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Arm In Arm

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Morning was always an expeditious affair for the two of them.

Each weeknight, they took turns to set an alarm to wake one another up by phone call the next day. Upon both waking up, immediately followed would be a quick round of online multiplayer Ultimate Mecha Strike III to get themselves out of their groggy states. As with any ritual, this daily habit was covered with rules: 1. Whoever got to sleep in later would have to bring/smuggle the other one breakfast to school. 2. Whoever had to wake up first to call the other one had to log both of them into their accounts on the multiplayer gaming platform. 3. Whoever woke up earlier on Friday morning had sleeping-in privileges on Monday. 4. If Adrien had a four o’clock photoshoot obligation or something of the like, video games would be foregone and he would have to call Marinette no later than twenty minutes before school started. 5. No one was allowed to skip their turn.

It had all been Adrien’s idea after a passionate discussion about their mutual hatred for mornings was sparked. The entire point of the ritual and all its rules was to prove to themselves that they could find a way to enjoy an otherwise unpleasant routine, because they’d never have to do it alone.

But then again, the point of a plan and the reality of that plan put into practice were two different things, especially on Mondays.

With a sigh, Adrien rolled over in his bed at the sound of his alarm clock blaring. Blinking heavily with sleep-kissed eyes, he shut the obtrusive noise off and reached blindly in the direction of his phone. Once grabbed, he threw his legs down over the edge of the bed, stood, and stumbled in the dark toward his plasma-screen computer monitor to switch it on.

With one hand, he logged into his account and then her account in separate tabs, and with the other hand, he unlocked his phone.

He had a grand total of six contacts (including his father, Nathalie, the Gorilla, his agent, and his nutritionist) and Marinette was the only one on speed-dial. He pressed down on 'Call'.

Seven long rings later, he heard a thick groan on the other end, and smiled.

“Morning, sunshine.”

“Please, no.”

“C’mon.” His voice was soft and gravelly from hours of good rest. “Wakey wakey.”

“I don’t wanna.” She sounded muffled, like she had just planted herself face-first into her pillow. She probably had.

“Mari-nette,” Adrien singsonged with a smirk. “Oh Mari-ne-ette.”

“...Wha-at.”

Good; she was copying his antics. She was more awake than she thought.

With a grin, he lilted his voice teasingly. “Betcha I could kick your butt on Mecha Strike’s easiest round right now.”

That was all it took, and he straightened triumphantly as he heard shuffling on the other end.

When she breathed “Oh yeah?” into the receiver with no signs of leftover sleep, he quietly raised a fist in the air.

“Yeah.”

“What are you betting on, Monsieur?”

“On our homework if I supposedly lose, Mademoiselle.”

“Ohohohoho.” He could hear clicking in the background. “Someone’s cocky today.”

“I’m a man of my word.” Adrien entered his account’s tab and placed his hand over his mouse, at the ready. “If I lose, I’ll do a B-plus worth’s effort on your physics homework tonight.”

“I only have one thing to say to that,” she replied with glee. “Thanks a million, because my grade’s been dropping in physics anyway.”

Onscreen, their usernames were emboldened in red and green. Ladybug held the most recent position of first place, while Chat Noir stood at a very close second.

The three-to-one countdown was placed, and they commenced.

For the next nine minutes, the only things that could be heard were rapid clicks.

-----

“Ha!” Marinette cried as the round was completed. Onscreen, the familiar words “And The Champion Is Ladybug!” glittered in black and red. “Looks like you snooze, you lose!”

Ever the polite loser, Adrien laughed. “I do indeed. Congratulations, Marinette. You truly are a gaming queen. I bow down in honor of your mystical ways, oh queen.”

Giggling, Marinette rolled her eyes. “Just tell me what kind of breakfast you want today.”

He answered in an instant, brightly. “I really liked the cherry pastry you brought me a week ago. Could I have three of those?”

“You betcha.” She rose from her seat and turned this way and that to stretch. “So what’s on the clock for you today? Any shoots?”

“Just a short one during lunchtime; then after school, basketball and Chinese.” There was a pause on the other end. “Y’know, with the amount of times I’ve told you what my schedule entails, I’m surprised you haven’t created a calendar out of it.”

“Puh-lease.” Marinette gazed around her bedroom, which was covered from floor to ceiling with fashion magazine cut-outs and clip-ins of dozens of successful models in all diversity. “I don’t have the time, the patience, or the wall space.”

“You wound me, Marinette.” She could hear shifting. He was probably changing out of his clothes. “You clearly don’t care at all about me.”

“Yeah, yeah, you sensitive soul; I know.” She touched the speakerphone button and placed the phone on the computer desk so that she could take off her tank top and pajama pants.

“So do you think we might get another awful literature pop quiz this week?”

