Chapter 1: Miraculouses
Adrien pressed his lips into a thin line, his body feeling heavy. Why did he ever think this was a good idea? He pushed the sinking sensation in his chest aside and pressed on. “So, as you can see, it will benefit the company if I explore other career options instead of taking on a CEO role here straight out of school. Having experienced something other than Gabriel for a few years will only make me more capable of helping you here.”
“Out of the question,” Gabriel cut. “You need to know Gabriel inside out to take over, and that’s not attainable by exploring ‘other options’, as you say.”
Adrien pressed on, despite the dread of hopelessness settling in his stomach. “I’ve worked here my whole life and already know the company well. Exploring might give me new ideas and show new approaches to keep us at the top.”
“You’ve been largely out of the work for the university for years, Adrien. A lot has changed and Gabriel’s at the top. We don’t need new ideas and approaches.”
“I beg to differ.” He really was risking his life here. Adrien still persevered. He’s gone this far. He might go all the way. “For now. But you’ve been struggling to maintain that for a few years now, haven’t you? We need new ideas—”
“I am implementing new ideas,” Gabriel snapped. “This summer’s collection—”
“Father, please,” Adrien interrupted. Yup. He’d definitely gone crazy, but someone had to say something. Maybe he’d be even lucky enough to get kicked out of the company for offending his father? “Mme Bourgeois was mocking you when she challenged you to implement sequins, bright feathers, ribbons and bows into your men’s formal wear. Neon coloured sneakers with black formal suits? Ripped formal pants? Do you really not understand what’s going on here?”
Adrien could practically see his father’s eyes filled with anger as he replied. “Ripped pants have been trending for a few years already. It's time formal wear got on it.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No. I absolutely do not.”
He was mad. Adrien could feel it. Good. Maybe daring to voice his objections would finally make Gabriel pay attention to his son? He didn’t ask for much. He’d been more than a perfect son his whole life, blindly obeying his father’s every whim. The least Gabriel could do now was to grant him the sole wish Adrien refused to back away on: a few years of freedom to do whatever he wanted. His own schedule, his own choice of work, his own life. Was that too much to ask for? If anything, Adrien had earned it. So, he dared to speak again.
“Father, ‘formal’ and ‘ripped’ should not be in the same sentence unless it’s an accident. In all honesty, if you want my opinion, Audrey knew you would never refuse her very public dare, and she used it against you.”
“So, what? It’s a good push for creativity and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.”
“Only in this case, it’s not. She wanted to sink Gabriel for years, and this might just do it.”
“Father, there is a difference between new ideas that work and those that will make you the laughingstock of the entire fashion industry.”
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow, leaning back into his chair. He hummed. “Now, where did I hear those words before, Adrien? Or should I say Ladybug ?”
Adrien frowned. “Lady who?”
“Don’t play a fool with me.” Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest, his voice chilling with every word. “I see, you’ve finally learned to express your opinion quite well. Though, in an incredibly rude fashion, and we will discuss it later. Why did you email me then if you can say face to face?”
Adrien’s frown deepened. “Father, I have no idea—”
Gabriel scoffed. “Was it for practice? Then you should know that if you wanted to remain anonymous, you should use different expressions every time you speak on the matter.”
“Seriously. You are losing me here. What email? Why do I need to email you if I can make an appointment to come here and talk to you?”
“That’s what I’m wondering as well,” Gabriel said, reaching out for his computer mouse. He made a few clicks and added. “Just to refresh your memory.”
Adrien’s phone chimed. He opened his Inbox to find a forwarded message from his father. “From Ladybug?”
“Clever,” Gabriel noted. “I assumed it was a woman at first. Good strategy.”
“I didn’t send this,” Adrien said scanning the text. “I mean I agree with whoever said this—half of your outfits needs to be reworked—but I have nothing to do with this. I’m not Ladybug.”
Gabriel watched him for a split moment before turning away. “So, you’re saying someone in my company, apart from you, thinks my upcoming collection isn’t up to standard?”
“Apparently.” Adrien chuckled. Unexpected turn but he loved it. “Those pieces you’ve created to appease Mme Bourgeois specifically. Like this Ladybug says, ‘Your company is iconic. Your style is legendary. You don’t need to change it, and especially not because of such a ridiculous whim of such a fashion disaster as Audrey Bourgeois.’ I mean she’s right, this Ladybug.”
Adrien smiled to himself. Whoever she was, he’d like to meet her. Or him. Standing up to his father was something he hadn’t had the guts to do for twenty-three years. And even now when he finally tried, he wasn’t sure it was working.
“Weren’t you just now insisting we needed new ideas and strategies?” Gabriel said, relaxing back into his chair. “I say this is it. They might be unconventional for now, but the public takes everything I give them. They’ll eat this too and thank me for it.”
Adrien shook his head, this Ladybug person giving him confidence. If she could do it, so could he. “This is a gamble you know you will lose.”
“There are risks.” Gabriel shrugged. “But reports have been showing a heightened interest in sequins for years and—”
“In girl’s clothing, Father. Little girls. This Ladybug explained it really well. Why can’t you listen?”
Gabriel scowled. “I’m not taking the advice of a coward who couldn’t even come to me personally.”
“So, you can fire them?” Adrien countered. “Father, really? You aren’t that generous, and your employees aren’t that stupid.”
“I can take critique.”
“I’ve been giving you one, and you don’t seem to be taking it. This Ladybug gave you one and you ignore it. Should we combine our forces for you to hear us?”
Gabriel stilled, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips a moment later. “Maybe you should. I’m sure the two of you could convince me of anything, including letting you go to explore other options as you say.”
Adrien quirked an eyebrow, his heart speeding up. Did he just hear his father…?
“Say that again?”
“Find this Ladybug, bring her to me, so I can have a proper conversation with her about the content of her email. In return, you’ll get your freedom.”
The pit of his stomach turned. Adrien dared to ask for freedom, but, in all truth, he did not expect his father to even listen to him. However…
“You want me to find a person for you to fire?”
“Not at all,” Gabriel replied. “Let’s just say I’m not fully convinced by their arguments in their email. I want to hear what else they can tell me.”
Adrien paused, his gaze falling to the floor. So close to what he wanted for most of his life… Yet…
“We’re both adults here, Adrien,” Gabriel said. “We both want something. Why not give it to each other? You’re old enough to work with me, rather than for me, aren’t you?”
Adrien snapped his eyes to Gabriel. He wanted out of here so badly, and here it was. His ticket to freedom. Find this person his Father wanted to talk to and he was free. Still, something at the back of his mind nagged. “You promise you won’t fire them and let me go?”
Gabriel nodded. “Absolutely. How can I fire anyone for expressing their opinion in order to better my company? Who do you take me for?”
Adrien hesitated for just one more moment before pushing that nagging thought away. He deserved this. For absentminded serving for his father for his whole life at his own expense, Adrien deserved a few years to himself. Father promised he won’t fire this person, and judging by their email, Ladybug would be able to easily stand up to Gabriel. Adrien might even be doing them a favour. Really. If they are successful in convincing his father to accept their suggestions, he might even promote them for being a loyal employee.
Standing up, Adrien stretched his arm to his father. “Deal. I’ll find you this Ladybug, and you let me go.”
Gabriel shook his hand with a smile on his lips. “You have until a week before the next show.”
“Of course. If they convince me, and I were to change anything in my collection, I’d need enough time to do that. But you can always back out if you can’t do it in a month.”
Adrien nervously grinned. “I can do it in a month. I was just surprised you are giving me so much time. That’s all.”
Gabriel let Adrien’s hand go. “If you say so. Now if you excuse me, I’ve got some work to do.”
“Same here. Got a Ladybug to catch. Good day, father.”
Subject: Hello stranger
Hello, my brave and genius Ladybug. I’m sure you’re surprised to receive this email, but let me assure you: I’ve come in peace.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Chat Noir. Seeing as you’re Ladybug, a good luck charm, and how there is a cute picture of a misfortunate Black Cat on a wall at a cafe I’m at right now, I’d say that’s a fitting name, wouldn’t you say so?
A little about me. I work in proximity of Gabriel Agreste, and the other day I accidentally came upon your email on his table. The boss printed it for who knows what reason and left it between his papers. Upon reading it, I couldn’t not tell you how greatly I admire you for expressing what so many of us in this company think but scared to voice. Those new implementations M Agreste is enforcing are ridiculous and, as you’ve written, will make him a laughingstock of the fashion world. Nicely said, by the way.
Well, I suppose that’s all I wanted to say. Accept my deepest respect and love, my dear Ladybug, and I hope you continue to be as awesome as you’re now.
Chapter 2: Civilian Lives
She was smart, this Ladybug of his. Adrien had to give it to her. Tracing the origins of her email had brought him to a public computer at a library half a city away from Gabriel’s offices. And a very busy library at that, as it stood in between a few educational institutions and the flow of students who needed to use public computers there never ceased.
His next idea was to infiltrate his father’s company and snoop around for any clues. Not that he didn’t work there but now Adrien needed to actually mingle with employees instead of showing up for photoshoots and disappearing as soon as those were over. Don’t get him wrong, Adrien wasn’t an antisocial person. It was the mountain of responsibilities and studies that had kept him away. However, now that his official education was over, he could try to fit in better. Surely, he’d spot his Ladybug soon enough. Such fire and passion as she displayed in her email would be hard to miss.
His mind made up, Adrien called Nathalie, his father's long-time personal assistant and more of a parent to him than Gabriel ever was. A short conversation later she agreed to provide him with an official cover and access everywhere he needed. Adrien couldn't be happier. He was one step closer to his freedom.
However, it was a reply to his email that really made his day. Adrien emailed Ladybug in a hustle, having nothing better to do. He didn’t dare to hope she’d reply. Yet, here he was clicking on an email from a Ladybug addressed to him, not his father.
Subject: RE: Hello stranger
Hey, Chat Noir. Although I cannot approve of anyone bestowing a title of Bad Luck upon themselves, I like your logic with choosing a name. It was rather clever and fun.
I’m also glad you share my sentiment regarding M Agreste’s latest fashion choices. Let me assure you that writing that email hadn’t come easy to me. I deeply respect M Agreste and his work. He’s been my idol since I can remember myself and seeing him suddenly trying to pull this nonsense hurts me too much to stay silent. First, for M Agreste’s and Gabriel’s reputation. Second, for all of us working here. I’m saddened to learn he ignored my email, especially because I was voicing concerns of the whole team. It’s rather disappointing, but, well, at least we tried. All we can do now is to keep our fingers crossed the line won’t flop too badly, and we’ll still have a job after the show.
Thanks for letting me know.
Adrien started to type. If Ladybug replied once, who is to say she won’t reply again, and then who knows, she might let something slip about her civilian identity. Paired with his infiltration of the company, his chances of finding this mysterious Lady Luck was looking more promising with every minute.
Subject: Lovely to hear from you
Hello again, my lovely Ladybug. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect you to write back, but I’m so glad you did. You mentioned my nickname choice. Well, let me assure you it’s a fitting title. Most people would say I’m a lucky fellow, but I do not consider my life to be all that fortunate. What others see as fortune, in fact, is a gilded cage with no viable escape routes. And this cat has been yearning for some freedom ever since he remembers himself. However, less about me, it came to my attention you mentioned you were voicing concerns of a group of people. May I assume you and I aren’t alone in believing that sequins, neon sneakers, and Mickey Mouse bows aren’t a staple of formal wear? Especially when they all go together.
Eagerly awaiting your reply,
She took longer to respond than he’d like, but nevertheless, an email arrived at the end of the day.
Subject: RE: Lovely to hear from you
Oh, please! That combination still gives me nightmares. I mean it looks like a five-year-old half-heartedly tried to beautify her CEO father while he was passed out drunk on a coach. The first time I saw those sketches, I was dead sure M Agreste was joking. But then it wasn’t April Fool’s Day, and he looked serious, so my conviction has changed into a hope, a hope that was squished soon thereafter. I don’t know what happened to him, but I cannot see any sane person who wears formal wear to even think about wearing that combination. I doubt M Agreste himself would wear it, and honestly, I feel sorry for the models that would have to put that on. I bet they hated it as much.
As for the opinions of others, yeah, there are many people who are just as confused and flabbergasted as I am. We hoped he’d listen to the email, but I guess it’s too late now.
Adrien flopped on his bed with a dopey smile on his face. Ladybug thought about what the models thought, aka him and his coworkers. That felt strangely nice. He wasn’t a stranger to wearing whatever nonsense the designers came up with, but no one ever was concerned with his opinion on the matter before. Those who dared to comment were told to suck it up. It was their job. They had to obey mindlessly whatever the designer said. So, Adrien never voiced his thoughts. Knowing that someone was sympathetic to his fate did feel kind of incredible.
Subject: It’s never too late
Honestly? I think a five-year-old would do a better job on her CEO father. ;) Speaking from the experience of a person whose friend had done something similar to her non-CEO but still a formal-suit-wearing father.
Also, funny story but M Agreste was drunk when Audrey Bourgeois challenged him to make the abomination work. And he’s too stubborn and proud to back away from a drunken bet. Even if it means sinking his company.
So, this might be a crazy idea, but what do you say if we try convincing him again? Maybe if we combine forces, we’ll be more successful.
Subject: RE: It’s never too late
With all due respect, Chat, it’s just a little over a month until the show. Even if we convince him, it’s too late to come up with and produce a whole new line. But I appreciate the initiative. It’s cute, though naïve.
Subject: RE: RE: It’s never too late
Have you missed the subject of my email, my Lady? It might be hard, but it isn’t impossible. What’s the worst that can happen? He’ll change nothing or he might pull pieces out instead of creating new ones. He might adjust the existing designs. That’s plausible, right? We’ll never know unless we try, so we should. What do you say? Let’s meet for a cup of coffee and come up with a plan.
Subject: RE: RE: RE: It’s never too late
Nice try, Kitty, but I’m not meeting with anyone. You might be M Agreste himself, or one of his henchmen. Even his antisocial, thinking-that-he’s-better-than-anyone-else son. So nice try, but I love my job, and I’m not losing it for wishing to spare the company some major embarrassment.
Adrien pursed his lips and shifted in his bed. She was smart, but he wasn’t the antisocial, thinking-that-he’s-better-than-anyone-else son of Gabriel she thought he was. He was just too busy to forge friendships at work. Not that he needed to justify himself to anyone, but he had friends; he wasn’t antisocial. He had Chloe since forever, and Nino, a guy he’d met in his university. There was also a prospect to befriend Alya, Nino’s new girlfriend. Nino promised they’d hang out together as soon as Adrien would get a break from his responsibilities. So there! He wasn’t antisocial. Not at all. And he did hate his father’s upcoming collection. Given a choice, he’d burn it all with fire. He was nothing like this Ladybug seemed to think of him.
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: It’s never too late
You wound me, my Lady. My proposal comes from the sincere heart of the person who loathes those sequins as much as you do and who would hate seeing Gabriel being dragged through the mud after the show.
However, I understand your concern. So, here is my second offer: we’ll discuss details over email? Or we can set up a chat room in one of those chat apps for convenience since I suspect you won’t be giving me your phone number any time soon. If you ever would want to back out, just delete the app and emails, and I shall never contact you again. Whatever you decide, it was my biggest pleasure to talk with you as much as we did.
Wishing you all the best. Goodnight.
With that, Adrien closed his phone and turned the lights off. Hopefully, she'd reply. Because if she did and they succeeded, he might just kill two birds at the same time: get his freedom and get his father to accept the reality of the horrendous line he’d planned to present in a month. And, even though he understood Ladybug’s concerns, Adrien knew better. His father swore he wouldn’t fire her. Unfortunately, Adrien couldn’t exactly tell her that without revealing his own identity, and seeing her opinion of him, he doubted it was a good idea. In any case, the ball was in her court now, and he had to get his sleep. Tomorrow was a big day: his infiltration would begin.
Chapter 3: Patrol
Adrien swore under his breath, having successfully escaped an overly excited Lila Rossi. Shivering, he walked down the corridor, hands in his pockets.
It’s been like this all day today. He’d lurked various departments under the pretence of getting to know the company before stepping in as a business manager. People greeted him politely and, more often than not, left him to his own devices. Then, there was Mlle Rossi who glued herself to his arm as soon as he’d walk in, for whom “No” meant absolutely nothing and the concept of personal space didn’t exist. She even followed him into the departments she didn’t work until he’d had enough. If Ladybug were to see him at that moment, of course, she’d think him to be an antisocial, thinking-that-he’s-better-than-anyone-else prick. He simply had to go to extreme measures to escape her since none of his countless attempts to do so politely had worked. And if it looked like he was scrambling away in panic… well, that was exactly what he was doing. However, that was called survival, not antisocialist.
“Hey, watch where you—”
Adrien bumped into someone straight on, bringing both of them down on the floor.
“I’m so sorry.” He rushed to help the person up but froze midway. The woman’s eyes were the most beautiful shade of blue he’d ever seen. Her lips parted; she watched him expectantly for a few moments, but once he failed to provide her help, she looked away with a disappointed look on her lovely face.
Adrien swallowed. She was gorgeous. And she was clearly disappointed with an idiot who was still not helping her to get up. “I’m so, so sorry,” he repeated, offering her a hand. She gave him a forced tiny smile and ignoring his hand, started to gather her papers. Adrien picked some up for her and offered his hand one more time when no more papers were left scattered on the floor. “Allow me to assist you.”
She stood up on her own. “Thanks, but I’m fine. Can I have those, please?”
Her voice was like a melody. A sad and angry one, but still a melody.
“Of course.” Adrien passed her the stack in his hand. “I really am sorry. I didn’t see you coming.”
“Try looking around when walking in public places next time,” she said and walked away.
Rude. Adrien huffed to himself. Gorgeous, but rude. Yes, he was at fault for knocking her off her feet, but he apologized. She didn’t have to be so mean. Definitely not Ladybug. From what he could gather from their conversations, Ladybug wasn’t a rude type.
“Can I help you with something?” a new voice sounded beside him.
Adrien turned to look at the intruder and froze. What was up with all these beautiful women around here, and why did he never notice them before?
“My name is Kagami. Kagami Tsurugi.” The woman stretched him a hand. "I'm a Public Relations Manager.”
“Adrien.” He shook her hand. “Adrien Agreste.”
She smiled. It was a beautiful smile. Definitely better than a scowl the previous woman had given him. “You seemed a little lost Adrien, so I thought I’d ask if I can help.”
Adrien hesitated for a moment. Kagami seemed nice enough, so maybe he could accept her offer. Because if anything, this day had taught him was that he needed an insider if he were to get closer to people in a short period of time. "I do need help if you don't mind."
“Not at all. What do you need?”
“I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the company and the employees before stepping in as a business manager, so I’ve been lurking around hoping observation will give me some info. So far I’ve had little luck.”
“Do you find that people fear you?” Kagami asked, starting to walk the hallway.
Adrien followed. “Either that or they try to get my attention a bit too much.”
Kagami chuckled. “I assume you’ve met Lila?”
Adrien quirked an eyebrow. “How… How do you know?”
She laughed. “Lila has been telling everyone who’d listen that she’s your secret girlfriend. I think there were even pictures of you two together at a party or something.”
Adrien stopped. The frown on his forehead deepened. “I’ve met her today for the first time in my life.”
“I know.” Kagami’s smile was soft. Understanding. Calming. “I’ve had a similar upbringing to you, so I know better than to believe every rumour I hear.”
Adrien fell quiet.
“Obsessively sheltered and controlled,” Kagami continued. “Until a few years ago when my mother passed away. Then, I decided to explore the world and do something different from she’d intended for me. Something I’d like to do, not my family.”
Explore the world. Do something she’d like to do. Adrien felt the sting of jealousy. He might have been an adult but he wasn’t free yet. “I’m sorry about your mother.”
“Thank you. But I’m fine.”
“So, why did you choose to work in public relations?” He asked after a short pause.
"I wanted to work in the fashion industry, and Public Relations is the most suitable position for my qualifications,” Kagami said, reaching her department’s door. “I’m sorry. I need to get back to work. What did you exactly need help with?”
“I need to get to know this company inside out, and for that, I need someone to help me navigate it. Can you help me?” Adrien asked. “Because as of now, I feel like I am an under-qualified soldier patrolling the enemy territory.”
Kagami snickered. “I’ll help you. Would you like to start with my department?”
“Yes.” Adrien grinned. “That would work perfectly.”
Kagami nodded and prompted him to follow her inside.
In the next few hours, thanks to Kagami, Adrien achieved more than he’d ever thought possible. By the end of the day, she introduced him to all the key people in the company in a manner that put all parties at ease. Effectively, Adrien had received permissions to shadow anyone he wanted whenever he needed for the next few weeks. It couldn’t get any better than this. He was now in a better position to find his Ladybug than ever before. Victory on his part.
Although, Adrien strongly suspected he’d already found her. Kagami fit perfectly into the picture of Ladybug he’d created in his mind. He’d have to observe her more before he could conclude anything concrete, but as of now, the chances he was right looked bright.
Unlike the weather. The rain poured hard when he walked out. Lighting and thunder split the sky. Thankfully, he didn’t park his car that far away, and he had his umbrella on him. In the corner of his eye, Adrien noticed a lonely figure standing to his right. The same girl he'd knocked off her feet today. They’d been introduced properly just an hour ago on his Kagami-led tour. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, one of the junior designers and, if he remembered correctly, one of his father’s favourites. He’d often mentioned her name before, but only now Adrien had a face to put to it.
She glanced his way and turned right back to watching the street. Adrien sighed, realizing why she hadn’t left yet. Well, it looked like the perfect opportunity for a proper apology.
“Marinette?” He came closer.
She theatrically ignored him.
“I…” Adrien cleared his throat. “I wanted to apologize for knocking you off your feet earlier. I’ve been busy escaping the crazy fangirl who claims to date me—Lila, if you know her—and haven’t noticed you, but I’m really sorry. Causing you discomfort was the least of my intentions.”
“It’s fine,” she murmured, refusing to look at him.
“Do you need a ride home?” Adrien proposed. “I’ve noticed you don’t have an umbrella, and it doesn’t look like it’ll stop raining anytime soon.”
“No, thank you,” she said, side-glancing him.
Adrien stretched his hand, offering his umbrella to her. “Then take mine. My car is close by. I don’t really need an umbrella.”
She turned to him. Her eyes wide-opened, lips slightly parted Marinette watched Adrien and his umbrella for a few seconds before replying. “I can’t accept that.”
“Of course, you can,” he said. “That’s the least I can do for you after I practically ran you over. Here.” He reached for her hand and put his umbrella in it. “And you can keep it. I have another one.”
“I… Um… I can’t—”
The blush that covered her cheeks was adorable, and Adrien couldn’t help but smile. “My father really loves your work, Mlle Marinette,” Adrien added. “He’d murder me in cold blood if I let his favourite junior designer get wet under a rain.” Curling her fingers around the umbrella, Adrien let go of her hand. “I’m sorry again. I hope you won’t hold it against me.”
“Kay.” She nodded, looking dumbfounded. “Kanks—thank coo—thank you!”
She squeaked and hid her face in her hands. Adrien chuckled. Adorable.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said and walked off before the girl could change her mind. Victory number two.
Victory number three came unexpectedly later that night.
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: It’s never too late
Discord name Ladybug#7777. Let’s do this!
Chapter 4: Babysitting
Chat Noir: Okay, so, if we’re doing this we’ve got to give everyone a code name.
Ladybug: We already have them. Chat Noir and Ladybug?
Chat Noir: But what about M Agreste?
Ladybug: Why does he need one? We can call him The Boss.
Chat Noir: Too obvious.
Ladybug: What’s wrong with that?
Chat Noir: Nothing unless someone hacks us? We'll be in huge trouble.
Ladybug: :thinking: Won't they see us giving the codenames in the first place?
Chat Noir: We’ll delete these messages.
Ladybug: I feel like it’s easier to agree than argue OTL
Chat Noir: You’ve got it, my Lady.
Ladybug: Okay fine. Let’s do Hawk.
Chat Noir: Hawk? O_o Why?
Ladybug: Because hawks symbolize creativity, wisdom and determination. M Agreste is a hawk.
Chat Noir: Pfft. No? He’s more like a moth. Cooped up in his room all day with fabrics around him.
Chat Noir: Moth.
Ladybug: Listen. If anyone will hack us it’s better to have a more noble code name for him. Just in case.
Chat Noir: And I’ll take full responsibility but he’s a moth.
Ladybug: And you’re stubborn. Okay, fine. Let’s combine them. Mothy Hawk?
Chat Noir: Hawky Moth? LOL
Ladybug: LOL Nope. Hawkmoth? Or Mothhawk?
Chat Noir: LMAO Let’s go with Hawkmoth. It sounds more evil.
Ladybug: Hawkmoth it is then.
Ladybug: So, what do you propose we do? How do we convince them to do something about those designs?
Chat Noir: :thinking: Tbh, I haven’t really thought about any strategies yet. Let’s see what’s realistic at this point at first. I get it that there is no time for creating new designs?
Ladybug: Nope. With a month left till the big show? No way.
Chat Noir: What about pulling them?
Ladybug: We’ll lose at least 10 out of 15 outfits from that line. Not really an option either.
Chat Noir: So, fixing the existing once?
Ladybug: That’s the only way I see it.
Chat Noir: So let’s do this. We’ll sketch the existing designs sans the abomination and present it to him and idk maybe a survey of the company’s employees on which version they prefer? To show him that people hate his “innovations.”
Ladybug: Yeah. Only the issue is no one has access to the full collection apart from Hawkmoth himself. Multiple designers worked on that line over a few months and even they don't know which outfits made the final cut and which didn't. You know how Hawkmoth likes to keep his lines as much a secret as possible to prevent the leaks?
Chat Noir: I admire your adaptability, my Lady ;3 Using the code names already.
Ladybug: LOL I won’t admit that I retyped that message a few times because I kept writing his real name XD
Chat Noir: Still impressive, Okay so we need access to his collection. Suppose we’ll get it. What’s then? I can’t really draw.
Ladybug: Then you’re lucky I can. But I really don’t see how we can get them. Rumours say he keeps everything on his work computer under the state-of-the-art security system.
Chat Noir: Oh shoot. I have to go, my Lady. Let’s think about it and chat later?
Ladybug: Sure. My cue, as well. Thanks for doing this, Chat.
Chat Noir: My purrleasure.
Adrien put the phone away as he noticed Kagami approaching. She was typing something on her cellphone but as soon as she caught him in her side vision, Kagami smiled and waved.
He smiled. Not so subtle, are we, Ladybug? “Good morning, Mlle Tsurugi.”
“Call me Kagami.” The girl smiled at him, putting her cellphone away. “I thought we’ve been over that yesterday.”
“Yes, we’ve been.” Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry. I haven't gotten used to this yet.”
She chuckled. “You’re socially awkward, Adrien. That’s adorable, but we’ll need to work on that. A future leader of such a company as Gabriel needs to exude confidence.”
“Right.” Adrien straightened subconsciously. “I’ll work on that.”
“Should we go then?”
“Your shadow for the next few days is ready.”
Kagami smiled, her eyebrow arched. “Good. Because I have quite a few things to show you today.”
And so, Adrien’s mission to confirm that Kagami Tsurugi was the mysterious Ladybug had started. It fitted splendidly. She was fierce and brave and wouldn’t take nonsense from anyone, including his father. Though, with him, she’d held back, expressing her opinion in a polite but confident way. Although he couldn’t confirm her drawing abilities, mentioned in this morning’s chat, that didn’t dishearten Adrien. He’d find a way to do so later without bringing unwanted attention to himself. He couldn’t risk her learning his identity now, not when they’d only just started their conspiracy online.
Chat Noir: I hope your day was enjoyable, My Lady.
Ladybug: More or less. Had a lot of work and babysitting to do.
Chat Noir: Babysitting? At Gabriel ? Or you skipped work?
Ladybug: LOL. Nope. Babysitting at work. I had a tail following me everywhere today. An intern to educate.
Adrien bit on his lip. Universities had just ended their school year, and Gabriel had a lot of interns following many of his regular employees. It could’ve been anyone. Or Ladybug must be being smart and calling him an intern, so she could still mention her troubles without revealing her identity.
Chat Noir: Were they annoying? It doesn’t sound like you’ve enjoyed the experience calling it babysitting.
Ladybug: XD No they were fine. It’s just a term we’re using for interns. “Babies” because they have no idea what they are in for. And as such, having an intern is babysitting.
Chat Noir: LOL Fitting. So? Do you have any ideas regarding our project?
Ladybug: Sadly no. I’ve thought of showing crazy designs vs regular ones to a third-party and ask their opinion and then show the results to Hawkmoth, but that’ll be leaking the designs. We’ll get fired immediately.
Chat Noir: Didn’t we discuss surveying the company? Not a third-party?
Ladybug: I don’t see how anyone’s opinion inside Gabriel can convince him to change his mind. Someone Hawkmoth admires has to tell him and we all work for him. Not exactly that admiring.
Chat Noir: Well, then we’re thinking more. Say, Ladybug, can I ask you a question?
Ladybug: Shoot, but be quick cause I’m about to call it a day.
Chat Noir: Got it :3 I was wondering what got you to change your mind and go for this? Trying to convince Hawkmoth again.
She took her time to reply, but when she did, Adrien straightened in his seat.
Ladybug: Do you remember how I told you Adrien Agreste was a stuck up antisocial prick?
Chat Noir: Clearly.
Ladybug: Well. Happens I was wrong about him, so I thought if I was wrong about him, I might be wrong about his father not be willing to listen and change.
Adrien huffed and typed.
Chat Noir: Oh, you were right about Gabriel Agreste. Let me assure you. He’s pretty unchangeable and doesn’t like to listen. Believe me. Talking from personal experience.
Ladybug: That’s a pity.
Chat Noir: But he can bargain.
Ladybug: That’s something. The hope lives on ;)
Chat Noir: Let’s hope so, but may I ask what made you change your opinion on younger Agreste?
Ladybug: I guess, meeting him myself. I might have previously formed my opinion on his character based on rumours, the fact that his BFF was Chloe Bourgeois and he dated Lila Rossi. I mean what sane person would hang around those ladies?
Chat Noir: You know the Lila rumours are false, right?
Ladybug: They are?
Chat Noir: Completely. I’ve heard him say himself. In fact, it quite surprised him to hear them. He’d met Lila just yesterday, and it wasn’t anything he’d love to repeat.
Ladybug: But he’s still friends with Chloe?
Chat Noir: Yeah, but only because he wasn’t allowed to attend a public school, and she was the only one around. Though I’ve heard they are not as close now as they used to, and he’s got normal friends in his university.
Ladybug: You know quite a lot about him, don’t you?
Chat Noir: Side-effects of working close to his father. Nothing unusual.
Ladybug: Right. XD Well, I’m glad he's a decent person. He seemed to be. Anyway. I have to go now, Chat. Goodnight.
Chat Noir: Goodnight my Lady.
I’ll see you tomorrow, he whispered into the silence of his room.
Chapter 5: Lost
If by the end of day one Adrien was pretty sure that Kagami was Ladybug, then by the end of day two, he was almost convinced. She was a force to be reckoned with. Her colleagues admired her. Those who slacked at their job feared her. Adrien felt he had a long way to go to even think about reaching Kagami’s level of dedication and skill. Perfect description of his Ladybug. The only thing left was to match what little details she let slip online to the real person: Ladybug could draw well enough to agree to edit Gabriel’s sketches, and one of her best friends was a dance instructor. Neither one Adrien could confirm for Kagami yet. He didn't despair, though. With time he would succeed.
Chat Noir : I bet your day today was just as lovely as you are, my Lady.
Ladybug : LOL And what would you know about my beauty, Chat? For all you know, I can be that old, bearded dude from the accounting department.
Chat Noir : Le Gasp! My Lady, beards are sexy. I’ve been considering getting one myself.
Ladybug : Well-looked after and trimmed beards are sexy. The guy from the accounting department doesn’t know the meaning of either.
Chat Noir : Then you cannot be him. Even your words are fashionable, my Lady. I bet your beauty knows no bounds, and men drop by your feet with confessions of love on a daily basis.
Ladybug : And I bet you are a local Casanova whose sweet tongue and, possibly, easy on the eyes looks earned him a girl or two on his arms at any given time.
Chat Noir : You mocking me, aren’t you?
Ladybug : I’m making assumptions based on how you talk. Just like you do. What? I’m wrong?
Chat Noir : Yes. Severely. I’ve never been even kissed. Or dated. Or in love. Been too busy for that.
Ladybug : Accept my condolences.
Chat Noir : You’re still mocking me.
Ladybug : Not at all. I really am sorry. It must feel awful to have never fallen in love.
Chat Noir : Have you ever been in love?
Ladybug : Yes. But that’s all I’m telling you.
Chat Noir : Then maybe instead you can finally tell me how did your day go?
