The Seine was peaceful early on a Sunday evening. Marinette perched carefully on a cardboard box on the deck of the Couffaine’s houseboat, doodling aimlessly on the corner of a napkin while bopping her head to the sounds of Kitty Section’s newest song.
The song had a nice rhythm, and Luka was playing around with different riffs and chords on his guitar, but Marinette couldn’t help but think they needed a keyboard to balance out the beat.
A light vibration from her right earring snapped her out of her daze, and Marinette jumped to her feet. Luka stopped playing and turned to her.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
Marinette nodded frantically. “I’m fine!” she answered quickly before he could try to follow her. “I just have to go take a call… well make a call. Return a call.” She walked backwards as she explained, nearly tripping over a box overflowing with scarves and feather boas. She swung her arms out wide to avoid falling, catching herself right in time. “Gotta go,” she said, pointing in the direction of the bathroom before dashing off.
“Marinette, what happened?” Tikki asked, sticking her head out of Marinette’s purse once they were safely behind the closed door of the bathroom.
“I got a buzz,” Marinette answered, “Chat Noir must be trying to contact me. There might be an akuma!”
With a nod of approval from the kwami, Marinette transformed into Ladybug and opened her compact. A new voice message from Chat Noir blinked up at her.
“…” The silence stretched on for so long that Ladybug started to think he dialed her without realizing it. Then she heard his voice. “Ladybug?” It was soft and small, a sad little whisper. “I… hi. Everything’s okay. I guess I was just wondering if you were out tonight. But you aren’t. So don’t worry about me. Ignore this message, pretend I never called.” It was punctuated with a little sniffle before he disconnected.
Ladybug’s heart clenched. He sometimes had bad nights like this, where they happened to run into each other, or if it was particularly bad he would seek her out. Something in his voice this time seemed worse than usual. She wondered if it was about his strained and complicated relationship with his father, which is what typically upset him, or something else.
Without a second thought, Ladybug popped open the small round window, climbed on the back of the toilet, and dove out the window, slinging her yo-yo out to catch her right before she hit the water.
She landed smoothly on the left bank and opened her compact again, this time pulling up her map. A green dot indicating Chat pinged in Montmartre. Ladybug snapped it shut and took to the roofs, knowing exactly where to go. While she favored the view of their city from the top of La Tour Eiffel, Chat preferred La Sacré Cœur.
A black blot against the pure white backdrop of La Basilique drew her in like a beacon. Ladybug landed beside her partner silently. He was staring out at the view, and didn’t turn to look at her.
“You didn’t have to come,” he said after a few moments of silence. Ladybug didn’t answer. She reached over and laid her hand on his forearm, and after a minute he slid his arm so that he could intertwine their hands together instead.
“Was it your father?” she asked. Chat finally turned and looked at her. His green cat eyes were glassy, and his skin had an ashen pallor.
“No,” he said, using his free hand to rub at his eyes. “He’s been distant, and I would have liked to talk to him… but, that’s not it.” He bit his lip. “Today is three years since my mom…” He swallowed hard, apparently unable to finish the sentence.
Ladybug saved him from having to talk. She released his hand and crawled into his lap, wrapping her arms around him and pulling his head down to her shoulder. Chat snuggled in, tucking his face into her neck, his body trembling as he sobbed. Ladybug rubbed soothing circles into his back, letting her hands drift up to stroke his hair. Chat’s arms were around her waist, his claws gently prickling her sides. She hummed softly, and pressed a light kiss onto the top of his head.
While they did not share too many personal details with one another in order to protect their identities, Ladybug was well aware of Chat’s broken family. He had made comments before about losing his mother and his mostly absent father. She knew that Chat was lonely, and the piercing sadness in his eyes every time the parted for the night was enough to convince her to spend more time with him.
They sat together, wrapped up in each other, while the city lived and breathed below them. The sun had finally set, and the sky was streaked with oranges and indigos.
