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The Course of Love

Chapter Text

Marinette groaned and her eyelashes fluttered. She froze. There were arms holding her. No, carrying her, and the person moved swiftly. Her heart thudded like a drum. Knots of panic twisted her stomach. She snuck a glance up and saw a smooth jawline, black mask, messy blond hair. A small sigh escaped her and all the stiffness relaxed from her body.

"It's just you," she said, leaning more into his chest.

"Ah, the princess is finally awake." Chat Noir tightened his grip. "Hold on."

"What—"

He leapt over a gap between rooftops. She instinctively pressed closer to him. She wasn't scared of heights, but there was something different about being carried over fatal drops than being the one in control of the jumps. Not that she thought he would let her fall.

"What happened?" she tried again.

Last she remembered, she'd been shopping for material so she could finish her project tonight.

"You fainted … straight into my arms." His teeth flashed in a grin and he wiggled his eyebrows. "You know, if you wanted to get my attention, you didn't have to go to such extremes."

She rolled her eyes, but he sobered a second later.

"You have a fever, Marinette. I'm taking you home."

"But I need to—"

"Nope." He pressed one clawed finger to her lips. "What you need is to rest."

Warmth pooled on her cheeks. The blatant concern and softness in his eyes was one thing, but it was quite another when combined with the intimacy of their proximity and his touch. Sometimes this flirty kitty-cat was trouble for her heart.

He jumped onto her balcony and carefully helped her back to her feet. Her legs wobbled. She pitched into his chest, but his hands were quick to find her waist and steady her.

"Easy there," he murmured.

Her cheeks grew hotter. (Because of the fever. Not because he was giving her that soft look again.)

"I'll help you inside," he offered.

She bit her lip and nodded. He was the perfect gentleman as he helped her into her bed and asked if she needed anything else. She assured him she would be fine now. Her parents would be finished in the bakery soon and would be able to look after her.

"Then I'll leave you to rest," he said, dipping into an elaborate bow before he headed for the skylight.

"Chat?"

He glanced over his shoulder at her.

"Thank you."

His smile was warm and made her feel even warmer. Yes, this kitty-cat was definitely trouble for her heart.

Chapter Text

He hadn't meant to say the words. Not at all. It was just difficult not to feel spikes of insecurity when so many new (and talented) miraculous holders kept being brought into the fold. Difficult not to feel those spikes dig deeper and deeper when he made so many mistakes and made Ladybug's job so much more complicated because he couldn't stay professional. (Or so she seemed to suggest if that last scold was anything to go by.) The words had just slipped out of his mouth.

"Why don't you just replace me then? I'm sure you can find a better Chat Noir, right?"

Her eyes widened. She stepped closer to him, but he stepped back, resisting the urge to clutch his arms in a defensive, shutting off pose. His tone had been petulant, but all the petulance in the world couldn't disguise the fragility—the honest fear that he wasn't and never could be good enough for her.

He was so pathetic.

"I'm kidding," he said with a too forced laugh, and then his ring beeped. For once, it was perfect timing. "Well, that's my cue. Seeya round m'la—"

"Chat." She grabbed his arm, stopping him from bolting. Her voice was very soft. "You don't really think I'd want to replace you, do you?"

His gaze skittered, falling to his boots.

"I've told you before you're irreplaceable to me, kitty."

"Irreplaceable, huh?"

His flirty tone was weak and hit all the wrong notes. Maybe that was why she didn't offer a bantering response or roll her eyes. She stepped closer and shifted her grip to his hands. Her eyes sought his—warm blue bells illuminated by the streetlamp.

"Yes," she said, giving his hands a gentle squeeze. "You're irreplaceable. You've had my back since day one. You're always there when I need you. You've put yourself in danger to protect me so many times, and though I do wish you could be a little more professional, I love the fun I can have with you." Her eyes twinkled. "Yes, even your puns."

"Wait, you do?"

"Yes!" She laughed and smiled, still holding his hands. "You're my best friend, my partner. You're the only one I trust to do this. I couldn't imagine anyone else as Chat Noir."

Warmth blossomed in his chest and put the dopiest of smiles on his face. He tugged her closer, but only so he could bump her forehead with his like an affectionate cat. She didn't pull back. Her smile was soft and her eyes softer as she held his gaze. If he wasn't already head over heels for her, he would have fallen for her then.

"M'lady," he whispered, "I hope you know you're irreplaceable to me too."

Chapter Text

"It will be fun," Chat said as he held his hand out. "Trust me."

Marinette pursed her lips. "I don't know. Sounds like you're messing with me."

He made a show of being offended, complete with throwing his hand over his heart. "You wound me! Here I came all this way, even went to great lengths to prepare a special surprise for you, and all you can say is that you think I'm messing with you. Oh Marinette of little faith, oh doubter of—"

She clamped her hand over his mouth. "Alright, alright. Calm down, you silly cat. You're going to make my parents wonder what's going on."

He smiled against her palm, green eyes dancing. Her heart (much to her irritation) stuttered a little.

"Fine," she said, pulling her hand away. "Show me this surprise of yours."

"Excellent!" He scooped her up into his arms, ignoring her startled yelp. "Hold on tight, princess."

oOo

It was a runway. A runway on the long roof of a building, complete with fairy lights and candles. The ruffled cocktail dress she had made was there, but now it was no longer in pieces like how she had found it before the fashion show. (She still bet all the money in her bank that Lila had been the culprit, though no one had been able to find proof.)

"Chat," Marinette whispered. "You really did all this?"

"I heard what happened yesterday. I thought it sucked you didn't get to have your dress featured in the show, so …" He shrugged and gestured to the makeshift runway.

"But how? I threw the dress out. It was completely ruined."

He smiled. "I'm pretty handy with a needle."

"You?" She couldn't help but laugh. "You sewed it back together?"

"Don't sound so shocked. I have many hidden talents … though I can admit I probably didn't do as good a job as you, and my fingers did suffer for it."

She walked over to examine the pink dress. He had used different colours of the same fabric to fill in some parts where the pieces must have been unsalvageable, but the way it blended together looked more artistic than like some shoddy patchwork job. She couldn't believe he had gone to so much effort. Maybe that was why her eyes prickled.

