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Corydoras

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It started with a post-it note.

You’re cute in the morning.

It was unsigned, taped to her locker, almost an afterthought in her frantic locker room rush.  She nearly tripped over herself when she saw it, croissant dropping from her mouth in confusion.

She stared, baffled, from the note to her lost breakfast, when the second bell rang.

“Not again,” She groaned, shoving the note into her capris as she took off running.

Red-faced, hungry, and late Marinette slinked into the classroom with an apologetic smile for Mme. Bustier.  It was harder to avoid attention, sitting in the front, but her teacher did little more than shake her head in fond exasperation.

“Cutting it close again, eh M?”

“My alarm didn’t go off,” She whined, slumping against her friend’s shoulder.

Alya grinned. “It didn’t go off or you slept through it?”

“I was distracted” Marinette said, pulling the note from her pocket. “I found this on my locker.”

Alya’s delighted squeal caught the attention of the rest of the class and resulted in a look from their teacher that was less scolding than it was gentle.

“Ladies?”

“Sorry.”

Quieter, Alya vibrated.

Girl,” She said, “You have a secret admirer!”

A delayed sort of thrill zipped through her as her thumb ran over the creases on the short message.  Her eyes, inevitably, went to the blonde in front of her.

No .

She shook her head. 

Adrien caught the movement, turning around to give her his brilliant grin and

Oh.

Her heart thumped, hope threatening to break through her chest. 

Maybe…?


 

The love letters, as Alya insisted on calling them, continued.

She found them slipped in between the pages of her textbooks, folded through the slats of her locker, even a few delivered to the bakery (a horribly embarrassing discovery, please Papa, just drop it).

Some of them were short, little compliments on her smile or her hair or her heart.  Others were longer, letters on lined paper with loopy scrawl. Those ones were her favorite, containing little drawings, notes from throughout the day, and silly flirts she was sure could rival Chat’s.

You may fall from the sky,

you may fall from a tree,

but the best way to fall

is in love with me.

It didn’t matter her admirer admitted to stealing it from the Internet, for all it made her giggle and blush.  They’d followed it up with a silly smiley face and a sweet, I’m not so creative as you .

Marinette tried her best not to speculate too hard on the who , knowing it would drive her mad.  It was already drawing Alya into an investigative frenzy to rival her pursuit of Ladybug’s identity.  An ultimately futile endeavor on both ends, especially as the letters became more dear, more private, and less shareable.

Not this time, Al, was quickly becoming her new mantra.

Her friend, bless her heart, tried to act like she wasn’t dying to know anyways.

“They’re in our class, M. They have to be,” She said, eyes straying towards Nino and Adrien as they headed over to join them.  Marinette’s traitorous, hopeful heart heard the insinuation even as a crumpled up Valentine preserved in her desk drawer told her otherwise.

The handwriting didn’t match.

“I don’t know, Marinette,” Tikki said, hovering over the ever growing pile of notes.  “They’re not dissimilar either.”

Marinette laughed, the sound frayed at the edges.

“I don’t need any encouragement to let my imagination run wild, you know.”

An understatement really.

But for the girl who was quick to plan her wedding, her children, and her runaway future there was something about getting exactly what she wanted that just felt too real to be true.

She always anticipated the worst.  What was Marinette supposed to do if the opposite came true?

She’s not sure her heart could handle it.

“You’re worth it,” Her kwami said, reading her thoughts. “This person clearly thinks so.”

And so she continued to hope.

(Secretly of course.)

Because Tikki wasn’t wrong.

There were little things that pointed more to Adrien than against. 

Similarities in cadence and style, anecdotes that trailed just this side of anonymous but lined up with things she’d overheard him say to others or shared directly with herself.  Small confessions about being tired, overworked, but how seeing her made it better.

Some letters, her secret letters, even whispered of more.

Respectfully of course.  But it made her palms sweat and her skin tingle all the same.

I wish I could hold your hand.  I wish I could hold you.

Among other things.

