Adrien flopped back on his bed, a puff of air escaping his lips. Chloé arched a brow at the sound, eyes trained on her phone; one of her hands reached out and gently ran across the spine of the dog splayed out in her lap. Adrien groaned as he threw another letter on the steadily growing pile across the room. Chloé rolled her eyes, and clicked her fingers; her dog jumped down and stretched out on the floor at her slipper-clad feet; she rose elegantly and jabbed Adrien in the shoulder.
“Ow!” He yelped, rubbing his shoulder. He stared at her, an almost offended look on his face. “What was that for?”
“You were making annoying noises. I couldn’t focus on my phone.” She sighed, folding her eyes. “What are you being so dramatic over, anyway?”
“I have to choose a school, Chlo!” He shot up and over to the pile of letters. Kneeling in front of it, he grasped two in either hand. “I’m running out of time. Do I go local or abroad? Business school? Art? Come on, help me make a decision.”
Chloé exhaled sharply before muttering under her breath that sounded suspiciously like ‘ridiculous’ and sitting down next to him – though ‘sitting’ was an oversimplification. She reclined backwards, leaning back on one arm while resting the other gracefully on her raised knee. Her other leg stretched out before her, somehow threading the thin space between the pile and a bookcase. She plucked a letter from the ground and tossed it into Adrien’s lap. “What about that one?”
“Kjobstaad Academy, in… Norway. Great physics department, but I am not ready to deal with those winters.”
Chloé sighed in relief. “Finally, some logic. Imagine what would happen to your hair? Your nails? Now,” her hand dipped into the pile and tugged out another envelope, “what about… Comedy Traffic School?”
Adrien grinned sheepishly at her incredulous stare. “If it’s fate…”
Chloé ripped the letter in half.
Adrien laughed, and stretched his arms out over his head. “Things definitely seemed simpler when we were younger.”
“You mean when all you had to worry about was your voice breaking?”
If only, Adrien thought. Out loud, he said, “At least my voice never made ears bleed,” and leant casually to one side to avoid Chloé’s flying slipper. A loud knock on his bedroom door distracted him, and the second slipper hit him square in the jaw. Rubbing his face, he shot a playful kick at the other blonde before calling out, “Come in!”
Nino slouched into the room, and dropped down beside him. “Hey dude, Chloé.” He nodded at each in turn, raising a fist to meet Adrien’s as Chloé rolled her eyes at them. “Still trying to figure out where to go to school?”
“Working on it,” Adrien said, chewing at his bottom lip.
“Don’t,” Chloé ordered, pinching his cheek hard. “Just because your dad is no longer around to control your every move, it doesn’t mean you can go on a self-destructive spiral.”
“I was just biting my lip.”
“Correction: you were gnawing at it, like an animal. Besides, that’s how all spirals start.”
“By… biting your lip?”
Chloé narrowed her eyes. “Are you questioning me?”
“That’s what I thought,” she said smugly, settling back on her elbows and crossing one toned leg over the other. “Anyway, I don’t know why you’re so het up over this, Adrien. I could easily pull some strings and secure you a place at my school. Just think, we could be roommates!” Her eyes sparkled as she plotted. “You and me, ruling over the student body from our penthouse that we share – except for when I have Sabrina over,” she added, “in which case you’d have to scram.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t get too excited,” Nino chuckled.
Chloé scoffed and eyed him disdainfully. “Really? Where are you off to, then, Lahiffe?”
Nino shrugged. “Film school. I’m going to focus on dystopian tragedies.”
“Sounds pretentious,” Chloé said, drumming her expertly manicured fingers against her diamond-encrusted hand mirror as she carefully reapplied her designer lipstick.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Where are you going to school, Chloé?”
“Only the most prestigious school in England, of course: Camford on Oxbury.”
“Sounds like a wizard school.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s only some wizarding.”
Nino stared at her, agape. “Was that an actual joke, Chloé?”
“No one will ever believe you.”
Adrien smiled fondly as he watched the exchange, but his eyes strayed to the pile in front of him. I have to choose, he thought, determination blazing in his eyes. Alright, time to trust my gut. He dug through mountain of letters, emerging with one in either hand. HEC or PSL. Both are really good schools.
