He's wearing white. Why is he wearing white? Why does he ever wear white—
"What's he doing here?" snaps Chloé from where she's at a mirror fixing her makeup. Adrien whips his head around, heart flaring with fear—if she knows his secret—
—Oh. Just Marinette.
"Knock it off, Chloé," Adrien growls, because the 'boy in the girls' room' routine she keeps giving Marinette has never been amusing, ever, and goes back to digging in his purse. There's got to be some. He cannot have forgotten—
Not that it's often a problem in the first place, because he doesn't dare eat as voraciously as he wants to given he needs to keep people thinking he himself eats all the stinky cheese he buys, and that plus how active he is would probably screw up his cycle even without whatever Plagg does so it's never a problem for Chat Noir, but—
Gods, why can't he just spend the next week as Chat Noir?
"Something wrong, Adrienne?" asks Marinette.
Adrien gives up. "I'm out of pads."
"Oh!" He hears her purse clasp pop, and a moment later three packets appear in his line of sight, held out by Marinette's small hand.
"Marinette, you're a lifesaver," Adrien tells her, and snatches the packets and stuffs two in his purse and dives into the nearest open stall.
"You can borrow my jacket too," Marinette adds as cloth rustles, and a moment later the dark gray garment in question is slung over the top of the stall door. "Since there's, um."
"A stain," Adrien completes glumly, having just seen that from the other angle. He'd hoped there wouldn't be, but, well. He's wearing white. He can run home at lunch to change clothes, at least? "Lifesaver," he repeats.
"You could have asked me," Chloé says irritably. "Why does Dupain-Cheng even carry those? That's girl stuff."
Because she's a girl? Adrien almost says. Someday he wants to tell Chloé he himself isn't, though. What else could—
"I know people who menstruate, Chloé," Marinette says over the sound of a toilet in use. "Some of my best friends are menstruators."
—and that is an excellent argument for why boys should carry menstrual products. Doesn't answer why Chloé is annoyed Marinette does. Or whatever it is Chloé's feeling here.
"So you think it'll get you in girls' pants?" asks Chloé. "You know she's straight, right?"
Adrien has lost track of the pronoun referents here. "Leave her alone," he orders Chloé. "What's Marinette ever done to you anyway?"
"Existed," grumbles Marinette.
Chloé hmphs and walks out of the room.
Adrien flushes and exits the stall, going to wash his hands. Marinette comes out right behind him, turning on the next sink and getting the soap, and there are no words for how hurt he would feel if Chloé got on his case about being a boy but—
Marinette dries her hands and so does Adrien, and he grabs her jacket off the stall door to tie around his waist and cover the splotch on his white skirt, while watching her hesitate and bite her lip—
"May I ask a really rude question?" Adrien blurts out.
—She looks relieved. "Go ahead."
"What was all that about?"
Marinette shrugs. "I'm a trans girl. Chloé is an ass."
Adrien winces, because yeah, that accurately describes Chloé right now. "I'm sorry about her."
"I'm going to be dealing with people like that all my life," she points out. "It's not like I keep it secret. I just don't want all of Paris to know it, and it's not the sort of thing there's ever a good time to mention."
"I think I get that," Adrien says, nodding. "I don't know why it even matters to her," he lies, "unless she wants in your pants." Which is kind of scary plausible, actually, but he is not saying that out loud. "And even then it doesn't need to be her business unless you want in hers, right?"
Marinette chokes. "Gods no! I mean, I'm straight, um, mostly, but she's, she's Chloé!"
"Sorry about that mental image," Adrien says. He pulls his cosmetics bag out of his purse, more to have an excuse not to look directly at her for a moment than because he thinks he needs to fix anything.
You're like me, he doesn't say.
You're braver than me, he doesn't say.
You're stronger than me, he doesn't say.
"I'm glad," he says. "That you told me."
Marinette smiles, so brightly that a sideways glimpse draws his gaze. She almost looks like Ladybug does, he thinks, when his lady is most carefree.
"We're friends," she says. "Aren't we?"
Adrien stares at her. He's wanted to be friends with Marinette since he met her, but he hasn't thought they are. This might be the longest conversation with all her words in order that they've ever had.
"Yeah," he says, and grins back. "Of course we are."
Marinette leaves, and Adrien turns to the mirror, the Chat-like expression falling off his face. He actually does need to fix his lip color; he's chewed it half off again. Ugh.
(He's all for cosmetics as an art form. He's good at it. He likes it, even, sometimes; if Hawkmoth ever lays the fuck off and Father can be persuaded into letting his daughter join the drama club, he'll happily volunteer to handle everyone's stage makeup, probably. Including his own. Being the canvas for cosmetics art is not his problem.)