Days like that and letters like those had her flailing and spasming more than usual.  A blushing, flushing mess who could no more look in Adrien’s direction let alone anyone else’s.  Unfortunate really, as it wasn’t only Alya who noticed.

“Oh, Mme. Bustier,” Lila cried out, her voice laced with a concern Marinette couldn’t trust.  “Marinette looks exhausted.  Are you sure she’s not being overworked?”

“I’m fine,” Marinette, flushed and recovering from her latest letter, smiled thinly. “It’s nice of you to worry about me.  But I’ve got everything handled.”

“Thank you, Lila.” Mme. Bustier said.  “But I believe Marinette and Alya have it under control.”

“If you’re sure,” Lila continued, leaning forward to place a hand on Marinette’s shoulder.  “I can help take over some of your presidential duties if you want.”

Marinette grit her teeth, resisting the urge to shrug off Lila’s hand.  Behind her, Adrien sent her an encouraging smile.

The high road.  

Right.

“I’m sure. But thanks.”

Returning to her seat, she ignored Alya’s knowing look.  The one that said, See, she’s not so bad.

Marinette hated that look.

She hated the way it dismissed every awful, horrible word Lila threw at her in the bathroom all those months ago.  She hated the way it undermined every good and honest act Marinette ever did. But most of all she hated the way it chipped at their friendship, piece by piece, and the way Alya didn’t even seem to notice.

But someone did.

In the form of a post-it note, taped to her locker, in familiar loopy scrawl.

I’m proud of you.

 


 

Chat Noir was full of it tonight.

Paws over head, tail dangling down by his grinning eyes, his tongue flicked out between his teeth, he was doing everything to grab and keep her attention.  Ladybug felt guilty for disappointing him.

“I’m sorry, minou,” She said, when he finally gave up, falling gracefully to his back beside her, pouting.  “I guess I’m just distracted tonight.”

“Anything I can help with?”

“I…” She hesitated.  How to reply when the answer was unequivocally yes and no.

Chat Noir heard the truth in her silence.

“Oh.” He said, suddenly serious.  “I can.  But you don’t want to tell me how.”

Ladybug reached for his hand, entwining their fingers.  He brought them to his lips.

“You’re my best friend.” She said, quiet.

Chat Noir nodded, squeezed her hand, sat up,

and let her go.

“Your boy?”

To his credit, the words didn’t come out nearly as hostile as she knew he must be feeling.  She leaned into his side, resting her head on his shoulder.

“Maybe.”

“You don’t know?”

Ladybug bit her lip, kept her shaky hands to herself, and willed her voice steady.

“He’s… he’s been sending me letters.  I’m finally going to answer one.”

Beneath her, Chat was tense.  But his arm wrapped around her side and hugged her to him all the same.

“I’d wish you luck, bug.  But I don’t think you want mine.”

She knew what he meant though and only hesitated a moment before kissing his shoulder.

“Thank you, Chaton.”

 


 

She found him in the library.

It was study hall and Alya, bless, made sure to claim Nino so they wouldn’t have an audience for this.

“Go get him,” She’d said with a smile and a wink, confident in all the ways Marinette was not.

She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous.  After all, Adrien had been sending her letters for the better part of a month.  Lovely, wonderful letters that made her fingers shake as she tore through each new envelope, poured over every word, laughed at each joke and blushed at every...

Well.

Marinette thought it was only right she return the favor.  And while writing her feelings was as easy as putting heart to paper, handing the letter over was proving to be another thing entirely.

Adrien sat in the back of the stacks, shoulders slumped in a way that let her know he thought he was alone.  Hair slightly less than perfect and with dark circles covered by light concealer Marinette wondered if she’d ever seen anyone look so sad and so beautiful.

“H-hi,” She said.  “Do you mind if I join you?”

“Please,” He said, sitting up.  “I could use the company.”

“Rough night?”

Adrien laughed.  “You could say that.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s better now that you’re here,” And oh , the way he smiled made her fall all over again. 

Then his eyes landed on the letter in her hand and she froze.

“What’s that?”