"Thank you," she said, pulling him into a hug.

His arms came around her, warm and secure. "If you really want to thank me, you should go model that dress on this very professional runway I made for you."

"M-me?"

He pulled back to meet her gaze. "I mean I could model it, but I don't think it'll go with the cat ears and black leather."

She giggled. "That's true."

He booped her nose with his finger. "Go on. Go get changed behind the screen. I'll get the music ready."

His smile was infectious, so she sucked up her self-consciousness, grabbed the dress, and ducked behind the sheet he had put up at the other end of the runway. Upbeat music started to play. Soon, she was wearing the dress, her heart thumping. She pushed apart the sheet and strutted down the long strip of fabric he had rolled out for a catwalk, trying to mimic all the models she had seen. He grinned widely as he filmed the whole thing on her phone.

Marinette struck a dramatic pose at the end and winked.

He whistled. "Yeah, Marinette, work it!"

She burst into laughter. "Okay, that's enough."

"No, wait, do a spin."

She did so, making sure to let the ruffles on the skirt flounce, but it was too hard to keep a straight face and she ended up laughing again.

He smiled and lowered the phone. "Beautiful."

Something about the softness in his eyes and tone made her heartbeat stumble. She fidgeted with her hair, warmth pooling on her cheeks.

"Um, thanks for doing all this," she mumbled. "It was … well, it was perfect, actually. I still can't believe you went to so much trouble."

"Anything to cheer you up, princess."

Her heart thudded faster. Oh no. Was she falling for this silly cat?

Chapter Text

"Just follow me," Adrien said, taking her hand and pulling her close. "I know the area."

Marinette's cheeks warmed. She opened and closed her mouth, but all that came out was a string of gibberish.

"Cut!" Nino called.

Her classmates groaned in a chorus of "Marinette" and "Every time".

Marinette flushed to the roots of her hair and covered her over-heated face with her hands. "I'm so sorry. I said it was a bad idea to cast me. You should just—"

"Hey," Adrien said, gently gripping her shoulders. "It's okay, Marinette. You're doing fine."

She shook her head, too embarrassed to respond.

"Let's take five," Nino said, and placed the camera down.

Marinette was about to make her escape—there was so much panic and frustration welling up inside her—but Adrien caught her hand.

"Come with me," he said.

"I-I, um, s-sure?"

He led her away from the others to a quieter spot in the classroom. Her heart thudded wildly.

"Remember when you gave me this?" he asked, and held out a familiar bracelet.

"My lucky charm." Her eyes darted to his. "You still carry it with you?"

"Always."

Her heart melted. He was so perfect.

"Knowing I have it with me gives me confidence," he explained, and then gently took her hand and pressed it to her palm. "But maybe you need it more right now."

Her jaw dropped.

"I know you can do this, Marinette. You're perfect for this role." His eyes warmed into a smile. "You just need to have a bit more confidence in yourself."

Some of the tension relaxed out of her shoulders. A smile flitted across her lips and she pressed the charm back to him. "Actually, I think I'll be okay."

His eyebrows rose in question.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the bracelet he had made for her. "I have your charm to give me luck."

The soft look returned to his eyes. "Ready to try again?"

She nodded.

Her crush on Adrien was so overwhelming sometimes that it messed up her words a lot, but he believed in her. He wanted her to act opposite him. There was no way she was going to let him down.

Chapter Text

"Now?" the woman on the laptop screen said. "Now you listen to me? Oh, that's so typical of you …"

Adrien shifted, almost dislodging Marinette. His lips twitched into a smile as he glanced down at her. She was curled up against him, eyes closed and a bit of drool clinging to her lip. The blanket they'd been sharing on her bed had somehow got wrapped around her, leaving more than half his body exposed. Not that he was complaining. His Chat Noir suit kept him warm enough, and her shared body warmth did the rest. Still, it was pretty late and he didn't trust his eyes to stay open much longer.

"Hey, princess," he whispered, "I gotta go."

She made a snuffly sound and burrowed her face more into his chest, wrapping her arms around his middle as if he were a teddy bear she wanted to squish hug. It was very, very cuddly. It was also impossible to move without dragging her with him.

"Are you awake?" he asked suspiciously.

She shook her head.

He bit back a laugh and tried to peel her off him (gently), but she only tightened her grip.

"No," she mumbled, voice groggy with sleep. "Stay."

"You know I can't."

"You're warm."

She said it like that was the end of the discussion.

His smile widened and he lightly poked her head. "You should be warm enough, Miss Blanket Thief."

She did not lessen her grip. In fact, she wriggled like a sleepy, blanket-wrapped caterpillar until she was on his lap. "Warm," she breathed, face still hidden against his chest, and indeed had all the appearance of a cat settling in for the night.

Adrien blinked. Okay, he could admit he was quite a physically affectionate guy, but this was a lot of cute girl in his space. The fact they were on her bed didn't help.

"Um … Marinette?"

Soft snores drifted to his ears.

"Are you pretending to be asleep?"

The snores paused, then got louder. He couldn't help but smile. She was adorable.

"You'll have to get better at acting if you want to convince me you're asleep," he teased.

A groggy sound and her hugging him closer was all he got for his efforts. "My kitty," she mumbled. "Stay …"

Flutters stirred in his stomach. She'd never called him "my kitty" before. She'd never called him kitty at all. Not that the nickname was new to him. Ladybug called him that teasingly sometimes, but this was different. This was like being enfolded into warm, warm softness. Like being claimed as someone precious.

Like finding home.

His expression softened and he wrapped one arm around her, allowing his other hand to trail through her loose hair. Well, maybe he could stay for a little longer …

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry, Adrien," Ladybug said, frowning at the pile of rubble that blocked their only exit. "I don't think I can move this, not without bringing the ceiling down on us."

Adrien tensed. "You mean we're trapped?"

"For now, but don't worry. Chat Noir can get us out with his cataclysm no problem." She opened her yoyo, only to freeze at whatever was displayed on the small screen.

"What?"

"Chat … he still hasn't responded." She forced a smile. "Well, I'm sure he'll turn up soon."

He repressed a wince. "And if he doesn't?"

"He will. He's never let me down."