Chat finally pulled back, lifting his head to look at her. His hands gripped her tightly. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Ladybug shook her head, using one hand to wipe the tears from his cheeks. “Nothing to apologize for, chaton.”
He pulled her closer and leaned back until he was flat on his back, their legs tangled together and Ladybug laying on top of him. She rested her head on his shoulder and looked up at him, but Chat kept his eyes trained to the sky.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, her voice soft.
Chat traced one finger around the perimeter of a dot on her lower back. Ladybug fought down the desire to squirm at the ticklish sensation. “I just miss her,” he said simply, eyes still on the sky. “Père never wants to talk about her. He acts like… like she never even existed.” A tear rolled down his cheek, but he didn’t move to wipe it away. “But she did exist.”
Ladybug wiped the tear away for him. “Tell me about her?”
Chat exhaled slowly. “She was always singing. Sometimes I hear one of her favorite songs and it takes me right back, like she is still in the house singing. She would sit on the bench with me when I practiced the piano, and hum along. Even when I missed a note or messed up, she would change the melody that she hummed to match it.” He took a deep breath, but his lips curled up slightly in a smile.
“Maman was the only one who could get Père to act more like a human and less like a stick in the mud.” He laughed, small but genuine. “I remember on one of our annual trips to Courchevel when I was little,” Ladybug raised an eyebrow at the exclusive and expensive ski resort but didn’t comment; she knew he came from a wealthy background. “We were having a great time skiing, but Père would just stand at the top of the mountain, one Blackberry in each hand. ‘I have a company to run,’” Chat lowered his voice in an impersonation of his father. “So Maman had me help her make the biggest snowball, it must have been this big,” he held out his hands to show her the size. “And we just launched it at Père! He was covered in snow - I think we may have destroyed one of the Blackberries - but he just started laughing and chasing us around.” Chat shook his head, his smile rueful. “I can’t even imagine how he would react to something like that now.”
A comfortable silence stretched between them for a moment.
“He wasn’t even the one who told me.” Ladybug could barely hear his voice. “He had his personal assistant do it. She came in one morning with my schedule for the day and started talking about Maman, and ‘we think there’s been an accident,’ and ‘the police might be coming to talk to you.’ As if it was nothing different than the weather.” He shook his head. “I know it was hard on Père, but it was hard for me too. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for doing that.”
“I’m so sorry, minou.”
Chat looked at her with a smile. “Nothing to apologize for, m’lady.”
“Still,” Ladybug countered, “you should never have had to go through that.” Chat shrugged.
“It’s all part of life,” he said, trying hard to sound like he meant it. “That’s what Maman would say. She believed that everything happens for a reason.”
Ladybug smiled. “What would she think of you being a superhero?”
Chat laughed louder this time. “She would go on and on about how often I put myself in dangerous situations.” Ladybug prodded him in the side. He smiled softly down at her, drawing his fingers through the hair of one of her pigtails. “Yes, yes, just like you do. But she would love it. She would be happy that it brought me to you.”
Ladybug felt her heart clench again, but this time for a different reason. She pushed up and pressed a light kiss to his cheek. “I would have loved to have met her.”
His smile was genuine now, despite the tears still in his eyes. “You two would have gotten along wonderfully. She would have loved you.”
It was getting difficult for Ladybug to breathe, and she didn’t know how to respond. “For what it’s worth, chaton, I’m happy life brought me to you too.”
Chat watched her carefully, his expression inscrutable. She looked back at him, not breaking eye contact. Darkness had fallen around them, and his green eyes were glowing.
“Ladybug,” he murmured. “May I?”
At one point, Ladybug was going to have to face the fact that she kept saying yes to him whenever he asked, and didn’t think she would ever be able to say no. Or want to say no. But not tonight. Instead of answering him, she leaned forward and kissed him. Chat didn’t hesitate to respond, his arms pulling her impossibly closer. Their position was uncomfortable, Ladybug sprawled across Chat with her left leg tucked under his right one, leaning on one elbow that was quickly going numb. Despite this, she didn’t move, letting Chat be the one to end the kiss.