“I–” Her tongue felt like lead in her mouth as her hands tightened on the pink envelope, suddenly unsure.  “It’s…”

Adrien’s eyes, soft like summer, waited patiently to find her words.  Beside her, she could feel Tikki’s encouraging pats through the fabric of her purse.

She could do this. She could do this.

“Here,” She said, shoving the letter into his unwaiting hands.  “It’s for you. A… a thank you. Sort of.”

She could feel the heat radiating from her cheeks, the scraping of his nails against the paper deafening in her ears.

“A thank you?” He said, smiling and confused.  “For what?”

Marinette could pinpoint to the second the moment the world fell out from underneath her.  It was the moment his confusion gave way to her own, the way his cheeks turned as rosy as anything Chat Noir had ever given her, the way words formed and unformed on his lips as electric eyes bounced between her and her letter.

The way laughter, lilting, lying, echoed out somewhere behind her.

Horror, swift, and heartbreak, sharp, shocked her like a livewire.

“It wasn’t you was it?” She whispered.

Adrien was coiled, his eyes misty and confused.

He shook his head.

“No.”

“Oh.” A traitorous tear escaped down her cheek.  “Okay.”

Adrien’s trembling hands reached for her own.

“Marinette,” He said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Please,” She took one, two steps back. “Don’t be.”

And ran.

Chapter Text

It started with a love letter.

I think I finally owe you one.

One moment Adrien was wallowing in his Ladybug-crushed emotions, playing she loves me not-she loves me not with rose petals in his mind and the next he was staring down the barrel of a lavender scented gun, an emotional shot delivered in pretty, pink ink.

I like your crooked smiles, your ugly laughs, and your morning hair.  You’re at your most beautiful when you think no one’s watching.

A sucker punch, straight to the bone, to the sinew, to the heart, which is what he assumed Marinette was aiming for.  Words so sweet he could taste them, so warm he could feel them, so sincere they hurt. Nearly two pages of unsolicited, blood warming affection and all Adrien could do was blush and stammer and stare.

There was confusion,

his then hers,

And horror,

hers then his.

“It wasn’t you was it?” She said, face pale, body swaying like it might give way.

Adrien barely had time to reach for her before she was gone, a pistol of pastel and tears shooting off through the double doors.  He stood there paralyzed and shaking with her letter in hand when Alya burst into the library, Nino hot on her heels.

“What the hell just happened?” She snapped, fists clenched in a way that made him wonder if she was going to hit him.  “We just saw Marinette crying!”

“I– I don’t know,” He said and her eyes went to the letter in his hands.  “She just gave me this and…”

Alya made a move to take the letter but he fell back, head shaking.  “No, it’s private.”

“Anything that makes my girl cry like that is my business,” She said.  “What the hell Agreste this isn’t how this was supposed to go.”

Adrien frowned.  “How what was supposed to go?”

“Your letters!”

What letters?”

“The ones you’ve been sending her for the past month!” Alya waved her arms, nearly catching Nino in the face.  “Don’t play stupid I’ve read them. It had to be you.”

“Alya, I swear I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He looked beseechingly towards Nino.

“Babe, maybe he’s–”

“What’s going on?”

The three of them turned to see Lila coming out from around the other side of the stacks.  It wasn’t hard to read the room, what with Alya vibrating with fury and Nino’s restraining hand on her shoulder.  Her eyes flickered to Adrien and the letter in his hand and she frowned.

“Oh dear.” She said. “Is that from Marinette?  Did she finally confess?”

Adrien stared down at the pink letter and Marinette’s delicate script and even more delicate words.  Confess?   It was a confession.  But the heartbreak in her eyes when he stared stupidly back hinted at more.

I think I finally owe you one.

His heart sank.

“I need to find Marinette,” He said.

Alya shook her head.  “No you don’t. Not until we get to the bottom of this.”

“Bottom of what ?” He snapped. “Marinette is somewhere out there upset and heartbroken and mortified and–” She could be akumatized . “I have to go.”

Adrien started past his friends when Lila blocked his path.

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea, Adrien?”

“Please move.”

“I don’t know if going after Marinette would be the smart thing to do.  Especially if she’s so upset. You never know what she might do.”