Ladybug : it was lovely. Thank you for asking. Yours?
Chat Noir : Pretty well. How is your baby? Taught him something new today?
Ladybug : XD Her and yes. She’s a quick learner.
Adrien frowned. Either he’s on the wrong track or Ladybug was trying to throw him off her trail. Which was a more plausible explanation because from all the conversations they’ve had so far, keeping her identity a secret was Ladybug’s top priority and she’d already let quite a lot slip. He wouldn’t put it past her at this point to throw him a few fake facts to prevent any possible reveals.
Ladybug : So, about our mission. I thought about it and I think that reworking designs and anonymously surveying Gabriel’s design department only should be the way to go. We won’t be leaking anything outside of the company since our designers had seen all the designs already at some stage. And we’ll show M Agreste that there are more people than just us who think his choices are ridiculous. This is the only way I can think of how to do this without risking losing our jobs.
Chat Noir : I like your plan, my Lady. So, all we need now are the actual designs?
Ladybug : Yeah. And there is no way I can get them.
Chat Noir : Leaving the dirty work to the keeper of misfortune?
Ladybug : You said you’re working in the Hawkmoth’s proximity, meaning, of the two of us, you have a higher chance of getting those files. But we can always forget it. I don’t want you to risk too much, and it’s not like we have to do anything in the first place. If Hawkmoth wants to get ridiculed, who are we to stop him?
Chat Noir : The warriors of truth and light who don’t want the company we love to suffer?
Ladybug : LOL Tbh, only if I’m not losing my job over it.
Chat Noir : Well, I don’t care if I lose mine. Been thinking of quitting actually, so I’ll get you the files. Do you want me to do the survey also? Let's get you involved as little as possible so you're not risking your job. Alright?
Ladybug : Only if you insist.
Chat Noir : I do.
Ladybug : Thank you, Chaton. I appreciate that.
Chat Noir : :3 I like your choice of a nickname for mew.
Ladybug : LOL Well since you’ve been quick to give me one, why can't I do the same?
Chat Noir : Fair enough.
The next hour, they spent chatting about anything and everything in between. By the end of the conversation, Adrien couldn't help but wishfully grin at the screen. This girl was amazing. Witty, funny, smart, confident and creative, she even designed and texted him their secret squad logo: a black kitten, looking at a tiny ladybug on his nose. It was cute. Adrien saved it as his phone background. Risky, but they were slowly becoming friends and with her changed opinion of Adrien, hiding his identity wasn’t such a priority for Adrien anymore.
The next day, however, brought some surprises. More like confused stupor, because the last thing Adrien had expected from his sweet Ladybug was to cold-heartedly fire some poor soul for making a simple mistake.
“I'm sorry you had to witness that,” Kagami apologized to Adrien after the fired man escaped. “Take it as an example that unless you keep them in line, nothing will get done right. People have forgotten what responsibilities and respecting your superiors mean, so I have to remind them from time to time.”
Adrien hummed under his breath, leaning on a windowsill. His father’s philosophy was also to rule with fear, but it was his mother who showed him that honesty, kindness, support and hard work went much further in earning people’s respect and inspiring them to work with you. It forged connections impossible to break. It bore loyalty and success. It was the way Adrien wanted to go. His chest tightened. He missed her dearly and was so happy that, at least online, Ladybug was so much like his mom. He'd hate to think that in real life, the girl he was smitten with upheld his father's way of thinking. Rather disappointing.
“Would you like to grab lunch together?” Kagami intruded into his thoughts. “I’m almost done, and since today’s the last day you’ll be shadowing me, I thought we could share lunch?”
Adrien perked up. Lunch sounded like a good idea to ask more personal questions. More relaxed atmosphere and no pressure of a workplace. He needed answers and lunch sounded like the perfect place to get them.
“Absolutely,” he smiled. “I’d love nothing more.”
An hour later, they’d found a nice cafe and settled on the second floor. Conversation flowed almost effortlessly and soon Adrien braved a question lingering at the back of his mind. “Do you enjoy working at Gabriel , Kagami?”
"I do," she said. "I like the direction your father is heading, and his work ethic is one of the best in the industry."
Adrien quirked an eyebrow. The online Ladybug had a different idea. At least about the new collection. Maybe he needed to be more specific?
“What about his creative direction? The newest line that is about to be released. What do you think about it?”
“Hard to say.” Kagami shrugged. “I haven't really seen much of it since my work has nothing to do with designing or making the clothes.”
“Aren't you allowed access to unreleased items to create the advertisement?”
"Very limited. Usually, your father would send me pictures of what he'd like to be featured."
“I see,” Adrien sighed, resting his chin on his propped-up hand. “Well, I saw his latest line, and there were some questionable choices made. Sequins in formal wear, for example.”
Kagami didn't react much.
"I trust M Agreste to make it work." She shrugged. "His designs had made him into the fashion icon he is today, and that didn't happen because he was always careful and held back. Risks are inevitable if you want to take the top. That's what he's doing if you ask me."
Adrien leaned back into his chair. Kagami was either a fantastic actress or she wasn't the Ladybug he sought. His phone chimed.
Ladybug : I know we agreed not to chat during the day, but I need a third opinion. Help.
His breathing heavy, Adrien glanced at Kagami, eating her salad. There was no way she could’ve sent him this message. Her cell phone was still in her bag.
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” Adrien asked, standing up.
Adrien walked behind a corner, stopping in a place he could still see Kagami.
Chat Noir : I’m at your service, my Lady.
Ladybug : Thank you! Tell me, what’s the best dessert ever: eclairs or macarons?
Chat Noir : Can I say croissants?
Ladybug : >:( Those aren't dessert. Choose from the two I’ve sent you.
Chat Noir : Well, then macarons.
Ladybug : YES! Thank you!
Chat Noir: Do I get to know what this was all about?
Ladybug : LOL Okay. You deserved that much.
Ladybug: Don't laugh, but my friend and I are at the cafe and we were choosing a dessert and kind of started to argue which one was the best. Since we couldn't come to a conclusion we’ve decided to ask a complete stranger for a third opinion. I just won. Thank you, Chaton.
Chat Noir : A complete stranger, huh?
Ladybug: I can feel your pout through the screen, Chaton. Don’t be silly. You know what I mean. Btw, my friend says Hi.
Chat Noir : Hi to her too.
Ladybug : Him. Gtg now. Ttyl. Thank you again.
Him. His chest tightened. Someone was spending their lunch now with that amazing woman. Someone was having fun arguments with her. Someone who wasn't him because Kagami hadn't even looked at her cell phone this whole time. She wasn't his Ladybug. He wasn't her Chat Noir. Back to the square one. Match one lost.
Surprisingly, he felt relieved.
Chapter 6: Lucky Charm
Adrien should’ve gone for the designer’s department straight away. Not only was it the most obvious choice to look for Ladybug, but it was also huge and bright and buzzing with life and a large-sized man delivered a huge box of the most delicious pastries Adrien had ever seen first thing in the morning.
“Good morning, M Dupain,” one of the girls greeted him. “How are you today?”
“Busy.” The man smiled and placed the box on the table. “Enjoy. I’ve put a few extra today. Marinette said you’ve had an influx of interns?”
“The whole company did,” the girl said. “Universities are out for the summer, so they all starting on their internships.”
Adrien hummed. That’s why Ladybug wasn’t afraid to tell him she had an intern following her. Dozens of people in Gabrie l did, if not most.
“Then, I hope there is enough for everyone. Got to split. Have a few more deliveries to make.” The man saluted and left.
“Pastries are here,” the girl shouted into the room.
Adrien immediately understood his mistake. Until now, he’d kept to the side and out of the way, quietly waiting for the head of the department at the entrance. That proved to be a fatal error because as soon as the final words slipped from the girl’s lips, people rushed over and all the amazing, delicious goodness vanished right before Adrien’s eyes. When everyone left, he stepped closer to see if maybe, just perhaps, there was something left.
Someone behind him laughed. “They haven’t left you anything, M Agreste?”
Adrien turned around. A middle-aged woman smiled at him and offered her hand. “Mme Bustier. I’m the head designer, and you’ll be lurking around my domain for the next few days, right?”
“Please, call me Adrien.” He shook her hand with a smile. “And yes, if I may. I want to see how this company works from inside before I try to manage it.”
“Good call.” She smiled. “Unfortunately, with the show this close, I don’t have much time to show you around. Do you mind if I entrust you into the care of one of my junior designers?”
“Not at all. I apologize for intruding on you at such a busy time.”
“No worries. Do you have any questions before we part?”
“Not right now, but if I have any by the end of my stay here, I’ll find you.”
“Alright.” Mme Bustier looked around. Her sight paused somewhere behind him. She smiled. “I have the perfect person for you to shadow. She’s one of my best junior designers and would be able to show you around.”
Mme Bustier motioned Adrien to follow her.
He caught a glimpse of their most likely target and smiled. This day was already starting to look good.
“This is Marinette Dupain-Cheng, Adrien. Marinette, this is Adrien Agreste. He’s here to get to know how our department works. Would you mind showing him around?”
“Not at all.” Marinette smiled. “My intern called in sick today, so I’m free to take on another one.”
“Perfect.” Mme Bustier turned to Adrien. “She’s all yours.”
Adrien stretched Marinette his hand. “Nice to see you again.”
“Likewise.” She returned his smile and shook his hand.
“I must depart now,” Mme Bustier said. “If you need me, Adrien, my office is at the end in that corner. Otherwise, Marinette can answer any of your questions, including where to get those pastries so cruelly snatched up from under your nose.”
Adrien perked, turning to Marinette. “Please? They smelled heavenly.”
Marinette snickered. “You didn’t get any?”
“Not a single crumb.” He pouted.
Marinette reached for her purse and pulled out a card, passing it to Adrien.
“Tom and Sabine’s Bakery,” Adrien read. “Tom Dupain and Sabine Cheng? That’s—”
“My parents.” Marinette smiled. “I kept oversleeping when I started working here so had to bring my breakfast with me. More often than not someone would beg to share until they kind of started to expect me to bring something for everyone. So, Mme Bustier proposed we pool money and get a box delivered here every morning. Papa always puts some extra, but since we’ve just had a dozen interns added to the team, I guess, that wasn’t enough.”
“Then I’ll make sure to stop by and get my own.” Adrien smiled and grabbed the thread Marinette left for him. His top priority here was here to find Ladybug. “So, you have an intern?”
She nodded. “Everyone in this department does. We need all the help we can get before the show.”
Adrien hummed. Dead end.
“What do you want for me to show you, M Agreste?”
“It’s Adrien.” He smiled. “For now, if you could just tell me how this department works in general, that’ll be great. If I have questions, I’ll ask.”
With a nod, Marinette began her tour, taking Adrien around their department, introducing him to more people, showing him stations, and processes, and everything in between. Adrien couldn't help himself but observe Marinette closer. She was a pleasure to be around. Sweet, funny, witty. People respected her, that much he could tell straight away. She was also one of the people he’d met on his first day, so technically, Marinette could be his Ladybug who, by the way , didn’t text him at all after their morning brief exchanged.
Adrien pouted. Did she abandon him? Was she tired of his antics? Maybe just busy? Like him, for example. Because being with Marinette all this time, it wasn’t like Adrien been able to text Ladybug either. He stole a few moments here and there to check his cell phone but found no new message from her. Upsetting. He loved their easy banter. He also needed more information crumbs she gave him on herself because if Adrien wouldn’t find her soon, he’d have to seriously think about stealing those files from his father’s computer. And despite Chat Noir’s bravery in the chat room, Adrien was terrified of what he’d promised to do. If he could avoid doing it, he certainly would. Father wasn’t the most of forgiving of people and stealing from him counted as the gravest of sins.
“Do you enjoy working here, Marinette?” Adrien asked after the tour had ended.
“Immensely.” She grinned. “I’ve always dreamed of working at Gabriel .”
Check. Ladybug loved her work as well.
Adrien smiled. “So, you like my father’s work?”
“Been a fan since I can remember myself.”
“Even his latest collection?”
That question was bold and reckless if Marinette was Ladybug, but it didn’t seem to influence her in any special way.
“I wouldn’t say it’s very conventional.” She shrugged. “But M Agreste is a great visionary.”
Bummer, Adrien couldn’t see Ladybug saying that. Well, maybe she could say that about his father’s general work, but the latest collection? He didn’t think so. Unless Marinette was cautious around him specifically. He was Gabriel's son, after all. He needed to put her at ease.
“So, you think, it’ll be successful? Because, honestly, I kind of dread wearing all that glitter and bows on a runway.”
Marinette giggled. “Aren’t models not supposed to be this picky?”
Nice avoidance of answering his question. Adrien pouted, but pressing further would be risky. If she was Ladybug, he could scare her away.
“He’s my father," Adrien said with a chuckle. “I can be picky all I want, and while I’m a fan of sequins, I prefer seeing them on little girls instead of me.”
“Too bad, so sad,” she snickered.
Adrien pouted. “You’re cruel. I hope you know that.”
Marinette laughed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Oh!” She paused, looking at him. “I have something for you. I almost forgot.”
Adrien perked. “Tell me your father brought more pastry?”
“I’m afraid you aren’t that lucky,” she giggled. “Let’s go back to my desk. It’s in my bag.”
Adrien followed Marinette with a smile on his face. Compared to the days he spent with Kagami, today was much more relaxed and enjoyable. Marinette was so easy and fun to talk to. Comfortable and weirdly familiar. Like he’d known her his whole life.
“I just have to dig it out.” Marinette picked up her impressively sized bag and dug in, her smile nervous and somewhat embarrassed. “Sorry, I’m not the most organized person.”
She was so sweet. Adrien melted under that smile… which wasn’t good because besides being sweet, his Lady also had a bold streak, a rebellious side in her. Marinette seemed to be the definition of cute and adorable and everything that relates to it. Not bold and determined to rush into battle without thinking.
Adrien sighed and focused his gaze on the items Marinette kept putting on her table in order to find whatever she needed. Her cell phone, a make-up pouch, a few little bags of snack cookies, a tube of lipstick, a comb, a case of tissues. The list went on and on.
“Thank you for lending it to me.” She stretched him his umbrella.
He hesitantly took it. “You didn’t have to. I gave it to you without return. To make up for the hallway accident.”
“Don’t be silly,” Marinette said. “I can’t just take your umbrella like this. In all honesty, I should give you coupons for free pastry at my father's bakery in addition to giving you back your umbrella.”
Adrien chuckled. “I wouldn’t refuse that offer.” His sight caught a string of colourful beads Marinette took from the table to put back in her bag. “Oh, what’s that?”
“This? My lucky charm.”
“I know it’s silly.” Her cheeks covered a slight blush. “But I’ve always been very clumsy and not that lucky in… well everything, so Mom made it for me when I was still in lycée.”
“Can I look?”
“Sure.” She passed the thing to him.
Adrien ran his fingers on top of beads. Ladybug wouldn’t be clumsy and unlucky. She was Lady Luck herself. According to the name at least. Which meant he probably was on the wrong path again and Marinette wasn’t his Lady, as much as the thought of it was welcome.
“Does it work?” Adrien asked absentmindedly. “I sure can use some extra luck right now.”
“Well then, why don’t you take it and see for yourself?”
He jerked his sight to Marinette. “Oh, no. I can’t.”
She curled his fingers atop her lucky charm. “Keep it with you at all times.”
He blinked, dumbfounded. “But how will you—”
“I won’t die,” she laughed. It sounded like an array of bells on a spring morning. “And even if a little bad luck will come my way, I’m sure I’ll be able to handle it now. Being a grown-up and all.”
“Alright.” Adrien chuckled. She really was adorable. Too adorable to be Ladybug which meant Adrien needed some seriously good luck right now because it looked like he’d have to actually steal those files.
Chat Noir : How was your day, My Lady?
Ladybug: Exhausting. Had to work with higher-ups from a different department, and you know how it is when you have to pretend to be the perfect employee all day long. Couldn’t even tell what I really think of the newest line.
Adrien deflated. Even if Ladybug worked in the designer’s department, she wasn’t there today. She was pulled to work somewhere else.
Chat Noir : Accept my condolences XD
Ladybug: Hilarious. I hope you had a better day.
Chat Noir: Sure did. Befriended the nicest person in the company and discovered the best pastry in the town after work.
Ladybug: Nice! Any croissants there?
Chat Noir: Only the best on the planet!
Ladybug: Then, you simply must share the name of the place.
Chat Noir: My Lady! What happened to keeping our identities a secret?
Ladybug: What? Are you going to ambush me there?
Chat Noir: Possibly.
Ladybug: Okay fine. Keep your croissants to yourself. I’ve got my own sources that will beat yours out of water. I just wanted to compare to brag later that mine are better.
Chat Noir: Feisty much? I like it.
Ladybug: Cocky much? I don’t.
Their banter strayed away, and neither remembered their mission until the very end when Adrien proposed they wait until the weekend to try anything.
Chat Noir: He leaves for Milan Saturday morning as far as I know. Means we’ll have two whole days of no one in his office and no one monitoring his computer activities. Fewer chances to get caught.
Ladybug : Make sense, and I’ll still have enough time for editing. So, good luck, Chaton.
Chat Noir: Oh crap.
Ladybug : What now?
Chat Noir: Have you seen the time, my Lady?
Ladybug : Shoot. I was wondering why my eyes kept closing. XD
Chat Noir: I say we make it a night. Both of us have work tomorrow.
Ladybug : XD I’m afraid that’s already today. Goodnight, Chaton.
Chat Noir: Goodnight, my Lady.
The clock showed one in the morning when Adrien crawled into his bed with a smile on his lips and a worry in his heart. His father was a man of his word and if he said he wouldn’t fire Ladybug, Adrien believed he wouldn’t. However, his father didn’t take well to those who opposed him. Adrien knew that too well and couldn’t help but worry. He wanted his freedom. After years of silent obedience, he deserved it. But Ladybug was an amazing woman, and Adrien wasn’t sure his freedom was worth exposing her anymore.
Chapter 7: Bad Luck Charm
“Good morning, Adrien.” Lila latched onto his arm as soon as he walked into the designer’s department. “Guess what? I’ll be your guide today. Isn’t it wonderful?”
A slight chill shot up his spine. Adrien leaned away, untangling Lila’s hand from his arm. “I’m sorry, but Mme Bustier assigned me to Marinette, and I’d like to continue my tour with her.”
Lila dramatically swooned. “Oh, but the poor soul can’t. She simply has too much work to escort you around today.”
Adrien frowned. “She said she was still on schedule yesterday.”
“Oh, she said it thinking she could finish whatever she didn’t finish at home, but she wasn’t able to. And on top of that, someone misplaced a few of her designs that are due tonight, so she also has to redraw those. That’s why I’ll be showing you around today, Adrien. We wouldn’t want Marinette to get in trouble, now would we?”
She batted her eyelashes at him, but Adrien looked past her to Marinette’s table. “No, we wouldn’t. That’s why I’d better check on her. Thank you for telling me, Lila.”
Lila stepped in front of him. “Don’t you think it’ll be better to let her work interrupted? She’s stressed as it is.”
“Maybe,” Adrien said, bypassing Lila. “But I caused her to fall behind, it’s only fair I help her.”
“But you don’t have any experience in designing,” Lila whined. “You’d be a burden instead of a help.”
“I think that’s up to Marinette to decide,” Adrien retorted. “Don’t forget that I grew up in a designer’s house, and even if I don’t design myself, it doesn’t mean I can’t do basic stuff. Now, if you don’t mind—” Adrien stopped and looked Lila straight into her eyes. “By the way, I’d appreciate if you stop telling people we’re dating, Mlle Rossi. I’d hate for you to lose your job for spreading false information concerning Agreste family. Alright?”
Lila’s lips pressed into a thin line as she watched him for a few seconds. “I don’t know who told you that it was me spreading rumours. I would never lie like that,” she scoffed and turning around, walked away.
Adrien headed to Marinette. Dark circles under her eyes, pale skin, glossy gaze, she looked miserable, staring at a blank sheet of paper in front of her.
“Marinette?” Adrien softly touched her shoulder.
She stirred, startled.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you but I’ve heard you need help?”
“Help?” she murmured, her gaze unfocused.
“Yeah. Did Lila do something to your work?”
She hid her eyes, shaking her head.
“You don’t have to pretend with me, Marinette.” Adrien sat beside her. “It was written all over her face.”
“I… I can’t be sure it was her,” Marinette whispered. “But, yes, a part of my portfolio went missing this morning, and I have until eight to hand it in.”
“Is it possible?”
“Partly but not whole.”
“Okay. That’s something. Tell me how can I help?”
Marinette shook her head. “Oh, no. Don’t worry about it. I’ll speak to Mme Bustier. Maybe she’ll give me until tomorrow morning—”
“Marinette.” Adrien took her by the shoulders and turned to look at him. “You don’t look so well as it is. How will you pull an all-nighter trying to finish this?”
She looked at him for a short while, her eyes wide. “I don’t know.” With a sigh, her shoulders slumped as she muttered. “I didn’t sleep much yesterday as it is.”
“Then don’t be stubborn and let me help you. I promise I’m not hopeless. I can do some stuff. Just tell me what you need and I’ll do it. Okay?”
Marinette watched him a few more moments before relenting. “Alright. Thank you.”
“No problem.” Adrien smiled. “Let’s do this.”
Marinette inhaled deeply, then looked at what she had and quickly put down what needed to be done. Together, they figured out what parts Adrien could help with, and what Marinette would have to do herself. In about an hour the process started. Adrien ordered their lunches in and they ate while working. At seven in the evening, nearly everyone but them had left. The end, however, was already in sight.
“And done.” Marinette grinned through exhaustion, putting her work away. “Half an hour to spare. Oh my gosh, Adrien. Thank you so much! I would’ve never done it without you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” he hummed. “You’re done. I still need a few more minutes.”
“Let me finish it for you. You’ve helped enough.”
He gave her a tired but happy smile instead. “Nah. I’ll finish. But I’ll appreciate a cup of coffee.”
“I’ll go get some for us in the cafeteria. It should still be open.” Marinette rushed off.
Adrien finished his work and leaned back into his chair. Not having any time to look for Ladybug, he almost judged this day to be wasted. However, seeing Marinette happy was enough to say that it was worth it.
A startled cry echoed in the hallway. Adrien stirred and headed towards the source only to find Marinette standing a little distance away from the door, soaking in coffee from head to toe. One of the cups lay open by her feet. The other one she stretched to him.
“Oh my gosh, Mari.” Adrien rushed over. “What happened? Are you burned?”
“I spilled it,” Marinette said, her eyes glued to the cup on the floor. “And no, I don’t think so. It wasn’t that hot.”
“You spilled it on your head?” Adrien took the cup from her hands and put it to the ground. Then he pulled off his jacket and tried to wipe her clean.
“Yes,” she whispered, not moving an inch. “I spilled it on my head.”
“Marinette.” Adrien shook her lightly so she would look at him. “Who did it?”
“Why would I?”
“I wonder the same.”
Marinette looked to the floor and whispered. “I need to go to the ladies’ room.”
“Okay, but I’m waiting for you in the office, and when you’re back, you’re telling me what happened.”
She walked off without answering. Adrien hesitated to go back to the office. Why would Marinette lie? Because she did. He saw it clearly. His feet followed her on their own, stopping short of coming out from behind the corner as he noticed a figure in a familiar orange blouse slip into the ladies’ room after Marinette. Luckily, the door was slightly ajar, so Adrien could hear everything that was going on inside when he walked closer.
“Leave me alone, Lila.”
“Oh, darling, I just wanted to say goodnight.”
“You already did,” Marinette barked. “Or you have more coffee to spill on me?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t, but I do appreciate you covering for me. I see our time in school had taught you something after all.”
Marinette puffed. “I didn’t do it for you. Don’t even dream of it.”
“Then why did you do it? Huh, Marinette?”
There was a pause before he heard Lila’s maniacal laugh. “Oh darling, I knew you were still afraid of me. Good. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You’re wrong.” Marinette sounded pissed. “I couldn't care less about you and your lies. Get out of here, Lila, and leave me alone.”
“Poor, poor Marinette. Trembling at the sound of my voice alone—”
Adrien was about to interfere when Marinette interrupted Lila with a voice that could cut steel.
“Let me make it clear to you once and for all, Lila. I didn’t tell Adrien it was you who spilled coffee on me only because he’s a nice person, and I don’t want him to feel responsible for your stupid ass targeting me just because he chose to help me instead of gallivanting around with you. Mme Bustier asked me to show him around. Neither of us had a choice, so stop this nonsense and leave me alone. I’m not afraid of you, nor will I take your bullshit any longer. So, piss off and get lost.”
“Oh, geez. So touchy,” Lila puffed. “So adorably disguising,” she mocked. “Adrien is a nice person. Blah, blah, blah. He’s mine,” Lila hissed. “Keep away or it won’t be the coffee on your head next time, but something a little more—”
Adrien had just about enough. He knocked on the door. “May I come in?”
Lila squeaked. “No.”
He could practically feel the smirk in Marinette’s Yes.
“Adrien,” Lila cooed and smiled sweetly enough for Adrien’s stomach to turn in on itself. “Have you seen what happened to Marinette? Poor girl got her coffee all over herself She is such a klutz—”
“You’re fired, Lila,” Adrien countered, his arms crossed over his chest. “I’ll give you a few hours tomorrow morning to pick up your stuff, but leave before noon after you properly apologize to Marinette.”
Lila shrieked. “You can’t fire me!”
“Maybe I can’t," Adrien smirked. “But my father can, and he will after I tell him everything I just saw and heard. And if by any reason he won’t, then I’ll be in power to fire you myself in less than a month. Only then I’ll give you such recommendations, you’ll never be able to find work in the industry.”
Lila bit her tongue.
Adrien’s smirk turned smug. “Don’t want to date me much now, do you, Lila?”
She silently glared at him, then threw a murderous glance Marinette’s way and stomped away.
Adrien turned to Marinette. “Are you okay?”
She was trying to contain a giggle, but when he smiled Marinette erupted. “Thank you,” she said a few moments later. “You didn’t have to, but thank you anyway.”
“Has she been bullying you for long?”
Adrien whistled. “That’s a lot of years.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. It’s not like I allowed her to walk all over me all the time. I had my own victories once in a while.”
Adrien chuckled. He liked this side of Marinette. Bold and courageous. Like his Lady. Too bad she didn’t show that angle of hers too often. He’d need to watch her more.
“I’m sorry you had to go through all of this on my account,” he said. “You gave me your lucky charm, and in return, I’ve become a bad luck charm for you.”
“Nonsense.” Marinette smiled. “If it weren’t for you, she’d find something else to bother me with. It’s nothing new. Really. Almost like an everyday occasion.” Marinette halted her speech, her eyes widening. “My project.”
“Still on the table.”
“It’s probably past eight already. I have to—”
The duo raced back to the office only to find Mme Bustier sitting at Marinette’s desk, studying her project folder. Upon seeing them, her smile dropped. The woman stood. “Marinette, what happened to you?”
“Lila,” Adrien responded.
Mme Bustier frowned. “That lady needs a good scolding.”
“Already done.” Adrien nodded. “She won’t be bothering Marinette anymore.”
Mme Bustier arched an eyebrow, her smile filling with amusement. “Thank you, Adrien.”
“Not an issue.”
Picking up the folder, Mme Bustier turned to Marinette. “Is everything in here?”
“Yes.” Marinette nodded.
“Good. Then I’m off for the day. Lock up when you’re done.”
“Will do. Thank you, Ma’am.”
Adrien helped Marinette cleaned up and lock off. Seeing as her clothes were ruined, she agreed to Adrien’s proposal to drive her home. On the way, Marinette shared stories from her life, told him about her friends, her passions, her dreams. By the end of their journey, Adrien’s jaw hurt from smiling. She was so easy to talk to. Soothing even. And now that Adrien knew she had that fierce spark in her that Ladybug had, he couldn’t wait to get home and confirm his suspicions.
Chat Noir: Good evening, my Lady. How was your day?
Ladybug : Typical. Nothing exciting. Yours?
Adrien pouted. Bad Marinette. Lying again. There was no way the Lila accident could be considered as typical and un-exciting. Should he hint?
Chat Noir: Mine was a-mew-sing. I spent the whole day in the company of a lovely lady.
Ladybug: I’m happy for you. Though, if you excuse me I must run.
Chat Noir: Where to off to so late?
Adrien’s eyes widened. If it were Marinette, she would be snoozing right now. She would be resting after a hectic day. Not going to a club, even if it was Friday night.
Ladybug: Ttyl Chaton! Have a great night.
Adrien typed his farewell and dropped the phone on his bed. Looked like Ladybug wasn’t Marinette, after all. Their days didn’t match. Back to square one and off to a new department on Monday.
Adrien swore under his breath, closing his eyes. He promised he’d steal files for Ladybug this weekend which is tomorrow and the day after. How was he supposed to do that? He’d never hacked a computer and certainly not from a distance. And he was not going into his father’s office to do that in person. As of yet, his life wasn’t so bad to throw it away so carelessly.
Groaning, Adrien got under his comforter and closed his eyes. He wouldn’t worry about it today. Saturday sounded quite nicely for worrying about hacking into his father’s computer. For now, he’d better relish in that warm feeling his day with Marinette had given him. He should spend more time with her. He really should. And after he found Ladybug and would have more free time, he certainly would.
Chapter 8: Homework
“How is your progress on locating Ladybug?” Gabriel asked from the screen of Adrien’s phone.
“Not very successful so far,” Adrien replied. “I followed a few leads in Public Relations and designing departments, but they ended up being dead ends.”
Gabriel let out an exasperated groan. “Why did you go to Public Relations, Adrien? If anywhere, Ladybug would work in the design department. Do your homework. No one apart from that department has seen all the designs.”
Adrien broke the eye contact. Father could’ve told him that from the start. He wouldn’t have wasted his time elsewhere. “I’ve been trying to infiltrate the company in a believable way, Father. If I can earn your employees’ trust, they might lead me to her.”
Gabriel scoffed. “They’ll always look at you as an outsider, Adrien, but do what you want. It’s your future on a line. I must go now. We’re almost at the airport.”
“Father, wait. Just two more questions.”
“Make it quick.”
“You promise you won’t fire her?”
Gabriel groaned. “I already said it once and I’m not repeating myself. Next.”
“I fired Lila Rossi yesterday for assaulting one of your junior designers. Apparently, she’d been bullying her for years now, so I thought it was necessary. Can you write the executive order?”
Gabriel frowned. “Lila Rossi? Who’s that?”
“One of your accessory buyers.”
“And whom and how did she assault?”
“Marinette Dupain-Cheng, one of the junior designers. She’d spilled coffee all over her, following with verbal threats and diminishing after that.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “I know Mlle Dupain-Cheng. She’s quite the talent.”
“Yes. That’s why we can’t have her being bullied on our premises. She might quit, and I thought you’d hate to lose a valuable employee. An accessory buyer is a much easier to replace position than a good designer.”
Gabriel hummed. “Have you’ve witnessed the assault yourself?”
“I did. Both parts.”
Gabriel nodded. “All right. I’ll sign the order first thing Monday morning. Good day, Adrien.”
“Thank you, Father.”
The screen went dark. Adrien flopped back into his bed. The sun was just starting to peak from the horizon, so he could probably catch a few more hours of sleep. He’d need all the energy he could get to figure out how to steal the designs from his father undetected. Because Ladybug isn’t going to trust Chat Noir based on his words alone. He’d need to act no matter how much Adrien didn’t like the idea.
When he opened his eyes again, it was almost nine o’clock. Adrien lingered for a while before getting up and getting breakfast. Then tidied his apartment, did laundry and cooked lunch and started on making dinner. Then he sorted and organized his schoolwork, got rid of the clutter, and when there was nothing else to do, Adrien got to research basic hacking techniques. None of what he saw made much sense, despite him being smart enough to graduate with Masters in Business Management at the top of his class.
Chat Noir: Working on our mission ;3 How are you this morning?
Ladybug: It’s 4 pm, Chaton. Did you have a late night?
Chat Noir: LOL Sorry didn’t notice the time, but no. You? How did the club visit go?
Ladybug: Amazing. As always. You won’t believe what a few hours of dancing can do for you after a stressful week.
Chat Noir: I’m not much of a dancer, but if you insist I can try. Any clubs you can recommend?
Ladybug: Not really. The one I’m going to is exclusive by invitation only and I’ve never really been to any others.
Chat Noir : Oh, like a secret underground society? Fancy.
Ladybug : LOL Something like that. Sorry, I must go now but wishing you all the luck with our project. :)
Chat Noir: Thanks. Have fun.
