too, Princess. We should do it again sometime.” He beamed, exhausted but warm and wrapped in something that felt like love. He didn’t even bother resisting the urge to nuzzle her cheek, purring so hard all Marinette could do was let out a sleepy laugh as she sank into the pillows.

It didn’t take long at all for sleep to come for both of them. The sun was almost completely set, but Marinette and Adrien were lost in dreams, fingers still tangled together and their heads tucked close enough to rest against each other as Adrien purred long and deep and happily.

They were still like that when Sabine opened the trap door to check for Marinette again, hoping to draw her downstairs for dinner. Instead she was greeted with the sight of a hastily-made fort, and the pair inside with their fingers brushing and their noses almost close enough to touch with how their heads were tucked together on the pillows. They slept hard and deep, Adrien’s purr long since petered off, but it was obvious they were so worn down they wouldn’t wake easily, even with the prospect of a homecooked meal. With a small smile, Sabine shook her head and retreated down the stairs, taking care to gently shut the trap door behind her.

Tom stood waiting on the stair below, brows furrowed in barely-contained worry, but Sabine just smiled and patted his arm.

“They’re both fine, Tom. Out like a light, but they’ve had a rough couple of days. We can save them leftovers.” She gently rubbed his arm, noting the way he gazed up at the trap door above them with his brows still pinched with concern.

“I’ll call the house and let them know he’s safe, then.” Tom sighed, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the sleeping teens above them, but paused as Sabine trailed her fingers down to squeeze his hand.

“Try and get ahold of his assistant instead. You remember what Marinette said the last time his father got involved.” She smiled, even if there was a touch of worry in it. “But that’s a good idea, dear. After all that boy’s done to keep her safe, it’s the least we can do to help the heroes of Paris.” With a thoughtful hum, she left Tom to make the call to Mlle. Sancoeur, while she returned to the kitchen to make sure there’d be food for the pair when they finally woke up. He was such a nice boy, Sabine was so glad he was her daughter’s partner. Now they just had to wait for Marinette to officially introduce them to her new boyfriend, which if the cuddling was any indication, might be sooner than later. Sabine was perfectly fine with that.