It's a cool, clear night, with only the sound of his footsteps for company. The best kind of night, really. Chat Noir nimbly leaps from rooftop to rooftop, using his baton to propel him upward where necessary, until he spots his target. Ladybug is standing on a rooftop, staring out at the city. Her back is to him, and it seems like she’s not paying attention. He lands behind her, mouth opening to let out a witty comment -
- and Ladybug turns around, her eyes full of tears.
Chat Noir can't help gaping at her. He doesn't ever remember seeing Ladybug cry. She's the calm, collected one of their duo. Concern immediately overrides everything else, and he closes the distance between them quickly to gently grasp her shoulders. "My Lady? What's wrong?"
She collapses against him with a wail, her hands coming up to cover her face. Between her stuttered gasps and sobs, he manages to make out the reason for her uncustomary state of mind: her parents have found out she's Ladybug, and they've forbidden her to continue out of concern for her safety. Chat Noir's blood runs cold. All he can do is stand there, hugging her, and stare at the top of her bowed head as she tells him that this is the last time she's allowed to transform; as soon as she goes home, they're taking her miraculous away.
"This is... this is the last time I c-could come. I told them... I had to let you know," Ladybug finishes, wiping at her eyes. She lifts her head to look at him with watery eyes and tries to smile. "I wanted... I wanted you to know, so you wouldn’t think I’d just disappeared on you."
"Ladybug..." It's all Chat Noir can say, even though he wants to say so much more. How is he going to do this without her?
Her lower lip quivers and she reaches up to her earrings, pulling them out. Her transformation dissolves in a wash of reddish pink light; a bright red ladybug kwami tumbles through the air and lands on her shoulder. Marinette Dupain-Cheng stands before Chat Noir, tears streaking her face. She squares her shoulders and seems calmer when she speaks again.
"My-my name is Marinette and I'm so sorry, Chat," she says. "I should've been more careful. But here. I don't want my parents to have them. Paris needs a Ladybug. You need a Ladybug. Master Fu and Tikki will be able to help you pick someone else -"
"I want you," Chat Noir says. He knows it's cruel but he can't help himself. Selfishly, he pulls her into another hug. She comes willingly, burrowing into him. He can't fathom fighting alongside another Ladybug. How can he have a partner who doesn't roll her eyes at his jokes, or put her finger on his nose to push him away, or cuddle up to him at the end of a long, cold night?
"I'm sorry," Marinette whispers again, miserably.
"It's not your fault, Marinette. Your parents... there's no way?"
"I've talked to them a lot. For hours. They just won't bend."
"What if I kept your miraculous, and you just met up with me when an akuma shows up?"
She shakes her head, another stiffled sob breaking free. "I'm grounded. Either I'm at school or the bakery. Maman is going to walk me there and back. Papa said they were going to be checking on me every twenty minutes to make sure I’m still there, and if there’s an akuma attack I have to be with one of them at all times."
The world feels like it's falling out from under him. "I can't do this without you."
"You have to, Chaton. Paris needs you." She steps back from him again, and it feels like he's losing her. It's the most unbearable feeling.
"Plagg, claws in!"
"Wait!" Marinette yelps, but it's too late. Her eyes grow huge when she sees Adrien, mouth working silently for several seconds before she says, "Why? Why would you do that? It didn't matter if you knew who I was, because I'm not Ladybug anymore - but I can still be akumatized, and Hawkmoth could find out - you stupid cat!" She's the one who grabs him this time, her thin, strong arms winding around him desperately. Adrien hugs her just as hard, trying to memorize the way she fits against him.
"I need you," he whispers into her hair, and she sobs in response. It’s the saddest, most heartbreaking sound he’s ever heard and he can’t think of a way to make it better. His own eyes blur with tears that burn hot. He’s finally found out who his lady is and now he’s losing her.
"Why don't you just get married?"
"What?" Adrien says, turning his head to blink dumbly at his kwami.
Plagg shrugs from where he’s hovering right beside their heads. "Then your parents wouldn't have any say, right? It worked for the last Ladybug and Chat Noir who had this problem."
The last ones?
"Plagg!" Tikki says, launching herself off of Marinette’s shoulder. "These are different times. That's not acceptable now."
"Why not? It would solve their problem. You could both do whatever you wanted then," Plagg says, cocking his head. He's wearing that shit-eating grin that means he's trying to stir up trouble. Tikki just rolls her eyes at him and then looks worriedly at Marinette, who is avoiding all their eyes by staring at the ground.
"Can you take me home?" Marinette asks in a tiny voice, touching Adrien's hand. Fresh tears rise in his eyes and he wipes them away.