He pulled away and smiled at her, and Ladybug reached up and wiped the last remnants of tears from his face. “Tell me more.”
“Maman liked to cook, but didn’t actually know how to do it.” He laughed, and Ladybug shifted so she was laying more comfortably. “One time, the fire department had to come because she set off all the alarms…”
“So,” he asked, walking beside her as she began to cross the courtyard. “What was that about last night?”
Marinette cringed. “Sorry for bailing on you guys. I guess I hadn’t realized how late it was already and I had promised a friend I would come see him, so I had to run.”
Luka stopped walking. “Him?”
“Yeah, he was having a really bad night so…” Marinette trailed off when she realized Luka wasn’t next to her anymore, and turned around to face him. “What’s wrong?”
There was a strange expression on Luka’s face. “You ran off on us for a date?”
Marinette rubbed her temples; she was much too tired for this. “I never said it was a date. I said it was a friend who needed me.” At Luka’s skeptical expression, Marinette could feel her anger rising. “And so what if it was a date?”
Luka fidgeted with the strap of his messenger bag, obviously uncomfortable. “I just don’t understand why you would make plans with someone else when you already had plans with me.”
Marinette knew she wasn’t perfect and had gotten jealous plenty of times before, but this was driving her mad. Luka was not her boyfriend, but more importantly Chat was her best friend, and he had needed her. “I had plans with Kitty Section, Luka, not you. You don’t own me, and I don’t owe you any explanations.” She turned around to walk past him toward the stairs, but he grabbed her arm to stop her.
“So that’s it then? That’s your decision?”
Marinette sighed. Luka had asked her out, officially, but she wasn’t ready to make a decision and asked him to wait. She knew that was unfair to him, but she also knew it would be unfair of her to start a relationship with him when she was still dealing with her feelings toward Adrien. And apparently kissing Chat Noir whenever he was sad.
“Luka,” she started, not even sure what she was going to say. “I don’t want to treat you unfairly. You deserve better than to be a second choice.”
Luka studied her carefully for a moment, and Marinette tried not to react. He smiled slightly. “I think I always knew it would come to this.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “I just hope that you find what you are looking for.”
Marinette stood in place as he walked away, watching as her fellow students bustled around them and eventually obscured her view. She was sad, but knew that she had ultimately made the right decision for her.
The first bell had already rang when Marinette made it into the locker room. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice someone sitting against the lockers, and tripped over their feet.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” she cried, scrambling quickly to avoid falling flat on her face. “I wasn’t looking and didn’t see – Adrien?”
Adrien pulled his feet in and pushed himself off of the floor. “That’s okay, Marinette, don’t worry. I shouldn’t have been sitting there.”
Marinette looked at him, silently cursing the fact that despite her determination to move past him and everything that happened last night with Chat and this morning with Luka, just the sight of Adrien Agreste could get her heart racing like no one else. But then she frowned, taking a closer look. Adrien’s normally perfect appearance was all wrong: dark circles rimmed his red and bloodshot eyes, his hair was a knotted mess, and he was wearing a black sweatshirt, the sleeves pulled down over his hands. He reddened at her close scrutiny, scrubbing both hands over his face and trying to smooth out his hair.
“Adrien, are you okay?” Marinette asked.
Adrien sighed. “Yesterday was bad, and I guess I wasn’t as over it as I thought I was. Sorry you had to see me like this.”
Marinette shook her head. “Don’t apologize for being upset, Adrien.” She reached out and lay her hand on his forearm. “If want to talk about it, I’m here.”
Adrien bit his lip and looked away from her as he spoke. “Yesterday was three years since my mom disappeared… And it’s gotten easier over the years and every day isn’t this hard but, you know, it’s just the anniversary that reminds me. And I guess I was hoping that Père would say something to acknowledge it, but that was just wishful thinking.”