Marinette threw back her head and groaned as she stepped into her favorite capris and pulled them up each leg. “Oh, gosh, I hope not. Last week’s was hard enough. I love Madame Bustier as much as the next student, but why does she always test us on the most obscure poetic references?”

“You’re telling me.” Adrien must’ve picked up his phone again, because he sounded clearer. “Hey, I think I’m gonna take a quick shower. Catch you on the front steps before homeroom?”

“With a bag of three cherry pastries,” she promised. “See you then.”

With a ‘click’, the phone call ended, and Marinette sighed contentedly in the warm early morning glow of her pink room. Half-dressed but with plenty of time to spare, she sat back down at her computer and closed out of the online multiplayer gaming tab to come face-to-face with her monitor’s screensaver.

Displayed was the first selfie she and Adrien had ever taken together, about a week after they’d met, over a year ago. Back when she’d sported the pigtails, and they were just about the same height.

Their beginning had been tumultuous. Having gone through her entire school career up until that point being constantly bullied by Chloe, Sabrina, and a whole posse of vicious girls, and having never had a best friend - well, to arrive to homeroom on the day the famous young model was to start public school and to see said model messing with a piece of gum on her seat was maddening, to say the least.

Something within her had snapped at that moment. She’d simply refused to gain another bully. Especially a boy. And so she did something she rarely attempted to do: she stood up for herself.

Of course, only to come to find out at the end of the rainy school day that he’d only been trying to protect her from Chloe’s behavior, and having received his umbrella as a peace offering, and having that umbrella close on her, resulting in both of them laughing, began a fresh start and a beautiful new chapter in her life. One where she had a friend. A real friend. A loyal friend. A best friend.

They exchanged phone numbers, and thus, began exchanging their everything with each other. She introduced him to Ultimate Mecha Strike III, which he promptly purchased in order to play with her. He opened her eyes to the world of anime (by entrusting to her his monthly subscription and password). She talked his ear off about her favorite fashion designers around the world. He lamented and bemoaned the details of his extra long photoshoots to her. She teased him about all the product in his hair. He annoyed her with perfectly-timed puns.

And, on occasion, it got deeper than that.

On the anniversary of his mother’s death, Adrien called her at two in the morning to cry for a few minutes. Around Christmas, right before school let out, Chloe pulled a wicked prank on Marinette which resulted in her Secret Santa gift destroyed, and Adrien had given her his own gift, as well as a side-hug. Whenever his father was being especially overbearing, Adrien texted Marinette the bear emoji and she would respond back with an encouraging paragraph. Whenever Marinette suffered from a nightmare, she would wake Adrien up, video chat with him, and listen to him deconstruct her bad dream in logical explanations until she felt okay enough to sleep again.

The two were thick as thieves; there was no doubt about it. Due to Gabriel Agreste’s rigid hold on his life schedule, he was never allowed at her house, nor she at his. Despite this unfortunate rule, they were inseparable by phone, and at school, they were practically joined at the hip.

Knocking was heard on her trapdoor, jolting her from her reverie.

“Marinette,” her mother called from down below. “After your classes today we’ll be needing your help in the bakery.”

“No problem, Maman!” Marinette called back.

There was a pause, and then she heard her father boom, “How’s Adrien?”

“I utterly destroyed him at Mecha Strike again!” Marinette exclaimed victoriously, knowing her father was invested in their competitiveness.

“Again?” He laughed from behind the trapdoor. “Take it easy on that poor boy, young lady.”

“We were battling it out on the easiest level, Papa!” She laughed too, and began twisting her hair into its regular bun. “Let’s face it; that model boy just doesn’t have what it takes.”

“Tell ‘that model boy’ that he’s welcome here anytime if Monsieur Agreste ever relents of his interesting parenting style,” her mother reminded her.

“And if he ever can, tell him I’ll challenge him to a round of Ultimate Mecha Strike,” her father added.

“I know Maman, Papa, I will.” Her hairstyle perfected, and with her parents’ footsteps disappearing, she stood from her chair and finished putting on her clothes.

-----

When they met up in front of the school, Adrien raised his fist and Marinette bumped it with her own by way of greeting.

She looked around to check to make sure his private limousine was nowhere in sight before extending a brown lunch bag to him. “Here’s your extra breakfast for the day.”

“Awesome,” he said happily, immediately digging his hand into the bag and producing a sticky pastry.

As he bit into it, Marinette smiled. “My parents give their usual hellos.”

He chewed for a moment before giving her a serious look. “Your parents are the most awesome adults on this planet. Tell them the day I turn eighteen, I’m gonna meet them, shake their hands, compliment them on their baking, and ask them to adopt me.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “That’s three years away! Do you really think you’ll still be under all your father's rules until then?”