Adrien managed a strained smile. The moment she looked away, he balled his hands into fists and tried not to start pacing. Much as he was touched by her faith in his superhero persona, they needed to find another way to get out soon. Chat Noir was definitely not coming to their rescue, not when there was no way for him to transform without her seeing.

She stepped away from the rubble. A hiss escaped her and her left foot arched off the ground as if burnt, making her wobble.

Adrien rushed to steady her. "Are you okay?"

"I-I'm fine."

It was then he realised he was holding her waist. His cheeks warmed and he released her. She also blushed and looked off to the side. Real smooth. It was so much harder to play it cool when he wasn't in the suit. No mask meant nothing to hide behind. It was just him and his lady, and his heart kept stuttering all over the place whenever they got close, his tongue got stuck in knots, and now they were trapped together and—

She tried to take another step and flinched, sucking in a sharp breath. Something plummeted in his stomach.

"You're not okay," he said heavily.

She bit her lip. "I think I hurt my ankle."

"That's because you took the full impact of that fall for us." He blinked, realising he sounded a bit too scolding for Adrien Agreste. Heat crawled up his face. "I-I mean, you didn't have to do that. Paris needs you in one piece more than it needs me."

Her eyes turned soft when she met his gaze. "I have a magic suit to protect me. Besides, I didn't want you to get hurt again." She brushed her fingertip against the stinging spot on his cheek—the spot where a bit of metal had snagged skin.

Thump, thump.

The quickening beat of his heart pulsed in his ears. His breath caught in his throat. "It's just a scratch," he managed to get out. "It's nothing."

"It's still one scratch too many."

Thump, thump, thump.

Something shifted in her gaze, becoming more intense. More earnest. "I'm sorry, Adrien. I know you didn't ask for this, and I hope you know it's not your fault that girl got akumatised."

"She is my fan," he felt obliged to point out. "I kind of did cause this one."

"You can't be expected to date every fan who decides to fall in love with you."

Fair point. He'd tried his best to reject the girl as gently as he could, but she'd still been upset enough to become prey to Hawkmoth. Now, he and Ladybug were trapped in this room while that poor girl was mindlessly terrorising Paris. Even from here, he could hear the crashing rumbles and screams.

He twisted his miraculous ring round and round his finger. "U-um, Chat Noir is taking a while, don't you think?"

She checked her yoyo again, but of course there were no messages. "You're right."

"Maybe something happened to him? Maybe he really can't make it."

She bit her lip, thinking deeply. "There is one thing I can try that might be able to help us get out of here, but …"

"But what?"

"If it doesn't work, I'll only have five minutes before I transform back. You'd see me without my mask."

He swallowed. "That seems like a big risk."

"But maybe one I have to take. Hang on."

He didn't get a chance to suggest they discuss it more. Her yoyo was already swinging into the air as she called upon her Lucky Charm. Plastic cat ears fell into her hand. The weight that had settled in his stomach seemed to plummet even more. All he could do was stare at the tacky costume prop.

Cat ears. It just had to be cat ears.

"Huh," she said, peering around the windowless storage room. "I guess we do have to wait for Chat Noir."

"No."

Her gaze darted to his, eyebrows rising in question.

"I'm sorry," he said thickly, backing up a few steps to more space between them. "I really hoped I wouldn't have to do this."

"What are you—"

"Plagg!" He thrust his fist forward, silver ring glinting. "Transform me!"

Her eyes widened like saucers as Plagg appeared from the inner pocket of Adrien's jacket and got sucked into the ring. Green light flared. The transformation was over in seconds, leaving Adrien standing before her in black leather. For the first time, he felt more exposed wearing the mask.

"Um, surprise?" he said with a sheepish wave.

Ladybug screamed.

Chapter Text

It was hard to focus on the akuma. All Marinette could think was Chat Noir is Adrien Agreste, Chat Noir is Adrien Agreste. Adrien Agreste is Chat Noir. The boy I love is Chat Noir. Wait, I have rejected the boy I love. Several times. For the boy I love …

OH MY—

"Ladybug!"

Right. She still had an akuma to purify.

One lucky charm, a cataclysm, and a miraculous ladybug cure later, and Chat Noir was holding out his fist for a good old pound it. She blinked. She stared. She probably looked like an idiot who had been caught in the Chatlights.

Her earrings beeped.

"My lady?" He wiggled his fist, eyebrow rising.

She made a real intelligent sound like abah blaah.

He lowered his hand and took a step closer. This time she managed a meep.

"Um, would it be better if I just leave?" he asked.

"No!"

He paused, waiting with his head tilted like a curious cat. No further words wanted to come out of her mouth. Marinette.exe had stopped functioning. (Because she had kissed this boy, more than once, and all that time it had been Adrien she'd been kissing. All that time the gorgeous, sweet classmate she had fallen in love with had been her dorky, pun-loving partner, and she had kissed him, more than once, and—oh no, she was stuck on loop again.)

"You," she said. (A coherent word. Yay!) "You. You …"

(Oops. This was the one-word trap zone. Abort, abort!)

He tilted his head the other way. "Is this because of what happened? Are you mad because you know who I am now? Look, I really am sorry about that. I know you didn't want to know my identity, and I tried to hold out as long as I could, but you wouldn't leave me alone when I kept saying I could get away safely on my own, and then we got trapped in that room and—"

She walked forward and stood up on her tiptoes to grab his cheeks. He froze mid-word. She smooshed his cheeks in to give him fish lips.

"Um," he said, blinking at her with those big green eyes. "Ladybug?"

She stared and stared into his eyes. His cheeks and lips were still smooshed comically.

"It really is you, right?" she asked. "I didn't just imagine that Adrien Agreste turned into Chat Noir right in front of me?"

"Uh, no." He looked off to the side. "Honestly, I was kind of hoping the miracle cure would wipe that bit from your memory …"

She let go of his cheeks. "Wait, you don't want me to know?"

"You didn't want to know! You said it like a million times!"

That was true.

"And now you're being all weird," he accused.

Also true. So painfully true.

"And I just … I just …" He grabbed at his hair, obviously frustrated. "I didn't want it to be like this. I wanted this reveal, if there was to be one, to be something you asked for. I wanted it to be mutual." He grasped her shoulders and his eyes were like green fire when they met hers, burning and intense. "I wanted you to want to know me."