"Plagg," Adrien whispers into the otherwise empty bathroom. She's the only one who knows. Adrien hadn't even had to explain it to her; she'd called him fille when they met, yes, but after that first glorious transformation, she'd asked "What's your name?", and when he'd told her "Adrienne," she'd replied, "Are you sure? Because I think I was misinformed," and it's been Adrien and gamin ever since. Except when he's slow to supply her Camembert, and then it's garçon.
Plagg floats up beside his ear, reflected next to Adrienne Agreste, hottest young model in Paris. "Someday you'll tell her, kid," she says quietly.
The street brat Plagg names him might have an easier time of this than Gabriel Agreste's only child.
That's not true. He knows the statistics.
If anyone knows, anyone at all, Father might find out. If Father finds out—
"My name is Adrien," he whispers.
He can't cry. He'll have to fix his whole face if he cries.
An akuma attacks over lunch hour. It's Mme. Claudette Bruel, Ivan's mother, calling herself Kiln; she's built like a tank. With flamethrowers. She's targeting the art studio where she worked until about ten minutes ante-butterfly. So many clay puns. So many painting puns. So many fire puns! ('Bull in a china shop' is out on principle, though; Ivan is sensitive about his size, and Chat doubts his mother's much different.)
Chat Noir has the time of his life.
Ladybug even laughs a couple times, lighting up the way Marinette did that morning. And right after the ritual fist bump, when Chat asks his lady to come find him that evening, she agrees on a time and place, smiling.
Adrien doesn't make it home to change.
"So what did you want to talk about?" Ladybug asks. They're hanging out in the branches of a tree in Place des Vosges, having chased each other around two arrondissements for the sheer joy of it. He's draped along a sturdy branch, three limbs dangling, and she's perched on the next one down.
Chat Noir has been asking himself that question all afternoon.
"We're friends, right?" he asks her.
He isn't looking at her when he asks this. He can't. Or rather, he is not looking at the her who might answer him. Diagonally across the square, of course, a bronze Ladybug leaps into action, larger than life. Her partner crouches beside her, ready to follow wherever she leads; he is just about life-sized.
"Of course we're friends!" Ladybug says, and the speed of her answer is reassuring. Mostly. "Why do you ask?"
He hasn't figured out yet how the sculptor got the yo-yo to look right without supports. The sense of motion in the bronze Chat's cat ears and tail and the bronze Ladybug's miniskirt aren't physics-defying the way that spiraling bronze cord seems to be.
"Chaton?" Ladybug asks, tugging lightly on his tail. "Why do you ask? Have I done anything to hurt you, or—?"
"No!" Chat yelps, because that sad, scared note in her voice—he can't listen to it. "No, you haven't—no," he says, firmly. "You've never hurt me."
That's a lie. She's been in love with a straight girl as long as he's known her. But he can't blame her for that. Or the straight girl, or himself.
And they both know it's a lie. And why he mostly stopped flirting with her.
"What, then?" Ladybug asks gently.
He's been debating how to say this all afternoon, too, when he hasn't been debating whether to say it at all.
"If," Chat says, "I were to tell you my name is Joseph—"
"I'm not!" Chat protests. "It's not! But if." Ladybug subsides. "And if you wanted to find me without my mask. Yes, Bug, but leave me my hopes and dreams." Ladybug snickers. Chat has never protested the secrecy too hard anyway, even from each other. He continues, "You'd want to look for a girl named Joséphine."
"It's that sort of name," Chat tells her, watching two children and an adult approach the base of their statue. "My mother chose it, so I want to keep it. You know, if I ever get the nerve to tell anyone but you I'm a boy. It'd be harder if she'd picked a name like, oh, Élisabeth." It's his middle name. He hasn't really thought about choosing a masculine one.
"Oh," says Ladybug. "Oh!" The leaves rustle, his branch shakes, and she's—
—sprawling on him?
"Just to be sure I understand," Ladybug says softly in his ear, "I'm the first to know you're trans?"
Chat swallows. "If my father finds out," he says, "he'll be disappointed. Maybe—"
The best case scenario here is 'disappointed' is the worst his father gets. Gabriel Fashion mostly creates women's clothing and accessories; what Adrien models is tailored for a teenage girl but not designed for one. Even less is it designed for someone built like Chat Noir. Father would have to find other models, and tell people why, and—
"Maybe worse," Chat says. "Maybe I'll never be allowed through his front door again."
And he doesn't know which scares him more: being locked inside the mansion walls, or being locked out.
"If he kicks you out," Ladybug tells him, shifting to wrap both her arms around him and his branch, "you come find me. My parents will adopt you in a heartbeat."
Chat's cat ears perk right up. "Are you sure?" he asks cautiously. "I mean, secret identities, and—"
"I'm not abandoning you, minou." She says it like she might say force equals mass times acceleration to someone who wasn't paying attention the first five times. "If it gets that bad, we'll figure something out."