“Like I said, I want to be a Dupain-Cheng. Does that answer your question?”

She sighed. “What’s the point of being adopted at eighteen when you’re a legal adult by then anyway? Life is so unfair.”

The blond boy sighed as well, before suddenly brightening and winking at her. “Eighteen isn’t too late in my book. That way I can be your annoying brother for the rest of your life and take on both you and your father at three-way video game challenges.”

“Between the two of us,” she nudged his side, her eyes sparkling, “you wouldn’t stand a chance. We’d kick your butt to Jupiter.”

The two shared a moment of good-natured chuckling before the bell rang, and students began wandering into the building. Adrien nodded toward the door, and the two of them walked up the ascending steps.

-----

When lunchtime rolled around, Adrien was picked up by his limo driver, and off he went for his photoshoot. This left Marinette to meander around the school courtyard by herself, sandwich in hand. As she munched on it, she wondered about her upcoming afternoon classes’ assignments, and whether she’d have any tests by the end of the week.

Her musings were interrupted by the sight of Juleka, who was running breathlessly across the courtyard while handling a heavy guitar case.

If she didn’t slow down, she was going to barrel right into Marinette.

She didn’t slow down.

She barreled right into Marinette.

“Oh, my goodness!” Juleka was panting as the two girls both rubbed their heads. “Marinette, I’m so sorry; I had an art project due today that involved a presentation with my brother’s guitar, and now I have to return it to him before he starts his instructing lessons, but I have another project due before the end of lunchtime, so I’m in a hurry, and-”

“Juleka,” Marinette said quickly to keep her from continuing to babble. “I have nothing to do this lunch period, so if you give me the address of where he teaches his lessons, I can return the guitar to him. That way you can take care of your other project.”

With wide eyes, Juleka slapped her hands over her mouth. “Really? You can? Gosh, thank you so much, Marinette; I owe you, I really owe you-”

“No worries,” Marinette assured her, standing and picking up the guitar case by its handle. “Just text me the address.”

“Okay!” the purple-haired girl nodded and whipped out her cell phone, her fingers flying across the screen. “Here you go! Thanks again!”

And off Juleka ran in another direction.

Marinette fumbled with her own cell phone to check her most recent texts.

Adrien Agreste: I see now why they call it a “shoot.” Because this is KILLING me.

Maman: Don’t forget, we need your help in the bakery after school! Have a great day my sweetheart!

Juleka Couffaine: [link to address on Maps App]

With the navigation set on her phone, the heavy guitar under her grip, and her sandwich forgotten, Marinette set out to get the unexpected errand over with.

-----

With the photoshoot all wrapped up and with him back in the limo, Adrien relaxed in his seat and stared out the dark-tinted windows at the busy streets of Paris going by.

Marinette hadn’t texted him back in twenty-five minutes, which was unusual, but she could sometimes be a little spacey, so he wasn’t worried about it.

Speaking of her-

A familiar dark-haired bun caught his eye, and along with it, the rest of Marinette. He had to do a double take. She was running down the sidewalk with… a big guitar case?

“Gorilla, stop the car!” Adrien exclaimed.

His driver braked the vehicle with a screeching halt, and Adrien rolled down his window to call out her name.

She noticed him before he said anything, and stopped to heave huge breaths on the spot.

“What on earth?” He eyed her up and down. “You’ve got somewhere to be?”

“Yeah,” she spoke between sucking lungfuls of air, waving her phone screen around. “Juleka’s brother… and her project… and his lessons… and... limited time… I'm so... out of shape...”

“Just get in the car.” He opened the door and then slid to a further seat so she could have room. “My driver will get you where you need to be.”

The Gorilla grunted from his seat, and Marinette seemed to hesitate, but only for a moment, before joining her best friend by his side in the limo.

Adrien reached across from her and that huge guitar case of hers to shut the door.

“Tell my driver where we’re going.”

Nervously, Marinette looked into the eyes of the Gorilla through the rearview mirror, and then recited the address.

Without a word, Adrien’s bodyguard began driving toward Marinette’s destination.

Adrien nudged her with his shoulder. “So… welcome to my ride,” he whispered.

Her blue eyes were round with disbelief. “It’s so roomy in here,” she whispered back. “Will you- will you get in trouble for me being in here?”

He shook his head. “The Gorilla won’t say anything,” he muttered softly.

They arrived at the corner of the third block up the road, and his driver pulled into the side where there were parking spots. He nodded at the two teenagers gruffly.

“I’ll go in with you,” Adrien offered. “And I’ll carry the case.”

“Thanks,” Marinette shot him a grateful look. “Let’s hurry.”

The two stepped out of the vehicle, catching looks from passersby, and with their heads down, walked toward the double doors of the building in front of them before stopping.

