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What Came Before He Knew Her

Chapter Text

It was shaping up to be a really, really bad day.

I thought It had started well enough.  The Mayor had commissioned a statue in the park to commemorate Paris’s two newest superheroes, and I’d snuck out of fencing practice to attend the formal unveiling with Ladybug.  She hadn’t appeared, though, leaving me to try and entertain the crowd and the very wound up sculptor, Theo.  Things started to go downhill when Theo confided that he was smitten with Ladybug and the jealousy monster within this cat reared its ugly head; I might have led him to believe I’d already occupied that spot in her heart.

I could see right away that I’d crushed him, badly, but at the time didn’t really care.  I was having my own troubles trying to woo Ladybug and frankly didn’t need the competition.  He left the park rather dejectedly, and I had I been thinking clearly, would’ve immediately recognized how much more trouble he would be later.  Instead, I’d made my way back to fencing practice and finished out the session with no one the wiser.

The second indicator that the day was going south came up after I returned to the mansion.  I’d been unpacking my gym bag and discovered my phone was missing.  It was a little odd since I usually kept good track of it – my whole life was on it, after all – but even after interrogating Plagg, it appeared I’d somehow lost it back at the gym.  I wound up forcing Nathalie to send for my bodyguard, who in turn drove me back to the gym.

The third indicator that the rest of the day was not going to go according to any plan at all came as we were driving.  I’d been watching the news network on the tiny screen embedded into the back of the driver’s seat; my jaw dropped when they cut to a breaking story and ran video of me – or rather, Chat Noir – ransacking the Louvre and taking off with a priceless painting.  I was pretty sure I’d been elsewhere at the time and immediately assumed Hawkmoth had launched another villain at us.

I’d left my bodyguard at the curb and ran back into the gym; deciding my missing phone was a lower priority, I’d instead used the quiet locker room to quickly transform to Chat Noir and took off for the Louvre.  Something in the back of my head was warning me that I’d probably should have cross checked with Ladybug, but another part of me was a tiny bit upset she’d stood me up at the dedication.

Landing on the roof of the glass pyramid, I’d slid down to find all of Paris’s Finest pointing their weapons at me.  With a bit of sweet talking, I’d managed to convince Officer Raincomprix I wasn’t the Chat Noir they were looking for and to let me take a look at the scene.  I was so intent on clearing my name, I didn’t see it for the trap it was and wound up physically locked up in the gallery – but not before I’d found a straw-like swizzle stick very similar to the one that Theo had been chewing on at the dedication.

One Cataclysm later and I was a fugitive from justice myself.  The fourth indicator that I was in serious trouble came when the entire Paris Police Force came after me, helicopters and all.  That seemed like a good time to finally check in with Ladybug to let her know I was on the trail of the imposter Chat Noir, but the gathering troops had forced me to cut the call short – but not before she’d tried to talk me out of going it alone.

I managed to evade the officers by ducking into the Metro and transforming back to Adrien.  Plagg had confirmed my suspicion regarding the swizzle stick: Theo had to have become Hawkmoth’s latest akumatized victim.  I knew then that it was my white lie about my relationship with Ladybug that had created the mess.  It only seemed right that I’d have to now clean it up.

I let Plagg recharge with the emergency Camembert I kept on hand.  When he’s had just enough, I transformed back to Chat Noir and started searching for Theo’s workshop.  It had seemed like a logical place to start, and I managed to get a glance at the advertisement he’d shown me at the dedication – the gallery address had been listed prominently but wasn’t in a part of Paris I’d been to recently.

As I covered the distance, I realized I was pretty upset at myself for how I’d handled the whole situation.  Yes, I was in love with Ladybug; that didn’t mean others couldn’t be, too.  It had been unfair of me to mislead Theo, no matter how my jealous heart tried to justify it.  I’d have to somehow make him see reason without hurting either one of us further.

Landing on the rooftop and peering down through the skylight, it had been easy to confirm I was in the right spot.  I’d called Ladybug again to let her know I was going in to confront Theo, but had insisted to her I could handle it on my own – no need for her to get involved – and clicked off before she could say anything further on the matter.  Honestly, I didn’t want her to know I had lied about our relationship – at least, not until I’d had a chance to try and repair the damage.

That led to the final indicator that my day was not going to turn out well.

I’d found a cute porcelain kitty sculpture atop a crate, with a card addressed to Chat Noir.  Now, any normal superhero would have been immediately suspicious, but having only been in the gig for a few weeks at that point, I was still learning the warning signs that I was in danger (I direct your attention to the Louvre incident earlier in the day).  Being a complete idiot, I picked up the note and in short order found my wrists cuffed to a long chain running through an anchor firmly bolted to the studio floor. 

Moving one wrist up required moving the other down, making movement nearly impossible.  The chain was also short enough to prevent me from moving too far from the anchor.  I tried some of my super strength and couldn’t budge the anchor at all, and started to feel the swell of panic in my chest. 

That’s when my mistakes increased geometrically, ultimately revealing just how much of a rookie I was.

I made matters much worse by immediately calling up Cataclysm with the intent of freeing myself from the chains.  Being Chat Noir was still new for me, and I hadn’t completely become attuned to the enhanced senses that came with it; in that moment, I was so focused on freeing myself I wasn’t paying attention to my feline ears.  As my hand came down, Copycat grabbed me from behind and with super strength equal to my own, redirected my Cataclysm to piece of plywood.  I watched in horror as it dissolved instead, simultaneously starting the five-minute timer to my de-transformation.

My heart was beating so hard in my ears I missed the first part of what Copycat said as he danced around me, and I saw my doppelgänger in full for the first time.  It wasn’t an exact mirror, of course; his voice still sounded like Theo, but everything else, down to the Miraculous on his hand was identical.  I reached for my baton, trying to twist around the chains, only to find that I’d also missed him removing it.

“Looking for this?  Which one should I pick up?  My one or my one?” he taunted me, holding up what I presume was his version, and what I now knew was mine.

Mine rang.  Copycat clicked it open and in a fair approximation of my own voice, told Ladybug he’d captured the culprit.  It was almost exactly what I had planned on saying myself. 

“Don’t come here, Ladybug!  It’s a trap!” I yelled, but Theo had snapped the phone shut before Ladybug could hear.

“Too late,” Copycat purred.  “Ladybug’s on her way, and that was my plan all along.”

“She won’t be duped,” I said.  “She knows me too well,” I added, hoping that was as true as it sounded.

“I know you well, too,” he said, pulling out the photo of Ladybug he’d shown me back at the dedication.  My eyes widened - it was purple-toned now, meaning the akuma was hiding within it.  “And from now on, she’ll love me, not you!”

I blinked.  “Love me?”  Yes, this day was thoroughly going down the tubes.  “Ahh, you’re right!  That’s why she’ll be able to reveal your true identity!”

That seemed to get under his collar as he used one of our staffs to knock me to my back.  In another moment, he’d harshly raised my ring hand with an iron grip around my wrist, driving my opposite hand into the ground, hard.  The fact that I found myself looking directly up at… myself… was almost surreal.

The day bottomed out with Ladybug arriving and finding me there, on the floor, about to lose my Miraculous, and quite possibly my gig as one of Paris’s protectors.  The flame of embarrassment touched my cheeks as she knelt over me, confusion reigning on her face as she looked to me and then Copycat.

“Chat Noir,” she said to Copycat, “he looks just like you!”

“That’s because I am me!” I said, but given my position, she deferred to Copycat.  I could feel the red on my cheeks going to deep scarlet.  So much for taking care of my own problem.

“Where’s his akuma?” I heard her ask Copycat.

“In his ring, of course.”

As she leaned in to start to slide it off my finger, my heart sank completely.  I couldn’t believe she thought I was the villain.  But then again, I suppose I’d triggered the whole thing in the first place…

At that moment, one of the pads on the ring chirped and went away.  Perplexed, Ladybug observed: “He even has the same powers as you…”

Copycat said something, but an idea had suddenly popped into my brain.  “Look, if you don’t believe I’m the real Chat Noir,” I said, “ask him about our love for each other.”

She stopped and stared at me.  “Uhhh…”

That was my only chance, as much as it hurt to pursue it.  “Would I ever lie to you, bugaboo?” I asked, with a wink and a Chat smile.

Ladybug turned back to Copycat, and leaned in close.  “I hope you didn’t tell him about us,” she said sweetly.

“What?” he said, thrown a bit.

“That we made a secret promise?”

“Uh… yes!” he lied, “of course!”

Ladybug sat back up.  “We never made a promise,” she said, “Copycat!”

“I love you, Ladybug!  I’m way better than this mangy alley cat!”

“Sorry,” she said firmly.  “Liars are losers.  Chat Noir may annoy me to pieces, but he’s never lied to me.”

I started to breath a bit easier.  “Thanks for the compliment – I think…”

The rest was bit of a blur.  Copycat triggered his version of Cataclysm, but Ladybug deftly maneuvered him into taking out the chains; I kept him busy with hand-to-hand combat while she figured out what to do with her Lucky Charm.  That was easier said than done as Copycat had identical abilities.  At length we managed to free the akuma and release its spell over Theo.

As he recovered on the floor of his studio, I turned to Ladybug and said, “I’m so glad you could tell the real cat from the fake one.”

That was when the day went totally dark, for Ladybug responded with: “Once I figured out which cat was really in love with me, it was a no-brainer.”

The force of her words hit me as if they’d been physical.  I may have even taken a slight step backward from her.  Fortunately, my ring let out it’s final warning chirp, allowing me to escape with what little dignity I now had.  “Better help the fellow out,” I said.  “His crush just got crushed.” 

I turned away and as I started to spring out the skylight, adding quietly: “That makes two of us.”

Scampering a few alleys away, I dropped my transformation and plied Plagg with enough cheese that I could resume being Chat Noir to get back to the gym and finally search for my phone, all the while trying hard not to think about how badly I had mishandled the day.  Once back at the gym, I stayed as Chat long enough to scour the locker room with my faster feline reflexes, but came up empty in the phone department.  Dejectedly I transformed back to Adrien and exited the gym, where my patient bodyguard was still waiting for me at the curb.

I stared out the window, finally alone with my thoughts and forced to return to those final, painful words from Ladybug.  How could she not know I loved her?  I felt like I’d made it obvious each time I was with her.  Was I no more to her than her sidekick, throwing myself in front of any danger that threatened her?

I smirked a little at that, since I often found myself taking a beating in an attempt to give her more time to get her Lucky Charm going.  But I’d willingly do it again and again to make sure my lady was safe.  I couldn’t believe she didn’t see that.

Fortunately, the next day turned out to be far better.

My thoughts hadn’t improved by the time I’d returned to school the following day, though.  Even Nino thought something was off, which was not good since Adrien had no reason to be feeling lovelorn at the moment.  I tried to channel some of my supermodel talents and fake a normal smile, but he remained concerned as we took our seats in class.  I decided to try and blame it on my missing phone.

“I haven’t found it yet,” I told him.  “I had it when I went to fencing practice yesterday, but it vanished after that.  I’ve searched everywhere for it.”

“Maybe you dropped it somewhere,” he offered.

“Well, if I did, someone found it in the boys’ locker room.  I was checking my voicemail in there during practice – that was the last time I saw it.”

At that moment, Marinette made an unusual motion behind me.  I’m not sure anyone else would have seen it, but after yesterday’s disaster, I’d started paying attention to all of my senses, both in and out of the costume.  I turned toward her, a quizzical expression on my face, and started to ask if she was ok.

My bookbag took that moment to fall over and empty it’s contents on the ground.  I snapped my head around and down, and there, on top of my physics notebook, was my phone.

“What?” I heard myself say, as I bend over and retrieved the phone.  “I looked there a thousand times!”

Nino chuckled.  “Dude, you need some time off.”

As I put my bookbag back together, I could have sworn I’d seen a look pass between Alya and Marinette.  I filed that away for later and snapped the satchel closed.

“Well,” I said, “glad to have it back.”  I slid it into my pocket as the teacher had started the lesson.

Classwork was routine but engaging, and lunch appeared suddenly.  I headed for the waiting sedan to whisk me back to the mansion for lunch, and pulled out the phone while enroute.  There were a ton of missed calls – many from my home phone, when I’d been trying to locate it – and that unknown number that had piqued my curiosity yesterday in the locker room.  On a whim, I redialed it.

It rang several times, before I thought I heard Ladybug’s voice.  “Hello?” she said.

“Uh, hi,” I started, unsure of how to proceed.  “Uh, this number called me yesterday and I was just returning the call.  Who is this?”

“Adrien?”  There was a pause.  “It’s Marinette!”

“Marinette?”  I felt an eyebrow going up.  I would’ve sworn it had been Ladybug, but maybe Nino was right – between Chat Noir, school and fencing, I was burning the candle at both ends.  “How is it I don’t have you in my phonebook?” I asked, laughing.  “I’ll fix that now.  What did you need?”

She paused again.  “Uh, I don’t remember now,” she said.  “But if I do, I’ll call you again.”

“All right,” I said pleasantly.  “See you this afternoon.”

I clicked off, and then paused.  There had been a voicemail from that number, too.  I flipped over to the messaging system, but the inbox was completely empty.

The recently deleted items folder, however, was not.

I opened the folder, and there was the message I’d seen yesterday at the gym.  I pressed listen and held the phone to my ear.

“Uh, hello.  Uh, Adrien’s voicemail, this is Marinette, who, uh, has a message for you, of course, cause it’s your phone so, um, hah! Hah! Call me! See you later!”

I found myself smiling.  It was totally Marinette.  I was about to click out when I realized I heard background noise, and kept listening.  I think I heard the phone being tossed and then, faintly, Marinette’s voice again. 

Oh my God.  She didn’t know it was still recording.

“What?  What did you expect me to say?” came the distance but chirpy voice.  “’Hey, hot stuff, this is Marinette, I’d like to ask you on a date to a movie but I’ve got such a crazy crush on you that the only way I can talk to you without foaming at the mouth is over this stupid phone.’  Pretty ridiculous, right?”

Another voice, even fainter.  Was that Alya?  “Hit two!  Hit two!”

The message ended.

I pulled the phone from my ear, stunned.  Marinette likes me?  Adrien?  Sure, I liked her quite a bit myself, but nothing beyond the casual friend level.  Although now that I thought about it, she did seem to always find a way to be in the same group I was in, or fortuitously wind up being the partner I was assigned to for school projects.  And Alya always seemed to be setting up foursomes with her and Nino, pairing me with Marinette.

I smacked my head.  Not only was I blind as Chat Noir, I’d been blind as Adrien, too.  I’d been seeing love with Ladybug where none apparently existed, and ignoring love from the place I least expected it.

Huh, I thought.  What an odd love triangle.  But I smiled, genuinely for the first time in a bit. 

It’s nice to know someone cares, though.

Something clicked in my brain, and I realized I was going to need to sort all of this out.  I just didn’t have the first clue how to go about doing it.

Chapter Text

The worst part was, I couldn’t remember half of what had happened.

It was some weeks after our run in with Copycat, and the nightmares had subsided just a bit (although even the thought of a ceramic kitten had me breaking out into a cold sweat).  I was still no further along in my grand scheme to convince Ladybug that I was her one and only Chat and had landed on Valentine’s Day thoroughly depressed.

I could remember writing my love sonnet to Ladybug, but I’d grown unhappy with what I’d created and crumpled it into the trash at school.  But the card I was holding in my hand had clearly been written by someone who’d read what I’d put down on that white lined paper, and the tiny ladybug that had crawled out across the words had made my heart leap. 

Somehow, Ladybug had found my love poem?  And had responded?

I looked at Plagg who was absolutely no help at all.  “It has to be from her,” I said anxiously.  “But how does she know my real identity?”

“You’re making some assumptions, Adrien,” he said as he popped the fifth (or sixth?  I’d lost count) slice of Camembert into his mouth.  Apparently I’d used Cataclysm earlier, which was another little something I couldn’t remember. 

At least, not clearly.  I did remember, to my horror, possibly saying some very un-Adrien like (and un-Chat like for that matter) things to Ladybug.  “What exactly happened to me out there?” I asked Plagg, pointedly.  “I remember starting to tell Ladybug how I felt about her; the rest is a blur until I think she kissed me...”

I looked at Plagg again, expectantly.  “She did kiss me, right?”

He sighed, almost as if he knew this conversation would go around in circles until he’d given me something.  “Yes,” he said at last.  “It’s what broke you free from the akuma spell.”

I plopped down dejectedly into my seat at the computer.  “So I did say all of that, then.”

Plagg remained silent, but the answer was clearly visible in his narrowed green eyes.

Merde. 

I buried my face in my hands.  This was supposed to have been the day that I finally told Ladybug how I felt, and instead I’d wound up mashing it up badly.  I knew I didn’t mean any of what I had likely said while under the influence of the akuma, but I couldn’t be sure Ladybug wouldn’t think it had been buried deep within Chat and simply hidden behind my incessant flirting.

The room suddenly felt close, and I made a spur of the moment decision to get out and away from my thoughts.  Plagg didn’t even have the chance to complain before I’d held out my ring: “Plagg - claws out!”

Savoring the experience of transforming just a little bit more than usual, I realized I’d been standing in the middle of my bedroom as Chat Noir with my eyes closed and had lost track of how long I’d been there.  I rectified that by hurtling over my couch and out the open window, somersaulting over the fence surrounding the mansion and out into the early evening dusk. 

For once, I just simply prowled the night skies as Chat, letting my wilder side have reign with no other plan than to not have a plan.  The wind ruffled through my longer hair as I soared over rooftops and scampered across the sides of buildings headed nowhere in particular.  It just felt right being out in the night, and I breathed in the various exotic scents my feline nose was able to pick up.

It was still Valentine’s Day, of course, and it wasn’t lost on me that people were out and about with their special somebody, either enjoying the pleasant evening with a stroll along the river, or sitting down to one of Philippe’s masterful dishes at his bistro.  I dropped to a cat crouch on a rooftop that looked across to an outdoor coffee café, and watched, entranced, as a couple sat at a round two-top.  He was holding her hand and looking directly at her; she was returning the look with a smile that spoke to the deep relationship they shared.

If I squinted, I could almost imagine I was sitting there instead, with Ladybug at my side, sipping a cooling café au lait and gazing deeply into those deep, deep blue eyes.  I’d give her my best Chat smile, crinkle my eyes, and sidle over to try and steal a kiss from those strawberry lips...

My eyes snapped open and I pulled myself out of my daydream, as my feline ears had picked up a particularly familiar ziiiing! noise, and it was heading for me.  I turned my head slightly to watch as Ladybug gently dropped in next to me, then gracefully sat down in a single movement.

“Chat,” she said pleasantly.  “Didn’t expect to see you out here tonight.”

“Nor I you, milady,” I said, faking the charm that I was nowhere near feeling.  “I assumed you had plans this evening, so I took the opportunity to stretch my legs, as it were.”

“Funny,” she said, and I could see that quirk of a smile on her face.  “I had much the same thoughts about you, Chat.”  She stared out across the gathering night.  “But no, no plans,” she said as wistfully as I thought I had ever heard her.

A feline ear perked up.  No plans?  Does that mean...? 

“That surprises me, milady,” I replied, wondering if this was really the right time to be doing this.  My heart was thumping as hard as my tail.  “I realize after what I said today, I have little to no chance with you now, but I can’t imagine you don’t have other suitors in the wings.”

That made her snap her head around.  “Oh, Chat!” she said, and placed a hand against my arm.  “You were under the influence of the akuma; I knew that wasn’t really you.”  She smiled warmly.  “I have a pretty good idea where I stand with you.”

I let out the breath I was holding.  “I can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel,” I said.  “It’s been bothering me ever since I returned back to my --- uh, rather, since we parted this afternoon.”

Ladybug squeezed over and wrapped her other arm around me in a gentle hug.  “Good,” she said.  “But to answer your unspoken question... no, there isn’t anyone at the moment.  I’m pretty much invisible to the one person I’d want most to see me.”

“Besides me,” I said, a tinge jealous of whoever she seemed to be pining away for.

She laughed.  “I’ll always have you, Chat,” she smiled again.  “Just not like that.”

I could feel my feline ears droop.  “Oh,” was all I managed to get out.

Ladybug seemed to realize what she had said and tried to amend.  “I didn’t mean it like that, Chat,” she started.  “I value our relationship; your friendship means a lot to me.”  She sighed.  “But it's probably more important that we get the hang of this whole superhero gig before we start down any other paths together.”

That made me perk up a bit.  “So you’re not writing me off, exactly,” I said, with the tiniest trace of hope.

“No, Chat, I’m not,” she said. “But I also don’t want you to get your hopes up, either.”

Not a no!  Not a no!

I turned more toward her.  “Do you like coffee, milady?”

Ladybug looked at me, puzzled.  “Yes...?”

The plan came together in my brain quickly.  “What would you like?” I asked as I stood up.  “I’m going to run over to that café and get something.”

“Chat!” she said.  “How are you going to do that?”

“Never mind that.  What do you want?” I repeated

She thought for a moment.  “Cafe mocha, double chocolate.”

That was funny.  I’d been at the coffee shop close to the school earlier in the week with Nino, Alya and Marinette and one of them had ordered the exact same thing, though truth be told, I couldn’t recall which one.  What were the odds?

I smiled.  “No peeking,” I said to her as I started to climb over the edge.  “My money is with my alter-ego.”

“Okay,” she agreed, and dutifully turned her back to the café.

I skulked down the side of the building and into the alley beside it, and dropped my transformation.  I took the added precaution of walking all the way around the block and coming at the café from the wrong side, though I was pretty sure Ladybug would keep her promise.

The barista took my order and I put it on my personal credit card, hoping Father would miss the tiny transaction and the odd timing (since it was a school night).  They packed our two coffees into a drink holder and I retreated back to the alley, donned Chat Noir once more, and masterfully clawed myself back to the rooftop one handed, while carefully balancing the drinks with the other.

Ladybug was still facing away from the café when I approached her.  “For milady,” I said, as I handed her the steaming paper cup.  The extra chocolate in it was assaulting my feline sense of smell enough that I had to take in a big whiff of my straight black house blend to clear my head.

She took the cover off and blew gently across the surface before sipping.  “Mmm, not bad,” she said, closing her eyes and apparently savoring the flavor.  “Thanks, Chat.”

“Well,” I said, grinning wildly.  “It’s only right I give chocolate to the one I love, on Valentine's day.”

Chapter Text

Almost a month later I was still finding myself grinning for no reason at all.  I must have looked like I’d lost my mind at school, since Adrien wasn’t normally the one to walk into walls or closed doors, but I had done plenty of that since my impromptu Valentine’s Day coffee outing with Ladybug.  I was still rational enough to realize that my status hadn’t really changed with her; I was simply reacting to the fact that she hadn’t exactly closed the door on me, either.

For now, that was a good enough start.

It was bad enough that my best friend, Nino, had been after me for weeks to explain myself.  He finally cornered me in the library one afternoon.  “Who is it, dude?” he asked as we continued our research for a paper we had to write on Baroque Music. 

“Who, what?” I replied, trying unsuccessfully to bob and weave.

“Adrien, dude, you’ve got it bad.”

I sat back from my tablet and stared into space.  “I suppose I do,” I said, hearing it aloud for the first time.

“Who is it?” he asked again.

I was caught.  Could I tell him without revealing too much?  If I didn’t say anything, or lied, it would be worse.  I stuck with the truth, as far as it went.  “You’ll laugh at me,” I hedged, delaying the inevitable.

He sat down next to me.  “Who.  Is.  It.”

I sighed.  “Ladybug,” I admitted, feeling my cheeks bloom red.

Nino smiled widely.  “You and about a million other guys in Paris,” he laughed, punching me in the arm.  “But your head has been the clouds for sure, man.  You’re gonna have to do something about it.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, partially thankful Nino assumed I was dealing with a fanboy crush.  The reality was that I’d fallen for Ladybug, hard, the moment I set eyes on her, and those feeling hadn’t wavered in the months since.

But Nino was right – it was time to act.  Or at least, ramp it up a bit.  Running ideas past Nino was hazardous, and even if I’d wanted to, Marinette happened by our table with Alya, squashing any further girl talk.

Marinette said something to us, but I found myself staring at her blue eyes.  They were a similar shade to Ladybug, which I’d never noticed before.  That reminded me of the voicemail I’d uncovered from her.  I hadn’t dealt with that yet, though it had helped to explain why she acted so strangely around me.  And I knew I was paying more attention to her now than before, which seemed to have ratcheted up her nervousness around me.

“…tonight?” Alya was saying.

“Wha--?” I said, turning to Nino. 

“Movies.  Tonight,” He said succinctly.

“Oh, ah, I can’t guys,” I said.  “I’ve got a… thing tonight.  Maybe a raincheck?”

“Me, too,” Marinette hastily added.  “I’ve got to work in the Bakery.”

“It’s Friday!” Alya cried.  “What is it with you two?”

“Sorry, guys,” I said as I cleared up my work to get ready for home.  I smiled the charming Adrien smile and we parted ways for the weekend with a promise to join them at some future point.

As part of our attempt to grow into our abilities, Ladybug had decided it might be prudent for us to spend a few hours out on patrol each evening, barring any akuma emergencies that might crop up.  I had readily agreed – spending any time with her was better than none at all – despite the fact it would put a crimp in my homework time and, possibly more alarming, my beauty rest.  Or on this particular evening, spending social time with my friends from school.

Since Valentine’s Day, I’d taken to arriving early at our arranged upon meeting point with her café mocha (double chocolate) ready to go.  It was a small thing, but it kept me connected to that special moment we’d shared.  So far, she’d accepted my offering graciously. 

Tonight, though, I’d decided to up the ante.  It was Saint Patrick’s Day, not something that we traditionally celebrated in France, but enough of a holiday that I thought I could get away with a little something extra for Ladybug.  I rushed through the last of my homework, stuffed Plagg with an extra amount of Camembert so he could bear to get through my romantic intentions, and then impatiently waited for the clock on my phone to shift to 2000. 

“Plagg - claws out!”

The green flash of my transformation was still receding when I bolted from my bedroom a good hour earlier than necessary.  I soared over the rooftops of Paris, headed for the Dupain-Chang Bakery and a batch of those insanely good macaroons Marinette frequently shared with our class.  The Bakery was on the opposite side of the city from where I was supposed to meet Ladybug, so the extra time was necessary for me to keep my reputation intact for early arrivals.  It was, however, extremely convenient to the mansion, so I made excellent time.  It also meant it wouldn’t be unusual for Adrien to swing through on a random Friday evening.

I landed in an alleyway just to the side of the Bakery, and was about to transform to Adrien when I heard a startled gasp.  I whirled around and there was Marinette, who had apparently been on the sidewalk outside the alley.

“Chat Noir?” she said.  “Is something wrong?”

Why did everyone always say that?

“Uh... no, Mademoiselle... uh?”  I feigned ignorance at who she was.

“Marinette,” she said.  “You probably don’t remember me...”

“Ah, yes,” I said, grandly bowing and taking her hand into my paw, kissing it in the process.  “How could I forget someone so beautiful?”

She slid her hand out of my grasp, almost with the same movement Ladybug often used.  I was going to have to modify my approach.  “Hah,” she said.  “So if there’s no problem...” she said, although she did also take a quick look around just to confirm the sky wasn’t falling.

I often found that telling the truth, even selectively, helped in these sorts of situations.  I smiled a Chat smile.  “Actually, purrincess, I’m here to pick up some goodies for my sweetie.”

Her eyes widened.  “You have a... sweetie?”

“Yes,” I said, accidently doing so with that dreamy expression I’d been fighting.  I snapped back.  “Well, technically it’s unrequited, but a cat can hope, right?”  I winked to emphasize my point.

“Okay,” she said, a bit bemused.

“You’ve br-- I mean, I’ve been privileged to try the macaroons that your Bakery is known for,” I said, and then saw her eyes widen.

“You know about my family’s bakery?” she said.

Aaargh!  Adrien would know, not Chat.  “Yes,” I said, trying to dig myself out of the hole I was in.  “It’s all they talk about at school.”

Her eyes went wider.  “School?  You’re a student at my school?”

Aaaargh!  Why am I melting down here?  Another minute and she’ll have my shoe size.

I scratched the back of my neck, a move that brought a raised eyebrow from Marinette.  “Well, hah hah, actually I’m kind of on a schedule...”

She glanced at her phone and jumped.  “Good heavens, I’ve got something myself, too.  Look, come on in and I’ll get your macaroons for you.” She grabbed me by the arm with more strength than I expected and dragged me directly into the store before I could say another word.

I blinked in the bright light of the cheery store, and breathed in the scents.  I’d been here as Adrien before, of course, and had planned on picking up the macaroons as him that evening.  Especially since my wallet was literally in the other set of clothes.  This was the first time I’d been there as Chat, though, and the overwhelming and overlapping panoply of flavors in the air froze me in the middle of the space with what I was sure was the wackiest cat grin ever displayed.  I was still fine tuning my ability to interpret my enhanced feline senses, and this had just become the ultimate test.

It took me a minute – a full minute -- before I realized Marinette and her father had been staring at me, and may have even said something.  I continued to smile, but felt embarrassment flaming on my cheeks.  “I’m so sorry,” I said.  “Your store smells... divine... and I’m in a bit of sensory overload.”

To her credit, Marinette smiled in her warm and generous way and came back around the counter, holding a box of wrapped macaroons.  “That’s probably the nicest thing any customer has ever said to us,” she said, turning to her father.  “Isn’t that true, Dad?”

He nodded.  He appeared to be the strong, silent type, and was sizing me up.  I was thinking the skintight black suit might not have been making a great first impression on him.

“Here you go,” she said, pressing the box into my hands.  “Can I get you anything else?  Coffee, perhaps?” she added, eyes sparkling.

“You sell coffee, too?”

“Best in Paris,” her father said.  “My personal blend.”

“Uh, yes, then, one coffee, black.  And one café mocha, double chocolate.”

Monsieur Dupain’s eyebrow shot up and he glanced toward his daughter.  “We don’t get that order often,” he said pointedly.  “Coming right up.”

Marinette ignored him. 

I pulled her to the side.  “Look, uh, I can’t pay for these at the moment,” I said quietly.  “It’s gonna sound like a line, but my cash is in my other, uh, outfit.”

“Chat, it’s on the house.”  She smiled again as she returned to the counter and boxed up my coffee order for her dad.  “All set!” she said as she slid it over to me.

“Thank you, Princess,” I said.  “I owe you.”

“I’ll collect,” she said, with that same enigmatic smile she’d had before.  “Stop by anytime.”

I thanked them again and bolted from the store.  I’d spent way longer than I’d realized there and had very little time to get to my rendezvous with Ladybug.  I arrived with only a few minutes to spare, and settled in to wait for her arrival.

Ladybug was uncharacteristically late, arriving a full ten minutes after the top of the hour.  She dropped down beside me, breathless and carrying her own bag.  “Sorry, Chat,” she said as she settled in.  “I had to make a quick side trip and it took longer than I expected.”

She produced a square box from the Dupain-Chang Bakery.

“Huh,” I said, raising a masked eyebrow.  “Great minds think alike,” I laughed as I produced my smaller box, and cracked it open to display the macaroons.  “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!”

She started to laugh too.  “I must have just missed you,” she chuckled as she cracked open her box. 

The luxurious smell of a chocolate-filled croissant wafted toward me.  I sniffed again, and my eyes widened.  “Belgian chocolate?” I said.  “How did you know--” I started, realizing abruptly I was about to reveal something about my alter-ego.

“Ladybug luck-y guess?” she answered, not very convincingly.  “I could ask the same of you,” she said, pointing to the macaroons.  “Those are my favorite.”

To be honest, I’d just assumed Ladybug would enjoy the cookies based on how everyone at school reacted when Marinette brought them.  Though, now that I thought about it, Marinette generally managed to make sure she had more than one herself.

I must have smiled at the memory, for Ladybug caught it and asked between bites (and sips of her coffee), “What are you thinking just now?”

“I’m happy seeing you happy,” I said, deftly tacking away from revealing anything more.  “Do you like that coffee?  I thought I’d try it since I was at the Bakery.”

“Mmm,” she said as she took another long sip.  “It’s the best in Paris,” she said, oddly echoing what Marinette’s dad had said.  “I’m flattered you think so much of me you’d cross the city for it.”

“For you, milady?  No distance is too far.”

Chapter Text

March bled into April and Spring had begun to take over Paris. 

The weather had gotten warmer and blooms were evident everywhere I looked.  Something about the annual cycle of renewal seemed to get into my blood, making me decide it was finally time to deal with the voicemail I’d received from Marinette.

I’d managed to see her a few more times at the Bakery, both as Adrien picking up some goodies to take back to the mansion, or a few evenings as Chat, again picking up the odd box of macaroons for Ladybug (though on those subsequent visits, I’d remembered to keep some cold, hard cash in my costume’s pocket).  Marinette always seemed calmer and more approachable when she was at the Bakery, but none of those trips had allowed me enough time to try and chat with her; so, naturally, I managed to come up with a slightly different tactic.  I just needed a little Ladybug luck to make it happen.

Opportunity arose midway through April. 

Father had gone out of town on an extended business trip for his company, taking Nathalie with him and leaving me mostly to my own devices for a few weeks.  My bodyguard continued to run me around Paris, but I had more freedom than normal to come and go as Chat Noir.  I’d been arriving earlier and earlier for my nightly prowls around Paris with Ladybug, but it had been exceedingly quiet.  Still, I had pushed the limits as much as I could, routinely returning to the mansion well after one most nights, trying to extend every moment I was able to spend as my alter ego with my Lady.

Ladybug had noticed I was burning the candle a bit too much on one particularly quiet evening.  We’d wound up on a rooftop with a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower; it had been lit for the evening and I felt it was almost sparkling in the night.

“That is extraordinary this evening,” I said quietly, stifling a yawn.  The roof was at a downward angle, and I was leaning on my back, propped up by my elbows, boots pressed against a tile to keep myself from sliding.

Ladybug had somehow managed to gracefully perch atop the roofline proper.  “It is, isn’t it?”  She smiled.  “I am thankful each day to live in such a beautiful spot.”  She turned toward me, slightly.  “That reminds me, Chat.  Do you mind cancelling the patrol for a night or two?”

“What’s up?” I asked nonchalantly.  “Please don’t tell me you’ve got another cat sequestered somewhere.”

She laughed.  “Nothing like that, kitty.  No need to get jealous.  But it’s been quiet enough, we could probably ease back a bit.  I don’t know about you, but I could stand to get a good night’s rest for once.”

I turned toward her.  “Okay,” I said simply.  “I could use a night off, honestly.”  I emphasized my feeling by yawning expansively and stretching luxuriously, something I could only do well while Chat.

“Cool,” she said, and stood.  “I think I’ll call it a night – see you on Friday!”

“It’ll be macaroon night,” I said, referring to the fact that I usually brought snacks on our Friday rounds.

She smiled tiredly.  “You know you don’t have to keep doing that, right?”

“I do,” I said, smiling my wide Chat smile.  “I’m trying to wear you down.”

“Or add a few inches to my waist,” she said.

“That isn’t remotely possible,” I reminded her.  If she was anything like me, her metabolism had gone to another planet entirely since donning her Miraculous.  I felt like I was eating constantly now and knew for a fact I’d not gained anything other than muscle mass.

She laughed again and sailed into the night on her yo-yo. 

I returned the mansion myself and changed for bed, but wound up staring at the ceiling, thinking about the Marinette voicemail and trying to decide my best approach.  I was having trouble deciding between approaching her as Adrien or dropping in as Chat.  Adrien asking about the voicemail was likely not going to get me too far; Chat had a different issue, since he wouldn’t have any way of knowing about the call and therefore no reason to bring it up.

But my interactions with her at the Bakery led me to believe she’d likely to be more comfortable talking to Chat.  I thought about asking Plagg, but the snoring coming from the dirty clothes hamper reminded me that one of us was taking this whole bedtime thing seriously.  I rolled over and managed to get what amounted to a cat nap in before hauling myself through the shower to get ready for school.

Bleary eyed, I worked my way through the morning at school and was getting ready to head home for lunch when I caught Alya talking to Marinette.

“I can’t,” Marinette was saying.  “I’ve got to get some sketching done during lunch today, Alya.”

“Okay, girl,” she said.  “See you this afternoon.”

I thought quickly and realized this might be my chance to catch Marinette; it seemed safer than dropping in unannounced at the bakery this evening.  I texted my bodyguard that I’d be staying at school for lunch and then made my way to the men’s bathroom.  Having been surprised here a few times by classmates, I made an effort to ensure I was alone before locking myself into a stall.

“Plagg – claws out!” I said quietly.

The flash of transformation enveloped me, and as Chat Noir, I bounded up and out of the stall, leapt across the tops of the stalls and through the conveniently open windows.  I hooked a claw on a downspout and threw myself up to the rooftop, dashed across the tiles and dropped just to the edge of the façade of the school, peering around to see if I could catch a glimpse of Marinette.

My feline eyes quickly picked out her signature outfit, and followed her as she skipped down the steps of the school.  I started to coil up to launch myself to the next rooftop when she turned away from the route that would lead her to the Bakery.  I redirected my leap to give pursuit, curiosity having piqued this cat.

Where are you going, Purrincess?

I kept pace with her from the sky, trying to keep as low a profile as a cat-themed superhero could, given it was the middle of the day.  At one point, I thought perhaps she might have seen me and managed to duck between two chimneys, peering out after she had turned a corner.  I briefly lost her visually, but as my ability to use my feline sense of smell had progressed, I was quickly able to pick out her distinctive scent and found her again just as she entered the broad plaza by the riverbank.

It most definitely was not home.

I dropped in behind a parapet ringing a decorative cupola that overlooked the plaza and skulked low enough to keep my cat ears below the railing as I continued to watch her movements.  I tried to tell myself I wasn’t actually stalking Marinette, but it was hard to argue with the evidence.  I had no good reason to have followed her.

I didn’t have a great view of Marinette between the decorative slats of the parapet, so I risked poking my head over.  She had her back to my position and from what I could tell, was busy working in her sketch book.

Ah-hah! I thought.  This is her fabled inspiration point.

I knew from what conversations I’d managed to have with her at school (usually when others were around, naturally, as she seemed to freeze up when it was just the two of us) that she often sought out this spot in order to rough in or complete ideas she was working on.  As a budding fashion designer, many of the sketches she’d shared with us had been amazing and showed that she had some true talent.

Now or never, I thought.

I pulled myself over the edge of the parapet and climbed quietly down the side of the structure, lightly dropping the final few meters to the sidewalk.  I made a point of jingling my bell as I stepped down the steps toward Marinette, not wanting to startle her.

She’d heard my approach and turned, smiling.  “I thought you’d been following me, Chat,” she said pleasantly, her hand holding the page open in her book.

So much for stealth, I thought. 

“Sorry, Purrincess,” I said as I folded myself into a sitting cat position next to her.  “I’m not stalking you,” I said defensively, “but I did want to chat with you, if you had a few minutes.”

“Talk with me?” she asked, puzzled.  “What about?”

I scanned her face, looking for any trace of anger that I had followed her, and found none.  Only deep blue eyes that were slightly puffy in the way eyes get when one is very, very tired.  It occurred to me that I might not be the only student burning candles at both ends.

I’d rehearsed what I’d wanted to say multiple times.  “I have a conundrum,” I started.

“Okay.”

“And I feel like you are the best person to go to for advice.”

Her eyes crinkled with the smile that joined it, but she remained silent.

I plunged forward.  “I am aware that someone likes me. Really likes me,” I emphasized, “but is having trouble actually telling me.  Directly.”

Marinette stared at me thoughtfully.  “I see,” she said.

“I can’t say how I came into this information,” I continued, “but let’s just say the person in question would die of embarrassment if they knew that I had found out.”

She looked at me with an odd expression.  “You’re not talking about you and Ladybug, are you?”

I felt embarrassment starting to appear on my face. “Uh, no, Purrincess,” I said haltingly.  “Uh, Ladybug is well aware of how I feel about her.”

“I see,” she said again. 

“So, I guess my question is that I don’t know how to approach… this other person.  If I let them know I know, that could get messy.  But I feel like I need to say something.”

“Do you like this other person?”

“Yes.”

“In the same way that… they seem to like you?”

I’d thought about that myself.  “No,” I said honestly.  “My heart is elsewhere.”  I looked at her directly.  “But I value them deeply as a friend.”

Marinette chuckled.  “Ah, the dreaded Friend Zone,” she said.

I could feel the heat of embarrassment now.  “Wow.  That really makes this sound awful.”

“Look at it from their perspective,” she said gently.  “My guess is they likely feel the same about you as you do about Ladybug.”

I looked away and down toward the river, which was flowing gently.  “I hadn’t thought about that,” I said honestly.  At no point had I considered that my reaction toward Marinette and her crush on me (as Adrien) was almost a parallel to how Ladybug was treating me (as Chat).  I certainly knew how I felt.  If Marinette was dealing with the same emotions… I’d have to find a way to make this right.

Somehow.  But without hurting her.

I turned back to Marinette, and took her hand into my paw.  “Thank you, Marinette,” I said as I leaned down to kiss the top of her hand.  “This has been very helpful.”  I stood up.  “If I’m not mistaken, however, you are going to be late for class.  Unless, of course, you let me run you back to school…?”

“Oh!” she said suddenly as she looked at her phone.  It was showed the time as 1252, meaning both of us had less than eight minutes to get back.  She put her sketchbook into her bag.  “Thank you, Chat,” she said.  “That would be appreciated.”

I wrapped an arm around her waist, grabbed my baton, and vaulted to the rooftops, gently carrying her through the skyline of Paris and back toward our school.  I carefully dropped down in an alleyway around the corner and let her go.  “Thank you again for your time,” I said, bowing gallantly. 

“Anytime, Chat,” she smiled.  “I’ll see you on Friday, right?” she suddenly asked.

My eyes widened.  Friday?  How would she know about… oh, right. 

“Of course, Princess.  I’ll be by at the usual time to get my sweetie’s goodies.”

She smiled wider and quickly headed toward the main doors.  I waited several moments before I dropped my transformation and followed her up the steps as Adrien.

My escapade had made me miss lunch, and my stomach rumbled loudly as I slipped in next to Nino for my first class of the afternoon just as the bell was ringing.  He raised an eyebrow but said nothing, pointedly inclining his head toward Marinette, who had arrived just ahead of me.  As she settled into her seat, devious inspiration hit.  I opened the IM chat function on my tablet – a forbidden activity that prevented none of us from using it – and pinged Marinette.

Adrien: missed you at lunch.  where were u

M: Sketching

Adrien: Cool, share later?

M: maybe lol Why?

Adrien: Love seeing your designs.

M: Thx

Adrien: Look, I don’t say this enough, but thank u for being my friend.  You mean the world to me.

M: What’s wrong? Are you dying?!

Adrien: Nothing like that!  Just making up fur (whoops!  I backed that out) for lost time.

I think she dropped her stylus.  I tried not to smile as I started to add more, but was interrupted by a new four-way chat window popping open.

Alya: Guys, look at my new scoop!

She’d posted a link to the Ladyblog for Marinette, Nino and I.  With a gnawing dread in my stomach, I clicked the link and was greeted by one of her typically over the top headlines.

CHAT NOIR HAS A NEW SWEETHEART? #MARICHAT

Directly below it were several photos of me with Marinette on the plaza, including an especially incriminating one of me kissing her hand, followed by a completely out of context one with my arm around her waist.  That last one had to have been taken just before I’d launched us out of the plaza on the baton.  But that next shot was nowhere to be seen.

Oh no.  This is not good.

I flipped back to the chat window.

Nino: Ladybug won’t like that.

M: Hey!  There’s nothing going on between me and Chat, Alya.

Alya: Says you.  Look at the photos!

M: I was *there* Alya.  He wanted to talk.

Adrien: There’s no way he was hitting on Marinette, Alya.  He’s in deep with Ladybug.

Alya: How do you know that, Adrien?

Adrien: Isn’t it obvious?

Nino, Alya: No!

M: Guys!  He was just talking to me!

Alya: I have a source that says he’s at your bakery on Friday nights.  Care to comment?

M: Really, Alya?  We are gonna have to talk after class.

I groaned and slowly started to bang my head on the desk. 

So much for clearing things up.

Chapter Text

Alya’s blog post created no end of trouble for Marinette, and by the end of the week, she’d taken to burying herself in her classwork and hiding in the library.  I was pretty much responsible for the situation in the first place and felt immense guilt over it.

Chat had created the problem, so Chat was going to fix it.

We were still on our self-imposed hiatus from our nightly prowl, so I’d actually gotten a reasonable night’s rest in and woke early Friday morning feeling refreshed for once.  I ran through the shower, dressed for school, and mischievously took advantage of the fact that Nathalie was on the business trip with Father.

My bodyguard was in the main hallway reading the paper when I trotted down the stairs.  Not a man of many words, he looked pointedly at the clock under the staircase which had barely chimed 0615, and raised an eyebrow.

I held up my gym bag.  “Early practice today,” I said.  “Can you drop me off?”

