Screaming now muffled by her cat pillow, Marinette still felt the sinking clench in her stomach amidst a whirl of realization at quiet Adrien Agreste suddenly posing against her locker, biceps flexed like an American football player, his eyes vague and starry.
She knew that look.
She’d seen that fascinated expression hundreds of times--in the mirror, after watching Adrien Agreste himself dance around his perfume ad--usually just before she spun too rapturously in her desk chair, and nearly killed herself rolling through the trapdoor.
At that thought, she paused in her reverie, momentarily distracted into a grimace as she imagined the chair and her body bouncing down the stairwell, or--even more undignified--wedged partway into the small door, her weight on her broken neck, her eyes crossed and her tongue protruding like an old cartoon. They’d probably use that photo at her funeral, she thought, clasping her hands over her mouth in horror. Not a nice school picture, no, of course not--no, there everyone would be at the memorial, and there the picture of Marinette would be too, purple-faced and squished by an office chair into traumatic-brain-injury-by-trapdoor. Alya’s sisters would have to have their eyes covered. Adrien’s last sight of her would be bugeyed by strangulation, the background of the grisly scene filled with photos of him that had gusted into frame when her weight slammed partway through the door. She yanked her imagination back on course.
Adrien, she thought, clapping her hands, right.
It was after Nathaniel had become Evillustrator, and Marinette had had to pretend Ladybug was busy elsewhere. Chat had been even more annoying as Marinette--she’d gotten used to him listening carefully when she talked, she realized, and suddenly she’d had to call on the authority of her own alter-ego. For a fairly harmless akuma, that had taken way too long, and been way too complicated--and then when it was all over, she’d looked up expecting Alya at her locker, and...he’d stood there flexing, asking about her encounter with a superhero--not Ladybug, no, but Chat. Despite knowing Marinette was close enough to Ladybug to ask favours. Despite her claiming their friendship, as an occasional alibi! But no, he hadn’t asked about her, he’d asked about her partner--how amazing Chat was, how impressive and cool he’d been.
It was not how she’d hoped it would go. Did he wish Chat had held him like a princess, bounding around Paris?! Every moment he’d had his face pressed to her shoulder, had he wished it was black leather?! “TIKKI,” she cried, lifting the comforter off her head. “What if he likes cats better than ladybugs,” she groaned, and Tikki floated up alongside the ladder, genteelly smothering her giggles. “Tikki, what if he likes boy ladybugs better than even girl cats, what if he marries Chat, who am I even going to attend as?! Do I go as Marinette of Honour or Best Ladybug?! TIKKI, WHY?!” Having lifted her head, she noticed the pillow she was wailing into was, in fact, a particularly smug looking cat, and punched it.
Tikki rolled in the air laughing. “Marinette! I don’t think you need to start planning a wedding yet! You’re being ridiculous.” Marinette dropped to the lower floor to pace around.
“I can’t even just be friends with him,” she moaned. “He’ll be trying to confide in me, and I’ll be so ready to be supportive, Tikki, I’ll cry all night the night before so I can say that’s great, my love, I mean, Adrien, you two will look so hot together, I’ll be ready to use my words, I’ll practise, I won’t call him my loaf or my lubber, I won’t suddenly--I won’t talk like a--a badly translated period pirate drama or something, but then Chat will just pounce in out of nowhere, Tikki, you know he will, he’ll just drop from the ceiling between us, shouting a pun, and probably make out with Adrien right there on the couch and I’ll have to try to kick him off so I can listen to Adrien like a friend would do--”
“Breathe,” Tikki advised.
“--I could distract him with a laser pointer, maybe, do you think? Probably? While Adrien breaks my heart. I could have the tissues in one hand, and the laser pointer in the other, and I’ll just--I’ll just pretend I’m so happy for them-- ” she gulped back a sob, throwing herself on her chaise lounge, only to let herself ooze despairingly off onto the floor. “Maybe I should just smother myself with a couch pillow until Chat wanders off and starts punning at M. Agreste and Mme. Sancoeur. Maybe I should just smother myself now, Tikki, my love is in love with that stupid cat, Tikki-- ” she grabbed the pillow off the chaise and screamed into it.
Tikki’s head was exaggeratedly cocked. “Ah, Marinette, you don’t...you don’t know Adrien’s feelings! He’s a fencer, maybe he was impressed by Chat’s martial arts training!”
“He was flexing at me, Tikki! Adrien Agreste does not act like a circus strongman! He entirely forgot himself!”
“You could say to yourself ‘It’s so much healthier than dating Chloé,’ maybe,” Tikki offered, and Marinette’s head shot up.
“Adrien would never date Chloé! ”
Tikki floated upside-down, wondering whether a change in perspective would help. “She kisses and hugs him, though? All the time?”
“You’re right, I feel so much more supportive of Chat now,” Marinette said venomously. “He’d elbow right in and carry him off, leaving her screaming, and Adrien would get that...he gets all pink, Tikki…” she rubbed at the wetness on her face, drawing a shaky breath. “He gets all pink and shy and he...he buries his face in my neck and hugs me, Tikki, I just want to bring him back to some kind of-- Ladybug Lair and--”
“Ma-ri-nette! ” Tikki squealed. “You can’t kidnap boys you like and--and--defile them in your marzipan-scented baking lair, you’re a hero of the city-- ”
“Oh, I know,” Marinette growled, clenching her fists. “I know that. That’s why Adrien is at home right now, probably with a stupid cat with no boundaries on his balcony reciting dirty limericks, and I’m here. At home.”
“You have a great deal of homework--” Tikki suggested delicately.
“Here I am, just trying to figure out how to get Chat declawed.”