Luck? Adrien got up to find Marinette’s lucky charm. Maybe that will help him? Poor thing. She got attacked by Lila the next day after giving up her lucky charm to him, and even if she insisted that it wasn’t a big deal, Adrien felt uneasy. He looked at the charm closer, then googled how to make one. It didn’t look as complicated as hacking. The decision was instant and putting their project aside, Adrien left the apartment with a list of the supplies he needed to make Marinette a new lucky charm. Call him selfish, but he didn’t want to give her back the one she gifted him. It would’ve been rude, and he wasn’t a rude person. Plus, he liked that string of colourful beads. However, if he could make her one, that’d be a different story.
Adrien chose a set of blue and yellow beads and even included a cool-looking bird one, as a hint that as amazing as she is, Marinette could fly high, soar above her problems and succeed in everything she wanted. An hour later, he grinned, admiring his handy work. His cell phone chimed.
Ladybug: How was your day, Chaton? Had fun?
Adrien glanced at the clock and swore under his breath. How did it get so late?
Chat Noir : Absolutely. Didn’t notice the time fly by. You?
Ladybug: Same. Went out with friends for ice cream, so feeling fantastic. You know André and his magical, love predicting ice cream?
Chat Noir: Yes! Love it.
Ladybug : He gave me my love ice cream today.
Chat Noir: Intriguing. He gave me one once too. What did yours predict?
Ladybug : green eyes, blond hair. Yours?
Adrien held his breath, warmth spreading in his chest. He had green eyes and blond hair.
Chat Noir : Red lips, black hair and blue eyes.
She took a few moments longer than usual to reply.
Ladybug: I hope it was yummy.
Chat Noir: It was delicious, my Lady.
Ladybug: Good. Gtg again. Just arrived at the club.
Chat Noir: You’re going there every day?
Ladybug: Only on weekends and when the days get really bad. Dancing is a kind of therapy for me.
Chat Noir: That’s a good idea. I should pick up some kind of therapy as well. Ignoring the issue doesn’t always work.
Ladybug: It really doesn’t. Anyway, bug out. Ttyl.
Adrien put the phone aside. He marvelled at the lucky charm he made for Marinette a few moments before putting it aside and trying to focus on his hacking research.
Ladybug’s ice cream had his colours.
Could that mean anything? Because surely there were tons of green-eyed, blond guys in Paris. But then why did she pause when he told her his combination? His heart fluttered. Could it be… No. Probably not. She was on her way to a club. She could be just unable to write for a few moments.
Adrien shook his head. Research, Hacking. Work. Concentrate.
They did click rather fast, didn’t they? She was an amazing person. Smart. Funny, witty. Just fantastic. And they could spend hours chatting about nothing and had fun. How often did people like her come around? Adrien felt like he could trust her with anything. Especially since they've become partners in crime. No. Not a crime but bringing a point across to his Father. Because Adrien doubted he’d listen to a random email himself, but if it was a live person, then it would’ve been a different story. So, really, Adrien was helping Ladybug and his father at the same time. Because if his father would listen, Adrien would do a huge favour to the company because, honestly, all those ridiculous innovations…
Adrien dropped his head on a desk. This wasn’t working and the information on the screen made little sense. It could be because it was late, or it could be because it was too complicated to learn in a few hours. Whatever it was, though, it'd have to wait until tomorrow because as of now, Adrien was going to bed. And he would take Marinette’s lucky charm with him because he needed all the luck he could get.
Chapter 9: A Helping Hand
The next day went didn't go any better despite Adrien sitting down to work only a few hours upon waking up. Much of what he'd read was confusing. Some information was plain conflicting. Other required prior knowledge Adrien didn't have. By twelve in the afternoon, he gave up and picked up his phone. There was only one way out now.
“Hey, bro. What’s up?”
There was a chuckle on the other side. “Don’t tell me you finally decided to escape your tower, Princess.”
Adrien puffed. “Not yet, Nino. This is serious.”
Nino laughed. “Okay, okay. Stop pouting. What happened?”
“I need a hacker. And a good one, please.”
Nino whistled. “A hacker? For what?”
“Remote computer hacking.”
“And you’re calling me because?”
“I don’t know anyone else who can help me. At least not anyone I can trust not to spill it to my father.”
“Oh. This is getting interesting. Do I get the details?”
“Only after you help me, and as little as possible.”
“Alright. How soon do you need him?”
“Geez, dude. What’s going on?”
“Don’t ask. Find me someone. You said your girlfriend knows all kinds of people. She might know a good hacker, right?”
“She might. I’ll have to ask. Give me a few, bro.”
“Thank you, Nino.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Talk to you later.”
Five minutes went by. Nino wasn’t calling back. Ten. Fifteen. Adrien picked up his phone again and opened Discord to distract himself.
Chat Noir: Good morning, my Lady. How are you this lovely morning?
Ladybug : Sleepy. You?
Chat Noir : I’m purrfectly fine. Been out too late?
Ladybug: Yeah. Going to take it easy today.
Chat Noir : Maybe you should scale back on clubbing? Just a suggestion.
Ladybug: LOL Why? Did you worry about me?
Chat Noir : Maybe? I mean dancing is one thing, but drinking and drugs… it’s dangerous.
Ladybug : LMAO Chat, have you ever been to a club?
Chat Noir : No?
Ladybug : LOL Though so. Well, to make it easier for you: the club I’m going to is more like an exclusive elite establishment for dancing, not your down the road disco. The owner is very strict and doesn’t permit drugs. Alcohol is very limited, and the bartender won’t allow you to get drunk. That’s one of the reasons it’s invitation only - to keep the contingent as decent as possible.
Ladybug: Personally, I don’t drink. I dance. That’s why I’m sleepy. Just tired from all that movement. But it’s a great way to keep myself in shape, both physical and mental, with such a time, energy, and sanity-consuming job as I have.
Chat Noir: If you just imagined me looking like a lecturing idiot, you’re right. That’s exactly how I look right now.
Ladybug: LOL I imagined you dismayed and confused and a little naïve. Like a kid.
Chat Noir: If you’re imagining me pouting, you’re correct again. I’m not a kid? :offended:
Ladybug : LMAO I didn’t say you were, Chaton. It just feels that way. Like you still don’t know a lot of stuff and still have a ton to learn. Not intelligence-wise because you’re smart. More like street-wise? Idk how to explain OTL
Chat Noir: LOL I got it. And yeah, you can say that. I admit I am pretty clueless to a lot of things. Mostly because I've never been exposed to them.
Ladybug: You poor kitten. Should I educate you? Ask me stuff, and I’ll tell you all the secrets.
Chat Noir: I’d love nothing more, but I can’t. Not now at least. Guess what I’m working on?
Ladybug: Any success yet?
Chat Noir : OTL
Ladybug: LOL I believe in you Chat Noir.
His phone rang and seeing Nino’s number Adrien sent “Gtg. Ttyl” to Ladybug and picked up.
“Yo, dude! Who’s your man?”
“You got me a hacker?”
A woman’s laughter sounded in his phone. “Try again.”
“Is that Alya?”
Nino snickered. “Yup, and she’s your man. We have a world-class hacker for you.”
“I love you guys!”
“Not so fast, lover boy. He isn’t cheap, and an emergency call costs twice his regular prices.”
“Not an issue.”
“Alya wants to come.”
“I’ve got to meet her one way or another, and from what you’ve told me about her, hacking into my father’s work computer would be the perfect occasion.”
“You got it.” Nino chuckled. “We can be at your place in an hour. Sounds good?”
“Order a pizza.”
“Already dialling the number.”
“Then I’m off,” Nino said and disconnected.
An hour later he, Alya, and their hacker knocked on Adrien’s door.
“What’s up, dude.” Nino high-fived Adrien and motioned to the woman beside him. “This is my Alya.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” Adrien greeted Alya with customary cheek kisses. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I’m sure I’ve heard more about you.” Alya chuckled.
“I hope nothing bad.”
“Nope. Most of it was about how Nino wants to adopt you.”
Adrien laughed. “Yeah, he’s been trying to for ages, but alas I’m not an orphan.”
“With your father, yes, you are,” Nino scoffed. “He locked you in a gilded cage and left you to starve to death.”
“It isn’t so bad,” Adrien said. “As you see I’m far from dying.”
“Physical isn’t everything.” Nino poked Adrien’s chest with his finger and turned to the fourth person in the room. “But, dude, I’m glad you finally decided to rebel. This is Max, Alya’s former classmate and for today, your hacker.”
“Nice to meet you, sir.” Max straightened and offered Adrien his hand in greeting.
“Call me Adrien,” Adrien smiled, shaking Max’s hand.
“What are we hacking for?” Alya asked, settling on a coach in the living room.
“My father’s unreleased collection.” Adrien motioned for everyone to follow Alya and settle in the living room. “Tell me what you need, Max, and I leave the rest to you.”
Without delay, Max set up his equipment on the dining table and asked Adrien a few questions. After that followed hours of trial and error, takeout food and video games, joking around and snoozing on couches. Closer to the evening Max smirked, “I’m in. We have about ten minutes before we get detected, so why don’t you come here and tell me what you need, Adrien.”
As lighting, Adrien appeared by Max’s side. They quickly located the collection file and copied it onto Max’s computer. Five minutes later it was stored on two USB sticks, one for Ladybug, one as a backup for Adrien.
“Your father’s security system is one of the best in the world,” Max commented closing up. “I haven’t had such a challenge in years.”
“Fashion industry is very competitive.” Adrien shrugged. “He has to do all he can to safeguard his designs before the show.”
Max nodded. “I have to run now. I’ll send you my bill by email.”
“I’d better pay in person, if I may,” Adrien said. “Don’t want him to have any traces leading to me.”
“Sure. I stop by next week.”
“Works for me. Thanks for a helping hand, Max.”
As soon as Alya left to show Max out, Nino, lounging on a coach, asked, “So, are you going to tell us why do you need this collection?”
“I’m not sure it’ll work yet,” Adrien smirked. “But I may have found a way to get out of taking a job at Gabriel for a few years.”
“Dude.” Nino grinned, sitting up. “You’ve grown so much. I’m so proud.”
“Don’t cry yet.” Adrien chuckled. “We’ll see first if it works.”
“It will,” Nino said. “You’ve earned some freedom from that freak. No offence, but you know I’m right.”
“I won’t quote you on that when asked.”
“I appreciate it.” Nino took a can of Cola, cracked it open, and toasted it to Adrien. “To your freedom, bro. You’ve earned it.”
“Thanks, Nino,” Adrien said, looking at two USB sticks in his hands. There was no way of going back now. It was forward only. He only hoped none of this would backfire.
Chat Noir: My Lady, I have the goods.
Ladybug : !!!!!
Ladybug: You kidding me?
Chat Noir: I kid you not. I have everything you ever wanted.
Ladybug: How? Not to be rude, but I didn’t actually believe it was possible.
Chat Noir: Are you saying you agreed to this only because you were certain I wouldn’t succeed, and so there was no risk in agreeing because you wouldn’t have to do anything because it was impossible for me to get the files?
Ladybug: That… was a very viable possibility.
Chat Noir: So, you’re backing out? After I’ve already dirtied my paws? OTL Cruel.
Ladybug: Did you kill anyone for this?
Chat Noir: :offended: :pout: Is that what you think of me?
Ladybug: LOL Sorry. I’m just shocked you were able to do this. That’s all.
Chat Noir: I am awesome. I know. :handsome: So are you still in?
Ladybug: I have to. You did your part, how can I back away now?
Chat Noir: :finger guns: I've put everything on a USB stick. How do I pass it to you?
Ladybug: Give me a few to think.
Chat Noir: Sure. I’ll be here meanwhile, basking in my awesomeness.
Chat Noir: Still basking.
Chat Noir: Still amazing… fifteen minutes later.
Chat Noir: :pout: Are you backing away? I mean you can if you want, but can you tell me if you do? Because it’s been like half an hour and I’m a little worried.
Ladybug: Chaton. I’m so sorry. I had to organize a way for us to meet without revealing our identities.
Chat Noir: OTL :dead: :resurrected: Please, warn me next time.
Ladybug: Will do. Now, do you remember the club I told you about?
Chat Noir: The exclusive club for rich and famous? Yeah, I do.
Ladybug: LOL I wish. Anyway, you can bring the USB there.
Chat Noir: With all due respect, my Lady. I’m not leaving it to a third party. I’d be dead if Hawkmoth finds out.
Ladybug: You’ll be giving it to me.
Chat Noir: Won’t we see each other identity if I do?
Ladybug: No. Not there. One feature of this club is that everyone dresses up as their alter identities. I'm Ladybug, so I dress like one. You can dress up as Chat Noir. Paint a mask on your face. I won’t come close. I’ll send one of my friends. Probably Viperion. You pass the USB to him and he’ll give it to me right away. You can stay and see the exchange.
Chat Noir: You do realize I have to trust you like a LOT to do that.
Ladybug: We can always stop and forget this ever happened.
Chat Noir : I think I’m a little too deep in this already to back up now.
Ladybug: Are you sure?
Chat Noir: Absolutely. Give me the address.
Ladybug: Alright. The name is Kwami Kave. 14 Zagstruc Ave. The stairs behind the main door will lead downstairs. That’s normal. Just go down. You won’t get lost after that. Come at around nine today. See you soon, Chaton.
Chat Noir: See you soon, my Lady.
Chapter 10: Disguises
Adrien rummaged his closet for the things he had in mind: black sweatpants, black t-shirt, black sneakers and his black hoodie with neon green, glow-in-the-dark cat paw in the middle. Adrien smiled, running his fingers over the edge of the paw. How could he forget about it? His eighteen-year-old self thought it was the coolest thing ever and practically lived in it for a year until his father forbade the garment under the strictest of punishments.
Adrien showered and, for the first time in forever, didn’t style his hair. Unexpectedly liberating. Then he coloured half of his face black per Ladybug’s instruction. Rebellious. Adrien chuckled. If his father were to meet him now, he doubted he’d recognized him. To finish it, Adrien put on a black oversized cap and grinned. Masterpiece.
Getting to Kwami Kave was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The neighbourhood didn’t look sketchy, but Adrien rarely visited anything that wasn’t upper class and never alone, never at night. His stomach turning, he persisted. Down a narrow, rickety staircase, Adrien heard the music pumping long before he reached the final doors. He paused for a moment, hesitating. He could still go back, destroy the USBs and hope that Father would never find out. Max swore they weren’t detected, so that was a liable possibility. He could still back away—
Adrien breathed in and took the handle. He’d come so far. He was too close to back away. His freedom was within his reach; all he had to do was to open the door.
A whole new world presented itself to Adrien, the world he’d only seen in movies so far. Dark room. Neon lighting. It flashed, glowed, burst. It mesmerized and thrilled. It called. Music pulsated through space, invading every corner, every sense. Adrien couldn't see how large space was, but it seemed like multitudes of people filled it, dancing, chatting, mingling around. His heart beating rapidly, he took a step in.
“Hey, dude, where are you going? Forgetting something?”
Adrien stirred, nudged by a skinny guy in a white-striped tank top with three coloured circles in the middle. His fiery red hair was tied in a ponytail, partly hidden under a beanie hat. Behind him stood a man Adrien could only describe as a mountain in dark grey outfit with blond bangs embellishing his dark hair.
The skinny guy quirked an eyebrow. “Password?”
Adrien frowned. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t told there would be a password, but if you’ll give me a sec, I’ll text the person who invited me and ask her.”
“What’s her name?”
The skinny guy cocked his head to the side, crossing his arms over his chest. “Chat Noir I presume?”
“Yes.” Adrien grinned. “That’s me. She told you about me?”
The guy nodded. “Wait over there. I’ll let her know you’ve arrived, and she’ll send someone in a few.”
Adrien nodded and stood where he was shown. The skinny guy pulled a cellphone from his pocket and started typing when a DJ’s announcement caught his attention.
“And now let me hear you scream for the person you’ve all been waiting for! Here comes Ladybug!!!”
The skinny guys cursed under his breath and turned to the mountain man. “Hold the fort. I’ll be back.”
He dashed away. Adrien’s gaze followed. Closer to the back he saw a lit stage. The music got louder, and out of nowhere appeared a girl. She was tiny, but even from where Adrien stood he could see how incredibly toned and fitted she was. She wore a red tank top and short, loose black overalls. Black sneakers and red fingerless gloves. Her hair was tied in pigtails with red streaks in them. Half of her face was painted red. She was gorgeous.
And then she danced.
The crowd went wild as the girl, flowing with the music, pulled the moves Adrien didn’t think were possible. She leaped and spun, soaring above the floor as if she was weightless. A flip. It took her little to no effort to sprung back up. Adrien held his breath, watching her pull trick after trick, a satisfied grin on her lips. She enjoyed it. Her chest rising and falling rapidly, she rocked that stage, taking his breath away with every motion. Adrien’s jaw went slack as he exhaled in awe, unable to take his eyes away. Ladybug was even more amazing than he’d realized.
A few moments later two guys joined her. One was the skinny guy that just escaped from the door. The other one was a little taller and bulkier. His outfit was mostly that of black and teal with a turquoise hint. So was his hair. They merged into Ladybug’s rhythm, not shying away from showing off their own skills. However, Adrien’s eyes were glued to her. His heart beating rapidly against his chest, his stomach fluttering, Adrien felt weak in his knees. Ladybug. Was. Amazing. Beautiful, strong, smart, bold, and sweet. Irresistible.
The music stopped, and she froze in the middle with her fist up, looking at him. He was sure she was looking at him. His general direction, at least. She smirked and started to clap her hands high above her head.
“Wow,” Adrien whispered, his sight locked on the girl. That was his Ladybug. Amazing, fantastic, gorgeous, miraculous, breathtaking, whimsical, awesome—
By his side, the mountain man laughed. “Uh-oh, man. I know that look, but slow down. I wouldn't get your hopes up if I were you.”
Adrien glanced at the mountain. “Why?”
“You’ll have to go through Viperion, and I don’t suggest you do.”
“Viperion? Is he her boyfriend?”
The mountain shrugged. “That’s a good question. Not officially, no. But, believe me, from how close they are, no one would be surprised if they’d been dating in secret.” He glanced over Adrien’s shoulder and smirked. “You’ll see what I mean soon. Good luck.”
Adrien turned around, his eyes locking on the guy in black and turquoise walking toward him. He wasn’t trying to get through the crowd; the crowd cleared the road for him. A smirk on his lips, his hands in his pockets, he strode closer, his eyes weighing Adrien from head to toes.
“Viperion.” He stretched him a hand. “Ladybug sent me. You’ve got something for her?”
“I do.” Adrien shook his hand. “But I want to see you giving it to her. It’s kind of sensitive.”
“Not a problem. She’s over there. I’ll pass it to her now. You staying?”
“You know the rules Viperion,” the mountain behind Adrien interfered. “He isn’t a member. He can’t stay.”
“A shame.” Viperion shrugged, nodding to the mountain. “Let him see me pass whatever he has to Ladybug, and then kindly show him the way out.”
“Will do,” the mountain replied.
Yearning in his eyes, Adrien glanced to the stage where, by the DJ’s side, Ladybug watched them from afar. His chest tightened. Reach out, come closer, sweep her off her feet, and savour for himself just how remarkable she was. He couldn’t. Whatever the rules of this place were, it looked like right now he had little choice, if none. With a sigh, Adrien pulled the USB out of the pocket and gave it to Viperion.
“Thanks,” Viperion said and saluted. “I’ll see you around, Chat Noir, if you ever join. Cool outfit.”
He walked away. Adrien couldn’t take his eyes off him. “How do you join this place?”
“Master Fu invites people, and then there is a test you have to pass to qualify,” the mountain replied.
“The club’s owner. But it isn’t as easy as it seems. You can’t ask for an invitation. If he deems you worthy, he finds you himself.”
“Worthy,” Adrien echoed under his breath. “Good enough to join. As always. I get it. And the test?”
“It’s different for everyone so couldn’t say even if I wanted. It’s…” He paused, trying to find the words to explain, but then shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
“I see,” Adrien said, his stomach tightening, gaze falling to the ground for a split moment before snapping back to her because Viperion had finally reached his destination. His breathing ragged, Adrien clenched his teeth together as Viperion took Ladybug by the waist and kissed her cheek. She rolled her eyes and said something, stretching her hand. Viperion put the USB in her hand and looked at Adrien, waving him goodbye.
“That’s my cue,” the mountain said behind him. “This way, Chat Noir.”
His whole being protested. Chest falling and rising rapidly, Adrien watched Ladybug looking at him. "Can I stay for a few more minutes?”
“I let you stay, I lose my membership,” the man replied. “The only reason you’re here in the first place is because Master Fu has a soft spot for Ladybug. She’s allowed to pull stuff others can’t, but even her power has limits.”
“I see. Okay.” Reluctantly, Adrien complied and followed the mountain, throwing a last glance towards his Lady. She waved him goodbye just before the door behind him closed.
His head hung low, Adrien walked up the stairs, and once on the street, he looked up, inhaling deeply. Shivering, his chest tightening. Ladybug… She… He wanted to go back. To come closer. To tell her who he was and take her in his arms. He wanted to be by her side.
He couldn’t. He wasn’t good enough to get invited.
His heart cried, tears gathering in his eyes. It wasn’t just for Ladybug. No. It was the whole atmosphere. It felt so… so homey? Despite multitudes of people, the noise and dim lighting, the place felt so comforting and warm. He wanted to stay. He wasn’t allowed to. Rejection stung. Weird, huh? He never thought he’d yearn to be in a nightclub.
Adrien turned to the side. An older man in a bright red Hawaiian shirt held onto his knee a few meters away.
He walked closer. “Is something wrong, sir?”
“I’m fine,” the man smiled. “Just old age problems. Nothing I’m not used to by now.”
Adrien frowned, looking at how the man grimaced from the pain. “Do you need help getting to your destination? My car is parked just over there, I can give you a lift.”
“Thank you, but you need not bother with an old man like me,” the man mumbled and limped away only to stop, holding onto the same knee, a few steps further.
Adrien shook his head and offered the elder his arm. “Here. Let me give you a lift.”
“You're a very generous young man, but I’m used to this now. I’ll get home soon enough.”
“You being used to the pain doesn’t mean you can’t have a break here and there,” Adrien said and motioned towards his car. “Over there. Let me help you.”
“I don’t want to bother you or waste your time, young man.”
“I have nowhere to be right now so that’s not an issue.”
“I can’t pay you.”
“I didn’t ask for a payment. Now, I apologize in advance, but you either go by yourself or I'll be forced to carry you.”
An older man chuckled. “All right, all right. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Adrien took him by his arm and slowly headed for his car. Having settled the man in a front seat, Adrien got in a driver’s spot and asked, “Where to?”
“Not far away from here. A Chinese massage parlour three blocks away.”
Adrien nodded and drove off.
“Why is the sullen look, young man?” the older man asked a few moments into the ride. “Is something upsetting you?”
“No. Everything’s fine.”
“They didn’t let you in, did they? Into the Kwami Kave?” The man laughed seeing Adrien’s surprised reaction. “Don’t worry. I know about that place. I’m a member myself.”
His chest ached. So, an old man who could barely walk was good enough for a nightclub, but he wasn’t? Biting on the inside of his cheek, Adrien pushed the thought away. That was unfair. He didn’t know this man. He couldn’t judge.
“They have rules to follow,” Adrien replied. “We all do, right?”
“Still rejection stings, isn’t it?”
He chuckled bitterly. “It’s not like I’m not used to that.”
“But you’d like to join if you could?”
Adrien sighed. “I don’t have what it takes.”
“Can’t dance or don’t have an invitation?”
“Neither,” Adrien said, stopping at the side of the road. “Is this it?”
“Yes, it is. Thank you.”
“I’ll help you out.”
Circling the car, Adrien opened the door for the older man out and walked him to the door.
“Thank you, young man.”
“No problem. Good evening, sir.”
“Before you go, may I tell you something?”
Adrien stopped and turned around with a smile. “Sure.”
“People in that club, its members… They didn’t join just because they wanted to have fun. If that were the case, they’d go to any other club and never bothered with the complicated process. However, life gets overbearing and hard. Sometimes, we lose our footing. Sometimes, we fail and are thrown overboard. Some people can stand up, brush the dust off, and move forward themselves. Others can’t unless someone would help them. That’s why this club exists. People in there… they all required support and a safe refuge once or twice. They joined because they needed someone to help them back on their feet. Dancing relaxes. Disguises help them forget their problems. Escape for a bit, if you will.”
“Kind of like a therapy?”
Adrien tried to push the lump in his throat down, shifting his eyes to the side. “Then I guess I never qualified in the first place. My life is perfect . I have a family, and money, and work. I’m young and healthy. Really, I live a fairy tale. What else can I want?”
“Someone to love you?”
Adrien swallowed, his breathing ragged. His eyes locked on the ground, he whispered, “No one can have everything they want. I should be grateful for what I do have.”
With a bittersweet chuckle, the man took Adrien’s hand and put a ring and a card in his palm. “I don't want to appear ungrateful, young man. Thank you for the ride. If you ever want to dance despite the rain, call him.”
With those words, he turned around and walked into the parlour limp-free. Adrien looked at the ring. It appeared to be either silver or white gold and had a disk at the front embellished by four claws by its corners. The card read “Plagg, the master of destruction, a force to be reckoned with.”
Chapter 11: Vigilante
Ladybug: Hey, Chat?
Chat Noir: :wave:
Ladybug: How are you?
Chat Noir: Good. You?
Ladybug: I’m well. Thank you for the USB
Chat Noir: Did you get everything you need?
Ladybug: I did. Thank you, Chaton.
Chat Noir : :ok_hand:
Chat Noir: What’s up?
Ladybug: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.
Chat Noir: What gave you the idea? I’m fine.
Ladybug: The guys told me you left looking upset, and that you were asking about joining. I’m sorry. I should’ve asked for a meeting in another place. It’s just you always were a little disapproving of me going there, so I didn’t think that’ll be something that would interest you. I’m sorry. I wish I could get you an invitation, but that’s not how it works there. I don’t have that power.
Adrien rolled the ring in his fingers, watching it closely. He wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t help but wonder.
Chat Noir: I’ve been told people get in there when life sucks.
Ladybug: Yeah. That's the Master's way of helping the community I guess.
Chat Noir: Do you mind sharing your story? If you want, of course.
Ladybug: Okay. I owe you that much.
Ladybug: There was a girl in my class in lycée who loved to pick on me and make my life a living hell. At first, I tried to ignore her. I thought she’d leave me alone if I do, but she didn’t. So, I tried fighting back. It only made everything worse. She turned everyone in our class against me, even my closest friends. In the end, I couldn't take it anymore. I was on my way to Italy when Master Fu found me. Without telling my parents.
Chat Noir: You ran away from home?
Ladybug: I did. Master Fu stopped me, talked some sense into me and let me join.
Chat Noir: He let you join a nightclub while you were in lycée?
Ladybug: LOL No. I met the girl in lycée. Master Fu found me years later. The girl kind of followed my steps all the way to university and beyond. And, as I’ve already told you, there are strict rules concerning alcohol in Kwami Kave. It’s safe even for younger kids. We aren’t going there to get drunk or high. Everyone’s there got a tale, and Kwami Kave is more like an extended family or a support group if you may.
Chat Noir: So, is Viperion support or a family?
Ladybug: ? Chat, what are you getting at?
Chat Noir: Nothing. Sorry. I was just told you could be dating him, so I was curious.
Ladybug: Who told you that!?
Chat Noir: Idk the guy’s name. No one apart from Viperion bothered to introduce themselves.
Ladybug: I see. We aren’t dating, Chat. We’re close friends, but he’s more like an overprotective older brother.
Chat Noir: Didn’t appear this way to me.
Ladybug: Are you serious? Chat, what’s wrong? Are you jealous or something?
Chat Noir: No. why would I be jealous? We haven’t met and most likely will never do so. I don’t really know you. Neither do you know me. For all you know, I might be married and have kids. I was just telling things the way I saw them.
It took her a few minutes to reply.
Ladybug: I’m sorry, Chaton. I made a mistake inviting you there. Maybe this whole thing was a mistake. I don’t know yet, but I’m sorry I made you feel bad. Thank you for your help. I’ll try to make you proud by editing those designs to the best of my abilities and, hopefully, at least our mission will end in success.
Chat Noir: You’re right. Maybe this was a mistake. Time will tell. I have to go now. Good luck with the editing.
Ladybug: Thank you, Chat. Good luck to you too.
Adrien closed his phone and shoved it into the pocket. He lied. He had nowhere to go, but he couldn’t continue to chat either. He was being a jerk, and he knew it. If he continued, he’d only make it worse, and he’d already managed to hurt Ladybug as it was. He could sense it. He had to step away. He had to calm down. She didn’t deserve the treatment he was giving her. Him feeling hurt, unworthy and a mistake—that was his issue. He couldn’t bring Ladybug down with him. It was his idea to do this whole thing. He had to be the one to pay the price. Not her.
His gaze travelled to the ring on the table. Then to the card. He read it for the umpteenth time. Who was this Plagg? What kind of introduction “the master of destruction, a force to be reckoned with” was? Who gave out white gold rings near an exclusive, invitation-only club while pretending to be limping? Because that man was pretending. That much was clear to Adrien now.
Well, there was one way to find out, and Adrien had nothing better to do. He pulled his phone out and dialled.
If Adrien thought the club stood at a somewhat shady place, it had nothing on the location of Plagg’s studio. Despite uneasiness, Adrien found the building pretty quickly, located the stairs down to the basement, and hesitated. It was a dark, narrow passage down. Flickering lights and wind drafts to add to the creepy mood, Adrien wondered why he’d agreed to this nonsense. But somewhere below, the sound of music echoed through space. It lured, so Adrien inhaled deeply, and closed the door behind himself.
Five minutes later, he located the source. Unlike the constricted staircase and the hallway, the studio was huge. Floor to ceiling mirrors covered with graffiti outlines of dancing people took up all four walls. The floor and the ceiling were painted black. A stage and a throne in its middle stood at the end.
Half lying across it, lounged a man in black baggy pants and a tight sleeveless top, also in black. His hair was messy, a top hat sitting on his head. Adrien judged him to be in his thirties, but he couldn’t tell for sure. The lighting wasn’t too bright.
The man didn’t pay any attention to Adrien, most likely because of the loud music pulsating in the room. Instead, he smacked his lips on what looked like a piece of cheese. Adrien wrinkled his nose. The smell was familiar. Camembert. He suppressed a gag reflex and carefully walked closer, calling, “Hello? M Plagg?”
“Drop the Monsieur, kid,” the man grumbled and kicked the boombox with his feet. The music stopped. He slowly got up and looked at Adrien. “Call me Plagg or you can leave right now.”
Adrien inhaled. He swore Plagg’s green eyes glowed. This couldn’t be just the effect of lighting and contrast with his black hair, now could it? Whatever it was, he’d think about that later. For now, he mumbled, “All right. Good evening, Plagg.”
“Adrien, I presume?” Plagg walked closer and circled around him.
“Yes. That’s me.”
“You’ve got the invitation?”
“I got a ring.” Adrien raised his hand and showed it to Plagg. “Is that it?”
“Nice work,” Plagg hummed, taking a better look at the ring. “For all he is, Master still has it.”
“Master Fu? As in the club’s owner? Is that who he was?”
Plagg paused, observing Adrien in silence. Then turned around and walked a few feet away. “If he didn’t introduce himself to you, I’m not the one to do it. Why are you here?”
“I…” Adrien hesitated. To tell the truth, he wasn't sure why he was here. He was curious, so he called. An automated message gave him instructions on what to do and where to go. He could've ended it there, but Adrien didn’t. Instead, he wrote everything down and came at an appointed time to the appointed place. What did he want? He wasn’t sure, but his heart tightened as the images of Ladybug dancing flowed before his eyes, images of her partners, images of the multitude of people all moving to the sound. That feeling…
“I want to learn to dance despite the rain,” Adrien whispered.
“Bullshit!” Plagg snapped, his back to Adrien. “Don’t repeat the old man’s words. Tell me what you want, Adrien.”
Adrien looked to the side, answering a few moments later. “I don’t really know. Maybe to get into that club? It looked nice.”
“That’s better.” Plagg side glanced at him. “Be more specific. Why do you want to get into that club?”
“From what exactly?”
“My hectic life?”
“You don’t like your life, kid? I’ve heard it’s a pretty nice one.”
“You know who I am?”
“Master never invites anyone without knowing who they are.”
“How much do you know?”
Plagg turned around, his hands in his pockets. “Enough to see how pathetic, miserable, and lonely you’ve become after your mother passed away and left you with a shit human being for a father. Isn’t it right, Adrien Agreste?”
His pulse quickening, Adrien sucked in the air, his eyes widening. In a split second, he composed himself, his sight dropping to the floor. “He isn’t so bad. He’s just busy.”
“Oh, yes! He’s just busy,” Plagg mocked and headed back to his throne. “I know how busy they get, kid. Too busy to properly mourn for themselves, and so shutting everyone else out, including their remaining family. Too busy to support their teenage children during the hardest time of their life. Too busy to be there for them during all the important events after that. Too busy to see that their kids are depressed for a good while of their lives. Too busy to see what their children want, instead, pushing their own ideas on them. Too busy to be fathers. You’re right, kid. He’s just too busy.”