The other eyebrow went up, but he stood and went out to retrieve the sedan; I waited for him at the bottom of the steps and got in when he pulled up.  We had our usually witty banter on the drive over to school, which is to say I read the news on my phone while he drove in silence.  Traffic was fairly light for that hour, so he made good time and I arrived in front of the school by 0640.

I got out and started up the steps, slowly, knowing full well the doors would still be locked.  I delayed long enough that the sedan pulled away before I reached the top step.  I waited an extra moment to ensure that the sedan hadn’t just gone around the block, then skipped back down the staircase two at a time and dashed to the alleyway off to the side.  There was a convenient gap between a dumpster and the wall, and I used it to stash my gym bag.

I took one final look to ensure the coast was clear, and held out my ring.

“Plagg – claws out!”

The transformation glow had barely faded before I was clawing up the side of the building.  Once on the roof, I started to run across the tiles and vaulted into the air, somersaulting onto the next building in the process.  As fast as I could, I made my way to the Bakery, trying to time it to meet Marinette before she’d left for school.

I dropped onto the roof of a building beside the bakery and across from the park; I’d seen it before, and it had some very cool downspouts that were just begging to be used as a fireman’s pole.  I skulked to the edge of the roof, peering over to make sure I was not in direct line of sight of the Bakery, and then went over the edge and wrapped my arms around the downspout. 

“Yee-haaaw!” I cried as I quickly slid to ground level… and directly into an open catchment full of disgustingly cold water filled with refuse.  I spluttered as I came back to the surface, quickly pulling myself out and dropping on all fours, soggy, to the sidewalk.

I shook water out of all of my ears.  “That seemed like it would be more fun,” I said to no one in particular, finding myself now cold and wet.

“Chat?” came a familiar voice from across the street.

And I’d been so careful, too.

I looked up, still dripping, to see Marinette at a side door to the Bakery, holding a trash bag that was apparently on its way to its final destination.  Based on her stance, she had clearly caught my ignominious dunking.  “Uh, hello, Princess,” I said, trying not to shiver.  “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” I said cheerfully.

“What are you doing out here, Chat?” she asked.

“Would you believe me if I told you I was just finishing my bath?”

“No, especially since I saw you sliding down that pipe with the glee of a five-year-old,” she said, smiling.

“Yeah,” I said, flicking my eyes back at the catchment.  “And cats do hate water.”

“Why are you here, Chat?” she asked again, putting down the trash bag for a moment.

I got to my feet and crossed the alleyway, careful to stay far enough away that I wouldn’t get her wet.  “All right, I confess.  I came to see if I could catch you before school today,” I started.

Whoops!  I did it again.

“I mean, before you go to school today,” I hastily amended as I tried to wring out my tail.  “I saw the photos on the Ladyblog and figured you were taking a fair amount of heat from my impromptu visit at the plaza.  I wanted to apologize,” I said, trying hard to quash my shivering. 

I didn’t normally get cold when roaming the city as Chat Noir, but it was a chilly April morning and I was drenched.  “I feel terrible for putting you into that pos—pos—position,” I finally got out through chattering teeth.  Unconsciously, I wrapped my arms around myself in a poor attempt to get warm.

“I appreciate that, Chat,” she said, eyeing me.  “Perhaps, in the future, you’ll be a little more circumspect?” she continued with a trace of a smile.  “You are one of two of the most recognizable superheroes in Paris, after all.  Alya can’t be the only one following your every move.”

I nodded as much as I could.  “Qu—qu—quite correct, Princess,” I agreed. 

“And, maybe, you might pay more attention to who was following you, too.”

This was starting to feel like some sort of life lesson.  But she wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t already thought of; I had been so single-minded in my stalking --- uh, rather, pursuit --- of Marinette, I’d completely spaced on Hero Tip Number One: always be aware of your surroundings.

I flicked a look back at the catchment.  Apparently, I was going to be a slow learner on that particular tip.

I looked back at Marinette, suddenly realizing exactly what she had just said to me.

In the future…?

Marinette opened the door.  “Come on, Chat.  Let’s get you a blanket.  You’re turning blue.”

“You ha—ha—have to get to sch—school,” I protested, as she grabbed me by the arm and forced me into the Bakery’s kitchen.  It was the second time she’d proven to me she was stronger than she looked.

“We’ve got time,” she said.  “Especially if some cool kitty decides to give me an express lift.”

I nodded.  “Of course, purr-purr-purrincess,” I said.

She found a stool and set me down close to the bread oven, and then draped me with several large blankets she brought in from the residence.  Her father was out in the main part of the store, only briefly poking his head in to ensure there was no funny business going on between us.  Frankly, I was shaking so hard at that point, I was having a hard time not scratching the wood on the stool with my claws.  Funny business was nowhere near the top of my list.

A cup of divine smelling coffee was pressed into my shaking paws, and I carefully lifted it for a sip, then a second.  Between the warmth of the bread oven against my costume, and the hot coffee, I started to feel normal in short order.

“Thank you,” I said.  My green eyes went to the cat clock in the kitchen, noting it was now 0734.

Really?  A cat clock?

“I’m still a bit damp,” I said, “but it’s getting later.  Are you sure you want a lift?”

“Got it covered,” she said, as she produced a plastic pullover rain parka and deftly pulled it on.

“Someone recently went to Disneyland,” I said, observing the stylized Mickey Mouse on the back.  “Are you seriously expecting me to carry you wearing that, though?” I asked.  “Mice and cats… not a good combination.  I have a reputation to maintain, Princess.”

“I’m sure you do,” she said.  “Consider this payback for the plaza,” she added, eyes twinkling.

“Ah,” I said.  “You drive a hard bargain, mademoiselle.”

She took the empty coffee cup from me, and then led me to the door.  Once outside, I wrapped an arm around her, gently, and started to extend my baton.  In my periphery, I could see her wrinkle her nose.  I was not unaware that I had acquired a rather detestable odor from having been submerged, and wondered idly if it would disappear when I dropped my transformation.

We made it to school with time to spare, and I landed in the same alley I’d started from, gently detaching Marinette from me and bowing grandly.  “Thank you for the coffee,” I said. 

She nodded and started to walk away.  I thought of something and put a gentle hand on her.  “Uh, Marinette?”

She turned back.  “Yes?”

“Do you like cannoli?”

Her eyes widened.  “I love cannoli,” she said.  “Why?”

“No reason,” I said, smiling widely, as I started to climb away from her.  “See you tomorrow night, then.”

“Wait, what?!” I heard her say to my retreating form.  “Chat?!”

I made like I hadn’t heard her and continued up and over the wall to the roof, flopping down behind the edge.  I cocked a feline ear and heard her leave the alley, somewhat exasperated, and then flipped back over myself to retrieve my gym back and drop my transformation.

Plagg floated away from me, holding his nose.  “What are you doing with Marinette?” he asked.  “And good luck hiding that awful smell.”

I took a sniff and realized he was right, I was in sorry shape. I dug through the gym bag and came up with a bottle of the horrid cologne Father was hawking these days, held my own nose, and doused myself liberally.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “But for some reason, it feels like the right next step in smoothing the way for her and Adrien.”

“How does visiting her as Chat Noir figure into that plan, exactly?” he said.  “He’s not he one she’s hot for.”

“I know,” I said, as I packed up everything and started toward school.  “I’ll figure it out.”

“Right,” he said, as he ducked into my shirt.

I came around the corner to find Alya on the steps, talking excitedly with Marinette.  My threat level went to crimson and I approached them warily (and, hopefully, from the upwind side).  “Ladies?”

Marinette looked up and froze as she always did in my presence.  Alya ignored her.  “Look. At. This!”

She turned the phone up and showed me video of my carrying Marinette toward the school not five minutes earlier.  “Wow,” I said, turning to Marinette and trying to stay in character as Adrien.  “Twice in three days?  He must really like you.” 

I started to turn away, and then my inner Chat made me pause and turn back.   I added somewhat devilishly, “It’s almost enough to make some of us jealous.”

Alya’s jaw dropped and Marinette went white.

“See you in class,” I said on my way up the steps, trailing Eau De Catchment in my wake.

Chapter Text

The weekend was upon me and with Father still out of town, I decided to take full advantage and escaped from the mansion directly after breakfast.  I wasn’t usually out this early as Chat Noir on any day, let alone a weekend morning, so I prudently tried to keep a lower than normal profile: instead of the giant arcs I normally cut through the air, I kept low to the rooftops and avoided leaping anything wider than an alleyway.  I had no particular destination in mind and was instead simply enjoying the freedom of being Chat.

I still kept an ear out for any trouble as I worked the city, but we’d gone almost ten days now without any sort of akuma attack.  I was privately worried that this might spell the end of my time as a superhero, but then again, I couldn’t argue with a future that didn’t need people like me keeping Paris safe, either.  So I decided to enjoy the quiet for just a teensy, tiny bit.

Close to noon, I found myself arriving at the grand plaza where I’d met up with Marinette a few days prior.  I hadn’t gone specifically to seek her out, especially since I was going to be dropping in on her later that evening; instead, I was planning on just sitting and taking in the view for a while.  And maybe consider how to get lunch, given how my stomach had started to rumble.  Loudly.

I dropped in on a gently sloping roof that was facing the river, scuttled up the roof tiles slightly, and leisurely stretched out to soak up some rays.  The plaza was busy with people enjoying the pleasant April day, and I idly watched the boats moving up and down the gently flowing river.  It was truly a chamber of commerce day for Paris.

My feline sense of smell started to pick up a delicious scent coming from below, and I propped myself up to see a food vendor rolling his cart into the broad sidewalk just above the plaza’s steps.  I was pretty sure I was picking up some mouthwatering combination of sausage and peppers – an option too good to pass up.  I cat-walked to the edge of the building and carefully climbed down into a fairly hidden cross corridor, waited a bit to ensure I was truly alone, and dropped my transformation.

“Plagg – claws in!”

The glow faded and I quickly walked around the corner to find the vendor had stopped and setup shop.  I stepped up and was rewarded by being his first customer of the day.  I watched as he carefully pulled out a warmed bun, layered in the sausage and topped it with slewed onions and peppers.  I paid the tab, grabbed a ton of napkins and whipped back around to the alleyway with the intent to re-transform and enjoy my lunch from my original perch.

“Plagg – claws out!”

As the glow faded, I caught movement at the end of the alleyway and immediately dropped into my pounce-crouch, discarding my lunch in the process.  I needn’t have worried: it was Marinette, who had rounded the corner and was staring at me with a bemused expression.

I was nearly certain she hadn’t seen me transform – at least, I was reasonably certain?  Okay, I’ll be honest, my attention had been on my lunch and not the alley.  “Marinette,” I said, wistfully watching as my lunch started to get picked over by the ever-present pigeons.  “We have to stop meeting in alleyways.”

“Chat,” she said as she walked toward me.  Her eyes flicked to the mess now on the ground.  “Was that…?”

“Yeah,” I said, “but it’s not a purroblem.  I can get another.”  I looked at her for a second.  “Would you care to join me?”

“Uh,” she said, “I’m fine, thanks.  I had a bite to eat before coming over here.”

I stood up next to her, seeing for the first time her sketchbook.  “Ah!  More sketching!”

“Yes,” she nodded, smiling.  She looked at me for a moment.  “Care to join me?”

“If I won’t be a distraction,” I said, smiling broadly. 

“Oh,” she said, smiling wider, “you’ll be that.  But I could use a model to sketch, if you’re willing.”

“I’m drawn to you, Purrincess,” I laughed.  She had no idea she was asking a real model to sit down for her.  “I’ll happily subject myself to your meowinstrations,” I happily added, watching her roll her eyes.

Lunch forgotten, I followed her out into the broad plaza.  “You sit there,” she said, pointing me to a step.  “As a cat, Chat,” she said.

“No lounging, then,” I replied as I refolded myself into my patented patient cat stance.  I even rearranged my tail so it would artistically wrap around.

“That’s perfect,” she said.  “Now, sit still.”

“I believe you meant ‘purrfect,’ Princess,” I corrected.  “And are you sure this is my best side?” I added, needling her slightly by turning my head to and fro.  “I have a hard time telling in the mirror.”

I could tell she was trying not to giggle.  “Hush,” she said, starting to sketch in her book.

The afternoon wore on, and I had a pleasant time rearranging myself as directed once Marinette had finished a particular angle and wanted something different.  I lost track after she’d flipped through at least six pages, thoroughly engrossed in watching her work.  She often held her tongue at an angle when sketching, her deep blue eyes continually flicking between her subject and the paper with an intenseness I’d seen before – but with Ladybug.  It was odd how many similarities the two had, and how I’d never noticed that.  Then again, my blood sugar levels were running at all time lows, and I very well could have been hallucinating.

Only once I’d started having to put a paw or two to shield my eyes from the setting sun did Marinette realize just how long we had been at it.  She looked up from her pad apologetically.  “I’m sorry, Chat,” she said.  “Once I get into the zone, I lose all track of time.”

I stretched out, trying to get a kink out of my back from the particular position she’d placed me in last.  I was infinitely more flexible while transformed and relished the ability to thoroughly ease the tension in my lower lumbar region.  “This has been an exceptional afternoon,” I said.  “It’s been fascinating watching you work.”  I hesitated.  “Any chance I can peek?”

“Well,” she said, suddenly blushing.  “Okay.”

Marinette stepped over to me and flipped to the first page, a stray lock of hair falling forward into her face as she moved.  My eyes widened – the likeness was insane; she’d even managed to get the pattern in my costume right, despite only using a pencil.  “Wow,” I said, too overwhelmed to say anything else. 

She flipped through the rest.  Some focused on particular expressions she’s asked me to make, others on close up details, like the reflection of the plaza on my bell or the wave of my hair around one of my feline ears.  I was at total loss for words. “This is excellent work, gallery quality,” I breathed.  I turned back toward her.  “I am impressed and would pay real money for any one of these.”  I paused, smiling, “Assuming, of course, cats carried money…”

Marinette laughed as she packed away her pencils and closed the book.  “That’s kind of you to say, Chat,” she said.  “In truth, I find it clears my mind and helps center me.”  She turned away, a strange look crossing her face.  “I have a lot going on in my life these days.  It’s important to stay focused on what matters.”

Her words resonated with me – as much as an oxymoron as it was, being Chat on a non-emergency day was doing the same for me.  “I think I can understand that, Princess,” I added.  “And this—” I indicated my costume, “—is only my night gig.”

Marinette looked back at me, searching my eyes for something.  “Speaking of night, did you say you were going to drop in later?”

“With cannoli,” I confirmed, pulling out my baton.  “Barring an akuma, what time is good?”

“Now would be fine,” she said, smiling.  “My parents are working late in the bakery.”

“In that case, let me run you home then.  If you don’t mind a quick side trip to pick up the goods.”

“All right,” she said.  Marinette rearranged her sketchbook and pencil case into one arm, and used the other to grasp around my shoulders.  I wrapped another arm around her midsection and used the baton to escalate into the lengthening shadows. 

I had recently created an anonymous payment account for Chat and dumped in a portion of my weekly allowance.  After not being able to pay at the Bakery a while ago (what cat keeps a wallet, I ask?), it was an easy answer, allowing me to pre-purchase goods as Adrien, and then have Chat pick them up, no questions asked.  During breakfast, I had ordered for pickup a dozen hand-made cannoli from one of my favorite restaurants, Phillipe’s Italian Bistro. 

Landing carefully on the Bistro’s roof, I left Marinette and clawed down to the side alley where the door to the kitchen stood ajar.  I knocked and the door was immediately opened by a white-clad sous chef I had seen on prior visits.  He smiled.  “Chat, back again?”

“Hey, Jacques,” I replied.  “Another to-go for me.”

“Let me guess,” he said, turning back to the table and picking up a small handled paper bag.  “Cannoli.  Again.”

I winked.  “What can I say?  It’s the fastest way to my lady’s heart.”

“You’ve chosen the best, my friend.  Bon appetit.”

I carefully clawed my way back up to the roof, trying to ignore the wonderful smell from the bag, and handed the bag to Marinette.  “Guard these,” I laughed.  “I will fight claw and tooth to protect them.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she smirked as I wrapped my arm around her again and we headed for the Bakery.

“Should we go through the front door?” I asked as we arced over the city.

“Might not be the best option,” Marinette said.  “There is a balcony on the roof.  We can eat there.”

“By your command, Princess,” I said, and adjusted my angle as we approached so we would gently drop down onto the tile. 

I took a look around after I released Marinette and shortened the baton.  The space was completely Marinette with touches here and there that reflected her personality.  She sat down in a chaise lounge off to the side, and I leapt to the edge of an empty planter that was close at hand, balancing perfectly.

I watched as she opened the box and took a cannoli, then offered me one.  I snared one without hooking a claw, and started to munch.  “So,” I said between mouthfuls of one of the best ricotta fillings in the city, “I wanted to follow up a bit on our earlier conversation.”

“All right,” she said.  Somehow, she had already polished off her first and was halfway through the second.

“I feel like I am making progress with my… special person,” I said.  “I’ve started to see her in a new light.  I’m understanding her better.”  I paused, not even sure where I was going myself.  “I really like her – like I said earlier, she’s an amazing friend; but I feel like I’m going to hurt her no matter what I do.”

I looked up.  “You were right earlier.  I understand now the dilemma Ladybug is facing with me.”  I looked away.  “In some ways, I almost wish I could ask Ladybug how she is dealing with… well, me… while still holding out hope that the one she loves will see reason.”

I looked back at Marinette, who was staring at me intently.  “I can’t obviously tell you what Ladybug would be thinking,” she said, smiling slightly.  “But if I were Ladybug, I’d think she’d probably tell you she feels like she’s in an impossible position.”  She paused.  “Much as you are.”

“Love is not easy, is it,” I observed.

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be,” she replied, starting on her fourth cannoli.  “That’s why it’s such an amazing emotion.”

I smiled as I leaned over and nabbed the final cannoli.  “Thank you for lending an ear, Marinette,” I said.  “I don’t have many friends that I can talk to,” I added, unwittingly admitting the truth in and out of costume, “and I really hate burdening Ladybug with anything.”  I smiled.  “Not that I could talk to her about this, actually.  Since, you know…” I trailed off, blushing.

“You love her?” she laughed.  “I can see how that could create a problem.  But,” she said, a wicked gleam in her eye, “she might surprise you.  Try it.”

“All right,” I said.  I flipped open my baton: I had about twenty minutes before I had to meet up with Ladybug for patrol.  As far as I knew, we hadn’t cancelled it tonight.

“Got to go?” Marinette asked as I put the baton away.

“Yeah,” I said.  “In theory, Ladybug and I are patrolling tonight.  But it’s been so quiet we’ve been slacking a bit as of late.”

“I have a hunch she is going to want to get out tonight,” Marinette said.  “You should go,” she started, “but Chat?”

“Yes, Princess?”

“You are more than welcome to stop by anytime you want to talk.”  She paused.  “But no more stalking,” she said, as she pulled out her phone.  “Can you text me your baton number?  Then you can just give me a heads up.”

I pulled the baton out and accessed my contacts, wondering if it was actually safe for me to add someone besides Ladybug to the Cat Phone. 

Why not?

We swapped numbers and I tested to make sure my baton could connect to a normal phone.  It had no issue, making me wonder why I’d not thought of that before.

“All right, Princess,” I said as I unfolded from the planter and leapt to the railing.  “Thank you for a pleasant day.”

“My pleasure, Chat.”

I dropped off the balcony into double-barrel roll and then used the baton to vault into the night, headed toward our usual meeting place.  I arrived well in advance of Ladybug, realizing too late I hadn’t brought coffee.  There wasn’t time, so I simply sat on the apex of the roof, waiting.

Ladybug arrived on time, gently dropping into a seated position beside me.  My masked eyebrows went up when I smelled… coffee!

I turned, green eyes wide open - the blend was distinctive and only came from one place. "From the Dupang-Cheng Bakery?  How did you know?" I asked, gratefully accepting a cup.

“Ladybug intuition,” she smiled.  “So, Chat,” she asked pleasantly.  “Tell me about your day…”

Chapter Text

We’d had an uneventful patrol and I’d returned back to the mansion earlier than normal that Saturday evening.  Sunday was typically another generally quiet day in the Agreste household, which generally meant I’d alternate between finishing up on schoolwork and noodling around on my Xbox.  I was up early with the intent on getting through some of the material that had been piling up in my assignment binder after breakfast, but once I was settled in at my desk, my mind immediately started to wander back to my day on the plaza with Marinette, and our conversation on her balcony afterward.

What occurred to me was that although my initial impetus for appearing to her as Chat was to smooth out her relationship with Adrien, I was, in fact, finding that she had started to be more helpful with my own conundrum with Ladybug.  I hadn’t made any progress at all on the Adrien front, other than Marinette was now more comfortable around me at school. 

Perhaps that would qualify as progress.

I, on the other hand, had failed to take Marinette’s advice and broach the topic of my feelings with Ladybug, especially given just how oddly receptive to conversation she had been while we were sailing through the city last night.  She had gone out of her way to keep me engaged, far, far out of her normal character.  Almost as if she had picked up on the vibes I must have been sending out that I desperately needed to talk.

But no, the very cool, very confident Chat Noir had lost his nerve last night and instead threw one bad cat pun after another at her.  Thankfully she’d taken it in stride, but I’d counted it as a failure.

I fiddled around with my tablet for a few more minutes and decided there was nothing for it: I needed another consult with Marinette.

Plagg was not happy about being called to duty so early on a Sunday, having been kept in the ring for nearly a full day on Saturday.  I’d tried to make it up to him by springing for the super expensive version of his favorite cheese, but even that failed to chase the dismay from his face as I stood from the desk and held out the Miraculous.

“Plagg – claws out!”

If it was even possible, Plagg made his displeasure fully known by short circuiting the normal transformation sequence.  One moment I was Adrien; the next, with the barest puff of green smoke, I was Chat Noir.

“I’ll make it up to you,” I said to Plagg, knowing he’d hear me.

I pulled out my baton and clicked into the text message mode.  I’d agreed to warn Marinette (for the most part) before visiting and started a new thread to her.

Chat: Hey, Princess.  Taking in strays today?

Mari: What’s wrong?  Are you okay?

Chat: Had a hard time taking your advice last night.  Need some confidence building.

Mari: Doubt that very much, but you are welcome to stop by.

Chat: Be there in ten.

I smiled and clicked the phone closed, replacing the baton at the small of my back as I vaulted out the open window.  With Father out of town, I’d become a bit laxer about my exits, especially since I knew my bodyguard would have his nose buried in the Sunday paper.  I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it much longer – he was due back midweek – so I breathed the fresh air as I skipped over rooftops on my way to the Bakery as if I’d been given a weekend pass that could be revoked at any time.

That was when I smelled it. 

For the last few weeks, I’d finally mastered how to use my enhanced feline sense of smell, which was capable of detecting trace amounts of nearly any scent from an amazing distance.  As time had gone on, the database in my head had grown to catalog what I had been exposed to so far, and this scent was wildly new.  And strangely captivating.  I dropped out of the arc I’d been scribing through the sky and into a crouch, sniffing the air madly.

Whatever it was, I had to find it. 

I started to track the scent, which took me away from the Bakery; all thoughts of Marinette had been erased, the allure of this exotic fragrance was so powerful.  Slowly at first, and then with increasing speed, I hurled myself across the skyline of Paris in pursuit.  Little warnings were going up in the back of my head – I’d started to listen to those more now, since they generally didn’t bode well for me – but they, too, were being drowned out by the insane need I suddenly felt to find the source.

At length, I found myself atop a building overlooking the river; the source appeared to be a barge-like vessel that was slowly moving downstream.  There was some sort of rectangular box sitting on the main deck, and from what my enhanced vision was seeing, a bowl of something was sitting in the exact center, almost beckoning me.  Those warnings in the back of my head had hiked themselves to Red Alert level, but I was compelled to throw myself off the building and use my baton to helicopter toward the ship.

As dropped lower and lower, the rational part of my brain finally asserted itself and pointed out that the shape of the box looked an awful lot like a giant-sized pet carrier.  One just big enough, perhaps, for a specific black cat, who was mindlessly headed straight for it.  I kept dropping, unable to stop myself; the scent was so powerful now, it was overwhelming my ability to ignore it.

I’m not sure I really remember much of what happened next.  I’d nearly reached my target when my fall was arrested with a massive sideways yank away from the boat.  I think I saw multiple people swarm the deck, each holding a section of the cover for said carrier; to be honest, I was pretty much out of it by that point, amazed that I was floating in mid-air with no effort on my part.  I closed my eyes, rather dreamily, and faded off to sleep.

It was an entirely different smell that woke me: a mix of vanilla and sugar, and other complex spices.  The unique aroma of one Marinette.  I cracked open a masked eye and found I was curled up into a little ball, cat-like, on the chaise lounge atop the Bakery’s rooftop patio.  I cracked open the other eye and started to stretch, only to become more fully aware of my surroundings when my extended paw gently touched the fabric of her shirt.

Oh my God.  I’m curled into Marinette.

Both eyes shot open and I rolled off the chaise in what would normally have been a smoothly fluid motion; however, my body wasn’t responding correctly and I instead wound up in my back with limbs akimbo. 

Marinette was quickly at my side.  “Easy, Chat,” she said.

“Princess,” I said, my mouth dry as the desert and cheeks as inflamed as a supernova.  “I’m… I mean… I didn’t… I would never…!” I couldn’t complete a sentence and found myself simply staring at her.

“It’s okay, Chat,” she said as she easily helped me up and back onto the chaise.  “From what Ladybug told me, you’ve been exposed to some pretty high-grade catnip.”

She carefully took my usual position on a planter, facing me.  “You’ve been sleeping off the worst affects now for the better part of the day.  How are you feeling?”

Like I want to crawl under that planter and disappear entirely.

“Better, I guess,” I managed to get out.  “Catnip?  Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she nodded.  “It’s a good thing Ladybug happened to be about.  Apparently, it was some sort of akumatized big game hunter.  He was going to capture you first, and then use you to lure her in for—”

“Both Miraculouses,” I finished glumly, holding a paw to my forehead.  A nice little headache had planted itself between my eyes and it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere anytime soon.  “I had no idea anything could affect me like that,” I said.  “It was so strong…”

“You’re a cat, Chat,” she offered.  “Of course it would affect you.”  She reached a hand out to my arm, gently steadying me.  “Now you know,” she added.  “One more scent to catalog and be careful with later.”

“Did she get the akuma?” I asked suddenly.  “She might need me—”

“She did,” Marinette smiled.  “Then she brought you here.  Apparently, you were babbling my name.”

How much worse can this get?

“I was?” I looked at her in total, abject embarrassment.  “In my defense, I was heading here originally.”

“Which is what I told her,” Marinette nodded.  “If you are worried that Ladybug thinks you’re stepping out on her, I can assure you she doesn’t.”  She paused, thinking for a moment.  “In fact, we had a nice chat while you were drooling all over yourself.”

“I was?” I said, horrified, looking down at my costume in an attempt to detect any leftover traces.

“No,” she laughed.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I thought you’d be less embarrassed if I told you that instead of…” she trailed off.

My eyes widened, knowing exactly where she was going.  “Please, please tell me I didn’t really sleep leaning against you.”

The smile grew wider.  “Just like a real cat.”  She paused again, eyes twinkling.  “I even scratched you behind the ears.  You’re kind of cute when you purr.”

There is no hole deep enough that I could possible dig to escape this.

“Ahhh,” I started, “wow.  I have no idea what to say other than I am now totally, completely embarrassed.”

“Chat,” she said, very gently and with complete Marinette considerateness, “this is a safe place for you.  I know it’s anything but that out there—” she waved in general at Paris “—but here, you can be yourself.”

I smiled slightly.  How had I ever wound up with a friend as great as Marinette?  And now, actually, both parts of my persona could lay claim to her.  Maybe this hadn’t been such a bad day after all.

“Anyway,” she said, snapping me out of my reverie.  “You wanted to talk?”

“I did,” I said, “but it can wait,” I added, seeing the long shadows being cast across the space.  Having slept the day away, I really did need to get back and finish my schoolwork for tomorrow.  “I should really go.”

“All right, if you are feeling well enough…?”

“Yes,” I said, hiding the rubbery state of my legs by quickly leaping to the railing next to her.  My balance was not quite perfect, and I knew she could tell, but she had the good sense not to point it out.

“I’d like to stop by sometime this week, if that’s okay?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she agreed.  “Just text me when you think you’ll be here.”

“Thank you, Princess,” I said, nodding back to the lounge.  “I appreciate everything, including your discretion.”

“Of course, Chat,” she smiled.  “Have a good evening.”

I smiled as much as I could, and simply leapt to the roof opposite, nowhere near feeling good enough for my usual showmanship.  I was halfway back to the mansion when something Marinette had said finally registered through the still-lifting fog on my brain.

She had a long chat with Ladybug…?

Chapter Text

I was dying to know what Ladybug had said to Marinette about me and decided to concoct another reason to spend an afternoon with my Princess.  I still had a day or two of freedom as late April started to give way to May; Father had unexpectedly extended his business trip until the following week, trying to track down some sort of obscure fabric from China, so I plotted in earnest.

Knowing that Marinette loved to sketch, I did a quick internet search and determined that the gardens at Versailles would be in full bloom.  Getting there would be interesting – I’d have to figure out how to hide Chat in plain sight – but it seemed like a decent excuse.

I implemented Phase One at school late Friday afternoon.  As we were packing up our things from the final class of the day, I casually turned to Marinette and stepped the Adrien charm up to eleven.  “Big plans for the weekend?” I asked, smiling.

Marinette looked at me oddly.  “Not particularly.  I have some projects to finish up,” she added quickly.  “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” I replied, continuing to smile.  “Just curious.”  I slung my bookbag over my shoulder and waved to her.  “Have a great weekend!”

I could feel her staring at me as I wandered out of the classroom and headed for the waiting sedan; I had my Chinese tutoring to get through before I could go with Phase Two.  It went well enough, but I knew I wasn’t putting in as much effort as I should have.  My eyes kept wandering to the view through the window; when I realized my tutor had prompted me twice to respond, I snapped back to full attention and made it through the back half of the lesson with more aplomb.

Back at the mansion, I left my bodyguard at the door and took the steps two at a time; after safely shutting the door to my bedroom, Plagg floated out.  “What are you plotting, Adrien?” he asked, eyes wide with glee.

“You’re rubbing off on me far too much, Plagg,” I laughed.  “I’m about to invite Marinette for an morning at the park.  Versailles, to be exact.”  I leaned down toward him.  “I’m going to go as Chat, so it’s likely going to be a long day for you my little friend.”

His eyes narrowed, an expression I’d started to use myself.  “Why not cut to the chase?  Go as Adrien.”

“Not yet,” I said.  “Besides, she’s been talking to Ladybug.  I need to know what she knows.”

Plagg looked at me in an odd way, started to say something, and thought better of it.  “Well,” he said at length, “we’re going to need to come up with some way to disguise your disguise.”

“I know,” I said as I walked toward the closet in my bathroom.  “A hat’s not going to work,” I muttered as I started going through drawers. 

“Actually, it might,” Plagg said, “but you still need to hide enough of your face, too.  The mask is sort of obvious.”

“Right,” I said, immediately discarding the beanie I’d picked up and then just about everything in the t-shirt drawer.  I turned and scanned the rest of the closet and quickly realized most of my outfits would be so identified with Adrien none of them would work, even if they did cover the cat ears.  I was starting to feel like this was not going to happen.

Plagg was zipping around the closet while I stood there, transfixed by the problem.  “This will work,” he said, as he poofed! his way into another drawer. 

I followed him over and pulled the drawer open.  Plagg was sitting atop a pair of nondescript navy windpants and a dark grey hoodie.  They had to be the only two items in my wardrobe from House of Gabriel that didn’t have prominent logos on them.  I pulled them out and held the sweatshirt up.  “This might work,” I said, rather dubiously. 

Plagg sighed audibly.  “You need to transform to text Marinette, right?  Might as well try it out.”

I laughed.  “Plagg – claws out!”

I went through my transformation sequence, and once the green glow faded, I carried my workout gear out to the bathroom proper; after locking the door, I slipped on the windpants (surprisingly hard when one is wearing cat boots) and pulled the hoodie over my head (snagging it several times with a claw).  After flipping the hood up and over my feline ears, I turned toward the mirror to see what I’d come up with.  The overall effect wasn’t bad; my boots didn’t look all that unusual, and with the hood up, my face was shaded from most angles, hiding (for the most part) the mask.  Unfortunately, my feline ears had to flatten in order to keep the hood streamlined; it was not a comfortable feeling, but I’d have to deal with it.

The claws were another matter altogether.  It kind of looked like I was wearing gloves, but the sharp tips would be hard to miss.  I’d have to think about that a bit.  The tail and baton, were problems, too; as I turned in the mirror, I could see they were creating some odd lumps where none should exist.  I hated the idea of leaving either item behind - you never know when an akuma was going to appear - so I added that to my pile of to-dos.

I pulled out my baton and flipped into text mode.

Chat: Purrincess, are you around?

Mari: Hey Chat.

Chat: Still hoping to cat-nect with you.  Any chance u r free this weekend?  And want to sketch?

Mari: I already have a portfolio full of you, Chat.  ;-)

Chat: I’m honored.  But was thinking of something else.  I hear Versailles is in bloom…

Mari: That would be fun – haven’t been to the gardens in a while.  What time?

Chat: Meet you at the Place du Trocadero metro station around 0800?

Mari: Uh, are you planning on taking the train with me?

Chat: Yep.  Why?

Mari: You’re gonna stand out.

Chat: Got it covered. Literally.

Mari: Right.  Okay, see you tomorrow!

--

Patrol had been uneventful on Friday evening, allowing me some quality facetime with Ladybug.  She was pretty distracted, though; something was on her mind, and despite my best cat puns, nothing made her crack.  As it seemed like a bad environment to broach “the talk” I put it off, again, and wound up home at a reasonable hour for once.

Up way too early, I blew through my morning routine like a whirling dervish and returned to my bedroom only to watch the minutes grind by on my phone.  By 0645 I’d had enough of that and transformed to Chat Noir.  I’d given some thought to the final aspects of my disguise, and had prepped my backpack accordingly; once the green glow faded, I removed my belt and packed it atop some other goodies I’d decided to bring along.  The baton would go on top after I’d gotten to our rendezvous.  It was a small thing, but I felt better having everything with me.

I quickly donned the workout gear and started to bound out of the window of my bedroom, only realizing when I missed my landing on the fencepost that my movements would be severely restricted with my new outerwear.  Intentional or not, the way I’d crafted my Chat costume gave me nearly unlimited movement and flexibility; that was definitely not the case with standard poly blend.  I’d need to be more careful I wanted to keep anything from tearing in multiple places.

New plan!

I dusted myself off and pulled the hoodie back up, moved the baton to the backpack earlier than anticipated, then nonchalantly wandered around to the front of the mansion and simply walked through the gate.  There was a Metro station fairly close to the mansion, and I crossed the street with my fellow Parisians, paid my fare, and entered the next set of cars headed for Trocadero.  It turned out to be a reasonably good test of my disguise-over-a-disguise; oddly, I blended in completely with the crowd and no one gave me so much as a side glance.  I even risked keeping my claws out for the last part of the ride, gripping the pole in the car like a normal person (despite my ability to keep perfectly balanced as Chat) and didn’t see as much as raised eyebrow.

Plagg had told me multiple times that people only saw what they wanted to see.  I now had firsthand evidence he was right.

I bounded up the staircase to the street as fast as the windpants allowed, and found a quasi-obvious place to wait for Marinette, idly wishing I’d thought to bring coffee with me.  Even having taken the Metro, I was still early and found myself pacing; I also realized how much I was missing the tail.  Normally I used it to release some anxiety, and without it, I was a bit out of sorts.

Marinette appeared right on schedule, carrying her sketchbook and pencil case.  She was looking for me, and made a direct path toward me once our eyes met.  “Well,” she said, “I’ll give you credit.  You’re not entirely obvious, unless someone is looking for you specifically.”

“Thanks, Princess,” I said.  “I took the Metro as a test, actually.”

Her eyes widened.  “Indeed.”

I decided not to elaborate.  “Shall we?” I asked, bowing and holding out a paw.

She laughed and took my hand, and we re-entered the Metro, quickly located the next train toward Versailles and were there in less than an hour.  From the station, the grand palace and its magnificent gardens were just a short walk, and barely after 0930, we found ourselves strolling through the extravagant foliage surrounding the estate.

Marinette surprised me and headed northward, and led me out to the Bassin de Neptune.  She leaned against an ornate wall and began to pull out her materials; I started to hop up into a standard Chat perch atop the wall, then thought better of it, and instead mirrored her casual stance.

It was a warm morning, and would be a pleasant day; the fragrance of the flowering garden presented me with an overlapping cornucopia of scents, all welcome and not overwhelming like it might have been a few months earlier.  I folded my arms and pleasantly leaned over to see what Marinette had started.

She’d positioned herself to see the grand fountain opposite and had quickly drawn in the basics.  In a few more strokes, she’d hinted at the movement of the water within the fountain.  I sighed appreciatively.  Marinette had talent.

I let the companionable silence last until her third sketch of the morning, before venturing into Phase Three.  “So,” I started amicably.  “I never had a chance to thank you for taking in a stray on that ill-fated catnip morning.”

“Mmm,” she replied, holding a pencil in her mouth as she sketched with another.

“Aside from my still being incredibly embarrassed at the whole thing, I remember you, uh, mentioning having quite the conversation with Ladybug.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Uh, she, uh, didn’t happen to say anything about me, did she?”

Marinette took the pencil out.  “Of course she did, kit—Chat.  She dropped you off, after all, and had to explain what happened.”

“Right,” I said, blushing slightly.  “Uh, well, I guess…”

What do I ask her now?  Did Ladybug tell you she liked me?  Ugh!

“I know what you’re trying to ask,” Marinette said.  She had a partial smile, though it was turned away from me slightly as she sighted on a flowering bush.  “No, she didn’t confess her undying love for you.”

“Ah,” I said, vaguely feeling let down.

“I got the impression that she cared very much for you, though.”  She paused.  “And that she considers you a very, very, very close friend.”

“Friend,” I repeated.  Even surrounded by the beauty of the garden at Versailles, I was suddenly feeling anything but cheery.  But then again, why would Ladybug say anything other than that to Marinette?

I grimaced, suddenly realizing that I (or Chat, rather) had done just that when I’d confessed my feelings for Ladybug to Marinette.  Clearly Ladybug was far more tactful.  And discreet.

Going for valor now myself, I decided to let the thread die there and tried to enjoy the rest of the morning.  We’d not been specific about details, but around lunchtime we fell into a natural ending for the visit.  My wider plan had envisioned taking Marinette out to lunch, but my mood had shifted and I simply followed her back to the Metro station and greater Paris.

As we climbed the steps of the Trocadero station, Marinette paused and pulled me off to the side and out of the flow of traffic.  “You’ve been pretty quiet, Chat,” she said, concern in her eyes.  “What’s wrong?”  She suddenly looked worried.  “I said something, didn’t I?”

“No, Purrincess,” I replied.  “Not exactly.”  I weighed what I was feeling and plowed ahead.  “I’m in this weird spot with Ladybug; I was hoping she had said something to you that would give me a sign one way or the other.”  I shrugged.  “That doesn’t even sound reasonable, does it?”

She looked at me carefully.  “It does,” she said.  “I think we all look for little signs from the ones we love.”  She looked away, and I had the sense that she might have been talking about herself, too.  “In their absence, though, we still move forward.”

“I guess we do,” I said.  I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, gently.  “Thank you for a wonderful morning,” I said graciously. 

“Ditto, Chat,” she smiled.

I watched her head up the steps and into the sun; I waited a bit, and exited myself, looking for the first alleyway I could find and immediately ducking in.  Once I’d ensured the coast was clear, I ripped the hoodie off and shredded the windpants, tossing both items into the nearest dumpster and then stretching out luxuriously for the first time since transforming.  A minute longer and I would’ve snapped.

After retrieving my baton and belt and putting both back where they belonged, I slung the backpack over my shoulder and bounded up the side of the building with the intent of returning to the mansion, only to land on the rooftop and find myself face-to-face with Ladybug.  “Chat,” she said, smiling.  “I thought I’d find you here.”

“No fair, milady,” I said, returning the smile. “You can track me.”  I paused.  “More importantly, why are you here?”  I looked around, anxiously.  “Is there an—"

“No,” she said quickly.  “I just wanted to see if, well…” she paused, awkwardly.  “This is going to sound funny,” she started again.  “But I could use the company of my favorite kitty today.  If,” she added, “you’re free.”

 My eyes had to have lit up.  “Of course, milady,” I said.  “It would be my honor.”

Ladybug smiled at me.  “Great!  I’m starving, but after we eat, I hear the flowers at Versailles are blooming…”

I smiled more widely.  Somehow, Ladybug had known that I needed to be wanted today.  “They are indeed.”  I bowed, hand out.  “Shall we, milady?”

Chapter Text

Father ultimately returned from his long business trip, so my nightly excursions out as Chat were kept to a bare minimum.  That proved to be fairly difficult, for after an insanely long period of quiescence, Hawkmoth suddenly stepped it up and threw a succession of akumas at us, at nearly all hours of the day.

A few weeks later, I was dragging pretty hard core.  Hawkmoth had kept us so busy that I’d begun fitting in my homework around the akuma attacks, snagging a tablet or a textbook in the brief interludes we were being given.  Days started to blend together to a point that most of May went by in a blur.  It took an amazing act of self-control not to nod off in class.  Any class, for that matter; not just the boring ones.

Fortunately or not, Mister Pigeon’s insertion into our daily akuma routine set into motion another chance for me to get back on target and tackle the Adrien-Marinette issue – though, not without nearly revealing my secret identity.

And all because I was seriously allergic to feathers.

After Ladybug and I successfully returned Monsieur Ramier to his normal form, I’d sneezed my way to an alley close to school to de-transform and help Father complete the judging of the Derby Hat Contest taking place that weekend.

Still rather congested, I arrived in the courtyard to find several contestants waiting for Father.  Nathalie and our principle, Monsieur Damocles, were standing off to the side, and my heart sank when I saw Father on the iPad Nathalie was holding.  He was supposed to have come in person, but yet again, left his lackies to do the work.

I wound up taking Nathalie and virtual Father around to the contestants, finding myself a bit worried that Marinette had not yet arrived with her entry.  As we were reviewing Chloe’s entry, Marinette bounded in with a hatbox and put hers out on display.  I tried not to look shocked when I saw it: her design was identical to Chloe’s.

I caught her eye and saw the fury there, and smiled, knowing immediately what had happened.  Nathalie turned the tablet toward Marinette’s entry and, predictably, Father exploded.

“Turn the tablet back,” he said, and he re-examined Chloe’s entry.  “Is this some kind of joke?” he demanded as I turned the tablet back to Marinette

I didn’t catch much of the rest of the conversation as my eyes had started to water again. 

Oh my God.  Marinette has a real feather on her hat!

The sneeze started to creep up my throat and I swallowed as hard as I could to prevent it from erupting.  If I hadn’t been playing the dutiful son, I would have put a finger to my nose and run from the room.  Blinking hard, I tried to smile as Marinette was declared the winner, and continued to hold that smile as she handed me the hat to put on.

There was no way to hold it back at that point, and I sneezed, violently, hoping it didn’t sound too similar to a certain Chat just a little earlier in the afternoon.  Despite my congestion, I thought it looked like Marinette was so happy I was actually holding the hat, she wasn’t paying attention to anything else.  I kept smiling but quickly handed the hat off to Nathalie and slipped away from the crowd as Father made arrangements for Marinette to participate in our next fashion show.

The sedan was parked at the bottom of the staircase to the school, and I slid into the backseat to wait for Nathalie.  While I sat there, I decided the contest might be a great excuse to pay a visit to Marinette; assuming she’s be okay with a surprise, I decided on another cannoli order.  Just as Nathalie slid into the backseat, I’d managed to place my order for later pickup in person.

The drive to the mansion was typical, and I trooped up the stairs to my bedroom with the now-standard Nathalie reminder that dinner would be served within the hour.  That gave me enough time to take an antihistamine or two before settling in to eat, alone, again.  Oddly, I couldn’t help the feeling of anticipation that I would be spending some time with Marinette.  Even though my heart belonged to Ladybug, it was hard not to see how great Marinette was in her own right.  And, as I tried to remind myself, Chat was just trying to help and didn’t have a horse in this race.

I hung out playing X-box for a bit before deciding it was late enough to sneak away.  My phone went into the dock and I held out my ring.

“Plagg – claws out!”

The poor guy was flat on his back atop the coffee table, mowing down on Camembert; my final sight of him before the transformation glow overtook me was an envious glare he gave the final piece sitting on the cutting board.

Once transformed, I bounded out the window, used the fence as a launch point, and sailed into the evening.  First stop: Philippe’s Italian Bistro, a favorite that I went to often as Adrien and was starting to frequent as Chat.  I dropped in on the side door that gave access to the kitchen. 

I knocked, and a white-shirted sous chef I’d not met yet answered.  His eyes went wide when he saw me.  “Chat… Chat Noir?”