Oh.

Oh.

Her mind fizzled, her heart pounded and pounded. Marinette.exe had definitely stopped functioning again. How could she help it when he looked at her all passionately and spoke to her in that tone of voice—the kind that belonged to a hero in some movie declaring his love to the heroine while heavy rain fell all around. (But there was no rain here. There was just her and Chat Noir on a rooftop, her and Adrien on a rooftop, because they were the same person. The two most important boys in her life were the same person, and holy heck now she could see it!)

Her hands clamped back onto his cheeks. He blinked.

"Adrien," she said softly.

"Y-yes?"

Her earrings gave another beep. This time his ring joined in.

"My lady, you're going to transform back soon," he felt obliged to point out. "You only have one spot left."

"I don't care."

"But—"

"I don't care," she repeated, her heart pounding faster and faster until all she could hear and feel was the thundering beat.

There were so many thoughts racing in her mind, so many things she wanted to say. (I might just kiss you being very high on the list.) There was a chance Tikki would disapprove of what she planned to do next, but half the truth was already out, and he looked so uncertain and confused. So adorable.

"I do want to know you," Marinette whispered. "And I … I want you to know me. The real me."

His eyes widened.

The final beep. Red and black faded in pink sparkles. Marinette was left standing in her ordinary clothes, no mask to be seen. Tikki fluttered off inside her purse to recharge with a cookie, mercifully not saying anything.

"Um, hi?" Marinette said, giving him the same awkward wave he had given her.

"You." His eyes softened and he surged forward to wrap his arms around her, holding her tight. "Of course. Of course it's you. My lady, my Marinette, how could I have been so stupid not to see it?"

She closed her eyes and just melted into his embrace. It was a long, long time before they left the roof.

Chapter Text

Rain pitter-pattered against the window as Marinette worked on her latest design. Happy hums came from the chaise. Chat Noir's happy hums, in fact. He was reclining on her chaise like some sultry model waiting to be painted for a Renaissance masterpiece—except his entire attention was focussed on the bowl of chocolate chip cookies cradled in his arm. Judging by the hums, he approved of her baking skills just as much as he approved of her parents'.

"That's like your sixth cookie," she observed.

"Yes, I'm aware," he said, popping a whole cookie into his mouth so his cheeks puffed out like a blowfish. "Your point?"

Her lips twitched. (He had zero manners when it came to sweet things.) "Don't you think you should slow down? You might make yourself sick."

"You underestimate me, Marinette. This stomach"—he patted his toned abdomen—"was made for accommodating delicious food. And these cookies are delicious. I could eat this whole batch no problem."

A small sound of outrage came from behind the computer.

Chat's cat ears pricked up. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Marinette said, all the while shooting glares at Tikki's hiding place.

"I could have sworn I just heard someone …"

Marinette laughed loudly (and very fake). "Who? We're the only ones here."

His leather ears kept twitching. To her horror, his gaze zeroed in on the computer and he stood up. Her heart gave an odd lurch. No, no, no! If he saw Tikki, it was all over!

She planted herself in front of him, hands pressing against his chest to hold him back. Chat did not appreciate this. His tail swished like a cat impatient to continue the hunt.

"Wait," she said in a rush. "You're not allowed over here yet. I haven't finished my design."

"But—"

"Do you want me to take the cookies off you?"

He gave her wide kitten eyes. "You wouldn't."

"I would."

His grip tightened on the bowl. "But I know I heard—"

"Chat, this is my bedroom, and trust me when I say we are the only ones in it. All that sugar has probably just gone to your head"—she poked him in the forehead to emphasise her point—"and made you imagine things. Either that or you're trying to sneak a peek at my design when I specifically asked you not to."

"I would never," he retorted, clearly offended.

"Then go sit down like a good kitty and wait."

Chat gave one last frowny look at the computer, but he still allowed her to steer him back to the chaise. She forced him to sit, grabbed one of the cookies from the bowl he was still holding, and stuffed it into his mouth.

"There," she said. "Eat this and let me finish."

Without waiting for a response, she marched back to the desk and picked up her sketchpad and pencil. She and Tikki would definitely be having words later.

Chapter Text

"No, and that's final."

The words reverberate in Adrien's head, ice-steel like his father's tone. Another denial. Another shutdown to what had seemed like a simple request. All he wants is to spend time with his friends, to have some kind of human contact, but all his father gives him are crossed out spots on a schedule and endless nights of isolation.

So Adrien runs. He suits up as Chat Noir and vents his frustration to the rooftops of Paris, to the empty streets and the heavy rain that pours from an inky sky. He runs and runs and runs until even the suit and all its magical enhancements can't stop his chest from heaving. Until his feet stumble and he slumps like some broken thing onto the wet footpath, small and huddled.

He's cold. Paris is bitter in winter and has no warmth to offer tonight. His tears are the only thing that burn. His throat is raw and choked by all the emotions tearing at his chest. It hurts to breathe, to think.

It hurts to be alone.

"Detransform me," he whispers.

Black leather slips away in sparks of green, releasing Plagg from the miraculous. Adrien hugs his knees tight. Goosebumps prickle all over his exposed skin. He's drenched to the bone and the rain keeps falling.

"Kid," Plagg says. "Come on, you can't stay out here."

Adrien shivers and his fingers dig deeper into his knees.

"There's nothing even on this street," Plagg continues. "Worse, there's no delicious camembert, so how about you transform again and we can go back to your room and—erp."

The muffled yelp is odd enough for Adrien to raise his head. Plagg has vanished, but moving toward him is a shadowed figure, sheltering under an umbrella, who glints in red and black with the glowing snatches of streetlights.

Ladybug. It has to be her.

"Hey!" she calls. "Are you okay?"

He's too stunned to move, too stunned to speak. She stops in front of him, holding the umbrella out to cover him, and a gasp escapes her.

"Adrien?"

Suddenly, she's on her knees, umbrella forgotten, and checking him over for injuries. Her voice is full of concern as she asks what happened, what he's doing out here, and a million other things.

"I'm okay," he says, though the words feel like lead on his tongue. "I just … I just went for a walk."

"In this weather?"

He shrugs. "You're out."