Adrien’s eyes wide, he whispered, “How do you know all this?”
Plagg turned around and smirked, wiggling his eyebrows. “Magic, kid. Magic.” His face saddened for a split moment, eyes shifting to the side, as he murmured, “Magic and experience.” Plagg kicked the boom box, and the music blasted through space. He twisted and started towards Adrien, moving to the music.
“So, what do you really want from me, kid? You can buy any membership to any exclusive club you desire, yet you got your eyes on Kwami Kave. Why? Why do you need to go to the nightclub at all? Isn't your fancy upper-class life enough for you? They don't ballroom dance there as you know. Street dancing, hip-hop, break, you name it. Everything that gets your blood moving. Why would you subject yourself to that? I’m sure you’ve got better things to do. What brought you here?”
Adrien closed his eyes. He could feel the vibrations of music on his skin. He felt Plagg doing his moves around him. What brought him here? What did he want? What did he really desire for?
“Freedom,” Adrien breathed, opening his eyes and looking straight into Plagg’s. “I want freedom.”
Plagg stood up straight and smirked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Good.”
“Can you give it to me?”
“No,” Plagg replied. “Only you can free yourself, kid. All I can do is to teach you how to dance despite the rain. Do you want that?”
His heart pumping hard, Adrien nodded absentmindedly.
Plagg smirked, and moonwalked to his boombox, kicking it again to stop the music. He jumped into his throne and said. “My fee’s a wheel of Camembert a lesson.”
Adrien frowned. “Camembert?”
“You don’t like it? Fine, I’ll make it three.”
Adrien quirked an eyebrow. “Three wheels of a Camembert?”
“Geez, kid.” Plagg rolled his eyes. “You’re such a pain already. All right. Five wheels of Camembert a lesson. But only because you’re begging.”
Adrien opened his mouth but thought better of it, nodding instead. “When do we start?”
Plagg grinned, a spark in his eyes. “Right now.”
“But—I’m not ready, and I don’t have Camembert with me.”
“I do an evaluation for free. Show me what you’ve got.”
“Nothing," Adrien said.
“What do you mean?” Plagg frowned. “Everyone has at least something.”
“Well, I might be an exception, because all I know is ballroom dancing, and that’s now what you want to see, isn’t it?”
“That’s not what I asked you for.” Plagg groaned and walked closer. He grabbed Adrien’s shirt at his chest. “Remove this. No one’s dancing in my studio in a suit and a tie.”
Silently, Adrien took off his jacket and his tie.
“Unbutton the shirt.”
“Do I really—”
“If you want me to teach you, I’ve got to see what you’ve got. Unbutton the shirt.”
Plagg measured with his eyes. “You look to be in decent shape.”
“I’ve been working out regularly for as long as I can remember.”
“Good. Then you’ve got the body, but no moves. Any particular style you’d like to muster?”
Adrien could practically feel his heart racing. “I want to dance like Ladybug.”
“At the club. I saw a girl named Ladybug dancing.”
Plagg puffed. “I see.” He smirked and walked around Adrien. “You know, Tikki and I are old rivals.”
“Who is Tikki?”
“Ladybug’s dance instructor.”
“Can you teach me the same skills?”
“I can teach you better,” Plagg grinned. “Congrats, kid. You’ve got yourself a dance instructor.”
Goosebumps ran across up Adrien’s spine. Yet the pit of his stomach stirred with excitement.
Ladybug : Chaton? You’ve been silent for a few days. Are you still upset with me? I know, I wasn’t reaching out, but I was trying to give you some space and hoped you'd text me when you’re ready, but it’s Thursday already, and you didn’t text me, so I’m worried. I don’t know if you were wondering, but if you were, I’m done with editing the collection. I’ve also heard someone emailed an anonymous poll to all the designers. That was you, wasn’t? So, I guess, all that is left is to email this all to Hawkmoth, right?
Ladybug: I don’t want to do it alone. You’ve been by my side all this time. I can’t continue without you. I won’t continue without you.
Chat Noir: Are you sure you want me there, though? After the way I behaved. :embarrassed:
Ladybug: Of course, I do. We're a team and even if we might fight, we are still a team, and there is no one I'd rather have by my side for this than you.
Chat Noir: I’m sorry.
Chat Noir: I meant to write to you, but I didn’t know how to start or what to say. I’m sorry for snapping at you and crossing all imaginative boundaries.
Ladybug: I’m sorry. Chaton. That’s my fault. I should’ve chosen another place.
Chat Noir: That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. It was for the best.
Ladybug: It was? How?
Chat Noir: Well, I got to see you, for one. You look amazing, by the way. The way you danced I shall imprint into my memory for life.
Ladybug: I’m glad you liked it.
Chat Noir: And I’ve decided that I also needed a stress relief hobby, so I kind of looked around, and I think I found one. It’s a pain in you know what for now, but I was promised it gets better.
Ladybug: I’m so happy for you! What did you find?
Chat Noir: A secret :3 I’ll tell you when I’ll get good at it.
Ladybug: That’s a deal! So, truce?
Chat Noir: There never was a war, my Lady. There was only a jerk me who hurt you undeservingly. :ashamed:
Ladybug: We both played our parts. Let’s forget it and move on. :heart:
Chat Noir: You’re awesome. :crying: Can’t wait to see what you’ve done to the collection.
Ladybug: Should I email it to him now?
Chat Noir: Can’t see why not, Mlle Vigilante? Give me a few to forward you the poll results and launch the attack.
Ladybug: XD You’re a dork, Chaton. But thank you. I would’ve never been able to accomplish this without your help. It means a lot.
Adrien grinned at his phone.
Chat Noir: Thank you , my Lady. You’ve changed my life in ways you do not know yet.
Ladybug: Hopefully for better?
Chat Noir: For the best. Gtg now. Keeping my fingers crossed this goes through smoothly.
Ladybug: Me too. Just got your email. Impressive results.
Chat Noir: They really are. 95% are on our side. Before I go, my Lady, can I ask you something?
Ladybug: Go ahead.
Chat Noir: If everything goes smoothly, will you go on a date with me?
Adrien didn’t expect himself to be so daring, but somehow he was. He held his breath for those few minutes that she took to reply, but the answer was more than he could’ve hoped for in their situation.
Ladybug: I’ll think about it. Goodnight, Chaton.
Chat Noir: !!!
Chat Noir: That’s not a No. I can die happy. :grin:
Chat Noir: Goodnight, my Lady.
Chapter 12: Tears
Plagg’s way of teaching was a little unconventional. At least concerning the scheduling of their lessons. For one, he preferred to see Adrien late at night or before everyone woke up. And he never warned about the next lesson more than an hour in advance. Effectively, it had come to this: no matter where Adrien was or what he did, if Plagg texted him, he had two choices: he either showed up with five wheels of Camembert at precisely the appointed time at the studio, or he could quit.
“You seem grumpy today, kid,” Plagg said, opening his “fee” for a before sunrise snack. “What’s up?”
“I’ve had five hours of sleep tonight. Why do you think?”
“Ah, poor you. Why didn’t you go to bed early?”
“Why, indeed,” Adrien grumbled. “I’m sure it has nothing to do with you letting me go only at midnight.”
"I fail to see the issue," Plagg said, chewing as he put the first empty box away. "You signed up for my lessons yourself and now you're complaining?"
“For dance lessons, Plagg,” Adrien groaned. “I didn’t sign up for you to completely mess up my sleep schedule.”
“That’s the way I teach dance,” Plagg shrugged. “You don’t like, you can quit. Or did you think that learning how to dance despite the rain is easy?”
“Then quit whining because, if you haven’t noticed, I could’ve been dreaming of a lady in red right now. Instead, I’m stuck here with you. Would it hurt you to at least be thankful?”
“I’m paying you for this,” Adrien groaned under his breath. “Let’s just start. I have work in a few hours.”
“Un momento," Plagg smirked. “I have to appreciate your offering first. Give me five minutes.”
“Fine,” Adrien mumbled and dropped to the floor. He focused his eyes on the ceiling instead of the glutton on his throne. Weird. From what he’d seen from Plagg so far, Adrien could tell the man had mad skills. How he could reach this level of mastery with his attitude was beyond Adrien’s comprehension. And even more confusing was the fact that Plagg hadn’t had Adrien do any actual dancing yet. At least one, sometimes two, excruciatingly hard workouts was all that Plagg offered. Workouts that had nothing to do with dancing. If Adrien wanted that, he’d stick to his personal trainer. At least that guy was nice and didn’t smell like Camembert all the time.
Barely moving on his feet, Adrien entered the halls of Gabriel a few hours later. His first objective was to gift Marinette the lucky charm he’d made for her. Then head for the business management and accounting departments. Adrien sighed. Boring. He'd rather go back to the designers' one. At least that was fun. Well, hopefully, he wouldn't have to stay there for long, though, because Ladybug had emailed the edited designs to his father last night, and if everything went well, Adrien might learn Ladybug’s identity soon. She promised him to think about that date. Although… maybe he should warn his father to play along, just as a precaution…
Someone zoomed past Adrien, lightly bumping his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry.” The girl stopped, turning around “Are you okay? I didn’t mean to—”
“Marinette?” Adrien’s eyes widened as he frowned. “Why are you crying? Is it Lila again?”
She shook her head, her lips quivering. Eyes looking to the ground, she struggled with words. “I—I…”
Adrien took her by the shoulders and caught her gaze. “Marinette, calm down. What happened?”
“What did he do?”
“Fired us—all of us…”
“What? He fired you?”
She shook her head. “The whole department. All the designers.”
“It’s my fault—I have to talk—”
“This isn’t your fault,” Adrien seethed through his teeth, anger boiling in his veins. He promised ! His father promised he wouldn’t fire Ladybug! “Go back to your office. I’ll talk to him.”
“Don’t worry. Leave this to me, Marinette. I promise everything will be fine.”
She tried to say something else, but Adrien didn’t listen. His breathing heavy, he headed straight for his father’s office. He didn’t bother with knocking, barging in the room uninvited.
“You can’t do this, Father! You promised me you wouldn’t fire her!”
“She can’t mock me like this,” Gabriel snapped back, glaring at sheets of paper with the reworked designs Ladybug had sent him that night scattered all over his desk.
“She’s trying to prove her point just like you wanted her to do.”
“I wanted to see her in person!”
“Well, this isn’t happening because she loves her job and if that’s how you react not knowing who she is, what would you do if you knew?”
“So, I see, you’ve been in contact with her?”
Adrien stilled. “I didn’t say that.”
“Then how do you know what she did?”
Adrien pressed his lips together. “Fine. I have been talking to her, but I don’t know who she is yet, and I was this close to finding out. But you had to step in, and now, she won’t come forward because you fired her.”
Gabriel smirked. “So, she’s one of the designers. I thought so.”
Adrien sighed. “I don’t know for certain. She’s good at keeping her identity a secret, so you might’ve just sacked a whole team of innocent people.”
Gabriel laughed. “Have you seen the poll? None of them are as innocent as you think.”
Adrien clenched his teeth together. This was going nowhere. Still, he pushed. He had to. He promised Marinette he’d get her job back. “You promised you won’t fire her.”
“And I kept my promise.”
“Are you serious? How?”
“Can you can prove that one of the fired is Ladybug, Adrien?”
Adrien’s jaw hurt from all the pressure he’s been putting on it. He couldn’t answer. Not for certain. Suspicions weren’t facts. His eyes locked on the ground, he growled in desperation. He should’ve known! He knew his father enough not to trust him, and yet he made the deal. The deal with the devil for the soul of someone innocent. Great job, Adrien! This was all his fault and his alone, and he had to fight tooth and nail to fix it. If only he’d known how. Years of blind obedience, unfortunately, stripped him of that knowledge. How to stand up to his father was not something he’d practiced often, if at all.
Adrien’s eyes widened a speck as an idea came to his mind. Father wouldn’t do anything Adrien could ask for unless it benefited Gabriel directly. He had to play on that.
“You can’t fire all your designers so close to the show, Father,” Adrien said. “There is no time for hiring and training new ones.”
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow and turned to look at his window. "Tell me who Ladybug is, and everyone can have their jobs back.”
“I can’t. I don’t know who she is.”
Gabriel’s lips pressed into a thin line. “You’ve wasted two weeks and learned nothing?” He scoffed. “Tell me why I am not surprised?”
A sick feeling settled at the pit of Adrien’s stomach. He’d rarely confronted his Father before. It never ended well. “You’re wrong. It wasn’t a waste. I’ve earned her trust. She was considering meeting me if you reacted well to her email.”
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow. “She knows who you are?”
“No, she doesn’t. I’m a random employee who shares her opinion. That’s all.”
“At least you’ve been smart enough to keep your identity a secret,” Gabriel scoffed.
“I can do this, Father. Give me more time, and I’ll do this.”
Gabriel laughter sent chills down Adrien’s spine. If not for both, Marinette and Ladybug, Adrien would’ve walked right out, but he couldn’t. They trusted him to fix this.
“You really loathe working here, don’t you Adrien?” Gabriel puffed. “You own half of this damn company, yet you can't wait to get out.”
“Loathe is a strong word,” Adrien replied. “I wouldn’t use it. But I do want to explore what’s out there before I settle in my role here. And you know just as well as I do that my ‘ownership’ as you say it is on paper only. I can’t do much.”
Gabriel leaned back into his chair and spun to look at his late wife’s portrait. “Paper or not, your mother left you quite a present.” He pounded on something for a short while, then, without looking at Adrien, added, “You have until the show as we’ve discussed before. Bring Ladybug to me for a conversation, and you can have your freedom.”
“You won’t fire her?”
“How about the others?”
“They can have their jobs back. I do need a team for the show.”
“Thank you,” Adrien said.
Gabriel waved his hand, letting Adrien know this conversation was over.
“Have a good day,” Adrien said and turned around, heading for the door. He stopped right before exiting and added, “No matter what you think, Father, Ladybug respects you. She always speaks highly of you and admires your talent. It’ll be a shame to lose such a worker.”
Gabriel didn’t look up from his work. Adrien opened the door and walked out.
He headed straight to the men’s room and splashed cold water on his face. Hovering over the sink, Adrien fought to stabilize his breathing. His first victory. He got everyone their jobs back. That was good. He’d have to go there right away and speak with Mme Bustier to ensure everything was well and their jobs were safe… if they still wanted them because he wouldn’t be surprised if a few or even all of the designers would walk out after the way his father treated them. The media was sure to hear about this incident as well. Adrien would leave it to his father, though. He got himself into this mess, it was his job to manage it.
But hell, he would give away his Lady to this man now! His father had broken his trust way too many times, and Adrien liked Ladybug way too much to jeopardize her any further… which meant he’d probably need to let her go. Even if by accident, but with his father being aware Adrien was looking for her, identity reveal couldn’t happen. Too much risk.
His chest clenched. Adrien closed his eyes. He was so close. His freedom… It slipped right through his hands. A lump forming in his throat, he felt tears gathering in his eyes. Adrien’s breathing quickened, and he splashed cold water on his face again. It was worth it. Ladybug was worth it. It was fine. It wasn’t the first of his dreams to die. It probably wouldn’t be the last one. He was used to this. He could get through this. Easily. He always did. Why should this time be any different?
Chat Noir: So. It backfired.
Ladybug: I caused the whole department to be fired.
Chat Noir: Correction: We caused the whole department to be fired. I’ve heard they got their jobs back, though. No?
Ladybug: They did, but everyone’s feeling insecure and down. A few people quit already. Can’t blame them. That was awful and quite frankly illegal. The media is starting to sniff around, so I’d expect a scandal to break out soon. That’s the last thing we need right before the show. Depressing.
Chat Noir: I’m sure Gabriel Agreste can handle this mess. He landed himself in it, so he can deal with it.
Ladybug: It’s all my fault. I should’ve never done anything. It was a losing battle from the start.
Chat Noir: You wanted what’s best for the company. You can’t blame yourself for that. And it was me who pushed you to continue, so if anyone’s it was my fault. I’m sorry.
Ladybug: I’m sorry too.
Ladybug: Hey, Chat?
Chat Noir: Here.
Ladybug: I know, I should say that we should stop chatting after our epic failure but…
His heart raced. Could it be?
Chat Noir: You don’t want to?
Ladybug: I’ve gotten used to you. You’ve often made my day with your silliness, and I know we haven’t talked for a long time, but it feels like we’ve known each other forever. I’d hate to lose you. Especially over a failed conspiracy. So, I thought maybe we can continue to chat? Just as friends, all missions aside.
Chat Noir : It could be dangerous.
Ladybug: Danger is my middle name.
Chat Noir: XD I highly doubt that.
Ladybug: Come on. We were brave enough to face the Hawkmoth. We did face him, so we’re tied forever by this secret. You can’t back out of this now.
Chat Noir: Well, Hawkmoth can start investigating.
Ladybug: I highly doubt he will, and even if he would, how would he know to look for a random Discord chat with just the two of us in it? Come on, Chaton. Don’t leave me like that.
Adrien had to restrain himself from typing. He wanted to stay with her, he really did. But she was in danger if he would. He couldn’t have that. She meant too much for him. Plus, if he’d persisted and complied with Plagg’s nonsense, he could meet her later at the Kwami Kave, away from Gabriel Agreste and the danger.
Chat Noir: I’m sorry, my Lady. But you mean too much to me to endanger you anymore. We’d have to delete this chat room to erase all the backlogs.
Ladybug: We can always make another one. Please?
His heart was breaking, but he had to do this. He had to protect her from his father.
Chat Noir: Please, my Lady. You’re only making it harder than it already is.
Ladybug: Then how about I’ll go on that date with you? We can meet in the real world and switch to texting each other over the regular text? All references to this room and any anything that went down here aside? Just two random Gabriel employees hanging out together. Nothing unusual or suspicious?
Adrien sucked in the air. She… did she want him in her life so much?
Ladybug: You’re breaking my heart, Chaton. Say something.
His heart was about to give up on him. No one had ever wanted him so much, not knowing who he was. She liked him for him! Ladybug liked Chat Noir for him. That was too much to reject.
Chat Noir: We’d have to be careful in setting this up.
Ladybug: :relieved: I already have a plan.
Chat Noir: XD I’m all ears.
Ladybug: Do you know the pre-show company party that’s coming up soon?
Chat Noir: Yeah. I haven't been to one yet, though.
Ladybug: We can “meet” there. Just two people clicking at the party with the whole company as a witness we’ve just met. No prior history, no conspiracy, no dark secrets. A brand new start.
Chat Noir: :3 I like your thought process. Tell me more.
Chapter 13: Hairstyles
“I can’t take it anymore!” Plagg threw his hands upwards. “Stop annoying me, kid, or you’re out!”
“What did I do this time?” Adrien groaned. “I showed up at sunrise, brought you your Camembert, and do everything you’re telling me to do. What else do you want from me?”
“Stop looking like some son of some high-butt CEO.”
“I’m wearing sweatpants and a loose sleeveless top. Just as you asked me. How is that reminding you of any kind of CEO?”
“What about it?”
“You styled it!”
“So, what? I always do.”
“It’s irritating me!” Plagg ran his hands over his face. “It’s too ‘proper’, too ‘in place’.”
Adrien pulled back. “It’s the way I’ve always done it. How is that irritating you now but haven’t before?”
“It’s always irritated me,” Plagg puffed. “I was just too nice to say anything.”
Adrien quirked a skeptical eyebrow.
Plagg rolled his eyes. “Listen, kid. You want freedom, right?”
Adrien nodded. “What does it have to do with my hair?”
“Everything! Why the heck do you put your own hair in the jail of hair products if you want to be free?” Plagg scowled. “Hypocrisy at its best. I can’t take it anymore!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Adrien grumbled.
“You either free the hair or you’re out.”
Adrien pressed his lips together, his breathing heavy. “Why do you keep threatening to kick me out if I don’t comply with all your crazy whims? You’ve already ruined my sleep schedule, forced me to ditch work for a few hours twice in one week, changed my wardrobe, and now you don’t like the way I style my hair? Seriously, you are the one putting me in jail of your desires.”
“So, you want out?” Plagg smirked. “Cause I’ll be more than happy to drop such a capricious client like you.”
Adrien glared at Plagg. He hated him at times. He almost snapped I quit more times than he could count. Yet, something kept him going. Something he couldn’t explain. Something that wasn’t just the prospect of getting into Kwami Kave and being with Ladybug. Something else. Something he could neither understand nor refuse because that something had just won over his emotions again.
With an exasperated groan, Adrien bent over, dropped his head down, and fluffed his hair as much as he could.
“Are you happy now?”
Plagg’s grinned, walking towards Adrien. He stopped behind him and whispered into his ear. “Now, tell me, Adrien. How much freer will you work if you don’t have to worry about ruining your hairstyle?”
Something clicked in Adrien’s head. Oh!
Plagg smirked. “Your progress halted. You know all the basic moves, but you can’t move forward. You’re too reserved. You worry too much about how you look, or what others will think of you and all that other bullshit. You’ll never reach Ladybug’s level if you continue like this, neither can I teach you anything more advanced. Let it go, Adrien. Destroy that reservation, those chains you’ve adopted. Tune everyone and everything out. Don’t worry about your image. Got it?”
“Good. Now, give me seventy more burpees, and I want you giving it all till the end. Impress me, kid.”
“You overslept?” Kagami side glanced at him as the elevator door closed.
“Quite the opposite,” Adrien sighed. “I’ve barely had any sleep. Why?”
“You don’t look so well,” she replied. “You seem tired—”
That’s because Plagg worked him like a racehorse all morning!
“—and as if you’ve dressed in a car—”
Bingo! That’s exactly what he did because the bastard left him no time to go home and change!
“—Your hair is especially in a rough condition—”
Please, don’t remind him. That’s a separate story .
“—Maybe you should take a day off and rest?” She touched his shoulder gently. “No one will benefit from you falling ill.”
Adrien dead stared at the door. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll just do what is necessary and will make it an early night.”
If his dance instructor from hell wouldn’t decide to torture him some more. He seemed to be really enjoying himself doing that .
The door opened, and the duo exited the elevator.
“We part here,” Kagami said. “Though, I wanted to ask you if you are planning to attend next week’s party?”
His heart pounded in his heart. Yes, he was going to attend because somewhere there his Lady would be waiting for him.
“Yeah,” he said. “I wanted to attend. What about you?”
“I have better things to do than to get drunk and watch others make out at the bar. Please, reconsider. I heard some disturbing things happened last year.”
Adrien frowned. “Such as?”
“Let’s see,” Kagami thought. “Drunk dancing on the tables, striptease, gambling. The list goes on and on. That’s not the place for reputable people like us, so, please, don’t go.”
“Thanks for the warning, Kagami.” Adrien smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind and be careful, but I kind of already promised a friend I’ll attend.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “Well, as long as you are aware of the situation. Are we still on for lunch tomorrow?”
Adrien nodded. “Unless some disaster happens, yes, absolutely.”
“All right. I hope you feel better by then. Have a good day, Adrien. Stop by when you’re free.”
“Will do.” Adrien bit his farewell and walked the opposite direction.
Strolling down the hallway, Adrien yawned. He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to put it in place as much as possible. Perhaps, he should make it a short day. He was exhausted, and there was always a threat of Plagg texting him any minute. That glutton! Thanks to him, Adrien's life was chaos. Camembert-stinking wreckage of the perfect scheduling he grew up on. It was good that the only thing he’d have to focus on for the next two weeks was pretending to search for Ladybug to divert his father’s attention. Then, he’d admit his failure, would accept his defeat, and everything would go the way it always was. For now, though, designer department it was. Adrien smiled, grasping the lucky charm in his pocket. He’d forgotten to give it to her yesterday. Today it was, then. He looked forward to that.
Marinette caught his attention as soon as Adrien stepped inside. Or rather her appearance. He had to do a double-take because usually impeccably put together Marinette was working on something at her table wearing a pair of red sneakers and a light jean overall shorts atop of pink t-shirt with her hair tied in pigtails. She silently sang to herself, listening to something thought her wireless earbuds, her body subtilty moving to the beat Adrien couldn't hear. It was… adorable, but nothing like he’d expected to see at Gabriel. Or was allowed as far as he knew .
Adrien headed straight for her. “Morning, Mari.”
She stirred, looking at him a bit lost, then took the earbuds out of her ears and smiled. “Morning, Adrien.”
“I’ve got something for you.” He pulled his lucky charm out and offered it to Marinette. “I’ve noticed a lot of bad stuff has happened to you since you’ve given me your lucky charm, so I thought I’d make one for you. To get you back your luck.”
She stared at the string of beads in his hands, her cheeks endearingly pink. “You… you made it for me?”
“Spent the whole Saturday figuring out the mechanics, but yes, I did.” He grinned. “Do you like it?”
She hesitantly reached for it. “It’s gorgeous. Thank you, Adrien.”
“A gorgeous lucky charm for a gorgeous woman,” Adrien said without thinking.
Her cheeks flamed crimson. Cute . “Thank you,” she whispered.
“So,” Adrien plopped on the chair by her table. “Did Mme Bustier announce a ‘casual wear’ day, and I wasn’t informed? I’d rock my slacks and a t-shirt instead of dressing up.”
Marinette giggled. “You’d look glorious.”
He grinned. “I would.” He cocked his head to a side, “What’s up with your outfit? Not that I don’t approve because it looks adorable, and you totally rock it. I’m just curious, seeing as this is a workplace with a dress code.”
Marinette sighed. “Those of us who decided to stay are still pretty shaken after yesterday, so Mme Bustier is taking it easy on us until the show, meaning no dress code.”
Adrien raised an eyebrow.
“I know it’s silly,” Marinette smiled, “But she’s trying to make us as comfortable as possible to boost the morale and inspire us to create. It’s working; don’t laugh.”
Adrien suppressed a chuckle. “Didn’t even think of that. So, may I assume that rocking pigtails makes you comfortable?”
Her cheeks flushed red as she looked to the side. “I know they look stupid, but I don’t care.”
“No, Mari.” Adrien took her hand. “I didn’t think that. They do look cute. I was just surprised because you know… I’ve never seen anyone here with pigtails.”
Marinette snickered. “Childish and high fashion don’t mix, do they?”
“Well, most people don’t mix them which is a shame,” Adrien said. “They look charming on you.”
Marinette smiled. “They give me confidence.”
He frowned. “Confidence?”
Her gaze wistful, she explained. “I used to tie my hair in pigtails in school when life wasn't as stressful and complicated. So now, every time I wear something comfortable and rock pigtails, I feel like I’m back in my bedroom above the bakery, carefree, working on my projects. I feel confident and calm. That’s why.”
Adrien hummed and watched her silently for a few moments, then got his fingers into his hair and messed it up.
“There.” He grinned. “Now I’m a five-year-old running around with my mom at a random field trying to catch more butterflies than she does.”
Adrien ran his fingers through his hair one more time, fluffing it to the max. It felt nice. Liberating. Invigorating. Who knew that a hairstyle can make such a difference?
“You’re a dork,” Marinette giggled.
“Said the woman in shorts overalls and pigtails working at a high-end fashion house.”
Marinette laughed. “Touché, M Agreste.”
Adrien chuckled, feeling much more invigorated than before he'd walked in this room. Marinette was a delight, and being with her always lightened his mood. Maybe instead of a short day then, he could indulge in that warm feeling she was able to arouse in him?
He leaned back into the chair. “I might be stepping over the line but… do you mind if I stay with you for a while, and maybe listen to your music while you work?”
She took a better look at him. “Not feeling like working?”
“Not really. I’ve had little sleep and feeling exhausted. And I can’t exactly go home yet. So, I thought if I stay here and pretend to watch you work, I can pass it as learning more about the designer department, if my father asks.”
“M Agreste.” She chuckled. “Running away from your responsibilities? How immature of you.”
He pouted. “You’re a meanie.”
“Oh, but I’m a meanie with an iPod loaded with music, and I’m willing to share if you answer my question.”
Adrien grinned. “I’m all ears.”
She held up two sheets of paper with identical designs apart from a few minor details. “Which one?”
Adrien compared them for a few moments before pointing out the left one. “I’d kill to wear this one in black.”
She smirked. “Good choice M Agreste. Here.” She passed him one of her earbuds. “You’ve earned it.”
“Thanks,” he said, setting the device into his ear. The music filled his mind, and Adrien, putting his hands on a table, rested his head on them. He closed his eyes, letting images of his mother and him as a child running after butterflies in a random field somewhere in the country take over. A rare moment he somehow remembered from the happier times in his life. His lips tugged in a smile. He loved this memory…
“Adrien?” Someone shook him lightly. “Your phone keeps ringing. It might be important.”
Adrien popped one eye open and pulled his phone from his pocket.
“Oh, shit.” He straightened and answered. “I’m here.”
“The roof of my studio in an hour, kid. Don’t forget my Camembert.”
“Didn’t we already have a session today?”
“We did, but the weather is perfect. I couldn’t pass up on a chance.”
Adrien glanced out the window. “It’s raining,” he deadpanned. “How is it perfect?”
“You wanted to dance despite the rain, didn’t you? Don’t complain to me for going out of my way to fulfil one of your dreams. One hour, Camembert, the roof. Or quit. I don’t care either way.”
Plagg hung up. Adrien groaned and dropped his head on the desk.
“Bad news?” Marinette asked.
“What happened? If you don’t mind sharing, that is.”
“I signed up for a butt camp, and I hate it,” he moaned into his hands, his head still on a desk.
“A butt camp?” Marinette chuckled. “Don’t you mean a boot camp?”
“No,” Adrien scoffed. “That’s exactly what it is. A butt camp. I come there and the devil incarnate kicks my butt.”
Marinette laughed, stopping rapidly as Adrien glared at her. “I’m sorry. This isn’t funny,” she said, trying and failing to keep a smile off her face “But why don’t you quit then if it’s too much.”
Adrien fell quiet for a moment. “I can’t quit.”
“You signed a contract?”
“No, I didn’t.” Adrien stood up. “But if I quit, I might lose much more than I gain if I do.”
Marinette smiled understandingly. “Then I wish you the best of luck.”
“Thanks, Mari.” He pulled her lucky charm from his pocket. “I have this. What can go wrong with my Marinette Lucky Charm?”
She blushed, her eyes wide.
Adrien chuckled. “See you tomorrow.”
Marinette mumbled something he remotely thought was see you tomorrow . So, Adrien smiled, nodded, and left. Pushing his phone into his pocket, he headed for the nearest grocery store. The devil needed his dose of Camembert. Adrien wished only for one thing: to crawl into his soft and fluffy bed and forget everything.
Chat Noir: Evening, my Lady. The new chat room looks amazing.
Ladybug: Thank you. I spent the whole ten minutes setting it up. :handsome:
Chat Noir: :finger guns:
Chat Noir: How was your day?
Ladybug: Relaxing. Got lots of work done, so I’m happy. Yours?
Chat Noir: Apart from one pain in the ass it went fantastic. Though I got wet in the rain, and the cold wind didn’t help, so I’ll take a hot bath and call it a night.
Ladybug: You’d better. We wouldn’t want you to catch a cold.
Chat Noir: Share some luck with me?
Ladybug: *sends over all her luck*
Chat Noir: LOL Just a little would be enough. Leave some for yourself.
Ladybug: You never know. If you’ll have extra use it for something else. And, I got a boost in that department today so I won’t be lacking.
Chat Noir: You’re very generous my Lady. Thank you.
Ladybug: No need. Take care of yourself, Chaton.
Chat Noir: Will do.
Chapter 14: Sick Day
It didn’t work. All the luck that Ladybug had sent his way must have stuck somewhere in the internet traffic because the next morning Adrien woke up with a pulsating headache, stuffy nose, and a sore throat. He groaned, shifting in his bed and threw his cover off. Too hot. Water. Thirsty. He needed some water stat, or he would die.
Adrien sat up. His head spun; a pained moan escaped lips. The clock showed… nine?
Struggling to stand up, Adrien picked up the phone. There was a missed call from his father’s secretary and a few from Plagg. Adrien opened his messages. Ladybug has sent a few, wishing him a good morning and telling him about her plans for the day. Same stuff they’ve been exchanging for weeks now. He smiled. She was an amazing girl. He always looked forward to her messages. Unlike Plagg’s.
Plagg: Congratulations! You’ve won an extended session for the price of one. I’ll see you at my studio at seven in the evening. Next time you won’t pick up, you’re out.
Adrien groaned and flopped back onto the bed. The way he felt now, there was no way he could handle any session of Plagg’s, less an extended one. Maybe he should quit? Or maybe he could tell Plagg that he was sick? Surely even Plagg had a heart. Most likely he did. At least a physical one he certainly had.
Adrien : Can I get a rain check on that? I don't feel too stellar.