“I’m picking up an order…?” I said. “Order two-two-seven-six?”

“Uh, right,” he said, and he ducked back into the kitchen, returning quickly with a small paper bag with handles.  “Here you go, Monsieur Noir,” he said, bowing.

“Merci,” I replied as I bounded up and away, heading toward the Bakery.  I’d broken my agreement with Marinette and hadn’t texted beforehand, but hoped that she’d be less angry once I showed her the pastries. 

I was lucky and spied her on the balcony as I neared the building; I tacked around and gently landed atop one of the many chimneys.  “Good evening, Purrincess,” I said quietly, tail flicking.  “I bring tidings of –”

My eyes widened, watering in the process, and before I could suppress it, a massive sneeze wracked my frame, completely knocking me off the chimney.  I dropped unceremoniously to the tile, flattening the cannoli beneath me, and somehow managed to sneeze three more times.

Oh my God.  She has the hat out here.

“Chat!” Marinette exclaimed, dropping to my side.

I sneezed again, though I’d been able to turn away from her before doing it.  “Pahincersh,” was the best I could get out before sneezing again, my nose just as congested as before, despite the antihistamines.

She tried to help me up, but the damn hat was in her other hand, and I kept sneezing, violently, as I lifted myself off the smashed bag, trailing little bits of ricotta in the process.  I wound up leaning against the railing, and weakly pointed at the hat, saying simply, “Kitty kryptonite!”

Marinette’s eyes widened and she immediately picked up her hat.  “Be right back,” she said, and ducked through the skylight to presumably store the hat in her bedroom.  She returned a moment later with a box of tissue and a glass of water.  “Here,” she offered.

I dabbed at my nose, which was running like Niagara Falls.  “Sorry,” I said nasally, using my free paw to indicate both the ruined dessert surprise and my severe allergic reaction.  “I’d heard about your victory today and wanted to help you celebrate.”

“That was thoughtful, Chat.  But how did you find out…?” she started to ask.

“I know people,” I said simply, trying to smile my wide disarming Chat grin.  It had something less than its normal effect, owing to my swollen eyes and running nose.

“Chloe almost ruined it,” she said, sitting next to me against the railing.  “I can’t believe she stole my design.”

“She’s a piece of work,” I agreed, before realizing Chat might not necessarily know that.  “From what I’ve seen,” I hastily added.  I looked down at the front of my costume, which was now in need of dry cleaning (were that an option).  “Well, I certainly made a mess of this, didn’t I?”

Marinette leaned against me, creating a tiny thrill I hadn’t expected.  “It was still thoughtful,” she said.  “Thanks.” 

She paused.  “I had no idea you were allergic to birds,” she added after a moment, suddenly looking distant.  “I have a friend at school who is also allergic, too.”

Uh, oh.

“I bet we have the same allergy vet,” I laughed, knowing exactly who she was talking about and knew for a fact that we did have the same doctor.  “It’s pretty common,” I said nonchalantly, and went for the cheesy pun to distract her.  “I get clawsitively miserable when I get close to them.”

She rolled her eyes, as I’d hoped, and went for the bait.  “I thought cats ate birds?”

I was struck at how similar her question was to something Ladybug had observed earlier.  “It’s the feathers, actually,” I pointed out.  “I love birds.  Especially when they are roasted, with those little baby potatoes and tiny carrots…?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a smile crinkling up her expression.  “Someone seems to be hungry,” she said.

“I had dinner,” I replied defensively.  My traitorous stomach took that moment to let out a loud rumble.  Clearly I’d not taken in enough calories yet to offset my exploits as Chat today.

Marinette laughed.  “I might be able to come up with something to replace your surprise,” she added.  “Give me a couple of minutes?”

“I’ve got some time before I have to meet up with Ladybug,” I said.

She got up and disappeared again through her skylight; I took her absence as a chance to try and remove the worst of the mess from my costume using the tissues she’d brought me.  The ricotta smelled fantastic, which made me truly sad to have crushed them out of existence.

I could smell what she was bringing long before she poked her head back out of the skylight.  Back on Saint Patrick’s Day, Ladybug had surprised me with the very same pastry.  I was smiling broadly when Marinette popped back out of the skylight.  “Belgian chocolate-filled croissants,” I said appreciatively.  “How did you know those were my favorite?”

Marinette smiled as she sat beside me once more and offered me the plate.  “A little bug told me,” she laughed.

My masked green eyes narrowed as I took a nip of the croissant.  “What else did Ladybug say while I was sleeping off the catnip?” I asked, pointedly.  Once again, I was finding my original reason for dropping in being subsumed – but I had to know.

“Oh, I know all your secrets now, Chat,” Marinette teased.  “You slept for hours; that’s a lot of time to fill.”

I groaned inwardly.  “Like what?”

“Well…” she said, smiling wider as she nibbled on her pastry.  “She said you annoy her to pieces at times.”

“I’ve heard that,” I replied.  “What else?”

“You’re kind, compassionate, a little bit cocky, and entirely to uninhibited.”

I raised a masked eyebrow.  “She said all of that?”

“Yeah,” Marinette nodded.  “But she also said you were the most loyal person she knew,” she added, pausing.  “And that you were a treasured friend.”

“You mentioned that ‘friend’ part last time we talked,” I frowned.  “But it’s nice to know she’s thought about me – however little it might be.”

Marinette reached an arm to my bicep.  “Chat, listen to me for a moment,” she started.  “I’m not betraying her confidence when I tell you she thinks about you all the time.”

I raised the other masked eyebrow in surprise.  “All—”

“Not the way you might think,” Marinette hastily added.  “Look, I know how you feel about her; I would venture a guess that she’s just not in the right place to reciprocate…” she trailed off, a thoughtful expression in her deep blue eyes.

I cocked an expectant feline ear toward her.  “Is there a ‘yet’ at the end of that, Purrincess?”

“It’s funny you should ask,” she said.  “Maybe there is?  I’m not sure now,” she murmured, and then suddenly shook off whatever she was feeling and looked directly at me.  “All I know is that she cares very deeply for you, too, Chat.”

I stared at what was left of my croissant.  “Thank you for telling me,” I said, conflicting emotions in my soul.  “It’s nice to know, but I also wish she’d have just told all this to me directly.”

“Maybe she will, kit—Chat,” Marinette replied.  She leaned her head against my shoulder.  “Maybe she will…”

Chapter Text

“Adrien?”

I was just about to get into the sedan when I heard my name called, and turned.  At the top of the steps for the bridge was Marinette, holding her own Andre special and looking at me quizzically.

“Marinette?” I said, starting back up the steps.  “I didn’t see you!  How long have you been here?”

“I was just leaving,” she said, “and…” she blushed slightly, continuing, “well, I heard your car pull up and hung around to see if it was really you.”  She blushed deeper.  “Sorry,” she said.

I’d made it to the step she was on, smiling.  “Why be sorry?” I asked.  “I’m always happy to see you.  You know that, right?”

Her eyes popped wider.  “I guess I do,” she said.

It had been months now since I’d accidentally heard the voicemail she’d never intended me to hear.  As Chat, I’d repeatedly tried to find a way to make it easier for her to approach Adrien but had never really managed to seal the deal.  In fact, I’d actually given up on my original mission and had been spending most of my free nights hanging out with Marinette – as Chat.  I was well aware that she had significant feelings for me (as Adrien), but also felt like she’d become more comfortable around me (as Adrien) through my relationship with her (as Chat). 

Confusing?  Maybe.  But it seemed to be working.

I, on the other hand, had finally made some progress with Ladybug.  Two nights prior, she’d stood me up for dinner; I’d been incensed, but had put it aside to fight the akumatized ice cream maker.  Once it was over, Ladybug had joined me the following evening on my favorite rooftop.  While she hadn’t exactly told me she would never love me, she had also finally told me how much I meant to her.  Sure, she’d said that her heart was for someone else, and yeah, she thought it was Chat that was in love with her, but I conveniently told myself I could work with what she’d given me, and push that other guy right out of her life (whoever that might be).

I’d been flying pretty high after leaving her on that rooftop.  So much so that I’d decided to celebrate the following afternoon with the ice cream I’d not gotten two nights earlier.  It wasn’t lost on me that my concoction, hand created by Andre, aptly represented the girl of my dreams.  Now, as I looked at what Marinette was holding, I started to try and puzzle out who her true love was supposed to be.

Huh.  Green – for the eyes? Pink – lips, maybe.  What an odd combina--- 

My eyes widened.  As a model, I’d seen enough photos of myself to know my personal coloring.   But I also was well aware that someone else would fit those colors, too. 

Oh no. No... no, no, no!  I was only trying to help!

I looked up at Marinette, who had apparently said something to me.  “Sorry?” I said, keeping my smile frozen in place.

She pointed at my ice cream.  “Those are very unusual flavors mixed together,” she said. 

“Uh, yeah,” I replied, holding it up again, and despite myself, smiled a bit.  “It represents someone for sure,” I said, looking back at her across the ice cream.  “It…” I trailed off.

At the particular angle I was at, the blue scoop happened to line up with Marinette’s eyes.  I’d never noticed that they were the same blue as Ladybug.

“Adrien?” she prompted. 

“Sorry,” I said distractedly.  “What was I saying?”

She looked pointedly at my now melting ice cream.  “Who is the lucky lady?” she asked.  It was a bold question from her.

“La-uh, well, just someone who doesn’t know yet,” I replied, narrowly avoiding possibly revealing my alter ego to her.  Chat had spent many, many hours now pining away for Ladybug in Marinette’s company; she was smart enough to connect the dots if I wasn’t careful.

I started scooping huge mouthfuls of the cone, trying to make it less obvious who it had been designed to represent.  “I’ve got to go,” I said around bites. 

“Me, too,” she said, smiling.  “See you later.”

I hurried back down the steps and into the sedan, hoping beyond hope she’d not caught either my embarrassment or near faux paus.

Later that evening, I was working through some amazingly difficult chemistry problems when there was a gentle knock.  So gentle, actually, that I nearly missed it; I turned, and nearly fell out of my chair.

Ladybug was perched at the window, which I’d left open in preparation for bolting later to meet her for patrol.  “Mil—Ladybug,” I corrected.  “Is something wrong?” I asked, unintentionally falling into the same assumption people made when Chat showed up unexpectedly.

“Nothing, Adrien,” she said.  “May I come in?”

I stood up and went over to her, offering a hand to help her down.  “Of course,” I said.

She stepped into the space, and we stared at each other for a few seconds, rather uncomfortably, before she spoke again.  “I have a conundrum,” she started.

My eyes widened.  “Okay,” I said.

“I, uh, can’t tell you how I came into this information, but I’ve recently discovered that someone has fallen for me, deeply.”

We.  Are.  Not.  About.  To.  Have.  This.  Conversation.

I plastered an Adrien Model Smile on my face and tried to be empathetic.  “Really?”

“Yeah,” she said, and she moved over to sit down on my couch.  Oddly, she took the spot Marinette often used when she visited. 

I came around and sat on the other side.  “You don’t feel the same about them, do you?” I asked, heart firmly dropping to my feet.

“No,” she said simply.  “But I had no idea that this person felt the way they did.”  She looked up at me, and I could see the turmoil of emotion in her eyes.  I immediately realized this was not a simple binary discussion and was, in fact, nearly as complicated as my Chat-Ladybug-Marinette triangle.  “The thing is, I care about him, deeply, and it wasn’t until he tried to do something wonderfully special that I realized it was not all—”

“Flirting?” I added.

She looked away.  “Exactly,” she said.  “How did you know?”

You have no idea. 

“Model work,” I said simply.  “You see things.”

Ladybug nodded.  “I think I hurt him,” she said quietly, and sighed.

“You didn’t,” I said impulsively. 

Ladybug turned toward me.  “How would you know?” she asked.

“You are Ladybug,” I said.  “From what I’ve… heard about you, that is not in your nature.”  I turned away, a thought percolating.

Could I get away with that?  One way to find out.

“And… he told me.”

Her eyes flew wide open and then narrowed.  “Explain that,” she said forcefully.

“I… well, Chat’s rescued me a few times, right?”

She nodded.

“So he knows where I live, obviously.  He, uh, was looking for a friend to talk to a while back – it was that day the statue in the park was unveiled?”

She nodded again, intently staring at me.

“That was a particularly rough patch for him, and I guess, uh, things were said between the two of you…”

“I remember,” she said.

“Well, suffice it to say he doesn’t have too many people he feels comfortable dropping in on.  I’m one of two people he regularly visits, I guess.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “Who is the other?”

Not getting that one yet, I thought.  “I didn’t ask,” I shrugged.  “Anyway, he stopped in last night and told me about the dinner.”

“He did?”

“Yeah.”  I smiled.  “I wish I’d thought of that.  Sounded romantic.”

“It was,” Ladybug said distantly.

“Well, the long and the short of it is, after last night…” I paused.  How far should I go?

She looked at me.

“Chat loves you, Ladybug,” I said.  “While he knows your heart is elsewhere, he’s willing to work at bringing you around his view on the meowatter.”

Whoops!

“That’s a direct quote,” I added hastily.  Which was true.

Ladybug smiled.  “That does sound like him,” she said ruefully, and stood to leave.  “I’ve got to run, he’s going to be expecting me shortly.”  She paused.  “Thank you for being a friend to him,” she continued.  “I have a sense he doesn’t have many people he can turn to in this world – either as Chat or in his civilian life.”

“He’s got you,” I observed.  “That might be enough.”

She smiled sadly.  “Maybe.  Good night, Adrien.”

“Good night, mil—Ladybug.”

She tossed her yo-yo out the window and was instantly gone. 

I stood there at the window, trying to comprehend what had just happened.  Ladybug?  Coming to me for advice?  Did I help myself in any way?  Either one of me?

I knew I needed to see Marinette again.  It bothered me that she might have fallen for Chat, meaning I’d made a bigger problem out of the original issue.  And yet, just the thought of spending any time with Marinette warmed my heart and put me into a wonderful frame of mind.  Just like I felt when I knew I’d be spending time with Ladybug.

I’ve messed this up.

Ladybug and I clearly had a similar problem.  Maybe I could talk to her about it during patrol.

Plagg floated up from wherever he’d been hiding.  “Odd that she visited, don’t you think?” he said.  His little kwami face was inscrutable, betraying nothing.  And yet, I knew he knew something.

“We’re going to be late,” I said curtly.  “Plagg – claws out!”

Chapter Text

Ladybug’s unexpected visit had thrown me, and I was running very late for my nightly patrol with her.  So late, in fact, I skipped picking up our traditional coffee options and sailed through the three-quarter moonlit night as quickly as my feline abilities would let me.  It wasn’t far over the rooftops of Paris, so I didn’t have much time to consider what to do with all of the information I’d suddenly come into.

Seeing Marinette’s ice cream had clued me in that Chat may have grown just a tad too close to her; knowing her feelings about Adrien, that felt like a potential disaster, emotionally, at some point down the road – and one that I would not want to wish on Marinette.  What to do about it was a pressing concern of mine.  Idly, it did cross my mind that since Adrien wasn’t returning her affections, there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with Chat stepping in.  Until, of course, such time as she found out Chat was Adrien. 

Ladybug had told me exactly how she felt about Chat during her impromptu counseling session with me; I was still amazed that she’d felt comfortable confiding in Adrien when she was clearly not comfortable being that up front with Chat.  The irony wasn’t lost on me, since Chat was essentially doing the same with Marinette, though I could nearly convince myself I wasn’t telling Marinette anything I’d not said directly to Ladybug.  It was more that Ladybug hadn’t thought I was serious, until a few nights ago.

I was soaring over a rooftop when my baton phone beeped.  I shortened my arc and dropped atop a chimney flue, settling into a perfectly balanced cat crouch, and clicked it open.  “LB?” I asked.  “I know I’m late – sorry about that – but I’m almost there.”

“Chat, not a problem,” she said, smiling.  “I was just thinking we might actually take the night off.  Paris can probably spot us a solid after keeping them from becoming snow cones.”

Inwardly, I groaned.  Ladybug seemed to have a knack for cancelling on me when I needed to see her the most.  “If you think it’s best, milady,” I said.  “I’ll keep the all-news station on just in case something does crop up.”

“Purrfect,” she punned.

“Hey!” I exclaimed.  “That’s my line!”

“See you tomeowrrow,” she added as she clicked off.

I laughed at the blank screen and snapped the baton shut, sliding it back into place in the small of my back, and unsure entirely what to do next.  I’d wrapped up most of my homework, so there was no pressing need to go home; I’d really wanted to talk to Ladybug, but that option was out now.  I smiled, realizing the decision had already been made and knowing exactly where I’d wind up as soon as I leapt back into the night.

The Bakery was on the opposite side of the city from where I’d been, but I made the trip in short order and landed atop yet another chimney flue.  Marinette, however, was not on the rooftop patio, despite all of the lights being on.  I sniffed the air, and something intriguing was in the oven.  Intriguing enough to investigate.

I had no where else to be.  Why not?

Vaulting from the chimney to the railing, I took another leap and landed in a crouch by the skylight.  Gently, I scratched the door three times, and then sat back in my cat stance, pasting an expectant expression on my face, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After about ten minutes, I started to feel a bit foolish, and realized I really should have kept to my promise to text her before dropping by.  As much as I would have loved to think her world revolved around Chat Noir’s visits, the reality was she had a life outside of me. 

I pushed myself up into a more human-style two-legged stance and walked to the railing, intending to vault back into the night and return to the mansion.  The view of Notre Dame stopped me, and I spent a moment leaning against the rail, head in paws, taking in the view.  I was deep into cosmic thoughts when my feline ears heard the steps on the stairway, and then the skylight opening.

“Chat?” Marinette asked.  “How long have you been out here?”  I heard her pulling out her phone.  “Did you text?  I must have missed it…”

“Not long,” I lied easily.  “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d chance a visit.”  I paused.  “Your view is always amazing, you know that, right?”

She came up beside me, carrying a tray of whatever I’d been smelling.  “Somehow, I knew you’d be here tonight,” she laughed.  “You always seem to know when I’m baking.”

I turned and smiled.  “Cats know these things,” I said.  “I’m happy to sample for you, Princess.  What is it tonight?”

She offered up the tray.  “Something new – I’m trying my hand at a ‘lemon cooler tea cookie,’” she explained.

My eyes flicked to the tray, where about a dozen lemon-wedge shaped cookies had been laid out, softly dusted with powdered sugar.  I knew better than to ask if she’d shaped them by hand.  Instead, I looked back at her.  “May I?”

“Please.  I’d like your opinion.”

I snagged one close to me and took a bite – my feline enhanced taste buds exploded with the subtle lemon flavor, reminding me of a merengue pie I’d once had years ago.  “Wow,” I said between bites.  “This is amazing.”  I snagged another from the tray.  “Two claws.  Way up.”

“Is that good?” she asked, unsure of my metaphor.

“Very.”  I took a third, trying to pace myself.  “Marinette,” I said, venturing into dangerous waters as I munched, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” she said. 

“You know I consider you a close friend, right?”

“Yes,” she smiled.

“I don’t quite know how to ask this without it sounding lame,” I fumbled forward, “but… do you feel the same way?  About me?”

Smooth, Chat.

Marinette looked at me oddly.  “Where is this going, Chat?”

Arrrgh! I should have kept quiet.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly.  “I mean, you know I’m in love with –”

“Ladybug,” she finished.  “Yes.”

“Even though she still doesn’t feel the same,” I added, ruefully.  “I guess I was worried that you might think I was moving in on your main squeeze to compensate,” I added.

“Moving in--?” she started, and then put a hand to her mouth, smothering a smile.  “Oh! Oh, I see why you are worried,” she said.

“You do?”  I snagged a fourth cookie.  I freely admit to being a nervous eater.  “I mean, I truly enjoy all the time I get to spend with you, Marinette.  I just don’t want you to…” I paused.

Huh.  Now that I am here, trying to say this, I’m not sure I believe it in my heart.

I did enjoy my time with Marinette.  And as Chat, I was free to show her the side of me that Adrien never could.  Was it actually possible I wanted to muscle my alter-ego out of the picture?  It wasn’t like I was making any significant progress with Ladybug.  Except, of course, that we were the same person at the end of the day.  How could I possibly be feeling jealous?

Complicated!

I edited on the fly.  “…forget how much you mean to me.  You really are a true… friend.”

She smiled.  “I feel the same way, Chat,” she nodded.

We both turned back to watch the lights glitter on the cathedral.  The ice cream was still on my mind, but something had shifted inside me and I no longer felt like I wanted to dissuade her attention.  I really didn’t understand why; this felt the right move.  I wasn’t exactly giving up on Ladybug; it was more a recognition of my own emotional needs.  But I was well aware that Marinette had her hopes pinned on Adrien.

I didn’t know how I’d do it, but somehow, I’d have to find a way to tell her she’d hooked Adrien.

I took a fifth cookie.  “These cookies are pawsitively clawsome,” I said.

“Really, Chat?” she laughed.  “I know you can do better.”

I looked at her, seeing her in a new light.  “No,” I said, “I think I am doing just fine…”

Chapter Text

I sagged down onto my couch lengthwise, keeping my swollen ankle elevated.  I’d sprained it pretty badly when I’d tackled Ladybug to protect her from Riposte’s attack, but I’d been Adrien at the time and that seemed to have prevented the Ladybug Magic from repairing it when we’d cleared the akuma. 

Though I healed much faster as a Miraculous holder, it looked like it would still be a day or two before I’d be back to normal, and that was a bit worrisome.  I’d managed to comport myself adequately with Riposte, hiding the extent of my injury from Ladybug, but Chat Noir wasn’t going to be vaulting, leaping or bounding anywhere anytime soon.

I smacked my head against the pillow of the couch.  This was going to suck.  And there was no use in hoping that Hawkmoth wouldn’t find some way to cash in; he seemed to have a knack for knowing the worst possible time to throw an akuma at us. 

I smacked my head against the pillow again, and then sat up.  Even surrounded by everything I had in my bedroom, it was the last place I wanted to hang out, even if injured.  Chat Noir had the freedom of the city, and I as twisted my head to the windows, I very much wanted to be somewhere out there watching the sunset tonight.

Smiling, I reminded myself there were other ways for Chat to get around that didn’t necessarily involve vaulting, leaping or bounding.

“Plagg, want to go for a walk?” I asked my kwami.

He’d unintentionally mirrored my position on the coffee table as he (yet again) polished off an entire wheel of cheese.  “No,” he said as expected.  “One: I’m not the Dog Kwami.  Two: I think I’ve done my part for King and Coun—”

“Then I guess I’ll have to cancel this order,” I said, pulling out my phone and waggling a finger over it.

“Order?” he said, turning his small green eyes in my direction.  “Order for what?”

“I guess we’ll never know now, will we,” I said.

He narrowed his eyes.  “Don’t come between me and cheese,” he warned.  “You’ll lose.”

“Oh!” I said with mock surprise.  “Look at that!  The super-rare version you like has already shipped and will be here tomorrow.”

All traces of anger evaporated as Plagg immediately flew over to my shoulder, confirming with his own eyes the order was coming.  “Can you track it?” he asked, looking at me.  “I’d hate for it to be lost in transit.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Now, can we go for a walk?”

He rolled his eyes.  “Just be careful on that ankle, all right?  I can’t do anything about it for you.”

“I’m not planning on getting into hand-to-hand combat tonight,” I said defensively.  “I just don’t want to hang out here.”

He nodded his little kwami head.

“Plagg – claws out!”

-- -- --

It took much longer than I thought, but through a combination of clawing my way to the skyline and then helicoptering with my baton, I got in an impressive upper body workout en route to my second favorite rooftop in Paris.  Tiled, and at a slant, it had a nearly unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower and the setting sun behind it.  Normally I would have jammed my boots into the tile to keep my position, but tonight I’d carefully balanced myself on the apex, laying on my side with my injured ankle up on a convenient ornamental pediment.  It wasn’t terribly comfortable, but the view was worth it.

As the sky darkened, waves of rose-color beams radiated around the Tower and shifted ever darker.  I sighed contentedly.  This was better than any game I could play on my Xbox.  I was so enraptured by the coloring that my feline ears nearly missed the subtle sounds of sketching coming from close at hand. 

I pivoted slightly.  In the gathering dusk, I could see a familiar figure in profile on the flat rooftop of the building next to the one I was on.  The last rays of the day were highlighting her hair and accenting her face as she alternated between the scene of the sun behind the Tower, and what she had to have been drawing on her sketchpad.  I looked around – there was no easy access to that rooftop.  How had Marinette gotten up there?

And more importantly, what did that sketch look like?

I had to know, and without really contemplating my actions, I sprung up with the intent of vaulting over to her; I landed full force on my ankle and let out a howl at the sharp pain that ensued and missed my launch point entirely.  I stumbled forward, claws out to prevent a worse fate, and managed to snag the tiles with a long, shrieking noise before halting my slide into oblivion.

My boots were hanging over the edge of the roof as I pulled my way back to safety, cheeks inflamed with embarrassment.  For Marinette had clearly heard me and had leaned over the edge of her building.  “Chat?  Is that you?”

“No,” I said glumly, as I crawled my way toward her.  Putting any weight on the ankle sent shockwaves through me, so I was now trailing it like an unused appendage.  “I’ve been replaced by an inferior clone.”

“Do you need help?” she asked, clearly concerned.  “What happened?”

“I sprained my ankle today,” I said without thinking.  “I saw you over there and---”

“You what?” she said, interrupting me.

Despite the pain, something in her voice stopped me short and caused warning alarms in my head, though I wasn’t entirely sure why.  But there was no hiding the injury at this point.  Thinking fast as I finally arrived back on the apex of the roofline, I stuck as close to the truth as I could, hoping it sounded plausible.  “Ladybug and I took on an akumatized master fencer today,” I said.  “It was brutal; I made a misstep during our hand-to-hand and twisted my ankle pretty badly.”

Marinette was staring at me in the fading light.  “And yet you kept going?” she said.

“I managed to keep Ladybug from knowing about it,” I nodded.  “She’d be furious if she ever found out.”

“I can understand that,” she replied. 

“Yeah,” I concurred.  “I heal pretty fast, but it will be a day or two before I’m at full speed again.”  I looked at her pleadingly.  “You can’t tell anyone about this.”

“That’s why you slid down the railing,” she murmured.

She’d said it so quietly I’d barely registered it with my feline ears.  “Sorry?”

“I said, your secret is safe with me.” I prevented a masked eyebrow from raising at her lie.

What railing?  Did she see something today?

Save for the incident at tryouts for the Fencing Club, I’d not seen Marinette since – in either guise.  At least, not knowingly.  “Thanks, Princess,” I said.  “By the way, how did you get up there?”

“Fire escape,” she said, just a bit too quickly. 

This time, I did raise a masked eyebrow.  “Do you want a lift back down?”

“Not in your current state, no,” she replied.  “I’ll be just fine, thanks.  Which ankle did you injure, exactly?”

That felt like a dangerous question to answer.  But the evidence was plain to see.  “Left.”

“Huh,” she said thoughtfully. 

Those warning bells were going off again.  As the last rays of sunshine dipped below the horizon, I decided it might be wise to make a tactical retreat.  I wasn’t sure how, but it felt like I might have revealed a little too much information tonight.

“I’ve got to go,” I said.  “Do you mind—”

“You should stop by tomorrow night,” she interrupted.  “If you are free.”

I started.  She normally didn’t invite me; I generally made the overture.  “I was about to suggest that, Princess.”

“Good,” she said, an odd expression on her face. 

“All right,” I replied, out of sorts.  I removed the baton from the small of my back and extended it slightly.  “Until then, Purrincess,” I said as I helicoptered away from her.

Her response was lost in the whirl of my baton.

Chapter Text

I’d put up a silent thankful prayer that it was the weekend, allowing my ankle a few extra days to heal before I’d be seen at school again.  After what felt like a near disaster last night with Marinette, the last thing I needed was her seeing Adrien limping around the courtyard.  It would be nearly like wearing a “Claws Out” t-shirt, announcing to the world I was Chat Noir.

Playing it safe, I alternated between ice and pain relievers all day, and kept the ankle elevated as much as possible, barely moving from the couch.  I’d not set a specific time for my visit with Marinette, but Chat typically appeared after my routine patrol with Ladybug, which in itself was likely to be a challenge as well.  As much better as it felt, I knew I was still not capable of putting a lot of weight on it. 

As the afternoon wore on, I weighed reaching out to Ladybug and cancelling for the evening, but was torn.  I never cancelled, ever, and she’d likely be suspicious as to why.  And try as I might, I could not bring myself to lie to her about anything.  Even, at the end of the day, my true identity.

After having dinner brought to my bedroom, I spent about an hour carefully walking the space, seeing how much I could use my ankle.  It was still painful, but tolerable; I’d not be crossing any alleys tonight in a single bound, and hoped that we’d have another non-akuma evening.

1800 arrived and I transformed to Chat, pulled myself to the window, and tentatively tried to leap to the fence.  I missed and splatted against the wrought iron like a squashed kitty, sliding ignominiously to the ground.  Ego now equally as bruised as my ankle, I hauled out the baton and helicoptered back to the skyline, resigned that I would be unable to hide my injury from Ladybug.

Being cautious, I dropped out of the helicopter at street level two blocks from our meeting spot, used back alleys to walk to our building and clawed my way up to the rooftop.  Ladybug was already there, waiting for me, and turned as I came over the edge.  I nonchalantly balanced on the edge instead of crossing the space to her as I normally would.  “Milady,” I greeted.

“Kitty,” she said, moving over to me.  “You’re late!”

I laughed.  “Traffic was really bad tonight,” I said.  “Did you see the birds I had to get through?”

The joke fell flat as she looked at me with a skeptical glare.  “But you clawed up the side of the building,” she observed, masked eyes narrowed.  “Did you actually walk here?”

Cheeks flaming, I adjusted myself slightly on the wall.  “It was a nice evening,” I said.  “Who wouldn’t?”

She continued to look at me.  Hard.

The great Chat Noir crumbled under her withering glare.

“All right,” I said, throwing my paws up.  “I hurt my ankle battling Riposte with you,” I admitted.  “I didn’t want you to worry about it.”

She continued to glare.  “Were you ever planning on telling me?”

I looked away, cheeks further inflamed.  “It’s my job to protect you, milady.  Not the other way around.”

Something shifted for her, and her tone went softer.  “How bad is it?” she asked, as she leaned next to me.

“I can’t put a lot of weight on it at the moment,” I replied.  “It’s better than yesterday.”  I looked back at her.  “I don’t quite know why it didn’t repair when you cleared everything with Miraculous Ladybug.”

“Really?”  Her eyes widened.  “When, exactly, did you injure it?” she asked, thoughtfully.

“Uh…” I started, searching for a truth I could tell her.  “While we were dueling, I deflected a blow that had been intended for you,” I said, “and landed funny.”

“At the museum?”

I nodded.  Not saying anything meant I wasn’t exactly lying, right?

I could see she was replaying the fight in her mind, and fortunately, there were a few times when that had been the case.  I just hoped she didn’t have eidetic memory that could replay the fight move-for-move.  “Well, you should probably stay off it a bit longer then,” she said a length.  “Let’s cancel until Tuesday, barring anything Hawkmoth might do.”

I nodded again.  “Makes sense, milady.  Thank you for understanding.”

“Do you need help getting back?” she asked.  “I could carry you… well, somewhere close to where you need to be.”

“No,” I said, also realizing this was a chance for me to drop in on Marinette.  “I’ll be fine.”

She smiled.  “Call if you need anything, okay?” she said as she pulled out her yo-yo.

“I will.”

And then she was gone.

I continued to sit there on the edge of the roof.  She’d taken it better than I’d expected, but at the end of the day, I could feel her disappointment that I’d not told her in the first place.  That would’ve been impossible, of course, since I had injured it in front of her.  As Adrien.

What a tangled web!

I pulled out my baton and accessed the messaging system.

Chat: Still on for tonight?

I waited.  It took longer than normal for Marinette to reply; my stomach was hoping that meant she’d been baking.  Then the baton beeped:

Purrincess: Hey, just saw this.  Yeah, c’mon over.

I snapped the baton shut and extended it for helicopter mode, and flew my way directly to the Bakery, gently lowering myself to the balcony patio, eschewing my normal chimney entrance.  My biceps were burning pretty hardcore as I snapped the baton back to normal length.

Marinette was on her chaise; my feline nose failed to detect any freshly baked goodies in the vicinity.  I tried not to show my disappointment. 

“How’s the ankle?” she asked.

“Better,” I said, “but I had to tell Ladybug about it tonight.  She was a little annoyed with me for keeping it from her; she’s also making me take a break from our nightly carousing for a bit.”

“Sounds sensible,” Marinette nodded, then inclined her head toward the tile.  “Sit down, Chat.”

I folded myself into my nearly normal patient cat stance on the tile, though I kept the injured ankle out. 

“So, tell me again how you injured that ankle,” she said.

Didn’t I go over this already?

Nonplussed, I repeated what I’d said earlier to Ladybug.  “I was dueling an akuma with Ladybug, and deflected a blow that was meant for her.  I landed funny.”

She nodded, but those blue eyes sparkled with a bit of… something.  “Yesterday, you said you were in hand-to-hand combat.”

My cheeks reddened, indicating how poor a liar I was.  “Did I?” I laughed, nervously.  “Guess I was trying to impress you, Princess.”

Marinette continued to stare at me.  “You’ve never needed to impress me, Chat,” she said.  “Ever.”  She paused. 

If it were possible, the temperature on the deck downshifted a few degrees.

“Why are you lying to me?”

I stared back, dumbfounded.  What could I say? 

Hey, just so you know, I’m really Adrien, the guy you have a crush on.  I hurt myself saving Ladybug, who I have a crush on, but I was Adrien at the time and I didn’t want her to know I’m also Chat.  Just like I don’t want you to know that Chat is also Adrien.  And I now realize I have a crush you, too.  And I would love you to now know that I am Adrien.  But the world would probably end in a puff of smoke if I did tell you, not to mention Ladybug would kill me, so…

I took a deep breath and tried to thread the needle.  “There are certain… obligations that come with being a superhero,” I said.  “One is to protect those we care about from danger.”

She nodded.

“This,” I waved a paw toward my ankle, “is a fairly obvious clue to anyone who is paying attention,” I continued.  “Clearly, if I am injured, my civilian alter-ego is as well.” 

I looked back at her.  “As I think I’ve already made plain, I care deeply about you, Marinette.  Right now, it’s not safe for you to know who I am under this mask.  Maybe, someday, there will be a point where that will not be the case.  But for now,” I said, sadly, “I can only be Chat Noir to you.  My poor attempt at hiding the provenance of my injury is my way of keeping you safe until you can learn my true identity.”

I searched her face, saw compassion, and even understanding in her eyes.  “And if I already think I know who you are?” she asked.  “What do we do about that?”

Ah, I thought.  Subtle, but that confirms I’ve made a few too many mistakes.

Searching her eyes, I could see there was a truth there; if she didn’t know outright, she had a very strong suspicion that she was very close to confirming it courtesy of my big mouth or any other silly actions on my part.  Like, say, spraining another ankle.

I thought about that, and found myself realizing I was totally okay with Marinette knowing who I was; while it neatly solved the Marinette-loves-Adrien problem I’d been grappling with for months, though, it would put me in a bit of a pickle with my own feelings for Ladybug. 

Except I also had the dawning realization that Chat had fallen, and fallen hard, for Marinette.

How are you going to work that one out, Chat?  Good luck splitting yourself in two.

Oddly, and with a serenity I didn’t understand quite yet, I knew I’d figure it out.

I smiled.  “I trust you, Purrincess, as much as I trust Ladybug,” I said genuinely.  “Even if I believed you did, I know you’d protect my secret until the time is right.”

Marinette stood from the chaise and came over, then settled in cross-legged next to me.  “I can live with that,” she said, leaning her head against my shoulder.  “As long as you can, too.” 

She reached up and started to scratch behind one of my feline ears, a sensation I’d not experienced before – at least, not awake.  My eyes widened and then closed in the insane bliss from her touch.  Something else fell into place in my heart, and for some reason, I knew I wasn’t betraying my feelings for Ladybug.  There was space for both Marinette and Ladybug aplenty.

“Yes,” I said, understanding what she was saying on multiple levels, “I can live with that.”

Chapter Text

I dropped softly down on the tile, gently carried my special cargo over to the far side of the rectangular roof, and carefully knelt down to place Ladybug’s back against the wrought iron railing.  I quickly settled in behind her, pulling her head against my chest in a gentle embrace; I could hear her regular heartbeat with my feline ears, and felt her chest rise and fall against mine.  Only then did I allow myself to look back.

The flames had long since died down, but the burning embers of Notre Dame gave the grand cathedral an otherworldly glow.  My favorite perch had long given me spectacular vistas, especially just at dusk when the glittering spots lit up the flying buttresses; now, it was illuminated by the harsh glare of the temporary work lights the first responders had brought in to battle the blaze late into the evening.

We’d helped out as best as we could; at the end of the day, though, not even Ladybug Magic could make much of a dent in the progress of the fire, although she had thrown everything she had at it.  So much so, she’d collapsed after Lucky Charm/Miraculous Ladybug try; it was the only way I’d been able to pull her away from the cathedral, earrings chirping, genuinely fearing for her and her kwami. 

I was covered in soot myself, having tried to save what I could from the flames before the firefighters arrived.  Fortunately, many of the most important relics and artwork had already been relocated due to the renovation underway, but a few precious items had remained – and there had been plenty of tourists around who needed to be guided away to safety so the first responders could deal with the situation.

Ladybug’s earrings chirped their final warning.  I had no choice – I wasn’t about to leave her, but I also knew this was neither the time nor the place for me to find out who was under that polka-dotted mask.  I held her closer, smelled the creosote that had impregnated itself into her hair, and squeezed my eyes shut.

I heard and felt the electric energy as she de-transformed, and continued to keep my eyes firmly closed.  I was pretty sure I felt a small, kwami-like hug on a bicep – it was furtive, but enough to let me know Ladybug’s companion was well enough.  I had no idea what it would want to eat, nor did I have anything on offer; I’d have to hope LB would awaken soon and sort it out for me. 

I put my chin on Ladybug’s head, rocking her ever so slowly.  Holding her close was starting to help me cope with the scope of the disaster; I’d put it into a small box, but now, the sense of loss for my city was almost overwhelming.  Somehow, we – Chat Noir and Ladybug – would help the city heal, but first I’d have to cope with the nearly inconceivable loss of a genuine piece of Paris.  It had survived much to get this far, eight-hundred-plus years from construction, and I had to have faith it would continue onward for another eight-hundred in some form.

The acrid smell of smoke was finally clearing from my feline olfactory nerves, and the scented notes that I associated with Ladybug started to filter into my senses.  They were subtly different now that she’d transformed back to her civilian identity, but I could still pick out the familiar triad of vanilla, sugar and exotic spices so unique to my partner.  It was a comfortable familiarity that I needed.

Hugging her closer, I felt her stir in my arms.  “Chat?” she asked.

“Right here, milady,” I said quietly.  “You gave me a bit of a scare.”

She went rigid.  “Chat – I transformed!  In front of you!”

“Sort of,” I said.  “Yes, you transformed, and I’ve been here with you the whole time.”  I paused.  “But I’ve been a gentlecat about it.”

I felt her twist around.  “Oh God.  Have you been sitting like that this entire time?”

“Yes,” I said simply.

I felt her reach a hand up and clasp it over my gloved paw.  “Thanks,” she said.

Her head turned toward the direction of the cathedral, and I heard a catch in her breath.  “My God, Chat,” she said, her body suddenly convulsed with a sob.  “There’s just nothing to say.  It’s… it’s terrible.”

I rocked her gently again, using my other paw to stroke her hair.  “I know,” I said.  “We did what we could, and the first responders did the rest.”

Mentally, I saw in my mind the cathedral as it had been; the way I would always think of it.  “Soaring toward the heavens,” I murmured, trying to recall some prose I’d read years ago.  “Proudly welcoming worshippers from all faiths and backgrounds/a symbol of the best parts of all of us/a symbol to all of us.”

Ladybug twisted again.  “Is that a poem?”

“Maybe,” I smiled sadly.  “I just can’t recall from whom.”

“It must have been a beautiful piece,” she said softly.

“Just like the structure itself,” I agreed.

“Like it was,” she muttered.

I hugged her again.  “Like it will be.  Like it has always been.”

“How can you be so sure?” she said, choking back another sob.

“We are a resilient people, Parisians,” I replied, trying to radiate a certainty that I was not entirely feeling.  “No fire is powerful enough to remove what Notre Dame means to this city.  Or the world, for that matter.”

She clasped my hand again, fondly.  “You really believe that?”

“Yes,” I said.  Somehow, I truly did.

I felt her wipe away the dampness on her face.  “Give me a moment to feed Ti—my kwami,” she said, sniffling.  “Then I’ll transform again and you can finally open your eyes.”

“Take your time, milady,” I said, gently releasing my arms and allowing her to sit up more. 

I heard her rustle through something (a purse, maybe?) and start to whisper.  I flattened my feline ears as a courtesy and tried very hard not to hear whatever it was she was saying.  A moment later, she pulled away from me; as she did so, she brushed a gentle kiss to my cheek.

“Thank you,” she said again.

I nodded, closing down my ears again and scrunching my eyes tighter.  She whispered her transformation phrase, and my eyelids lit up with the flash of the transformation; I nonetheless patiently waited until she placed her hand on my shoulder to open them.

I looked up at Ladybug.  Her masked eyes were rimmed in red, and she was still crying, slightly, but she looked like she was through the worst of the storm.  I smiled at her as she helped me to my feet.  “I won’t ask if you’re feeling better,” I said as we walked to the opposite railing.

“Good,” she said, “for I must look like the emotional wreck I am.”

“You don’t, milady,” I said firmly.  “You look just as beautiful as always.”

We both turned and looked at what was left of Notre Dame.  “What a shame,” Ladybug said sadly.  “You’ll have to find a new favorite spot.”

I put an arm on her shoulder.  “No,” I said.  “This spot is still perfect.  I’ll keep coming back as long as I’m able to be Chat Noir.”  In the gloom, the final embers had gone out; a news helicopter was now circling, it’s bright beam illuminating the hulking ruin.

Not a ruin, I corrected myself.  She’s just resting; waiting for her rebirth.

Ladybug smiled, a bit of cheer there finally, and leaned her head back into my side.  “I suppose you’re right,” she said softly, somehow channeling my thoughts.  “From here, we can watch Notre Dame be reborn.”

“’We,’ milady?” I asked, shocked.  “Are you saying—”

“Yes, Chat,” she said, wrapping an arm around my waist.  “I’ll watch it return right here with you.”  She looked up at me.  “It’s my turn to make sure I’m by your side,” she said, adding insightfully: “You need to see it as much as I do.  We can do it together, like we do everything else.”

I smiled.  “I do.”

We turned back and watched the helicopter circle, anticipating what the future would bring, but knowing we would face it together – whatever it would be.

Chapter Text

The endless days of summer were beckoning me, but I had to get through finals before I could even begin to contemplate how I’d be able to spend it with Marinette.  I had obligations, of course; between my modelling and the extracurricular activities Father had me scheduled into, I’d practically be as busy as if I’d been at school, but somehow, summer just felt a little lighter.

And, oh yeah, the whole gig as a superhero.  I doubted Hawkmoth would take the summer off.

Still, the idea that I could spend more time than normal with Marinette was a fantasy that I was willing to keep alive as I slogged through the massive preparation required for end of term. 

Late one afternoon, I found myself sharing a table at the library with Marinette.  That wasn’t unusual; after the ankle injury, I had an inkling that she might now suspect who was under the mask, but the two of us had been dancing around that for weeks now and were comfortable with the ambivalence it provided.  But the net result was her becoming increasingly more confident when in the presence of Adrien, and we had grown into an easy relationship with each other.  I felt firmly my ministrations as Chat had put her on that pawthway, but also hoped it spoke to how she might ultimately handle the truth, if and when I ever got to the point of revealing who Chat really was. 

I was wrapping the last of some thorny Chemistry problems when I heard Marinette bust a series of invectives, using language I seldom heard from her; that was followed by her tossing her stylus at her tablet and stalking away from the table, angrily.  I turned my head to see what she was studying, and found a Chat smile quirking at my lips. 

I might be able to assist here, I thought as I stood to go after Marinette.

“Hey,” I said, finding her standing at the railing overlooking the courtyard.  “I won’t ask what’s up, since from your language I am going to assume you’re having some trouble.”

She stared into the courtyard.  “I’m having trouble with the final set of chapters in Chemistry,” she said.  “Quantum just makes my mind spin.”

I nodded.  “It’s not my strong suit, either,” I said.

She looked at me askance.  “You got an ‘A’ last term!”

“Not for lack of trying,” I said, smiling ruefully.  “Lots of hours of tutoring, actually.”  I looked pensive for a moment.  “You know what?  I can send him your way if you like.”

“I’ll take whatever I can get,” she said.  “Who is it?”

“That I can’t tell you,” I said solemnly.  “But you know him.  What time should he get to the Bakery?”