“Looks like you’ve got some serious thinking to do, dude,” Nino commented, peering over his shoulder.
“Ah, yes, a tale as old as time: the epic struggle of a drop-dead gorgeous student having to choose between two slightly above-average schools.” Chloé sighed dramatically, resting the back of a hand lightly on her forehead.
“Now who’s the pretentious one?” Nino muttered, poking her gently in the arm – an action that he instantly regretted as she delivered a swift kick to one of his legs in response.
“One: thank you. Two: when am I not?”
“If you were just going to agree with me, what was with the kick?” Nino said with a wince, rubbing his leg.
“… What does that even mean?”
Adrien grinned, tucking the letters into his back pocket as he rose to his feet. “It’s easier to just let it go.” He held out a hand and helped Chloé to her feet, and the three of them filed downstairs into the kitchen. Adrien got to work making a sandwich while Nino rummaged through the fridge and Chloé perched herself on the worktop. When the chef was dismissed after Hawk Moth had been revealed, Adrien had had to teach himself how to cook – which, as it turned out, was easy to do, but hard to do well. Luckily, sandwiches required very little skill, and his friends were always willing to help him out. Except Chloé. She wouldn’t go near any kind of menial task with a bargepole.
“Césaire told me Dupain-Cheng’s going to ESMOD,” Chloé said suddenly, attention once again on her phone.
“You do realise they both have first names, right? And since when were you and Alya buddies?” Adrien asked, hand stilling in the middle of buttering bread.
Chloé shrugged. “First names are for people I like. And as it turns out she is surprisingly… refreshing.”
“You better not be hitting on my girl,” Nino teased, an amused glint in his eyes. The blonde girl snorted.
“Luckily for you, I have no plans to rescue her from your heterosexual relationship – though it should be made clear, if I so desired, I could easily seduce her.”
“Technically it’s not heterosexual, since Alya is bi. Also I’m pretty sure it would be the other was around, seeing how flustered you get when a girl flirts with you,” Adrien commented, and smoothly stepped out of the way of Chloé’s kick. “For a part-time superhero, you really should improve your aim.”
“Excuse you, I am full-time, thank you very much.”
“A full-time annoyance.”
“I’ll have you know Ladybug herself recruited me and said she wouldn’t have been able to defeat the akumas without me, so there!”
“In more confusing news,” Nino interrupted loudly, “why do you have such weird food? Everything’s ‘non’, or ‘lite’, or ‘free’, or ‘diet’. Skimmed milk? Skimmed?” He made an affronted, disgusted noise, opting to close the fridge and swipe a bag of crisps from a cupboard. “How are these low fat too?” He stared at Adrien in despair and horror, pointing a shaky hand at him. “You are not human.”
“Okay, now back to what I was saying, since whatever I have to say is always more important,” Chloé declared, causing the two boys to roll their eyes. “Dupain-Cheng’s going to ESMOD.”
“Wow, really? Huh,” Adrien hummed. “I haven’t seen a lot of her lately.” A beat passed. “I’m happy for her.”
“Shame you won’t get to tell her that, huh?” Chloé commented offhandedly, and Adrien started.
“Uh, because she’s leaving today? How do I know about this before you?”
He blinked, completely forgetting about his sandwich (luckily, Nino didn’t, and swept in to finish it off). “She’s really leaving?”
“Yeah,” Nino said through his mouthful of stolen sandwich. Chloé grimaced at the display. “It’s a shame really – I’d always figured you two would end up together.”
“I wish,” Adrien sighed, turning to lean back on the worktop, crossing his long legs in front of him. “I am so in the friendzone there.” A silence answered him, and he looked between his friends. “What?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Chloé breathed, placing her phone down beside her and burying her face in her hands.
Nino had to put down his sandwich in shock. “She had a giant crush on you for ages.”
“Years, Adrien. Years.” Chloé’s voice was the epitome of distress. “It was so obvious! She blushed if you so much as looked at her and swooned whenever you smiled and god help her when you spoke to her she melted! She quite literally tripped over herself whenever she saw you!”