Plagg replied immediately.
Plagg: I'm not a convenience store to give out rainchecks. Seven or never.
Adrien : At least make it a regular one.
Plagg : The only thing I can make it is a double-priced one. Would you like that?
Adrien pouted. Not that he couldn't afford Plagg’s fees. He could, but for Plagg’s attitude to him, Adrien refused to support the glutton further other than what they’d agreed upon.
Plagg : What are you a baby? Can’t handle some dancing?
Adrien scoffed. He called it dancing? He hadn’t danced a single step yet, pointlessly repeating exercises and moves Plagg ordered him as a broken record. He even stopped going to the gym. There was no need. Plagg worked him thrice as much as his personal trainer did, all while offering Adrien to quit at any given opportunity. Adrien growled. No way! Not after everything this arrogant glutton had put him through! Adrien couldn’t let him win. He’d go to that session and rock it.
Adrien: I’ll be there at seven.
Plagg : :thumbs-up:
Turning his phone off, Adrien shuffled to the kitchen. If he were to endure one of Plagg’s lessons this evening, he needed to get better. That meant rest, nutrition, and medicine. He lacked two: food because he was too tired to shop for it yesterday, and medicine because Adrien didn’t get sick often, so whatever he had was long expired. Trip to the store it was, and since he already was late for work, he might call in sick and skip it altogether. There is always a first time for everything, right?
Adrien changed and dialled his father. Gabriel wasn’t ecstatic, but he let it go, telling Adrien to get back as soon as he could. Glad that at least his father wasn’t heartless, Adrien went out to pick up food and medicine. He grabbed breakfast at a nearby café and focused on getting better upon returning, which meant hot bath, relaxing on a couch, and chatting with Ladybug. He kept his illness to himself, though. Ladybug had just gone through hell because of him. He had no right to get her sympathy.
Closer to the evening, Adrien ordered Tom and Sabine’s pastries to be delivered. After Marinette introduced him to the wonderful world of her parent’s bakery, Adrien couldn’t help but stop by every day after work. Today, however, he didn’t work, and he had to conserve energy for the torture session, so ordering in it was. Half an hour later someone knocked on a door.
“Marinette?” His eyes widened, followed by a lopsided smile on his lips. What a nice surprise.
“Hi.” She shyly waved at him from the hallway. “I’m sorry, I hope I’m not interrupting. Papa asked me to deliver this to you.”
“Thanks.” Adrien motioned Marinette to come inside. “Did something happen?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, entering.
"It's five. Usually, you'd still be at work at this time."
“Ah, so the boss would scold me for leaving the work an hour early to attend to a sick father?”
Adrien chuckled. “The boss may do that. I’m not him, however. What’s with Tom? He looked healthy yesterday.”
“Nothing serious.” Marinette rolled her eyes. “Dad caught a man cold and is being a baby about it. But of course, he didn’t tell me that when he called my work. I thought he was dying and raced over only to find out he has a slight fever and cough.”
Adrien laughed. “Tell him I said Hello and hope he gets better soon.”
“Thank you. I will.” She smiled. “His colds rarely last more than a few days. You, on the other hand, don’t look so well.”
Adrien rubbing the back of his neck, shrugging. “Cold. A regular one, though. Not the one your father has.”
“I hope you feel better soon,” Marinette said, passing him the box in her hands. “I believe these are yours.”
“With these, I definitely will.” Adrien grinned, opening the box. Once the lid was off, he frowned. “Um. I think someone made a mistake. Was Tom the one assembling it?”
Marinette leaned over to look inside the box. “Did he give you the wrong items in his feverish state? Although, I think it was Maman who packed this. Papa’s dying in his bed.”
Adrien shook his head. “Oh no. I have everything I asked for. Double the amount.”
Marinette frowned, glaring to the side, her lips pressed into a thin line. Her following grin was way too tense for Adrien’s liking. “They must have put it for you as get well wishes. Mama loves to spoil their regular customers.”
“I’m not that regular yet,” Adrien said. “I've only started going there after you told me about them a few weeks ago.”
“Really?” Marinette mumbled, still avoiding looking at him. “The way they talk about it, it seems much longer. In any case, enjoy and I’ll go. I have some scolding to do.”
She turned around to leave when a genius idea hit Adrien.
She paused, her body tensing. “Yes?”
“If you have some free time, do you want to come in for a cup of coffee? I mean only if you’re free because I’ve been kind of locked in here all day by myself and wouldn’t mind some company, even for a little while. And I have double the pastry, so… Please? If you want, of course. I don’t insist. I mean if you have free time… and not afraid to catch my cold.”
What was going on with him? Adrien could practically feel his cheeks burning. Why was it so hard to invite a friend for a cup of coffee? It’s not like he was asking her on a date or anything! Geez, Agreste! Compose yourself.
Marinette failed to suppress a chuckle. “I think I’ve already caught all the cold germs I could from Papa,” she said, the most endearing expression on her face he’d seen. “I have an hour to spare.”
Adrien glanced at the clock. It was five. He had to leave anywhere between six and six-fifteen. Perfect.
“Yes, please.” He grinned and prompted her to follow him into the kitchen. His heart full; he could hardly contain his excitement. How lucky was he to get Marinette all to himself for the whole hour? The perfect treat before he had to face Plagg The Tyrant.
Marinette was nice. She was fantastic. She reminded him more and more of Ladybug the longer they’d talked. She was smart and witty and funny and beautiful and everything in between. They had a lot in common, and even chatting about nothing was an experience Adrien would never forget. She made him feel so great; he’d cherish it forever. Somehow, Adrien didn’t notice where the time rushed to off, but when Marinette thanked him for the meal and stood up to leave, the clock showed thirty minutes to seven.
“Don’t be too grumpy about your butt camp,” she said gathering her things. “One of my best friends told me once that moving is the best way to get over a cold. It gets oxygen into your body and helps your blood to expel the germs out of your system faster, so even though it’ll be hard, it’ll help you.”
“Well, yes, mild exercise does. Whatever that glutton puts me through isn't remotely mild.”
Marinette shrugged with a smirk on her face. “Fake a fainting spell when it gets too much? I’m sure he’d let you go if you faint.”
Adrien laughed. “I’ll be sure to follow your advice when the insatiable desire to strangle my coach will kick in.”
Marinette laughed. “Didn’t peg you for a violent person.”
“I’m not. Or rather I wasn’t. Not until I signed up for that cursed course. Now, I’m just praying all the anger won’t spill over, so having someone like you to talk to and relax really helps. Thank you.”
Marinette blushed and standing on her toes, kissed his cheek. “Thank you for the meal.”
Adrien gasped. Her lips were so soft. Warm. Gentle. “Thank you for the company,” he mumbled back, awkwardly waving.
A moment later, she left. Adrien rushed to the bedroom to change. He had twenty minutes left before his lesson.
“By five seconds?”
“By two minutes and thirty-five seconds.”
Adrien groaned. “Plagg really? I show up here sick, and you lecture me about being two minutes late?”
“Two minutes and thirty-five seconds.”
Adrien closed his eyes trying to breathe evenly.
“And no Camembert that I can see.”
“That’s it,” Adrien snapped. “If you’re going to lecture me about being late and forgetting your damn, stinky cheese for once, then I have the right to ask you when will you start teaching me to dance?”
“What are you talking about?” Plagg stretched innocently, lounging on his throne. “I’ve been teaching you dancing this whole time. What do you think we have been doing here?”
“Pardon me for not noticing,” Adrien snarled. “Or do you call that pointless, excessive repetition of the exercises and moves you make me do dancing?”
Plagg smirked, looking at Adrien. “You’re finally asking questions. Good.”
“I’m glad you’re amused by my curiosity, but can you answer me while you are at it?”
“Feisty, aren’t we?” In one smooth move, Plagg leapt from his throne and walked towards him.
“What did you expect?” Adrien barked. “I’m sick and tired of your crap, and it’s time I finally told you.”
“I didn’t drag you,” Plagg said. “You ran here yourself.”
“As if you left me any choice.”
“There is always a choice,” Plagg said. “But congratulations. Your shell has finally cracked. All we have to do now is to pull you out.”
“What are you talking about?”
Plagg said nothing, stopping behind Adrien.
Adrien turned to face him. When Plagg remained silent instead of answering, Adrien bitterly puffed. “Spectacular avoidance of answering me. You truly are a Master. Only I’m not sure I want to study your craft anymore.”
“Tell me, Adrien,” Plagg said, looking him straight into his eyes. “What is dancing?”
Adrien frowned. “Movement to the music?”
Plagg laughed before leaning closer and whispering, “Dancing, Adrien, is storytelling.”
“Exactly,” Plagg said and strolled back to his throne. “People express themselves in a dance just like they do with verbal stories. Moving to the music, they can tell you how their day went, how much they’ve missed something, how much they hate someone. People can tell you their whole story through dance. Now imagine this: you put on music, and you hear the beat, and your mind decides on a move, but BAM! before you can do it the music moved on and the beat has changed. What do you do?”
“You move on and decide on the next one—”
“Only for the same thing to happen again.” Plagg plopped into his throne and added, “A true master never allows his mind to decide their moves for them. He lets his body and the music to become one, unity in the beat, and tell the story without stammering. But , for your body to do that, the moves have to become reflexes.”
Adrien stared at Plagg in a dumbfounded stupor. “So, all this time you’ve been—”
“Implementing new reflexes into you, so you can sing your song, not stutter it out,” Plagg finished for him. “Kid, it’s like learning a language. You must learn to write letters before you can imprint a poem on a blank sheet of paper. Now, stop questioning my methods and take this.” He pulled a small, plastic packet out of his pocket and threw it to Adrien.
Adrien twisted in his hand. “Is this weed?”
Plagg snorted. “No, seriously? Who do you take me for? It’s cold medicine.”
“Are you sure?” Adrien frowned, inspecting the content of the packet. “It looks suspicious.”
“You’re my main Camembert supplier at the moment. Why would I want to poison you?”
Adrien huffed. “I never know what’s on your mind, so don’t blame me for checking.”
Plagg laughed. “I love the level of trust we share, kid. But, seriously. This is some ancient Chinese crap. My doctor makes it himself. It does miracles, though, so you’re lucky I’m sharing because you can’t buy this shit in stores. Make some tea with it and drink before bed. You’ll be brand new in the morning.”
“I guess, thank you?” Adrien said hesitantly.
“Don’t mention it.” Plagg shrugged. “Now get out of my sight before you contaminate this whole place.”
Adrien frowned in disbelief. “What about—”
“You didn’t bring me my cheese. Why should I teach you for free?” Plagg huffed. “Get out and come back tomorrow evening. Oh, wait.” He pursed his lips. “I’ll be busy tomorrow. I’ll call you for time and date later. Now, go. Don’t spread your germs here.”
Adrien stood in his place frozen. A tiny smile sneaked onto his face as he nodded. “Thank you, Plagg. I didn’t expect you to be so—”
“Ugh, geez, kid,” Plagg groaned. “Get out of here before I smack you for being sappy. Just go! Au revoir! See you later. Do svidaniya. Sayōnara. Adiós. What other language do I need to repeat it in?”
“Got it.” Adrien chuckled and headed for the exit. “Thanks for the medicine. I’ll see you later.”
He closed the doors to loud music starting behind him, the smile on his lips not vanishing until he reached home. Who would’ve guessed? Plagg actually cared.
Chapter 15: Animal Tendencies
Adrien was going to kill Plagg for forgetting to mention that his wonderful medicinal tea had a severe side effect. He woke up just before sunrise. His skin slightly prickled. A couple of hours later his whole body was on fire, burning, itching for a touch, and no matter what Adrien did, nothing helped. Showers and baths relieved pain for a maximum of ten minutes. An anti-itch ointment lasted half an hour at most. His own desperate scratching only made the situation worse.
He needed someone else to touch him. Someone other than him to run their fingers on his skin, get them in his hair, to caress his itch away. Adrien didn’t know how he knew that, but his mind kept wishing for Ladybug to be here and save him from the agony.
Adrien : What the hell, Plagg? What was in that tea?
Plagg: Some ancient Chinese crap. Why?
Adrien : I itch all over, and it won’t stop.
Plagg : Never happened to me, and I drink that stuff all the time.
Adrien : What do I do to stop it?
Plagg: How should I know? I told you, it never happened to me.
Adrien: What was inside that tea exactly? Maybe I can Google the remedy or ask at the pharmacy.
Plagg : Ugh. Kid. You’re making me work. :unamused: Give me a few.
Adrien : You got me into this in the first place, so don’t complain.
Plagg : Hey! Don’t point your finger at me. Do you still have a cold?
Adrien paused and thought. With the itching problem, he hadn't paid attention if he was still sick. But, no. The headache was gone. So were the stuffy nose and a slight cough he'd developed just before bedtime. Weird. Apart from the driving-him-crazy itch, he was healthy.
Adrien : No. The cold is gone.
Plagg : There. See? I helped you. Your body’s reaction to my help isn’t my liability.
A few minutes later he added.
Plagg: My doctor said it’s a rare side effect. It’ll pass in up to twenty-four hours by itself. You’re welcome.
Adrien: What am I supposed to do until then? It itches all over.
Plagg: Find someone to scratch the itch. :grin:
Adrien : I really hate you. I hope you know that.
Plagg : Good. I’m glad we’re honest. I’ll see you at eight.
Adrien : You said you were busy today.
Plagg : And so, I am. But I'll be free at eight and you don't have a cold anymore, so see you at eight. Now I must depart. My business is waiting, and it’s delicious. ;)
Adrien groaned and put his phone away, dropping his head into his hands. Why did he think the treacherous glutton would help him? He was probably snickering right now, imagining the hell Adrien's been ever since this morning. Though it did get a little better as of now, so perhaps, Plagg didn't lie and this itch would pass with time. It better, because if it wouldn't, Adrien was going to hunt that devil down, tie him to a chair, and slowly eat all of his stinky cheese in front of him. He'd even pretend to enjoy it because Adrien suspected that was the only thing that could truly hurt Plagg.
He glanced at the clock, an idea popping into his mind. This was crazy, but maybe he should go to work? He’d be a little late, but it’d be a great distraction and would make this itch easier to get through. Adrien had class, after all, and would never scratch himself at a public place, and everyone knew that if you don't scratch an itch, it'd go away faster. Adrien nervously chuckled. He was insane. He knew it. But this insanity was on a genius level. He had to admit it.
He regretted his decision only an hour in. The itch didn’t stop. It didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse, but now, being in public, Adrien could neither take a shower, not apply ointment, nor scratch himself. And on top of everything, his urge to ask for someone’s help skyrocketed. He only hoped no one would enter the office he was hiding in because he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t be begging on his knees for help.
Gathering his last strength, Adrien stood up. Coffee. He needed some coffee and go home. He couldn’t take it anymore. This was a mistake.
He was quickly walking down the hallway towards the break room when Kagami caught up with him.
“So, are you up for that lunch, Adrien?” she asked. “I see you’re feeling better today.”
He nervously chuckled, quickening his steps. “I’m sorry, Kagami, but not today. I thought I was well enough for the work, but I might have overestimated my strength.”
“Alright.” She smiled at him. “Then we reschedule for later. Let me know when you’re up for it.”
"Sure," Adrien said, stopping at the elevator and pressing that button repeatedly. Get here already! He needed coffee.
Kagami raised an eyebrow. "Maybe you should see a doctor. It could be more serious than a cold."
His eyes locking on Kagami, Adrien paused. What he really needed was not a cup of coffee or a doctor. He needed… maybe… should he ask Kagami for help?
“Are you alright?” she tilted her head to a side, frowning.
Adrien pushed the thought aside. No way. Even from what little he knew of her, Kagami would think him crazy if he were to ask her for that kind of help.
“I’ll be fine once I get coffee and go home.” He smiled politely and bit his farewell as the elevator had finally arrived.
When Adrien practically ran in the break room, he found another person he knew there.
“Hello, M Agreste.” Marinette smiled at him. “How are you today? Feeling better?”
His breathing quickening, Adrien stared at her wide-eyed. Marinette!
She frowned in concern at his lack of an answer. “Adrien? What’s wrong? You don’t look so well.”
Adrien’s throat went dry, his heart pounding. Marinette would understand. She came to work rocking pigtails and jean shorts overall the other day. She was just as silly as him. And compassionate. And kind. She would understand and help him.
“You’re scaring me, Adrien.” She came closer, gently touching his shoulder. “At least say something.”
Adrien almost purred from the pleasure her touch had brought him. He was right! He needed someone else to do it for him… but… there was still something… Losing all shame, Adrien took her hand and put it on his head, closing his eyes in bliss.
Right there. Yes! That was good. That was perfect.
Marinette blinked but didn’t take her hand away. Instead, she ran her fingers through his hair. “It’s so soft.”
Her hand slipped to his jaw, as she brought the other one up to cradle his face and tilt him to look at her. “What’s wrong, Adrien?”
He opened his eyes in annoyance. His hair. He needed her fingers in his hair. It was weird and irrational and, gosh, he hoped she wouldn’t run away but…
“Are we friends, Marinette?”
She nodded. “Yes, I’d say we are friends.”
“Are we good friends?”
“I think so.”
“Can you do me huge but weird favour then? For a good friend.”
“Sure.” She smiled. “What can I do for you?”
“Can you…” Adrien inhaled and mumbled as fast as he could, “Can you pet me?”
Her eyes widened as she slightly leaned away. “You—you want me to— pet you?”
Adrien nodded, his gaze glued to the floor. He was already in deep. There was no reason not to jump in further. “Please? I know it sounds strange and weird and inappropriate, but as you know I had a cold yesterday, and my butt camp instructor gave me some tea and said it’ll cure my cold in no time, so I took it, and it did because obviously I don't have a cold anymore, but I started to itch all over, so I called him, and he said it’s a rare side effect and it’ll pass with time, but it’s driving me nuts.” He paused, inhaled, and finally raising his eyes to look at Marinette, added. “It’s so bad, Mari. I can’t soothe it myself, but when you touched me it felt like heaven, so I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind…” Seeing Marinette’s perplexed expression, he sighed and turned away to leave. “Never mind. I must be going crazy. I’ll just go home. Please, forget I said anything.”
His face was on fire as Adrien marched out of the room. What was he thinking? Marinette was a nice girl, and she’d understand a lot of things, but this? He’d think himself insane as well. She’d probably avoid him now like a wildfire—
He jerked around.
Her cheeks glowed crimson red as she looked to the side. “I can… help you. If you want, I mean… it’s a medical emergency… of a kind, right? And my break just started, so I have time to… help?”
His chest rising and falling rapidly, Adrien feverishly nodded. Who needed shame or decency? He couldn’t take it much longer.
She hid her hands behind herself, biting her lip. “Do you want… where do you want me to… help you? Somewhere private… maybe?”
Still speechless that she’d agreed, Adrien nodded. He knew a place. His father had a lounge for meeting guests. There was a couch. No one went there, ever. Saying nothing, he grabbed her hand and headed that way. It took them only a few minutes. He motioned to the couch.
“You can sit there. Do you mind if I lay my head in your lap?”
She squeaked Sure and sat down on a couch. Adrien lay down, his head on her lap as he looked at the door. “I’m so sorry, Marinette.”
“That’s okay,” she said, her voice gentle. “I understand.”
She let her fingers brush his hair. He exhaled a relieved sigh. Once she covered all of it with gentle touches, she dug in deeper, lightly scraping his scalp. Adrien couldn't hold in the delightful moan.
“Is—is this okay?”
“Yes, please,” he purred, his eyes closed, a satisfied grin on his lips.
“Okay,” she whispered, continuing her ministrations. She stroked and scratched, evoking sounds from Adrien he wasn't aware he was capable of. His favourite spot was just at the base of his neck. When Marinette reached out and ran her hand over his back, he flipped to his tummy and shuffled closer, leaning into her touch.
Marinette giggled. “You’re just like a cat.”
“It’s embarrassing,” Adrien mumbled. “But it feels so nice.”
“Does it help?”
“Immensely. I feel amazing for the first time since I woke up today.”
“Should we stop then if you’re feeling fine?”
“No.” Adrien pressed closer. “Not yet. A few more minutes. Please.”
“My lunch break will be over in five.”
Marinette laughed. “Unfortunately.”
“Fine,” he sighed. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she chuckled.
Adrien closed his eyes to enjoy the last few moments in heaven he was promised to their fullest potential.
“How do you feel?” Marinette asked, once her break was over.
“Still itchy, but much, much better,” Adrien replied. “I’ll probably go home now and see if a cold shower will help relieve the rest.”
“You might want to pick up an anti-itch remedy in your way to carry you over until it passes.”
“I have one,” Adrien said, standing up. “I’m so sorry, Marinette. This is beyond embarrassing, but I couldn’t handle it anymore, and I knew you wouldn’t judge me.”
She smiled at him, her cheeks rosy. “No worries. I was glad I could help.”
“Thank you,” Adrien replied, taking her hand and placing a gentle kiss on her knuckles. “I promise I’ll make it up to you one day. Whatever you want.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She laughed. “I have to go now, but I’ll see you around.”
“See you,” Adrien said, opening the door for her.
By the time he got home, the itch had subdued substantially, and a warm bath and lotion made it an ancient history. Flopping on his bed head first, Adrien groaned. How was he supposed to face Marinette tomorrow? She was nice enough to say nothing and even help, but he was sure their friendship was ruined beyond repair. He was going to kill Plagg. Ladybug… Ladybug would never find out about this.
Chat Noir: Good evening, my Lady. I hope you’re well and resting this lovely evening.
Ladybug: I will be in an hour or so. Finishing some work I took home.
Chat Noir: Didn’t have enough time to finish at work?
Ladybug: Nope. I found a stray kitten and spent a little bit more time with him than I could afford.
Chat Noir: A kitten?
Ladybug: The most handsome kitten, yes.
Chat Noir: My lady. I thought you were a grown woman and could prioritize work over play.
Ladybug: It’s easy for you to say, but if you saw him, you’d never walk away. He was in pain, Chat. Almost crying. I couldn’t just leave him out there to suffer. And it’s not like I had to do much for him to feel better. Just a few scratches and pats.
Chat Noir: And now you’re working at home because of it?
Ladybug: It was all worth it.
Chat Noir: You’re too kind for this world, my Lady. I hope you know it.
Ladybug: LOL Thank you. How was your day, Chat?
She. Would. Never. Know.
Chat Noir: Perfect. Spent lunch with the second-best person in this company.
Ladybug: Second? Who’s the best one?
Chat Noir: Of course, you, my Lady.
Ladybug: Flatterer. You haven’t even meet me yet.
Chat Noir: I did, and it was the best moment of my life.
Ladybug: Oh, so now we’re flirting?
Chat Noir: Idk, are we?
Chat Noir: That dance you did was fantastic. I’m really looking forward to that party now.
Ladybug: Speaking of that. Why don’t we make it a little bit more fun?
I’m all ears, my Lady.
Chapter 16: Akuma
Adrien skipped however many working days were left in the week. His fear of the itch coming back at the most inconvenient moment aside, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to face Marinette after the stunt he’d pulled. As far as his father was concerned, Adrien’s cold was still in full swing. Gabriel would know better if he cared to call to check on his son, but alas, that was a dream not of this reality.
His mind, however, was preoccupied with another miracle: Ladybug was willing to reveal herself to Chat Noir. Not just willing; she’d insisted they meet and continue their friendship as their civilian selves. She wouldn’t make it easy for him, though. No. His Lady wanted to have fun with their reveal, and so, Adrien would have to find her. Her cell phone would be turned off, so he couldn’t text her and see who replied. Her clothes wouldn’t be giving her away, and her hair wouldn’t be tied in her signature pigtails. Ladybug wouldn’t be looking for him, and she certainly wouldn’t dance the way she could.
A tough call, Adrien knew that. But he could do it. He believed he could. Not for his father. No. Gabriel had proven to have less than decent intentions. Adrien, on the other hand, couldn’t deny anymore: he was smitten. Possibly in love. Slowly, over the last few weeks, he'd gotten to know this incredible woman over their texts. The images of her dancing hadn’t left his mind ever since she’d honoured him to witness her, and when he’d entered the Club Akuma on that Saturday night, Adrien had wished for nothing more than to have finally met her and see if they could build something more than a friendship.
One part of his strategy was to not give himself away and make Ladybug avoid him. As far as she knew, Chat Noir was going to come alone since Ladybug was his date if he could find her. Adrien Agreste brought Nino as his plus one, and Nino came in a package with Alya, so with two people in tow, Adrien Agreste couldn’t be Chat Noir. He also dressed in a white shirt and light blue jeans, a drastic contrast to Chat Noir’s black assemble. His hair was impeccably styled, and if Adrien would be forced to dance, it’d be either a moonwalk or a robot. No Chat Noir is his sane mind would embarrass himself with those moves, knowing that his Lady might be watching.
“So,” Nino said as they settled near the bar. “We’re gonna go dance if you don’t mind. Don’t drink too much, dude.”
Adrien groaned. “When will you let this go, Nino? I’ve learned my lesson.”
“I know you did.” Nino winked and took Alya’s hand. “Just a little reminder. See you later, bro.”
In a moment, the duo dashed off to a dance floor. Adrien looked around. Most of the space was dedicated to the dance floor, but all around the perimeter, there were niches and lounges with seating and tables. People were already occupying most of those, and if Ladybug wouldn’t be dancing, could she possibly be there? Adrien hummed. She could still dance, just not up to her full potential. However, he should check out those niches despite. Just in case.
“Want a drink?” the barman asked.
“No, thanks,” Adrien replied. “I don’t do well with alcohol.”
“We have a bunch of non-alcoholic cocktails.”
“Maybe later,” Adrien said and stood up. He’d better start his search, mingling. Ladybug was petite and slim. Her dark hair with red streaks could be a wig, so that detail was useless. But he knew her eyes were blue. She let it slip a few days ago, and of course, her bubbly, smart, bold, and fun character, he’d recognize anywhere.
He turned to a lounge from which his name sounded. Marinette smiled and waved.
“Want to help me destroy them?”
The people on the couches chuckled as a pair that stood behind Marinette arrogantly smirked at him. It looked like a challenge, and if Marinette looked so smug, Adrien bet it was a fun one at that. Plus, if he’d appeared busy with whatever Marinette was offering to him, Ladybug wouldn’t suspect him to be Chat Noir, all while he would subtly monitor the area. Adrien grinned, walking closer.
“Sure. What are we doing?”
“Charades.” Marinette’s smile widened.
“Against us.” The man behind Marinette came forward and offered him a hand. “Kim. Kim. Lê Chiến Kim.”
“Alix,” the woman beside him said. “Alix Kubdel.”
“Adrien Agreste.” Adrien shook Kim’s hand and waved to Alix. “So what are the rules?”
“You have a minute to guess each other's word. The group that gets to twenty points first wins. The losers walk the plank.”
“And what’s the plank?”
“Alcohol. The losers share a bottle of vodka.”
Adrien froze, his blood running cold. Anything but this. He had a history with alcohol. A history so awful, it stirred him clear of drinking forever.
“Don’t worry,” Marinette crossed her arms over her chest, a confident smirk playing on her lips. “I havent lost in years, and with you as my partner, we’ve got this in the bag.”
Adrien gulped. “Are you sure?”
She nodded, her eyes full of fearlessness and assurance.
“You can always walk away if you want.” Kim shrugged. “I’m sure Marinette can find another partner.”
Adrien bit on the inside of his cheek. It was risky. He shouldn’t get involved. He wasn’t here for this, but… Marinette was so kind to him. She was his friend. One of the few good friends he had. How could he turn his back on her and walk away? Plus, she did look awfully confident in her abilities, and he did owe her a favour for those scratches the other day.
“So? Are you in or we’re looking for someone else?” Alix cocked her head to the side.
Adrien swallowed. “I’m in. I was just surprised of how extreme a plank you guys have.”
“More like a good incentive to take the challenge seriously,” Alix chuckled. “Let’s start?”
Marinette looked at Adrien. “Are you sure? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
He took her hand and places a gentle kiss on top of her knuckles, winking. “I won’t refuse to help a lady when she asks me for it. Especially, the one who is so confident in winning. After all, she didn't refuse me when I was in need.”
Her cheeks rosy, she smiled at him. “Let’s win this then.”
Car, bunny, laptop. Baby, carrot, dress. Gabriel Agreste, Pencil case, Donald Trump. It all went smoothly until the very end. They were neck-in-neck with the other team, and Adrien even managed to sneak a few looks around, searching for his Lady. So far, no one had caught his attention.
“Okay.” Kim high-fived Alix. “One more point for us. Your turn, Agreste. If you guess correctly you win. If not, we get our turn, and then you’re toast!”
“Keep dreaming,” Marinette puffed, pulling a card from a box. She read it, smiled and nodded. The timer started. Marinette straightened up, pushing her chest out. She undid her bun in a shift movement and ruffled her hair, putting a part to cover half of her face. Then her eyes turned half-lidded, and she looked at Adrien the way he wasn’t sure he would soon forget.
Adrien swallowed. “A girl?”
Marinette raised her finger, letting him know he was on the right track. She proceeded to walk around, her hips swooshing from side to side, her arms on them. Leaning her head backwards, she turned around to look at him. Adrien felt his cheek warming up, his knees going weak.
She shook her head and tried to seduce him harder.
“Don’t choke on your saliva, Agreste,” Kim yelled with a chuckle. “We know Mari’s hot, but keep your head in the game.”
Adrien glared. Marinette was hot, but he was here for Ladybug. “Shut up.”
Kim laughed. Adrien ignored him. His eyes back on Marinette, he continued to guess.
“Marilyn Monroe? Scarlett Johansson? Kim Kardashian? Cleopatra? Sofia Vergara? Megan Fox? Wonder woman? A nurse? Starfire? Catwoman? An average high school girl from every single anime there is?”
People around them rolled on the couches, dying from laughter as Marinette was desperately trying to show the word to Adrien, but his mind was drawing either one of the above nonsense or going completely blank. Adrien growled, the threat of alcohol punishment clouding his thinking. He panicked. This was humiliating, but what could he do? Marinette wasn't showing the word to him. She was seducing him in public with witnesses around! And skillfully so, might he add? This was definitely a payback for the scratches he'd asked her a few days back. No doubt about that.
Marinette suddenly stopped, her eyes widening a speck. Her hands up to her head, she showed him something what looked like—
Marinette feverishly nodded and mimicked a person singing in a microphone.
Adrien frowned in concentration. Oh! His eyes blew wide—
The timer rang.
“Jessica Rabbit!” he cried a second too late.
Marinette dropped her head into her hands, moaning into her palms, “Jessica Rabbit.”
Alix snorted. “You brought up a bunch of cartoons and American celebrities, but you couldn’t remember Jessica Rabbit?”
“I’m sorry.” Adrien braved a side glance at Marinette, giving her the most apologetic, nervous smile he could. “I tried my best.”
“That’s fine,” she said, her voice cracking. Deeply inhaling, she straightened. “It’s not the first time I lost, so don’t worry about it.”
“But the plank—”
“It took us only five years to win again.” Alix laughed. “Thank you, Adrien.”
“Yeah,” Kim cackled. “Thanks, Agreste. Now, let the fun start.”
Adrien’s stomach curled on itself. “Don’t you have to win first?”
“If you insist.” Kim shrugged and guessed Alix’s word in under twenty seconds. “Now—” he pointed to Adrien and Marinette, “—you two walk the plank.”
Marinette groaned, her head back into her hands.
Adrien bit into his lower lip.
Alix shook her head, watching Marinette and turned to Adrien. “I suggest you make plans to get her home straight away after drinking. A shot or two is all it takes for her.”
Adrien nervously glanced at the girl. That’d make the two of them. He’d better arrange something for himself as well. So much for meeting Ladybug tonight. Yet, he couldn’t blame anyone but himself.
“Would you like us to escort you?” Kim chuckled. “We can always join you with our own bottle.”
Marinette glared at Kim, standing up and grabbing Adrien’s hand. “No, thank you. I don’t need witnesses for my misery. Please, don’t let me see you for the rest of the evening.”
“Ah, don’t be pouty, Marinette,” Alix cackled. “You’ll be fine. What can possibly happen to you with such a handsome man by your side.” She winked at them.
Marinette pursued her lips together and, saying nothing, dragged Adrien away to the bar.
“That’s smaller than I thought it’d be,” Adrien said once they’d settled and the barmen put a bottle with two glasses before them.
Marinette chuckled. “It’s an eight-shot bottle. We aren’t crazy enough for the standard one. For most people, including Alix and Kim, eight shots for two aren’t an issue. Me? I’m out in just a couple. Must be something in my genes.”
“I’m sorry. I should’ve concentrated more on the game—”
“That’s not your fault,” Marinette sighed. “It happens, but… I do apologize for my behaviour in advance. I get rather… emotional and lose my filter when I drink.” She dropped her head on a bar and moaned. “That’s why I don’t drink.”
