They don’t patrol every day. The schedule is irregular, in part to keep Hawkmoth off guard and in part because their lives are busy enough that keeping any kind of regular patrol schedule is an exercise in futility, so they tend to agree on a schedule for the week a week or two ahead of time. One or two days a week they’ll patrol together; one day each alone, maybe two if they can swing it. Or at least that’s the agreement.
The truth is that Chat Noir does far more than his fair share of patrols. He’s never told her—he doesn’t want her to worry about him—but nearly every day she’s not out, he is. His bedroom somehow manages to be claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time, and he has to get out, outside of the mansion, outside of the walls. Anywhere’s better. Some days he’d rather be in the catacombs, surrounded by the moldering dead, than home.
Tonight’s one of those evenings. Neither one of them is supposed to be out tonight, they agreed—both of them have tests coming up and neither of them has really had time to sleep properly in the past week. But Adrien’s ahead on this subject, he knows the formulas upside-down and backwards, and his room’s been closing in on him again and he needed to get out. He’s not running anywhere in particular, just away, but he stops short when he sees a familiar red figure on a nearby rooftop.
Ladybug spots him as soon as he sees her, and there’s a moment when they’re both frozen before Ladybug’s entire body slams into motion. She staggers to her feet, snatches a pink object the size of her torso and yeets it headlong over the roof, away from him, out of his view. She overbalances, staggers, slams against the wall, and collapsed onto her ass.
“Dammit,” she says, staring after whatever she threw as he drops onto the balcony next to her. “My math homework was in there.”
Chat jams his baton through the back of his belt, holding out a hand to help her up. “Do you… want me to go get it?”
She wraps her fingers around his palm, allowing him to yank her to her feet. “No—no, I’m, I’m good,” she says. “I’ll get it later.”
“Oh.” Chat nods. “Identity stuff.”
She grabs her shoulders, shivers. “Monogrammed backpack.” She tilts her head and her eyes narrow. “What are you even doing out here?” she says. “It’s not your turn for patrol.”
“Could say the same to you,” Chat says, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall with a smirk. “It’s not yours either.”
“I know why I’m up here,” Ladybug says. She slides in next to him, wraps one arm around his waist. “I asked first—” She cuts off suddenly and moans. “Oh god,” she says, snuggling closer in. “You’re like—a gravity blanket crossed with a heating pad.”
Chat takes a second—after his head has finally cleared from the fire of her touch—to cross those two things in his mind. It could mean a lot of things, but it’s mid-June and she’s outside, so the reasons she’d want a heating pad—
“You’re on your period,” he hazards.
She groans. “Be thankful you don’t have cramps,” she says. “They are the worst.”
He flexes his fingertips so the claws are away from her back, then slowly begins to massage her lower back with his palms. She moans again, practically melting into him, and he has to take a moment to mentally slap himself to remind himself not to touch her inappropriately—he’s just doing this to help out.
“You’re a miracle worker,” she says. “Where’d you even learn to massage?”
“YouTube tutorials,” he replies, continuing to knead the heels of his palms against her. “I don’t get out much.”
She tenses, and he realizes he messed up. “Chat?” she says. “Is that…” She licks her lips. “Why are you out today?”
He sighs. “Stir-crazy,” he says. “I… I don’t really like being at home.” He charges on ahead before she can question that. “Why are you out? You should be at home, with a real gravity blanket and heating pad.”
Her mouth twists, and her eyes drift toward the ground. “Suit makes the cramps go away,” she mumbles.
He blinks. “Seriously?” he says. “Dang, that is awesome.”
“Rather not have them in the first place,” Ladybug snaps.
Chat’s jaw clamps shut as he realizes what he’s just said. “I… right,” he says. “Sorry.” He resumes massaging her, and the tension bleeds back out of her again as she presses back into his side. “So… you’re spending a little extra time as Ladybug, then.”
She nods into his armpit. “It’s the only relief I’ve had all day,” she says, her voice muffled by his chest. “Couldn’t do my homework in my room, though, in case my parents walked in, so…”
“So you were doing it up here,” Chat finishes, mentally smacking himself. “Until I interrupted you.” He owes her so many apologies…
She chuckles. “It’s all right, Chat,” she says, and it still amazes him that she always seems to know what he’s thinking. “Not like you knew.”
“Do you… want me to go?” he says, hoping beyond hope she’ll say no.
She pulls back, meets his eyes, tilts her head. “Actually…” she says. “How good are you at chemistry?”
“I like physics,” she says, trying to burn a hole in her paper with her eyes. “Physics makes sense. One thing moves, makes another thing move, easy peasy.” She holds up her paper, flaps it in his face. “So why can’t I balance one simple frickin’ reduction—”
“Electron,” Chat says, leaning over to point at the page, right in the middle of her current line of writing.
“I—what?” she says, holding the paper out and staring at it. Her head jerks into a grimace as she realizes that she missed exactly what he pointed at. “Oh, come on!”
Chat smiles. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he says. “Took me five tries to get that one right.”