“When she looked at you her pupils formed tiny hearts. She broke the laws of science with her crush, dude.”
Adrien’s jaw dropped. “What, seriously? Why didn’t either of you say anything?”
“Because it was so obvious, I didn’t think I had to lower myself to it!” Chloé exclaimed. “Do not try to blame me for you own obliviousness!”
“If I had, Alya would have murdered me and Marinette would’ve died of embarrassment,” Nino shrugged.
Adrien stood quietly for a moment, before striding across the room. “I’m, uh – I’m going to go for a walk. Clear my head, get some air.”
“There’s air in here.”
He stared at Chloé with a completely deadpan expression, before walking out of the room. The other two watched him go, before turning to each other with matching expressions of deviousness. “We have to get them together,” Nino said, abandoning the sandwich completely. “It’s not too late.”
“Of course it isn’t, did you see his reaction? He absolutely still has feelings for her.”
Nino tilted his head. “You seem weirdly okay with Marinette and Adrien having feelings for each other.”
She sniffed. “Dupain-Cheng’s gotten into ESMOD, she clearly has a good head on her shoulders, and she’s not just after Adrien’s fame or money. Plus, she stuck by him through the… Hawk Moth situation, and I respect that. He could do significantly worse.”
“You’re a surprisingly decent person, Chloé.”
“If you let that get out, your life will have a swift and excruciating end, Lahiffe.”
Meanwhile, the Dupain-Cheng bakery was bustling. Customers flitted from display to display, chattering happily between themselves; the air was warm, filling the shop with the scents of numerous pastries and sweet delicacies; and behind the counter stood Marinette, who handed an order over with a friendly smile. She greeted the next customer politely, her eyes straying behind them as she rang them up and caught on a group of girls who waved excitedly. Her face lit up.
“Maman!” She called, “Could you cover the counter for me?”
Sabine wandered in from the back room with a smile. “Of course, sweetie.”
Marinette thanked her, before darting to the back of the bakery. “Guys!” She exclaimed, hugging each of them in turn. “What are you doing here?”
“We didn’t know when we’d next see you,” Rose squeaked, “so we wanted to wish you luck at school!”
“And you have some killer doughnuts, girl,” Alya winked.
“Aww, thank you!” Marinette beamed, and the group made their way upstairs to her living room, giggling and grinning all the way. It had been a few weeks since they had all hung out together, with the stress of exams and akumas – the latter of which had been far easier to deal with than the first. Rose’s hair had grown out a little, just brushing her jawline – a look that was wholly supported by her girlfriend, Juleka. Alix had had a growth spurt – that is to say, she bought a pair of impressively tall platform boots. Sabrina had been through the biggest change, however – with hair that gently curled around her face (that had a distant lack of glasses), and a completely reworked wardrobe (courtesy of Chloé, of course), she was unrecognisable as the timid schoolgirl she used to be.
The group relaxed on the sofas, Rose leaning back into Juleka’s embrace and Alix kicking her feet up onto the coffee table. Alya’s phone buzzed and she tapped away at the screen, a tiny crease appearing between her brows. “What’s up?” Marinette asked, peering over at the phone curiously.
“Me and Nino –”
“Nino and I.” Marinette supplied.
“– can’t decide what film to watch tonight. I want the one with the planet and he wants the one with the guy.”
“Well, don’t fight about it, just manipulate the situation,” Sabrina suggested, looking up from her own phone.
Alya raised her eyebrows. “What?”
Sabrina sighed, dropping her phone and twisting to face the group en masse. “Alright, listen up. Pretend you don’t care about your movie, but casually mention it’s by that ice cream shop he likes, or his favourite restaurant. Works every time,” she added, settling back into the sofa pillows.
Alya looked vaguely impressed. “Chloé lets you get away with that?”
“Where do you think I learned the technique?”
A few minutes more of conversation (which mainly consisted of romance gossip and fangirling over the recently released Mecha Strike, with a side of superhero theorising), Sabine’s voice drifted upstairs. “Marinette, could you get the phone for me?”