"That's different. I'm a superhero and you're"—she takes in his shivers and sodden clothes—"you're freezing. Oh my gosh, we need to get you out of this rain and …"

She hauls him up before he can protest, fussing over him like some clucking mother hen. The umbrella is secured to a holster on her back, and then her arm is tight around his waist and his body is pressed against hers. It's a shock of warmth, a shock of contact that speaks to the touch-starved part of him.

"Hold on tight," she says.

He blinks, cheeks heating despite the chill that's taken root in his body. Then they're soaring, ran pelting down heavier and heavier. It's hardly pleasant, but her smile is warm and reassuring. It eases all the choking tangles in his throat, his chest, his heart.

It helps him breathe.

He holds her tighter, tucking his face into the nook between her neck and shoulder. "Can we …"

"Huh? Did you say something, Adrien?"

"Can we stay like this a little longer?"

She almost loses her grip on him and the yoyo. "What do you mean?"

"I … I'm not ready to go home," he says, unable to stop the words from slipping out. "I just … can we?"

The arm she has looped around his waist holds him a little closer. "It's raining pretty hard. You'll get sick if you stay out here."

He winces. "You're right. I-I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing to ask. I mean you don't even know me and—"

"But I might have an idea."

He blinks and raises his head from the little nook. A smile curves her lips.

"Hang on," she says, and swings them off in a different direction.

oOo

She leaves him sheltering under a rooftop veranda so she can get the "supplies" she says they'll need. When she returns, she has a pink backpack full of towels and blankets, two cups, and a thermos flask filled with hot chocolate.

They both towel themselves dry as much as they can before huddling together under the blankets. The warmth is like sinking into a bath. He makes a contented little sound, only to freeze when her shoulder and thigh press against his. She's so close. Everything in him flutters and stirs. This is the girl he loves. He shoots her a glance under his lashes, wonders if he dares to move closer, but shyness holds him back.

It's not like he's Chat Noir right now.

"Here," she says, filling him a cup of hot chocolate.

He accepts the cup, fingers brushing against hers. "Thanks."

Her head tilts and she touches his wet hair, which is a total mess and falling all in his eyes. His heartbeat quickens.

"What?" he says.

There's something about her expression that makes his mouth dry and his pulse stutter.

"N-nothing," she says, giving a small laugh and pulling her fingers away from his hair. "You just reminded me of someone."

"Who?"

"It doesn't matter." She bumps her shoulder against his. "Anyway, drink up before it gets cold. This'll warm you right up."

He still waits for her to fill her own cup. It's only good manners. They share a shy smile and tap their cups together in hushed cheers. The hot chocolate is rich and fills him with warmth, just as promised. Even his toes feel a little toastier.

He relaxes more, cradling the cup in his hands.

"Look," Ladybug says, and points up at the sky. "Stars."

A few have dared to peep out. The rain is softening, the night quietening.

She leans against him and tugs the blanket around them more. Pink dusts his cheeks, but the feeling that fills him is more gratitude than passion.

"Thank you for doing this," he says softly.

"Any time."

It sounds like a promise. He really hopes she means it.

Chapter Text

"Ready?" Chat says.

Marinette nods.

He throws the bit of chocolate, which she tries to catch with her mouth. It bounces off her nose. She groans as he erupts into laughter and punches his fist to the air.

"Yes!" he crows. "I win!"

"Best of ten."

"No way. Just face it. I'm the champion."

She folds her arms and pouts. "I'm sure you're cheating. You're not even aiming for my mouth, are you?"

"I would never. Besides, it's no fun to win if you only win by cheating."

"Yeah, yeah." She chucks a chocolate at him, hitting him in the forehead. "Here's your prize."

"Throwing chocolate at my head was not the agreed pri—"

She pelts another chocolate at him, then another and another. His eyes narrow. Her lips curve.

"Don't you dare," he says as she reaches for the box of chocolates.

"Or what?"

His tail swishes and flicks behind him. Biting back a grin, she does not break eye contact as she closes her fingers around the last chocolate and launches it at him.

"That's it!" he exclaims.

He pounces on her like a cat. She giggles and tries to squirm free, but he's much stronger. It's easy for him to pin her down against her bed. Smugness gleams in his eyes. His hair tickles her face. That's when it hits like lightning—an inexplicable hyperawareness of all the points of contact between their bodies. Her pulse quickens, fluttery heat unfurling and coiling in the pit of her stomach. Judging by the startled shift in his expression and the light flush spilling out from under his mask, she wasn't the only one struck.

"I …" He audibly swallows and gets off her. "I should go now. It's late."

"Wait."

She catches his hand. Shyness sticks her tongue, but her eyes ask him the question that thrums through her.

Can you stay?

A shaky breath escapes him. His gaze flickers from her eyes to her lips and then back again.

Her heartbeat stutters.

"Chat …" She tugs on his hand, shifting onto her knees.

He doesn't pull away. It's like he's spellbound. Or maybe she's the one spellbound. His eyes are so, so green, and the heady warmth of him is like an invisible caress whispering for her to come closer. The stutters turn to pounding drums in her chest, and she holds his gaze as she leans in, pausing when their lips are almost touching. Their breath intermingles.

He closes the gap.

Soft. His lips are surprisingly soft. The kiss is the barest brush of contact, light like the caress of a feather. When he pulls back, her face feels warm and her body even warmer. Their eyes meet—a held breath, a hush of a million questions and a million yesses. Then they're kissing again, hands reaching for each other and bodies pressing closer, closer, closer.

It's like she's drowning and trying to get oxygen. Like she's a dessert and he's offering her a hundred years of missed rain. She drinks him in, shares his breath, tastes the chocolate lingering on his tongue and lips.

She kisses and kisses and kisses him until everything in her becomes a pulsing beat of fire and thunder.

"Marinette," he breathes into her lips.

Her heart sings and she pulls him in closer. They are no longer awkward fourteen year olds after all. She is definitely not letting him escape from her now.

Chapter Text

"So?" Marinette says, kneeling in front of Chat and watching him with an eager expression. "What do you think?"

He hums, smacking his lips, and tilting his head from side to side as he holds a half-bitten macaron. "There is a certain taste to it."

Her shoulders slump. "You don't like it."

"No." He holds his hand out in an appeasing gesture. "No, no of course not. It's just … interesting."