Marinette only heard half of what he said. Her attention was suddenly intensely drawn to the things she had never noticed about Adrien, despite how much she had studied him over the years. The shape of his ears and the golden blonde of his eyelashes and way that he twisted his fingers together even without a belt to smooth between them.
Unsure of what else to do, Marinette launched herself at him, wrapping him up in her arms as best she could. Adrien didn’t hesitate to hug her back, tucking his face down into the crook of her neck. Marinette rubbed circles onto Adrien’s back, her mind reeling but feeling oddly calm.
They stayed like that, neither moving as the late bell rang. Marinette didn’t move until Adrien pulled away, rubbing the tears off of his face. He mumbled an apology that Marinette ignored. She watched him carefully before talking.
“I have a crazy question for you, but please just be honest with me.” Adrien looked at her, curious. Marinette took a deep breath.
“Are you Chat Noir?”
The question was clearly not what Adrien had been expecting. His eyes grew wide and he gave a small cough to cover the soft snickering sound emanating from the inside of his hood. Marinette smiled.
It seemed to be the most he was capable of saying. Marinette took pity on him.
“It’s just,” she said, reaching out to dry his cheek with her fingers before running her hand through his hair, scratching behind an invisible cat’s ear. “Chat was upset about the same thing last night, so it seems like too much of a coincidence if you ask me.”
Adrien didn’t seem to hear her very well. “Chat Noir?” He laughed a little. “How could I… that is… he’s a superhero and I’m… ya know, busy… not that whoever Chat Noir is isn’t busy of course. But when would Père let me be a superhero? Nathalie would have to schedule akuma battles between all of my photo shoots… Not that Chat Noir couldn’t be a model, because have you seen him? He is an attractive man if I do say so…”
He seemed to be getting into his story, his voice rising in volume to cover up the laughter from his hood that was steadily growing louder. Marinette watched in amusement for another moment. At least he wasn’t crying anymore.
Finally she had enough and grabbed his face and kissed him.
Shock kept him frozen for a moment, but Marinette held on until her words seemed to dawn on him and he responded, enveloping her in his arms and returning the kiss.
Marinette pulled away and looked up at Adrien; his eyes were sparkling with happiness instead of tears.
“If I were – hypothetically – Chat Noir,” he said, his voice barely a whisper, “I guess that would hypothetically make you Ladybug, wouldn’t it?”
“It would,” she confirmed. “Hypothetically, of course.”
Adrien looked at her, wonder in his eyes. Suddenly he frowned. “But aren’t you dating Luka?”
Marinette sighed. “No, I’m not. What made you think that?”
He looked noticeably happier, but still confused. “Alix said that she heard from Rose that Juleka said Luka asked you out.” Marinette rolled her eyes. “Also, Ladybug told me there was another guy, so…”
Marinette backed away from him, covering her face with her hands. “Oh, this is mortifying.” She peeked up at him; Adrien looked curious, and cautiously optimistic. “The other guy was you, Adrien.”
Joy bloomed on Adrien’s face, unparalleled to anything she had ever seen before. Marinette was suddenly very conscious of his arms still around her. Adrien leaned in, but Marinette pushed him back with a finger on his nose.
“Whoa there, kitty, no so fast,” she said. “We have a lot to talk about, and we’re already late for class.”
Adrien pouted. “Are you mad at me?”
Marinette scrunched her face up. “Why would I be mad at you?”
“I sort of gave away my identity,” Adrien shrugged. “It’s the one thing you didn’t want to do.”
“Oh, Chat,” Marinette sighed, giving in and hugging him again. “I would never be mad at you for this. You were upset; you are allowed to be upset. Besides, you only revealed yourself because you happened to tell me the same thing. It wasn’t on purpose.”
She pulled back to look at his face. He still looked unsure, and Marinette knew that it would take more than this reveal to soothe all of his insecurities.
“How about this?” she proposed. “We go to class now, meet after for lunch, just the two of us. That way we can talk, and then we can take it from there.”
Adrien smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”