“Eight,” she said, still looking at me, a knowing smile quirking at her lips.  “And thanks.”

“Of course, princ—Marinette,” I said. 

The more time I spent with her, the easier it was for me to forget which persona I was when I was around her.  Sooner or later I was likely to slip up.

--- --- ---

Later that evening, I dropped onto my favorite chimney flue and into my cat stance.  “Good evening, Purrincess,” I said.  “I understand you are having trouble with Chemistry.”

Marinette was sitting on her chaise lounge and smiled when she saw me.  “I had no idea you knew Adrien Agreste, Chat,” she said as I leapt down to the railing next to her and sat perfectly balanced.

“I’ve known him for a while,” I said lightly, ignoring the implied subtext.  “I don’t drop in on him as regularly as you, of course,” I laughed, “but I did get him up to an ‘A’ last term.”

She looked at me, taking in my wild mane, masked green eyes and form-fitting costume, and I could almost hear her wondering if I really did have the chops to be her tutor.  I certainly didn’t fit the mold of a brainy nerd.  But I knew she was desperate for help, and turned up the brilliance of my smile to seal the deal.

“All right,” she said. 

I leapt over to my now-traditional spot: an upended planter close to the chaise.  I’d spent so much time with Marinette over the past few months that her unique set of scent notes normally formed part of the comfortable background of the evening, but tonight, her triad of vanilla, sugar and exotic spices was off.  Now closer to her, I could finally detect what it was: for the first time since I’d started visiting her as Chat, she was wearing perfume – one that was heavy enough to overwhelm her personal scent. 

At least, for a human. 

I wrinkled my nose.  “You’re not wearing that terrible perfume I see advertised all over Paris, are you?” I mewled, putting a paw over my face.  “What possessed you?”

“Adrien?” she said sweetly.

I froze, eyes shooting wide open.  “Uh—”

“Yes,” she said as she turned back to her books, although there was a smile tugging at her face.  “It was marked down at the department store and took a chance on it.  Why?  Do you like it?”

“It’s clawful,” I moaned.  “Ten out of ten Chats agree: you don’t need it.”

She looked back at me, smile quirking again.  “I’ve never asked this, but what do I, uh, smell like to you?  Normally, that is.”

I looked at her.  This was getting a bit personal.  “Well,” I said carefully, “would an answer of ‘you smell like you’ suffice?”

“No.”

“Okay.”  I looked away.  “I smell three high notes and tons of undernotes,” I explained.  “The simplest explanation is that you smell like your bakery: vanilla, sugar, spices.”

“High notes?” she frowned.  “You can detect specific elements?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged.  “It’s taken me a while to learn how to sort them out, but I’m much better at it now.”  I looked back at her, and cracked a half-Chat smile at her.  “So, literally, you smell delicious.  Normally…”

For a moment, my brain tried to tell me that I’d filed a similar version of that triad of scents away for someone else, but the thought bubbled away from me.

She rolled her eyes.  “All right, enough of that. Let’s see what you can do with this problem…”

We spent the next few hours going through the same problems I’d completed in the library earlier, with me carefully pointing out where she was going awry in her work; she wasn’t as far off as she’d thought, and had only needed a subtle claw tip here and there with gentle redirection in her solutions.  At length I sat back, stretching luxuriously to get a slight kink out of my back from the angle I’d been sitting at.  “Good, that’s exactly it,” I said as we wrapped the last problem. 

“Wow,” she said, closing her notebook.  “That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”  She smiled.  “So, what do I owe you for your effort?”

“Fur you, no charge, Princess,” I said, popping open the baton to check the time.  It was close to midnight.  “I should let you get to bed,” I said, getting up to leave.

“Chat, wait,” she said, placing an arm on me. 

“Princess?”

“Do you… do you like movies?”

I looked at her, eyes narrowing.  “Are you asking me on a date, Marinette?”

She looked at me.  “Yes,” she said.  “I suppose I am.”

I scanned her face.  She was serious.  “I do love movies,” I replied.  “Especially science fiction.”

Marinette nodded.  “Don’t laugh,” she started, “but I really want to see the latest Marvel movie that just came out.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Let me get this straight.  You want to take a superhero to a movie about a superheroes?”

She nodded, smiling.  “What do you think?”

Was I really going to do that?  That’s crazy!  There are a million ways that could go wrong.

One look at her eager face, and I realized I’d go anywhere for her.  “If you can figure out a way to sneak me in,” I replied, slowly.

Apparently, it was exactly what she had wanted me to say, for she produced a flyer from a theater just down the street from her home.  “The final showing on Saturday is a special cosplay admission,” she said proudly.  “You have to be in costume to get in.  No one will bat an eye at Chat Noir being there.”

I snagged the flyer with a claw.  “I don’t know whether to be impressed or scared that you’ve put this much thought into it,” I said.  “All right!  I’ll have to check with Ladybug—”

“You’re clear,” she said quickly, adding, “I’ve already asked her for you.”

“Say what?” I sputtered.

“You’re not the only superhero I know,” she said cryptically.  “Meet me here at 2000 on Saturday.”

“Deal,” I said, seriously wondering what I was getting into.  I leapt to the railing, but turned back with a grand Chat smile.  “If I’m going as Chat, are you going to be my Ladybug?”

That odd emotion flashed across her face and then vanished.  “No, silly kit--Chat,” she said.  “I’ve something else in mind.”

I cocked a masked eyebrow.  “Aren’t we’re going as a duo…?”

“Not like that,” she laughed.  “It’ll be a surprise.”

I wasn’t entirely sure I liked that, but smiled anyway, and vaulted off into the night.

Chapter Text

Against my better judgement, I transformed to Chat Noir, put some actual euros in my costume pocket for admission to the movie, and hurled myself across the night sky to meet up with Marinette for our first official date night.  I knew I should have been excited at the prospect of being out on the town with her, openly, but I’d spent more time worried about the possible complications that were bound to result from our outing. 

Finals were over, and summer break was about to start.  I’d aced everything, and had learned that Marinette had done the same.  My intention was to try and keep the mood celebratory this evening, although technically Chat would have to first ask how she had done. 

I had enough nervous energy, though, that instead of heading for the Bakery, I tacked to the building next door – the one with the downspout I had used many months earlier.  I skulked to the roof edge, this time ensured the catchment below was empty, and wrapped my paws around the downspout and slid quickly to the sidewalk, jumping away at the last moment to ensure there were no accidents.

I landed on all fours outside the rear entrance to the kitchen, with the intention of clawing back up to the rooftop patio; instead, the door opened, and Marinette stepped out, smiling.  “Chat,” she said.

My jaw dropped.  “Marinette…?”

“What do you think?” she asked.

I didn’t know what to say. 

She was wearing a version of my form-fitting costume, right down to the metallic snaps, long belt tail and the gold bell at the collar, though the suit had been subtly adjusted to compliment her very feminine form.  Her boots had slight heels, and the zippers, purple accents that went with her eyes and matched her lipstick.  The mask was a little narrower, and she’d used some form of eyeblack to accentuate her deep blue eyes against the darker color of the mask.  Topping it off, she’d pulled her pigtails into a bun, and perched two cat ears on either side.

She was absolutely adorable.  And I said as much.

“How did you come up with that?” I added.

“It was kind of your suggestion,” she smiled, as she picked up her tail and accepted my outstretched paw.

“Really?” I asked.  “I don’t remember saying you should be Chat Noir.”

Marinette laughed.  “No, silly, you asked me if I’d be your Ladybug.”

I nodded, suddenly in on the joke.  “Ah.  So now you’re Lady—”

“Noir,” she finished.  “Exactly.”

“Wow,” I breathed.  “How long have you been planning this?”

“A while now,” she revealed.  “I was just waiting for the right moment.”

“Huh,” I said as we rounded the corner and headed toward the theater.  “I’m flattered, mil—Princess,” I said.  “It means a lot to me.”

She beamed.

Did I almost say “milady?”

I looked at her again, in costume, and watched her fluid movements.  It wasn’t much of a stretch to mentally overlay polka-dots on it.  My brain clicked, screaming to me that I’d been missing the little signs.  And yet, subconsciously, I hadn’t, had I?

I sniffed.  Vanilla, sugar, exotic spices. 

Just like Ladybug.

I barely kept from stumbling on the sidewalk.

No way…

Was it remotely possibly that all this time, I’d been pouring my heart out to Ladybug herself?  Were that true, I had every right to be annoyed with how Marinette had been playing me.  And yet, I wasn’t – I couldn’t be.  In a brilliant moment of introspection, I knew I’d never be; this was almost the only practical path we could have taken to each other. 

I looked at her again, considered anew the care that had gone into her costume, and the planning that she’d put into the scheme to get us to the movies together.  The smile on her face told me she was as happy as I’d ever seen her; I could try and tell myself that it was all Chat, but in my heart of hearts, I knew she’d seen the real me beneath the mask.

A wide Adrien smile came to my face as I recognized I was happier than I’d even been, too.

All I needed to do was figure out how to let her know I could see her now, too.

Around the next corner, we saw the line for the show; all shapes and sizes of superheroes were in line, and we stepped in behind a couple as Spiderman and Gwen Stacey.  As we waited our turn, I leaned toward her.  “If we run into anyone you know, who do you want me to be?” I asked quietly.

“That’s a good question,” she said, thinking it over.  “I’m not seeing anyone officially at school, so I can’t just make up a name.”

We stepped closer.  “There must be someone you are close to that you might, conceivably, go to the movies with,” I pushed, thinking I knew the answer.

She looked at me, hard.  “All right, there is someone,” she said, though her tone told me I might have overstepped. 

I let it go as we arrived at the booth, and gallantly purchased a ticket for my date and me.  “Nice costume,” the clerk behind the booth said, smiling. 

“Thanks,” I replied.  “Yours is pretty cool, too.”  He was wearing a version of my costume I’d seen on the internet, although one of his cat ears had fallen off.

We entered the theater lobby and ran smack into Nino and Alya.  The latter’s eyes widened when she saw who Marinette was with.

“Mari,” she said, “who is this?” 

“Nice costume,” I said.  Alya had chosen an actual Marvel character, and was dressed in a reasonable approximation of Black Widow.

“Thanks,” she said, smiling at me, and then turning back to Marinette.  “Who is this?” she repeated.

“Chat Noir, of course,” Marinette smiled.  “Who else?”

I kept the shocked expression off my face.  “Marinette…?” I started.  “What are you doing?”

“Mari,” Alya smiled tightly, “that’s not funny.”

“It wasn’t meant to be,” she replied.  “I’m not joking.”

Nino turned toward me.  He was in a fairly close version of Hawkeye, right down to the compound bow.  “You are, aren’t you,” he said simply.

“Yep,” I nodded.  “In the fur.”

Alya suppressed a squeal.  “Oh.  My.  God.  I was right the whole time…” she said, slightly dazed, then turned to me.  “So that time in the plaza…?”

I looked at Marinette; this was not exactly what I thought she would do.  “That sort of got the ball rolling,” I said, “but honestly, this is really on the down low.”  I winked at her.  “Can we keep this between the four of us?”

“Uh…” Alya said, clearly torn between loyalty to her friend and the scoop of a lifetime.

“Please, Alya,” Marinette said quietly.  “For now, at least.”

Alya took another moment, and then threw herself at Marinette and wrapped her in a big hug.  “I’m so happy for you!” she cried.  “I know you’ve been hung up on Adrien for so long now, I’m glad you’ve moved on.”

Hung up on Adrien?  If only she knew…

“Come on, let’s get seats before the theater fills,” Nino suggested. 

I took Marinette by the paw and followed our friends into the theater.  “What was that, milady?” I asked quietly, intentionally using my affectionate moniker for what I was increasingly certain was her alter ego.  “I assumed you’d give them the name of someone you’d go to the movies with.”

She smiled, failing to comment on my turn of phrase.  “I did.”

Chapter Text

Somewhat fortunately, by the time another enterprising akuma tried to take me down with catnip, I’d had many months to try and prepare for it and attempt to counteract the attack.  Knowing what to expect, though, and dealing with it appropriately, were two very different sides of the same coin.

Rena and Carapace had recently become deputized members of Team Miraculous, and though Rena was taking to the position like a duck to water, Carapace had been having some difficulty mastering some of the basics.  Ladybug thought it wise that we trade off patrol nights with him, giving Carapace some on-the-job training as it were; my brief from her for this particular night was to try and get him leaping a bit farther.  (She’d worked with him on basic blocking tactics with his shield the prior night.)

I’d extended my baton between two buildings and had been balancing halfway; Carapace was supposed to make the leap in a single bound.  It was the shortest gap I could find in the city, and one that I could make in my sleep.  He’d tried twice already, and both times I’d had to leap from the baton and rescue him as he tumbled haplessly toward the street below.  He wasn’t terribly keen on the third try and had been dithering at the edge of the roof for a good ten minutes.

“Come on, Cap,” I said, using the shortened name I’d come up with.  With his shell shield, he reminded me of another superhero.  “Look, do this one more time and then we’ll take five and grab some coffee or something.”

“Are we allowed to do that?” he asked. 

“Even superheroes take breaks,” I laughed.  “Now---”

As I started to guide him again, that smell I had found so compelling hit my olfactory nerves like a ton of bricks.  I staggered backwards on the baton, nearly loosing my balance, but somehow stayed upright. 

Carapace must have seen my facial machinations.  “Dude – what’s wrong?”

“It’s happening again,” I said, shaking my head to try and keep it clear.  “I need to get out of here, quickly, and contact LB.” 

I started across the baton toward Carapace, but my attention wouldn’t stay focused on the tiny metal rod.  I kept turning, trying to find the source of the smell.  Intellectually, this time I knew what was happening: despite shaking my mane again, I was having trouble thinking straight. 

Didn’t I have a plan for this? I thought. 

Rebreather, some left over functioning brain cells reminded me.  If I could trigger it, I’d get some fresh O2 into me and clear the worst effects.

I tumbled onto the roof, pulling the baton in behind me, and fumbled for a minute with it, trying to ignore the growing impetus to follow the odor to its source.  The baton fell out of my hand, and I think Carapace leaned over me as I attempted to throw myself over the edge of the roof.  As tiny as he was, he was solidly built, and the Miraculous had enhanced his strength enough that he managed to keep me from leaping away.

The last thing I remembered was him shaking me.

As before, it was a different smell that woke me: a mix of vanilla and sugar, and other complex spices.  The unique aroma of Marinette.  I cracked open a masked eye and found I was curled up into a little ball, cat-like; this time, I was atop a black blanket that had an embroidered border of green paw prints that looked vaguely familiar to my addled brain.

Based on the last time this had happened to me, I was a little bit afraid to open the other eye.

“Chat?” came a familiar voice.  Alya’s face popped into view, wearing a concerned expression.  “Are you feeling better?”

Lovely.  Now two people have seen me in this condition.

“It depends,” I said sluggishly.  “Are you real or a hallucination?”  I pried the second masked eye open.  “And if you are real, why are you at the Bakery?”

“Because she was visiting me when Carapace brought you in.”  Marinette’s concerned face appeared in my field of vision.  “Can you sit up?  Are you hungry?”

I uncurled, slowly, and stretched out my back.  I had no idea how cats could actually sleep in that position.  “Yeah,” I said, and pushed myself up.

A gentle hand from behind helped.  “Dude, you gave me a real scare.”

Oh, right.  Make that four.

“Sorry, Cap,” I said, my head swimming as I righted myself.  “How on earth did you get me back here?”  I turned toward him.  “And why here?”

Carapace looked at me funny.  “You were kind of out of it,” he said, “but you kept repeating ‘Marinette’ over and over again.  So, I took you to the Bakery.”  He looked at Marinette.  “She knew what to do, so it was a good call, Dude.”  He looked back at me.  “Even under that stuff, you were still helping me.”

He paused.  “And, for the record, you are heavier than you look.”

That brought a smile to my face.  “It’s all muscle,” I quipped.  I turned back to Marinette.  “Thanks for helping out again, but I’ve got to get out and see who was coming after me—”

“Whoa, kitty,” Marinette said, placing gentle hands on my shoulders to keep me from going anywhere. 

Kitty?

Since movie night, I’d fallen back into the dance with Marinette, not quite willing to prod her into revealing herself.  But like me, she had increasingly started to show more of her alter-ego’s personality when we were together – and not just as Chat.  I’d caught her calling me “kitty” while in line for coffee a few days ago – as Adrien.  Now she’d done it again to Chat.

As I sat there, recovering, I started to feel like it was time to make the next move.

Marinette glanced at Alya, who looked away.  “Ladybug already cleared the akuma with Rena’s help, and… left instructions that you recover here for a bit.”

“Oh,” was all I managed to say.  With the expanded team, there were occasions when I felt superfluous.  This was turning into one of them.

Marinette saw my expression.  “You’re not being replaced, Chat,” she laughed. 

“Easy for you to say,” I groused.

“Look, let me get some goodies from the Bakery.  That’ll cheer you up.”

I tried to look sullen, but the thought of, well, anything from Tom’s ovens made my mouth water.  “Fine,” I said, but it had none of the edge I’d intended.

Marinette took Alya and disappeared through the skylight.  Carapace and I just looked at each other; I finally broke the stalemate.  “Thanks, man,” I said.  “I owe you a solid for taking care of me.”

“Anytime, Chat.”

The girls returned with two trays of goodies.  Marinette offered me the one with my favorites on it: handmade, Belgian chocolate croissants.  I snagged two and obliterated them before I thought twice and grabbed a third one just as she shifted the tray to Carapace.

He looked at me.  “Dude…!”

“It’s the ‘nip,” I laughed as I took a little more time to enjoy the third.

Despite the fact that she had two costumed superheroes on her roof, Marinette kept the conversation casual and flowing, almost as if the four of us had been friends all along.  That observation stuck with me, though, as I realized that three of us – Marinette, Alya and I, were, indeed, friends; though at least one of them certainly didn’t realize Adrien was sitting across from them at that moment.

I looked again at Carapace.  I’d only met his superhero persona a little bit ago, but in some ways, I felt like I’d known him forever.  I was well aware that Ladybug knew his real identity, since she’d bestowed his Miraculous upon him herself – and, for that matter, Rena, too. 

Hmm, the sly Chat thought to himself, maybe this is an opportunity too good to pass up. 

At a natural break in the conversation, I made an innocuous suggestion.  “Have any of you ever played ‘Two Truths and a Lie?’”

Marinette’s eyes narrowed at me immediately.  “Chat –” she started.

“Oh I love that game!” Alya gushed.  “Let’s play!”

Marinette turned toward her friend.  “Alya, I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” she said, inclining her head toward the two superheroes sitting across from them.

“It’s harmless fun,” Alya persisted. 

I smiled my most disarming Chat smile.  “All right, here are the rules: each of us will make three statements, two of which must be true.  One is a falsehood.  The person to your right has to guess which one is the lie.”

“Who wins?” Carapace asked.

“The person who guesses the most lies correctly,” I replied.  “We play three rounds.  Everyone ready?”

Marinette was barely suppressing her fury, but nodded along with the others.

“Look, I’ll go first,” Ayla said.  She pointedly looked at Carapace.  “You’ll start the guessing, Carapace.”

“Me?” Carapace gulped.  “I, uh, hardly know you.  And Chat’s the one to your right.”

“Okay, Chat, you’re up then.”

I nodded.

“Right.”  Alya thought for a moment.  “I love comic books.  I have twin sisters.  I’ve never been akumatized.”

As she started, I wasn’t sure if she’d give me something to work with.  For like Carapace, technically Chat didn’t know Alya beyond our few interactions up to this point.  “Ah,” I said thoughtfully.  “I don’t know you very well, but I do know you were Lady Wifi.  That’s your lie.”

She smiled.  “Very good, Chat!”

I pondered; this round needed to be easy.  Cap was on my right, so I turned toward him.  “I love croissants.  I am not allergic to feathers.  Catnip makes me sleep.”

Carapace smiled.  “Dude, a softball.  You are so, like, totally allergic to feathers.”

I smiled.  “Correct.”

Cap relaxed, then panicked once he realized he was up.  “Ok,” he said, turning to Marinette.  “Uh…”

“Stay simple,” I advised. 

Something clicked for him.  He took a breath.  “I can leap.  My kwami is---”

“Ah, not that simple,” I said hastily.

“Oh, right, sorry.”  He thought again.  “Uh…” He floundered and looked to me for help.

“Why don’t you take a pass,” I said.  “Marinette?”

“Right,” she said.  “I can bake.  I love—” she locked eyes with me for a moment.  “—macaroons.  I can’t sew.”  She turned to Alya.

“Wow, girl, at least make it challenging.  The third one is the lie, obviously.”

Marinette nodded.  “I’ve not had a chance to pick,” she said, turning back to me.  Her look to me, though, said: Don’t push it, Chat.  Stop now.

I smiled back, saying with it: Not on your life, Princess.

“Next round,” I promised.  “Alya, you’re up again.”

Alya thought again.  “I am a journalist.  I am a secret superhero.  I am in love with Nino.”

She’d tried to hide it, but Marinette’s expression had shifted slightly, though I didn’t catch which particular truth or lie it had been on.  Similarly, Carapace had shot a glance at Alya and then started to examine his gloves.  It dawned on me that all four of us appeared to be hiding secrets.  I looked at the three of them again, narrowing my eyes slightly; I didn’t need my super feline senses to know that there was now an electric undercurrent to the game.

I turned the three statements over in my brain.  “Well,” I said, “this might be a bit unfair.  I’ve only met this Nino fellow the one time we were all at the movies together.  But the way he looked at you, I’d say that is a truth.  And I read the Ladyblog, so the that is the other truth.  That makes the superhero one the lie, right?”

Carapace shifted again.  “You love—”

Marinette glared at him and he stopped, but not before I’d seen the another meaningful glance that Alya and Carapace had shared. 

Interesting.

 “Very good, Chat,” Alya said, but her smile seemed forced.  “Your turn.”

“Ah,” I said, shifting plans slightly on the fly.  Turing to Carapace, I asked: “Are you ready?”

He gulped.  “No,” he said quietly.  “Can I pass?  Again?” he asked. 

Three sets of eyes turned toward me.  “Uh, sure,” I said, not really knowing why I was the arbiter.  “You’re up, Marinette.”

Marinette nodded, but there was a dangerous look to her eyes.

Let’s see if I can press any buttons with this one.

I tried to look thoughtful by cocking my feline ears and putting a claw tip to my chin.  “How about… I am a superhero.  My alter-ego is a famous supermodel.  I love…” my eyes locked on Marinette.  “…Ladybug.”

Hah!  Three truths.  Try that on for size.

She calmly looked at me, expression neutral; but wheels were turning behind those eyes.

I gazed back pleasantly.   “Go on, Princess,” I prodded.  “Choose the lie.”

Never looking away from me, Marinette began.  “The lie is number two.  I just can’t visualize you on the catwalk.”

I smiled wider.  “I’m bummed you don’t think I’d make it on the runway,” I laughed, careful not to confirm or deny her choice.  “All right, your turn.”

She hadn’t stopped staring at me.  “You do remember the game you wanted to play was ‘Two Truths and a Lie,’ right?”

“Yes, Purrincess,” I said sweetly.  “I do.”

Marinette started to say something and thought better of it.  “All right.  And point of privilege: Chat will answer again.”

I nodded.  “Fine by me.”

She paused, then said carefully, without looking away from me: “I love Chat Noir.  I am Ladybug.  I love Adrien Agreste.”

Alya gasped; Carapace straightened up like a bolt of electricity had jolted him.  Marinette continued to bore those beautiful blue eyes into my wide green ones.

I tried to keep my expression neutral, but she’d lobbed a bomb at me.  “Two truths?  And a lie?”

“Yes, Chat,” she confirmed.  “Just… like… yours,” she emphasized.

Just like yours. 

My heart skipped a beat.

She knows all three were true!  Does that mean…?  Holy cannoli, I’m right - she is Ladybug!

I narrowed my green eyes at her.  “Clever, Princess,” I said.  “Are you absolutely sure you want me to answer?”

“Yes, Chat,” she said, eyes containing the smile that she was carefully keeping from her lips.  “I’m pawsitive I want to hear your answer.”  The dig was now unmistakable.

“All right,” I said, narrowing my eyes further.  My heart was pounding, hard.  After all of the dancing, we’d finally come to the moment of truth.  Carapace and Alya had disappeared from my consciousness; it was just the two of us, gazing intently at each other. 

There was something new in her expression; an impish delight, maybe?  Recognition that this is what we both wanted?  I could read in her eyes that she’d made a decision about us  and was ready to roll with it.

I took a deep breath.  “I think –”

Marinette!” came a voice from below.  “You’re supposed to be babysitting tonight!”  The skylight popped open and Sabine’s face appeared. 

“Oh, sorry,” she said, seeing the four of us and not blinking twice at the superheroes present.  “Nadja called and you are really, really late to take care of Manon.”

“Thanks, Maman,” Marinette said, still not taking her eyes off me.  “We’ll finish this later, Chat,” she said firmly. 

It was an order, not a suggestion.  “Of course, Princess,” I said lightly. 

“Are you feeling well enough to go home?” 

“Yes,” I said, standing.  I took her hand and kissed it.  “Thank you for your hospitality.  Again.”

She leaned in close, gently kissed my cheek, and said so quietly, I was sure anyone without superior feline hearing would have heard it.  “Meet me at our normal spot around 2100.”  As she pulled back, she added, “And don’t ever do that again, kitty.” 

“As you wish, milady,” I replied, emphasizing my endearment for Ladybug while keeping my green eyes on her blue.   She held my eyes, then was off to the skylight, leaving me standing there, a million things running through my brain.

I was sure my goofy Chat grin couldn’t go any wider.

Chapter Text

In what had to have been some sort of perverse universe-driven irony, the next day saw my schedule completely open.  My photo shoot at the Palais de Chaillot was cancelled at the last minute due to the inclement weather (Shocker! It rains in Paris!) and my fencing instructor was out of the city for a few weeks.  I had nothing to do and hours to fill before meeting up with Ladybug.

Rain was sheeting against the massive windows of my bedroom; it was quite the storm front that had hit.  Lightening intermittently glared in the sky.  Definitely not a day anyone would want to be out in.

Unless you were a cat superhero, nearly impervious to everything.

I dragged Plagg out of his comfortable laundry hamper and transformed into Chat Noir.  Owing to the weather, I opted to go out through the bathroom and, unusually, paused on the windowsill to close the portal behind me.  Wouldn’t do to come back to a flooded room.

The downpour was warm; having learned my lesson with the downspout episode, rain beaded off my now-slightly modified costume easily.  My hair, on the other hand, was drenched immediately, but I didn’t care.  After last night, my entire worldview was rosy.  I hurled myself to the fence, hit it with my boots and tumble-vaulted into the sky, landing on the rooftop opposite the mansion.  I considered the simple logic pathway that had formed in my brain as I moved.

Marinette is Ladybug.

I ran across the rooftop, gleefully splashing in the pools of water, and launched across an alleyway.

Marinette loves me.

I ran along the apex of the roof, threw up the baton and helicoptered across the grand avenue.

Ladybug is Marinette.

I extended the baton and pole vaulted across a park, arcing through the rain as it pelted me in the face. 

Ladybug, therefore, loves me.  Q.E.D.

For some reason, visiting the plaza at the Palais de Chaillot seemed to resonate; I landed atop one of the higher buildings surrounding the space and crouched, looking across the wide space to the Eiffel Tower.  It was partially blurred owing to the rain, the greyness of the overcast day making the colors of the framework pop unusually well.  If I’d had a camera, it would have made for a picture postcard worthy print.

The plaza was, of course, deserted; most normal people had decided to stay indoors.  I shook my mane to get a few gallons of water out, thankful Chat didn’t have the hair product Adrien normally used.  This amount of rain would have created some sort of gelatinous mess that would take hours to remove in the shower.  My gaze roamed the plaza, watching how the light was interacting with the rivulets and puddles that were everywhere, fascinated by the seeming randomness to it all.

One puddle in particular caught my attention.  I looked again – the plaza was still clear of people – and smiled.

Why not?

I vaulted out of my position, twisted into a barrel roll and came down on all fours just to the side of the puddle.  It wasn’t particularly large, but it reminded me of ones Mother had allowed me to stomp through when I was much, much younger.  Especially when Father was not with us.  I stood up, looked again, and then used all of my Chat might to leap into the air.

I came down squarely in the middle of the water, sending it flying high in all directions; I stood there, massive, childish grin on my face, laughing as I watched the water cascade down around me. 

“You might as well join me,” I said, smiling wider.  My feline ears had picked up Ladybug’s yo-yo just as I was coming down.  “I know you want to.”

Ladybug dropped down from the wall she’d been standing on.  “And how would you know that, Chat?” she asked, smiling.

Catuition,” I replied, winking.

She rolled her eyes.  “I honestly thought you’d get better at those as time went on.”

“I’m pawistively hurt, milady.”  I held out a paw.  “C’mon, give it a shot.”

The water had re-collected around my boots.  Ladybug hesitated, then took my paw.  “You’d better hope Alya is nowhere close,” she muttered.  “This will go viral for sure.”

“On three?” I asked.  She nodded.

“One… two… three!” I cried, and together we leapt up into the air, hand in hand, and came down with a massive splash. 

With the two of us working in tandem, the water scattered to the four corners in a massive wave.  I looked at her and laughed, long and hard; so hard, tears were running down my face (indistinguishable from the rain that was pelting me, thankfully).  Ladybug joined in the merriment, the two of us looking for all the world as though we’d narrowly escaped the clutches of an akuma using laughing gas.

We wound up back on the rooftop together, looking out across the plaza and the Tower.  The rain had thinned a bit at that point, making the Tower just a bit more visible, and a fragment of the sky had lightened behind it in dramatic fashion.  Ladybug was leaning against me, much like she would have done as Marinette.  It was a familiar sensation, yet unfamiliar; for up until now, she had carefully kept her two personas feeling apart.

“So, Chat,” she said, watching the light play off the Tower with me.  “What do we do now?”

“There are more puddles,” I said helpfully.

“That’s not what I meant, kitty.”

“I know,” I said, grinning. 

She turned toward me, those deep blue eyes connecting with mine.  “Obviously, you know who I am under the mask,” she said.  “And I have a pretty good idea who’s under yours.”

“I suspect you’ve known for a while, milady,” I said.

Ladybug paused.  “Yes,” she said after a bit.  “Since your ankle sprain.”

I nodded.  “It was the heat of the moment,” I explained.  “I had to save you, and without being transformed, I didn’t take the landing as easily as I would have.”

“You did a good job hiding it from me at the Louvre later.”

“Sly cat, remember?” I laughed.  “But I screwed up on the roof.  I should have just stayed home.”

“When do you begin to suspect me?”

I thought about that.  There were hundreds of points where I probably should have seen who my partner was, far earlier than I had.  “When I helped you prep for the Chemistry final,” I said.  “You asked me what you smelled like, it inadvertently started to connect the dots.  I knew for sure when we went to the movies.”

“That’s why you wanted to know what I should call you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I admitted.  “I’d hoped you’d back into me.”

She leaned into me again, sighing.  “I almost did, actually,” she murmured.  “But I still wasn’t sure what to do about it.  I’d fallen hard for you, Chat, only to realize you were actually Adrien.”

Hearing Ladybug say my alter-ego’s name sent a thrill through me that was undefinable. 

“Reconciling who I was actually in love with was a problem.”

I looked at her.  “Until last night,” I said, intuitively knowing the answer.

“Exactly,” she said, turning to smile me.  “I was being honest.  I love Chat.  I love Adrien.  That means I love you, no matter what form you’re in.”

I hugged her close, tears of joy now intermingling with the rain.  “I couldn’t have said it any better, milady.”  I bent to her ear, saying quietly.  “Whether you are Marinette or Ladybug.  The same goes for me.  I love you.”

She snaked an arm around me, pulled me closer and into a hug.  “We have to keep this a secret, though,” she said, sadly.

“Why?” I asked.  “We’re already together in the public’s mind.  I’ve seen the blogs,” I added, “not to mention the fan fiction.”

“The what?”

“You don’t want to know,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.  “Still, I think we have to play it like we’re still just professionals out there.”

My smile faltered.  “Wait – you’re not already breaking up with me, are you?  I just found you.”

“What?  No!” she said, forcefully.  “I’m just saying the Ladybug-is-dating-Chat part needs to be invisible.”

I looked at her.  “That doesn’t leave many options on the table,” I pointed out.

“That leaves three,” she corrected. 

It was my turn to roll my eyes.  “This I have to hear.”

“One: Adrien starts to date Marinette.”

“I don’t see a problem there,” I said.  “But we might need to ramp it up slowly.”

“There is a problem,” she countered.  “Chat is already dating Marinette.”

“Oh,” I said.  Then: “Oh!”

“Right,” she agreed.  “That’s option two.  I’m happy to keep that going for the short term, until we can come up with a way for Adrien to take over.”

“I can work with that,” I said, wondering how I would.  “And what is option three?”

“Ladybug dates Adrien.”

“Huh,” I said, a sly Chat smile playing at my lips.  “I don’t see why we can’t do that at the same time as ‘Chat dates Marinette.’”

“I agree,” she smiled back.  “I’d hate to leave Adrien out in the cold, after all.”

“Very thoughtful of you, milady.  I’ll let him know.”

“I’m sure you will.”  She sighed.  “And then there is the problem of Rena and Carapace.”

“They are already an item, milady,” I observed.  “In and out of costume.”

She looked back at me.  “Ah,” she said simply.  “They’ve not been very subtle, those two.  We could learn a lesson from that, Chat, as we move forward ourselves.”

“Message received,” I nodded.  “I presume Nino and Alya don’t yet know who I am, though?”

Ladybug raised a masked eyebrow at my correct identification.  “No,” she said after a moment.  “But we probably gave them enough last night they’ll make the connection soon.”

“I’ll handle Carapace,” I offered.  “You can take on Alya.”

“Deal.”  She stood up and I joined her.  “How about some fresh coffee?”

“If it’s your dad’s, I’m in,” I said.

“Follow me, kitty,” she said, launching her yo-yo into the cloudy sky.

“Anywhere, milady,” I gleefully responded, hurling myself after her.

Chapter Text

By prior arrangement, Ladybug and I had split the patrol duties the following evening; she’d taken Rena to the far side of the city, and I had Carapace with me, conveniently close to the Agreste Mansion.  While we both suspected Rena and Carapace had puzzled out my identity after our Two Truths night, this evening’s primary mission was to make sure we were all on the same page once and for all.

Once again, I’d spanned an alleyway with my baton and was standing at the middle.  We’d been at it for more than two hours now, and I’d rescued Cap a dozen times already.  Neither one of us were terribly anxious for his next attempt, but I tried to remain good natured about it.  “Come on, Carapace,” I encouraged.  “One more shot, and then we’ll call it a day.”

Cap looked at me like I’d become the three-headed guardian to the gates of Hades, swallowed, and then backed up.  Putting his head down, he trundled to the edge of the roof with nowhere near the velocity he’d need to cross the space, hit the tile and vaulted into the air… for about five meters, before starting the inevitable plunge toward the alley.

I sighed and rolled off the baton, snapping it shorter in the process and grabbing it in one hand; I tucked into a dive and nabbed Carapace with the other arm, rolled him upright and spun up the baton into helicopter mode one handed.  I couldn’t rotate it fast enough to do anything other than slow our descent, but that was enough, and we touched down in grimy alleyway with only a bruised ego among us.

“There we are,” I said as I released him and stepped back to the brick wall, resting my back against it and propping a boot up.

Carapace slumped against the wall opposite.  “I just can’t do it, Chat,” he lamented.  “I can’t seem to get it straight in my mind.  And just when I think I have, I look down—”

“Yeah, try not to do that,” I said sagely.

His eyes went to mine.  “That’s easy for you to say, Chat,” he snapped.  “You dance around out here like it’s second nature—”

“It is,” I confirmed, trying to keep the mood light.

“—and unlike some of us,” he continued to splutter, “you’re not carrying around extra weight—”

“You should see me after an evening with Marinette at the Bakery,” I laughed.  “There are days when I think she’s intentionally trying to fatten me up.  She keeps complaining that I’m too skinny.”

“Damn it, Adrien!” he yelled.  “The least you could do is…” he stopped, eyes suddenly gone wide.

“Well,” I said, a masked eyebrow raised.  “That’s not exactly how I was planning on bringing up that subject.”

“Uh,” he said, desperately looking around the alley to ensure we were still alone.  I’d already confirmed that, but it was nice that he was thinking about it at least.  “Look, about that…”

“This might not be the best place for this discussion,” I said.  “Follow me,” I encouraged as I started to climb up the side of the building with my claws.

I heard him groan.  “Please tell me it’s not far,” he asked as he clambered up behind me.  It occurred to me that turtles might not have claws; I’d not taken note of any, at least, in Nino’s costume.  We’d have to talk about that.

“No,” I said.  “Fortunately for you, I picked this location for your practicing specifically because it’s close to the mansion.”

I hauled myself over the edge and back onto the roof, then flipped over and helped Cap up as well.  “And,” I added, “I have some snacks waiting for us when we get there.”

He smiled.  “Sounds good.”

“There’s a catch, though,” I said, grinning.  “You’ve got to get through the window on your own.”

“What window?” he asked, worried eyes suddenly darting over my shoulder to the recognizable hulk of Agreste Manor.

“Bedroom, to the side there,” I pointed with a claw.  “It’s the open one.  I’d prefer we use that, if you don’t mind; explaining a broken one might be an issue.”

“Won’t someone see us?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “Father is out of town and I gave the staff the night off.”

He gulped.  “Then why can’t we use the front door?”

“If you ever want to visit me as Carapace, you’ll have to do it this way,” I said.  “Come on, it’ll be fine.”

“Says you,” he muttered under his breath.

“I heard that,” I reminded him, pointing to my feline ears and laughing as I built up some speed on the roof.  I hit the edge with my boots and, I’ll admit, decided to show off a little with a double barrel roll into a side twist, coming down on the edge of the fence so I could use it to vault through the open window.  I landed in a cat crouch on the tile.

“Nice,” Ladybug said from where she was sitting on my couch and giving me the traditional golf clap.

“But the barrel roll was a bit over the top,” Rena added as she polished off a finger sandwich from the buffet I’d had chef prepare before he’d left for the night.

“Don’t I get points for style?” I asked, smiling.

I never heard their response.

Carapace missed the open window by a wide margin and crashed through the unopened portion of the window wall, shattering multiple panels in the process.  I managed to spin up my baton shield and protect the three of us from the shards of glass that rained down from the explosion, then rolled out and over to where Cap had splatted on the floor, limbs akimbo.

I brushed off the worst of the glass from his back and helped him up.  “Look on the bright side,” I said as we stood and surveyed what was left of my windows.  “You managed to cross the distance in a single leap!”

“But your room, Dude,” he said. 

My masked eyes narrowed in good humor.  “I suspected this might happen,” I explained, inclining my head toward Ladybug.  “She can fix it.”

Should be able to,” Ladybug corrected.  “I’m not entirely sure Miraculous Ladybug works when there isn’t an akuma involved.”

I looked at her.  “It better,” I said, a tiny note of panic in my voice.  “Otherwise I’m going have a frantic few days trying to get this fixed before Father gets back.”

“Can we actually get to the elephant in the room?” Rena asked.  “Or rather, the Chat in Adrien’s room?”

I laughed, and looked at Ladybug, who nodded.  “So, we asked you here tonight just to confirm what you likely already know,” I said.  “And just to put all of the cards on the table, I am aware of who each of you are under the mask as well.”

Ladybug continued.  “I can’t emphasize how important it is that we keep our identities secret from everyone else in Paris.  I’m comfortable with the four of us being in the know, but we can’t extend the circle of trust any further.”

Rena snorted.  “Chloe – or rather, Queen Bee – won’t be very happy about that.”

“She’s a special case,” I said.

“Isn’t she just,” Rena laughed, and turned to Ladybug.  “I’ve got your back, Marinette,” she said soberly, then hugged me.  “And yours, too, you big doofus.”

“Hey now,” I said, smiling.  “No need for name calling, Alya.”

“That’s Rena to you, Chat,” she winked. 

“Of course, my fox,” I smiled as I took her hand and gently kissed it.

“Hey!” Carapace said.  “No hitting on my girlfriend,” he added good naturedly.

“I would never,” I said, placing a hand over my heart.

“You certainly would,” Ladybug smirked.  “But I’m with Carapace.  Keep your focus if you don’t mind.”

“I’ve only ever had eyes for you, milady,” I said. 

“Isn’t that the truth,” Rena cackled as she looped an arm under Carapace’s.  “We’re going to leave the two lovebirds alone now, Cap.”

“We are?” he said around a mouthful of something.  “We just got here.”

“And now we’re leaving,” she said as she pushed him toward the now-destroyed wall of windows.  “Good night, Ladybug, Chat.”

Ladybug stood next to me, arm around my waist, and we watched Rena leap from the windowsill with Carapace in tow.  The two made it (thankfully) to the rooftop opposite the mansion and disappeared into the evening.

“Don’t they make a cute couple?” Ladybug sighed as she leaned her head into my shoulder.

“Yes, we do,” I said, laughing.  “Now, about my window…”

Chapter Text

I dropped onto the roof of our school in my cat crouch, and Ladybug zipped down her yo-yo line as gracefully as always.  Despite it being barely seven thirty, it felt like we’d put in a full day already having spent the better part of the last hour dealing with an akuma bent upon taking the main television station in Paris off the air – permanently.  It had been nip and tuck but at length we’d de-akumatized a former news anchor who’d been sidelined by a younger version.

My ring chirped the three-minute warning, and Ladybug’s earrings were down to their final spot.  “You have just enough time to get to the locker room,” I said, “if you hurry.”  I peered over the edge of the courtyard roof.  “The space is empty at the moment.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she said, as she leaned in for a quick kiss.  “I’ll see you on the other side, kitty,” she laughed as she vaulted over the edge and disappeared from view. 

I tried to keep from pinching myself.  It was still hard for me to remember Ladybug was in love with me – and loved me as much as I loved her.  I knew I was wearing the goofy grin I got when I thought about it, but I couldn’t help it.  My ring chirped again and prodded me into action.

I vaulted over the opening and chose instead to slide through the side window of the locker room, which was thankfully empty.  I hustled over to Adrien’s locker, opened the door to partially shield myself.  “Plagg – claws in!”

The green wave of transformation rolled over me, and I had a piece of Camembert waiting for a very tired looking Plagg.  “Thanks,” he said, unexpectedly being polite.

“That took more out of you than I thought,” I said, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, kid,” he said as he accepted two more slices from me.  “It doesn’t help that you’re spending almost every waking moment as Chat Noir now.”

I frowned.  “Didn’t you say I could remain transformed indefinitely?” I asked, concerned.  “Unless I use Cataclysm?”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “I never thought you would take me literally, though.”  He sighed.  “No other holder has.”

“Is it hurting you?” I asked urgently, trying to detect any changes in my kwami friend.  “I had no idea—”

“Relax, kid,” he said, sly smile on his face.  “I’m pulling your tail.”

I bopped him on the head.  “Don’t do that!” I said.  “I care about you too, Plagg.”

“I know,” he said softly, a tiny ray of happiness suddenly escaping his normally dour composure. 

I tossed him a final slice and started to gather my books for the day.  Plagg suddenly gripped my shoulder.  “Transform - now!” he whispered urgently.

He didn’t have to tell me twice.  “Plagg – claws out!” I said, dropping my books as I went through my transformation moves.  The glow had barely faded when the rear wall to the locker room exploded inward, throwing concrete blocks everywhere.

I spun up my baton and protected myself, thankful it was still early and no one else had arrived yet.  The room was heavy with concrete dust, so it wasn’t immediately obvious what I was dealing with.

A moment later, a dumpster came sailing at me; I leapt out of the way, but it plowed through three rows of lockers, crumpling them like they were aluminum foil. 

“We recycle here,” I said to the empty space, “so you really should have---”

The deep blue recycling dumpster came at me, fast; I managed to somersault over it and land atop the one remaining row of lockers.  It crumpled into the wall that was shared with the ladies’ locker room, but not before putting a serious crack in it.

I vaulted back to the wall, landing on top of the rubble, and pressed a feline ear to the wall, trying to hear if anyone was there.  “Marinette?  It’s Chat!  Are you in there?  Is anyone hurt?”

“How did he know you were in here?” I heard someone say.  It took a moment for me to place the voice.

Lila?  Why is she here?  I thought she was in Italy?

“He must have seen me walking into the school,” I heard Marinette reply.  Then, louder: “I’m fine, Chat.  There are four of us in here—”

I had to vault away as a small Citroen came sailing through the ever-widening gap to the outside, horn dopplering as it arced through the space.  It crashed atop the dumpster, causing the whole pile to sag ominously.  I cartwheeled over the mess and perched atop the roof. 

“Sorry!” I said.  “How many are in there?”

“Four,” Marinette yelled.  “Me, Lila, Chloe—”

Get me out of HERE!” Chloe abruptly added.