“Should we knock before we enter?” Marinette wondered aloud.

Adrien shrugged. “Let’s see if it’s a public building first.”

As it turned out - it was. A receptionist gaped at them; specifically Adrien, and he tried to disarm her with a pleasant smile. “Good afternoon, Madame.”

“Are you Adrien Agreste?” The woman asked in a hushed tone, still staring.

Adrien and Marinette exchanged a look.

“Yes, Madame, I am. Right now Marinette here is looking to return this guitar case from our classmate,” he added quickly.

“Do you know anyone who’s related to Juleka Couffaine in this building?” Marinette stepped forward, brushing her bangs to the side of her face.

The receptionist nodded, eyeing them both with curiosity. “That would be Luka Couffaine. He is on the second floor in the third studio room to the left of the hall.”

“Thank you,” Adrien smiled, heading for the door with the sign that read ‘stairwell’. Marinette nodded her own thank-you at the woman and followed closely behind Adrien.

Once the stairwell door was closed behind them, she raised her eyebrows at him. “You know, I literally forget that you’re a celebrity. Like, all the time.”

“And that,” Adrien gave her a wink as he began climbing the steps, “is why you’re my best friend in the whole world.”

They reached the second floor, entered its hallway, found the correct door, and opened it.

Instantly they were surrounded by the sound of ambient music playing from a stereo in what appeared to be a music-and-dance studio.

A tall blue-haired young man was sitting in the lotus position. He opened his eyes upon their entrance and cast them both a calm smile.

“Hey, my guitar case.” He undid his yoga pose to stand, and walked across the room to take his guitar off Adrien’s hands. “I assume my sister sent you. That’s pretty rad. I didn’t know she had such cool friends.” He extended his free hand toward Adrien to shake.

Adrien shook his hand, smiling. “Nice to meet you. I’m Adrien.”

Luka laughed quietly. “I know who you are. Your posters are in the modeling studio right across the hall. Pretty nifty work, my friend.” He then turned to Marinette and nodded at her. “And what’s your name?”

“I- I- I- I- um… I… um...”

Adrien turned his head over to glance at her, confused, and was shocked to find that the girl’s face was red. Dark red.

“M-M-Marinette,” she finally stated.

Luke clasped his hands together behind his back and gave her what could only be interpreted as a smile of endearment. “Nice to meet you, M-M-Marinette.”

He then nodded at Adrien again. “Thanks again for bringing my guitar. You two be safe heading back to school. Say hi to Juleka for me.”

And with that, he turned away and walked back to his spot on the yoga mat by the brick wall, placing the guitar case beside him, redoing his lotus position, and closing his eyes.

Adrien hesitated for a moment, waiting to see if he’d say an official goodbye to them, but upon realizing that he wouldn’t, started for the door.

Then he realized: Marinette was stock-still and hadn’t budged from where she stood.

He patted her arm and she jolted, tearing her gaze away from the meditating Luka to look up at him, wild-eyed and face aflame.

Adrien studied her dazed expression for a moment in complete and utter befuddlement before gesturing toward the door. “C’mon, the Gorilla is waiting for us.”

(With what seemed to be reluctance…?) Marinette followed him out the door, across the hall, down the stairs, out the building, and into the limousine.

The Gorilla started in the direction of their school, and Adrien leaned toward Marinette to whisper, “Well, that guy definitely looks related to Juleka. They both dye their hair.”

Marinette looked startled at him.

“Um…” she chewed on her bottom lip. “Y-yeah, dye their hair. Yeah.”

Adrien furrowed his eyebrows in confusion at her once more.

“...Are you okay?” he said, even more softly.

But she didn’t respond. She only chewed harder on her lip, seemingly as if in a trance, and began to blush again. She fidgeted with her hands, intertwining her own fingers together, then unlaced them, then relaced them again.

Bewildered, Adrien looked down at his own hands.

Then he looked back up at her.

“Are you feeling sick?” he prompted.

At this, she laughed - suddenly and singularly - before glancing shyly away, still fidgeting. “No. I’m, um, fine. Um. I just. Uh. N-need to go to the bathroom.”

Adrien relaxed slightly. “Well, we’re almost back at school. Ten minutes before lunch is over, too. Record time, am I right?”

She nodded slowly and stared ahead.

Feeling strange, he decided to be polite and stopped trying to make conversation. Perhaps Marinette needed some alone time to recuperate after all that running.

-----

Marinette made sure she was alone in the girls’ restroom, checking underneath every stall, before she allowed herself to pace around and panic.

There were only two things she was absolutely sure of:

1. Luka was way older than her.

2. Somehow, for some reason, her heart hadn’t stopped racing since Luka had laid eyes on her.

-----