Adrien chuckled bitterly. “At least I’m not alone. The last time I drank, I put on a striptease show while yelling all of my family’s secrets to the public at a random bar.”
Marinette’s eyebrows shot up as her eyes widened. “You’re kidding me.”
“I wish I was,” Adrien said, laughing. “It was my first year at the university, and I was in my rebellious stage. Also, incredibly lucky that my friend Nino tackled me down and dragged me away before I removed my pants. Believe me, I didn’t make it easy for him.”
Marinette stared at him wide-eyed but couldn’t keep a giggle away. “That’s awful.”
“Yeah. I had an earful like never before from my father. My rebellious stage ended. The scandal was managed, and I never drank again.”
“Geez, and I thought crying, being flirty, and giving away my mediocre secrets was bad.”
“Hopefully, it didn’t land you in a lot of trouble.”
She giggled. “No, nothing like that. Just a lot of embarrassment the next day. Okay, I have a proposition.”
“We run away?
“Not unless you want to be shamed for the rest of your life for being a coward. Those two might not be here, but believe me, they’re watching, and they will know if we run. And they will make sure everyone else will know that too. Too much fun for them at stake here because running now, means us walking the plank twice later. I’d hate for that to happen.”
“Me too.” Adrien pouted. “So, what’s your proposition? We drink it as fast as possible and get out of here to avoid embarrassing ourselves?”
Marinette shook her head. “Not unless you want to risk alcohol poisoning. We need food and juice to mix it with, and we do this slowly, but, as soon as we’re done, we get a taxi and go home. We should probably call for one right now to come in an hour?”
Adrien’s shoulders slumped. Going away so soon meant he wouldn’t find Ladybug tonight. But to repeat his first drinking experience he also didn’t want. He could probably ask for a delay, find his lady and then get drunk and get away… That would be an awful first meeting.
“Good idea,” he let out a dejected sigh.
“You don’t like it,” Marinette said, looking at him.
“No, I do,” Adrien argued. “It’s just this is my first party in a long time. I thought I’d enjoy it a little longer than I have.”
She put her hand on his. “I’m sorry I got you into this.”
Adrien kicked himself for upsetting her. All Marinette wanted was for him to have fun. If not for him being distracted with his search, they would’ve won. Most if not all of their losses were his fault. He was the one who needed to apologize. “Don’t be. It’s my fault.”
She shook her head.
“Nuh-uh.” Adrien shushed her protest. “Don’t even try to deny it. Now, I owe you twice, and that's why I'm going to be an adult and offer to split this bottle two-thirds for me and one for you."
She quirked an eyebrow. “Why?”
“I’m bigger than you. My body can handle more alcohol.”
“You know I will not refuse that, right?”
“And I don’t expect you to. Let me just text Nino instead of a taxi to get us home, and we can start.”
Adrien nodded. “He’s here with his girlfriend.”
Nino’s agreement to drive them home in an hour received, they opened the bottle. Even mixed with juice, the drink was bitter and both of them hated it. Adrien asked for appetizers straight away to make the process more manageable. It helped. A little. The process was still repulsive and slow. When the bottle was empty, Nino was yet to arrive. The duo didn’t care, though, an insatiable desire to spill all of their secrets out kicking in.
“There is this guy,” Marinette giggled. “I looooovvvvvveeeee him. Like the hugest most embarrassing crush in the history of crushes, and everyone but him knows. Mme Bustier and my own parents wingman for me when they can. So embarrassing. But he’s my boss’ son, so I can’t tell him he’s hot. And kind. And funny. And smart. And hot. And I want him to kiss me. Can’t. Just can’t.”
“Why not?” Adrien replied, feeling giddy. “Tell the idiot. He is an idiot, right? All boss’ sons are usually spoiled brats.”
“He is not!” Marinette puffed. “Did you miss the part where I said he was smart.”
“You said he was hot.”
“Whatever.” Adrien brushed it away. “He’ll be an idiot not to love you back. I mean you’re the hottest girl in the company. And you are funny and talented, and just amazing. I’d totally go for you if I weren’t in love with Ladybug.”
“Ladybug?” Marinette giggled. “What a strange name.”
“She is fantastic,” Adrien sighed. “I was supposed to find her here. Not get drunk. Cause I think I’m drunk.”
“You are drunk.” Marinette giggled. “And so am I. I hope your Ladybug doesn’t see us.” She perked up, looking around. “Let’s go find her. I’ll be your wingman… umm… wing-woman. Call her. Let’s call her and get her over here. I’ll set you two up.”
She stood up and yelled. “Ladybug? Where are you? Adrien—”
He pulled her down. “Shhh! It’s a secret. Ladybug is a secret. You can’t tell anyone.”
“Why not?” Marinette pouted. “I have a secret friend too, you know, and I tell my friends about him.”
“He’s not much of a secret if you tell others about him.”
“But I want to tell others about him.” She pouted. “He’s cool. He’s so cool. I like him. Like a lot. I don’t even know who I like more, so I thought I’ll meet him and see. He was supposed to meet me here. Oh!” Marinette chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand. “You know what? I told him I’ll turn my cell off, but I didn’t. I lied. Can you imagine?”
“Bad Marinette. Meanie.” Adrien grinned. “He’s probably searching for you and doesn’t know that all he has to do is to call your number.”
“I know!” She giggled. “Such a shame. That’s why I said you should call her.”
“I should” Adrien straitened.
He pulled his phone out and opened Discord. “Ladybug… there you are. Okay. Hello. Where are you? And send.”
Marinette’s cell chimed. She looked at the screen and grinned. “Oh! Look. He texted me. Smart kitty. Hello. Where are you ?” Marinette read out loud before typing. “At the bar. Having fun with my crush.”
Adrien’s cell chimed. “See? She’s here. I told you she’d be here. At the bar. Having fun with… my crush? ” Adrien frowned and typed.
Marinette’s phone chimed. “ What’s the name of my rival ?” She read off with a chuckle before responding.
Adrien stared at his phone. “Say, Mari, do you know of any Adriens in here who are sitting at the bar with my Ladybug at this very moment?”
She looked around. “Nope. Just you. Why?”
He turned to her and took a picture with his phone.
Marinette’s phone chimed. She frowned. Looking at the screen. “He sent me my photo and said he's right beside this lady. And he wants the picture of Adrien. Smile.” She raised her phone and took Adrien’s picture. “And send.”
Adrien stared at his phone for a while before he looked at Marinette, his face serious. “Marinette, are you Ladybug?”
Marinette giggled and leaned closer. “Nope. Tonight, I’m Marinette. Ladybug I am only at the Kwami’s Kave, but shhh. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.”
“Okay,” he said, a lopsided grin spreading his lips. “By the way, I’m Chat Noir, and I think I’m in love with you.”
“Really?” Her eyes widened. “You’re hot, Chat. You knew that, right?”
“Not as hot as you, my Lady.”
“And you are such a flirt. And funny. I looovvve our chats. And you, too. I think I love you, too. Especially since you are also Adrien.”
He shuffled closer and cupped her face. “Can I kiss you?”
“Such a gentleman.” She giggled. “Okay. Permission granted. Kiss me away.”
Adrien pulled her closer and crushed his lips against hers. The rest of the world ceased to exist.
Chapter 17: Oblivio
His whole body hurt, dull pain pulsating through Adrien’s very core. Eyes closed, the light still burned. Water. He’d drink an ocean given a chance. Adrien shifted on his bed and groaned. Head-splitting headache. Stiff. Why was his bed so hard? And where was his mountain of pillows?
Someone grumbled nearby. Adrien slowly opened one eye.
It was definitely his apartment. His living room with his couches and his TV set and his multiple gaming consoles. Albeit messy beyond imagination but definitely his living room. Why did he sleep on a coach then, instead of his comfy bed? And why in the world did Nino occupy the neighbouring one?
“Nino?” Adrien whispered.
“Shhh, man,” Nino moaned. “Dying.”
“Water,” Adrien whined.
“Dude, shut up.”
Someone whistled behind them. Adrien’s whole body resonated with pain.
“I see, you boys are looking great this morning,” Alya cackled, coming into the room. “Where is your medicine cabinet, Adrien?”
“Kitchen. Above the fridge.” He pointed out the direction without moving. “Can I… water. Please?”
“Coming right up.”
It didn’t take long for Alya to come back with two glasses of water and some pills. It took her an eternity and a copious amount of persuasion to sit the two men up and make them take the pills.
“What happened?” Adrien groaned.
“You partied like it was the last day of your life,” she chuckled.
“I what?” he moaned. “Sorry, I… I don’t remember much.”
Alya quirked an eyebrow and sat by Nino. “What do you remember?”
“Club. Charades. I think I lost. There was a vodka plank? And… Marinette?”
“Well, I’m glad you remember at least her,” Alya snickered. “Though, I’d be really surprised if you’d forget. The way you two made out—”
Adrien’s eyes blew wide. “What? What did we do?”
“Made out,” Alya snickered. “Passionately kissed.”
“Dude, even I remember that,” Nino said, his hand on his forehead. “We caught you in a corner practically devouring the girl.”
Adrien stared at the pair in shock for a few moments. “I… I must have been really drunk.”
Alya laughed. “Why so shocked? She’s your girlfriend, isn’t she? You just needed to find a more private place.”
“She isn’t my girlfriend,” Adrien murmured. “We’re coworkers.”
Alya quirked an eyebrow. “Are you sure? You kept proposing to her yesterday.”
Adrien yelped. “I did what?”
“At least five times,” Alya couldn’t hide her amusement.
“Did—did she agree?” Adrien was mentally kicking himself for asking, but he had to know what to expect when he’d see Marinette next. As if he didn’t have enough embarrassing situations with her. He had to go and add one more. Perfect. She’d avoid him like a deadly tsunami from now on.
Alya’s lips trembled. “Every time. And she proposed to you at least thrice. Before you ask, you also agreed. Way too eagerly.”
Adrien flopped back on the couch.
“Bro, you’d better make me your best man. I already have a mind-blowing story to toast you to.”
“Shut up, Nino,” Adrien barked.
Alya laughed. “Not ready to get hitched?”
“Not this way, and—” He looked at Nino and back to Alya, “I’ve kind of had my eye on someone else, so this is awkward.”
Nino frowned in surprise. “Man, why am I only hearing about it now? I thought I was your best bro?”
“You are,” Adrien sighed. “I’m just not sure she feels the same way about me, so I didn’t want to mention anything until I knew.”
Alya laughed. “Don’t worry. I doubt she remembers anything, and we’ll keep quiet. Right, Nino?
The man nodded.
“But just in case, we’ll go home in a few,” Alya added, “To give you two a chance to talk.”
Adrien groaned. “I have until Monday, so—”
Alya snickered. “I guess you also don’t remember that she’s here? Sleeping in your bed. I helped her to shower, and since her clothes are pretty much ruined, we borrowed one of your t-shirts. I hope that’s okay?”
Adrien sat up, the blood in his veins running cold. In his bed? Why? What happened? Did they? No. They couldn’t. Not with those two around, no matter how drunk they were. Not if Alya was helping her shower. Can someone please explain to him what happened?
Alya frowned. “You really don’t remember anything, do you?”
He shook his head. “Nothing after we started to drink.”
She glanced at Nino. “Should we enlighten him?”
“Babe, all I remember is that I wanted to take you home, but I promised this dingle head to drive him and his girlfriend home, so we went searching for them because someone wasn’t at the bar anymore despite his promises. The next scene I wish I wouldn’t remember, but the level of indecency with which they made out in that niche is kind of hard to forget even in my plastered condition. I think I told him to find a room and that we were leaving.”
Alya snickered. “Not quite. You told him if he was going to play games with his girlfriend, he should find a room.”
“So? Same thing.”
“Not quite,” Alya chuckled. “Adrien thought playing video games was an amazing idea and invited us all to his apartment for Mega Strike tournament.”
Adrien groaned, dropping his head into his lap. “I shouldn’t be allowed to drink. I’m an idiot.” He glanced at the video games scattered across the floor. “I guess we did play.”
“We did,” Alya said, “Until you insisted Marinette tried your newest Beat Saber VR game, and she threw up five minutes into her round. Poor girl, she had it so bad, kept crying and apologizing and vowing to bear you three children as an apology.”
Nino was struggling to contain a laugh.
Adrien’s jaw slacked, as he stared at Alya wide-eyed. “Marinette shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near alcohol as well.”
Alya laughed. “You two are a match made in heaven.”
“We are just friends,” Adrien protested.
“Sure,” Alya snickered. “Anyway, I cleaned your carpet the best way I could, but you’ll need to dry-clean the carpet.”
“Thank you,” Adrien said, “Please tell me this was the end, and we didn’t do anything else?”
“Well…” Alya playfully swooned. “As a true gentleman, you offered her to sleep it off here, in your bed. Us, you offered your guest room, but Nino said he won’t allow his bro to sleep alone on a couch so he joined you here.”
“I’m amazed you remember this all, babe,” Nino said.
“I knew what I was getting myself into, Nino,” Alya shrugged. “Neither of you holds your alcohol well, so someone had to stay sober.”
“You didn’t drink?”
“Nothing alcoholic which by the way, you all owe me big for. And believe me, I’m not letting any of you off the hook easily because cleaning up puke from your carpet and showering a girl I’ve never met before isn't my idea of a fun evening I was promised.”
Something chimed. Alya took her purse from the floor and pulled her cell phone out. “We should go soon, babe,” she said, reading whatever was on the screen.
“Sure,” Nino nodded, pulling her onto his lap. “But first, how about a good morning kiss?”
Alya scrunched her nose. “Do you even realize how nasty you smell right now?”
“You still love me, don’t you?”
She smiled, running her fingers through his hair. “I do… but that doesn’t mean I’m going to kiss you right now.” Looking at Adrien, Alya said, “Take your co-worker some water and two pills from the bottle I left on the counter when you go.” With that she turned to Nino, cradling his face in her hands. “How about we go home, clean you up, let you sleep it off and then talk about those kisses?”
“Not even one?” Nino’s pulled his best puppy eyes on Alya.
She only ruffled his hair and shook her head. “Not a chance, but I might be getting ideas of how you can make it up to me for the yesterday.”
Adrien got up, downed the remaining water in his glass, and walked away. Better to face Marinette than witness those two. He grabbed the pills, filled a new glass with water, and sneaked into his bedroom as quietly as he could.
Splattered in his mountain of pillows, tacked under his snow-white comforter, Marinette was still asleep. Adrien couldn’t take his eyes off her, a small smile weaving its way onto his lips. She looked lovely. The dramatic difference between his white bedding and her dark and messy hair was gorgeous. Her flawless skin glowed despite slight puffiness from the events of yesterday. Eyebrows relaxed above her closed eyes. A gorgeous curve. Blush lightly dusted on her cheeks, soft breaths escaping her slightly parted lips…
Adrien swallowed. According to Alya, he kissed them yesterday.
His sight fell lower, eyes widening. Hickeys. Fresh hickeys on her neck. Did… Did he give her those? There was one a little lower, closer to her chest. It couldn’t be another hickey, could it? He couldn’t go that low, could he? He leaned closer. It was hard to see with his t-shirt covering half of it… His t-shirt on Marinette in his bed with hickeys he’ d placed there. Could he please die right now? Before he had to face Marinette and explain himself?
A loud snore split the silence of the room. Adrien jerked back.
Marinette frowned, scrunching her nose.
Adrien snickered. Such a petite girl, snoring up like a grown man. Cute!
Marinette tossed to the side, licking her lips and slowly opening her eyes. “Adrien…” she whispered, her eyes half-lidded, voice quiet and sweet.
He nervously smiled.
“Adrien,” she said a little more cautiously, her eyebrows knitting in a frown.
“Adrien?!” Her eyes blew wide as she squeaked and covered herself with his comforter. A pitiful Ouch sounded from under it a moment later. A moan followed. Then she carefully peeked from under the comforter. “Where am I?”
Panic in her eyes, Marinette jerked the comforter up and looked under it at herself in his t-shirt. Her eyes closed, hands clutching his comforter. “We… did we…”
“Oh, no,” Adrien rushed to say. “I slept on the couch, and two of my friends were with us all evening. We didn't—didn't do anything like that. Apparently, we just played video games.”
She peeked from behind the comforter, her eyes wide and innocent. “Video games?”
He chuckled. “Crazy, right?”
“Then where’s my clothes?”
“Alya said you were sick at one point and kind of ruined it. She put them in the laundry and gave you one of my t-shirts to wear. I hope that’s okay.”
Marinette blinked, remaining silent for a few moments before asking, “Who is Alya?”
“You don’t remember anything either?”
She shook her head and moaned again. “I suppose it’s fair to say I drank.”
“Yeah,” Adrien sighed. “We both did, and it looks like we really overdid it. Here.” Adrien offered her a glass of water and pills. “This should help.”
Hesitantly, she reached for the glass and gulped down the pills in one go. Lying back onto his bed and covering herself with his comforter, Marinette moaned. “There is a reason I don’t drink.”
“I don’t drink either,” Adrien sighed. “We were lucky my friends were there to get us home.”
“So this Alya is one of your friends?”
“Yes. She’s my best friend Nino’s girlfriend. She basically babysat all three of us yesterday.”
“She needs a medal,” Marinette said. “Or a saint rank. Possibly martyrdom.”
Adrien chuckled. “She does. We’ll think of something.”
Marinette turned to her side, watching him for a few moments, when her whole body went rigid. “Oh my gosh,” she whined, hiding back under the comforter. “I kicked you out of your own bed. I’m a horrible human being.”
“That’s fine,” Adrien smiled. Suddenly remembering his marks on Marinette’s neck, he swallowed. She’d notice them eventually. He’d better come clean himself while he could. So, turning to a side, he mumbled, “Count it as an apology for leaving hickeys on your neck.”
Marinette jerked up, sitting straight. “Leaving what?”
“Those.” He motioned to his neck’s general direction. “On your neck. Hickeys.”
She frowned, then her eyes blew wide, and forgetting that she was wearing a t-shirt and underwear only, Marinette scurried to the bathroom to inspect her neck. “Oh, my gosh! Adrien! What did we do?”
“I don’t remember,” he moaned pitifully. “Alya says we kissed. Just a little. Like once or twice?”
Marinette blinked at him in confusion. “There are at least seven hickeys. How could we have kissed once or twice?”
She looked at Adrien for an answer, but he only shrugged, bowing his head low. “I’m sorry?”
Marinette whimpered. “I don’t know how to cover them, and I can’t afford to have hickeys today. Adrien, why?”
He perked up. A chance to redeem himself! “I can teach you how to cover them.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “Oh, so we’re experienced?”
“No, but at my photoshoots, I often see make-up artists cover them up for other models.”
“Yeah,” Marinette pursed her lips. “Very plausible explanation. I might need some time to decide if I believe it.”
“Your right,” he said. “If you don’t trust me, I can always not teach you.”
She watched him for a moment, then looked back at her neck in the mirror, running fingers over the bruises. “Alright,” Marinette relented a moment later. “Pass on the wisdom. You owe me at least that.”
Adrien grinned. “You won’t regret your decision. What’s today, by the way?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you can’t afford to have hickeys today.”
“Oh. A dinner with my parents,” Marinette replied, turning back to look at the mirror. “I just don’t want to listen to their speculation about my non-existent love life, and if they see those, they’ll be sure to interrogate me until I confess to everything I don’t remember.”
“Then we must act quickly. I… I don’t have makeup here. We’ll have to go shopping unless you want us to go to your place and use your makeup.”
“We could go to my place, but some of my makeup are at its end, so I’d say we go shopping.” Glancing down at herself, she pursued her lips. “My clothes are ruined, you say?”
“Alya said they were. I haven't checked myself.”
“I believe Alya.” Marinette said and, going back into his bedroom, crawled under the comforter. She swaddled herself in and murmured. “It’s warm and comfy. I’ll wait for you here.”
Adrien chuckled, amused. “Accept my apologies, but I can’t buy you makeup without you there. We need to match your skin tone.”
“I have nothing to wear," Marinette murmured, burying her face into his pillow. "I can't go."
“We’ll find you something from my closet.”
“You’re a few sizes bigger than I am.”
“And you are a designer,” Adrien pointed. “And a fantastic one. Surely, you can adapt something.”
Marinette looked at him, pouting. When he laughed, she sighed. “I hate that you’re right.”
“This bed is way too comfortable for me to leave it willingly.”
Adrien chuckled. “I do owe you quite a lot by now. Would you like me to pay you back with the same bed?”
Adorable pout on her lips, Marinette silently watched him for a moment before relenting. “You’re buying me breakfast. I’m starving.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Adrien saluted. “Would you rather rummage my closet on your own, or would you like me to help you out?”
“Lead the way,” Marinette said, crawling from under the comforter. “I’d rather you keep me from finding the things I shouldn’t find.”
“I don’t have anything like that.”
“Sure,” Marinette replied. “None of us do. Now, stop talking and get walking. We have a day of fixing up this mess ahead of us, and my stomach would start rambling soon.”
“As you wish,” Adrien bowed and headed to his closet with Marinette in his tow. He liked her. He really did. Even in the complicated situation they’d landed themselves into, Marinette was so fun and easy to talk to. Just having her here felt wonderful, and calming, and just amazing. She didn’t judge him for his mistakes. Her punishment sounded like a reward. Adrien needed people like her in his life. More friends like Marinette.
If only for a split second, though, but watching Marinette go thought his clothes, Adrien wondered: could it be that his drunk yesterday self knew exactly what he was doing? Could it be…
He shoved the thought away. He was in love with another, and no matter how much Marinette enticed, he was a loyal cat and couldn’t betray his one and only. His Ladybug.
Chapter 18: Ticking clock
Marinette looked great in his favourite t-shirt. It didn’t seem like much. Just a plain black t-shirt, but it was super soft and gloriously oversized. His father hated it; Adrien still kept it for indulging in wearing it at home when he had rare days off. Marinette rocked it as a mini dress. Paired with his blue scarf to hide his handiwork on her neck, she looked like any other girl wearing her boyfriend’s clothes for a day out. For his sins against her, Adrien could live with that.
“Have you seen my cell phone?” Marinette asked, exiting from his laundry. “I found my clothes and my purse, but no cellphone. Can you call me?”
“I would, but I can’t find mine either. We might have lost them.”
She made a face.
“Do you need it urgently?”
“Not really. It's a weekend, so I can go a few hours without, but I’ll need it by this evening.”
“Then may I propose we deal with the hickeys first and then look for our cellphones. I’m meeting Alya and Nino for lunch later today. If you want to stick around, we can ask them. Alya was the soberest one of us all. She might have seen them. Would spare us some trouble if she did.”
“Sounds good,” Marinette said. “Might as well introduce myself to the person who was nice enough to help me out yesterday.”
“You’ll like them,” Adrien smiled. “Shall we go?”
Marinette nodded, picking up her purse.
Adrien motioned for her to go out first. “Nice outfit, by the way.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know this is your favourite t-shirt. You’ve told me that at least a dozen times already. But I’m still not sorry for choosing it. It’s the only one big enough for me to serve as a dress. I’ll give it back to you next week, you big whiny baby.”
Adrien chuckled. “No, really. I mean it. It looks great on you. Wouldn't even say it's not a dress. And the scarf adds a nice touch. Still can't believe it was the design that got you into Gabriel. I love that scarf; wore it for years. It's soft and light but still very warm. Nice work."
“Thanks,” she said, her cheeks adorably rosy. “I’m just glad it hides your masterpiece on my neck for now, but your makeup thingy better work. It’s too hot to wear a scarf or a turtleneck to dinner with my parents without them suspecting anything.”
“I promise it will. They won’t suspect a thing.” Adrien opened the door to the outside for her. “Would you like to walk there? The store isn’t that far away, and fresh air might help us clear our heads.”
“Sure. Lead the way.”
Starting to the nearest Sephora, Adrien cautiously voiced a question he hesitated to ask until now. “Do you remember anything from the last night?”
Marinette pursed her lips. “I remember our annual charades challenge with Kim and Alix. Only, I was dateless, so I didn’t have a partner. That’s when I saw you and thought why not? You wanted to get to know people in the company. This was a fun way to start.”
“It was fun,” Adrien chuckled. “I’d love to do it again sometime… without the vodka plank, though.”
Marinette giggled. “I’d like that too. Or at least a less extreme plank.”
Adrien grinned. “Eat a dozen croissants plank.”
“That's not a plank. That's a reward for you.”
He laughed. “Guilty as charged. How about next weekend?”
She looked at him, her eyes wide. “Next weekend what?”
“We get together for a game night. I’ll invite Nino and Alya. My place. Pizza. No alcohol. So? It’ll be fun.”
Marinette squeaked, looking at him with her eyes wide.
“Are you sure?”
“Why not? Apart from yesterday, I’ve never been to a game night before, but it sounds fun. You three can introduce me to the phenomena.”
“Okay,” she smiled. Turning to look at the sidewalk beneath her feet, Marinette added, “I’m sorry for getting you into this mess. I haven’t lost for a long while, so I might have been a little overconfident.”
“I’m sorry for dragging you down.”
“That’s fine. It happens to everyone. And you did great for your first time.”
“Not an excuse for making you lose and getting us both drunk.”
Marinette stopped and groaned, hiding her face into her hands.
Adrien frowned. “Is something wrong?”
“It was the company’s party.”
Marinette looked at him straight, pointing to her neck. “The whole company was there. They all saw us, saw you giving me those. It's probably already up on every social media possible. My parents aren't that tech-savvy so I'm good there, but how am I supposed to go to work on Monday?"
Adrien stalled, a chill running down his spine. “I… I didn’t even think of that.”
“I just hope we didn’t do anything worse than kissing.”
“I remember nothing past the second shot.”
“My last memory is of me drinking my first.”
“Kissing isn’t so bad, though, right?”
“Not unless you’re making out with the boss’ son. I’m screwed.”
He looked at her, biting his lip. “We’ll figure something out. It’ll be fine.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled the lucky charm she gave him. “We have those. They’ll help us.”
Marinette nervously chuckled and, shaking her head, headed forward.
“Marinette, seriously,” Adrien followed. “News know better than to post any pictures or gossips. I’m sure we can employ privacy laws even against any leaks on social media if there are any in the first place. And I’ll talk to my father. He won’t fire you.”
Stopping in front of the Sephora, Marinette closed her eyes, shaking her head. “Let’s just deal with one thing at a time. First these.” She pointed to her neck.
“Alright,” Adrien mumbled and opened the store’s door for her.
The next thirty minutes they spent choosing makeup and trying to pretend that everything was fine. The girl that helped them was nice enough to share her own techniques on covering hickeys, using one of Marinette’s as an example. The crimson of Marinette’s face, though, Adrien wasn’t sure anything could cover. He kicked himself once more. Marinette was nothing but good to him. Why did he have to be a jerk and pay her back like this? Unfair. Marinette deserved better. Maybe he should stay away then? Because it seemed the closer he got, the more trouble he caused her.
“I’m so sorry, again,” Adrien whispered as they exited the store with a bag full of make-up. “I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
“Don’t forget you already owe me for being your personal itch reliever,” Marinette snickered. “You’re in deep, Agreste.”
“Then how about if I start with buying you breakfast?”
Marinette nodded. “Sounds good. I am hungry.”
“How about that one?” Adrien pointed to a nearby bakery.
Marinette squeaked and, grabbing his arm, dragged him the other way. “Are you insane? I said I don’t want my parents to see the hickeys.”
Adrien laughed. “It’s just your father is waving at us from the window.”
“And he’ll think he got us mistaken with someone else if we keep walking away without looking back.”
A black car stopped at the curb right by their side. The passenger window rolled down. Holding his breath, Adrien froze in place. He couldn’t remember the last time Father had sent Nathalie after him.
“You aren’t picking up your phone, Adrien,” she said. “Your father wanted to see you.”
"Can't it wait for a little?" Adrien braved. "I haven't had breakfast yet?"
Nathalie quirked an eyebrow. “Say goodbye. We need to leave now.”
His shoulder slumping, Adrien turned to Marinette. “I’m sorry. I have to go, but if you want you can wait for me at my place? I should be back in time for lunch with Nino and Alya.”
Marinette shook her head. “That’s fine. Maybe some other time. I have my purse and I know how to deal with those thanks to that in-store demonstration, so I’ll just head home and do that and maybe try to find our cellphones. If you could bring me what’s left of my stuff back on Monday to work, that’ll be great.”
“Sure,” he sighed and passed her the bag with the makeup. “I’m sorry, again, and if I find out anything about our cellphones first, I’ll let you know. Don’t know how, but I’ll figure something out.”
Marinette nodded. “Okay. See you later. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” he mouthed and got in the car. The ride was quiet. Neither Nathalie nor Gorilla talked. Adrien resigned to watching out of the window and waiting for the inevitable.
“You called for me, Father?”
“You aren’t answering your phone," Gabriel said, barely allowing Adrien a glance.
“I might have lost it.”
Gabriel puffed, leaning back into his chair. “Were you too busy shamelessly making out in public to pay attention to your belongings?”
“I was drunk,” Adrien said, his head low. “I don’t remember what happened.”
“I thought we agreed that you stopped drinking, Adrien.”
Gabriel wouldn't let him explain. “I appreciate the public and media attention from that little 'firing the designers' debacle being refocused for now, but you could have chosen a better way to go about it. One scandal was already more than enough for us before the show.”
“I didn’t plan on it.”
“You shouldn't have gone to that party in the first place. Those events aren’t for you, Adrien. Not for the people of your position.”
Adrien pressed his teeth together, saying the first thing that came to mind. “I went there to find Ladybug. She was going to be there.”
“And did you?”
His head low, he looked to the side. “No.”
Gabriel's laughter sent chills down Adrien's spine. "Well, you certainly found something. Yourself, in the middle of a scandal. Again. Look up #AgresteMakeOut. It’s been trending for a few hours already. It’ll refresh your memory,” he barked. “Next time go someplace private if you want to get laid.”
“You are the heir to my empire,” Gabriel continued. “You can’t afford to do this stuff in public, even with all the privacy laws protecting you. There are plenty of idiots on social media who don’t understand what privacy and law mean. Do you even realize how little time I have right now to deal with taking that video down? I have enough hustle with the show and that little designer mishap.”
“And my advice to you, Adrien: the clock is ticking. You’ve got a week left. Stop slumming it with my employees and search for Ladybug if you want your freedom.”
Adrien didn’t respond. His fists clenched by his side, he silently watched the floor. Feeling like a guilty five-year-old was the last thing he’d expected today. His father just had a talent for making him miserable—the main reason Adrien wanted out of this place as soon as possible. He’d had to find another way, though, because Gabriel would never get Ladybug from Adrien’s hands, would he find her or not.
“Now, go,” Gabriel barked. “Unlike you, I’m too busy for this. Contact your lawyers, I won’t be dealing with this mess this time around.”
Adrien headed out. Nathalie informed him that she’d already contacted all the people necessary, and the video should be taken down by the end of the day. As for his cellphone, it was located at the Club Akuma.
“Thank you.” Adrien gave her a small smile. Nathalie was a complicated person, but even under his father’s dictatorship, she sometimes managed to make Adrien’s life a bit easier.
He glanced at the clock. Since he didn’t have his car with him, going to the bar now would make Adrien late for his lunch with Nino and Alya, and it’s not like he needed it now. He’d better use the time to take a walk and calm down. For that, Adrien had plenty of time. His cellphone can wait.
“Yo, dude. You look better already.” Nino bro fisted Adrien when the pair arrived at their appointed spot. “Got in some quality time with your co-worker?”
“If by fun, you mean making sure she could cover the hickeys I gave her, then yeah, we had a few hours of fun before Father summoned me.”
“Dude,” Nino grumbled. “Can’t you have some fun without being chastened for it?”
“Not if it ends up on social media. Can I borrow your cell phone for a moment?”
“What for?” Nino asked putting his phone on a table in front of Adrien.
“I haven’t seen what got posted yet. I only gathered it was a video, but I don’t have my cellphone on me.”
Nino quirked an eyebrow, chuckling. “Bro, you’re in for something. Honestly, I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Alya giggled. Nino gave him a wink.
Adrien groaned, opening Nino’s cell phone and finding the video. His eyes widened. He sat on a couch, Marinette in his lap, her head tilted backwards, as he was feverishly kissing her neck. One of her hands was brushing his hair; the other one holding onto his back. He pulled her closer and captured her lips. Passionate, almost desperate kisses. The way he looked at her in a split moment in between them… The way she watched him back…
His breathing irrational, his heart pounding, Adrien closed the video before he could finish it. He'd watch it later in private. Marinette had probably already seen it, or would soon. How was he supposed to face her now? No way. Not after this. Way to ruin a great friendship, Agreste.
“Don’t get all excited, bro,” Nino snickered. “You gonna get severe facial burns.”
