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Marinette has never asked anyone what it feels like to die.

There is some debate, of course, over whether being turned into a coal statue or a glitter statue or an ice cream sundae statue counts as death. Or dissolving into level points, or getting pixelated, or evaporating from the time stream. Certainly being drowned does, or being engulfed in lava. Officially, no one died when Stoneheart first appeared; unofficially, it did not occur to her to question that until Syren made it impossible to ignore the scope of the power Tikki grants her.

There is no debate over whether whatever happens to a video game character when they vanish on defeat counts as death. Chat Noir may wonder; Chat Noir may well know. Ladybug does not. Chat Noir could not, when he ringed himself out, have known.

Two days after Roi Singe smashed the piñata in which Ladybug may or may not have died, Mme. Bustier assigns Alya, Lila, and Marinette to a group project. "We'll have to get together at your place, Alya," Lila says, sweetly. "I hope you can make it, Marinette, you're always so busy."

"Or at least have a better excuse this time," says Alya, in a tone of sharing a joke.

At the next table, Adrien glances over, then guiltily turns away.

Marinette gets up and walks out. On the sunniest side of Place des Vosges, she punches a tree, again, again, then turns and collapses against the trunk, knees drawn up, shaking.

(Ladybug rigged Marinette's phone a while back so it and her yo-yo are sort of one device with two numbers: it was Chat Noir's idea, actually, though he couldn't figure out how to do it without frying his phone in the attempt. It worked for Ladybug, though, so now she can text him via their weapons whenever she likes, and—rather to Marinette's astonishment—he hasn't abused the privilege. Nor has he bragged about how the user manuals he thought they should write for their eventual successors clearly saved their oblivious asses—though that might be out of self-defense, since he's figured out by now not to mention Oblivio around her without a really good strategic reason.)

Ladybug: I'm thinking about calling a full team meeting

Ladybug: you and me in masks, everyone else not

Ladybug: leave Chloé out of it, though I am tired of punishing her for that first mistake

Ladybug: but you and me meet up first and without masks

Ladybug: talk me out of this

The dots that indicate Chat Noir is typing bounce up and down for a long moment. Maybe he's thinking about all the loved ones, their own and their teammates', they will be risking if she does this. He should be; someone should be, since it seems she's not.

Chat Noir: why? it sounds like a wonderful idea

Chat Noir: strategically

Chat Noir: personally you know how long I've wanted to know

Chat Noir: but this weekend—

Chat Noir: why fu was even there I do NOT know

Chat Noir: but

Chat Noir: and I'm not even sure you CHOSE roi singe

Ladybug only found out who Roi Singe is because Carapace told him the usual drill: Ladybug delivers Miraculouses and Ladybug retrieves them.

Ladybug: I know how deep shit we would be in

Ladybug: that's my point

Ladybug: maybe not tell everyone everyone's names

Ladybug: definitely don't share yours or mine real widely

Ladybug: if at all

Ladybug: but Rena Rouge and Carapace knowing each other has helped

Chat Noir: heroes' day though

Adrien settles onto the grass beside her. "Hey, Marinette," he says.

"Hey," says Marinette. Her heart isn't skipping a beat. Hasn't really been for a while now. Ladybug can't think about stuff like that.

Ladybug: losing two hours to trying to pry civilian them off each other still sounds like it was a bad idea

Chat Noir: true

"Are you all right?" Adrien asks.

"No." Marinette doesn't lift her eyes from her phone screen, angled so he can't read it, though—since the red version of her texting app is onscreen, not the blue—he shouldn't be able to anyway. "Thanks for asking."

Ladybug: please talk me out of this

Chat Noir: do you want me to talk you out of it or do you want my honest opinion?

Chat Noir: because I know how much you hate liars

Marinette puts her hands to her head, phone still in hand; bites her lip to muffle herself; and screams.

"Marinette?"

She shakes her head. "Don't worry about it."

Adrien puts a tentative hand on her nearer knee. "I worry whenever any of my friends are upset. Can't help it."

Marinette lets her hands drop. "I'm arguing with a friend, that's all. If he wins, he'll be smug forever." She chews her lip, then—because Adrien is not likely to tell on her to her partner—adds, "Problem is he's right."

"You're pretty good about admitting when you screwed up," Adrien observes. "What's different this time?"

"…Good question."

Ladybug: what is it with you and him thinking I'm better than I really am and making me need to be that good

Chat Noir: …should I feel complimented or

Ladybug: sure

Ladybug: I'm with a friend right now and I don't want to go anywhere

Ladybug: think you can come say hi without letting on to him?

Ladybug: no masks

Chat Noir and Adrien will like each other, she thinks. They could both use more good friends.

Beside her, Adrien sucks in a breath and starts coughing.

"Adrien?"

"—Nothing."

She should press that.

Chat Noir: not sure

Chat Noir: problem is I'm with a friend too and she's really upset about something. pretending not to be but

Chat Noir: I don't want to leave her alone right now

Oh.

Ladybug: okay

Ladybug: I really don't want to go anywhere though

Ladybug: I'm under a tree on the east side of Place des Vosges, I'll let you know if that changes

Adrien gets up. Marinette won't watch him go, and tries not to let him notice her sigh.

Ladybug: never mind I think he's leaving

He isn't, though. When Marinette looks up to see why Adrien stopped moving, he's staring at his phone, then staring at her.

"Um," says Adrien. "Marinette?"

She blinks up at him.

Adrien settles back beside her, on her left this time. "Well, hey there," he says. "Nice of you to drop in."

"Huh?"

"No need to say sorry," he continues. "I know you didn't do it on purpose."

"—What?"

This is—no. There's no—

Adrien winks at her, broad and bright. "I bet you're the partner my—wait, um—the partner I heard about."

"But—but—but—but—"

But he's Adrien and that's Chat Noir and—

But—

Marinette buries her face in her hands and weeps.

Adrien rubs her back, one-handed, murmuring "It's okay, Marinette, it's okay."

But it is not okay.

She can feel the warm metal of his ring.

Eventually she looks up.

Chat Noir: fuck fuck fuck fuck

Chat Noir: FUNNY THING LB

Chat Noir: I'm under a tree on the east edge of place des vosges TOO

Chat Noir: so either marinette is crying on me for no clear reason

Chat Noir: or

Chat Noir: fuck

Chat Noir: I'm sorry

She can't look at him.

(No wonder Ladybug kissed Chat Noir while obliviated. She knew. They knew!)

"I'm madly clumsy," Marinette tells her knees, in a very small voice. "I'm so clumsy."

Adrien moves, slowly, to pull her into a gentle side hug. "No sweat, clumsy girl," he says, voice shaking. "I'm learning—oh holy shit you were going to tell me your name, weren't you."

Marinette gives a tiny nod.

"You've been right behind me the whole time," says Adrien, with a tone of wonder. "You—"

"Stop," says Marinette, leaning closer into Adrien. She can feel his heartbeat, steady and strong. "Do you think getting stuck in a disco ball counts as dying?"

"I'm pretty sure not. It didn't feel the same." Adrien pulls her into his lap, which lets her straighten out her spine. "Please don't do it again. My heart can't take that."

"Mine neither!" Marinette snaps, glaring at him. "You need to stop dying, Chaton. You need to!"

Adrien smiles at her, tears beginning. "You're not expendable. I am."

"And where the fuck will I be without you?" she demands. "What reason do I have to keep going if I don't have you?"

He stares at her.

Then shakes himself. "…Want to talk about who of the others should know who's who?" he suggests.

Marinette nods. "Good plan," she says.