“Marinette. You are...figuring out how to communicate honestly, and respect Adrien’s choices as a person,” Tikki corrected primly.
“I could steal his phone and delete Chat’s number.” Marinette glowered out the window.
“MARINETTE, NO.” Tikki yanked on her bangs, squeaking indignantly. “Kidnapping, no matter how cute the boy, is a very close thing to supervillainy, and no more stealing of phones.”
Marinette took a deep breath to yell at the sky, the concept of patience, and cats as a species, and then held her hands up, exhaling through her nose. “I’m sorry. I know you mean well. Of course I’m not going to kidnap him. None of this is his fault. I might trip Chat the next time we’re over the river--”
“A pond, then. I hope he’s eaten by ducks.”
Obviously, sympathy for her Grecian tragedy of a life was not to be found at home, with her parents who thought Adrien Agreste could be won by a sincere confession of feelings by some nondescript pigtailed classmate, or her kwami, who severely underestimated her One True Love’s willingness to be bullied into bizarre situations. She needed a best friend.
“Alyaaaa,” Marinette whined deep in her throat, tripping over the twins that came to meet her at the door, and throwing her arms around her friend’s knees amidst a round of yelps. “Alya, my life has been ruined by Chat Noir.”
“Oh, do tell,” Alya made grabby hands, dragging her through the house by one arm, which put some strain on Marinette’s abs and thighs, since giggling children were clinging to either leg. “I’ll get the melon. And iced tea.”
“What’d Chat do?” the girls asked in duplicate, climbing Marinette like a set of parallel bars as Alya eyed them, rolled her eyes, and ran to the kitchen.
“Wandered around being a huge stupid dork who couldn’t find his way out of a box,” Marinette grumbled, flexing her magic-enhanced muscles to keep from being drug to the floor and trampled to death by giggling munchkins. It seemed like too fitting a way for the day to end.
“Chat Noir got stuck in a box?” they chimed together, wide-eyed, and she couldn’t resist.
“He meowed so sadly,” she shook her head. “But how could he be safe fighting for the city, when all the villains have to do is leave a large box nearby? I heard Ladybug sent him home with homework--he has to have assorted boxes in his room and build up a resistance.”
“Oh, no!” the little girls chorused, undistracted from climbing.
Alya returned just as Marinette slowly began accepting gravity’s great force, and unhitched her sisters in turn, prodding them out the door as they cried “Tell us more about Chat, Marinette!” The latch clicked closed.
“Adrien is in love with Chat Noir,” Marinette started, only to be interrupted by Alya spitting her tea, and two small bodies tumbling back in the room.
“Adrien Agreste?!” they shouted, as Alya tried to wipe the tea off her shirt. “Adrien Agreste is gay? ”
“Oh my god, girls, do not shout that--” Alya scrambled over to pull them back inside, but they were oddly still.
“Brigitte’s big sister kissed a girl and her parents were really mean.” Ella’s lips trembled.
Etta nodded. “They’re fighting. Brigitte keeps crying.”
“Well. If M. Agreste is unkind to Adrien, Ladybug will discuss it calmly with him while he dangles out a third-story window by one foot,” Marinette said crisply, and Alya snorted.
“If he’s alive after we’re done with him, you mean,” she raised an eyebrow at Marinette, then sighed, pursing her lips at her little sisters, who shuffled their feet worriedly. “We don’t know, you little monsters, so don’t go telling anyone, okay?”
“We won’t tell anyone,” they said nearly in unison, nodding. “We don’t want people to yell at him.”
“Somebody else today thought he was dating Chloé Bourgeois, so who knows,” Marinette managed, bitterly.
“No way.” Alya made a face, and her sisters loudly imitated it, and in the resulting confusion of tickles she shoved them both outside and locked the door. Tiptoeing back, she whispered “Let’s get tactical, okay, under the covers. They won’t be able to hear through the door as well. Tell me everything.”
Marinette sighed, grimacing as she pulled the blankets over their heads. “I should have asked you over to my house--”
“Yes you should,” Alya sighed. “You didn’t even bring pastries.”
“--I can’t believe I just outed him. He’s in love with Chat, Alya, what am I going to do? Do you know how many baby showers a litter of kittens will need? He’s never asked me about Ladybug, Alya, he knows I know her, he was all dreamy-faced over Chat, what am I going to do--”
“Wait, wait, tell me from the beginning,” Alya’s voice was slightly muffled--Marinette could just barely make out the shape of her cheek, chewing melon in the darkness. “You do know a gay man and a cat can’t make kittens, though, and I mean, Chat probably is not actually a cat--”
“Adrien was flexing around my locker, grilling me about everything Chat said and did and talking about how fantastic he was,” Marinette moaned.
Alya sputtered, choking, then picking pieces of honeydew out of her cleavage and popping them back in her mouth. “What you got against my melon and tea, girl?! He’s probably just a fan! You’ve seen how he turns into a puddle when Ladybug hauls him around!”
“He’s just sweet, he puts up with Chloé hauling him around! He gave that horrible stalker fan his email address! But he’s never asked me about Ladybug, Alya, never, and then he meets Chat once and he’s striking poses and talking about wonderful and handsome and cool he is--”
“He was calling him handsome?”
“And you know what Chat’s like, he flirts with architecture, Alya, he’ll break Adrien’s heart--”
“And what do I do if they marry, Alya? What if they have kids? Alya, if I give a bunch of kittens catnip toys, am I a drug dealer--” She clasped the first bit of Alya she grabbed, which resulted in an earnest clench of Alya’s ear and glasses.
“Marinette,” Alya’s tone had sobered. “Tell me everything about this, but right away, I need you to confess, immediately, whether you’re passing Biology.”