"Interesting is the same as saying you hate it!"

"I don't hate it." He stuffs the rest into his mouth. "See, it's great. Mmmm."

"You look like you want to spit it out."

He shakes his head, still stubbornly chewing. His eyes, however, have the look of a tormented soul, and his mouth keeps twisting in odd ways at the corners. It's obvious he's not enjoying her macarons. When he swallows and forces a grimacing smile, all she can do is sigh.

"Chat." She grabs his shoulders. "Be honest. Is it really awful?"

He bites his lip and rubs the base of his neck. "Um, how much do you like this boy again?"

"A lot."

"And have you tasted any of these yourself by chance?"

She shakes her head, blinking innocently.

"Okay."

His tone is too grim, his expression too serious.

"Oh no," she mutters, letting her hands slip back to her lap. Her chest tightens.

"No, no." Now he's the one grabbing her shoulders. "Don't panic. You know I think you're a wonderful baker, Marinette, and I really do think it's sweet you want to bake macarons for your crush …"

"But?"

He meets her gaze with all the solemnity of one about to give the most tragic of news. "If you give these to him, I think he'll wonder if you hate him."

Horror twists her expression. "That bad?"

Chat picks up one of the light green macarons. "Try it."

She bites into it—and gags. "Ugh."

"Yeah," he says, scrunching his nose. "Way too much wasabi."

She spits the bitten bits into her hand, still making disgusted faces and sticking her tongue out as if that will somehow get rid of the taste. "I can't believe you ate a whole one."

A shrug. "You looked so sad when you realised I didn't like it."

"That doesn't mean you had to force yourself!"

He laughs. "It's fine. Besides, cats have nine lives, remember? Even if I did eat that wasabi-poisoned macaron, I still have—"

"Ugh, I take it back! You mangy little …"

He grins and dances away from her swatting hand. She settles for throwing a cushion at him instead. (Which he catches.) There's a beat where they just stare at each other, him still grinning while her lips form a pout. Then the amusement fades from his eyes.

"I am sorry," he says more seriously. "That your macarons didn't turn out, I mean. I know you wanted to do something nice for your crush."

"It's okay. I guess this is a lesson that I should learn to read recipes more thoroughly before I try to get too creative with flavours."

He chuckles and settles back in front of her, propping his chin on the cushion as he hugs it to his chest. "Why did you pick wasabi flavour anyway?"

She shrugs. "It's trending."

This seems to amuse him even more.

"Now that I think about it," she says, "I should have just asked his friend what flavour he likes." She smacks her palm to her forehead. "Why didn't I think of that?"

"Well, if you ask me, you should make passionfruit ones."

"Passionfruit?"

"They're the best."

She pokes him in the head. "I'm not making them for you."

"But, Marineeeeeette …"

Her eyes roll as he starts up his dramatics, going on about how he does so much for Paris and even risked wasabi poisoning for her, yadda yadda. Such a silly cat.

"Alright," she says, once he's practically flopped onto her lap, all kitty eyes and pleading. "I'll make you passionfruit macarons."

Her surges up and pulls her into a hug. "Yes! You're the best. I knew there's a reason you're my favourite civilian!"

"Yeah, yeah." She pushes him off, though not hard. "Calm down, you silly cat."

Chapter Text

"Listen," Nino says, pushing Adrien towards the room. "I can't explain it. You'll have to trust me."

"But I thought we were—"

"Trust me!"

With that, Adrien is shoved into the room and the door is closed behind him. He blinks. His jaw drops. Any thought of getting mad at his friend quickly melts as his heart beats faster and his pulse quickens.

Ladybug.

Ladybug is standing at the other side of the room.

"Um, hi," she says.

"H-hi."

Damn. Why is he stuttering? Be cool, be cool, be cool …

"I heard it's your birthday," she says, taking a step closer.

He nods.

"I also heard you were a big fan." A light dusting of pink slips out from under her mask. "Of, um, me."

His face warms. "Y-yeah, I am. You're, um … you're really amazing."

Her blush darkens. (And holy heck, has he actually made Ladybug blush? Is this a dream?)

A small giggle escapes her. "You're not dreaming, Adrien."

Crap, he'd said that aloud?

He rubs the base of his neck and looks the other way, too embarrassed to face her. Yeah, this is definitely not a dream. In his dreams, he is a hundred times smoother. (Also, let it be known that studying good pick-up lines and flirting tips mean nothing when you turn into a gibbering mess while alone with the girl you love.)

She closes the distance between them. There's something about the way she pauses when they're close enough to touch, something about the way she bites her lip and darts a look up at him from under her lashes, that makes his heart pound faster and faster. His mouth goes dry and he licks his lips.

"A-anyway," she says, her gaze not quite meeting his. "I thought I could … I mean your friends asked me to …"

He blinks. Is she nervous? Somehow, it helps ease the screaming panic-delight in his mind. It reminds him that he fights alongside her all the time as Chat Noir, that they're still best friends regardless of how much he wants to proclaim his undying love to her in every way possible. (Also, it reminds him he should stop being a gaping idiot and try to make her feel more comfortable.)

"Yes?" he prompts gently.

She bites her lip, determination hardening her expression. (And for a moment he's distracted by a strange sense of déjà vu.) Then she swoops up on her tiptoes and kisses his cheek. His eyes widen. Tingles and flutters spread all through him.

"Happy birthday, Adrien," she whispers.

He makes a real intelligent sound like uhhmm whaa, and then she's gone, leaping out the window with her yoyo and soaring off into the night.

Adrien touches his cheek and swallows hard. His heart is still a fluttery mess.

Okay, he's really going to have to thank Alya and Nino. That was the best gift ever.

Chapter Text

Marinette slaps her palm to her forehead when she sees the mess of material, buttons, and thread littering her bedroom floor. Ugh, she knew there was something she'd been forgetting. (She'd been so tired last night she'd gone straight to bed instead of cleaning up after her sewing spree.)

"I'm so sorry," she says, spinning to face Adrien. "It's not always like this. Just give me a sec and I'll get this out of the way."

"I can help."

"No, I couldn't ask you to—"

"Marinette." He hits her with that sunshine-soft smile that makes her knees wobble. "I want to help."