"And they'd be okay with…" He can't say it.
Distantly, he hears one of the children by the statue shout "Lucky charm!"
"I don't know where we'd put your bed," she says frankly. "Papa won't want us sleeping in the same room unless we're chaperoned or married, no matter how much we promise nothing will happen, and my bedroom is the only place we could put you. But we'd make it work."
"You're sure?" Chat asks, because it's just—this is so—he doesn't get this lucky.
Ladybug slides back, pulling him with her; oh, he realizes, he's shaking, fit to make them both fall. "You're my partner," she says simply. She leans on the tree trunk, keeping his back to her front, and tucks her arms around his waist; both of them have one leg hanging on either side of the branch. "Maman would insist, anyway."
"Why so?" Chat asks.
She says nothing for a long moment. "File this under secret identity," she warns him. "It's not secret, exactly, it's just that it narrows down who I am to less than one girl in a hundred. Though honestly now I wish I'd told you a lot sooner? But there was never a good time, and I really don't want all of Paris to know this."
"Okay," says Chat. Something about that phrasing…
"I'm trans too."
"My parents are fantastic about it," Ladybug continues. "They always have been—my mother shouted at so many doctors, to get me on estrogen last year. So many doctors. My grandmother's visit before last, she called me by the boy name and Papa threw her out. Nobody at my school knows what my old name even is!" She sighs. "But not everyone is as lucky as I am. Maman hates that."
"Can I come live with you?" Chat blurts out. Hell with the rest of it. Hell with Father! With his partner at his side—
"I wish." She kicks idly at his ankle. "I really do wish. I don't want to have to tell you to go back home to your father, when you're afraid he'll throw you out for being yourself. Is there anyone else you can talk to about this? Besides your kwami," she adds. "The first time I transformed, I didn't have the skirt, and I almost didn't leave my room because I thought everyone could look at me and just. Tell." She laughs. "Tikki yanked the suit right back off me and said I should try again only wanting a skirt that time, and she would make it happen."
Chat thinks about that.
"You don't have to," Ladybug says abruptly. "If there's no one you think you can trust, then don't. I don't want to tell you to go risk yourself, either."
He would love to trust Nino. It isn't really fair of him not to anyway, he thinks, since he's pretty sure the only reason Nino isn't officially dating Alya is Nino's commitment to Adrien. They'd figured out pretty quick how much easier it was for Adrien to get best friend time—well, best not-Ladybug friend time—if they framed it as boyfriend-girlfriend time. For related reasons, he'd love to trust Alya. But he doesn't know how either of them will—
—will react to—
Nino has known Marinette for forever. Alya's her best friend. If Chloé knows this?
"There might be," Chat says slowly. "A friend of mine—she's why I'm telling you today," he adds. "She told me today, because we're friends, and—I dunno." He doubts Marinette meant sharing that sort of secret to be a prerequisite for being friends. "I thought, if I can't tell anyone else, at least I can tell you."
"I'm glad you told me," Ladybug says.
Chat nods, since she can't see his smile. Marinette doesn't keep this a secret, he thinks, and he knows she and Ladybug cooked up that trap for Evillustrator together, even if he does still wish one of them had told him Ladybug wouldn't be far. "Remember Marinette Dupain-Cheng?"
Behind him, Ladybug freezes.
Ladybug starts laughing, burying her face in his shoulder. Then crying, which sets him crying, and then they're both an absolute mess for a bit, trying to muffle themselves so the two kids chasing the responsible adult who's pretending to be an akuma—the kids who think they're role models, the kids who look up to them, who think of these two trans teenagers as not just superheroes but their heroes—won't hear their sobs.
"I'm sorry," Ladybug whispers. "I'm so sorry, Adrien."
"—How the fuck did you know that?" Chat demands. Plagg is the only one who has ever called him that. Who has known to. The only one.
Ladybug snorts. "Chloé really is an ass."
"Oh," says Chat Noir, blinking a lot. "Yeah."
Ladybug, as far as he knows, is a lesbian. "Isn't Marinette mostly straight?"
"And that's our quota of serious conversation for the day," Ladybug says. She swipes the tears off his cheeks with her gloved fingers. "Want to go make those kids' week?"
Okay then. "Hell yes."
Adrien doesn't know that quatrième girl from Eve, honestly—he isn't even sure she is in the year below his, rather than his own—but he overhears one of the other troisième boys say "look at Adrienne in Mme. Bustier's class" to her, so he pays attention.
"She always looks fantastic with no makeup on at all," the boy continues, and apparently this boy thinks he's being romantic or something, and is stealing moves from anime: that pose is classic kabedon. "You'd look so much better if you did the same thing."
And Adrien would be a hypocrite to object to stealing romantic moves from anime, okay, but—
Kabedon is only romantic if the person being pinned to the wall wants to be there.