Ladybug grinds her teeth at the reminder—they have the same chemistry assignments, something they did not know before she asked him for help and now they’re getting close to identity-compromising territory, but the damage is done and it’s not like helping her with her chem will give him any further clues. She’d retrieved her backpack and hidden it behind a buttress, so that isn’t going to spoil anything, but they have to be very careful about which notebooks she allows him to see. Luckily she doesn’t usually put her names on them, which normally might be a problem in case they get stolen but right now is a godsend for them both.
“Look,” Chat says, “it’s fairly complicated stuff. I think… if you flip back a few pages…” He takes the notebook from the ground at her feet, then glances at her, waiting for permission. She nods. He slides his claws in between the sheets and flips back one page, two page, “…you’ll see that—”
Oh. Oh no.
Right there, in the margins of the notebook: her handwriting. Cursive, lovely looping ink. A name. Actually, several names, one right on top of the other.
Marinette Dupain-Cheng Agreste
Marinette Agreste Dupain-Cheng
Chat’s chest sticks mid-breath, his ribs catching in place. He’s—she—this is—Error. 404 brain not found, please check connection and try again.
“Chat?” she says, concerned at his sudden silence. “You okay?”
He can’t breathe. He’s staring down at her name—his name—their name, written carefully and lovingly and surrounded by little pink ink hearts, and he can’t breathe. His ears are burning—both sets—and his hands are starting to shake, the notebook making little flopping noises in his hand.
“What’s wrong?” Ladybug says. Peers over at the notebook.
Her shriek fills his ears as she swats it out of his hands. Paper tears, scraps scattering, as she staggers to her feet, dashing away from him. She snatches her backpack from behind the buttress, and he has one second to look at it before she flings her yo-yo upward and vanishes.
It’s a very distinctive backpack; he can see now why she tried to hide it from him. He’s seen it before—a handmade bag, with a two black and pink lilies embroidered on the front, offset with the M of her name.
He snatches a scrap of paper out of the air, holds it up. Adrien Dupain-Cheng, it says. The i’s have hearts instead of dots.
He can almost hear her lovelorn sigh as she writes their names in looping cursive, and his chest grows warm. She… he never knew. He feels like an idiot. But right here, right now, he’s got all the proof he’s ever needed, and he knows he’s got a chance to make this right.
Adrien winces at Marinette’s grimace as she walks into class the next morning. He’s not sure what she’s having more trouble with: the cramps, or the fear of what he knows. As soon as she sees him, though, her face sparks, lights up—he feels his heart stutter. She’s been doing this every day, he realizes. How has he not noticed?
“Morning, Marinette!” he says before she can get a word in. “I, uh, brought you some things.”
Marinette blinks, flabbergasted, and Nino, Alya, and Chloé all look at him like he’s grown a second head. He hears the rest of the class shift in their seats, and he’s suddenly acutely aware of everyone’s eyes on him—did everyone know but him?
There’s a plastic travel mug on his desk, and he lifts it and holds it up to Marinette. “Artisanal hot chocolate,” he says. “80 percent cocoa with a touch of cinnamon.”
She steps forward, confused, and as she wraps her fingers around the cup he leans forward. “It’s supposed to be good for cramps,” he whispers. “I’ve got a heating pad in my backpack if you need it.”
Marinette turns bright red, and for a second her throat seizes as if she’s swallowed her yo-yo. “I… thanks?” she squeaks, pressing the mug to her lips in an attempt to hide her face. It’s adorable, and Adrien can’t help but grin.
She steps around him, her eyes to the ground, and Nino turns to him. “When the heck did you have time to buy her hot chocolate?”
Adrien shrugs. “Got up early this morning so I could swing by the chocolatier,” he says. He hopes the implication is clear to Marinette—he did it specifically for her.
By the way Alya’s jostling her behind him—he can almost see the journalist’s excited grin—he expects it would be pretty hard to miss.
When class lets out for lunch, Adrien doesn’t need to do much more than signal Nino with a look to get him to distract Alya. Adrien twists in his seat, brushes off Chloé, outright ignores Lila, and flashes his best, award-winning smile at Marinette. “Hey, Mari,” he says. “Wanna grab lunch with me?”
Her eyes bug out—oh, that’s a good one, gotta remember it for later—as she does her best impression of a deer staring down an oncoming car. “Lunch?” she says, as if she’s entirely forgotten what the word means.
Adrien raises an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he says with a gentle grin. “With me.”
Marinette’s windpipe bulges and it looks like she’s about to swallow her tongue. “I—um, that—I, lunch, you want, I’d… that grounds sate!” Her eyelid twitches and her head retreats, briefly, like a turtle trying to hide in its shell. “Sounds!” she yelps finally. “Sounds great!”
He stands, holds out a hand, hoping his expression is inviting. She takes it, but he feels her shaking as her fingers wrap into his.
She alternates between babbling incoherently and awkward silences the whole way back to her kitchen. He tries to interject occasionally, to start a conversation on a more comfortable topic, but she’s so wired that he keeps getting met with silence and panicked staring.
“—so I’m not sure what you like,” she says, bustling around her parents’ kitchen doing what appears to be nothing in particular, “I wasn’t really prepared to have a guest so just let me know what you want and I’ll—”
He reaches out, grabs her hand. “Marinette,” he says, gently squeezing her palm. He hopes it’s reassuring. “You don’t need to try so hard to impress me.”