"O-okay. Thanks."

They gather everything off the floor. (With a few heart-stuttering moments of hands touching as they reach for the same button or scrap of fabric.)

"Looks like that's everything," he says, surveying her room.

"Y-yeah."

"Shall we get started on that report then?" he suggests.

She nods.

They sit at her desk and get their papers and books ready. It's hard to get her words out (they're like her threads and get tangled with any prodding on her part), but as time passes and he continues to smile at her warmly and ask her opinion on things, some of the nervous tension eases. She can even joke with him as she would Chat Noir. (Probably helps they have a similar sense of humour, as she's quickly realising.)

Her dad pops his head up through the hatch and offers them mini cakes with frosting. Adrien is delighted. (Another thing she's learning: his sweet tooth is as bad as Tikki's.)

Adrien finishes his cake first and she can't help but grin when she sees the frosting stuck to his lip and cheek.

"Um, you have some frosting on you," she says.

"I do?" He wipes at his face with his fingers, missing every time.

She giggles. "No. Over here."

She points at the spots on her face. This time he just smears it on his skin, which only makes her laugh more.

"You do it," he says, shoulders slumping in defeat. "I'm clearly a mess today."

Warmth blooms on her cheeks. "O-oh, um, okay …"

She wipes the frosting off carefully, trying not to think too hard about how intimate this is and how soft his skin feels. Her fingertip grazes his lip. Everything in her stills, even her heart. His breath fans her skin, and his eyes seem greener in that moment—shocks of summer grass, and just as warm.

Shakily, she pulls her finger away.

"Thanks," he says.

"A-anytime," she squeaks.

The frosting is on her finger now, and she licks it off, not knowing what else to do. He lets out an odd, choked sort of cough. His eyes are very wide.

"You okay?" she asks.

Pink dusts his cheeks. "Y-yeah. I'm fine. Should we, um, should we get back to the report?"

She nods and fixes her attention back on her book. (Oddly, it's Adrien who does most of the stammering for the rest of their study time together.)

Chapter Text

The sky was dark and rumbling. Vivid green eyes, luminous like a cat's, winked at her from the shadows of the Eiffel Tower. Her heart thumped faster.

A damning beep came from her earrings.

"Now that's not a good sound," Chat Noir taunted as he stepped into the light. He'd split his staff and held the twin batons in a deceptively loose grasp.

She balled her hands into fists. "Get back!"

"Or you'll what?" His smile gleamed, sharp like his claws. "This is it, Ladybug. You've lost your champions, your yoyo is useless, and judging by that beep coming from your earrings, I'd say you only have a few minutes left before you detransform. It would be in your best interest to surrender to me now. You must see that."

She wiped the blood from her split lip. "What if I don't see it?"

He laughed, but there was no humour in the sound. There never was. "Then I'd say you're deluded."

He lunged in a streak of black, twin batons coming for her. The metal danced before her eyes in hypnotising silver. Then her hands snapped out and grabbed each end of the weapons. The tips stopped inches from her face. Her arms trembled, boots sliding against the rain-slickened metal as she strained to hold him off. His green eyes burned into hers.

It's over, his stare seemed to say. Just give up.

She gritted her teeth and pushed back, using every ounce of strength she had. He grunted as he was forced to hold his ground, but neither could get the upper-hand. They had always been evenly matched.

"You can't hold me off forever," he hissed. "Your time is running out."

As if to corroborate his words, her earrings gave another beep. Only one spot left.

Panic screamed in her mind, clawed at her chest. Still, she'd been fighting as Ladybug too many years to give up now. She couldn't let Hawkmoth get her miraculous. Paris was counting her.

She grinned and relaxed her hold, but instead of letting the batons bash into her, she flowed with the motion—controlled it so she could slide down and kick his legs hard to knock him off balance. His body toppled ungracefully. Adrenaline pumped through her veins as she scrabbled onto him, desperate, half-snarling through her teeth. She wrenched the batons from his grasp with clawing, tugging fingers and sent both flying. Then she went for his ring.

"Cataclysm!"

Her heart lodged in her throat, but somehow she managed to clamp her hands down on his wrists. Thunder growled. The rain got heavier even as the destructive force of his power swirled above his pinned hand like disintegrating, black stars. His glare gleamed at her in vibrant green.

"Why?" she whispered.

His brow creased. "What?"

She didn't have much time left before her detransformation. Mere seconds at best. Maybe that was why hot prickles stung her eyes. Maybe that was why the words spilled out of her.

"Why are you doing this? Why did you have to side with him? My kwami told me it wasn't meant to be this way. She said we were meant to be a team." Tears rolled down her mask. "She said you were meant to help me."

Something flickered in his eyes.

The last beep sounded. Her suit and mask vanished in sparks of pink. Now she was just a bruised woman wearing jeans and a t-shirt, her head bowed in defeat. There was no strength left in her hands—not the kind that could keep Chat Noir pinned down. But he didn't move. He didn't even try to escape her grasp. Nor did he glance at Tikki, who had fluttered weakly onto the ground beside them.

"I-it can't be," he said shakily. "Marinette?"

Her head snapped up at the sound of her name on his lips. He had gone chalk-white and his eyes were wide.

Wide and horrified.

Suddenly, he bolted like a skittish cat—breaking free of her, slamming his destructive power against one of the metal pillars to get rid of it, and then snatched up his batons and disappeared into the night.

It all happened so fast.

It was like he had never been there at all except for the crumbled pillar.

Marinette let out a breath. "Tikki, what the hell just happened?"

"Judging from the way Chat Noir reacted, I'd say he knows you."

Her chest seized up, squeezing her lungs. "But he ran. Why would he run just because he knows who I am? He's been helping Hawkmoth terrorise Paris for years. He's been fighting me for years. My miraculous was right there for him to take. Why would he—"

"Marinette."

It was the sadness in Tikki's voice that did it. Sadness, because of course Tikki didn't need to explain why Chat Noir had run upon realising she was Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

Chat Noir really did know her, and it seemed he cared about her as well.

And that meant she knew him.

Marinette's throat burned. She swallowed against the constricting lump and hugged her arms around herself. She didn't know what to do, didn't know what to think. She probably would have stayed there for hours had Tikki not nudged her into motion.