Adrien comes right up alongside the pair, keeping one hand in his purse for now. The girl's cosmetics art du jour isn't terribly subtle, and he might choose a blue eyeshadow palette with that outfit, not a green, but whatever.
"Hey there," he tells the boy. "I overheard—how do you think I look?" He smiles one of Adrienne's modeling smiles, just this side of flirtatious.
"Stunning as always," he tells Adrien, and he sounds sincere. "That's a pretty skirt."
It's nothing special—it's a basic navy A-line, chosen to avoid a repeat of yesterday—but whatever. "What do you think of my makeup?" Adrien asks sweetly.
He gives Adrien a confused look. "But you're not wearing any."
Adrien pulls his hand out of his purse, makeup remover wipe in hand, and scrubs it in a straight line from hairline to chin. Then he shows the boy the wipe, smeared with green eyeshadow and pink lipstick, blush and powder and foundation.
"Cosmetics is an art form," Adrien tells the boy. "Learn about it before you criticize how anyone does it." He looks at the girl. "You look beautiful," he says.
"Thanks," the girl says, nervous; most of her attention is still on the boy.
"Now," Adrien says, glaring at the boy, "how about you get lost?"
The boy straightens, smirking; the better to intimidate Mademoiselle Agreste with, Adrien thinks. "Make me." The girl slips out of reach.
"Get lost or I'll throw you off the roof," Marinette says, coming up beside Adrien. He can feel someone backing him on his other side, but he doesn't look.
The boy looks Marinette up and down. "Sure you will."
"Three of us," Nino points out. (Of course it's him. And Alya, he bets, is filming.) "One of you."
"Ah," says the boy, "but you wouldn't want to get in trouble, would you? Assault charges, you know. Nasty stuff."
"I don't think you understand," Marinette says, and that tone to her voice is exactly why he called her 'everyday Ladybug' the other month. "I will throw you off the roof during the next akuma attack. Good luck proving anything after Miraculous Cure, when you can't show the police you were ever injured." He can hear her wicked grin. "Bet it'll still hurt."
Another boy from this one's troisième class swings by. "Hey, Michel," he says, and this boy breaks away with a glare to follow his friend.
Adrien grabs Marinette and Nino both into a hug. "I have the best friends," he tells them, and grins at Alya—she was definitely filming—to clearly include her.
"Um," says the girl. "Thanks, but—you didn't have to do that."
"He's an ass," Marinette tells her. "Girl squad, right?"
The girl gives them a thumbs up, smiling, and is swept off by two of her own friends.
Marinette disentangles herself from the hug. "Hey, Nino," she says casually, which gets Adrien's attention immediately because that is a suspicious tone in Ladybug's mouth. "Mind if I borrow this one for a moment?" She jerks her thumb at Adrien. "Since that face needs to get fixed up anyway."
"Uh, sure," Nino says, letting Adrien go.
"Great!" Marinette grins at him, then at Adrien, and slings her arms around his shoulders and kisses him holy shit—
Adrien blinks at her, totally dazed. "What just happened," he manages to ask, because if this is akuma-related—
"Love you too, handsome boy," Marinette whispers in his ear, and that's it, he's done, don't expect coherent thought for the rest of the day. Week, maybe. Month if she keeps it up.
Nino gawks after them as Marinette pulls Adrien to the girls' bathroom, Alya close behind. "What was that, girl?" Alya demands.
"Not telling," Marinette says, starting to scrub the rest of the cosmetics off Adrien's face so there's a clean canvas. "Not—oh shit," she says, staring at Adrien. "I didn't even think. People saw that—your father—"
"The fashion industry is full of gay men," Adrien interrupts her. "I'm not that worried?"
Two days ago, he might have been. But he has somewhere to go now, and also the reason he hasn't told anyone he isn't straight is because it's easier to pretend disinterest in girls than make a fuss. Ladybug's the only person he's ever really wanted anyway.
"Okay," Marinette says, shrugging, and goes back to scrubbing. "We should probably tell Nino and Alya something, though. Up to you what."
"Yeah, that is not a right this moment problem," Adrien says.
Marinette trashes the used wipes, including the one Adrien was just holding. "Want me to do your face?" she asks, a little hesitant.
There are few things he wants less. Sweet of her to suggest it, though. "Thanks, but no."
"Making a point about what a female face looks like without cosmetics?" Alya asks.
Adrien grins at her, slinging an arm around Marinette's waist for support. He probably will tell Nino and Alya the truth, he thinks, though he'll need to talk with his partner privately first to figure out how. (Nobody wants Hawkmoth targeting Marinette's parents, or Adrien's father. Again.) And if that goes well, maybe Chat Noir will give Alya an exclusive interview.
"That too," says Adrien.