“What are you saying?” Alya said.

“I don’t know. You’ve said it yourself Marinette can be a little… single-minded when it comes to Adrien.”

“What?” He said.

Lila blinked, bit her lip.  “Oh dear. I probably shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No,” Alya said, irritated. “You shouldn’t have.”

“I’m sorry, I know she’s your friend, but I’m worried.” She turned to Adrien, took his hand in hers.  “Marinette has been… fixated on you for a while. It’s a little concerning sometimes but no one has said anything about it because it’s been harmless up until now.”

Alya grit her teeth. “ Lila.

Adrien pulled his hand away, looking between the two girls warily. “I don’t think I should be hearing this.”

“I’m just saying.  I’ve dealt with stalkers before, Adrien.  You should be more careful.”

Anger, hot and quick, struck him.

He scowled. “Marinette is my friend .”

“Please don’t be upset,” She said, eyes misting.  “I’m just trying to look out for you. Anyone could make up those letters as an excuse to get closer to you.  I would hate to see you get hurt because of Marinette’s unhealthy obsession.”

“Hang on,” Alya said, voice low.  “How did you know about the letters, Lila?”

The italian girl blinked, once, twice. A churling sort of nausea started in Adrien’s stomach as the pieces fell into place.  Disgust, twisted and deep, roared up within him.

“What did you do ?” He hissed.

Now it was Nino’s turn to restrain him as he whirled around on their stuttering classmate.

“Go find Marinette,” Nino said, face grim.  Beside him Alya’s eyes burned. “We’ve got this.”

Heart low, sick to his knees, Adrien nodded.

First he would find Marinette.  Then he would deal with Lila.


 

It wasn’t Marinette he found first.

Tearing through the classrooms, locker rooms, and hallways yielded no success.  A frantic dash to the bakery and painfully out-of-breath false smiling no really, Madame Cheng I’m fine but by any chance is Marinette around? left him equally empty-handed.

It was Plagg’s idea to take to the rooftops.

“I wouldn’t take my chances with this one, kid,” He said.  “You better find her before a butterfly does.”

He found Ladybug instead.

Relief turned to horror as he realized that no, his lady wouldn’t be able to help him with this one.  Not when he realized that she wasn’t so much resting her head in her arms as crying into them.

“Ladybug?”

Chat knew it was bad when she didn’t even try to hide from him.  Made no attempt at wiping her eyes or running away or faking a smile or– well, he’d seen all of her tricks by now.

Ladybug was hurting.

And she didn’t care that he knew it.

Chat knelt down beside her and gently wrapped his arm around her side.  She hesitated only a moment before collapsing into him, her teary face hidden in his neck.

“Chat,” She croaked, breaking his heart.  “Chat, it wasn’t real. It wasn’t real.”

“Shh, Bug.  It’s okay. Shh.”

“He– he… just stood there,” She said, breath coming short as she heaved into his shoulder.  “L-like he had no idea what I was t-talking about. L-like I was… and holding m-my letter, oh god.”

Ladybug broke off into incoherent sobs then and all other conversation was lost.  Chat’s chest was tight as he maneuvered her onto his lap so he could hold her properly.  Thoughts of Marinette intruded only to be pushed away as his partner fell apart in his arms, completely and utterly destroyed.


 


As it happened, there was no akuma that night or any of the following days.

Adrien would have camped outside the bakery if he thought it would do him any good but a text from Nino warned him otherwise.

Leave her be, man.  She needs space.

He could understand that.  It didn’t mean he had to like it.

Marinette missed school on Friday and weekend photoshoots left him no opportunity to seek her out.  The only silver lining in her absence was the opportunity to confront Lila. In that, at least, he could be sure of success.

Alya, was, after all, behind him.

“I spent the whole night doing research on that snake,” Alya scowled, pulling out her tablet and shoving it in his face.  “Her mother wasn’t even stationed in Achu.  She was domestic this entire time.  I wasn’t able to get an answer from Jagged Stone’s team and Marinette wasn’t really...” She paused. “Well she wasn’t really up for calling him anyways.  But from what I understand he’s never even had a cat.”

