The girl Adrien was comforting at that moment was more terrified than sad now, for her eyes saw the glistening, black butterfly coming for her.
She had just lost her father not too long ago, and so was still fragile. Adrien alongside a few friends had gathered around to comfort her when she broke down in one of the back halls. He was sitting on the ground with her in a tight hug, he half knew her pain, he still didn't know if his mother was alive or not, but it was close enough.
And when the damned akuma showed up, his reaction was to protect her, just bringing his shoulder around and glared at it as if that would do anything. Everyone else started to see it one by one. Some panic ensued. The girl started to cling to him out of fear as everyone there started to run.
Except one girl.
"NO!" Marinette yelled. She was standing in the way, flailing her arms about to shoo it away. "No! No! NO!"
She was just as mad as Adrien that Hawk Moth would take advantage of someone suffering such tragic loss. Somehow, her dance with it was working, buying some seconds for Adrien to shift further into the way, and to get his feet under him so he could help the girl leave this place. Unfortunately she was too overwhelmed to stand.
He realized then how dumb it was of him to stay. He was risking getting akumatized, and then what? Would he be able to resist? Would Hawk Moth know he was Chat Noir in that instant? What kind of monster would he become?
He then watched with fear for Marinette. With what she was doing – she was to be the one to turn next, wasn't she?
"Just go away, you nasty bug!" she yelled.
"Marinette! Run!" he shouted. It was what he planed to do, but the girl was latched on well and he couldn't bring himself to just shove her away. All he could do was watch and wait for the inevitable.
Marinette had the same thoughts go through her head, she should have just ducked away like everyone else did, wait and watch for the akuma to land, and sweep in moments later as Ladybug to nip this case in the bud. But she was filled with too much need to protect the girl, so she didn't. She just kept swatting at it with her hands.
Then contact. The back of her hand smacked it with a soft pat, and in that instant both she and Adrien held their breaths. The akuma however didn't take hold, just now fluttered about in a dizzy swirl like any other flying insect knocked from the air.
Marinette narrowed her eyes and a new level of confidence filled her. "I'm not scared of you, Hawk Moth..."
As Adrien watched, his jaw started to drop, his eyes were focused souly on Marinette now, at the determination in her face to protect their friend from the power of an evil man. In that moment of hearing her statement, Adrien's heart saw Marinette.
He then had sudden inspiration as he turned to the girl in his arms.
"El, don't be afraid," he said, calm and soft as he held her closer. "I know you're scared, I know you're sad. But don't be afraid, it's going to be okay..."
She was shaking of course, but somehow startled enough by the request that she reset. It wasn't intentional. It wasn't the motivation. She just couldn't process anymore, and that was enough to forget the emotions for just long enough.
The akuma backed off. It was still unsteady after getting struck by Marinette, and now there was two people who's emotions repelled it.
"Shoo! Shoo! Get out of here!" Marinette demanded, putting further pressure onto it and herded out the open window, shutting it promptly and rushed along the line to ensure the other windows were also closed.
Adrien and the girl sank into each other for a moment with relief, then Marinette came back and knelt alongside. She took the girls tear stained face in her hands, giving the warmest smile.
"Everything is okay now."
"Oh, Marinette..." the girl whimpered, emotions coming back around, and she left Adrien's arms for Marinette's, getting a tender kiss on the forehead in the process. "I'm sorry..."
"None of this is your fault," she replied, a soft smile upon her face that only Adrien could see. "It's okay now. Breath..."
They were the only ones left in that stretch of the hall. No one else saw what Adrien saw. And although her words were for the girl, they had an effect on him too. He then could tell that Marinette was trembling some, most likely as shaken up as he from this, but it just elevated her more in his eyes as they comforted the girl together.
"That was awesome, Marinette," he breathed when their eyes finally met. She seemed to have been impacted, and blinked a few times as he held her blue gaze. Or perhaps it was because she was blinking back some tears. But a smile did started to grace her face, much like the blush she now took on.
However, their friend came first, and they did all they could to keep her calm and comfortable.