“And Kagami,” Marinette finished.  “Whatever is going on over there, our exit appears to be blocked on this side.  We’re stuck for the moment.”

Chat!  Do you hear me!  This is UTTERLY—”

“Calm down, Chloe,” Marinette said forcefully.  “Chat will get to us.”

“It might be a bit,” I said through the wall.  “I’m not sure what I’m dealing with yet.”

This time, a city bus came crashing down from above; I managed to spring out from beneath it, but snagged my tail under one of the wheels in the process, arresting my vault rather suddenly.  It hurt, too

I tried to pull it loose, but it was pinned. 

“Ow, ow, ow!” I said to no one in particular.  I tried to unbuckle it and realized the fatal flaw in my plan: the way it was pinned, I couldn’t get enough slack to release the buckle – not even the fraction necessary try and wriggle it from around my waist.  I also knew my claws would not be able to rend it in half, since it was made from the same nearly indestructible fabric as the rest of my costume. 

Lovely

And with Ladybug more or less stuck in the next room, I was on my own.

I pulled my baton out and snaked closer to the wheel, looking for any place I could to try and jack up the bus.  I only needed a few centimeters in order to release the end of my tail.  The bus had essentially moved me back toward the wall adjoining the lady’s locker room, and as I worked, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation with my superior feline hearing.

That space looks good.  If I can get the baton in there…

“Of course I like Adrien,” Marinette was saying.  “That’s not much of a secret.”

“I can’t believe Adrikins even talks to you.”

“Why?”

“You’re not even in the same circle.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I think you like him more than you’re willing to admit.”  This was from Kagami.

That didn’t work, maybe if I push it in there?  Yeah, that… UGH!... maybe…

“We’re friends, Kagami.  Of course I like him.”

“I hear you’re dating Chat Noir.  How does that work, seeing as though you can’t take your eyes off of Adrien?” 

Lila, I wish you’d stay in Italy.  I might have made a little space… UGH!  Maybe…!

I’d managed to get the bus lifted slightly only to have the baton skitter out from the spot I’d been using – and watched sail out of my hands in the process.  It clanged across the debris in the room and came to rest fifteen meters away from me.

Too far to be useful now.

Brute force now.  I might be able to grip under the edge there…

“…yes, I am,” Marinette was saying, rather hotly.  “We’ve been seeing each other for months.”

“And yet you still look at Adrien like he was your dream partner,” Kagami said rather coldly.  “Does Chat know where your heart lies?”

Chat does.  Man, did they fill this bus up with rocks?  GAGH this is really heavy.

“I’ve been nothing but honest with Chat,” Marinette said.

“Then you’re saying I can take a run at Adrikins?”

“Just try, Chloe,” Marinette replied.  “I’m sure Adrien is still capable of fending you off.”

“And why would he do that?” she asked, voice rising        .

“He may never have loved me,” Marinette replied, “but Adrien has always been smitten with Ladybug; I don’t think that’s changed.”

Huh?

The bus slipped out from claws.

I hope you’re trying to misdirect them, milady, I thought, my heart skipping slightly.

“She’s right,” Lila interjected.  “He’s been hung up on Ladybug since the day she appeared in Paris.”

“Exactly,” Marinette agreed.  “Besides, why would you want to, anyway?  He’s a rich, spoiled, entitled boy who can’t relate to any of us, constantly doing his daddy’s bidding.  Combine that with his hero worship of Ladybug and you’re coming up empty in the relationship department.”

Spoiled?  Hero workshop?  What...?

I heard them chuckle and despite being in superhero mode, felt the flames of anger and embarrassment upon my cheeks.

 “How true is that?” Chloe laughed.  “What was I thinking.”

“I know, right?” Marinette was laughing too.

Was any of that accurate?  Did Marinette actually feel that way about me? Has it all been some sort of cruel act of kindness on Ladybug’s part?  Letting me think I was finally making progress with her?  WTF?

Spurred on by a tinge of anger, possibly unjustified, I grasped the edge of the bus and yanked upward, hard.  My tail snapped out from its imprisonment and I dropped the bus with a resounding thud – mirroring my black mood.  I vaulted over to my baton and picked it up, then somersaulted out the wrecked wall to see if I could divine who or what had been attacking me.

The alleyway was empty; even with all of my feline senses, I couldn’t determine what had been here and which way it might have gone.  All I knew was that it was still around, somewhere, and I’d need Ladybug to finish the job.

I’d need Ladybug.  The thought flamed my ire.  Maybe she doesn’t really need me.

I trotted back into what was left of the locker room, reared up and smashed the door out into the main space.  That wasn’t entirely necessary, but it took the edge of my anger.  I immediately saw why Marinette had been trapped: the initial blow to the exterior wall had loosened the scoreboard for the basketball court, and it had dropped in front of the lady’s locker room.  I grasped it from one side and hurled it away from the door, and then ripped the door itself off its hinges.

Okay, I admit it, steam was coming out of my ears. 

Marinette!”  I yelled, perhaps louder than necessary.

“Here, Chat,” she said, coming out from behind the lockers the foursome had been using as shelter.  Her eyes were wide with concern.

“Let’s get you all out of here,” I said quickly, my eyes locking briefly with Marinette’s.  “This way.”

I hurried the four of them through an emergency exit just opposite, and then shepherded them to the main street out front.  “I’m not entirely certain which way our friend went, so head over there to that police substation and wait for me to clear the area.”

“Are you sure—” Marinette started.

“Yes,” I cut her off.  “I’m sure Ladybug will be here momentarily.”

She took me aside as the others started across the street.  “How much did you hear?” she asked quietly.

“All of it,” I said tersely, using a claw tip to point to my feline ears.  “These don’t miss much.”

“Chat—”

“Transform and meet me on the roof,” I interrupted harshly.  “We’ll deal with whatever that was in the locker room later.  We need to handle this akuma first.”  I waited a beat.  “Princess,” I added, laced with all of the sarcasm I could muster.

I leapt away from her without waiting for a response.

Chapter Text

Ladybug dropped in beside me atop the school.

My tail had been tapping against the tiles while I leaned against the façade, arms crossed, boot against the marble.  I was still fuming over what I’d heard while I’d been trying to free myself in the locker room, and was torn between saving Paris and melting down on my partner. 

Fortunately, saving Paris outweighed any personal issues I had at the moment.

“It went that way,” I said, chin pointing down the main thoroughfare in front of our school. 

Ladybug turned and saw the path of destruction our unseen akuma had wreaked; all manner of debris were there, from small trees to full size city buses such as the one that had pinned my tail.  Her eyes narrowed.

“What’s the plan, Milady?” I said icily.

“Follow it?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes.  “Of course, Milady,” I said, and leapt away from the façade and into the air, baton twirling.  I charted a path along the rooftops paralleling the path of destruction; Ladybug swung alongside me.

“Look, Chat, can we talk about this?”

“Right now?” I asked.  “Aren’t we just a little bit busy?”

“I can multitask,” she said.  “So can you.”

“Whatever,” I said as I leapt over an alley.  “I’m pissed.  What else would you like to know?”

“Why?” she asked as we landed side-by-side on a wider roof and jogged together for a bit. 

“Does ‘rich, spoiled, entitled boy who can’t relate to any of us, constantly doing his daddy’s bidding’ ring any bells?” I asked acidly.  “Or, perhaps, ‘his hero worship of Ladybug’ and ‘empty in the relationship department?’”

We both leapt in tandem across a four-lane avenue and landed on the roof opposite.

“Chat, I was locked in a room with three other girls trying to pin me down on a relationship with you.”

“You mean Adrien,” I pointed out.

“Well, right,” she added hastily.  “You know we’re not ready for that to be public yet.  I was trying to sow some doubt on that front.”

I helicoptered up and over a chimney, landing down beside her again.  “By destroying me as a person?  In front of people I have to go to school with?”  We jumped again over another alleyway.  “Nice plan,” I snorted.  “Thanks for the assist.”

“Chat—”

“It’s already hard enough being a famous model, Milady, and trying to go to school normally.”

“But—"

“You made me sound like a goofy love-starved teenager with a limited grasp of reality.”  I turned to her, sardonic smile twisting on my face.  “I would’ve thought you’d come up with a more creative way to torpedo any whispers about us.”

“That’s what I was trying to do,” Ladybug said defensively. 

“From where I was standing, it sure sounded like you were treating me as a charity case.”  I locked eyes with her briefly.  “Are you?”

“No!” she said forcefully.  We were about to jump over another alley when she grabbed my bicep and stopped me, hard. 

What?” I said. 

“Listen to me, you nutty kitty,” she said.

My masked eyes narrowed, but I held my tongue.

“While my intentions were pure, I had given no thought to how it would sound to you and whether it would hurt you in any way.  I had no desire to hurt you.  Tell me how I can convince you otherwise.”

I looked into her eyes and saw genuine regret there.  Some of my anger seeped away.  “Milady,” I started, sighing.  “Intellectually, I understand what you were trying to accomplish.  You sold it well, which makes it very hard for me not to think you feel the way you said you did in that locker room.”

She reached a hand to my mask.  “I don’t,” she said.  “And I think you know that, deep down.”

Did I?  I spent a split second on introspection and realized I was still hopelessly in love with her.  Staying mad was nearly impossible, but I tried to for a moment longer.  “Maybe,” I said, trying to keep the smile from appearing on my face.  “I might find it faster with two dozen Belgian Chocolate croissants.”

“I’ll see your two and raise you an extra dozen, served personally,” she replied, stepping close and wrapping herself around me.  “I love you, Adrien.  Don’t let me mess this up right when I’ve finally got you.”

That was it.  Whatever anger I had left evaporated and I melted completely, wrapping my paws around her and drawing her into a hug.  “Fine,” I said, trying to sound angry but failing miserably.  “I’m sorry I reacted so badly.  But it really stung.”

“I know,” she said.  “I will handle it differently next time,” she added. 

“Promise?”

“Promise,” she said, as she leaned up to kiss me.  “Now, let’s deal with this akuma,” she added as she pulled away.  “We need to get back by third period, anyway, since we have that exam today.”

“Right,” I groaned, but laughing and feeling a little better about everything.  “First: defeat the akuma.  Then defeat Geometry.  Just another day in Paris.”

“And croissants tonight,” she said as we leapt off to meet our adversary.

“You’re not leading me on, are you, Milady?”

“I promise I will never do that,” she laughed.  “Ever.”

Chapter Text

A few days after we’d buried the proverbial hatchet, I’d parted ways with Ladybug after another uneventful patrol and had returned to an empty mansion close to midnight.  Father was on another business trip, and Nathalie had gone with him again, leaving me to my own devices under the watchful eye of Gorilla.  As I landed on the windowsill of my open window, I found myself smiling; the patrol might have been uneventful, but my time with LB had been anything but. 

Closing my eyes, I could almost feel her arms wrapped around my costumed torso, my tail curling around her waist (that had surprised me – until that moment, I hadn’t known it could did more than the most rudimentary cat moves) and her deep blue gaze locked with mine, blazing with love.

It was amazing how much had changed between us.

I dropped down into my bedroom with a rubbery thump and was about to de-transform when my baton chirped.  I pulled it out and flipped open to the texting system.

Milady: Hey

Chat: Miss me already?  It’s been, like, five minutes.

Milady: Hah hah.  No – wondering what you had planned for tomorrow.

Chat: Sunday?  Just homework.  Why?

Milady: Me, too.  Come over?  But as Chat, parents not ready for Adrien – yet.

That made me smile. 

Chat: Sure.  Be there with a bell on!

Milady: Awesome.  I’ll have fresh goodies.

I slid the baton closed, wide grin on my face, and realized I was wound up enough that getting any sleep now would be nearly impossible.  I de-transformed long enough to feed Plagg (and apologize for what was likely going to be a long day for him) and pack up my books before transforming back to Chat Noir and escaping back out into the dark night.

I roamed the city at a leisurely pace for the next several hours before winding up on a rooftop that had a perfect view of the rising sun that Sunday morning.  There was just enough cloud cover that the sky went through an amazing array of reds shot through with the golden shafts of sunshine as the brilliant orb rose and chased the stars away.  Soon I was enjoying the early morning warmth as the sun hit my costume, and dozed off rather contentedly curled around my bookbag.

The baton buzzed the alarm I’d set, rousting me a few hours later.  I stretched out as only I could when transformed, and shook out my blonde mane, clearing the drowsy cobwebs from my feline brain.  Then it was a quick leap into the sky and I was en route to my day with Milady.

Marinette had anticipated my timing, or had cheated and tracked me on her Bug Phone.  Either way, she was waiting for me on the Bakery rooftop patio when I dropped onto my favorite chimney flu.  “Morning, Milady,” I said cheerily.  “Did you catch the sunrise today?”

“No,” she said as I dropped down to the railing and balanced facing her.  She looked at me askance, making me wonder if some part of my unruly mane was sticking out and an even more unusual angle than normal.  “Did you… sleep as Chat Noir?” she asked, somewhat incredulously.

I smiled my sly Chat smile.  “Maybe.”

She reached up and tried to smooth back something behind a feline ear, and I intercepted the move by leaning into it and forcing a scratch.  Marinette laughed as I pre-emptively began to purr, so she gave a scratch or two but cut me off.  “How about some breakfast?” she asked, stepping back to reveal she had thrown a checkered tablecloth over my plant pot and arrayed two place settings around a small quiche.  If my feline nose was correct, a spinach and bacon version.

I dropped off the railing and picked her up in a massive hug.  “Absolutely,” I said, laughing.  “For you know the way to my heart is via my stomach.”

Marinette smiled and took me by the paw.  I folded myself behind one side and she took the other, and we enjoyed the delicious dish she’d crafted for us that morning, chatting about everything and nothing companionably.  I was certain the pure joy I felt while being in her presence was radiating everywhere; loving – and being loved in return – was a new experience for me that I was easily getting used to.

I helped her clear away the breakfast dishes, saying hello to her parents in the process.  It never ceased to amaze me how they had simply accepted me – as Chat Noir – into their home, as if it were completely normal that their daughter would date a superhero.  They were ensconced in their family area, scanning the Sunday papers, curled into each other.  It was as simple an expression of their feeling for each other as anything I’d even seen, and I filed it away for a later, more appropriate stage in my relationship with Marinette.

Their family was unlike my own in so many ways.

A fresh carafe of coffee and two mugs returned with us to the patio, and we spread out to focus on the work at hand.  It was the first time I’d had to use my stylus with claws, though, so the going was pretty slow on the tablet.  “This would go faster if I could de-transform,” I complained after mistyping yet another word on the paper I was writing.  “Unless you know how to enable ‘claw mode’ on my tablet.”

“I’m pretty sure Apple never created that as an option,” Marinette said as she absently tapped her stylus against the reference book she was scanning. 

Thirty minutes later, I’d accidentally torn several pages from my text book and had added a diagonal scratch across the glass of my tablet’s screen.  I’d had it.  “Plagg, cla—” I started.

“No, kitty,” Marinette said, quickly putting a finger to my lips.  “We still have to figure out how to introduce you to my family as Adrien.”

I gestured to my device.  “This is not going well,” I mewled.  “And I liked this tablet, too.”  I started to work into a righteous indignation but was caught off guard by her reaching up and scratching just the right spot behind a feline ear.  I couldn’t help but close my eyes and lean into her touch. 

“So… not… fair…” I said between deep rumbles of purring.

“I know,” she laughed.  “But you’re feeling better, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” I said, reluctant to admit anything.  But it had helped.  I smiled as she stopped, waited a heartbeat, and then rolled into her, wrapping her up into a massive hug.

“Whoa!” she said, caught off guard.

I leaned in and gave her a long kiss.  “Thank you,” I said simply, hugging her once more before rolling back to my spot and letting her go.

“You’re welcome,” she said, smiling.  “But for what?”

“Giving me a chance,” I said.  “Welcoming me.  First as a friend, then as something more.”  I waved my paw in the air.  “This means a lot to a lonely, lonely soul such as mine.”

“Well,” she said, leaning into my shoulder.  “You’re definitely not alone any longer, kitty.” She bopped me on my masked nose with her stylus. “And don’t you forget it.”

“Of course, Milady,” I said, falling into my partner parlance.

She laughed.  “Good.”

The morning drifted away to the afternoon, and we found ourselves taking a well-deserved break.  Marinette was on her chaise, and I was balanced on my side along the railing next to her.  I knew it intrigued her how I could so easily keep my balance on something so narrow, and to be perfectly honest, I loved to show off for her… just a little.

She had Jackie O sunglasses on, hiding the fact that she had dozed off in the warmth of the sun – something I’d considered doing as well, given how deliciously wonderful it felt against my costume.  But instead, I found myself enthralled, just watching my partner as she gently slept, the very vision of beauty.  Again I thanked my lucky kwami that she had come into my life – and that I was now, firmly, part of hers.

I rolled carefully off the railing and went back to our homework, and completed what she had left to do for Chemistry and then wrapped up my paper on To Kill A Mockingbird.  By the time Marinette yawned and stretched, I’d packed away all of my books and was carefully perched atop my flowerpot, eager masked green eyes watching her every move.

“Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty,” I said, leaning down to kiss her again.  “I probably should head back home, and make an appearance at dinner.”

“Is it that late?” she asked, sleepily.  “How long was I dozing?”

“Long enough for me to finish your homework and mine,” I laughed.

“Chat!  You shouldn’t have done that.”

“You looked like you needed the rest,” I said as I stepped off the flowerpot and leaned down for a kiss.  “But I do have to go…” I paused, a sudden thought coalescing.  “Unless, of course, you’d like to join me for dinner, Princess.”

“At the mansion?” she sat up.  “That would be a bit risky.”

“No, silly bug,” I laughed.  “Let me run my books home and let Gorilla know I’m going out on a date.”  I smiled a bit wider.  “Then I’ll meet you in our usual spot, after first stopping—”

Lasagna!” she cried.  “Oh, I’m all in.”

“Good,” I said, kissing her once more before leaping back to the top of the railing.  “See you at 2000, Milady.”

Chapter Text

I’d kept my promise and had continued to visit my favorite rooftop overlooking Notre Dame.  The reconstruction had started, and though she wasn’t lit up with her traditional spots, the full moon was providing a different kind of illumination that took your breath away.  I knew the plan was to try and get the grand cathedral open again in time for the Olympics we were hosting, and though I didn’t doubt their sincere intentions, I had some concerns they would make the deadline. 

Although by now it probably seemed romantically trite, I’d cheerfully arranged all of my candles along the wrought iron railing and dusted the rooftop with a fragrant layer of fresh rose petals.  Two comfy sets of pillows sat side-by-side around a checkered tablecloth, and I had carefully set out the takeaway dishes from Phillippe’s Italian Bistro for the two of us.  As I finished up lighting the last of the candles, I heard my favorite sound in the universe as Ladybug zipped down her yo-yo, gracefully landing beside me.

I’d barely turned to embrace her before she’d wrapped her arms around me in a massive hug.  Laughing, I leaned into a kiss and then said: “It’s only been a few hours, Milady.”

“I know, Chat,” she said.  “But I think I can safely admit now that I really enjoy having you around.”

I kissed her again, and led her by the paw to the cushions.  “The feeling is mutual, bugaboo.”

“One second,” she said.  “Tikki – spots off!”

Her red transformation wave washed over her, and Marinette stood beside me, her tiny kwami floating nearby.  She saw my surprised expression and laughed.  “If I recall correctly, you invited Marinette to diner this evening, Chat.”

I thought about that.  I guess I had, in a matter of speaking.  “I’ll have to be more specific in the future,” I said, smiling widely.  “Princess?” I said, realigning my brain as I again led her toward the repast. 

As I sat, I popped open the tin for dessert and removed several of the Italian cookies I’d ordered, handing them to Tikki.  She laughed and darted away to the far corner of the roof to give us some privacy, making me wonder if I should de-transform myself and let Plagg spend time with someone I suspected he was quite close to.  I said as much to Marinette.

“Maybe in a bit, Chat,” she said.  “For now, I want the moment to be just like this.  You as Chat, me as Marinette.”

My masked green eyes crinkled with the smile I knew I was also wearing.  “As you wish, Milady,” I said, seamlessly swapping between the endearments I used for her. 

The evening was relatively warm, and we settled in to enjoy the amazing lasagna from Phillipe’s with the candles gently flickering around us.  I was half-facing the river and saw the moonlight reflecting off of the water and heaved a contented sigh.

“I have an idea,” Marinette said between bites.

“I’m sure you so,” I said. 

She rolled her eyes.  “About how we can start to ramp up the Adrien-Marinette angle,” she said. 

I thought about that for a moment, my feelings on that subject seemingly shifting.  “I know that was part of our long-range plan,” I started, “but I have to admit, I think I’m leaning more toward hanging out with you as Chat.”  I smiled.  “No offense to my alter-ego.”

“Unless you’re planning on going to school as Chat, that could prove interesting.”

“I could—”

“That was rhetorical, Chat.”  She nabbed a breadstick.  “And you can’t stay transformed twenty-four seven anyway.”

I did a mental calculation and realized I might be closing in on twenty-four hours at the moment, but thought better of saying anything.  Instead, I said: “What are you cooking up, then?”

“We start by making sure we get paired for projects consistently at school,” she said.  “That would provide for the two of us to spend time together in a way that doesn’t seem contrived.”

“Save for us always getting paired together?”  It was my turn to roll my eyes.

“Then,” she said, ignoring me, “we start to do stuff together in the community.  Volunteering, that sort of thing.”

“Okay.”

“The final part would be the two of us going to the Sweethearts Ball.  As a couple.”

“Chat and you?” I asked, laughing and knowing the answer.

“No, silly kitty,” she smiled, in on the joke.  “Unless there’s an akuma, I don’t want Chat anywhere near that ballroom floor.”

I pouted.  “I can dance, Milady; haven’t you seen the grace with which I baffle our opponents?”

“I have,” she said, laughing harder.  “I think you’re likely to trip on your tail, kitty.”

Ego slightly bruised, I stood up and retrieved my baton.  “Really,” I said as I flipped it open and flipped to the built-in music player.  Quickly scanning the list, I came up with an old Celine Dion song that I queued up.  Turning up the speaker volume, I propped the baton up against the bread basket and took a spot along the railing, waiting for the music to start.

Marinette’s eyes widened as the first notes of That’s The Way It Is started, and that magnificent voice issued out of my baton.  It was a song I knew well, so I added a bit of lip synching to my performance.  Unknown to my partner, perhaps, were the many long hours of dance instruction I had endured as part of my early model training.  Father had wanted to cover his bases and ensure he could use me in any possible situation.

I shuffled, shimmied and in some parts, used my tail as a microphone; halfway through, I reached down and pulled her up and into a spin, and started to twirl her around the rooftop, kicking up the rose petals in time to the music.   Marinette’s natural grace melded with my training and she was fully into it by the time the final bridge started.

“When life is empty / with no tomorrow / and loneliness starts to call…” I sang.

“Baby don’t worry / forget your sorrow / ‘cause love’s gonna conquer it all…” she sang back.

I swung her around into a final spin, then embraced her, humming along to the final chords with my face buried in her hair, gently swaying to the final beats.  We were both breathing a bit heavily; as I leaned back, I could see a thin sheen glimmering along Marinette’s face in the moonlight.

“Well done, Chat,” she said.  “I stand corrected.”

“Thank you, Princess—”

“But you still can’t go,” she added hastily, poking me in the chest.  “Besides, you’ll be there anyway, won’t you?”

It clicked at that moment for me, the realization that the freedom I experienced while inhabiting the Chat persona was perfectly capable of being transferred to Adrien; that, in fact, much as Adrien had bled into Chat, much of Chat had been folded into Adrien.  I knew I was more confident outside of the mask, felt comfortable more often than not saying what I felt, and generally took a stand even when not protected by the Miraculous magic. 

Whatever line I had drawn to keep my two selves separate had been tissue thin and permeable at that.  We were really the same person, weren’t we?  I had just needed the mask to help me expose more of who I was.  Ladybug, and now Marinette, had seen it first.  It was high time for me to blend the two and make them one for everyone else.

I smiled.  “I will indeed.  And I can’t promise a little of my inner Chat won’t peek out, Milady.”

“I would expect nothing less, kitty,” she said, leaning her head back into my chest.  We danced slowly like that for a few minutes despite the music having long ended.

At length, Marinette looked up and ran a hand along my mask.  “I didn’t know you liked Celine.”

“She was one of my mom’s favorites,” I explained.  “And that particular song is one of mine.  How can you not like something that tells you love is worth any struggle.”  I looked at her.  “And it’s true – there is ‘no easy way out’ when you are in love with someone.”

I looked up at the moon, running a thoughtful claw through her hair.  “And I’m living proof: love does come to those who believe it.”  I kissed her head.

“That’s the way it is.”

Chapter Text

Despite knowing Ladybug’s true identity, I continued to keep up the charade each evening after wrapping up our nightly patrol.  I’d bade her farewell with a typically cheesy pun, she would laugh and then disappear into the night in the direction opposite from the Bakery.  I’d cool my paws for a bit watching the stars twinkle over Paris and then make a beeline for the rooftop patio, land on my favorite chimney, and make another cheesy pun as I dropped to my traditional place on the railing.  The only indicator of the change in our relationship status would be Marinette leaning in and welcoming me to the rooftop with a few minutes – minutes! – of smooching action.

Honestly, it never got old.

But summer was coming to a close, and in a few weeks we’d be returning to school.  That spurred me on one particular evening to make an unusual suggestion.

I’d landed in my usual position on the railing, balanced perfectly as always.  “Evening, Purrincess,” I purred.

Marinette took one look at my grin and groaned.  “Why do I always get this queasy feeling when I see you smile like that?” she asked, as she came over to me.  “What have you done?”

“I’m hurt,” I mewled. 

“Out with it, Chat.”

I unzipped my costume pocket and produced two plastic cards, and handed them to her.  “I thought we could celebrate the end of the summer together,” I said, tapping one of the cards with a claw.  “The upshot is you get to be Princess for a day!”

She frowned.  “You’re taking me to Disneyland?”

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Not as Chat,” she said, raising an eyebrow.

“Why not?” I asked.  “I’ve been out in public with you before.”

“You were in a hoodie,” she pointed out. 

“What about the movies?”

“It was cosplay night!” she reminded me.

Smiling wider, I unzipped my other costume pocket and handed her a tri-fold flyer.  She scanned it and then looked up at me, eyes narrowed.  “Superhero Sunday?” she said.  “Seriously?”

I nodded, blonde mane waving as I did so.  “What is one more Chat Noir among many?”

“Chat, this is for Marvel superheroes,” she said, pointing to the prominent picture of Captain America on the flyer from Disneyland Paris. 

“It doesn’t say that specifically, Princess,” I said, smiling wider.  “Besides, with my charm, how can they not let me through the gates?”

Marinette rolled her eyes.  Before she could respond, I pulled out a final envelope and handed it to her.

She slit the envelope and rolled her eyes further.  “Really, Chat,” she sighed.  “I’m a little old—”

“You are only as old as you want to be,” I said, cutting her off and then leaning in for a kiss.  “I’ll pick you up at eight on Sunday!” I added as I leapt away from my sputtering partner.

------

We arrived mid-morning at the wide esplanade for Disneyland, and I cheerfully took Marinette by the arm and headed for the security checkpoint.  It was a short train ride from Paris, and I had managed to keep her attention focused on my feline face instead of the furtive looks we’d been receiving.  Against my better judgment, I’d consented to the hoodie, beanie and sweats until we entered the Park, but I had a sense, though, that she might renege even on that arrangement and insist that I de-transform to Adrien before allowing me to grace Main Street with my presence.

I had a backup plan just in case.

The first snag hit at the metal detector; my baton triggered all sorts of alarms, and I sheepishly had to dump it into one of the small plastic tubs provided for electronics.  A grandfatherly looking Disney Security cast member picked it up and rolled it around, trying to fathom what it was, and beckoned me over once I managed to get through the detector unscathed.

“Son,” he said, “we don’t allow nunchuks in the Park.”

“It’s my phone, officer,” I said, trying for earnest.  I held out my paw, which he took a long, long look at before handing me the baton.  I quickly slid it open to show it in phone mode, and turned it toward the cast member.  “See?”

“Are those… claws?” he asked instead, eyes falling on my now exposed fingertips.

Nice going, Chat, I thought.  “Uh, yeah,” I said.

He stepped closer to me.  “Are you wearing a mask, son?”

“Look, I can explain,” I started, feeling a slight blush of embarrassment creeping up my face. 

Marinette had long since made it to the turnstiles and was watching me flounder, a told-you-so look on her face.  I desperately wanted to stick my tongue out at her but stayed civil.

“I have to say,” the Officer continued.  “You have the most realistic Chat Noir costume I’ve seen today.”

“I… do?” I said.

“Why are you hiding it?” he asked, as he gently turned me toward the turnstiles. 

“My girlfriend was embarrassed,” I said, leaning into the truth.  “It’s actually… hard to put on, so I didn’t want to have to cart it all the way here and then change.  I… I’ve been wearing it since we left Paris.”  I shrugged.  “She made me cover it on the train and until we entered the Park.”

He chuckled.  “Have fun, son.”

I turned my megawatt smile on Marinette who fell into step next to me.  “Figures,” she said.

“Ladybug Luck,” I breathed as we handed our Disney tickets to the cast member at the turnstile.  A moment later, I’d placed my sweats in a locker beneath the train station and stretched slightly, an even bigger smile on my face when I rejoined Marinette.

Main Street was clogged with costumed guests, admittedly mostly representing the better-known comic book superheroes.  But to my immense pleasure, they were offset by more than a few black-cladded cats and red-and-black polka-dotted bugs roaming the area, showing where Paris’s true heart lay.  I turned to Marinette as we surveyed the crowd.  “You could still join the fun, Milady,” I joshed.

“And waste this?” she laughed, holding up the present I’d given her. 

I took her by the paw and hustled her up Main Street toward Sir Mickey’s and the appointment I’d already scheduled.  I turned Marinette over to a fairy godmother type at the door who shushed me out and told me to return in an hour.  That was plenty of time for me to get through Indiana Jones, Phantom Manor and Space Mountain before returning with two cups of coffee in my paws.

Marinette was waiting for me at the entrance, and she was stunning.  I’d booked the Princess Transformation Package, but left it to her to choose which Princess.  I was not surprised that she’d gone for Belle; she was adorned in the famous golden ball gown, and her hair had been put up in cascading buns, with a few stray locks framing that beautiful face.  Expertly applied makeup with a trace of magical sparkles completed the look, and despite her earlier grumbling, she looked rather pleased with how it had turned out. 

I swapped the small bag holding her street clothes for her coffee, and we started toward Pirates.  “Milady,” I bowed formally as we walked, “you look fabulous.”

“Thank you, Sir Chaton,” she laughed.  “I feel like I’m eight, though.”

“Everyone is young here,” I pointed out.  “That’s part of the magic of the pa—”

I never finished my sentence.  Both of us stopped dead in our tracks when we heard the telltale screaming coming from behind us in Fantasyland.  I locked eyes with Marinette.  “Akuma?  Here?”

“Why not,” she said, dumping her coffee and running for a darkened corner.  A moment later, she’d run back out as Ladybug.

It was a quick run against the crowd trying to frantically escape that part of the park, and then we were face to face with what looked like human-sized walking version of the ticking clock face from “it’s a small world.”  Just thinking about that ride creeps me out, so naturally, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  As we stood at the edge of the melee, we watched as little Small World dolls raced ahead of it; anyone they touched transformed into one of those gleefully smiling dolls, and then they, too, raced ahead and repeated the process.  In the space of a few minutes, a lemming-like swarm had been created.

And they were all heading for us.

I grabbed Ladybug and rose up to the edge of the Castle on my baton, where we took up a perch among the parapets overlooking the crowd of scary looking dolls.  I turned my masked eyes toward her and ran a paw through my already messy mane.  “This is a nightmare incarnate,” I breathed, watching as the mini dolls attempted to scale the Castle walls after us.  Some were succeeding.

“No kidding,” Ladybug agreed.  She focused on the walking clock tower, and I turned my attention to it as well.  “Where do you suppose the akuma is hiding?”

It was a good question.  Nothing seemed obvious to me, at least, obvious from a few meters away. “Let me take a reconnaissance run,” I said, and I flipped off the roof before Ladybug could object. 

I dropped behind the Clock in a crouch, which attracted enough attention that the entire thing started to turn in my direction.  I rolled sideways, narrowly avoiding a tiny set of doll troops and leapt atop a faux gas lamppost.  The Clock turned toward me again. 

“Feeling time trickle away?” I asked pleasantly, my green eyes scanning the akumatized victim.  “Purrsonally, I—”

The pun died on my lips; one of those nasty dolls had shimmied up the post and nearly grabbed my tail.  I’d managed to pull it away at the last moment, but saw that several more were headed up toward me.  I vaulted from the post I was on to the façade for the Mad Tea Cups, gripping one edge with my paw.  I couldn’t stay long: the dolls seemed to be tracking me and had already started climbing the posts. 

Taking a chance, I fell forward and into an open spot of pavement in front of Clock, landing in my pounce-crouch, baton in hand.  Swiping side to side, I kept the maniacally closing dolls away from me as I desperately searched for anything obvious.  I had nearly given up and was about to leap away when my eyes landed on a… Small World doll-shaped bucket?

That’s got to be it, I thought.  I bet this is a parent who melted down paying what they charge here for popcorn.

Swirling around one last time to clear a path, I vaulted back up to Ladybug.  “Popcorn bucket, left hand,” I said. 

She rolled her eyes.  “Really?”

“It’s a collectable,” I shrugged.  “How do you want to handle this?”

Ladybug scanned the area and spied the cables they used for Tinkerbell’s nightly fireworks dance.  “I might not need my Lucky Charm,” she said thoughtfully.  “Let me loop the yo-yo around that and we’ll zipline past it.  You just need to touch it as we go by.”

“Got it.” I paused a heartbeat. “Cataclysm!” I cried as Ladybug slung her yo-yo up and grabbed me around the waist.

She pushed off the edge and I rotated down as we quickly slid away from the Castle.  Clock had conveniently turned toward us, exposing the bucket, and I grazed the side of it with my ring hand.  As we continued away, I watched it turn to dust and release the purple akuma.

Ladybug released me and I landed on all fours; she dropped, gently, and nabbed the escaping butterfly.  “No more evildoing for you!” she said, and followed up a moment later with Miraculous Ladybug.  In the flash of an eye, her little red helpers swarmed the park and restored the unbelievable number of grinning dolls back to park guests and Disney cast members.

I was kneeling beside the victim when the purple wave washed back over her, revealing a frazzled looking grandmother.  As I handed her off to a pair of capable looking Disney cast members, muttering about the prices in the Park, I turned to Ladybug with a bit of a smirk.  “I really didn’t want to be right about that,” I said as my ring chirped its first warning.

“Yeah,” she said, pausing for a beat. “Do I want to know how much today cost you?”

“No,” I grinned.  “If you’ll pardon me for a moment, Milady, I need to placate a certain kwami…”

When I rejoined Marinette a few minutes later, she had returned to being Belle and was idly standing next to a vending cart selling Mickey Mouse-shaped pretzels.  I blinked when I realized she was actually eating one of said pretzels, and was smiling widely when she caught my approach.  “Sorry, Chat,” she said apologetically.  “I should have waited.  But I was starving.”

“I understand, Purrincess,” I said, trying to ignore the rumblings of my own stomach.

She laughed as she produced a second wax-paper wrapped goodie from behind her back.  “I always take care of my kitty, Chat,” she chuckled as she saw my masked eyes widen.

“I never doubted it,” I said, the wondrous smell of the salt-topped freshly baked specimen wending its way to my feline nose as I accepted it from her.

“Right,” she continued to laugh.  “Where to next?”

“’Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning,’” I quoted, taking her hand into my paw.

Marinette rolled her eyes.  “Of course,” she laughed.  “Why wouldn’t you want to ride Peter Pan…”

Chapter Text

Playing the piano was just something I had to do; it had been built into the classical education I’d been given by Father up to the day I’d forced the issue and begun attending a normal school.  While the education portion had been replaced by Françoise Dupont High School, the classical aspects to round out that experience had remained, including the endless hours I spent practicing at the baby grand.  It had an upshot, of course: several days each week, I would use my phone to record my efforts, blemishes and all, and then play back that recording on evenings when I was actually out and about as Chat.  So far, it had managed to fool anyone at the mansion into believing I was in two places at once.

Working through the music, I found myself thinking about the upcoming semester at school.  So far, Father hadn’t reversed his decision allowing me to attend Dupont again for the next term.  I wondered if Marinette and I would be able to pull off the plan she’d concocted to slowly have our civilian alter-egos begin to become a couple.  Especially concerning was the part where, inevitably, Chat and Marinette would need to “break up” in order for Adrien and Marinette to become a reality.  We’d not walked through those particulars as yet, and I was perfectly happy to push that out as far as we could.

Plagg had stopped hovering and was watching the news over on my couch.  We’d fallen into a comfortable habit where he’d keep a weather eye out for any reasonable emergency that I could use as an excuse to escape the piano – and the mansion – but nothing had cropped up on that particular afternoon.  I continued to slog my way through the piece I was to play at some dinner gala in a few weeks, resigned to the fact that I had a few more hours yet before I could meet up with Ladybug.

My eyes flicked longingly to the open window behind Plagg’s television and the twilight of the late afternoon.  Paris always looked beautiful to me, and I could see the setup was in place for a beautiful sunset a bit later on.  With luck I’d catch it with my Princess.  Seeing Plagg relaxing made me a tiny bit jealous, so I decided to intrude on his personal time.

“Is it common for Chat Noir to fall in love with Ladybug?” I asked as I started over again from the top.

“Yeah,” he said distractedly as he shifted channels.  “Like, every time.”

That sounded intriguing, although a tiny part of me was sad that I’d not been the first.  “It’s the particular pair of Miraculous, isn’t it?” I mused.  “We represent opposite ends of the spectrum, so it’s natural we would be attracted to each other.”

“You are an incurable romantic,” Plagg said as he muted the television and floated over to hover above the sheet music.  But he was wearing a smile, which was unusual for him.  “But yes, that is a good deal of it.  Much depends on the particular personalities that are selected, though, too.”

“I could see that.”  I flipped a page and continued.  “I knew from the first moment I met Ladybug, though.  Is that normal?”

Plagg’s smile widened.  “Not really,” he said.  “Every now and then.”

I rolled my eyes as he floated away to grab some Camembert.  I practiced for another fifteen minutes before I’d decided I’d done enough damage for the day, and slid the cover over the keys.  I sat there for a few minutes, though, pondering.  “Aside from the obvious,” I asked as I stood and wandered toward Plagg, “is there any danger in the two of us being involved?”

“We’re already involved, kid,” Plagg said as he slurped down another slice of cheese.

“Not us,” I laughed, “me and Ladybug.”

He rolled to his side, lounging on my coffee table.  A year ago I would’ve freaked out to see him on my table; now, I couldn’t imagine a day without him.  “Everything the two of you do is dangerous,” he answered sagely.  “Add in the fact that you now care for each other, and you have a huge pressure point that can be exploited by someone like Hawkmoth.”  He tossed another piece from the package into his mouth.

I frowned.  “Are you saying we—”

“No,” Plagg said, more forcefully that I would have expected.  He floated up to me.  “I’ve seen my share of pairings, Adrien.  The two of you have something special, and Tikki and I have no interest in breaking it up.  In fact, that would be counterproductive at this point.”

“Okay,” I said, bemused a bit at how affected Plagg appeared to be.  I had long suspected he had a heart buried beneath that curmudgeonly exterior but decided not to call him out for it.  I flipped over the couch and landed on the seat, unconsciously Chat-like, and grinned at him.  “So, can I ask you a personal question then?”

Plagg’s eyes widened.  “It depends.”

“Are you and Tikki…?” I asked, trailing off, eyeing him expectantly.  I had a hunch the Kwami of Destruction had a soft spot for a certain sugar-loving goddess.

“You know what, I think you’re gonna miss that sunset unless you transform now,” he said, looking purposefully out the window and away from my gaze.

“Plagg, you’re embarrassed.”

“I am not,” he said curtly.  But his tail was twisting the same way mine did when I felt the same way.

I leaned toward him.  “I care for her, too,” I said softly.  “I’ll protect both of them.”

He looked at me.  “Tikki doesn’t need any protection,” he said a bit defensively.  “But if she did—”

“Chat Noir will be there.”  I looked at him earnestly.  “We’ll both be there.  That’s our job, right?”

Plagg’s little green eyes turned back toward me.  “One of them,” he reminded me.  He softened his tone a bit.  “I’ll deny it if you tell anyone, Adrien, but you are one of the best Chat Noirs I’ve worked with in a long, long time.”

“That means a lot to me, my little friend.”  I thought better of hugging him, so I smiled instead.  “Let’s start the evening, shall we?”

“I don’t say this often.  But transform already,” he grinned.

“Plagg – claws out!”

The green wave of transformation washed over me and a moment later I’d leapt to the windowsill as Chat Noir, tail flapping behind me.  I paused for a moment there, turning to take in my bedroom.  For so long, it had represented my entire universe; I stretched out an arm and twisted the skin-tight fabric in the light, using it as a reminder that my worldview had shifted significantly the day that Miraculous box appeared on my coffee table.

I knew why Master Fu had chosen me, and felt like for the most part I had lived up to his – and Paris’s – expectations.  It had taken me a long time to measure up in Ladybug’s estimation, but I’d cleared that hurdle, too.  I no longer felt like an imposter hiding behind the Chat mask.  I was him. 

And he was me.

I pushed off and vaulted over the fence, tumbling in the air and landing on the rooftop opposite.  As I started to jog across the roof, I popped open my baton and checked to see if Ladybug’s GPS was active.  I raised a masked eyebrow when I saw she was already at our normal meeting spot, a good hour early.  Leaping into the air to cross an alleyway, I landed and started running, simultaneously speed dialing her on the Cat Phone.

“Hey,” I said, jumping again.  “You’re out early, Milady.”

“Early bug catches the Chat,” she said.  “How far out are you?”

“Ten minutes, less if I hang up and helicopter.”

“I have pastries, if that helps.”

“Say no more,” I laughed as I hung up and lengthened the baton for helicopter mode.  I made excellent time and dropped in beside her on a gently sloping roof facing the Eiffel Tower.  Sliding the baton in place behind my back, I drew her into a hug with one arm while trying to snake the other into the bakery basket beside her.

“Sometimes, I think you only love me for my baking,” Ladybug said as she smacked my paw away and then smothered my response with a kiss.

Once I was able to pull away, I cocked a masked eyebrow at her.  “I can’t believe you think me so shallow, Milady.”  I paused.  “There are your looks, too, of course…”

I managed to duck sideways from the yo-yo headed for my head, but just barely.  But she was laughing.  “Fine,” she said, masked eyes crinkling as she drew back the napkin covering the pastries I had already been smelling.

We settled back against the rooftop tiles and watched the sun slowly work its way toward the horizon, eating croissants that I knew she had made by hand just for us.  As the golden rays began to shoot through the girders of the landmark, I leaned my blonde mane against her shoulder and broke the companionable silence.

“I know, someday, this will come to an end,” I said quietly.  “Paris won’t need us as Chat and Ladybug, and our kwamis will move on to another place they are needed.” 

“You’re existential this evening,” Ladybug said.  “What brought this on?”

“I was talking with Plagg before coming out to meet you.”  I closed my masked eyes.  “When that time comes, I’ll have a hard time giving this up.  But I know now that when I do, I’ll still have you.” 

I cracked a masked green eye at her.  “I will always be there for you, and I know you’ll be there for me.  Mask or no mask.”

She leaned down and kissed me in that spot between my two feline ears.  “Mask or no mask, you’ll always be mine, kitty.”  Ladybug reached an arm around me.  “Always.”

Chapter Text

It took way longer than normal for me to make it to the Bakery.  Once I finally managed to pull myself up and over the brick wall I normally landed upon with such aplomb, I stopped short of applauding my efforts.  The chimney I would think nothing of vaulting toward now seemed light years away from me.

Option two was trying to walk across the wrought iron artwork, so I went that route, and made it barely a quarter of the way before I slipped and dropped onto the tile below in a heap of fur.  I shook my mane as I pushed myself back up: generally I landed on my paws, but tonight was extraordinary in all ways.

The skylight was just in front of me, so I trotted over to it; opening it was now out of the question, so I simply extended my claws and scratched, trying hard not to look at my reflection in the glass.  When Marinette didn’t immediately appear, I scratched again, a bit more vigorously.

C’mon, c’mon! I thought, a bit frantically.  You’ve got to be here!

Given how the evening had gone down, though, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d been out.  Fortunately, a few moments later Marinette pushed open the skylight and looked me over.  “Hey, kitty,” she said warmly.  “Where did you come from?”

I didn’t wait and leapt directly at her.  To my horror, she shrieked and ducked, and I sailed right past her and into the back of the skylight, hitting it like a bad Muppet skit.  My claws found no purchase on the glass, and I dropped like a rock onto her bed below, again in a heap of limbs.  I tried to right myself but snagged my claws in the blanket and couldn’t disentangle myself before Marinette had regained her composure and dropped in next to me.