“Of course, maman!” Marinette jumped up, accidently disturbing Alix’s legs as she grabbed the house phone, causing them to fall off the table with a resounding clunk.
“Where is Nino right now, anyway? I figured he’d want to say bye to Marinette too,” Juleka asked Alya, gently brushing her fingers through Rose’s hair.
“He’s at Adrien’s.”
“Oh.” The group quietened. Nino had been spending a lot more time there, ever since Hawk Moth’s reveal – which is to be expected, Alya supposed. I hope Adrien’s doing okay. Finding out your dad is secretly the supervillain who was terrorizing the city is nobody’s dream birthday present.
“It’s too bad Marinette and Adrien never got together,” Rose said, changing the mood of the room instantly. Behind her Juleka nodded, and Sabrina hummed in assent.
“Yeah, I always figured they were meant for each other,” Alix said, swinging her feet back onto the table with a sigh.
Alya looked over at her best friend. “Look at her, working so hard.”
At the phone, Marinette frowned, a hand on her hip. “Do we have chopped liver? What do you think this place is, chopped li – oh, that doesn’t really work.”
Sabrina sighed. “Now she doesn’t have the time to scheme her way into his heart.”
A grin split Alya’s face, a spark lighting up her eyes as she began to plot. “No – but we do.” She turned to face Sabrina, a sly smirk curving her lips. “Text our resident Queen Bee and tell her we have a plan to get those oblivious idiots together!”
Chloé’s phone buzzed as she was mid ice cream cone; she licked her fingers clean, wiped them on a napkin, then picked up her phone.
“Sabrina?” Nino asked, swallowing his mouthful of ice cream and dropping his spoon back in the tub. The pair were still waiting for Adrien to return, and together had systematically worked their way through six bags of crisps (Nino’s logic being that since they weren’t full fat, they had to eat three times as much), two sandwiches each and a tub of ice cream.
Reading the text, the blonde nodded. “Mm. The girls want to get Adrien and Dupain-Cheng together.”
“Wasn’t that our idea?”
“Yes, but now I have to answer her as though it was her idea.” She licked her cone again, a fond smile playing about her lips. “She’s trying to manipulate the situation. It’s how we love.”
Adrien wandered down the street, unable to drag his thoughts away from Marinette. He had always thought she didn’t view him as anything other than a ‘good friend’, but thinking back, he had to admit – she had been pretty obvious. The blushing, the stuttering, the staring… An unbidden smile wormed its way onto his face as he recalled her wide, glimmering blue eyes; her goofy yet adorable smile; her hair, dark as the night, framing her angelic face – wow, okay, I have it bad, he realised. He blinked. I like her. I… love her?
Before he was able to contemplate it any more, he collided with a walking stack of boxes – or rather, a person carrying a tower of boxes. He scrambled to his feet, helping the other person to their feet while apologising profusely. “I’m so sorry, that was my fault, I wasn’t looking where I was going…”
His voice trailed off as the person laughed, patting him on the arm. “It’s quite alright.”
Adrien recognised the voice in an instant. “Madame Bustier?”
Her hair, not as vibrant a red as it once had been, was pinned in loose bun at the back of her neck, and despite having ditched her suit for a flowing sundress, her eyes still shone with the kindness they always had. The woman blinked, before smiling softly. “Adrien Agreste! My, you’re so tall! How time flies. Off to bigger and better things, or so I hear. Which school will you be attending?”
“I, uh, haven’t really decided yet,” he admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Maybe you’ll end up at the same school as Nino – or perhaps Marinette?” Her eyes twinkled knowingly, and Adrien flushed. “She came by this morning to say goodbye – she’s always been so sweet, wouldn’t you agree?”
Adrien started. “This morning? She’s leaving so soon?”
Madame Bustier nodded. “As soon as she’s finished work.” As Adrien visibly began to panic, she gently gripped his arms and refused to break eye contact with him. “Listen to me: if there’s anything you want to tell her, go to the bakery, and quickly.”
He nodded, and ran off along the street.
He ran past her, calling his thanks over his shoulder as he ran down the road, determination blazing through him. Even if she didn’t feel the same, if she didn’t want to be with him, he had to tell her. He had to know.