Voices could be heard returning a few minutes later, most of which wondering if it was safe, or if Ladybug and Chat Noir showed up. It was too hard to explain exactly what happened after people fled, Adrien and Marinette were stacking their stories differently, but people easily accepted that the akuma just flew away and so just left it at that.
* * *
Walking away from the event was no easy task, nor was it something Adrien really wanted to do. Things calmed down, the group of friends were doing friend things together and bolstering El while they were at it. But during this time Adrien was extra quiet. He was also hovering around closer to Marinette than normal – just taking the open spaces as people wandered, and carried on with conversations he was involved in, maybe slipping in and out of one's she was in.
He had no idea who Marinette really was. Ladybug had not crossed his mind in any way during this time. No, he was just suddenly fascinated by her. It was like he saw her for the first time. And this feeling wasn't about to go away.
Fencing later that day kept his focus, but once home and given some time to drift, that moment came right back. Like electricity flowing through his chest. She was so brave. She put herself at risk for others. She wasn't afraid of Hawk Moth. And was there more to her that was overlooking this whole time? This kick he felt was April 12th* all over again! Why was he so attracted to strength? No, attracted wasn't the right word here, he would tell him self.
"You've been very odd since that akuma," Plagg said, startling him from his trance.
"Exactly." Plagg then flitted over to him, Adrien was laying out on his bed staring at the ceiling this whole time. "What's on your mind?"
What as on his mind? Nothing too exact. Just felt like he was swimming through a sea of various thoughts and concepts.
"Marinette hit an akuma and didn't get akumatized," he finally blurted. "You saw that, right?"
Plagg blinked at him some. "Actually, I was hiding and trying to not be squished."
"Oh... right. But she did... how did she not get affected by it?" He was propped up on his elbows now.
Plagg shrugged. "I don't know. Akumas can only affect people with strong negative emotions. She just must not have been in the right mood."
"I suppose... She was angry, but it was -at- Hawk Moth..." Adrien let his head fall back onto the bed.
"SooOOOOooo... That means you're thinking about Marinette, huh?" Plagg teased as he came closer, showing off that impish expression.
Adrien rolled his eyes and roll onto his side. "No, not like that..."
But Plagg did have him pegged. In some ways he was thinking of her more than normal. This blatant remark made it worse now, putting the concepts of love at the forefront of his mind. And now he was comparing his feelings to different people, trying hard to justify what he was experiencing towards Marinette as something else all together. What was going on??
No. He LOVED Ladybug. She was his everything. He stuck his flag into that hill and would die upon it.
But it hurt.
It was a lonely hill.
And now something elsewhere caught his eye, making him doubt it was the only place he belonged.
"You're brooding again," Plagg was kind enough to announce.
Adrien quickly got to his feet in a frustrated huff and stormed away.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm taking a shower!"
* * *
Maybe it wasn't love at all, not how he thought of it...
The extra hot shower seemed to help still his mind, giving him a chance to think differently about the situation, and to shed off other thoughts muddling it. He had a lot to figure out still, but thus far he let himself settle on the fact that he loved Ladybug. But he also loved Marinette. And neither to the two extremes he had previously placed them.
Ladybug was Ladybug, there was nothing to explain there.
But Marinette was that one dear friend he valued in his life. The one that kept some order to their lives, even though it seemed her's was chaotic. He never took advantage of it like others did, but she was the one you could go and talk with about anything. She was the one that you could count on to care when you were having a bad day. She paid attention to those close to her even when they were just in the background.
Marinette was the definition of a true friend.
Ladybug was also a friend, but in light of what Marinette stood for, she hardly cast a shadow right now. And if he thought too hard about it, their type of friendship only made him angry.
Maybe Plagg was right. Romance was overrated.
He was splitting his thoughts over homework, trying to keep distracted and trying to escape the mundane that was French history.
He resigned himself to just distance himself from it all for a time. When he would see Ladybug, he'd try and not be his possessive self, he'd treat her how he did any other friend. And as for Marinette, he would find it hard to write her off as anything more than a friend.
It would be tough, but he would just wait it out and see how he truly felt over the coming weeks.