She freezes, stares at him. He thinks if she opens her eyes any wider they’ll pop straight out of her skull.
“I’m already very impressed,” he says. “Everyday Ladybug, remember?”
She giggles nervously, casting her eyes toward the ceiling. “Thanks,” she whispers. It’s clear from her voice that she doesn’t believe him, and he makes a mental note to kick himself later for not hearing the way she talks about herself when she’s not using words, for not doing everything he can to show her how incredible she is.
He smiles, raises her knuckles to his lips, and kisses her hand. He glances up through lidded eyes, watching her jaw go slack as she places the familiarity of the gesture. “I think,” he says, “I prefer Adrien Dupain-Cheng to Marinette Agreste.” And then he tops it off with a saucy wink, just so she knows exactly who she’s talking to.
Her eyelid twitches again. “No,” she whispers.
His smile grows strained.
She yanks her hand out of his, stumbling backward into the cabinets, and smacks into them with a crash. She shrieks, collapses to the ground as he leaps forward to catch her, but she slips straight through his hands. And now he’s on top of her, enwrapped in her—her fall pulled him to the ground, his arms around her with her weight against them so neither of them can move. She’s kind-of-sort-of sitting against the cabinets, and she’s shaking, and it takes him a moment to realize the sound she’s making is a whimper.
“Why?” she whispers, shuddering against his arms. “You—you can’t be.”
Adrien squeezes his eyes shut. This is… not how he expected things to go. He thought she liked him! The names, the hearts, the… well, everything… She’s shivering, and he realizes that he’s jumped too far ahead. Yes, I’m Chat Noir. Yes, I know you’re Ladybug. Yes, I know you like me. Yes, I like you back. Too much at once, and Marinette is starting to gasp—he doesn’t like the way her breath is sounding, like a balloon in reverse—
“Quick,” he says. “Pet me.”
Her head seems to convulse in surprise as she stares at him.
“Trust me,” he whispers, and mercifully, she does. Her hand in his hair feels divine, he can feel the shudder of pleasure run down his spine, and it’s barely a moment before the rumble starts in his chest, a rumble that for once he doesn’t even try to suppress.
“You’re… purring…” she says, her voice full of wonder. Her shaking slows, stabilizes, stops.
Adrien grins, still purring, and presses his lungs against her lower stomach.
“Oh my gosh,” she moans. “That—that feels…”
“Kitty rumbles versus period cramps,” Adrien suggests, and she snickers in response. He leans into her hand, and she takes the hint, gently rubbing his scalp with her fingers. He shivers again, squirming into her lap, wondering if he can actually handle this much pleasure all at once.
“So you’re my kitty then,” she says, confidence returning to her voice and her bearing, and Adrien nods his assent, too caught up in his purring to emit actual words from his throat. She snorts. “Figures.”
He rolls slightly to look up at her, his eyes questioning, but not enough to actually pull away from her hand. She keeps caressing his scalp, he keeps purring, she relaxes a little further.
“I’m—I’m—I’m sorry,” she says, looking away. “About—about the notebook. What you saw.”
“Mmmmmm.” He rolls again, sinking into her hand. “Why apologize?”
“Well, I, um, I—” she begins, and her hand stops. His eyes pop open, he mewls in displeasure and pushes his head against her palm, and she absentmindedly starts scratching again. “I know you—you don’t, don’t like that kind of attention,” she says.
He blinks, jerking his head to look at her, and his purr snaps to a halt. “What?” he says. “What do you mean?”
Her face colors as she looks away and shrugs. “I just…” She sighs, her shoulders dropping. “I mean, you… you hide it well as Chat, but as, as, as Adrien, you’re always so uncomfortable around anyone who expresses an interest in you, and I just…” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I know I must look like just another crazy fan…”
“Mari,” Adrien says, reaching up and taking her hand. “I’m uncomfortable around other girls because I’ve been saving myself for you.”
The gentle rise and fall of her chest is suddenly gone. Marinette is staring at him, eyes wide, utterly petrified.
“Mari?” he breathes.
“Me?” she responds in a squeak. “You… you were—” She squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her head. “I thought you were kidding!”
“Not with you,” he says. “Never with you.”
She cups her shaking hands onto his cheeks. “I—Adrien,” she says. “Chat.” She smiles. “I’m Ladybug. Nice to meet you.”
“I know,” he says, and he pushes himself up to kiss her.
Her breath tastes like chocolate and cinnamon, like the cocoa he got for her this morning, and her lips are soft, and just that little bit of contact is sending a thrill through his entire body. And before he can stop himself he’s purring again, all the way across her lap, across her stomach.
Her lips pull away, and she groans in delight. “Ohhhh,” she whimpers. “That is… You’re… you’re like a vibrating heating pad…”
“Glad I could help,” he says, pressing his lips to her neck. “I hear cramps are the worst.”
“Mmmmmm,” she mumbles. “Don’t ever stop.”
“As the Lady wishes,” he responds, sinking into her lap, pressing against her stomach, and purring extra hard just for her.