“Breathe, Adrien. Slowly and deeply. Just breathe,” Alya added, chuckling.
“Not funny guys,” Adrien snapped back. “How am I supposed to face her now? The whole company saw it. Probably the whole of Paris. It's just… Ugh! She won't forgive me."
Alya laughed. “Don’t worry, she probably will. After all, she is your Ladybug and you’re her Chaton, right?”
Adrien’s eyes snapped wide. He jerked his head towards Alya. “What did you just say?”
“The bit about Ladybug and her Chaton.”
“Don’t look at me,” Alya shrugged. “It was you two who kept calling each other those names. You don’t remember that either?”
Adrien shook his head.
“Dude, seriously,” Nino said. “You need to work on your relationship with all things alcoholic. Even I remember that. Ladybug and her Chaton. Sounds like something from a kid’s cartoon. I mean you two are great at making out, but please, think of better names for each other. Even I was getting a second-hand embarrassment all evening long.”
Chapter 19: Identity Reveal
Adrien ran. Going home to take his car would've probably been faster, but Adrien couldn't think straight.
Ladybug and her Chaton.
There was only one person whom Adrien could've called that name. Only one person called him Chaton in return.
He ran faster.
There had to be some clues on his phone. He was sure there were. At least he could see if Ladybug texted him yet. If he failed to find her yesterday, she would've texted him already. She did every morning. And if not, well, he only hoped she didn't see him making out with Marinette… if she wasn't her, of course. Because as it stood now… The thought of Marinette being his Lady…
The club in his sight, Adrien dug deep and sprinted.
"My name is—Adrien Agreste. I forgot—my phone—here. Yesterday," he said in one breath as soon as he reached the bartender.
"I remember you." The guy smirked. "The non-drinking guy who downed a bottle of vodka with a girl and didn't make it to a room."
Adrien closed his eyes, still trying to catch his breath. "Yeah, I got it. Everyone saw. Can you tell me where I can find my phone?"
"Model and colour?"
"Can I see your ID?"
Adrien pulled out his driver's license.
"Here." The bartender drew his phone from somewhere below the bar.
"Thanks," Adrien murmured, grabbing the device. It was dead. He growled and ran again. This time back to his apartment. The moment his phone was back on, Adrien feverishly unlocked it. There were quite a few missed calls and messages, most from his father and publicist. He ignored them, clicking on Discord.
Chat Noir: Hello. Where are you?
Ladybug: At the bar. Having fun with my crush.
Chat Noir: What's the name of my rival?
Chat Noir: <image1584>
Chat Noir: I'm right beside this lady. Can you show me your Adrien?
The last message was sent only an hour ago.
Ladybug: So, I guess you found me yesterday, huh?
Adrien's lips spread into a lovesick grin. Marinette. His Lady was Marinette. The most awesome girl he'd ever met was also the one he was slowly falling for the last few weeks. On both sides of her identity.
Chat Noir: Now I have a legitimate excuse to give you those hickeys.
She replied right away.
Ladybug: Are you trying to get out of making it up to me?
Chat Noir: Not at all. I'm just saying, I'm not a creep who jumped you for no reason.
Ladybug: Do you want to get together and discuss this and "reasons" and other stuff, like the fact that you're my boss?
Chat Noir: When and where? And I wouldn't worry about the boss stuff. Father's regulations concerning in-company dating are pretty lax and personally, he couldn't care less.
Adrien tried to push the worry away. He didn't lie: Gabriel truly couldn't care less about his employees dating as long as it didn't influence their work. However, Adrien was his son, and that little aspect might affect how his father would react. He didn't want to talk about it now, though. Marinette was his Ladybug! He'd deal with his father when he got there. For now, let him just bathe in happiness he'd never thought possible.
Ladybug: Let's talk about it tonight. I have to go to my parents for dinner in an hour, but I can make it out in two hours? So, I'll be free at seven?
Adrien checked his messages. Nothing from Plagg which didn't mean he didn't have to go today. Just not in the next few hours.
Chat Noir: Seven works for me. I'll pick you up at your parents' bakery?
Ladybug: No way. If my parents see us (and believe me, they will) we aren’t getting out. Stop a block or two away and text me when you're there.
Chat Noir: Got it.
Ladybug: Have to go now. See you soon, Chaton. <3
Chat Noir: Have fun. Ttyl, my Lady. <3
His heart struggling to beat consistently, Adrien grinned at the screen, biting at his lip. She wanted to see him! She even sent him a heart! Being fully aware of his identity and everything he did, including all the embarrassing incidents he'd had.
His breathing hitched as he scrolled higher. He was her crush! He must be dreaming but no, there it was: black letters on a white background. She called him her crush!
He grinned wider. Dreams do come true. Marinette liked him back.
Wait! Was… was this a date then? The word hadn't been said, but it sure sounded like one. He'd better prepare. Just in case. He had three hours until he had to pick her up. That should be more than enough to plan something. Location first. They'd probably want somewhere private to talk. The public had seen too much of them already… speaking of which, he'd better make sure that video was taken down soon. Note to himself: call back Nathalie and his publicist as soon as he finished planning the possible date.
So, should he bring her home? Nah. It might send the wrong message, and he'd rather avoid that. They needed to talk it out first. Her place was out of the question for the same reason. Restaurants were too busy and full of people. Plus, she’d be having dinner with her parents, so a restaurant was a No. They needed somewhere quiet. Maybe they could go to a park or stroll along the Seine? The Seine was probably a better option, less touristy places there. Or he could drive them to one of the more remote places… The farther from the centre of the city, the better. Adrien held his breath. He knew the perfect place. He hadn't been there in years, but it was perfect! Done. Now, off to change his clothes and get flowers because he absolutely had to bring her flowers…
Three hours later, Adrien stood in front of his car a block away from Tom and Sabine’s bakery, a bag with Marinette's clean clothes in one hand, a red rose in his other, and a text message sent a few minutes back. She didn't take long to appear.
"Hey." Marinette waved and smiled at him, her cheeks adorably pink.
"Hi," Adrien echoed, frozen in his place. Gosh, she looked amazing. Her hair tied up in a messy ponytail, a red top, paired with a fitted, cropped jeans and red sandal heels. A simple clutch and a few bracelets for accessories. Adrien forgot how to breathe. There was a reason Marinette got into Gabriel all on her own. She certainly knew how to dress to impress.
“You look amazing,” Adrien whispered.
“Thank you,” Marinette said. "We'd better get out of here before my parents see us. Papa wanted to take Maman for a walk just now."
“Kay,” he mumbled and didn't move, his half-lidded eyes glued to Marinette. She had a crush on him. Him! This amazing woman thought he was worthy of love.
Marinette giggled and pointed to his car. “Is this yours?”
“Yes.” He stirred and offered her a rose. “For you.”
“Thank you.” Marinette smiled, taking the flower.
Adrien opened the door for her. “After you.”
Marinette settled in. As soon as he closed the door behind himself, she asked, "So where are we going?"
"A little garden by the Seine on the outskirts of Paris. It's the most private public place I could think of for tonight."
Adrien drove off. His hands sweaty, he glanced at Marinette fiddling with the rose.
“Is it all right?”
She looked at him questionably. “What do you mean?”
“The temperature. Should I make it colder or warmer?”
She smiled. “It’s perfect. Thank you.”
He let a few cars pass at an intersection, before making a turn.
“Do you want some music?”
Adrien turned on his favourite radio station and Jagged Stone’s tune ripped through space. He hurried to turn the volume down.
She chuckled. “That’s fine. I love Jagged.”
Another intersection. Red light. Light traffic. He almost missed their turn.
“How was the—”
“How was your—”
They both chuckled.
“You go first,” Adrien offered.
“I just wanted to know how was your day?”
“Not bad. Lots of running around.”
“You didn't get in trouble with your father? For that video?”
“Not much,” Adrien shrugged. “He’s too preoccupied with his own problems to get me in real trouble. I was summoned more for a scolding than anything else.”
“That sucks. I’m sorry.”
He slammed the brakes, a motorcycle cutting in in front of them. “Sorry.”
They stopped at a red light.
“How was dinner?”
“Good. As always. You know my parents. They are easy to please just by showing up.”
“They seem very nice.”
“They are. I’m lucky to be their daughter.”
The car in front of them suddenly stopped. Adrien slammed the breaks again.
“Sorry. I’m usually a better driver. I promise. Don’t know what’s going on today.”
Marinette laughed. “You’re alive and your car isn't dented. I’d say you’re a decent driver.”
He concentrated on the road, terrified of making a mistake. They could talk later. For now, Adrien had to focus on getting them there safely.
"So,” Marinette broke the silence a few moments later. “You are Chat Noir?"
Adrien nodded. "And you're Ladybug."
They fell into silence. Why was it so awkward now when they could chat for hours online and had no issues talking as Adrien and Marinette before knowing they were also Chat Noir and Ladybug? Was it—
"Okay, I have to know: do you really dislike your father's new line?" Marinette asked. "Because I thought—"
"That if I'm his son, I must love everything he produces?"
Adrien huffed. "Please. I don't think he really likes it himself. But he was tipsy and Audrey Bourgeois had it out for him. It all happened way too fast, and now he's dead set on going through with that ridiculous bet with his head high."
"So, technically, we didn't have a chance for him to change his mind in the first place?"
"I was hoping more people than just me would appeal to his reason," Adrien replied.
Marinette sighed. "Well, high fashion is full of ridiculous outfits. Let's just hope it'll pass as one of those ‘made for art, rather than wearability' things."
Adrien chuckled. "I'm sure everyone would look at it that way. Though, usually, it's a few outfits in a line, not most of it."
"There is always a first for everything," Marinette snickered. "And your father did start a few new trends over the years. Maybe this time it's us who don't get his genius?"
"I really hope that's the case," Adrien chuckled. "Otherwise, I can't see how Gabriel can remain at the top, considering it's already in the middle of at least two scandals."
"The designers' firing?"
"Yeah. Father's trying to contain it, but from what I've heard, the damage is already done, and if he'd managed to salvage his reputation with payouts only, he'd be lucky."
Marinette sighed and said nothing for a few moments. "What's the other one?"
"Us," Adrien said. "#AgresteMakeOut. Though Nathalie assured me she took the video down and it should die out soon."
Marinette turned to watch the scenery in her window, whispering, "It seems I'm at the centre of both scandals. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it." Adrien used the few moments he had at a red light and turned to Marinette, placing his hand on top of hers. "You might be involved, but it was me who pushed it into a scandal territory both times. And since I've been the perfect son all my life, I think it's time I caused my father a few troubles already. Otherwise, how will he experience the full joy of parenthood?"
Marinette giggled. "Still—"
"No stills, no buts, no worries," Adrien said. "We'll have time for those later. For now, let's just enjoy this evening and take one thing at a time."
"Okay." Marinette smiled at him and switched the topic to something unrelated to the main issue on both of their minds.
They arrived at the park shortly after. Majestic trees serving as a canopy, bountiful of bushes and flowers nestled on the sides of wide walks, vining between spacious lawns. Not many people walked around. Birds’ singing filled the space instead. The park housed multiple benches, but Adrien led Marinette to the one from which they could see the sunset over the Seine and the part of the city in the background.
"It's so pretty here," she said, looking around.
"My mom used to take me here for walks when I was a kid," Adrien said, sitting down. "She loved it."
"I can see why."
Shyly, Marinette joined Adrien on the bench, her eyes focused on the scenery, cheeks the prettiest shade of pink. The conversation stagnated, neither brave enough to start.
"So…" Marinette started a few awkward moments later. "We wanted to talk?"
"We did," Adrien replied. A light breeze blew by, bringing a faint, flowery scent of the nearby blooms. There was a distant noise of people chatting and cars passing somewhere far away. Adrien nibbled on his lip, fiddling with his fingers. "You did an incredible job on covering the hickeys. I can't see a thing."
Marinette suppressed a snort. "Thanks. The girl from the store was most helpful."
He rubbed at the back of his neck. "I read our chat from yesterday."
"So did I."
"You said you had a crush on me."
Her face went crimson, eyes snapping to him. "I was drunk! I could've claimed to be a long-lost love child of Namibian Princess or an elephant from the Mars!"
"Not funny," Marinette pouted. "I warned you I say nonsense when I'm drunk."
His chest tightened, smile vanishing from his face. "So, you lie when you're drunk?"
"Not necessary, but I can say stuff I don't mean."
He searched her face for a moment, something tightening in his throat. "So, you don't have a crush on me?"
She didn't answer, bowing her head and hiding her face in her hands.
His gaze falling to the ground, Adrien sighed. "I… Sorry, I thought… I assumed… hoped at least…"
"Maybe a little," she murmured into palms. "Tiny teensy one. Miniscule. Ridiculously small. Like almost non-existent."
Adrien grinned, joy filling his chest as he scooted closer and took Marinette's hands away from her face. “Really?”
"You can shame me," Marinette pouted. "I've had a crush on you since I was, like, thirteen. I admit—a celebrity crush at first, but then it grew into something more. And now that I've met you in person—why do I even have to justify myself to you, anyway? It's your fault for being all flirty and gorgeous and kind and fun and completely amazing and don't you get me started on those Pet Me, Marinette thingy! Do you even realize I almost died in there?" She huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. "It's not like I'm not allowed to have a crush, anyway, so I'm not sorry, but it's completely your fault."
Adrien laughed and threw his arms around Marinette, pulling her into a hug. His head buried into her hair, Adrien whispered, "Wasn't I the antisocial, thinking-that-he's-better-than-anyone-else son of Gabriel Agreste? How did you still like me?"
Marinette tensed for a moment, but once he wrapped his arms around her tighter, she relaxed. "One reason I've been so ecstatic to work at Gabriel was because I thought it would allow me to meet you. But then you were never around, and when you were, you never paid much attention to any of us, always rushing away as soon as you were free. My crush got squished pretty fast, and rumours were swirling around, and I was in a vulnerable place, so I might have believed them. That's until I've met you, of course, but I'm still sorry."
"It's me who's sorry," Adrien murmured into her hair. "I was too busy to notice you before. To notice anyone. My loss. If only I'd known there was such a sweet and beautiful girl who liked me."
"I'm sure there were and still are plenty of girls who like you, Adrien."
He shook his head, a bittersweet smile on his lips. "I'm sure there are. I mean I get dozens of Valentine cards every year—"
"Oh, gosh, no!" Marinette groaned, dropping her head into her hands.
Adrien pulled away and frowned. "What's wrong? Did I say something?"
"Please, don't hate me," she whispered through her hands.
"Why would I hate you?"
"I used to send you letters every Valentine until I was about eighteen. I'm such a fool. I didn't even sign them."
Adrien sucked in the air. "You didn't sign them?"
Marinette shook her head. "I kept forgetting or was too ashamed."
Adrien chuckled and gently lifted her face to his. "Please, tell me you also put little hearts over your Is?"
She looked at him. "Yes? Why?"
Adrien grinned, pulling her back into a hug. "Every year there was only one unsigned card, and I always thought that person was the only sincere one. They didn't expect me to reply. They just told me their feelings, and that was it. It was cute. I ended up looking forward to your cards, and I might have kept them all."
"You kept them?"
"Yup. Not only that: I reread them often."
"No," Marinette whined. "They were cringy. Why would you do that?"
"They're beautiful." Adrien smiled, pulling Marinette close. "Just like you."
Her lips parted, eyes widening just a speck as Adrien leaned forward.
"I really like you, Marinette. As Ladybug and as Marinette."
She gulped, her cheeks darkening. "You… you like me?"
"Very much," Adrien whispered, cradling her face with his hands.
Marinette's lips parted in an airy, shy smile.
He gave her one of her own and leaned in.
Her breaths shallow, Marinette let wet her lips, her eyes fluttering closed.
That was all the permission Adrien needed. He pulled her closer. Soft breaths burned at his skin, her lips just a speck away—
His phone rang a particular tune.
His body tensing, Adrien growled, closing his eyes. Barely breathing, he pulled back and giving Marinette an apologetic smile, murmured, "I'm sorry. I have to take this one."
Adorably flustered, she squicked something incoherent and pulled away.
He didn’t take his eyes off her, fishing for his phone. The annoying voice from his cellphone brought him back to reality.
“You didn’t answer my messages.”
Adrien frowned. “I didn't get any. Good evening to you, too.”
“Get a better phone then,” Plagg grunted. “Can’t you afford it?”
“My phone is fine. You haven't sent me anything.”
“I did and every single one of them said that you have a session in ten minutes.”
Adrien pressed his lips together. Plagg was lying. He was sure he was. But then, his phone had been off for some time. If Plagg wasn’t lying and he’d missed his messages, what else did he miss? Funny though, how in the last four hours Adrien had his phone back, Plagg hadn't sent him a single message… “I’m sorry, but I can’t make it tonight.”
“Bullshit. I’ll see you in ten.”
“Plagg, I can’t make it. I’m serious. I’m out of the city. Can’t I have a day off?”
“Absolutely not, but I’ll give you an hour to get here.”
Adrien growled, his body tensing. His pulse sped up, heat coursing through his body. Enough! He’d have enough. “You know what! I’ve had enough! I quit! You win!”
He disconnected and shoved his cellphone on the bench beside himself. Closing his eyes, Adrien dropped his head into his hands. His lips pressed together, he growled. He quit! He’d wanted to quit for a long time, and now he did! Plagg had it coming. He did it to himself. There was no need to make Adrien this miserable, no need to mess up his schedule, his sleep, his sanity. He was tired of his bullshit. He was mentally and physically exhausted! He had a right to quit. Plagg hadn't even taught him dancing yet! Why would Adrien stick around and let that selfish glutton torture him even more?
Why did he feel like he’d just lost something important then?
A light touch to his shoulder. Adrien looked at Marinette, apology written all over his face. “I’m sorry. I just… that was my butt camp instructor… and I just—”
“Plagg?” Marinette looked at him with her eyes wide. “You said he’s name was Plagg?”
Adrien sighed, “Yeah, Plagg. Camembert-stinking tyrant Plagg. He even has a throne,” he scoffed. “Can you believe it?”
Marinette squealed in return. "I only know of one Plagg in the whole of Paris. What does he train you in?"
"He was supposed to teach me dancing, but so far—"
She gasped, her eyes widening. Immediately, she was on her knees in front of him, grabbing his hands. "Oh my gosh! Adrien! You got invited???"
He looked at the ring on his finger. "I think so? The day I visited Kwami Kave, after they kicked me out, I helped an old man on the street. He gave me this ring and Plagg's card. I was curious, so I called him, and it all snowballed from there."
Marinette grinned in excitement. "Adrien. That’s amazing! He invited you. Plagg chose you. Do you even realize how awesome this is?"
He frowned. "No? There is nothing awesome about that glutton. All he cares about is his reeking cheese and making me miserable."
Marinette giggled. "Well, Master Plagg is peculiar, but if he chose you, it means he's quite fond of you."
"Hard to believe he feels anything for anyone but his cheese."
"I beg to differ." Marinette stood up. "We should go. You can't be late.”
“I just quit. I can’t go.”
“Text him back,” Marinette begged. “He’ll take you back. Please, Adrien, I know he’s harsh, but I promise you, Master Plagg has a heart of gold. His approach is just… different, but if he chose you it means you need him.”
“I need my sleep,” Adrien grunted. “I need some normalcy back in my life.”
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you much because I don’t know your life, Adrien, but if you stick with Master Plagg and pass his training, your life would never be the same. My dance trainer practically saved my life. It was also hard; believe me, I’ve been there. But it’s only at the start. Tikki’s become my best friend and still helps me with so much even now. I could never go back to the way I lived before. Do you want to live the way you’ve lived so far, or would you be willing to try something different? Something that might be much better than what you have now? You can always go back if you’d like but don’t quit before you reached the end to see what’s there.”
She looked at him with her eyes wide and begging. Her hands gently holding hers, Marinette still lightly squeezed his. “Please?” she whispered. “Give him another chance.”
Adrien inhaled deeply and squeezed her hands back, closing his eyes and bowing his head. How could he say no to her? “Alright. I’ll give it another go.”
Marinette launched forward, throwing her arms around Adrien. “Thank you! Master Plagg is full of surprises. Good ones, I swear."
He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. “Hard to believe there is anything good in him, but I’ll believe you.”
She pulled away a little and kissed his cheek, cradling his face in her hands. “It’ll get easier, I promise. You’ll love the end.”
“As long as you’re by my side,” he whispered, lavishing under her touch. “I can take anything. Any kind of end, as long as you’re there.”
“I will be,” she whispered back, her head leaning closer. “I’ll be with you all the way till the end, Chaton.”
She lightly touched his lips with hers. “Promise.”
Chapter 20: Crushes
Unsurprisingly, Plagg was all too happy to hear Adrien wanted to continue. The blond could practically see that glutton basking in his glory on his throne, sipping on champagne and stuffing himself with his stinky Camembert, undoubtedly thinking of better ways to torture Adrien for having the guts to quit. He didn’t care, though. Marinette wanted him to get to the end, so he would, no matter what Plagg would throw his way. Marinette swore Plagg was a good guy, and no matter how hard it was for Adrien to believe, he’d do so. For her. Because she loved him. Because he loved her.
“So.” Marinette grinned as they settled into the car. “To explain why I know Plagg well enough to swear he’s a really good man, I think I should tell you how I got in Kwami Kave first.”
Adrien turned the car on. “I’d love to hear that. I’ve heard, though, people don’t get in just because they want to. Wasn’t there something about going through rough times to qualify?”
Marinette nodded, as Adrien drove off. “Yes. I don’t know how he does it, but Master Fu can somehow sense people who need help. I think it’s a part of his ancient, Eastern education, but honestly, no one knows for sure. We only figured that he reacts to either a disaster in progress or a potential for that.”
“Like people with issues?”
She hummed. “Yeah, or those who are in situations that might be too much for them to handle.”
“How does he know, though?”
Marinette shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I have no idea. But, once Master Fu locates such a person, after that, it’s all pretty standard: he approaches them, usually with a simple test to, I guess, check if the person still has kindness in them. If they pass, he invites them to the club by giving them a piece of jewellery and assigns them a dance instructor for one-on-one training before they can join the club. Trainers help invitees to work on their issues, teach them coping mechanisms, help them get through rough times, whatever the individual person needs.”
“Something like a therapy?”
“In a way. But much more fun because there is dancing involved, not to mention many friends at the Kwami Kave who understand things you’re going through.”
Adrien stopped at the red light. His eyes focused on the road, palms sweaty as he clutched the wheel, he said quietly. “Then I don’t get why Master Fu approached me. My life isn’t that bad. I’m neither in trouble nor do I think I have issues. I mean, I have a little tense relationship with my father, but it isn’t so bad. Lots of people don’t see eye to eye with their parents.”
Marinette fell quiet. “I don’t know you well enough to answer that.”
“And assign me to Plagg?” Adrien mumbled. “He’s no therapist. He’s a tyrant causing the issues, not solving them.”
“I… Well, all I know is that Plagg deals with more complex issues than others, and because of that, he’s the only one of two trainers allowed to choose their own students. So, I doubt Master Fu assigned you to him. He might have proposed your candidature to him, but most likely, it was Plagg who chose you.”
“Great,” Adrien grumbled. “I wonder what did I do to catch his attention?”
Marinette looked at the side window. “My best guess would be: he came from a similar background.”
Adrien raised an eyebrow in a surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Wealthy, very influential family. That’s all I know. He doesn’t speak much of his background.”
Adrien fell quiet. Plagg didn’t look like he’d been born into a wealthy, influential anything. His shabby look. That arrogant attitude! Obsession with reeking cheese. No manners or sense of decency. No way! But then… he did nail how Adrien felt about his father the first time they’d met. He somehow knew, knew everything without ever seeing Adrien before. How? Did Plagg understand Adrien better than he’d realized so far? Adrien shrugged the idea away. Impossible! Because if he did, why was he putting Adrien through hell, undoubtedly, for laughs?
“Okay, suppose, but how did he know about my background?”
He could feel Marinette biting on her lip. “I… I might have something to do with that, even though I don’t understand how. I mean, I didn’t know who you were, how he figured that out is beyond me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s start from the fact that Master Fu knew you were coming to the club that night you brought me the USB.”
Adrien quirked an eyebrow. “How?”
“I told him. Though I didn’t know your name or who you were, but I thought meeting there would be our best option to meet and remain anonymous. So, I called Tikki, my dance trainer, and explained the situation to her. She sent me to Master Fu, and he gave me permission to invite you.”
“I think I’ve heard about this Tikki from Plagg. His old rival, isn’t she?”
Marinette giggled. “Well, they used to be rivals. Now, they are happily married. Have been for years.”
He almost slammed the brakes. “What?”
Marinette laughed. “Yup. They’ve been together for as long as I’ve known them, and they are a super sweet couple. That’s how I know so much about Plagg. There was a time when I practically lived at their house. I still visit them often. Plagg knows me well, so if you ever mentioned Ladybug, he knew exactly who you were talking about even when you didn’t.”
“That lying… glutton! I can’t believe this.”
Marinette laughed harder. “I’m sorry. He didn’t tell you?”
“No!? He hasn’t been telling me anything apart from where and when to come and what to do. That… Ugh! I can’t believe him!”
Marinette could hardly contain her giggles as Adrien struggled to focus on the road. A few minutes later he asked, “Okay, suppose this Master Fu knew I was coming. How come he gave me the card right after I left? Doesn’t evaluation to determine who to assign me to require time?”
“Not as much as one may think,” Marinette replied. “Honestly, I’m surprised myself but usually Master Fu knows the best possible match in a few minutes.”
“But didn’t you say before that it was Plagg who chose me? Suppose Master Fu told him I was coming but how did he know about our possible similar backgrounds to decide he wanted to choose me? I mean I highly doubt they knew who I was.”
“I wish I could answer,” Marinette sighed. “But I just don’t know. I know that Plagg was at the club that night. He might have seen you, and if Master Fu proposed the idea to him, he’d decline or agree on the spot. Tikki said Master Fu noticed me a few days before I ran off and spoke to her almost immediately. She came by the bakery to look at me before agreeing, though. I never noticed. She looked like a regular customer, stocking up on chocolate chip cookies.”
Adrien fell quiet for a few moments. Driving through the streets, they were nearing Marinette’s home when he asked, “What was it for you? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Not at all,” Marinette smiled. “I meant to tell you, but we got kind of sidetracked. For me, it was Lila.”
“Yup. We went to school together. She kept bullying me for years for no reason other than she didn’t like me. My parents were amazing, but they didn’t know how to help me. They just kept telling me to ignore her and that it’d go away if I would, but it didn’t. It only got worse when I ignored her.” Marinette paused for a moment, her voice getting quieter. “Sometimes I think she made it her mission to ensure every day of my life was more miserable than the previous one. By the end of the school, it got so bad I decided that putting as much physical distance between us as possible, was my only option.”
“You ran away from home?”
Marinette nodded. “I was alone and desperate and had a grandmother in Italy. My parents didn’t know; I thought they wouldn’t understand, so I didn’t tell them my plans. Plus, hitchhiking to Italy didn’t seem too dangerous for a sixteen-year-old me. I thought I’ll be fine and living up a dream in Italy soon. My only mistake was to help an elderly man crossing the street by our bakery. He was about to be hit by a car, and I had nothing to lose, so I jumped in and yanked him away.”
Adrien stilled, his eyes on the road. “Did you get hit instead?”
“No. Thankfully, the car stopped before it could hit me.”
Adrien let a relieved sigh out. “I guess the elderly man was Master Fu?”
She nodded. “He thanked me with a pair of earrings and a card, saying that running away from my problems won’t help. They’ll follow me wherever I go, even if in a different face.”
“That sounds so creepy. How did he know that?”
She laughed. “It was creepy, and I don’t know how he knew, but I was sixteen and naïve and didn’t really want to leave my parents behind, so I chose to trust him and called Tikki.”
Adrien parked at the curb and turned off the car. Looking at Marinette, he asked, “Did it help? I saw myself Lila abusing you just a week ago.”
Marinette smiled and put her hand over his. “I had my reason for letting her do so. If you weren’t involved, she’d never get away with it. Tikki taught me to stand up for myself, not hide in fear and let Lila walk all over me. She helped me to grow a backbone, bring my bravery out, and deal with bad times in a healthy way. Admittedly, it’s an ongoing ordeal, but I’m not losing. I’m strong and confident and neither Lila nor her pitiful tricks would get to me anymore.”
“So, no regrets you aren’t in Italy right now?”
“No way. Master Fu was right. With that victim mentality I used to have, there would always be someone to take Lila’s place. No matter where I’d been. Staying and calling Tikki was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“I’m happy for you,” Adrien took her hand and placed a light kiss on top of it. “Sounds like Tikki changed your life for the best.”
“And Plagg will change yours. You’ll see.” She smiled so confidently and sincerely, Adrien almost believed her. He chose to do so.
“Then I guess, I’d better not be late?”
“I guess so.”
“Wait for me. I’ll let you out.” Adrien exited the car and opened the door for Marinette, offering her a hand.
She placed hers gently into his and got out of the car. Not letting him go, Marinette gave him the sweetest, most sincere smile he’d seen from her yet. “I’m sure everything will be alright. Plagg is a great person, even if he doesn’t appear to be so at the first… or even a second glance. You’ll do great. I believe in you. And you won’t regret it. I promise.”
She stood on her tippy toes and cradled his cheek. Adrien held his breath as Marinette’s lips lingering at his skin just at the corner of his mouth.
“I’ll see you at work tomorrow,” she whispered and vanished into her apartment building, leaving him dumbfounded with a lopsided smile on his lips, speechless and a mess. She’d be the death of him one of these days.
“If it isn’t my prodigal son Adrien Agreste.” Plagg slyly grinned, half lying on his throne when Adrien walked in. “Glad you stopped by. How can I help you?”
Adrien rolled his eyes. “Can we skip this or you want me to grovel at your feet?”
“Talking back.” Plagg smirked. “Good. You’re growing a backbone.” Leaping from his throne, Plagg walked closer. Circling around Adrien, he asked, “Whatcha grinning about? Finally fallen in love with my teaching method? Can’t wait to start the session?”
“You wish,” Adrien huffed, a smile glued to his face. How could he not smile when he’d just had a date with Marinette?
“You finally realized the wonder that is my precious Camembert?”
Adrien laughed. “Not even in your dreams.”
“Good.” Plagg watched Adrien for a moment before his eyes widened and he whistled. “Kid, no. Please, don’t do this to me?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve given in?”
Adrien grinned wider. “Given in to what?”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“I have no idea.”
Plagg groaned, closing his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright. Who is she?”
“Who is who?”
Plagg growled, glaring at Adrien. “The girl you’re in love with.”
“Who said I am in love?” Adrien shrugged, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “You must be imagining things.”
“Me? Imagining? Have you seen yourself? This stupid grin on your face can mean only one thing! Who is she?”
Adrien raised an eyebrow. “What does it matter?”
Plagg closed his eyes and stood in his place for a few moments before asking instead of answering, “Is it Ladybug?”
“So specific. Why would you think it’s her?”
“Because it was written all over your face the first time you told me about her.”
Adrien could’ve denied or lied, but he wanted answers, and if he wanted the truth from Plagg, he had to be honest himself. “Yes. Your wife’s pupil, isn’t she?”
Plagg stared at him in silence, his eyes narrowed. Then smirked. “So, you know?”
“About you lying that Tikki was your rival and not a wife? Yeah, I do.”
“I didn’t lie.” Plagg shrugged, walking back to his throne. “You never asked me if I was married or if Tikki was my wife. I just chose not to disclose my personal information to you yet.”
“You said she was your rival!”
“She is. Being married doesn’t mean we can’t be rivals, does it?” Plagg smirked. “Keeps things interesting.”
Adrien pressed his lips together. “Alright. Then tell me if it’s true that you’ve chosen me.”
Plagg halted his steps, his body tensing. “I see she told you quite a lot.”
“Why? I don’t have issues. My family’s fame and money aside, my life is pretty average. Why would you choose me to torment me with your insane method of teaching dancing that doesn’t even involve the actual dancing?”
Plagg took his time to settle in his throne. Crossing his arms over his chest he looked at Adrien with a smirk, his gaze full of amusement. “What kind of gentleman you think I’d be if I didn’t help my wife’s adorable pupil?”
Adrien frowned. “What do you mean?”
Plagg cocked his head to the side. “She was finally getting over her annoying crush on Adrien Agreste in favour of this mysterious Chat Noir who was suddenly visiting Kwami Kave. I just had to take a look, and when Master said you were eligible for joining, I couldn’t help myself but seize the opportunity. Imagine my surprise—” Plagg snickered, “—when I discovered that Chat Noir is Adrien Agreste. Oh, that was fun.”
“And you didn't tell her?”
“Why would I? It’s not my business.”
“You know.” Adrien exhaled. “I wish this Master Fu would give me to someone else. Someone saner than you. Someone more sympathetic.”