Adrien would have liked to say Lila’s ultimate comeuppance was equal to the damage she caused.  But it, like high school, played out with quiet disappointment on the schoolyard steps.

“You lied to us?” Rose said, tears in her eyes.

Lila’s eyes watered right back.  Ever the crocodile.

“I just wanted everyone to like me,” She sniffed. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”

Alya glowered and Nino held her back.  Adrien rolled his eyes.

Adrien didn’t dare bring up the letters to Marinette.  They had already decided the less who knew about them the better.

And so it went.

At least this time, Marinette wouldn’t be alone.


 

He found her Monday morning, sitting in one of the stairwells inside the school.  She didn’t look up when he sat down beside her, but she didn’t run away either. Her hair was carefully combed back behind a headband and she was wearing a pretty, pale blue dress he’d never seen before.

“You look nice,” Adrien said, for want of anything else.

Marinette picked at the hem of her dress.

“It was Alya’s idea.  Armor and all that.”

“Oh.”

He tapped his foot against the stairtop, wondering where he should begin.  Marinette didn’t seem any more inclined to this conversation than he was. But she was his friend, a good friend.  And he would be a good friend in return.

“Lila is awful.” He blurted, breaking into the silence.

Marinette laughed, the sound hollow and wet and small. “Yeah.  Yeah, she is.”

“The worst .” He insisted, placing a hand on her arm.  She flinched and he pulled back. 

Stupid.

“I didn’t finish reading it,” Adrien said, reaching into his pocket, pulling out a pink envelope.   “I didn’t know if you’d want me to.”

Her hands shook as she took the letter. “Thanks.”

Adrien’s heart sank as she crumpled it in her fist.  He wanted to reach out, snatch it back, smooth it out, hold her close, and tell her everything was going to be okay.

But he couldn’t.  Instead he said,

“I’m so, so sorry, Marinette.” 

She sniffed, wiping the tears from her eyes even as they fell. 

“Please… can we just pretend this never happened?”

How could he? He wanted to ask.  But that was his selfish, first instinct.

The real question as she finally sneaked a look his way, cheeks pink, eyes raw, was how could he not?

Adrien steeled himself and gave his best Chat Noir grin.

“Pretend what never happened?”

Here, at least, he succeeded.

Marinette smiled.


Ladybug called him to the Eiffel Tower that evening.  She was sitting knees to chest as she stared out at the city lights, blinking in and out in the distance.

“I’m sorry,” She said when he took his place beside her.  “About the other day.”

Chat bumped her shoulder.  “It’s all in the job description, LB.  Part-time superhero, full-time Kleenex.”

Ladybug smiled, small. “Yeah, well.  Thank you anyway.”

“Anytime and always.”

She leaned into his side and he wrapped his arm around her in return.

“He didn’t read it,” She said, quietly.  “My letter, I mean.”

“Oh?”

“Or at least he said he didn’t,” She unfolded her arms from around her legs and revealed a crumpled, pink envelope in her fist.  A very familiar envelope.

Oh.

Chat’s heart thumped wildly in his chest as every inconceivable piece fell into place.  Every half baked excuse and missed opportunity. Every quiet and unquiet moment flowing between them.

Marinette.

“Maybe he should have,” She sighed. “I can’t seem to throw it out anyways.”

“Do you want to?” He asked, resisting the urge to snatch his letter from her hands and bury the words in his heart.

“I should.  It was all a lie, wasn’t it?” She said, voice cracking at the end as her shoulders caved.  A single tear slipped down her cheek. “He never really loved me anyways.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.” Chat said, shaky hand reaching out to cover her own and pull her closer. “Who couldn’t love you?”

Ladybug hiccoughed, laughed. More tears escaped.

“Yeah, right,”  She said. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you, Chaton?”

He smiled, slow, kissed her hair, soft, and denied nothing.

“It will be okay, my lady,” Chat murmured, hugging her tightly.

He would make it okay.

And he would start with a post-it note.