Gently, she pulled me off the blanket and unhooked my claws.  “There,” she said.  “I don’t know where you came from, but you sure look you’ve had a long day.  Want something to eat?  Milk?”

I shook my head at her, and that made her pause.

“Tuna?”

I shook my head again.

She held me closer, and took a long hard look at me, eyes finally landing on the bell on my collar.  “Belgian Chocolate croissants?  And coffee?”

I nodded and started purring.  That was about all I could really do, vocally, at the moment.

Marinette put me down on the bed and stroked between my ears; my purring went up a notch or two and I leaned into her hand, green eyes narrowed.  Make the connection, Milady.

“Dear Lord,” Marinette breathed, eyes widening.  “Chat, what happened?”

There was no way I could actually tell her.  Losing the ability to talk had come with the sudden transformation into a real black cat, courtesy of an akuma I’d stumbled upon after leaving the Bakery that evening.  I hadn’t had time to even get out a cheesy pun before it had turned some wand-like object on me; I’d tried to deflect whatever it was with the baton, but instead found myself mere centimeters from the ground and a shadow of my former self.  My normal model-skinniness had morphed into an extremely svelte, and very tiny, feline.

My green eyes were carefully locked on Marinette’s deep blue and I watched as she turned the situation over in her mind.  “Akuma?”

I nodded.

“How far?”

I dropped off the bed and ran around the perimeter of her bedroom three times, and then stopped next to the box of wooden blocks she used when babysitting.

“Three blocks?  Which way?”

I twisted my body toward the Trocadero.

“Tikki – spots on!” she said, and the red wave of transformation washed over her.  A moment later, I was staring at my partner, who was pointing a gloved finger at me.  “We’ll discuss later why you’re in trouble,” she said, “but for now, stay put!  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

That was not what I wanted to hear, so I quickly jumped up to the bed to try and escape to the rooftop patio.  Even in my pure cat form, thought, Ladybug was still faster than me and had already snapped the skylight shut.  “No,” she said firmly.  “You can’t do anything like that,” she pointed out. 

I mewled something awful, but she ignored me and dropped back to the floor to make sure the trapdoor was locked, and her windows secured before returning to the bed.  Gently, she knocked me off the bed and then swiftly exited, ensuring the skylight had been firmly shut behind her. 

I growled and leaped up the ladder to the bed again, but the skylight was totally out of reach.  I was nowhere strong enough to move it anyway.  In short, she’d caged me in her bedroom.

Dropping back to the floor again, I started pacing the space, restlessly worried about my partner.  The entire time I had visions of her being zapped into a literal bug.  She was right, it wasn’t like I’d be much help anyway, but old habits died hard.  I remained angry enough that I was sorely tempted to destroy something with my claws; at length, I folded myself into a cat stance atop her chaise, green eyes boring into the skylight.

Time passed slowly for me as a cat.  It may have only been a few minutes, but it seemed like hours had gone by before the skylight opened again, and Marinette dropped back to the bed.  Her shocked expression when she saw me on the chaise, though, spoke volumes.  “You’re… you’re still a cat?”

Seriously? my expression said.  What does it look like, Princess?

She came down the ladder and knelt.  “I don’t understand.  Miraculous Ladybug didn’t restore you!”

That made me a bit uncomfortable.  Of course she would have called on her spell!  I held a paw up to my face, saw it was still a real paw, and suddenly had visions of this nightmare becoming a reality.  My ears flattened as I looked back at her.

“Don’t worry,” she said.  “Let’s just try this again, shall we?”

I watched as she transformed back to Ladybug, and then called up her Lucky Charm.  In a burst of red and white light, a teapot dropped from the sky.

My heart sunk.

Ladybug looked at me, holding the teapot.  “Well, Chat,” she said, a wry smile on her face.  “Want to go on a road trip?”

Chapter Text

I was small enough now that Ladybug had no problem putting me under an arm and yo-yoing her way across the city toward Master Fu.  Chafing just a bit at being, essentially, a sidekick, I nevertheless kept myself from squirming – at least, for the most part.  I dreaded the possibility that she might offer me a cat treat for behaving when we dropped into a side alley close to Master Fu’s building.

She transformed back to Marinette and picked me back up again, carefully crossing the empty street, entering the apartment building and taking the elevator to Master Fu’s floor.  He always seemed to be expecting us, and this time was no different: he was patiently standing in his doorway when the elevator doors opened.

“Ladybug,” he said, nodding to Marinette.  He then looked down at me.  “Chat Noir.”

“So, you can see our problem,” Marinette said as we entered his front room.  She let me down and I wandered over to the small table holding the tea set.  “Chat was hit by an akuma, and my Miraculous Ladybug spell didn’t fix him.”

Master Fu settled in on a pillow, and Marinette took another next to him.  Not to be outdone, I took a third, and curled up in a direction facing both of them.  It was weird being discussed in third person while being in the room.

The Guardian of the Miraculous stroked his beard thoughtfully.  “It can happen that the Miraculous Cure doesn’t completely restore everything,” he said, staring into space.  “I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever encountered a situation where a transformed holder became their namesake, though.”

I narrowed my eyes.  If someone with his number of decades had never seen this, I was in real trouble.

Marinette seemed to be on the same wavelength.  “If you’ve never seen this before, is this a peculiar effect from Hawkmoth’s misuse of the Moth Brooch?”

“Maybe,” he replied, still stroking his beard.

We both waited for him to give us some amazingly strange explanation and equally fantastical solution.  When none came immediately, I stood, stretched, and walked over to Marinette.  In a completely cat like fashion, I rubbed my face up against her thigh and then looked up at her, expectantly.

I swung my face around again; Master Fu was still staring out into space, slowly stroking his beard.  An hour later, dawn was threatening to appear and I had explored every nook and cranny in the apartment I could squeeze my small form into.  It was rather appalling how many dust bunnies were hidden behind the furniture, given the stature of Master Fu.  I had to assume the duties of a Guardian precluded hiring a cleaning service.

Marinette was looking as frustrated as I felt when she finally broke the silence.  “Master…?”

Fu turned toward her, and suddenly saw her as if she’d just appeared, magically.  “I’m sorry, Ladybug.  I’ve reviewed almost everything I can remember and I have no answers for you.  I’ll go through the Grimoire photos I have and see if there is anything there, but it will take some time.”

If I could have, my feline face would have displayed dismay.  School started in a few hours, not to mention Nathalie would be expecting to wake me prior.  A missing Adrien would create another all-hands-on-deck incident with my Father that we would need to avoid at all costs.  I turned to Marinette, who had made the same judgement.  “Adrien will be missed, Master Fu.  Is there anything you can suggest?”

“No, my child,” he replied as pulled his iPad toward him and started to flick through the Grimoire album.  “I will hurry as fast as I can and will contact you the moment I find something.”

She nodded at the dismissal, and I rubbed up against her so she could pick me up again.  “Thank you,” she said as we turned to leave.  “I know you’ll do what you can.”

The way she said it perked my ears up, and I managed to catch that determined glance she often got in her eyes when she was up against an intractable opponent.  Marinette transformed to Ladybug in a side alley outside the building and carefully tucked me under her arm for the ride back to the bakery.

Except we skipped right past it.

I meowed at her.

“I have a thought,” she said as she worked her yo-yo through the lightening sky. 

Carefully, she dropped down into the street where I had encountered the akuma.   “Stay here, Chat.”

I wasn’t certain what she thought she would find, but she’d set me down on top of bench and then started to roam the area.  If she had told me what she was looking for, I could have helped; so, naturally, I dropped off the bench and trotted behind her.

She frowned.  “You don’t follow instructions well, do you?”

I meowed.

“Exactly,” she said, and then, as if she’d actually understood what I wanted to know, she continued.  “I think you dropped something – rather, I’m hoping you dropped something when you were transformed by the akuma.”

What?  Dropped what?  I don’t think I lost my ring, and everything else is pretty much firmly attached to me…

“Where were you standing, exactly?”

I looked up at her, and then tried to guess my position.  From my slightly lower perspective, it took a moment to get my bearings, but once I did, I trotted to about the spot I’d been crouched in with my baton.  Ladybug followed me and then stopped above me.

Having no idea what she was looking for, and fearing that I might have lost my ring, I started a slow circle, looking for a flash of silver against the cobblestones.  It seemed unlikely, though; the fact I had a bell on currently made me think that despite currently being a cat, I was actually still transformed as Chat.  Somehow.

I kept at it, though, and Ladybug searched as well.  I’d nearly made it to the shops on the far side when I heard a cry of success from Ladybug.  I quickly ran over to her, bell ringing along the way, and found her proudly holding up my baton.  “This is promising,” she said.

I just stared at her.  How will that help, Milady? my green eyes asked, though the baton confirmed my theory.

“You have to still be transformed,” she said as she knelt down to me.  “This wouldn’t exist otherwise.  The question is, if we can figure out how to de-transform you, would that break the hold of whatever the akuma did to you?”

Logical as always, Milady.  But I have no idea how you’ll be able to… hang on…

I nuzzled her hand holding the baton.  When she didn’t immediately understand, I put a paw on the illuminated green paw print.  “Okay,” she said, pressing the pad that I’d indicated.

The phone function popped open, and Ladybug just looked at me.  I twisted a bit and tried to paw her yo-yo, which was just out of my reach without getting on my hind legs.  But she saw where I was going and pulled it from her waist, then held it out to me.

How do I explain this?  How about…

I tapped her yo-yo with a paw, and then leaned my ear to it, and meowed.  Then I quickly went to my baton, and leaned my other ear into it and meowed again.  Just in case she hadn’t caught it the first time, I repeated the pantomime.

“I think I see what you want,” she said, “but I don’t understand what it gets me.”

I rubbed her arm encouragingly, and purred a bit. 

She smiled as she popped the bug phone open and dialed my baton.  She put hers on speaker.

As I anticipated, it rang through the baton, which buzzed; when I didn’t pick up, it went to voicemail.  Ladybug’s eyes widened when she heard my voicemail greeting.

“Hey, it’s Chat.  It’s clawsome that you called, but as I’m currently indisposed, I purromise to call you right back.  Sooner if it’s Ladybug.”

“I see where you’re going,” Ladybug nodded, smiling, “and if I edit that audio a bit, it might work.  But we’re missing one key trigger word.”

I mewled.  She was right, and I couldn’t think of any audio I might have with me saying “Plagg.”

“Don’t worry, kitty,” she laughed.  “I think we might not need it.”  She scooped me up and tossed her yo-yo to the sky, and in short order we were landing in my bedroom at the mansion.  The sun was a little bit above the horizon, meaning we had about thirty minutes before Nathalie would burst in.

“I’m going to borrow your computer,” she said as she pulled out my chair and sat down. 

I leapt up to the desktop and sat by the keyboard and watched as she deftly used the microphone to grab the audio from my voicemail box, and then made short work of editing it down using the music software I had.  She sat back a few minutes later.

“Moment of truth,” she said.  “Ready?”

I meowed and rubbed against her hand.  Not much harm in trying.

Ladybug triggered the audio player on my computer.  “Claws… in…” my voice said from the speakers. 

I thought she’d done a great job paring down the file, but when nothing happened, I started to feel a bit depressed.  Ladybug played it a few more times with no discernable effect, and then sat back in my chair. 

I leapt down into her lap and curled up on her.  She’d made the attempt, that was all I could ask for.  Now we’d have to wait for—

“Lucky Charm!” Ladybug suddenly blurted out, tossing her yo-yo into the air of my bedroom.  It shocked me badly enough that I’d leapt from the chair to hide under the computer.

A small voice recorder dropped into her hands, and she smiled, clearly expecting it.  “This might solve the problem,” she said, and leaned in to grab a recording of my voice from the computer.

I snuck out from the table and cocked my head at her.  How? I asked with my eyes.

She leaned down and tucked the recorder into my collar.  “Let’s try this,” she said, as she pressed the replay button.

“Claws… in…” I heard from just below my chin.

The green flash of de-transformation appeared and washed over me, and moment later, I was on hands and knees as Adrien.  I’d never been so happy to see my human fingers in my life.

Plagg floated up from me.  “That was getting old, fast.”

“Says the black cat of destruction,” I laughed as I stood.  “I’d hoped that would work.  But we should see if I can transform to ‘normal’ Chat Noir.”

“Agreed,” Ladybug said.

Plagg rolled his eyes but had to agree. “Let's get this over as fast as we can,” he said. “I'm hungry.”

I took a deep breath.  “Plagg – claws out!”

The green wave of transformation washed over me, and a moment later I was standing in front of Ladybug as Chat Noir.  At last.

“This feels purrfect,” I said, stretching out my limbs a bit, more to make sure that they were covered in black leather and not black fur.  I looked back at Ladybug.  “I’m still worried about the ‘why’ your Miraculous Cure didn’t work, though.  And I don’t truly understand how de-transforming corrected me.”

Ladybug frowned.  “As to the first, I’m concerned as well.  We’ll have to follow up with Master Fu on that, I think.”  She looked at me.  “The second is easier,” she said.  “The akuma affected your transformed self; therefore, dropping your transformation broke the spell.”  She smiled a bit.  “Adrien hadn’t been affected.  Q.E.D.”

I smiled back at her.  “Well, however it worked, I’m just happy to—” I paused suddenly, my feline ears picking up telltale footsteps on the staircase.  “Nathalie!” I hissed.

I pushed Ladybug into my bathroom.  “Hide -- closet!” I said quickly as I slid the door shut behind us and shoved her into my walk-in closet.  I vaulted to the shower and turned it on full, then hurried back to the door, hoping beyond hope my classic shower dodge would work one more time.

Pressing a feline ear to the door, I heard Nathalie enter.  “Adrien?”

“Shower!” I said briskly, hoping the slight change in voice I had as Chat wasn’t obvious with the water running.  I might have turned it up a bit hot, as the space was starting to fill with steam.

“You’re early this morning,” she said.  “Breakfast is ready when you come down.”

“Thanks!” I said and heard her exit the space.

Silently grateful, I slid down to the wall to the tile.  Marinette poked her head out of my closet, and I started in shock, only to realize her earrings had probably been chirping.  “I transformed as soon as you turned on the water,” she said, answering my silent question.

I stood and hugged her, hard.  “What a night.”  I paused.  “Plagg – claws in.”

One green flash later, I’d returned to Adrien and dashed over to turn off the shower.  “I’d ask you to breakfast,” I said, “but I’m not sure I want to answer the questions that would raise.”

She smirked.  “Among other things,” she laughed.

I slid the bathroom door open and we stepped back into the bedroom.  “You can exit the window—”

“Adrien?”

My head snapped around.  Nathalie was just inside the bedroom door, one hand on the doorknob and a smattering of emotions crossing her face.  Which in itself was unusual.  I felt my own face flame with embarrassment, and then go a shade deeper when I realized it would confirm what she was thinking.

“Nathalie,” I said.  “This isn’t what it looks like.”

“You can explain that to your Father.”  She paused.  “I’d only returned to tell you he would join you for breakfast this morning,” she added, eyes flicking to Marinette.  “I’m sure he will want to meet your… friend.”

If it was possible, my face had gone bright crimson.  What a night, indeed.

Chapter Text

Nathalie stared at us, icily, and waited by the door.  She had no intention of leaving me alone at this point, so I shrugged and took Marinette by the hand.  We walked past the iceberg of my Father’s assistant and down the steps to the foyer, pausing beneath the massive chandelier.

“I’m sorry about this,” I whispered quietly as we headed for the dining room.

“I can handle it, Chat,” Marinette said equally as quietly. 

I raised an eyebrow.  “Which persona can I expect in there, Milady?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“The one that will be needed at the time,” she smiled.

Oh, great, I thought.

The door was already open, and my usual place was set.  Nathalie came in behind us and quickly set a spot for Marinette to my right; Father’s spot was also ready, but he was not present yet.  The buffet behind was fully stocked and smelled great.  I motioned to Marinette and she followed me to the food, which we both piled high on our plates before returning to the table.

I was buttering a croissant that was nowhere nearly as good as Marinette’s when Father burst through the door and quickly moved to the banquet.  “Adrien,” he said curtly.  “Mademoiselle Dupain-Cheng.”

“Father.”  I waited for the shoe to drop; Father delayed until he was settled in at the head of the table and had sipped his coffee.  “While I am not opposed to you having overnight guests, Adrien, I would prefer that you clear them with me first.  Especially those of the opposite gender.”

I felt my face redden slightly, and tried to channel some Chat to stay calm.  “It’s not quite like that,” I started.  “But at the risk of making the situation worse, you should know that Marinette is my girlfriend.”

Something wafted over his normally composed expression. "Your... girlfriend?”

“Yes,” I said, imparting some deliberateness to my emphasis of the word.  It was not an item up for debate.

“Adrien,” Father said, slowly, with fire in those eyes of his, “fourteen-year-old boys do not have girls spending the night.”

I willed the flame on my face to abate and looked at Father defiantly.  “Aside from your lack of faith in my character, Marinette did not spend the night.”

“I’m listening.”

This was the tricky part of the explanation.  I glanced sidelong at Marinette, and she inclined her head slightly.  “We were working on a special research project for school,” I said, trying to lean into the truth.  “A research paper on the effect of feral cats in Paris.”  I looked to Marinette.  “Unfortunately, we became attached to one pawticular cat we found late yesterday afternoon and by the time we’d made sure it was fine, it was four in the morning.” 

Whoops!  I hope he missed that.

“You were working on a... paper?”

“Extra credit,” Marinette piped up.  “We still have a day or two of field research planned, but normally it won’t go so late.”  She shrugged.  “The vet we took the cat to was very slow,” she said, catching my eye.  I could see the glint in it.

Father looked at us.

“I didn't want to wake you when we got in, so I let Marinette use the couch in my room to catch a quick cat nap.”  I caught Marinette’s quick smile.  “I assure you, Father, I was the consummate gentleman.”

He continued to look at us, mulling over what we had offered up as our excuse.  Slowly, he sliced off a piece of cheese from the wheel that was beside him, placed it upon a slice of baguette, and deliberately took a bite.  I didn’t spend much time with Father, so I wasn’t comfortable reading him, but I had to assume that not getting an immediate grounding was positive.

Father polished off the rest of the baguette, and pushed back from his chair.  “In the future, I would prefer you wake me or any of my staff, and we’ll ensure a guest room is prepared.”  He turned toward Marinette.  “It was a pleasure to see you again, Mademoiselle.  I have duties to attend to, if you’ll excuse me.”

And with that, both he and Nathalie swept out of the room, leaving the two of us alone.

I let out the breath I was holding and turned to my Princess.  “Well, we dodged a bit of a bullet there.”

“Maybe,” she said.  “Until he asks to see the paper.”

I groaned.  “He’s just likely enough to do that.  Great, one more thing to do.”

Marinette pulled her phone out of her purse.  “We need to get to school,” she said.  “And I need to tell my parents where I’ve been all night.”

I leaned closer.  “Limo or air service?”

Her eyes sparkled.  “Air,” she said.

We left the dining room and while Marinette took a quiet corner of the foyer to call her parents and repeat our cover story, I informed Nathalie that the two of us would be walking to school together.  Oddly, she seemed to have thawed now that she knew of my relationship, and quickly acquiesced.  A few minutes later, the two of us were exiting the gates of the mansion and quickly entering a nearby alleyway to transform.

Once we were up above the rooftops as Chat Noir and Ladybug and making our way toward Dupont, I found myself grinning and shot past her.  Not to be outdone, Ladybug lassoed a chimney and executed a neat mid-air loop-de-loop, winding up ahead of me by a good body length. 

I was running out of space as the façade of our school was looming up.  Running across a rooftop, I vaulted up into the air and then helicoptered up and over my partner; at the highest point, I streamlined into a dive and shot down toward the roof.  The wind was whipping through my mane as I approached the tile; I curled into a ball and hit the roof, rolling out into a crouch up against the edge of the courtyard.

I looked back to the sky, expectantly.

“I’d give it an eight for execution,” I heard coming from beside me. 

I rotated slightly, pulling my eyes from the sky.

Ladybug was standing a few meters from me, smiling widely.  I realized immediately I’d committed the cardinal error – I'd not looked before leaping.  “Nicely done, Milady,” I laughed as I stood and headed toward her.

She pulled me into a hug, but quickly let go.  “C’mon, we’re gonna be late.”

“See you in class,” I laughed, and I trotted to the far side of the roof to curl myself down and into the men’s locker room.  Ladybug was mirroring me on the near side for the ladies.

I tumbled over the edge, hooking a claw on the brick to leap through the open window, landing on the marginally grimy floor in a crouch – and immediately went on alert.  Something was off, and I scanned the dimly lit space.  When nothing seemed immediately awry, I crept over to the door and cracked it open.

Where it had been sunny just a few moments earlier, clouds had covered the sky, or at least, the portion viewable from the courtyard.  Snow was gently falling into the space, which brought an odd serenity.  I pulled the door open a bit more, and saw that it had accumulated quickly; some enterprising souls had already created some snowmen (and women) in the space.

I blinked.

It dawned on me that the snowpeople were my classmates when I saw Chloe emerge from a classroom, put hand out to the falling snowflakes, and in a flash become another member of the snow crew. I pulled out my baton and speed dialed Ladybug; she hadn’t de-transformed yet and picked up.  “Milady,” I said, “we have a snow problem...”

Chapter Text

The temperature had dropped precipitously in the few minutes it had been snowing.  My costume normally protected me from extremes, so the mere fact that I felt cold told me we were much further below freezing than should be possible for snow to form.  As I watched the snow pile up against the men’s room door, my breath frosted out in front of me; the air was so cold, in fact, little pinpricks of icy pain hit my nose with each inhalation.

There wasn’t enough ice to warrant going into Ice Mode, though that costume would have felt mighty cozy about then.  Teeth chattering, I twisted my baton to pop my earwig out of the base, and steadied my shivering long enough to get it into my human ear. 

Ladybug was already online.  “I don’t know about you,” she said as I heard her chattering as well, “but I’m dreaming of Spring Break already.  Someplace like Majorca.  Or Tahiti.”

“No argument from me there, Milady,” I replied, eyeing the drift.  It was now even with the handle, and I had to step back a bit to avoid coming in contact with what was blowing through the door.  The door itself had frozen on its hinges, so closing it wasn’t an option any longer.  Nor was opening it, for that matter.

“I can’t go out through the main door,” I said as I trotted back to the window.  Carefully, I stepped to the side and looked out; while the window was open, exiting that way wasn’t going to be an option either.  The snow was falling heavily around the perimeter of the school.  “My window isn’t viable any longer.  What are you looking at?”

“Same,” she said.  “And we already know that even touching the stuff is bad news.”

I watched in fascination as the mirrors over the sink started to frost over.  “This is worse than what that Frozer did to the city,” I observed.  “I could Cataclysm over to you, but then what?  And is it worth going into Ice Mode?”

“I don’t know, Chat,” Ladybug said.  “Have you even seen the akuma?”

My eyes widened a bit in shock.  “No, now that you mention it,” I replied.  I hurried back to the door, rubbing my gloved hands together to generate some warmth while wishing I’d had a pair or two of those mittens Marinette was constantly knitting.  Maybe she could do a pair that were open at the top for my claws…

“I’m gonna call for my Lucky Charm,” Ladybug said.  “Maybe it will give me an idea.”

“Hang on,” I said, a bit worried.  “Do you have enough food on hand to recharge Tikki if you do?”

There was a long pause.  “No,” she said after a long moment.  “I gave her my last cookie at breakfast and didn’t grab anything from the buffet for her.”

“Will she eat cheese in a pinch?”  I asked.  I knew I had at least one slice on me – not nearly enough for my bottomless pit of a kwami.  But I was sure he’d split it with Tikki if needed. 

“If she has to,” Ladybug laughed.  “Better get over here, then.”

I held up my hand and was about to call up my secret super power when I paused, then dashed to my locker.  It took some effort to pry the frozen door open, but I found my backup canister of camembert beneath my gym clothes.  (The placement was by request of a certain Kwami of Destruction, I should point out.)

Hurrying back to the shared wall between the two spaces, I decided to go old school.  Taking out my baton, I rode it up to a small air grate embedded near the ceiling; angling myself slightly, I kicked it out and noted with some small satisfaction the air duct had a similar grate facing the other space.

“Hello, gorgeous,” I said, as I twisted again and launched myself through the tight space, crashing through the grate and landing in a crouch next to a smirking Ladybug.

“Hello yourself,” she said as she helped me up.  “I expected rubble, not finesse.”

“I’m a Chat of many talents, Milady,” I said, as I bowed and handed her my small tin.  “I remembered I had this in my locker.”

“Why thank you,” she said, and kissed me.  “Now, to business.  Lucky Charm!” she cried, and the room filled with her special red and white light. 

A red-and-black polka-dotted bag fell heavily to the locker room floor and split open, spilling part of its contents.  My nose immediately wrinkled at the smell.  “Calcium Chloride,” I said.  “Cute.”

“What am I supposed to do---”

“It melts snow, Milady.  Even at really low temperatures.”  I knelt to the bag and grabbed a handful, rolled to the door, and flung it out into the courtyard.  A pathway immediately appeared, though the melting snow turned to ice relatively quickly.  At the speed the snow was currently falling, it refilled with snow fast.

I somersaulted back to her – more an attempt to stay warm than anything else.  “I don’t think we have enough to get out of here, though.  And I’m not sure where we want to go yet, anyway.”

Ladybug was looking thoughtful, which sometimes scared me.  “Do you think you can rotate your baton fast enough to act like a fan?”

“Maybe?” I said.  “Let me try.”

I pulled out my baton as I trotted to the door, and yanked it as far open as I could manage.  Even with my enhanced strength, it was frozen pretty solidly so I only gained a few inches; it was enough, though, to give me space for whatever breeze I came up with.  I extended the baton slightly and went into shield mode, then tried my best to spin it even faster.

Ladybug had come up behind me, and despite her chattering teeth, smiled at my results.  For I’d managed to blow back the falling snow significantly.  “If I sow the Calcium Chloride, you might be able to protect us from the snowflakes long enough for us to cross the courtyard.”

I stopped twirling and eyed the space beyond.  “But why cross?   What is your Lucky Vision telling you?”  I turned back toward her for her response and felt my masked eyes widen – her lips were blue.

In an instant, I stood back up and wrapped myself around her protectively, imparting what little warmth I could.  “Maybe we should go into Ice Mode,” I said, chattering a bit myself now.  “At least we’d be warmer.”

“Agreed,” she said.  “That and the way the Calcium Chloride is melting, we’ll have a few moments of ice.”  She snuggled into me.  “You’ll have to do the transformation,” she said.  “If I detransform now, I’ll lose the Lucky Charm.”  As if to emphasize the point, her earrings chirped their four-minute warning.

“Milady, my original question stands.”

“Sorry,” she said.  “I’m not seeing anything other than we’ll be in a better position to deal with this akuma out there – especially if we can leave the school.”

“You think this is localized to the school?” I nodded.  “Okay, I can work with that.”  Carefully, I released her.  “Ready?”

“Yep.”

“Plagg – claws in!”

My green flash of transformation washed over me and Plagg was there floating by my arm, frowning.  “I detest transformations,” he complained as I fished out my special tin of camembert.  “Are you sure you need it?”

“Yes, my little friend.  I’m sorry.”  I popped open the canister and located the wedge for Ice Mode, and held it out to him.  “I’ll try to keep it as short as I can.”

Grimacing, he took the cheese and gulped it down.  “Whenever you’re ready,” he growled.  

“Plagg – claws out!”

The green wave washed over me, and I was left in my more appropriate cold weather version of Chat Noir, which included a costume that was definitely warmer than my normal attire.  The ice skates made me slightly taller, so I had to bend slightly more to pick up Ladybug.  “The mechanics are going to be interesting,” I observed.  “Can you balance on my feel and hold that bag?”

“Maybe.  Hold on…” she said as she stepped back off.  “Can I borrow your tail for a moment?”

I nodded, seeing where she was going, and unbuckled my belt.  Deftly she held the bag to her chest, and I wrapped my belt around her, hooking it to her.  Then she stepped back up on my feet, and I used a second wrap of the belt around both of us, buckling it in front of Ladybug.  “Smart, Milady,” I said appreciatively as I skated to the door.  Holding my baton above me, I asked: “Up and out?”

“If you can,” she said.  “Otherwise, get us as close to the exit or a stairwell.  Or, barring that, something covered.”

“Got it.”  I started twirling the baton, keeping the speed above shield mode but below helicopter.  “On three…?”

I could feel Ladybug shivering violently now; she simply nodded against my chest and took a handful out of the bag.

“One… two… three!”

Ladybug tossed handful after handful of the Calcium Chloride in front of me as I skated out into the open space, blasting back the falling snow with my swirling baton.  The ice formed quickly under us, and I moved as rapidly as I could across the courtyard.  Ignoring the cramp forming in my bicep, I made my way toward the massive double doors that led to the street.  Fortunately, they were wide open owing to the fact that the school day had barely started when the akuma hit.

“Quarter of a bag gone,” Ladybug said as we neared the steps.

I took a chance and hastened my pace slightly, narrowly skating just behind the ice as it formed.  I had to hop up the steps, and we made it out the main doors; the ice formed a sheet that I was able to skate on down to street level.  I came to a stop on the sidewalk, still furiously twirling the baton.

We were wrong.  The entire city was blanketed in a heavy coat of snow that was getting deeper.  Where it had caught living souls, there now stood multiple sizes of snow people, frozen in place as they had been going about their day in Paris.  “We appear to have a bigger problem, Milady,” I said.

As she was buckled in facing away from me, I couldn’t see her expression but her voice conveyed her shock.  “This is worse than Frozer,” she said quietly. 

I looked for some sort of cover to get out from beneath the silent but deadly snowflakes.  “How much do you have left in that bag?”

“About half,” she said.

Looking back up the steps, I could see our original track was already obliterated.  But it was either the back to the school, or across the street to the Metro.  Anything else might be too far – especially given the chirping of her earrings.  I continued to power through the cramp that was threatening to derail the entire operation.  “School or Metro?”

“Bakery,” she said instantly.  “We should have enough to get there.  Can you manage it that far?  It’s closer than the mansion and we can regroup there.”

“Yes,” I said, with a certainty I didn’t feel.  Gritting my teeth, I turned and we skated toward the Bakery as quickly as she could throw down the Calcium Chloride.  We managed to make the awning of the Bakery just as Ladybug’s earrings chirped their final thirty second warning.  The door to the shop was open, and I knew instantly the two snow people in front – one tall, one short – were Ladybug’s parents, fatally attracted to the unusual late summer snow storm just outside their windows. 

I slid to a stop inside the store, just against the counter.  The space was empty save for the now flash-frozen baked goods, which in itself was a major travesty.  I started to say as much when Ladybug’s transformation dropped, allowing Tikki to float away and leaving Marinette strapped to me sans bag of Calcium Chloride.

“That was close,” I said, trying to stretch out my complaining muscles.

“Too close,” Marinette replied as she unbuckled herself and re-fastened my tail to my costume for me.  I appreciated the help: as rubbery as my arms felt, I wasn’t sure I could even hold a croissant at that point.

Marinette walked to the window and I skated next to her.  Trying not to look at the frozen forms of her parents, she instead gazed across to the frozen park and the now two-foot-high snow drifts.  “At the rate it’s currently snowing,” she observed, “in a few hours, the city will quite literally be buried.”

“What do we do?” I asked, finding myself without any appropriate puns.  The full impact of this rather soft but intractably dangerous opponent we were facing was just beginning to hit me.  “Granted, finding the akuma is our priority, but I don’t have a sense of where we should start looking.”  I looked back toward the fountain in the park, now frozen solid.  “And any physical trail we might have had is rapidly becoming hidden.”

I could see Marinette was shivering again, and I wrapped myself around her once more.  “Honestly, Chat?” she said quietly.  “For once, I don’t have a clue.”

That scared me more than any akuma we had ever faced.

Chapter Text

The temperature had fallen enough that even in Ice Mode, I was starting to get chilled to the bone.  That was despite Marinette retrieving every last square yard of knitted material she had on hand, including a rather nifty beanie that had two slits for my feline ears.  Apparently she’d been planning on surprising me with it at the holiday, and I promised to erase it from my feline memory banks so it could still be a gift. 

She’d also transformed into her matching Ladybug Ice Mode, more to try and stay warm that for any other practical reason; it was nearly too cold now for sheet ice to form, so the skates were becoming more of an impediment that anything else.  “This is like being locked in a meat freezer,” she observed.             

“I’ve only had that honor once or twice,” I chattered, my mind flashing to when we’d had to fight Alya and I’d become trapped in the freezer at the Grand Hotel.  My cheeks still flamed just remembering the icy tinkle of my Miraculous sliding off my hand during that little escapade – and frantically trying to find it before Lady Wifi managed to get Ladybug’s earrings. 

Ladybug caught my expression.  “Hey,” she said, putting a hand to my face.  “We’ve come a long way since then,” she said with a trace of a smile as she appeared to once more read my mind.

I held her gloved hand in a paw.  “We have indeed, Mon Amour.”

We were huddled by Tom’s oven, which had a trace of a flame still going.  Fortunately for us, he’d been baking a few loaves of bread when the akuma hit, and though we’d not been able to salvage them (the burning smell is what alerted us that it was still working)           , the two meter radius of heat emanating from the bricks was something.  As used to sucking up the sun’s warmth as I was when Chat, I’d nearly glued myself to one side of the oven and was still shivering.  Ladybug was facing the open stove, gloved hands outstretched.  “Can’t you just call up a massive stove as your Lucky Charm?” I asked, jumping up and down on my skates to try and keep the blood moving.

“Sure,” she said.  “That’s exactly how it works, Chat.”

“I was being facetious, Milady,” I added, hearing her implied criticism.

She turned toward me with a wry smile.  “Sorry, Chat,” she apologized.  “I know you were—”

“Being Chat,” I finished for her, twisting around to hug her.  “It’s my solemn duty to crack jokes during serious crises.  You know that.”

Ladybug put knit-capped head to my chest and chuckled.  “Indeed it is, kitty.”

“So,” I started cautiously.  “I know I’m not the brains of this operation—”

“Whoever told you that?” Her head popped off my chest and her eyes were piercing. 

“Uh,” I felt my face coloring a bit.  “Well, nobody I suppose.  But since you’re usually the one that comes up with ‘the plan’ I just assumed—"

“That your opinion doesn’t matter?” She pulled back a bit from me.  “Chat?  Are you serious?  I’ve never felt that way.”

I colored a bit more.  It was still a struggle for me to recognize when someone valued me as a person versus when they wanted to simply use me to further their own goals.  In my heart, I knew Ladybug was right, but there were times when I did feel like just the brawns of the partnership.  But I still wasn’t comfortable expressing that to her.  So, naturally, I twisted it to a joke.  “At the risk of changing your opinion about me, I have a thought.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“We started by assuming we needed to get to the akuma.  Maybe it’s simpler than that – if we make ourselves visible, it will find us.  After all, their end goal is generally the same.”

“Yeah, grab our Miraculous.”

My eyes flicked to the windows of the shop, which were buried beneath the snow now.  “I recommend heading to your roof.  I can spin up the shield for a bit and we just kinda make some noise.”  I shrugged.  “At this point, there can’t be too many Parisians out and about.  We should stick out.”

“Not bad, Chat,” Ladybug said, but her eyes were twinkling the way they did when she had a plan cooking.  “I’ll just adjust that slightly—”

She escaped from my hug and retrieved the three singed loafs we’d saved from the oven.  I watched as she pushed them back into the stove, close enough to the heat source that they started to smoke within a few minutes.

I raised a masked eyebrow.  “Smoke signals?”

“Exactly,” she said.  “C’mon.”

Getting up to her bedroom, and then through the skylight while on ice skates should have been harder than it turned out to be, but a few moments later, we were huddled beneath the canvas tarp she had over a portion of the patio.  I’d had to prod it with my baton to release the pressure of the built-up snow, but it was holding solid and allowed me to rest up -- for I was certain I’d need to spin up my newly christened Snow Shield before this escapade was over.

“And for the noise part?” Ladybug asked.

“I was kinda hoping you had some Luck in that department, Milady.”

She groaned.  “Why did I know you were going to say that?” she asked.  “Good thing I have one last thawed macaroon for Tikki.”

“I still have cheese, too.”

Unclipping her yo-yo, she threw it into the air and called on her Lucky Charm.  We stood back and watched as a polka-dotted karaoke machine, complete with a full set of disco-era lights, dropped in front of us.  My masked eyes widened, and I waved my paws at her.  “No way. Nuh-uh.”

“You said make some noise!” she laughed.  “You should have been more specific.  Maybe I could have gotten fireworks instead.”

I looked at the microphone sitting atop the device and groaned.  “The only good thing about this is that Alya is frozen somewhere and will never, ever hear this.”

“Punch up the song,” she said, “and crank the volume.”

Resigned to my fate, I picked up the microphone in one paw and activated the system with a claw.  The lights sprung to life, and created an impressive show against the sparkling snow that continued to fall.  After ensuring the volume dial couldn’t go any higher, I tapped the “start” button on the touchscreen.  My reward?  The opening strains of Marshmallow World started to reverberate across Paris.

“Seriously?” I mewled, looking at Ladybug.  “Your kwami has quite the sense of humor.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” she laughed. 

Sighing, I waited for the words to begin to scroll across the screen.  Taking in a breath, I started to belt it out, trying to channel Dean Martin.

Oh, it’s a marshmallow world in the wintah!
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It’s the time for play!
It’s a whipped-cream day!
I wait for it the whole year round.

Between the black smoke now belching from the chimney behind me and the flashing lights, I wasn’t sure my vocal talents were necessarily adding anything.  But onward I continued.

Now those marshmallow clouds being friendly
In the arms of the ever-green-trees
And the sun is red like a pumpkin hay
It's shining so your nose won't freeze

Both of us were scanning the horizon, and the further I got into the song, the less hopeful I was that this was going to do what I wanted. 

Oh' the world is the snowball, see how it grows
That's how it grows
Whenever it snows
The world is the snowball just for our soul
So get up and roll it along

As I made my way through the bridge and started the final verse, I thought my feline eyes had caught something off along the avenue that ran along the river and was opposite the Bakery.  I lost my place on the scrolling text for a moment, but caught it and continued, somewhat worried the metal of the microphone was freezing to my paw.

It's a yumm yummy world made for sweet hearts
Take a walk with your favorite bug
It's a sugar date when spring is late
In winter it's a marshmallow world

“There!” Ladybug cried, and pointed. 

I’d seen it too; a small, brilliantly colored individual seemed to be cross-country skiing toward us, carrying a wake of snow along with it.  The wind started to whip in our direction, and I dropped the microphone so I could protect us with my baton shield.  “Guess they like a good cat call,” I quipped.

“Or they just want to put you out of your misery,” Ladybug parried back.

“Ouch,” I said, pushing back the wave of snow as it came in.  “Well, I got us this far.  What’s the next part of the plan?”

“Since we’re down one Lucky Charm, we’re gonna need to improvise a bit,” she said, just as her earrings chirped the start of their relentless countdown.

“All right.”  The gust had turned into a gale, and I was pushed back a bit.

“Look out!” Ladybug cried as she pushed me, for the edge of my skate had nearly hit the snow drift behind us. 

Unusually for me, her shove made me lose my balance and I lurched forward; the skates skidded across the exposed roof beneath the canvas and I couldn’t stop from sliding directly into a massive drift, buried up to my waist.

In a blink, I felt a tingling sensation begin at my toes and start to race up my body; massive snowflakes were dropping onto my mane and I could feel a similar sensation start there.  I had seconds before I joined the rest of my fellow Parisians in frozen slumber.

“Cataclysm!” Ladybug yelled at me.  “Do it now!”

“But—”

“You’re no use to me as a catsicle!  Do it!

Sluggishly, I raised my ring hand.  “Cataclysm!” I managed to utter just as the icy embrace rolled down my face, causing the world to go white and then fade away.

Chapter Text

It was amazingly peaceful there in the ice, but it didn’t last; the frosting effect hit my active Cataclysm and the ice around me shattered.  Before I could register it, Ladybug had lassoed me with her yo-yo and yanked me back under the canvas, directly into her embrace.

“That was close,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said morosely, “and now we’re down a Cataclysm, too.”

“No,” she said firmly.  “I am up one Chat Noir.  I’ll take that any day.”  Ladybug punctuated the sentiment with a sweet kiss.  “But now, Kitty, we’re going to have to try and solve this old school in the next three minutes.”

“That’s a tall order,” I said, sneaking a glance back down to the street.  Our unnamed akuma was standing below us in front of the bakery, contemplating perhaps how to reach us on the balcony.  It gave us a few moments, if that, to strategize.

I turned back to her.  “This would’ve been a good time to have Team Miraculous assembled.”

Ladybug’s eyes widened.  “Of course!” she cried, swooping in and kissing me again.  “You’re brilliant, Chat!”

“Uh—” I started, thoroughly confused.

“C’mon,” she said, “we need to get back the bedroom.”

We slid backwards toward the skylight, and dropped through; I was reaching up to close the portal when it was hit by a burst of snow that I narrowly managed to deflect with the baton.  “I have no desire to see a white Christmas this year,” I observed as I snapped it shut and dropped beside her.  “So what was my brilliance?”

Ladybug was at her desk, her earrings chirping as she dug through the drawers.  “Here!” she cried, holding up the familiar shape of a Miraculous box.  “Backup!”

I made a show of looking around the bedroom.  “Milady, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s just the two of us…”

“I know, silly kitty,” she said quickly.  “But unless I miss my mark, Wayzz might be able to help us as is.”

“Why—”

“I was going to return this when you arrived as a cat, Chat,” she explained quickly as she snapped open the box.  “You interrupted me, as usual.”

I rolled my eyes as the box exploded with the Miraculous magic and the little green kwami appeared.  “Ladybug,” he said formally as he took a quick look around.  “How may I be of service?”

“Can you cast Shell-ter without a holder present?” Ladybug quickly asked.  “Chat and I have already used our superpowers, and I’m not certain we have time to recharge—”

She didn’t complete her sentence as the bedroom window facing the street blew inward in a spray of glass and snow.  I was in front of her in a flash, using the baton to swirl away the danger, but the damage was done.  It had begun to snow inside her bedroom, though for now, it was confined to the area immediately around the window.

“Better speed up the explanation, Milady,” I advised, pressing them back toward the trapdoor exit.

“Yes,” Wayzz said simply.  “Where?”

“I need just a moment,” Ladybug said, turning back to me.  “There’s something in the kitchen we can use.”

My ring chirped – I was down to four minutes myself.  I craned my neck.  “You’ve only got two dots left.  Hurry!”

“Get as close to the window as you can!” she called as she dropped through the trapdoor. 

I skated carefully toward the destroyed window, avoiding the snow that had piled up.  Peeking, I could see the snow drifts had reached the floor below hers; as fast as it was piling up, our akuma friend need only wait us out: we’d either freeze because we’d lost our transformation, or we’d freeze once the snow completely surrounded the Bakery. 

A moment later, I heard the trapdoor again.  “Got it,” Ladybug said, then: “I need your tail.”

I had long ago stopped asking questions when she was in Lucky Vision mode.  Quickly, I started to unbuckle my belt tail, which was a little more involved in Ice Mode, but she stopped me.  “No, I am going to grab it.  You’re going to sling skate around us around the akuma while I hit it with this.”

She held up a sizable blowtorch, one that I had seen Tom use to caramelize masses of desserts for catering.  “That won’t make much of a dent,” I laughed. 

“We don’t need it to,” she said, as her earrings chirped the final one-minute.  “Wayzz, can Shell-ter completely surround us?”

“Yes,” he nodded, smiling.  “I see what you want to do.”

I did too, and nodded.  “We’ll leap,” I said, “and then create the shell around us.”  My ring chirped as well.  “Now would be a good time…”

“Ready,” she said, grabbing my tail in one hand, lighting the blowtorch with the other.

I sprung through the destroyed window and into the air, pulling along Ladybug with me as I helicoptered away the falling snow.  As we rose, the akuma shifted its gaze toward us, but before it could do anything, there was a flash and we were surrounded completely but the turtlesque shell spell.

We dropped to the surface Wayzz had provided and I dug my skates in, allowing Ladybug to sling herself forward.  She released my tail at the last possible moment, and went skating past the akuma faster than it could react – but not before she managed to hit what appeared to be a snow cone in the akuma’s hand with the blow torch.

The ice melted quickly under the caress of the flame, and before it could refreeze, the telltale purple wings of the akuma butterfly appeared and started to make a break for it.

“Time to de-evilize!” Ladybug cried, snagging the butterfly with her yo-yo from where she’d skidding to a stop on the far side of the shell.  Quickly she purified the butterfly and released it, and just as her earrings started their relentless thirty-second chirps, tossed the yo-yo up: “Miraculous Ladybug!”

In a flash, her red helpers appeared and swarmed in numbers I had never seen before.  I blinked, and we had settled back on the street in front of the Bakery, still surrounded by the shell; on the other side of the translucent shield, I could see a perplexed Tom and Sabine peering in. 