Plagg shook his head. “The old man didn’t even consider anyone else. He came straight to me because like it or not, you’ve got issues, and I doubt anyone else could’ve walked you through them.”
“What kind of issues?” Adrien frowned. “I don’t think—”
“You’re not there yet,” Plagg said with a voice stern, standing up. “And if I can stop you from going there, I will. Now, let’s put this aside because we’re not here to discuss your issues or your crushes, aren't we? We’re here to make your dreams come true.”
Adrien quirked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Congratulations.” Plagg winked. “You’re finally ready to dance.”
Adrien crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t believe my ears. It took me what? A few weeks only?”
“Don’t be so cocky,” Plagg huffed. “If you made it to this point much faster than anyone else I’ve ever taught, it’s thanks only to your excellent physical form. And maybe Marinette… for inspiring you to finally stand up for yourself and ask questions. I should tell Tikki. She’ll be proud of her little bug.”
“You waited for me to ask questions?”
“I waited for you to stop blindly obeying what you’re told to do and start thinking for yourself. Now, let’s not lose any more time, shall we?”
“Wait,” Adrien frowned, dumbfounded. What did Plagg mean by he waited for him to stop obeying? For better or for worse, Plagg was his teacher and as such automatically an authority. Whether Adrien liked it or not, he had to obey Plagg, just like Adrien would expect his pupils or his employees to obey him. At least, that’s how he’d been taught all his life. “You wanted me to disobey? You’re actually rewarding me for that?”
Plagg looked right into his eyes, evoking a shiver down Adrien’s spine. His eyes glowed; Adrien swore they did. His face more serious than it’d ever been, Plagg said, “Listen carefully to me, Adrien. No matter who you’re stuck with at work, in a relationship or even in a family, no one, and I will repeat it again, no one has the right to abuse you. If they don’t treat you respectfully, never stand by silently. Ask questions, raise concerns, walk away if you must, but don’t you ever allow anyone to walk all over you and get away with that.”
“I know that,” Adrien said. “But sometimes—”
“No buts. They either treat you like a human being, or you walk away.”
Adrien pursued his lips. “Says the man who treated me like a doormat for the past few weeks and expected me to obey. Or would you deny that?”
“I did expect you to obey,” Plagg said. “But only because I knew you would. Your type always does. You’re so used to bowing to every whim of someone above you, you’ve stopped thinking for yourself. Isn't right, Adrien?”
“I don’t think—”
“And the only way to snap you out of that is to push you beyond your limit.”
“That's exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. So yes, while I expected you to obey me, that wasn't what I wanted you to do. I wanted you to grow a backbone and fight back. You should have a say in your life. You should be the one building it, not going where others push you. Send them to hell and walk away. No matter who they are. Otherwise, you won’t last long. Do you understand me?”
Gaping like a fish, Adrien stared at Plagg. Was… was Marinette right and Plagg really did care? Was his method, no matter how weird and intense… was it exactly what Adrien needed? Maybe he should persevere, give it all he had and get to the end. For her, as he promised, but also, for himself.
“I do,” Adrien breathed out.
Plagg kept their eye contact strong. “Remember that.”
“Good.” Plagg smirked and nodded his head. “Now, shall we start dancing?”
“Okay.” Adrien smiled.
“Tell me how you feel about her. About Marinette.”
Adrien blinked in surprise, but almost instantly, his lips stretched into a smile. Her kiss, her touch still tingled on his skin. His heart speeding up, he started, “Well, Marinette—”
“Not using words!” Plagg feverishly motioned him to stop talking. “Please, kid. No! Spare me. I don’t want to listen to it. I want to see it.”
“What do you mean? You said to tell you.”
“Dance, Adrien. Dance. Tell me how you feel about her in a dance.”
“I…” Adrien frowned, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t think I know how to do that.”
“Remember what I taught you.” Plagg stuffed an appearing-out-of-nowhere piece of Camembert in his mouth. “Think of a melody or a song that represents your feelings for her to you and then let this melody become you. Use everything I’ve taught you. All the moves, all the techniques. Everything you’ve done so far can be used in a dance.”
Adrien tried to think. A melody, a song that would represent his feelings for Marinette? That was impossible. There were no single melody or a song in the world that could do that. He felt too much for her. He couldn’t even describe it himself. How could a random song do that for him?
“Should I put on Despacito ?”
“Plagg, no! Really?”
“Why? It’s a good song. Exactly what you need.”
“Not really. My love for Marinette is much deeper than Despacito could ever describe.”
“Suit yourself, but you have a minute to come up with something or Despacito it is.”
Blood rushing through his veins, Adrien raced against time to recount hundreds of songs in his head. He needed one. Just one song to represent what he felt for Marinette. What she meant to him. Too much and everything at once. She was the most incredible woman he’d ever known. Beautiful inside and out. With her, nothing else mattered. Even when he didn’t realize his feelings yet, even when they were just developing, being with Marinette felt always so soothing, so calm and at the same time…
“I’ve got one.” Adrien smiled. It might not be perfect, but it was as close as he could get at the moment. He quickly googled the YT video on his cellphone and passed it to Plagg.
Plagg quirked an eyebrow. “Heaven To Me by Don Diablo? Interesting choice. Fine. Show me what you’ve got.”
He connected Adrien’s phone to his boombox, and soon the music blasted through the studio, Adrien froze.
Plagg appeared behind him, already moving to the beat. “Close your eyes, Adrien,” he whispered into his ear. “Feel the beat. Let it consume you. Let it guide your every move, every cell of your body, your very being.”
Adrien obeyed. He closed his eyes and focused on the sound. Marinette popped into his mind. In her Ladybug assemble she moved to the beat, her hips swinging, her arms, legs flowing through space, her whole body twisting and shifting to the melody. Adrien’s lips tagged in the smile. He followed, unsurely and somewhat clumsily at first, but soon the music blasted louder and Adrien forgot where and who he was with. His eyes closed, he danced with Marinette, his body’s reacting to the beat with the moves Plagg was drilling into him the last few weeks.
Pulsating through his veins, music coursed through his whole being as Adrien moved. Moved like never before, telling the story of what Marinette meant to him, feelings he didn’t fully realize himself he’d had. She’d freed him. Yes, he was still under his father’s thumb, but Adrien had never felt as free as when he was with Marinette. She was his heaven. She pulled him out of the comfortable hell he’d been surviving in. This was their time and their place. Their moment for their love to blossom.
When the music ceased, Adrien could barely catch his breath. Plagg’s clapping forced him to open his eyes.
“Not bad.” Plagg smirked. “Needs some work, but for a beginner, you’ve got some skills, kid. I knew you had potential.”
“Thanks.” Adrien smiled, heavily breathing. His muscles tingling, he lavished in a warm feeling inside him. “I… This—this actually felt amazing, liberating in a way.”
Plagg chuckled and wrapped his arm around Adrien’s shoulder. “Buckle up, kid. You’re in for quite a ride. And I am your loyal guide in this madness.”
Chapter 21: Rose
They agreed on a schedule. As unbelievable as it was, but Plagg proposed it himself: a set schedule for lessons instead of whatever chaotic non-system they had now. His only condition was that the lessons had to be daily. Adrien proposed early mornings, so he could have his evenings free. Five in the morning satisfied them both. What Adrien had forgotten to count in was that he’d have to show up for a lesson the very next day which left him with little sleep that night again. Sleep-deprived for weeks, he hated to get out of his bed. He still did because Plagg was making an effort to be civil. Adrien had to upkeep his end of a deal.
The clock showed three minutes to five when Adrien shuffled into Plagg’s studio. Upbeat music from the boombox quietly echoed through space as Plagg lounged on his throne, twirling a red rose in his hand. Too focused on it, he didn’t even look up at Adrien when he entered the room.
“Morning,” Adrien greeted.
Plagg spared him a glance, turning back to the rose. “Are you going to ask her out?”
Adrien put his bag on the floor, taking off his sweater. “Who? Marinette?”
“Unless you have someone else in mind.”
“Nope. No one else,” Adrien said, drinking from his water bottle. “And yes. I was thinking of that.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Soon.”
“Where are you going to take her?”
“Didn’t think of that yet. Somewhere private for sure.”
“Good. How are you going to ask her? You know, the way you go about it could make it or break it.”
Adrien frowned. “Not sure. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about that yet. I had barely enough time to sleep.”
Plagg jumped from his throne and headed to Adrien, a smirk playing on his lips.
“Then it’s your lucky day, kid. Thank the heavens. I’m willing to help you.”
Adrien suppressed a chuckle. “I’m thankful, Plagg, bu—”
“As you should be,” Plagg grinned, poking Adrien’s chest with a finger. “I’ve known Mlle Ladybug ever since she was an angsty teenager. My wife is her best friend, so I know tons of stuff about her to help you navigate the thorny path of dating.”
“With all due respect,” Adrien replied, trying to suppress a smile. “I think I can manage that myself.”
“Have you ever dated?”
Adrien shook his head. “Was kind of hard to meet anyone with my schedule.”
“Do you know what Marinette likes?”
“Yes.” Plagg rolled his eyes. “But apart from that? Other stuff like her favourite colour or a movie? Her dreams and her goals for the future? Her favourite game? Preferable time of the year? Stuff like that. Do you know any of that?”
“I know some stuff. The rest would be fun to find that out from her.”
“Nonsense!” Plagg exclaimed, heading towards Adrien. “You’ve got me for that. I’ll tell you everything there is about Marinette, so you can easily woo her. Free of charge. You’re welcome.”
“For example, our Little Lady has always dreamed of seeing you with a red rose in your teeth, looking at her seductively—”
“Plagg, stop!” Adrien covered his ears in a protest. “Why… How would you even know that?”
He grinned. “I saw doodles in her sketchbooks.”
“You went through her sketchbooks?”
“She showed them to me herself.” Plagg defended. “Well… to Tikki, but I was nearby. And there were mostly clothes designs, but a blond guy with a rose in his teeth was also there.”
“Plagg.” Adrien ran his hand over his face, exhaling. “Thank you. I really appreciate your desire to help, but I’d like to discover everything there is about Marinette myself. From her. You do what I’m paying you for: teach me to dance.”
Plagg pouted. “Your loss. I could’ve made it so much easier for you.”
“I appreciate the thought, but no, thank you.”
“Don’t come running back to me when you’re in trouble.”
“Keep the rose, though.” Plagg pushed the flower into Adrien’s hand and walked back to his throne. “In case you change your mind.”
Adrien chuckled, putting the rose on top of his bag. “Can we get to our lesson now? I have to be out by six to make it in time for work.”
“I don’t see my Camembert.”
Adrien pulled a container out from his bag and passed it to Plagg.
Plagg opened it and inhaled the stink. “Delicious.” Closing it back up, he turned to his boombox and clicked something on it, sounds of You Make Me Feel by Cobra Starship filling the room. Turning to Adrien, he smirked. “Now tell me, kid: can you top your yesterday’s performance?”
“Is that a challenge?” Adrien asked, stretching, a smile playing on his lips.
“What do you think?” Plagg grinned and snapped his fingers, coming onto Adrien, already moving to the beat.
“You’re on,” Adrien said, a mischievous light igniting in his eyes. This should be fun. This kind of lessons would make his whole day better. He should’ve told Plagg to go to hell a long time ago. Rebellion did have its better sides.
Standing by the elevator at Gabriel, Adrien twirled the rose between his fingertips. Was that true? Did Marinette really dream of him seducing her with a rose in his teeth? Not that he was opposed to the idea—
“Good morning, Adrien.”
He jerked around. “Good morning, Kagami.”
She walked past him and pressed the button for the elevator. “You forgot to press it.”
“I did?” he nervously, chuckled. “Guess, I’m a bit distracted.”
“Apart from that, how are you today?”
“Good. And you?”
“I’m fine,” she said, diverting her eyes to look at the elevator’s door. “Feeling better? After the company’s party?”
Adrien sighed. “So, you’ve heard.”
“I did.” She waited for Adrien to respond, but when he said nothing, Kagami added, “I’ve also seen the video.”
Adrien groaned as the elevator’s door opened. He motioned to her to enter first. “Kagami… I… I might have drunk a little too much.”
“A little?” She quirked an eyebrow, entering the elevator. “Getting so drunk you can’t even get to a room isn’t a little too much.”
Adrien followed her, pressing a button to their floor. The door closed. “It was just a few kisses. Nothing happened.”
“It didn’t look like just a few kisses, Adrien, but that doesn’t really matter. You can’t afford to get drunk and to make out in public. You’ve got your and your company’s reputation to uphold,” Kagami snapped, her usually strong facade cracking. Yet right after, she took a deep breath and a few moments to compose herself. “I’m sorry. I crossed the line. Your activities in your free time shouldn’t be any of my concern, but I am responsible for this company’s Public Relations and your actions do affect Gabriel ’s reputation. Please, be more careful next time.”
“Will do,” Adrien said with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for causing you trouble.”
“That’s fine,” she said, glancing his way. “Comparing to your father’s incident with the designer department, this is nothing serious. I’m sorry I snapped. I’ve just had a stressful week and next to no rest on the weekends.”
“We’re a troublesome bunch, aren’t we? Us, Agrestes?”
“You certainly are,” she said, huffing a moment later. “That’s why I never go to those parties. You never know what'll happen. One moment you’re having fun, the next thing you know, you’ve ruined your career.”
“The video’s down. Everyone will forget soon. Nothing’s ruined.”
“No, it isn’t. Not for you at least.” Kagami shrugged. “Have you thought about Marinette, though? She’d have to face consequences for making out with her boss’ son in public.”
“I don’t think Father has any strict no internal dating rules, does he?”
“No, he doesn’t,” Kagami nodded. “But I bet you’re a different deal. You’re his son. He might not like you dating one of his employees.”
Adrien fell quiet. He twirled the rose between his fingers, staring in front of himself. Father didn’t mention anything about punishing Marinette the last time they’d spoken. Still, Adrien would have to check with him again to ensure that Marinette was safe. She wasn’t using him for career advances, money, or fame. That much Adrien was sure off. And Father wouldn’t punish a girl just because Adrien fell in love with her, would he? Ludicrous. He’d never.
The bell rang, and the elevator’s door opened at their floor.
“It’s for Marinette, isn't it??” Kagami asked, glancing at the rose as she exited.
Adrien couldn’t keep a smile off his face. “Yeah. I really like her.”
“She seems likable,” Kagami said. “We didn’t interact much, but she seemed nice. Good luck with that.”
“Thanks,” Adrien said. Bidding their farewells, the pair parted.
Adrien headed straight to the designer department. It was still too early for anyone to be there. People were just starting to come in and there was a good chance he could sneak in the rose on Marinette’s desk without getting her in trouble for it being from him. The boss’ son. Why did he have to be him in this particular situation? Unnecessary complication.
Adrien creaked the door open. The studio was empty. Quickly, he walked in and headed straight for Marinette’s desk. He put the rose in a middle and rummaged the drawer for a sticky note and pencil.
Good morning to the most beautiful and amazing girl around. I hope you have a great day. <3
The note stuck on the desk by the rose, Adrien was about to depart when a nearby mirror caught his attention. Glancing at the flower on the table, he wondered…
“My Lady,” Adrien purred, standing in front of the mirror a moment later. His voice raw and alluring, the rose nestled in his teeth, he tried to look as seductive as he could muster. “Would you like me to ravage you now or should I take you on a date first?”
Someone exploded with laughter off to his side from behind. Adrien jerked around, rose falling out of his mouth.
“Marinette?” He nervously chuckled. “You’re in early.”
“Tikki had me up early for practice. Though, I can see you made it even earlier than I did.”
Adrien puffed, rolling his eyes. “I don’t think Plagg sleeps at all.”
Marinette giggled. “Well, Tikki has been complaining he started to nap during the days recently.”
Adrien narrowed his eyes. “He naps?”
Marinette chuckled. “Yup. He does.”
Adrien swore under his breath. Of course, Plagg napped. Why was he even surprised? He napped specifically during the daytime so he could torture Adrien during the night! How malicious, yet smart. That—
“And I’d love the date first, if you don’t mind,” Marinette added, struggling to contain her giggles.
Adrien’s face flamed. “Marinette… That wasn’t what you think… or what it looked like.”
“Oh, really?” She quirked an eyebrow. “What is it then?”
“It’s…” Adrien leaned down to pick up the rose. “Well, for starters, this is for you.”
“Thank you.” Marinette smiled, taking the flower. “I shall dry-press it and always remember the scene I’ve witnessed just a few moments ago when I look at it.”
Adrien groaned, throwing his head backwards. “It’s all Plagg’s fault. I swear. He insisted on teaching me how to woo you, and he said you’ve dreamed of me doing that. I didn’t want to do that, but I saw the mirror, and I wondered how it’ll look—”
“Wait,” Marinette interrupted. “Plagg said I was dreaming of you doing this?”
“You haven’t? He said he saw doodles in your sketchbooks?”
“Of me with a rose between my teeth? He said you showed them to Tikki and he saw.”
Marinette’s frown deepened. Then her eyes widened, cheeks flared crimson, a startled gasp slipping her lips.
Adrien chuckled. “So, I guess the doodles exist?”
“Maybe?” she mumbled. “But I was fifteen and in my weeb stage, and that wasn’t you. That was Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club.”
Adrien’s eyes sparkled. “I love that show! We should rewatch it together.”
Marinette chuckled. “I see you didn’t outgrow your weeb stage.”
“And I’m proudly not ashamed of that.”
“Good morning, Marinette, Adrien.” Mme Bustier walked past them. “Sober enough to work today?”
Her cheeks crimson, Marinette replied affirmatively and turned back to Adrien. “Sorry, I have to get to work, but maybe we can chat during lunch?”
Adrien grinned. “Are you asking me on a date?”
“I’m asking if you want to chat during lunch,” Marinette said. “You decide what it is.”
“It’s a date then,” Adrien said, taking her hand and placing a lingering kiss on her knuckles. Some other person entered the room. Adrien let her go, taking a step back. “Have a great day, my Lady.”
“You too,” she whispered, her lips curling into a smile.
Adrien left. Unfortunately for him, models were starting their preparations for the big show this week, and that demanded his attention in another department. Otherwise, he’d spend the day glued to Marinette’s desk, chasing away anyone who’d dared to cause her troubles on his behalf. He’d have to ask her about that at lunch. As well as beg her to become his girlfriend because with Marinette by his side, Adrien didn’t need to leave Gabriel to be free. She was his freedom, and he’d be flying high in her cage. As long as she’d be by his side.
Chapter 22: True Love's Kiss
Chat Noir: I think we’ve neglected this chat, My Lady. I demand to correct this injustice!
Ladybug: In other words, you don’t want to work.
ChatNoir: :offended: I am working. Do you know how much patience sitting around, waiting for my turn to be fawned over requires? Hard work!
Ladybug: Aww, poor you. How will you ever survive?
Chat Noir: By the thought of the promised lunch with my Lady, everything is possible.
Ladybug: Then may I suggest Chaton lets said Lady work as well? If he wants her to make it to that lunch.
Chat Noir: Absolutely. As soon as she tells him where she wants him to take her?
Ladybug: The Lady loves surprises.
Chat Noir: Alright. Then I should take her to Tom and Sabine’s bakery. The food is amazing, and I’ve heard they have a very beautiful and talented daughter. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get her number?
Ladybug: XD You have my number, you flirt.
Chat Noir: Correction: I have your Discord name, not your phone number.
Ladybug: Oh, true. XD Sorry, I didn’t realize that. Well, if you’d be a good Kitty, I’ll consider giving it to you during lunch.
Chat Noir: Define Good Kitty.
Ladybug: Someone who lets me work. I’m sorry, Chaton, but I’m kind of on a crunch here.
Chat Noir: OTL Alright. I’m sorry. Do you need help? I can help.
Ladybug: Unfortunately, it’s something I have to do myself. Plus, weren’t you supposed to be fawned over soon? How would you help me from over there?
Chat Noir: I can always ditch them for a few hours.
Ladybug: You are not doing that. Do you want me fired for disrupting the company’s flow right before the big show?
Chat Noir: No. Sowwy.
Ladybug: :blows kisses: I’ll see you in a few hours, and to ensure that I’m muting this chat.
Chat Noir: Are you muting me just like you turned off your phone at the party or are you muting me for real?
Ladybug: For real.
Chat Noir: :D Liar.
Ladybug: Chat, seriously. I’m sorry, but Mme Bustier is already looking my way. If I’m not done with this project before lunch, I’ll have to skip it.
Chat Noir: Understood. I’ll see you in a few hours.
Chat Noir: Last question: does anyone give you grief for that video?
Ladybug: :sigh: Some whispers and snickers are going around, but no one said anything to me personally so far.
Chat Noir: You let me know if they do.
Ladybug: Just so you know, I have muted you.
Chat Noir: :pout: Rude.
Ladybug: Chat, seriously, I’d love to banter with you all day long, but unless you want to spend that lunch alone, you’d better let me work.
Chat Noir: Sorry. I’ll behave. I promise.
Ladybug: Thank you.
It was hard. Knowing Marinette was just a few floors away and that he could sit by her side instead of being fitted with that abomination his father planned to present this coming weekend was excruciating.
Adrien closed his eyes, tunes from his morning session echoing in his head. His muscles twitched to the muted beat. He’d only just started to dance, but he already loved it. The freedom it gave, that exhilarating feeling at the end of each song, the sweet soreness in his body after the session. He wasn’t sure he could let it go now. He didn’t want to. Marinette might have possibly changed his life by persuading him to stick with it. It’d probably be fantastic to dance with her. She was so good, though. It’d take him a while to get anywhere close to her level no matter how much potential Plagg said he had. Adrien needed to work harder because in their civilian lives they matched: she was a rising star-designer, he was a model/future CEO of Gabriel. In Kwami Kave it was different. She excelled. She was their princess. He was a nobody. Not even in the club yet. He had to work harder.
Half an hour before Marinette’s lunch hour, Adrien went down the street to buy her a bouquet. The one he gave her this morning wasn’t technically from him but Plagg. And Adrien was an Agreste; he could definitely do much more than a single rose. And while he was at it, Adrien stopped by a nearby jewellery store and bought Marinette a necklace, a delicate chain with a ladybug pendant. Simple, elegant and totally appropriate for the first date.
His phone chimed at five to twelve. Father wanted to see him after lunch. One o’clock sharp. As always. An appointment.
Adrien shoved his phone away and headed to the designer department.
“Marinette! I think someone’s here to see you,” Marc, one of the junior designers, shouted across the room as soon as Adrien entered.
Whispers echoed throughout the room. Marinette lifted her head up. Her eyes instantly widened and, grabbing her purse, she rushed to him.
“Adrien, what are you doing?” she asked.
“These are for you,” he grinned, offering her the flowers.
Marinette closed her eyes, exhaling. “Adrien, thank you, but please, don’t do this again. Not in the office at least.”
“Because you’re my boss’s son. People will assume things.”
“People who know you wouldn’t,” Marc interfered, standing close by. “And those who would aren’t worth your second glance.”
“Thank you, Marc.” Adrien finger-gunned him. “Shall we go, my Lady?”
“I’m talking to you later.” Marinette glared at Marc, finally accepting Adrien’s bouquet.
“Looking forward to all the details.” Marc smirked. “Now shoo. I have a secret fanfiction hobby to indulge in.”
“Your favourite story updated?”
“Yes, and the main character is about to propose. Though, I suspect his mother-in-law won’t make it so easy for him. I swear, if she interferes, I’m storming the author’s page with raging anon messages.”
Marinette chuckled. “I’m sure it’ll be great. See you later, Marc.”
“Have fun.” Marc waved the pair goodbye.
“Sorry I forgot about not attracting attention to you,” Adrien said as they’d reached the elevator. “I was just so excited for our date, I’ve forgotten all caution.”
Marinette buried her nose in the bouquet, inhaling. “That’s fine. I love roses. Thank you. They’re beautiful.”
“You know, Marc’s right. People who really know you won’t assume stuff about you.”
“Let’s hope so.” She smiled at him, entering the elevator.
Once the door closed, Adrien continued. “In fact, me barging in with flowers into your workspace has its perks.”
“Oh, really?” She cocked her head to the side. “And what are they?”
“Well,” Adrien leaned closer, tackling a string of hair behind her ear. “Instead of assuming we got drunk and made out with a random person we feel nothing for, they’ll know I’m serious and crazy about you, and I hope the same goes for you about me.”
Her face crimson, Marinette dropped her gaze to the floor, hugging the flowers closer to herself. “It does,” she whispered.
He tilted her face to his. Leaning closer. “Then there’s nothing to worry about.”
The door opened at the ground floor. Marinette snapped out of her trance and stepped forward. “So where are you taking me?”
“You’ll see,” Adrien smirked., following her out. “You said to surprise you, didn’t you?”
“As long as it’s not my parents’ place.”
Adrien chuckled. “My lips are sealed, but I promise you’d like it. Reviews were spectacular.”
They soon were driving down the streets of Paris. Adrien couldn’t help but chuckle at the overly relieved sigh Marinette let out as they passed her parents’ bakery without stopping.
“You remember my friend Nino?” Adrien asked.
“The one with his saint girlfriend who saved us all? I never got to thank her. I really should.”
“Yup. That’s him. Anyway, he recommended me this place, but he warned that it’s not one of your typical cafes.”
Once Adrien neared the place, Marinette beamed. “Please, tell me we’re going to Lace Rose ?”
“We are,” Adrien replied. “Why? You know it?”
“Yes! I know the owners. I’ve been I school with them, and we’re still very good friends.”
“Bummer,” he moped. “And here I was going to impress you.”
“Awww,” Marinette reached forward to gently pet his cheek. “I am impressed you’ve chosen the best place around.”
They stopped at an average building and entered an average-looking establishment. The interior thought was far from ordinary. The whole place could be described as an explosion of pink and purple roses tangled in black lace. Not only were the walls, the ceiling and even the floor painted with flowers and lace theme, but fresh bouquets stood all over the place. Instead of strictly tables and chairs, this place had a combination of those and couches with coffee tables.
“Can I help you?” a petite blonde woman asked them upon entering. “Marinette?”
The women hugged and exchanged small talk before Marinette tugged Adrien by his arm to stand next to her. “Rose, this is Adrien. We work at Gabriel together. Adrien, this is Rose, my former classmate.”
“Nice to meet you, Adrien,” Rose greeted him.
“Is Juleka around?”
“No. She’s helping Luka to convince their mother of something. Don’t ask me. Luka called super spontaneously, so she rushed off before telling me a thing.”
“I hope everything’s okay.”
“It probably is. I can text you later if you’d like to know.”
“Yes, please. I’d appreciate it.”
“No problem. Now, let’s go, guys. I have the perfect spot for you in mind.” Rose nudged them to follow her.
“We’ve had a reservation under Agreste,” Adrien said, following Rose, Marinette’s hand in his.
“Oh.” Rose smiled. “Then I guess my owner’s privileges won’t make any difference. Agreste’s reservation was for my best place. You’re on the second floor.”
The second floor was even more impressive, offering a more private setting for individual couples. More luxurious seating, more flowers, more lace, all inter-winding in a whimsical garden to impress. Subtly divided by curtains sections, each containing a dining set and a couch or a set of plush chairs, were scattered around the space. Rose showed them to one such section deeper into the room, featuring a huge window with a captivating view.
“This place looks amazing,” Adrien said as they reached their spot. “I wonder why I didn’t know it existed until now.”
“We’ve just opened a few months ago,” Rose said. “Not that many people know about us yet, but if you like it, we’d appreciate recommendations.”
“Consider it done.” Adrien nodded. “We can’t have a place like this empty at lunch hour.”
Rose giggled. “It isn’t empty downstairs. We just keep this section for VIPs, and since it costs extra to eat here, it tends to be empty during the day. Not so much at night, though. Our evenings are fully booked for the next few days.”
“I’m so happy for you.” Marinette smiled. “The place looks amazing. You deserve all the customers.”
“Thank you.” Rose smiled and placed menus before the pair. “I’ll give you a few moments to make a choice.”
As soon as Rose left, Adrien cocked his head to the side. “So, just Adrien from your work?”
“Aren’t you Adrien who works with me?” Marinette chuckled.
He pouted. “Is that I’m all to you?”
“Awww, Chaton.” Marinette reached forward and placed her hand over his. “You know you are much more to me than that, but…” She hesitated, biting at her lip, then continued quietly, “We haven’t discussed any official labels, and with our situation and all the complications that come with it, I didn’t want to assume and say anything to someone else before we could talk about it.”
“Fair enough,” Adrien said. “If you’d like—”
“Are you ready to order?” Rose appeared by their side with a notepad and a pen.
“I am,” Marinette grinned. “Do you remember that fish I tried last time? The one you had as a special at the opening?”
“Yes. I’ll have that.”
“Alright. And you, Adrien?” Rose turned to him.
“I’ll have the same. Thank you.”
They added some drinks and dessert after which Rose left.
Marinette immediately turned to Adrien and asked, “Can I ask you a question I was dying to find out an answer to for a long time?”
“Sure,” Adrien nodded. He couldn’t help but suspect that labels discussion was purposely avoided. Well, he supposed it would be better to discuss at a more private setting, so he played along.
“How did your father react to that first email from Ladybug?”
“I might have to disappoint you,” Adrien said. “I wasn’t around to see his initial reaction, but I know he deleted it. He recovered and showed it to me only when I commented on the ridiculousness of the new line, and because of that he thought I was Ladybug.”
“He thought you were Ladybug?”
Adrien laughed. “Can you imagine?”
Marinette cocked her head to the side. “Well, if you mean if I can imagine you in a Ladybug costume, then, yeah, I might have a few ideas…”
His face flamed, breathing hitching. There was no reason for that in her words. Her tone of voice, however, told Adrien a different story.
“Why so flustered, Chaton?” Marinette asked, her smile teasing. “Cat got your tongue?”
He could think of a comeback. He knew he could. It took a second, but Adrien smirked and leaned closer. “Maybe. But only because I was imagining you in a Chat Noir ensemble.”
Marinette’s eyes widened a speck, crimson flooding her cheeks. She chuckled a moment later, winking at him. “Nice one.”
Adrien smugly grinned. He loved this woman. If every minute with her would be this fun, he was ready to propose marriage in about five minutes. She was too good to be true. Too good to let go.
Their food arrived soon. Their conversation flowed easily. Laughter till they cried. Soft moments. Subtle and gentle touches. A few serious notes, but mostly a carefree banter. Adrien’s jaw hurt by the time his plate was empty because he’d smiled so much. He hung on Marinette’s every word, gazing at her with half-lidded eyes. Incredible. Amazing. Miraculous woman. A life without her? Impossible. Not anymore. He knew it was irrational and naïve and even stupid, but what could he do? If he gave his heart, he gave it whole.
They moved to the couch for the last ten minutes to look at the Seine snaking between the houses. Both relaxed and comfortable with each other. Still alone on the whole floor. The moment couldn’t be better, so Adrien took Marinette’s hand in his and kissed the tips of her fingers. Delicate, yet so strong. She wouldn’t drop his heart and let it fall. He trusted her.
She hummed, smiling at him. “Yes?”
“Do you remember I said I really liked both Marinette and Ladybug?”
“I do. Why?”
“Well.” He squeezed her hand a little tighter. She was still here. She won’t disappear on him. “While I was smitten and fascinated by both of them… finding out that they both are you… I think… I… I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Her cheeks flushed, she curled her hand around his. “I’m in love with you too, Adrien,” she whispered. “Have been for some time.”
He leaned closer. Her eyes fluttering closed, she followed him. He gently brushed his lips against hers. Marinette’s arms weaving around his neck. His hands travelling to her back and the nape of her neck, Adrien pulled her flush against himself and kissed her again. This time deeper and longer. She sighed against him, her breath burning on his lips.
Sweet. Her lips were so sweet. Heavenly. They were addicting. He could see why his drunk-self had gone as far as he’d done, not caring the slightest about the surrounding them people. She made him forget everything. He really was crazy for her.
His heart racing, his head spinning, Adrien pulled away just a little. Gasping for much-needed air, he whispered, “Will you be my girlfriend, Marinette?”
Closing her eyes, she buried her face into his neck. “Am I allowed? With you being my boss’ son?”
“Absolutely. There are no policies forbidding relationships between employees less than two ranks apart, and once I’ll settle into my intended starting-off position, we’ll be right there.”
“And then we’ll climb the career ladder together. To stay together.”
“Without a doubt.”
She caressed his cheek, smiling. “In that case, I’d love to be your girlfriend, Adrien.”
He grinned and pulled her back into a kiss. A true love’s kiss, without a doubt. Otherwise, why would he feel like he was flying, like his whole life and everything he’d been through didn’t matter anymore. Freedom? He’d been released. Marinette set him free. No matter the cage, future or past, if she’d be by his side, he’d be happy anywhere.