He transforms and scoops her up. She feels unbearably fragile in his arms, her small arms winding around his neck, and the trip is over far too soon. Watching her walk back into the bakery is the hardest thing he's ever done. When she stops at the door and turns to look at him, the sight of the tears on her face physically hurts. A big man that must be her father appears, pulling Marinette inside and shutting the door.
Chat Noir barely remembers the trip home; he falls onto his bed as Plagg drags Tikki over to share his box. Tikki is crying. Adrien stares up at the ceiling before closing his eyes. Marinette's face after she de-transformed flashes through his head immediately. He finally knows who Ladybug is, but this isn't how he thought he'd find out. He'd happily live with never finding out if it meant that Marinette could continue to be Ladybug and fight at his side.
Somehow he manages to fall asleep, but he doesn't stay that way. Around 3am, Adrien finds himself thinking about his trust fund. His mother set it up when he was a baby. It's funded by several investments she made, but he also knows that half the money he makes modeling gets tucked away in there too. He's not supposed to know that, but he does. There must be a considerable amount of money in there by now, but he's never looked into it because he’s not allowed to touch it until he's twenty-five.
Or until he's married.
He can't seriously be thinking about this. He buries his face in his pillow, head spinning. They're too young. He and Marinette are only sixteen. Even though Adrien could easily support them both - even though it would allow Marinette to continue being Ladybug - even though he loves her with everything that he is - even though she might love him - even though...
Adrien sits up and looks around for Tikki and Plagg. They're both sleeping. There are tear streaks on Tikki’s face. The Ladybug Miraculous sits on the dresser beside them. He reaches over to the nightstand and fumbles around until he finds his phone, and spends the rest of the night looking up laws on marriage in France.
The next morning, Adrien tucks Tikki and Plagg into his backpack and eats his breakfast and lets the Gorilla drive him to school. As he gets out of the car, he sees Marinette. She's on time for once, walking towards the school. An older woman that looks a lot like Marinette watches from the corner, arms crossed. Seeing Marinette's slumped shoulders and the downcast look on her face hardens his resolve.
"Marinette!" he calls out, and she visibly flinches.
"A-Adrien," she says weakly, looking up at him. Her blue eyes are red-rimmed and puffy, like she’s been crying all night, and all he wants is to see her smile.
He walks over to her. "How are you?"
"I've been better," she says. Her fingers tighten around the strap of her bag. "So."
"So," Adrien echoes.
Marinette looks away. "Have you chosen someone new, then?"
"What?" Adrien stares at her in shock. "No!"
"You need to. An akuma could attack at any minute." Marinette's voice is soft and pained.
The thought of fighting alongside a new Ladybug is what breaks him. He can’t fight beside someone else, especially not now that he knows he was fighting beside Marinette. It may sound dramatic, but the thought of losing her, losing his lady, feels the same as it did when he lost his mother. He needs her. He looks down at her, at her beautiful face, and cracks.
"W-what?!" Marinette exclaims, finally looking at him.
His backpack is jostling in surprise as Plagg and Tikki react, but he takes her hands and it's like they're the only two people in the world as he says, voice soft, "Marry me, Princess."
"I mean it. I have money; we can get a small apartment. You can be Ladybug and I'll be Chat Noir and nothing will change."
Marinette stares at him. "You're serious."
"I've never been more serious," Adrien says. His heart has been pounding all morning; now, it calms. He wants to fall to his knees and hug her so tightly that she'll never be able to leave. It feels like like she's slipping through his fingers, and it's agonizing.
"We can't," Marinette says. "We're too young."
"We're sixteen. That's legal."
"We're so young..." Marinette whispers, though she doesn't sound convinced. She looks down at their hands. Adrien holds perfectly still while she thinks.
They both jump when the bell rings, and Marinette casts a glance over her shoulder to where her mother is still standing, watching them. Adrien wonders what her mother sees, and then realizes that he doesn’t care.
"Can I think about it?" she asks.
"Of course. Yes," Adrien says, so grateful she's not dismissing him immediately that he could cry.
Marinette nods. His hands feel cold when she lets go. They walk into the school together, where Alya immediately accosts Marinette. Adrien drifts to his own seat and sits, but he doesn't hear a word that their teachers say all day. It doesn't help that Marinette avoids him. He can feel the pressure of her eyes on the back of his head, but she doesn't speak to him and he takes the hint and keeps his distance.
He thinks she's going to say no. It would make sense. She's right. They are young, and how many people would say that they're being foolish? They'd say that first love never lasts, and that both of them will move on and find someone else, and that Adrien will learn to work with a new partner.
Maybe those people are right, but the punch to the gut he feels later that night when he gets a one word text from Marinette makes him not care.
"She said yes!" Plagg yells to Tikki, who pops her head up out of the box with a shocked look.
"Really?" Tikki says.
"Yes," Adrien says, feeling lightheaded.
He's getting married.