“Chat?  Ladybug?” Tom asked.  “What happened?”

I pointed to my costume pocket, and Wayzz wisely phased into it; the shield faded and we were in the delightfully warm sunshine of a gorgeous day in Paris.  “Go,” I said to Ladybug.  “I’ll catch up.”

She nodded and lassoed away from the Bakery on her yo-yo.  I turned and helped up a tween, who was looking very confused.  “Let me guess,” I smiled.  “They were out of grape?”

“No,” he said, still looking confused.  “Mom told me I couldn’t have any.”

I tried hard not to roll my eyes.  How many times had Hawkmoth preyed upon classic childhood emotions in an effort to get our Miraculous?  It was patently unfair.  And, perhaps, uncalled for.

I wrapped a black-cladded arm around him and navigated him toward Tom.  “These nice people will make sure you get something to replace that snow cone,” I said, cognizant of the fact that I was down to one icon on my ring.  “Then they’ll see you get home,” I added, catching Sabine’s eye.

“Absolutely,” she said as she took my ward and the three of them entered the bakery.

I sprung up and into the now blue, cloudless sky and helicoptered to my favorite rooftop looking toward the rebuilding of Notre Dame.  Marinette was already there; I dropped down and waited long enough for Wayzz to phase back out of my pocket before calling out: “Plagg – claws in.”

After my green wave of transformation washed over me, three kwamis and two humans found themselves looking at each other.  “I’ve got a final piece of cheese,” I said, pulling it out and splitting into thirds.  “Will this hold everyone over until we get back to the Bakery?”

Plagg uncharacteristically said nothing, and handed Tikki his slice as well as the one she had taken from me.  “I’m good,” he said, though I knew he was lying.

“Thank you,” Wayzz said, his manners too refined to even grimace at the ripe odor of Plagg’s favorite treat.

Plagg’s not eating meant Ladybug got to ferry me back to the Bakery rooftop patio once Tikki had downed the cheese; after dropping her transformation a final time, she disappeared to the kitchen and returned with a baking tray piled high with pastries for us, and a secondary fruit and cheese tray that Plagg nabbed and took to a far side of the patio.  Tikki and Wayzz joined him, giving Marinette and I some time alone.

Together, we sat on the lounger; Marinette had her head on my chest and I played with her pigtail ribbons (once a cat, always a cat) as we both munched.  “We really should get to school,” I pointed out.  “I don’t imagine they will consider it a snow day, now that we’ve melted it for the city.”

“I have a… cold…” Marinette laughed.  “And so do you.”

“Your parents---”

“Are supporting me skipping today.”  She looked up.  “Owing to the stress of being frozen by an akuma.”

“Milady,” I said, cracking a Chat smile, “I believe I was the one frozen.”

“I wasn’t specific about which of us had fallen victim to the akuma,” she winked.

Hugging her, I sighed.  “I’m corrupting you,” I observed.  “Turning you toward the ways of the Black Chat.”

“Yes,” she smiled back at me.  “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Chapter Text

“You want me to what?” I said, masked eyes wide with shock.

Marinette’s small face smiled up at me from the baton phone.  “Come shopping with me.”

“As… as Chat?” I repeated a bit numbly, still not quite believing what my feline ears had heard.

“Yes,” she said.

“Milady, you know I would do anything for you…”

“Yes,” she repeated, a bit too smugly for my tastes.

I sighed.  There was no question she had my number.  “Are you absolutely sure?  This sort of goes against everything---”

“It’s for charity, Chat,” she reminded me.  “And it’s not the first time either Chat or Ladybug pitched in for a good cause.”

“I know,” I said, barely preventing a mewling tone.  “But usually that involves building a house, or cleaning a park.  Or—”

“Consider it branching out,” she offered.

“Princess, there are already rumors swirling that you’re dating Chat,” I said, pulling out my last trump card.  “We’re supposed to be clearing the path for Adrien to date you, remember?  If Alya sees us together like that—”

“I’ve got it covered,” she said.  “She’ll be busy, along with Nino, on the far side of the city.”

Getting desperate, I frantically sought another excuse.  “The press—”

“Chat,” Marinette said with true Ladybug emphasis.  “Please.”

I looked at her, knowing I was probably huffing a bit like a fish.  But I couldn’t deny her.  “All right,” I said, bowing my head in defeat.  “When and where?”

“Saturday at eight.  Come to the Bakery, and then you can spirit me to Thibodeau’s.”

“Of course, Milady,” I said, looking up through my bangs at her.  “See you in class tomorrow?”

“Absolutely,” she laughed.  “And don’t act like I’ve stolen your pet hamster.”

“As you wish,” I intoned, smiling slightly at her reaction as I closed the baton.

I was perched on an antenna atop a residential block not far from the Grevin; I’d finished my homework early that evening, but as Marinette had been tied up in late evening meetings at Dupont – part of her duties as class President – I’d been at loose ends and had decided to prowl the city for a few hours before turning in.  Her unexpected call had first brought joy to my heart, thinking I’d still get some time in with my girlfriend that evening, but it had faded fast when she explained the harebrained scheme she’d come up with.

I sighed again and looked out across the twinkling lights of Paris at night.  Actually, it wasn’t all that harebrained; she’d managed to connect with a local charity that provided entry-level jobseekers with high quality wardrobe options for that first interview – folks who would find it a challenge to afford that first suit ensemble.  The charity provided the funds, and then worked with local department stores in Paris to get a hefty discount on reasonable current fashion; volunteers from the world of fashion would then fan out on a specific weekend morning to select items that would be handed out that evening.

Financial donations to the charity were down this year, though, so Marinette was hoping that having a high-profile volunteer might attract some additional funds.  Unfortunately, Chat happened to be on her speed dial; though Chat wasn’t exactly a known fashion insider, I had to grudgingly admit it would attract the attention she was hoping for.

Saturday arrived and found me landing atop my favorite chimney flue on the Bakery with a gentle, rubbery thump.  Marinette was already waiting for me on the rooftop patio below, and I hopped to my usual spot on the railing beside her.  “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into,”’ I said, frowning as best as I could, but my Chat smile won out; it was hard not to be joyous when in her presence.

“You’ll love every minute of being in the spotlight,” she said.  “Put some of those model tricks of yours to work and you’ll have the press eating out of your paw.”

My masked eyes flew wide.  “Press?” I hissed.  “I thought—”

“Come on,” she said, leaping toward me and forcing me to catch her.  “We’re gonna be late!”

Trying hard not be upset, I leapt into the sky and worked my way over the rooftops toward one of the oldest continuously family-operated department stores in Paris.  I was less than impressed that we were going to be the focus of the media, but in retrospect, I should have realized that’s what her intent would have been in the first place.  And the charity needed the support, so what was one morning of discomfort?  At least I got to spend it with Marinette.

I landed on the rooftop of the venerable department store, and then used my baton to ride down to street level.  I’d already heard the gaggle of people waiting for us a few blocks out, and had settled my masked visage into a trademark Chat smile as we gently landed together on the sidewalk.  I was no stranger to major media affairs, as Adrien had been to more than his share of movie premieres or opening nights at the opera.  Still, it was a bit different being on display in my rather form-fitting costume, with the love of my life hanging off an arm.

Something immediately set me on edge, though; keeping my smile firmly in place, my feline senses went into overdrive.  I must have tensed slightly, for Marinette turned slightly and whispered: “What?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, waving a paw to the crowd as we moved toward the ornate revolving door.  “But I just went on yellow alert.”

Marinette’s eyes widened.  “Chat,” she murmured, “if you need me to—”

“Let’s keep that as a backup,” I whispered as we entered the main floor of the store.

My feline ears immediately went straight up as the shrieks washed down from the second floor, the telltale leading indicator that the morning’s schedule was about to go off the rails.  Escalators divided the space in half, connecting this floor to the second; there were another pair connecting the second to the third.  The up escalator a few meters in front of me was not operational, but that wasn’t stopping the panicked store staff from streaming down and out the emergency exit.

Placing Marinette behind me, I turned and took my baton to the revolving door, shattering it into a wider egress before waving the running personnel through it.  “Get as far away as you can!” I shouted.  “Go!”

Marinette, to my chagrin, had taken up position on the other side, helping people through as well.  I knew better than to chastise her, and instead focused my feline hearing on the interior; it sounded like no one was left on the upper floors, but there would only be one way to tell. 

“I’ve got to clear the building,” I said as I looked up through the open center of the atrium.  I caught a quick movement that I didn’t like at all.

On instinct, I leapt across to Marinette, wrapped my arm around her and vaulted off to one side, landing next to cosmetic counter.  A couch crashed down where we’d been standing a fraction of a moment later.   I barely had time to register our near miss before I hurled Marinette away from me and dove in the opposite direction; several bolts of fabric, clearly from the tailoring department, smashed into the counter, flattening it completely and sending a cascade of cosmetics across the floor.  My feline nose wrinkled at the unfortunate combination of several perfumes that would never, ever be worn together.

Reasonably certain she was okay, I nonetheless called out to Marinette from my new position crouched behind a display of cookware.  “Princess!”

“I’m fine---” she started to reply, but her answer mutated into an angry yell.  “Put me down!” I heard her cry.

Heart beating loudly in my ears, I leaned around the corner and saw Marinette being hauled away by a tall, very well-dressed akuma.  He appeared to be sporting a three-piece suit, topped off with a bowler.  The fabric shimmered in the low light of the department store, and as I watched, he levitated his way up the disabled escalator.

Marinette was over his shoulder, and for her part, was pounding on him angrily.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have her Ladybug-enhanced strength and therefore wasn’t making much of an impression on her captor.  I tried not to smile at her effort, though; she was rather cute when incensed.

My baton was already in my hand, and I extended it into staff mode before leaping up and over the akuma, landing just a few steps ahead of him on the escalator.  “This far… no further!” I yelled, spinning my baton in his face.

His eyes were red and focused on me immediately.  While I sorted through options for getting Marinette away from him, Haberdasher started to laugh at me.  “Hawkmoth thought I could get your attention this way,” he cackled.  It was a full-body effort, and I feared he might drop Marinette in the process.

I stepped down a step, closing the distance.  “Let her go,” I said menacingly.

“Or what?” he laughed. 

“I’ll take her from you,” I said, eyes narrowing.  “And you won’t like the way I do it.”

He kept laughing; my feline brain kicked into gear, realizing he was delaying for some reason.  I gave myself over to instinct and sprang into the air, up and away from him, and used a paw to cling to the third-floor railing rimming the space.  Looking down, my masked eyes widened.  The entire stock of men’s ties appeared to be floating about where I had been standing, and, after a brief pause, shot toward my new position.  It didn’t take much imagination to conjure up the nightmare they could become if they got close to me – there had to be more than a hundred of various sizes, colors and fabrics. 

More than enough to create a Chat mummy.

I hauled myself over the edge and scampered through the bedding and bath department, my feline hearing picking up the faint hiss of the ties as they closed on me.  Circling around, I kept all of my senses on high, knowing it was quite likely the ties were not the only surprise.  We’d dealt with enough akumas now that I’d become more adept at expecting the unexpected.

As I came back toward the center atrium, leaping a king bed and then the queen beside it, I chanced a glance behind me and wished I hadn’t.  I hurdled a set of twin beds, then hooked a claw in the last one, tearing the fabric as I swung beneath the display.  Using my momentum, I slid all the way across the room beneath the various bed sets, coming up against the far wall once more.

It bought me just a few moments, but it allowed me to leap up once more, going through a tile of the drop ceiling that fell to the floor below in pieces.  Hooking my claws around a cable channel, I swung up and into the space between it and the actual ceiling, then frantically clambered across the channel on all fours.  Furiously, I looked for what I hoped I would find, hearing the swish of the fabric as the space behind me filled with hundreds of meters of men’s cravats.

Luck was on my side as my night vision caught the HVAC shaft; my hearing told me it was of the old-school variety, pressurized to move air in a specific direction.  I redoubled my pace, and leapt the final meters, driving my claws into the side of the metalwork.  I waited a heartbeat, then wrapped my tail around the cable channel before pulling away the panel.  I growled with effort as the metal shrieked beneath my paws, and much too slowly opened a meter-by-a-meter hole.  I was rewarded feeling the air in the crawlway begin to be sucked into the HVAC shaft.

Turning, I watched as the ties surged toward me, then intractably were drawn into the HVAC shaft.  I didn’t start breathing normally until the last meter of fabric had disappeared into the shaft, and I’d closed the panel behind it.  Immediately, I dropped back through the ceiling, landing in a crouch beside new appliances.

It took a moment, but I heard movement below me, then picked up the faint fragrance of Marinette.  Growling again, I launched myself toward the atrium railing, hooking a claw to redirect my flight toward the sound.  I did a double-barrel roll into a tuck, landing on all fours facing Haberdasher.

He had his back to me, with Marinette still over his shoulder.  Thinking fast, I whipped out my baton and extended it, then swung it across the back of his legs, throwing him off balance.  He released Marinette as he tried to regain it, and she deftly pushed off him and landed in a crouch before leaping away, running off to the far reaches of the darkened space.  I smiled, knowing that I was about to be joined by my partner.

She was likely going to be rather annoyed, too.

“Attacking during a charity event is just uncool,” I said, still in my crouch, and still spinning my baton.  “You’re going to have to make a sizable---ooof!”

Something hit me from the side, knocking me to the floor and sending my baton clattering across the room before it rolled over the edge and plunged to the floor below.  I heard it clank on the first floor, although it could just have been the bells ringing in my feline brain, too.  I barely rolled away before a second set of pots landed next to me.  I tried to leap away only to be firmly hit in the back by something very heavy; I was flattened on my face, and tried to push myself up.  Despite my augmented super strength, I couldn’t get out from beneath whatever had landed on me, nor could I swivel my head enough to see what it was.  But it didn’t matter – he had me now.

“Give up,” I said, though it was kind of hard to breathe.  It felt like an elephant was on me, actually.  “Now that I have you… right where I want you.”

“I think you have this backwards,” Haberdasher said.  He sounded like he was just behind me but closing.

“They… always say that,” I muttered.  I tried to push myself up again only to have Haberdasher’s foot come down on my ring hand’s wrist.  “Ow!” I cried out.

“This will be over in second, Hero of Paris,” he cackled, leaning over toward my ring.

Not for the first time, I wondered why the Miraculous magic didn’t glue the ring to my finger, much as my costume was more-or-less irremovable.  Despite the pain in my wrist, I curled my hand into a claw, knowing it would just delay the inevitable.

Haberdasher frowned slightly, but began to try and pry my fingers apart.

I watched in horrified amazement, struggling to try and keep my hand closed, when I heard the faintest of faint voices say, “Lucky Charm!”

Trying not to smirk, I redoubled my efforts to keep my ring firmly in my possession and give Ladybug the time she needed.  It worked for a bit, until Haberdasher shifted the position of his foot on my wrist; he pressed again against a nerve and I gasped in pain, watching as my hand sprung open in response.

Cackling once more, Haberdasher started to slide the ring off.

“Chat!  Now!” I heard.

Without questioning the plan, I cried out: “Cataclysm!”

Haberdasher jumped back as my hand started to spark, but not fast enough; I saw the tip of an umbrella appear, knocking his bowler hat off his head… and directly onto my opened ring hand.

The hat turned brown and dissolved; a moment later, the purple butterfly appeared, only to be snagged by Ladybug’s yo-yo.  One Miraculous Ladybug later, the department store was more or less back to normal and I was sitting beside the lead tailor from the men’s department, who was wearing that unfocused expression they all had after shaking off the akuma magic.

“You’re fine now,” I said gently, looking over his shoulder at my partner.  “It’s over.”

“Where… where am I?”

“Thibodeau’s, second floor,” I said.  “Though I assume you are from the third floor.  I love your suits, by the way.”

He looked at me, taking in the cat suit.  “You… you do?”

I smiled.  “Well, I can’t wear this all the time, now can I?” I laughed, though in truth, I’d never wear non-House of Gabriel attire as long as Father controlled my life.

“You could,” I heard Ladybug say. 

I swung around to see the mischievous glint to her eye.  “Milady—” I started to say, but the chirping of my ring short circuited further discussion.  “Whoops,” I said, eyes going to my ring just as the second pad blinked out, “I’ve got to scat!” I looked back to Ladybug.  “I’ll… uh… see you around, bugaboo?”

“Yes,” she said.  “I’ll make sure Marinette gets home safely,” she added with a wink so subtle I’m sure I was the only one to catch it.

I grinned and flipped over the edge of the atrium, then ran through the now-restored revolving door, pole vaulting into the sky and barely making it to a rooftop before loosing my transformation. 

Plagg floated up by my shoulder and accepted the cheese I dredged out of my supply for him.  “I’ll never look at ties quite the same again,” I said as I leaned against the sun-warmed brick.  I fought the temptation to close my eyes and take a quick catnap, wondering once more how cat tendencies had been folded into my human form.

“And those colors,” Plagg said solemnly.  “Whoa.  Ugly.”

There was a whisper on the wind, and a moment later, Ladybug dropped down beside me and released her own transformation.  “Kitty,” Marinette said as she snuggled in next to me on the brick.  “So much for our charity work,” she lamented as she fished out a macaroon for Tikki.

I watched as the pink kwami snatched the goodie from Marinette’s fingers and floated over to chat with Plagg.  “Well,” I smiled as I wrapped an arm around my girlfriend, “if I can pry Plagg away from Tikki, we can try this whole thing once again.”

“Okay,” she said.  “But we can relax for a bit.”

“Do you ever wonder what the real story is between those too?” I asked quietly.

“Yes,” she said.  “But I think their story is likely the same as ours.”

“Just longer-running,” I laughed, attracting a glare from Plagg.   

She pressed her head into my chest.  “May ours last just as long,” she whispered.

“Amen,” I breathed.

Chapter Text

A little more than a year into my gig at Chat Noir, I was feeling pretty comfortable with my abilities behind the mask.  I knew I still had a lot to learn about who I was becoming, and what I could do, but realizing that was something of a change in my thinking, too.  I still recoiled in horror at some of my early missteps (yeah, CopyCat still haunted my dreams from time to time), but liked to think I was blossoming, as it were, under the patient tutelage of my partner.

On a random Tuesday morning, though, I noticed a change that concerned me.

Something tickling at my feline ears brought me up through deep layers of slumber, layers I was thinking I really didn’t want to go through.  We’d fought back a particularly tough akuma into the wee hours of the morning, and I was still feeling exhausted.  I swiped a paw at the irritation, intending to roll over and snatch a few more minutes of sleep before bolting upright in my bed, fully awake.

The room was still dark, but my green-grey night vision had kicked in; it was a bit fuzzy, though, but regardless, I felt a tiny bit of panic.  It wasn’t like me to fall asleep as Chat Noir – well, I had done it from time to time, but usually in safer spots, such as Marinette’s rooftop balcony.  “Plagg – claws in!”

“Whaddyah talking about, kid,” I heard a sleepy voice say next to me.  “In?  Or out?”

I turned, and could see the hazy shape of my kwami where he was still lounging on my pillow.  “Plagg,” I said, voice notching up an octive with a bit of panic.  “Why is my night vision working?”

I saw and felt him quickly move to a spot just in front of my frowning face.  “You can see me?” he asked.

“Sort of,” I admitted.  “Not as well as if I were transformed.”  I paused, thinking back to what woke me.  “And I would’ve sworn I could feel my feline ears a moment ago,” I added, running my hand across my hair, confirming they weren’t there.

“Really,” Plagg said.  “Well, this isn’t entirely unexpected.”

I reached over to the nightstand and clicked the light on.  “What isn’t?”

He answered my question with a question.  “How long have you been able to hear better?  As Adrien?”

“What do you mean?”

Plagg poofed away from me.  “Can you still hear me?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, still unsure of what was happening.

He poofed back.  “I was downstairs in the foyer just now.”  His tiny eyes narrowed.  “You’ve been hearing Nathalie approaching for some time, haven’t you?”

“I’ve been able to hear her on the stairs for few months now,” I said carefully.  “And… more recently, if I focus, I can hear her talking on the phone or moving around in the atelier, though not with a lot of clarity.”  I paused.  “Not like Chat can.”

“Huh.  How about your ability to smell Marinette’s scent profile?  While being Adrien?”

My face warmed with embarrassment; I said, very quietly, “Uh… at least that long, I guess.”

“Sight?” he pressed.

“Maybe,” I said, not having really thought about it.  Feeling a bit frustrated, I tried to short circuit where he was going.  “What’s happening to me?”

Plagg smiled at my slightly-panicked expression.  “Don’t worry, kid.  It’s completely normal – well, as normal as it can be, when you are a Miraculous holder.”

“Normal?  What’s normal?”

Plagg floated back to his pillow.  “The longer you hold the Cat miraculous, the more your human side will begin to express your superior feline capabilities.  It’s part of the deal, kid.  They won’t be exactly the same; think of them as… enhancements to your human abilities.”  He snuggled back into the pillow.  “Think of them as… special features.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry about it, kid,” he repeated.  “Every one of my holders has experienced it.”  He paused, and gave me the gimlet eye.  “Given how long you stay transformed, though, I’m not surprised at how much quicker it’s manifested with you.”  And with that, my kwami rolled over and went back to sleep.

My eyes flicked to the phone on the dock across the room from me (which, yes, I could clearly see) and noted it was barely three.  I snapped the lights off and leaned back into the pillow myself, but even as tired as I was, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Plagg had said.

It was not a secret that I tended to extend my time as Chat as much as I could.  Plagg had made the unfortunate pronouncement early on that I could remain transformed indefinitely so long as I didn’t use my secret power; when not called to duty against Hawkmoth, I had taken him quite literally, and found myself creating the smallest excuse to drop in on my girlfriend as Chat, or to enjoy the simple joy of roaming the city as only a human-sized feline could.

Ladybug had initially been displeased with my, shall we say, overly broad interpretation of our abilities; but over time (and with my frequent appearances on her balcony as Chat), I’d worn her down enough that she’d simply accepted it as the normal state of affairs.  Privately, though, I was pretty sure that she preferred me in black leather.

Some part of me knew that the transformation to Chat Noir was happening to me on a physical level; I just had not stopped to think about what lasting effects it could have on me over the long run.  I wasn’t especially worried about it – well, actually, maybe I was.  And I thought I knew exactly who I could talk to about it.

As part of our continuing effort to make Adrien and Marinette a more public couple in our classmate’s eyes, we tended to share a table for two in the corner of the library during our afternoon study hall.  It also was an ideal place to escape unnoticed, allowing us to transform on the (frequent) occasions Chat and Ladybug were called to action during the school day.  That day, fortunately, had not required our assistance, so we found ourselves in our quiet corner, separated by several empty tables from the rest of our class and well out of (non-enhanced) earshot.

Marinette was toiling over some math problems on her tablet, and I was halfheartedly re-reading The Tempest for English Lit.  After ensuring no one was bearing down on us, I carefully tapped her with a fingertip – belatedly realizing I’d expected the claw tip to be there.  “Milady?” I whispered.

Her eyes flicked to mine.  I didn’t normally call her that while we were in civilian form, so her eyes immediately filled with concern.  “What’s wrong, kitty?”

I leaned closer.  “This may sound like an odd question,” I started.  “But… have you noticed… any changes?”

Marinette’s face flushed a deep crimson.  “Uh… look, Adrien, I’m not sure—”

If I’d had my feline ears, they would have shot up when I realized what she thought I was referring to.  “No! Not, uh, that,” I said hastily.  “I mean, are you finding you have… uh…” I looked over her to re-confirm no one was eavesdropping.  “Well, bug enhancements to your senses?  When not transformed?”

The crimson on her face didn’t abate, but she nodded a bit.  “Yeah,” she said.  “You’re seeing feline traits?”

“Yes,” I said, unsure how much I should admit to.  “What, specifically?”

This time, Marinette looked over her shoulder, then leaned even closer toward me.  “Flowers,” she said succinctly.  “I can smell them in amazingly vibrant detail when I’m Ladybug; quite a bit of that remains when I’m… me… almost like it’s a fuzzy version of my Ladybug ability.”

I nodded, thinking about my not-quite-perfect night vision.  “Scents in general for me,” I said.  “I can pick up the notes of things now, specific notes, much like I could as Chat.  Not as refined, but it’s getting better each day.”  I flicked my eyes again over her shoulder.  “My vision and hearing are similarly better, though not exactly Chat-purrfect.”

Marinette grimaced.  “Clearly the puns moved over.”

“That’s all Adrien,” I laughed, drawing some stares from the room.  I choked it back.  “You?”

“No puns,” she laughed quietly, “but my eyesight is a bit more refined.  I can see farther, and wider, if that’s even possible.  But, sadly, no night vision like you.  Hearing is about the same,” she shrugged.  “Guess that’s not a bug thing.”

“Sorry,” I said.  “How about strength?”

“Somewhat,” she nodded.  “I can lift heavier bags of flour now.  Papa thinks I’m hitting the gym at school.  You?”

I smiled.  “Yeah, stronger.  I can run farther, faster, than I could before.  Fence longer.”  I sat back a bit.  “I asked Plagg last night; he said it’s normal, and happens regularly to holders.”  I paused, wondering if I should add the rest of what he’d said.

Marinette caught the pause.  “You’re expressing them faster than normal, aren’t you?”

It was my turn to flush.  “Uh… yeah…” I admitted, running my hand to the back of my neck.

“Well,” she said good naturedly, “I did warn you about staying transformed, now didn’t I?”

“Meowybe you should have been more specific,” I said, leaning over even further and rubbing my head against her arm.  I skipped the faux purr.  For the moment.

“Kitty!” she hissed, throwing a panicked look over her shoulder as she tried to fend me off.  My antics were drawing some unwanted attention so I returned to my side of the table.

Looking down at the text glowing on my tablet, I quietly continued.  “What worried me more was that I’m starting to feel my feline ears when they’re not there.”  I flicked my worried eyes toward her.  “I thought something was irritating them last night – it felt real enough, it woke me up.”

Her gaze caught mine.  “That’s nothing,” she said equally as quietly.  “I’m having a hard time focusing any time I’m in the same space as tulips.”

That brought me up short.  “Tulips?  Specifically?”

The flush deepened.  “Yeah.”  She looked at me a bit more closely.  “But I don’t have any ‘extras’ like you, though,” she added.

“Extras?”

“You know.  The ears.  The tail.”

“Ah,” I said.

“I’ve not had the same phantom appendage feeling.”

I flushed a bit, remembering how real the tickle on a feline ear had felt.  “That is the part that has me worried,” I said.  “I can live with the other enhancements – in fact, most of them are pretty cool, when you get right down to it.  But I bolted awake last night thinking something was crawling around an ear.  An ear that wasn’t there.”

The concern was showing on her face.  “Has that feeling happened before?”

“No, that was the first time.”  I knew I looked worried.  “What do you think?”

She tapped her stylus against her chin.  “I dunno.  We could talk to Master Fu, but you’d have to explain to him why you’ve been transformed so much,” she said, a tiny glint to her eye.

I flushed again.  “That might not be my first choice.”

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “maybe the first thing is for you to quit cold turkey for a bit.”  She looked at me.  “Just for a bit.  A week, maybe.  Then we can see if you still ‘feel’ your ears or tail, even when not transformed.”

“Quit?” I asked, eyes widening.  “Being Chat?”

“No, silly,” she said.  “I still need you when Hawkmoth appears.  Just in between.  Take a week off from unauthorized prowling around Paris.”

My eyes widened further.  “But, Mari,” I said quietly, “that means I won’t be able to visit.  After hours.”  Panicking slightly at the thought of possibly losing my freedom, I offered my own suggestion.  “Maybe – maybe you should try staying transformed longer, and see if---"

“No, kitty,” she said.  “Besides, I don’t have those special features like you do.  And it’s only a week.”

I slouched back in my chair, dejected.  “It’ll be longer for some of us,” I said morosely.

“Maybe not,” she said brightly.  “I might have a plan for that.”

“Of course you do,” I said, then banged my head on the table, slowly.

“That’s not it,” she said, gently running a hand through the back of my hair.  “Look, come over tonight and I run through it with you once I’ve firmed it up a bit.”  She pulled my face up of the Formica.  “Think of it as a science experiment.”

“Lovely,” I mewled.

“And Chat?”

My green eyes snapped to hers, for she rarely called me by that name as a civilian.

“If you think you’re getting out of visiting each night, you’ve got another think coming.”

Chapter Text

Well after I was supposedly sound asleep, I landed on my favorite chimney flue and found Marinette waiting for me.  Unusually, the Bakery’s rooftop patio was shrouded in darkness, save for the faint light filtering up through the skylight.  “Purrincess,” I said as I quickly dropped down to my usual spot on the railing.  “A bit cloak and dagger this evening,” I added, alluding to the fact that I was using my night vision to place her in the space.

I was rewarded with a chuckle and a hug that pulled me off the railing.  “It’s late and I don’t want to attract any additional attention,” she said as she kissed me. 

“Okay,” I said.  “So, what’s your plan?”

“Three-fold,” Marinette said.  “First, my overall mission is to make sure you’re not alone for the next week.  If you have someone around, you’re less likely to want to transform in order to escape to find some company.”

“Uh…” I started, but Marinette was moving into high gear.

“I’ve already spoken with Nino, and loaned him his Miraculous.  He’s going to attempt to sneak over to the mansion tonight.” 

“Princess—”

“Second, Ladybug will visit you at the mansion a few times over the next week, you just have to tell… her… what days would be best.”

My eyes must have gone wide enough that she could see the change in the quasi-florescent glow.  “Milady… are you sure that’s wise?”

“Absolutely, as long as we’re careful,” she said.

“All right,” I nodded, “though I remind you that you’re fulfilling a---”

“Finally,” Marinette said, wisely cutting off my train of thought, “we’re having a slumber weekend here at the Bakery, starting Friday evening and running to Sunday.  You, me, Nino and Alya.” 

“That sounds like fun,” I said, “but I hate to say it – Father isn’t keen on me being out of the mansion longer than necessary.”

“Our backup plan is to have you host us at the mansion,” she said, “but either way, you need to plant the seed, if not with your father, at least with his assistant.”

I nodded; in the past, I’d been able to prevail upon Nathalie to allow Adrien to do things Father would normally not have approved of.  “You have given this a lot of thought.”

Despite the darkness, I could see the twinkle in her eyes.  “Don’t I always?” she asked, stealing a quick kiss.  “Now you’d better be off.  He might be slower than you, but Carapace has a bit of a head start.”

“Of course, Milady,” I said, smiling.  “Then I’ll see Ladybug on Thursday.”

“It’s a date,” she said as I coiled to vault into the night.  “But remember – once you get back to your room, no transformations.”  She paused.  “Got it, kitty?”

“Yes, Milady,” I said, recognizing the Ladybug command tone.  It came out perhaps a bit desultory, causing Marinette to snag my arm before I could leap away.

“Chat, this isn’t permanent.  We’re just collecting some data, remember?”

I frowned.  “The science experiment angle.  Got it,” I said.  “See you tomorrow,” I added as I double-barrel-rolled off her rooftop.

Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely sold on the overall concept, but I trusted Marinette.  I also knew it would be a huge challenge to resist donning the Chat mask unnecessarily over the next few days; having friends close at hand would definitely help there, and I felt myself smile as I closed in on the mansion only to see the bulk that was one of them waiting for me on the roof.

I dropped into a cat-crouch on the tile next to Carapace.  “Hey,” I said, fist pumping my best friend.  “You’re up to speed, then?”

“Yeah.”  Cap looked as concerned as Marinette.  “I also had no idea we could be affected, either.”

“In fairness, I’m Chat far more than you’re Carapace,” I reminded him. 

“True.  Now, I hear there’s a new level on Ultimate Mech...”

Cap followed me into my room, and after we both dropped our transformations, played through three levels of our favorite video game before the early rays of morning peeked through my windows.  Stifling a yawn, Nino apologized.  “I don’t normally sneak away from my room,” he started.  “Any pointers?” he asked as he called for his transformation to become Carapace once more.

“Don’t get caught,” I deadpanned as I helped Carapace up to the window.  It would have been easier with my Chat super-strength.

“Not helpful,” he laughed as he hurled himself into the morning.

I managed to get through the entire day at school and into the early afternoon without incident – or an akuma that would allow me to be Chat within the terms of my agreement with Marinette.  By the time I returned to my bedroom, I was beginning to feel like I was in some sort of rehab program for recovering superheroes and said as much to my kwami.

Plagg started to reply only for both of us to turn at the gentle tapping on my window.  Ladybug had apparently rappelled from the roof and was hanging from her yo-yo, wearing a broad smile.  I hustled over to my couch where the remote for the window was resting and popped the portal open for her; in a graceful movement she swung through and landed easily just beside me.

“Milady,” I gushed.

Arching an eyebrow, she leaned in for a kiss.  “It’s been, what, an hour since I saw you?”

“Longest hour of my life,” I smiled, then cocked my head slightly.  “You might want to hide in the bathroom.  Dinner is on the way.”

She nodded and made a dash for the bathroom, managing to slide the door shut just before Chef popped into my room with the food service trolley.  He nodded at me as he wheeled it to my couch, where I continued to stand innocently.

Raising an eyebrow, Chef said: “Are you certain, Master Adrien, you want two servings?  Your father was pretty adamant--”

“Yeah,” I said, gently hustling him toward the bedroom door.  “Fencing practice left me with quite the appetite.”

“Of course,” he said, not convinced.

As I closed the door on him, I heard the whisper of my partner as she danced across to the food, and turned toward her with a smile.  “Someone is hungry,” I accused when I saw she’d already lifted the silver cover over the entrées.

Ladybug rolled her masked eyes at me.  “Says the Chat who eats me out of Bakery and home.”

“Sorry,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck as I approached her.  I was trying very hard to keep it together, for having Ladybug... in my room... well, let’s just say it was all I had ever wished for.  And the flame on my face had to have been telegraphing it to my partner.

Ladybug sensed my anxiety and carefully guided me through the evening.  We munched on the dinner I’d ordered, played some XBox, and even got a little homework done together, though it was pretty hard to focus on Physics when your girlfriend wears a cute polka-dotted mask.  In a rare moment of introspection, I wondered if Chat had been having the same effect on Marinette all this time, and found myself smiling a very feline smile.

Close to midnight, Ladybug sadly bid me adieu.  I managed to delay her slightly by snagging her before she leapt to the window; as I kissed her, she pulled back and got a crafty smile.  “Let me try something?” she asked.

I nodded, and she reached up and scratched just behind where my feline ear should have been.

My eyes flew wide and then scrunched shut, and for a moment, I could have sworn she was working her magic as she did when I was transformed.  As quickly as she had started, she stopped, and I cracked open an eye accusatorially.  “Totally not fair,” I mewled.

“At least you didn’t start purring,” she laughed.  “But it does tell us that two days isn’t enough.”

I wasn’t entirely sure that I hadn’t, but I let it go.  “Nathalie managed to grant me a weekend pass,” I said, changing the subject.  “I’ll swing over to the Bakery after school—”

“Your driver will drop you off?” she corrected.

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“Good,” she smiled and kissed me one last time.  “Night, Chaton,” she said.

Sleepovers had been pretty rare for me, so I bubbled with excitement the following day at school.  Furtunately it sailed by, and as the last bell was ringing I was already out the door with my bag and halfway toward the locker rooms to transform for my trip to the Bakery.  Marinette, however, was one step ahead of me and had planted herself at the bottom of the staircase.  “Adrien,” she said.

“Hey Princess,” I replied, slightly flushing that she’d caught me.  “Need a lift?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she said as she ran her arm through mine and we walked to my waiting sedan. 

It was a short drive, naturally, and Alya was waiting for us at the entrance to the bakery.  “Nino had to duck home to pick up some extra tunes for tonight,” she explained as we entered.  “He assured me he won’t miss dinner.”

“Good,” Marinette laughed. 

I grabbed my overnight bag and followed Marinette past her parents in the busy Bakery and up to the residence; Nino and I would be sharing the guest room on the floor just below Marinette’s room, where Alya would be staying with her.  Marinette paused at the doorway while Alya continued up with her bags.  “Do we have to go the whole week?” I asked quietly, knowing I was borderline mewling.

“That depends,” Marinette said.  “What have you learned so far?”

That I don’t like not being Chat Noir, I thought.   “Aside from the day I told you about the phantom ears, nothing’s happened since.”  I thought a bit longer.  “If I had to guess, I was really tired that night; maybe it’s easier for me to control the feline ‘extensions’ when I’m fully rested.”

She nodded; apparently, I had passed some sort of test.  “Good.  I was thinking something along the same lines.  Let’s see how the weekend goes.”

Marinette’s mother served us an amazing home-cooked meal, and I tried not to moan too loudly at the plate of passionfruit macaroons she placed in front of me for the dessert finale.  My eyes snapped to Marinette, who smiled and nodded.  I fell upon the unsuspecting prey and tried hard not to leave any survivors.

Nino managed to miss dinner but arrived with his nearly complete DJ kit; we trundled all of it to the roof and chilled out under the stars with hot chocolate and cool toons from my best friend.  Despite not having fought any akumas all week, I was more tired than I thought and nodded off with my back against the brick wall and Marinette’s head leaning on my arm.

I awoke with a start to find Marinette completely snuggled into me against the night chill; Nino and Alya had moved to the far corner themselves and appeared to be watching a movie on her phone beneath a blanket.  The image made me smile, for those two were as purrfect for each other as my own match. 

Marinette stirred slightly and I belatedly realized she was shivering; without really thinking about it, I called for my transformation knowing I’d be able to keep her a bit warmer with the costume.  Once the green glow faded, I wrapped a black-cladded arm around my girlfriend and pulled her in a bit closer; she sighed a bit at the movement and then, somehow, managed to snuggle even closer into my costumed chest, the tip of one pigtail nicking my bell in the process and issuing a melodic tinkle into the night.

I ran my free paw over my head, feeling the feline ears that I knew were now solidly in place, and then looked out across the night, my masked green eyes taking in the dancing lights along the Seine.  I closed them again and deeply inhaled the full scent portfolio of Marinette as only Chat could, appreciating the distinctiveness that reflected how unique she was.  I knew I was breaking the rules we’d established for our little test, but in truth, I was reasonably certain that I’d always have the ears and tail sensation along with my other feline “enhancements” the Cat Miraculous brought to the table.  Now that I better understood what was happening, I accepted that as long I was able to be Chat, they would be part of the gig.

And if it meant being able to spend quality time with Marinette?  I’d suffer happily.

Marinette stirred again; she seemed to sense something, though, and cracked an eye open.  “Chat…?” she whispered.

“Apparently,” I smiled.

She opened the other eye immediately and sat a bit away from me.  “When did you--?”

“You were shivering,” I shrugged.  “I didn’t want to move you, so this was easier.”

Marinette smiled.  “Any excuse,” she said softly as she reached up to run that finger of hers along my mask.

“Yes,” I said honestly.  “But it’s fine,” I added and then frowned.  “This doesn’t mean you want to re-start the week, though, does it?  I’m not sure—”

She put a finger on my lips.  “I think we know what we need to know,” she replied.  “But seriously, you probably need to cut back just a tiny bit.  Think of poor Plagg.”

I arched a masked eyebrow.  “Half the time he’s the one encouraging me,” I pointed out.

“Ah,” Marinette said.  “Well,” she continued.  “You’ve been warned.  It’s not my fault if whiskers appear on that nice face of yours…”

My eyes must have boggled.  “Wha--?!”

Smiling wickedly, Marinette slid her head back onto my chest.  “Just sayn’,” she chuckled softly.

Sighing as I leaned my head against the brick, I ran a claw through her hair and hoped that would never happen.  But if it did… I decided it would still be worth it for moments like this.

Chapter Text

I may have mentioned a little earlier that once we’d hit our stride as the Chat-and-Marinette couple, I’d become a frequent visitor at the Bakery in my heroic alter-ego.  Sabine and Tom had welcomed me as if it were completely ordinary that any of Marinette’s friends (let alone her boyfriend) would show up at all hours dressed in black leather, domino mask, feline ears and a matching tail.  I had to admit, I loved them all the more for the way it made me feel like I was just, quite simply, family to them.

As much as I enjoyed hanging out with Marinette, quite a few of my visits were purpose driven.  Usually we were collaborating on a school project (though I was careful not to bring anything that might tip my hand and identify my civilian alter-ego to her parents), but more often than not, we were just doing mundane homework in the company of our significant other.

Even if one of us was fully costumed.

On nights such as this particular one, I would generally transform after dinner at the mansion and escape with my school materials slung across my back, stashing them in a hidden cubbyhole on our rendezvous rooftop while I waited for Ladybug to appear for patrol.  If patrol went uneventfully, which was never a given, I’d double back to retrieve my bookbag and then drop in on Marinette at the Bakery for a few hours of feline downtime.  I’d become quite adept at burning the candle at both ends, though it might have helped having ready access to Tom’s special coffee brew.

Patrol had been quiet that evening, with only poor Monsieur Ramier and his seeming obsession over saving the rats of Paris.  Much like his earlier concern for the pigeons of our fair city, we’d come to expect him to be akumatized a few times each month, and it never took more than a handful of minutes to restore him to his normal self.  In fact, we’d gotten so good at helping him, we hardly ever had to use our super-powers anymore to defeat him.

I was laying on my stomach, boots in the air, tapping my stylus on the side of my tablet.  Marinette had put out the black blanket the she’d embroidered with my cat paw logo fringe for me, and she was sitting in her chaise, sketchbook open.  Her tablet had been set aside and as I tried to puzzle out the final part of the physics problem I was working through, I realized she’d never actually picked up her tablet when we’d returned from our rounds of Paris.

Putting down my stylus, I gazed at her beautiful face and watched as she concentrated on the design that she was working through.  While one hand was gripping the sketchbook, the other had a standard charcoal pencil and was shushing across the page in deliberate fashion.  I was entranced by the way her eyes darted from spot to spot on the page, her hand frantically keeping pace with her thoughts; every now and again, she’d hold her tongue just so at the side of her mouth as she committed a particular embellishment to posterity.

My feline ears easily picked up the strength and passion of the strokes, and I could tell from her elevated heartrate that she was most definitely in the zone.  I also knew that for purrposes of self-preservation not to interrupt her until she put the charcoal down.  Tonight’s fugue seemed especially inspired, though, and as the evening wore on and, inevitably grew later, I worried I might have to depart without getting a goodnight kiss.

Midnight came and went, and still she furiously went at whatever she was drawing.  I quietly put away my books and tablet, then folded myself into a cat-ball, eyes firmly pointed in her direction.   Wisely, I set the baton for a two o’clock wake-up call in case I nodded off, which is exactly what I did.  The subtle yet exotic swishing of the charcoal lulled me into a state of somnambulance; when I awoke with a start to the insistent buzzing of the baton, I found my princess had similarly made way for the sandman.

Stretching quietly, I moved to her side at the chair and carefully whisked my blanked over her, after first removing the sketchbook from her hand and placing it on her side table.  The charcoal she’d been using had slipped from her relaxed hand, and I had to squeeze below the chaise to retrieve it from where it had rolled.  It wasn’t an especially cold night for early autumn, but I carefully tucked the blanket in and around her just to ensure she stayed toasty.

As I slipped my backpack over a shoulder, my masked eyes fell upon the sketchbook.  Being a cat meant I had all of the insatiable curiosity that implied, and I wanted in the worst possible way to take a peek at what Marinette had been working on.  Even though she was sound asleep, and even though I had the stealth ability of black cat, I knew it wouldn’t be prudent to even take a stray sniff of the notebook.  Somehow, she would know I had peeked, and there would be a cost to the activity I did not want to pay.

Instead, I leaned down and gently kissed her forehead, and quietly promised to return the following evening.  She stirred, and for a moment I thought she would awaken; I waited, masked eyes watching her angelic face as she sighed gently and rolled slightly to her side.  Smiling, I skulked quietly to the railing and leapt over with little more than a rubber squeak, waiting to helicopter until I was far enough away that it wouldn’t waken my princess.

After getting a few hours rest, I caught up with a very tired looking Marinette after first period.  “Barely made the bell, Mari,” I said quietly as we packed up our bags to change rooms.  “One might think you were out all night carousing with a cat.”

Her eyes shot to mine and then darted around the classroom to see if anyone had heard me, then relaxed a bit; even Alya was out of earshot for once.  “I overslept again,” she smiled tiredly.   “What time did you leave?”

“A little after two.”  I fell into step beside her as she came down the classroom steps and we headed toward the door. “Lunch plans?”

“Yeah,” she frowned, “I’m supposed to have lunch with Alya but I’d like to get out of it if I can.  I’m nearly done with the sketch I was working on last night.”

“Gotcha covered,” I smiled as I pushed through the door and trotted away from her.

“CH—Adrien!” I heard her call after me, but I was already rounding the bottom of the steps to catch up to our friend. 

I found Alya chatting with Nino outside the science lab.  “Hey,” I said slyly, “want some new content for the blog?”

Her brown hair whipped around behind her as she locked her eyes on mine.  “When and where?” she asked, immediately understanding my context.

“The park.  By the fountain?  A little after noon.”  I winked.  “I should grab something to eat first.”

“I’m supposed to have lunch with Marinette,” she said, “but she’ll understand.  Don’t be late,” she added as we all continued onward toward our next period.

We broke for lunch on time, and I grabbed Marinette to let her know I’d cleared her calendar.  I narrowly avoided the bop on the head for my troubles, after which she extracted a promise that I not be too over the top.  “And I’m cancelling patrol tonight,” she whispered quietly.  “Come straight to the Bakery after dinner.”

I smiled and, nearly forgetting myself, tried to snag a kiss before she swatted at me again.  “Kitty,” she smiled.  “People will talk.”

“Isn’t that the point?” I asked.  “Gotta scat!” I added as I dashed from the room.

A few minutes later, I landed on one of the rooftops overlooking the park as Chat Noir.  Holding my baton in one paw, I gripped the edge of the wrought iron decoration I’d perched on with the other as I scanned for Alya.  As I expected, a small crowd had gathered around the fountain, centering on Alya; I’d seen her post from that morning hinting that a superhero might be in the park at noon and knew it would gather some attention.

Deciding to make an entrance, I leapt up into the blue sky and did a classic double barrel role into a pike-and-tumble, landing in my classic crouch just beside a smiling Alya.  “Hello,” I said with a smile.  “I saw the crowd and thought I’d make sure everything was okay.”

Already holding her phone out and snapping photos, Alya rolled her eyes.  “Of course you did, Chat,” she laughed.

I partially extended my baton and placed it behind my neck, then casually draped my paws over the ends.  Consciously or not, I found myself posing much as I would on a catwalk for a crowd; in this case, though, I spent a rather enjoyable hour taking selfies, signing autographs and just generally talking with Parisians.  Alya documented the whole thing and was wearing a self-satisfied smile as it wound down. 

“That will get me a ton of traffic,” she said as she slipped her phone back into her jeans.  “Thanks.”

“My pawleasure,” I smiled back at her as I pulled my baton back out and started into the sky.  “Catch you later,” I tossed back at her, smiling widely as she groaned.

Safely back at my desk with a few minutes to spare before the bell, I caught Alya’s eye as she entered the classroom and winked at her, only to notice that she was wearing a worried expression.  “What’s wrong?” I asked as she made a direct line to my seat.

“Have you talked to Marinette?”

“Not since before lunch,” I said as I pulled out my civilian phone.  “I don’t have any messages.” I looked up and saw concern etched over my friend’s face. “I’ll call—"

“I already tried,” Alya said.  “It’s going straight to voicemail.”

That set alarms off.  Marinette was never far from her phone, and rarely didn’t answer; it was just who she was.  And the times she didn’t answer?  She was Ladybug, out saving the world.

“I’ve gotta go,” I said urgently as I hurriedly stuffed all of my books back into the bag I’d just taken them out of. 

Alya leaned closer, eyes widening.  “Adrien – what are you doing?”

Looking around to ensure we weren’t being overheard, I whispered: “I’m feline uneasy about this.  I’ve got to find her and set my mind at ease.”  Glancing to the front I could see our teacher hadn’t arrived yet; I turned back to Alya as I slid my bag over my shoulder.  “Cover for me?” I asked quietly.

“You’ve got it,” she said, then placed a hand on my arm.  “It may be nothing,” she said.

Arching an eyebrow, I replied: “Given who we are, I highly doubt it,” I said.  “I’ll ping you when I find her.”

“Or if you need help,” she added.

“I’m not the one who can—”

“I can still help as a civilian,” she reminded me.

“Right,” I smiled.   And then I was out the door and down to the men’s locker room, hiding in plain sight as students hurried to class.  Locking myself in a stall, I impatiently waited for the space to clear before calling on Plagg and transforming into Chat Noir.  The green glow was still an echo in my vision when I leapt out of the stall and across to the open window, grabbing the sill to launch myself toward the roof.  I scampered toward the edge and skidded to a rubbery stop as I slid the baton open to phone mode.

Marinette still didn’t answer; covering all of my bases, I clicked over to GPS mode and confirmed that she wasn’t running around as Ladybug without me.  Now I was starting to get worried.

There were only a few places in the city that Marinette would decamp to for sketching, and knowing she’d likely not return to the Bakery over lunch (since she was there each evening anyway) eliminated that option immediately.  I hurled myself off into the sunshine and headed for favorite spot number two, a little nook at Trocadero facing the Eiffel Tower that she claimed had the right kind of light at noontime.

Unsure what to expect, I dropped down to the granite in my pounce-crouch, baton at the ready.  In short order, my feline sense of smell picked up faint traces of Marinette, and I followed the trail to her usual spot. 

Trying not to panic, I found her bag of art supplies upended, with pencils and ink scattered all over the granite; the bag itself was flapping in the gentle breeze where it had come to rest on the edge of the wall above me.  Wads of paper were here and there – somewhat normal when she was working – but the sketchbook itself was missing.

As was Marinette.

This is not good, I thought.  But I don’t see signs of an akuma?  Clearly, though, someone has taken her.

I slowly circled the space, collecting the stray supplies while scanning every square meter for clues.  It wasn’t until I leapt up to grab her bag from edge of the wall that one fell into a paw, literally.

Having jostled the bag slightly, her phone fell out of an outside pocket, and I grabbed it in midair before it crashed to the ground.  Dropping the bag, I flipped the phone over and saw it was unlocked… and recording audio.

Good thinking, Marinette.

I quickly tapped it with a claw tip and stopped the recording, then rewound it to the beginning.

“Nathaniel,” I heard Marinette say.  “I don’t know what—”

“I’m not Nathaniel!” roared the voice of my classmate.  “I am Evilstrator.  And I’ve had it with you ignoring me for that… cat!”

“Nathaniel---”

“I said my name was Evilstrator!”

“Right, well, Evilstrator, I’m actually dating that cat.  You know that; you’ve seen us!”

“What does he offer that I can’t give you?  I can draw you my love!  Can he do that?”

“I’m sorry, Nathaniel.  My heart is already spoken for.  I’m sure there’s someone for—”

“Get away from that wall!”

“Hey!” I heard sounds of a scuffle and the items as they fell out of her bag.  “Let me go!”

“He can’t love you like I can.  I’m taking you away from here.”

“Take me?  Where?”

There was a rather evil laugh that made my fur crawl as Nathanial replied: “Some place he’ll be drawn to.  A place where I can take care of him once and for all, so we can be together.  Forever.”

“Wait---!”

There was another scuffle, and I could hear the bag as it was tossed into the air; concentrating intensely, I thought I could hear Marinette yelling something as she was presumably carried off, but replaying that final section on the highest volume was too quiet to hear even with my superior feline abilities.

Setting her bag into a safe nook, I slid her phone into my costume pocket and stood in the plaza for a moment, masked eyes closed.  Going after her was a forgone conclusion, as was the notion that Evilstrator would be expecting me and have planned accordingly.  But my options were seriously limited. 

Or were they?

I pulled Marinette’s phone back out, and scrolled through her contacts; to my surprise, she had an entry that said, simply, Turtle.  Taking a chance, I dialed the number.

Master Fu’s face appeared on the small screen.  “Chat Noir,” he said simply.  “I will assume it’s serious if you are contacting me with Marinette’s phone.”

“I really should add you to my baton,” I laughed, despite the situation.  “Marinette has been taken, I think by an akumatized Nathaniel.  He seems to be Evilstrator again.”

“Indeed.  Hawkmoth appears to be repeating himself.”  He paused.  “You need reinforcements,” he stated.

“Yes.”  I took an exploratory sniff.  “I think I have her scent trail, but it’s fading fast.  Can you do the honors?”

“Who do you want?”

“Rena and Carapace, please.”

“I’ll have them contact you once they are transformed.”  He paused again.  “Be careful, Chat.  Nathaniel is likely to be stronger this time around.”

“I’m a bit wiser myself, Master,” I replied, “but I will be more prudent.”

“Good,” he nodded before ending the call.

Sliding the phone back into my costume pocket, I triangulated the scent trail once again.

I’m coming, Princess, I said to the wind as I leapt up into the sky.  And heavens help him for taking you.

Chapter Text

Master Fu made short work of getting the Miraculous to Rena and Carapace; it helped that Nino and Alya were practically joined at the hip these days, so finding one meant the other was near at hand.  The duo met up with me on the rooftop of Hotel Jardin des Plantes; while I would have actually preferred a perch inside the park – say, atop the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle – the scent trail I’d been following had been subsumed beneath the overwhelming floral notes from the garden proper.  It wasn’t much of a stretch to realize Evilstrator had picked this spot for that reason; I counted it as a plus in my ledger that I had thought of it myself.

I was crouched on the slanted tile, the early afternoon sunshine casting a slight feline shadow in front of me.  Cap (who was getting much better at landings) dropped into a three-point stance next to me, and Rena stood just behind him, hand on his shell.  “Where is she?” Rena asked.

“Trail ended a few meters in that direction,” I said, using a claw to point toward the main entrance to the park.  “I can’t detect her specific scent any longer,” I added, frowning.  “There are too many blossoming beauties in the garden at the moment.”

“Clever,” Carapace said.  “Anyone else think he’s getting tips this time around?”

“That’s a given,” I said, my frown deepening and my ears flattening in anger.  “She has always been worried what could happen if Hawkmoth ever found who the people we love were.  I should have followed her Superhero Golden Rule and---ow!” I exclaimed.

Swiftly turning to Rena and rubbing between my feline ears, I arched a masked eyebrow as she tapped her flute in her own paw.  “What was that for?” I mewled, for she’d managed to nail me with her flute where Ladybug’s yo-yo normally hit.

That is to stop the pity party,” Rena laughed.  “Can you honestly say you would have preferred your life before you fell for Marinette?”

“That’s not what—”

She bopped me again.

“No,” I quickly answered, grimacing slightly as I rubbed again with a paw.

“Then enough already.  Let’s go get her.  In case you’d forgotten, we have that midterm exam in sixth period that I think we’d all like to take.  Today.”

The color drained from my face. “I had forgotten,” I replied, then smiled ruefully.  “We must be the only superheroes in the universe that fight villains while trying to keep our GPAs intact.”

Cap laughed.  “I hear Spider-Man is actually a student, too,” he offered.

“Well,” I said as I pulled my baton out, “if we ever run into him, we can swap tips on how to keep up with our schoolwork while saving the world.”

“You think we can?” Rena asked excitedly.  “I’d love to get his autograph for my collection.”

I smiled wider.  “Who knows.  But if I ever have a photo shoot in New York, I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that,” Rena said.  “So, Chat, what’s the plan?”

Tapping my baton in my paw, I pondered for a moment.  “Evilstrator is capable of creating whatever environment he desires – or affecting the environment he’s currently in.”  My masked eyes looked to Cap and then Rena.  “He drew a box around me that trapped Marinette and I on a sinking ship; we narrowly got out of that one.  Later, he literally erased the floor I was standing on.”

Rena’s eyes popped wider.  “That’s quite a trick.”

“And a dangerous one,” I nodded.  “As much as I want to storm the garden and lay waste to everything, I’m pretty sure we’re going to need to be more tactical about this.”

“LB has rubbed off on you,” Cap said.

“That she has,” I agreed.  “I did a quick circuit of the park before the two of you arrived, and I found this in the middle of the garden’s esplanade.”  Popping open the baton, I showed them the photo I’d snapped.

Carapace whistled.  “That is straight out of a storybook,” he said.

“Or a movie,” Rena corrected.  “Isn’t that Sleeping Beauty Castle?”

“It is,” I said.  “Which troubles me a bit.  You might remember there was a dragon in that story.”

“A green-fire-breathing one,” Carapace whistled again.  “We’re really going to be rescuing a Princess, aren’t we?”

“Appears so,” I smiled.  “Fortunately, I know someone who can protect us as we get close to the castle.”  I swapped modes on the phone and brought up the street maps.  “I’m making some key assumptions – please feel free to object to them – but here they are.  I believe Marinette is in the Castle, and likely in the tallest spire if he keeps to the true fairy tale trope.  I also presume he expects me to rush straight in, alone; I think I can use that to distract him while the two of you take up positions here and here,” I said, pointing a claw tip to two locations on the map.

“The longer he goes without seeing you, though, the less likely he’s gonna buy that,” Rena observed.

“True.”  I tapped a claw on the baton.  “Which made me think of an alternate plan that leans a bit more into my black cat toolkit.”  I shifted the map slightly.  “This is the nearest access point to the Parisian catacombs,” I smiled. 

“That’s---” Carapace started.

“Inside the castle, now, yes,” I smiled wider.  “But it also seems just a bit too conveniently placed for me.”

Rena nodded.  “But this one isn’t,” she said, pointing to another access point that appeared within the botanical forest that was off to one side of where the castle now stood.

“Exactly,” I smiled.

Rena looked at me with an appreciative smile.  “You are getting good at this.”

“I have a great mentor,” I said.  “In addition to being my diversion though, I have one other part of this plan you two would be well suited for, if you are game…”

Not long after, we parted ways but not before each of us inserted our earwigs and ensured we had a good connection.  Scampering down the sidewalk, I quickly located a nondescript wrought iron door set into the side of the wall; using my baton, I smashed the lock and quickly pulled the door open to slip into the damp darkness beyond.  My night vision kicked in immediately, though in truth I wish it hadn’t.  Using the baton in night mode, I was charting a path through some of the older crypts in Paris, and the stray skull or thigh bone I saw as I moved my way beneath the city was a little unsettling.

“Distraction commencing,” Carapace said.  “And, wow, here comes the dragon.”

“Be careful, guys,” I said as I worked my way between two caskets that had fallen against each other and were blocking the passageway.  “I’m about halfway there.”

“Dear Lord,” Rena said.  “That is one big, ugly looking dragon,” she said.  “It’s going after Cap!”

I stopped.  “I’m coming back to you,” I said as I turned.

“No, we’ve got this,” Carapace said.  “Believe it or not, I’m actually faster than this thing.  And that’s saying something.”

“Ok…” I said, not really convinced, and returned to my original path.

My baton continued to lead me on, chirping to indicate how close I was getting to the exit.  I snapped it closed when it became one constant chord singing out at the base of a winding stone staircase that rose up and out of the gloom.  “I’m in position,” I said over the comm unit.

“Good,” I heard Cap say.  From how hard he was breathing, I could tell he was running out of steam.

“Use Shell-ter if you need to,” I said as I started up the steps two at a time. 

“Not… yet…” Carapace said.  “Rena’s almost ready…”

Wondering what the fox superhero had up her sleeve, I kept climbing, and found myself behind a locked wrought iron gate; just beyond were the tall trees of the botanical garden, and even further was the backend of Sleeping Beauty Castle.  Extending the baton into a staff, I used it to lever one side of the gate off its hinges and then dashed to the edge of the forest, where I crouched in the shadows.  “Guys?”

“Mirage has been cast,” Rena said.  “Cap and I are moving to position gamma.”

“Roger,” I said, slipping into our shorthand.  “Heading for the sky myself.”

I waited another moment and then sprang to the side of the castle, managing to vault over the impressive moat Evilstrator had dug.  My claws sank into the soft stone, and I used them to vault higher, then higher, heading toward the tower that I was furrvently hoping housed Marinette.  “Nearly at the bird cage,” I said over the comm.  “In position?”

“Not… quite…” Rena said.  “Ten seconds.”

I leapt up to the ledge just below the wide window, and hung by a paw, silently counting down.  Then, with a bit of flourish, I flipped up and over the ledge, and sailed in through the window, landing a meter or so inside the tower room in my pounce-crouch.  “I’m in,” I said.

The space looked like it was straight out of a cartoon; there was a brick fireplace, lit and dancing with green flames in one corner, with a spinning needle sitting beside it.  A four-poster bed was opposite, and my masked eyes widened when I saw Marinette on top of it, hands folded and eyes closed.  I fought back the impulse to dash over to the bed, knowing that was the response that had been counted on. 

Instead, I pressed myself back into the wall.  “She’s not here,” I whispered, eyes scanning the space and landing on the hanging tapestry in the other corner.  “But I think I know where I’ll find her.”

“How could you be wrong about that?” Carapace said. 

“He’s still playing on emotions,” I said as I carefully skulked across the floor.  “He knows I call her Princess and treat her as such, and would logically expect her to be locked away just like a fairy tale maiden.  But the fact he’s not here tells me your diversion is working.”  I reached a paw up and tore down the tapestry, revealing another stairwell rising higher.  “Gotcha,” I snarled as I started up the winding steps.

“Be careful, Chat,” Rena said.  “We’re close if you need us.”

“I will,” I said as I rounded the final turn and started to pick up the familiar scent notes of Marinette.  “And I will need you, so be ready.  I may not be able to tell you when.”

“Okay,” Rena said.  “And I’m on the clock, too.”

“No pressure,” I laughed quietly. 

I reached a paw to the handle of the door, but before I could turn it, it was erased in a few easy strokes.  Knowing what this meant, I leapt through it and randomly sideways, hoping I’d chosen wisely.  Rolling out into my crouch, I found Evilstrator in the center of the room, atop a pedestal, holding his iPad and glaring at me.  Marinette was beside him on her own pedestal.  I’d given up trying to comprehend how the space was five times the size it should rightly be.

My masked eyes locked with Marinette’s, which were slightly unfocused.  Looking slightly down, I realized she was in more jeopardy than I realized; her pedestal was slowly sinking into a bubbling concoction of some sort.  “This is… creative,” I said, my attention returning to Evilstrator.  “But if you love her the way you say you do, I can’t believe you’d actually harm her.”

“I can, and I will – unless you give me your ring,” he said, and then he quickly sketched something on his pad.

Knowing that was probably bad, I decided moving was a good option.  I leapt away from where I’d been crouched and hit the side of the pedestal he was on; a fraction of a moment later, the floor beneath where I’d been vanished and became the same bubbling stew.  “You tried that trick before,” I laughed, trying to seem like I was doing anything other than melting down inside.  Scrabbling around, I vaulted to the cylinder holding up Marinette and started to climb up.  “Once burned, twice shy.”

“I did this one too,” he cackled.

Leaping sideways, I narrowly avoided the ball and chain he’d tried to draw on my ankle.  Bouncing from side to side in the room, I managed to keep three more off of me before he started to swear.  “Stay still for one second!” he cried out, furiously sketching.

“Not likely,” I laughed again.  This time I used the baton to spring away and nabbed one of the massive wooden crossbeams in the ceiling with a paw.  “Guys,” I said over the comm, “please tell me you’re where I think you are.”

“Nearly,” Carapace said.  “Rena’s running short on time, too.”

“I know,” I said, flipping to another beam and then perched looking down. 

I closed my eyes for a moment to brace myself, for this was the trickiest part of my plan.  “This seems pointless, Nathaniel,” I said calmly.  “Let’s just call it a day, shall we?  I don’t know about you---ooof!”

Pretty much as I expected, a cartoonishly oversized boxing glove nailed me from behind, knocking me off the wooden crossbeam and down toward the floor.  Evilstrator had cleverly drawn in a small iron cell into which I tumbled; landing on the stone, I tried to leap out before he drew in the top, but smashed my feline head into it and fell back to the stone.

“Caged kitty,” I said over the comm.  “Please tell me you have the package.”

“Yes,” came a welcome new voice.

I smiled, my masked eyes turning back toward the Marinette looking down on me.  “Good,” I said.  Then, louder, “All right, you’ve got me.  Now what?”

“You… don’t seem surprised?” Evilstrator said as he came down the staircase as he drew it.  The M.C. Escherness of the effect wasn’t lost on me.  I was doubly impressed that he could sketch and glare at me simultaneously.

“No,” I said, grinning.  “Why?  Should I be?”

“Yes,” he said.  “I outfoxed you.”

“Not from where I’m sitting,” I said, continuing with the grin.

“I’m not the one in the cage,” he sneered as he finally stepped off the last step and moved to the bars that separated me from freedom.

“But what’s to stop me from Cataclysming my way out of this cage?”

“This,” he said, and in a flurry of motion, a significant part of the pedestal holding Marinette disappeared, lowering her very quickly toward the bubbling pit of doom.  She shrieked as she plunged.

“Now that I have your attention,” Evilstrator said, “give me your ring.”

“All right, all right,” I said, waving my paws.  “But I can’t reach my paw between these bars,” I said, frowning. 

“Got it covered,” Evilstrator said, and he quickly went to work on the tablet, creating a rectangular slot in the bars just wide enough for me to slip my arm through.

Moving forward and making like I was sliding the ring off my finger, I tried to look defeated.  “Incidentally, what has Hawkmoth promised you?” I asked.

“Not that it’s any of your concern, but I suppose since you won’t be around to see it, I’ll tell you.”  He leaned closer to the cage.  “I get to keep Marinette.  Forever.  I win.  You lose.”

I shook my mane.  “Furrever,” I sighed.

Nonplussed he started.  “What?”

“The word you meant.  ‘Furrever’ is what you should have said.”

“I’m not a cat!” he cried.  “And I especially don’t do terrible puns.”

“Right on both counts,” I said.  “You might want to stand back.”

“Sorry?” he said.

“Stand back?” I said again.  “Otherwise….”

“What are you talking about?” he glared.  “Look, just give me your ring so we can—”

In that instant, a series of crashes issued around us, and one by one, the lighting sources Evilstrator had carefully placed went out, plunging the space into darkness.  Caught off-guard, Evilstrator turned and started to re-draw the sconces on his tablet, only to have a very particular yo-yo knock the stylus out of his hand… and directly into my waiting paw.

“Thank you, Milady,” I said.  I could clearly see Ladybug with my night vision where she’d been hiding. “Your timing, as always, is impeccable.”

“I try,” she laughed.     

“Ladybug?” Evilstrator said.  “Where did you come from?”

“I had some help,” she admitted.  “But a girl has to have some secrets.”

“Milady,” I said pointedly.  “Marinette---”

“Is fine.  Rena and Cap found the actual Marinette in the throne room, all alone on a gilded throne.” She paused.  “I thought the tiara was a nice touch, though.”

I arched a masked eyebrow.  “Really,” I said, with nuance only she would pick up.

“Some might even say it was appropriate,” she added, her blue eyes dancing with merriment before looking up at the doppelgänger Evilstrator had drawn atop the pedestal.  “These are pretty good,” she added, “but not the same as the real thing.”

“No!” Evilstrator yelled. 

In his fury, he made to reach through the opening, an I had to take a step back to avoid his grasping glove.  For once, I was glad to be behind bars.  “Cataclysm!” I cried before brushing my fingertips across the stylus, releasing the purple butterfly that Ladybug was somehow able to get even though it was inside the cage with me.

One Miraculous Ladybug later, a perplexed Nathaniel was standing in the middle of the park with Ladybug and I, completely unsure of why he was there.  Though once he saw the two of us fully, he put it together pretty fast.

“Oh my God,” he said, aghast.  “I did it again.  I’m so sorry, Chat, Ladybug; I know why this happened.”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I’d be the first one to admit how lucky I am to be dating Marinette.  Unfortunately, Hawkmoth knew how he could twist that to make your angst useful to him.”

“Is she all right?” he asked, searching for her in the crowd. 

“Fine,” Ladybug said.  “Carapace and Rena took her home.”

We parted ways with our schoolmate and took off into the Parisian sky; by unspoken agreement, we headed toward Trocadero so she could retrieve her things.  We found the plaza fairly deserted in the midafternoon sun, so our arrival was unnoticed, allowing us a moment of privacy.  I used it immediately to back her up against the wall and draw her into a massive embrace.  “That was not fun,” I said after kissing her deeply.  “Let’s not do that again.”

“I dunno,” she smiled as she detached herself from me to gather her bag.  “I kind of like the idea of my Knight in Black riding to my rescue.  Even if I did have to free myself.”

“Now wait just a minute!” I said in mock anger.  “If I’d not distracted him—”

She pressed a gloved hand to my lips.  “He would never have left the real Marinette alone long enough to allow me to transform.  And I knew you’d figure out he’d drawn multiple versions of me to try and distract you.”

“That was pretty clever on his part,” I agreed.  “In the end, I couldn’t decide if you’d be in the tower or in the throne room.  I guessed wrong.”

“But you sent Rena and Cap to the other possibility,” she reminded me.  “You covered your bases.  I am very proud of you, kitty.”

I smiled.  “I’ve had a good teacher.”

“Yes,” she agreed before frowning.  “Now we need to step on it to get back in time for that midterm.”

My masked eyes danced with the merriment I felt.  “Last Miraculous Holder to Dupont has to make passionfruit macaroons,” I said before vaulting into the sky.

“Hey!” Ladybug cried out behind me.  “You know I can’t go as fast with a backpack!”

“I do,” I laughed as I helicoptered away from her.

Chapter Text

Somewhat ironically, Marinette still needed to complete the design she’d been working on when Nathaniel had interrupted her plans.  Once we were safely back behind our desks at school, I could feel the tension flowing downstream from her desk – it was palpable enough that I risked breaking a school rule to pop into the instant messenger system on my tablet.

Adrien: You still want to finish your sketch?

It took a few moments but then her response popped up.

Princess: I do.  Why do you ask?

Adrien: Your feet are tapping out Stayin’ Alive which generally means you want to be somewhere else.  ;-)

Princess: Ooop!  Sorry.  Yeah, I was going to head back to Trocadero after school.  Wanna go with?

Adrien: I have Fencing.

Princess: That’s not stopped you before.

Adrien: As you wish, Milady…

Smiling, I returned my attention to the lecture, but found it hard to keep my thoughts focused on the particular way our teacher was going over derivatives.  It was far more interesting plotting out how I’d escape from Fencing.  Marinette was right, I had managed to both be at Fencing and use it as cover to transform and deal with an akuma without being missed.  I’d rarely used it as a way to make time for a personal activity Father would frown on, so I needed to think through it a bit more carefully.

By the time Gorilla dropped me at Fencing with my gear, I’d pre-cleared with Nathalie that I’d be hanging with friends searching for Andre and his ice cream cart after practice.  That gave me the necessary wiggle room – allowing me to discretely disappear when the moment was right during practice, then return home on my own later.

My moment came about two-thirds of the way through practice; our instructor had broken us into smaller groups to practice a particular set of parrying, but there were an odd number of students in attendance that afternoon.  Graciously, I stepped back to allow everyone a partner, and then stepped further back into the shadows of the locker room where I was able to transform into Chat Noir uninterrupted.  Mere moments later, I was out the window and headed into the late afternoon sunshine; the only nod to the irregularity of my actions was the athletic bag I had slung over my costume shoulder.  It took a few rooftops before I correctly accounted for how its movements affected my trajectory, reminding me yet again why I tended not to tote anything when transformed.

I found Marinette right back in the spot that Nathaniel had kidnapped her from not five hours earlier.  Landing in a crouch just behind her, I moved to her side and peered around her shoulder, my blond bangs falling across my face as I leaned over.  “Hey, Princess,” I said.  “How’s it going?”

“Chat,” she said, turned toward me with a smile while flipping the cover closed on her sketchbook.  “I was starting to think you weren’t coming.”

“I had to pick my moment,” I said, folding into my patient cat-stance next to her.  “The good news is, we can go for Andre’s ice cream later.”

“Really?” she said eyes widening with excitement.  “How’d you manage that?”

“I told Nathalie I was going with friends to find him,” I said as I shrugged, sliding my bag off my shoulder in the process.  “Which is true, save for the fact it’s just you.”  I laughed a bit, hard enough my bell jingled.  “We’ll have to use your phone to find Andre, though.  I’ve yet to figure out how to download apps on my baton.”

Marinette smiled.  “No problem.  Now, if you please, a little space?”

“What?” I purred, intentionally leaning into her.  “I thought you wanted your muse with you.”

“I do,” she laughed, batting me away.  “But you’re on my sketching arm.”

“Ah,” I said, still purring as I pulled back.  “How’s this.”

“Purrfect,” she said as she bent back toward her sketch.

Much as before, I was entranced by her movements, and slid around so I could face her.  Also cognizant that I had a paper due in a few days on Napoléon’s exile to St. Helena, I reluctantly pulled my tablet out of the bag and set about picking up the thread I’d started in the library earlier that day.  I looked up every so often as I wrote or flipped between primary sources for my research, amazed every single time at how thoroughly Marinette threw herself into her work.  I’d still not seen what she was working on, and I had to admit, my feline urge to find out was starting to win.

Keeping one feline ear tuned to the swishing of her pencil across the page, I managed to add the final pages I needed to my paper, leaving me with just the conclusion section and the bibliography.  I was really starting to get the hang of typing with claws.  Looking up, I saw the sun had moved into the Golden Hour of the day, extending long filaments of warm light across everything.  I also knew that meant Andre would have started his rounds for the evening.  I started to say something to Marinette when my stomach instead issued a loud rumble.

She turned and saw my sheepish grin.  “In my defense, it is dinner time,” I said.

Looking at her phone, Marinette smiled.  “So it is.  And it looks like dessert first – Andre is under the Tower tonight.”

My masked green eyes turned toward the landmark; squinting, even with superior feline vision, I wasn’t sure I could see him.  There was a glint of metal, so maybe.  “Works for me,” I replied as I packed up my tablet and slung the bag back over my costumed shoulder as I stood.  “Might I escort Milady to her repast?” I asked, extending my paw as I bowed.

“That never gets old.”  Giggling, Marinette stood up, taking my paw.  “Yes, as soon as I pack up my supplies.”

I set us down in the broad esplanade beneath the tower as the last rays of light dissipated.  Releasing Marinette from my arm, I shortened my baton to slide it back into storage as we joined the queue that had formed in front of Andre’s jaunty little cart.  I could tell from the furtive glances that we were an unexpected couple, but our fellow Parisians apparently decided that superheroes could have date night, too, and gave us a respectful space.  Marinette’s hand firmly in my paw, we finally reached Andre who immediately came around and pulled the two of us into one of his signature bear hugs.

“My favorite couple in all of Paris!” he cried. 

“Andre, that can’t be true,” I said, smiling as he released us and hurried back to his wagon.

“Oh, but it is my dear black cat.  Here, let me get the usual for you…”

In short order, I had a cone that (I felt) evoked Ladybug perfectly, while Marinette had her frozen version of Adrien.  Technically, we were interchangeable with our alter-egos, but it was always fun to think of the treats in the way we had originally seen them.  Scooping a little from my cone, I walked arm-in-arm with Marinette toward some benches where we could sit for a bit to enjoy our pre-dinner dessert.

Settling in on the bench, I tried to ignore the smartphones that were recording our movements.  I wasn’t sure, but it felt like there were more than normal.  “Well, here is to the end of a very, very long day,” I said, scooping another big portion of chocolate into my mouth.

“Hear!  Hear!” she laughed, smiling at me with that brilliant grin that often reached her eyes, too.  Leaning into my arm, she added: “It wasn’t exactly the worst thing running around a fairytale castle today.  Or being rescued by my handsome knight.  Odd, but not the oddest thing we’ve done.”

“Quite true.”

The whirring of smartphones caught my feline ears again, and I looked up; the crowd had grown, and to my surprise, we seemed to be surrounded by people taking our photo.  I was used to fans wanting to snap a photo or video of me – both as Adrien and as Chat -- but this was unsettling even by my standards.  “Mari,” I breathed.

Turning away from her ice cream, Marinette looked in the direction I’d indicated.  “We seem to have attracted some attention,” she observed.

“That appears to be an understatement.”  Now fully on alert, I shifted slightly and frowned.  “They’re behind us, too.”

“Look at their eyes,” Marinette said urgently.

Scanning the crowd that was now two or three people deep, all holding a smartphone in our direction, I could see what I’d missed originally: to a person, their eyes had a haunted, empty expression, and were not focused even on the camera they were holding on us.  “Some kind of zombie?” I asked quietly as I put down my ice cream.

“Given the smartphones, I’m going to go with akuma victims,” she replied.  “Can you get us out of here?”

“It’ll have to be up or down,” I said.  “Up might be a be precarious,” I added looking into the superstructure of the tower above us.  “We have to assume there are civilians affected there too.”

“And less space to operate,” she added.  “Down then.”

The crowd was now less than fifteen meters from our bench.

“Cataclysm?” Marinette asked.

“I’m going to try and save that,” I replied.  “Get behind me,” I added as I dropped to my knees in front of the bench.

One of the ubiquitous circular city utility covers was just in front of where we were sitting.  Normally opened by a special tool, I was able to jam my extended baton into the slot and jimmied the cover off; it rolled away from us and circled slowly, clanging metallically against the stone.  As it did so, I grabbed Marinette and dropped into the darkness below.

Landing on the brickwork running next to one of the massive sewer lines in the city, I encircled Marinette with my paw and started off at a run.  My feline ears had already heard our photo-zombies dropping down behind me, and every instinct told me we needed to get away.

From what, exactly, I had yet to discover.

It looked like it was going to be a much longer day than either of us had expected.

Chapter Text

Marinette and I raced along the raised stone pathway that paralleled the vaguely phosphorescent water flowing along beside us.  I could hear multiple footfalls behind us as the photo zombies continued to pursue us; rounding a gentle bend in the corridor, I saw a grouping coming through an access hatch ahead of us, effectively cutting off that escape option.

Groaning, my masked eyes shifted to the glowing water.  “I hesitate to suggest this,” I said as we came to a stop, “but even if you transform now, I don’t think we have enough space to effectively fight off this horde.  We need a better spot.”

“Agreed,” Marinette said as she dug through her purse.  In a moment, she came up with her special box of macaroons, the ones that allowed her to use her special transformations.  Pulling the top off, she yanked out a green colored one.  Looking back at me, she said, “Not knowing what we might find down there, it seems prudent to be prepared.  Do you have your aqua mode cheese?”

I swiveled my head and noted the zombies were closing.  Snapping my baton into rebreather mode, I frowned at my partner.  “I do but there’s not enough time for me to detransform.  I’ll shield you, but hurry!”

She nodded and I turned, covering her with my back.  I heard Marinette murmur her phrase and felt more than saw her transformation wave wash over her.  A fraction of a moment later, she pushed me forward and over the edge of the walkway; I stretched into a graceful swan dive and split the surface of the water cleanly before activating the SCUBA/rebreather function on my baton.  I’d only used it a few times but knew I had more than enough time to swim wherever we needed to go.

Ladybug dove in beside me and paddled, smiling.  “We don’t get to do this very often,” she laughed.

Unable to reply myself, I simply smiled around the baton.

She was much faster in her fully-transformed aqua mode, but I managed a credible attempt to stay with her; we didn’t appear to have any friends follow us into the murky depths of the channel, and soon we were passing through a connecting pipe that emptied into a much bigger body of water.  We’d made it to the Seine, and I stroked for the surface of the wide river.  Bursting through, I pulled the rebreather out and tried not to think too terribly much about what I’d just been swimming through. 

Ladybug appeared next to me, bobbing at the surface.  “Bank?” she asked.

I nodded and dove back in, stroking for the nearest edge of the river.  By the time I was using my claws to haul myself out of the water, Ladybug was already on the stone walkway, grinning widely.  “One up on you for once,” she laughed as I flopped onto the stone, dripping.

“Hah, hah,” I said, frowning, as I disabled the rebreather and stowed my baton.  “I didn’t happen to see our akuma before we made our escape,” I added as I tried to wring out my tail a bit.  “Did you?”

“No,” Ladybug said.  “What troubles me more is the location where we were set upon.  It’s almost as if Hawkmoth knew we’d be there.”

I nodded; it had been bothering me as well.  “Technically, though, Chat was the only one present.”

Ladybug nodded more slowly.  “Yes, but Chat was with Marinette,” she added.  Hearing her talk about us in the third person was a bit strange.  “And it’s pretty much become an open secret that we’re dating.” 

I smiled thinly as I stood up.  “The Tower or Andre.  Two of the most romantic spots in the city.”  I looked up at the Tower.  “What are the odds that they would intersect tonight?”

“Unlikely,” Ladybug said as we started to run along the edge of the river.  “Andre tends to prefer more out of the way places.  It’s part of his game.”

We bolted up a stairway to street level and circled back around toward Trocadero.  “Hawkmoth is watching you, then,” I observed.  “Knowing I’d appear sooner or later.  And there have been plenty of photos of us getting ice cream on the Ladyblog.”  I looked up at the heights of the Tower as we approached it again.  “He seems to have assumed Ladybug would appear to rescue me if I got into trouble.”

“A brilliant strategy,” she laughed.  “One informed with data, it appears.”

“Hey!” I said, half-seriously.  “It’s been weeks since you’ve had to get me out of a situation.”

I caught her rolling her eyes.  “If we’re right, our akuma is up in the Tower after all,” she said.  “It would explain the crowd; however it’s converting it’s victims into zombies, it would be easier to do it from up there.”

“I had a fifty-fifty chance,” I said.  “And safety seemed like the right course of action.”

“I won’t argue with that.”

We ran up to one of the half-walls overlooking the broad plaza and crouched behind it.  I poked my feline mane just above and saw the mass of zombies were still milling about in the broad space.  “There seem to be more than I remember,” I said quietly.  “They appear a bit lost since we’re not immediately visible.”

“What can you see on the tower?”

I looked up and trained my feline vision on the levels of the Tower.  “There is some sort of flash on the first floor,” I said, squinting.  “It’s irregular.  Might be whatever the device is that Photo Bomb is using.”

Ladybug arched a masked eyebrow at me as I slid back down.  “Photo Bomb?  Really?”

I shrugged.  “Why not?  Fits what the zombies were doing.”

“We don’t really know what they were doing,” she said.

“Milady, I have to assume having them take our picture would have been really, really bad.”

“Good point,” she said.  “Standard approach, then?”

“Works for me,” I said, pulling my baton out and extending it into battle staff mode.  I paused, one paw on the edge of the wall, and leaned over to snatch a kiss from Ladybug.

“What was that for?” she asked, bemused.  “Not that I mind, of course.”

“Luck,” I cried as I hurled myself over the edge and ran headlong toward the milling zombies.  My feline hearing picked up her muttering something about my being a science-fiction nerd, which only widened my already menacing smile.

The zombies turned toward our approach like a school of minnows; growling, I swung my baton back and forth like I was clearing a corn field and mowed several rows of them down.  But unlike real zombies, these seemed capable of reacting to the changing situation.  The fourth wave I hit sidestepped my arc and instead latched on to either end of the baton.  Simple physics resulted in my being thrown up and over my weapon, and I hit the cold granite face down, only to skid a few more meters.

“They appear to be learning,” I said as I flipped back up and turned to run back toward my baton only to skid to a startled yet rubbery stop.

Fascinated, I watched as several zombies held up their phones and quickly took a full circuit of photos of my baton as other zombies continued to hold it; when they hit the final part of the arc, my baton vanished.  It took me a moment to register that I was hearing the same clicking noises around me; I leapt up and double-barrel-rolled into a landing behind the crowd that had re-gathered around me.

“I knew there was a reason I disliked paparazzi,” I hissed from my crouch.  “LB, I think if they get a full set of photos of an object, it goes into storage of some kind.”

“Egads,” she said from somewhere off to my side.  “Let’s book it toward the Tower; I have no idea how complete their set it on us.  If we keep moving--”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” I said, bounding away from the crowd on all fours. 

Keeping close to the granite allowed me the ability to scoot around the zombies rather effectively, though more than a few nearly managed to snag me on my way past.  I knew it was a race to get away from the crowd before they adjusted their tactics again. 

“Ladybug, can you hoist me?” I asked, as we’d just managed to reach the esplanade beneath the Tower.  “Without my baton…”

“Yeah,” she said from where she was running full steam alongside me.  “I need your back!”

“Got it!” I replied, coming to a halt and bracing myself.

Ladybug came at me like a gymnast on approach for the vault; she leapt a few meters away from me and came down on my back.  In that same moment, I flung myself upward, giving her an extra boost as she flew up into the open space.  I heard her yo-yo sing out and her lithe form zipped away from me; a moment later, the business end of her yo-yo appeared and I snatched out of the air only to be lifted up and away from the lumbering crowd that had encircled me.

I found her standing on a crossbeam when I landed beside her.  “Thanks,” I said, bowing graciously as she re-wound her yo-yo.  “That was a bit close.”

“Yeah,” she said as we both looked upward.  We were a few meters below the decking for the first floor.  “Ready?”

“Yes,” I said as I leapt from the cross beam to snag another with my claws; quickly, I worked my way from beam to beam before making the edge of the floor and pulling myself over.

The space was clear, save for a tall figure overlooking the safety rail at the far end.  Clothed in unrelieved black, it had an odd artistic-like beanie on; I could see a leather strap behind the neck, presumably connected to something being held away from me at that moment.  Long, flowing red hair spilled over the black outfit, making for an unusual counterpoint.  All the same, my ears automatically flattened in alarm; there were some serious negative vibrations emanating toward me. 

“Chat,” a distinctly female voice said quietly.  “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Here I am,” I said, keeping to my crouch and staying well away from her.  “What’s with the photos?”

“I just wanted one selfie with you.  Was that too much to ask?”

I frowned.  In either guise, I was used to being asked to be in a photo with a fan; it was rare I declined.  “Not usually,” I said carefully.  “What happened?”

“You said… no!” Photo Bomb cried as she whirled on me, training the largest thirty-five-millimeter camera I’d even seen on me – and, as a model, I’d seen plenty. 

I manage to leap sideways just as a loud click issued from the camera and a blue-yellow burst of nasty looking energy zapped the trashcan just behind where I’d been crouching.  The can (and a bit of the railing it was against) instantly disappeared.  “When you say taking a photo, you mean it,” I mused as I leapt up and away from another beam, hitting the outside of the restaurant’s wall with my claws before scrabbling away again.

The next few minutes were spent staying a whisker ahead of the increasingly more frustrated akuma.  I wracked my brain but couldn’t remember turning down a request for a selfie – in either guise – in recent memory.  “When did I insult you?” I asked as I swung around a flagpole holding the French national flag.

“Does it matter?” she said coldly.  “Once I have you in my album, I’ll have you to myself.  Forever.”

Something clicked with me – pun intend.  Aside, of course, from the fur that stood on end with her emphasis on the word forever.  “You saw me on the blog, didn’t you?”

“The blog,” she hissed, narrowly missing me once more as I leapt to cling to the side of one of the legs of the tower. “I had more traffic than she did.  And then you started dating.”

I vaulted over her, wondering if I could get close enough to hit the camera with Cataclysm.  She was moving too fast at the moment, so with luck, Ladybug would come up with something to help in that area.  “Alya is our official blogger,” I said, wondering if any sort of logical argument was going to work.  “But that doesn’t mean we can’t appear anywhere else.”

“That’s not the point,” she screamed.  “I was the prime Chat Noir blogger.  I should still be!”

I started to answer and paused when I caught a faint Lucky Charm! cry on the wind.  Smiling slightly, I swung back down and landed in a four-point crouch directly in front of Photo Bomb.  “I’m sure we meownt be able to accommodate you,” I purred, smiling wider.  “How about your own photoshoot with me?  Enough for a full library of shots for your blog.”

That seemed to give Photo Bomb pause, and some of the bluster faded.  “And an exclusive one-on-one interview?”

“At least an hour,” I said.  “I’ll even toss in a secret or two that hasn’t appeared on the Ladyblog.”

“You’d do that?  For me?”

I nodded.  “Of course.”  I smiled wider.  “You only had to ask.”

Fading even more, Photo Bomb nodded.  “Okay.”

Carefully, I approached her and gently pulled the camera from her hands; it wasn’t a moment too soon.  Photo Bomb suddenly got that faraway look that I knew meant Hawkmoth was giving further instructions.  In a quick maneuver, I dashed the camera to the deck plating and watched as the purple butterfly appeared from amongst the debris. Ladybug dropped down next to me, holding a fish tank and looking a bit bewildered. 

“Guess I won’t need this,” she said as she set the tank down and nabbed the butterfly with her yo-yo.

“I aim to please,” I replied, arching an eyebrow at the fish tank.  “What, exactly, were you planning on doing with that?”

“I haven’t a clue,” she admitted.  “I was just starting to run ideas when you talked her off the cliff.”

I turned back to the young girl who’d appeared after the akuma spell broke and the purple wave had washed over her; it took a second, but I was reasonably certain I remembered her face from the park when I’d been distracting Alya in order for Marinette to get her sketching done.  After promising to meet her that weekend in the same place for her very own one-on-one with Chat Noir, Ladybug and I slipped over the side of the Tower and headed for the esplanade.  I had to leapfrog my way down and fought back some snarky observations as she lowered herself on the yo-yo; one Miraculous Ladybug later, I had my baton back but had lost my girlfriend in order for her to dash madly into the gathering darkness to find a spot to de-transform.

Fortunately, she was gone long enough that I was able to replace the two orders of ice cream we’d started from a very surprised Andre, who had also reappeared right where we had left him.  I was smiling broadly when Marinette wandered back.  “Right on time,” I laughed as she took her Adrien Cone from me.  “It’s not even melted yet.”

As we started once more for the park bench, she hooked an arm inside mine and said, softly, “No, Chat.  It melted for you a long time ago.”

Realizing we were no longer talking about ice cream, I laughed and leaned my wild feline mane into her hair.  “Yes,” I concurred, “mine, too.”