"Come on," Tikki said gently. "Let's go home. Nothing will be solved from staying out here."

"You're right …"

Chat Noir had gone after all.

And now Marinette had to live with the fact that one of her most dangerous enemies was probably also one of her closest friends.

Chapter Text

"Chat Noir!" Marinette exclaims, dropping her sketchpad and pencil. "W-what are you doing here?"

He smiles and jumps onto her balcony. "I just came to say thanks." A wink. "You really saved me today, Multimouse."

Ohhh.

The thumping of her heart eases. Of course that's why he's come. There's no way he could have pieced together she's Ladybug, not after she went to so much effort to protect her identity, even going so far as to create an illusion double.

"It was no problem," she says, waving her hand in a dismissive manner. "I was happy to help." An exaggerated slump of her shoulders. "I'm just sorry I let Ladybug down in the end. I forgot that I wasn't meant to remove the miraculous in front of anyone."

He places his hand on her shoulder. "Hey, you don't need to beat yourself up over that, though I am disappointed we probably won't get to fight alongside each other again."

"You are?"

"Yeah, you were so good out there." He rubs the base of his neck, looking off to the side. It's an oddly shy gesture. "To tell you the truth, I … I thought you were Ladybug."

She laughs. "That's just because I turned up while Ladybug was away."

"No. I really thought you were Ladybug. It struck me today just how similar you two are."

Her heart quickens and her left eye twitches. "R-really?"

"Yeah. I mean you even have the same hairstyle."

Her laugh is much more forced this time. "Wow, yeah. I guess we do. Never thought about that." Kill me now. Must change hairstyle. "But you know I'm really not anything like Ladybug. I mean you've seen how clumsy I am, and she's just so confident and—"

"The girl who saved me today was plenty confident."

"But—"

"Real clever at coming up with plans, too."

She raises her finger. "Actually, that was Ladybug's plan."

"But it wasn't Ladybug's plan that helped us when Evillustrator trapped us in that box."

"Oh …" Her left eye starts twitching again. She's sure her smile is just as twitchy. "You remember that?"

"Of course." He grasps her shoulders, and his expression warms into the softest of smiles. "You really are an amazing girl, Marinette. I'd count myself honoured any day to stop akumas with you."

The sincerity in his tone surprises her just as much as it brings a dusting of pink on her cheeks. "I don't think that's going to happen, Chat. You heard Ladybug."

"Yeah, I know, but a cat can hope."

Her chest warms. This overgrown kitty really can be sweet sometimes.

He pulls her into a brief hug before he steps back. "Anyway, thanks again for coming to my rescue. Fighting akumas in that banana costume wasn't as fun as it apeeled to be."

Her nose scrunches. "Apeeled?"

"I know. The cat puns are much more clawsome."

"That's not what I …" She pauses, huffing out a laugh. Never mind.

He winks and jumps onto the balcony railing. "I gotta go now. See you around, Marinette."

"Bye, Chat."

He gives her a final salute and leaps off, using his baton to propel himself over rooftops. A fond smile curves her lips as she watches him.

"You're pretty amazing too, kitty," she murmurs.

Chapter Text

Soft music is playing from one of the nearby buildings. It's the kind of music that reminds Marinette of smoky jazz bars and the black and white movies her mum likes to watch sometimes—all slow pianos and husky singing, like a lulling stream waiting to carry her off to a different time.

Chat steps away from the balcony railing and holds out his hand to her.

"What?" she asks.

"May I have this dance?"

She laughs and turns her shoulder to him. "Don't be silly."

"I'm not."

Something about his tone makes her heart stutter. She sneaks a peek at him from under her lashes.

"Marinette." He lowers into a bow worthy of a royal court, his green eyes twinkling as he meets her gaze. "It is a beautiful night and you are a beautiful princess. It would be this humble cat's honour if you would dance with him."

Warmth blooms on her cheeks. Does he really think her beautiful or is he just being his usual over-the-top self? It's so hard to tell with him.

He doesn't prod her to give an answer, just smiles and continues to hold out his hand. With the full moon shining down on him like that and a backdrop of jewel-scattered stars, he looks like something from a fairy tale. Her very own cat-eared knight in leather armour.

She slips her hand in his and allows him to guide her to the middle of the balcony. One of his arms loops around her waist, and her hand finds his shoulder. They dance to the music, laughing a little until they find their rhythm and just stare into each other's eyes.

Her heart quickens.

She trips over her own feet, stepping on his toes. He doesn't seem to mind. Instead, his arm tightens around her waist and he pulls her closer so he can rest his head against hers. Fresh warmth pools on her cheeks and her entire body throbs to the beat of her heart. Closing her eyes, she relaxes into him.

The dance turns into a slow sway.

"I never knew it could be this way," he murmurs, almost more of an exhale.

"Hrm?"

"With you."

Her stomach flutters. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I think I might …"

Her mouth goes dry and her heart won't stop pounding. She doesn't dare look at him. "Yes?"

He slows to a stop. His hand leaves hers, but only so he can cradle her face, one gloved thumb caressing her cheek. Never has his eyes looked so soft and warm. Not even when he's given her those love-sick, longing looks when she's suited up as Ladybug.

"What?" she whispers.

The corner of his mouth lifts into a smile and he bumps his forehead against hers, nuzzling her a little. "Nothing." He guides her back into a sway. "Just that I like dancing with you."

Her heart stutters and flutters (because she knows that is absolutely not what he was going to say), but her own hesitancy stops her from calling him out.

They're tiptoeing around something dangerous. Something that could change everything.

She loops her arms around his neck and leans back into him.

They continue to sway together long after the song stops.

Chapter Text

In another life, one where Marinette wasn't expected to transform into Ladybug and save the day, she might have thanked the akuma. Maybe. Actually, probably not, because Adrien Agreste is currently on top of her, hip to hip, and all she can think is that she didn't wash her hair this morning.

Also, her hand is stuck on his butt.

"I am so sorry," she mumbles, fire creeping over her cheeks and up to her ears. "I am so, so sorry for this."

His own face is a permanent pink. "Um, it's okay. I know you can't help it."

Which is true. The goopy stuff that the akuma threw at them won't let her move her hand even a centimetre. It also won't let her and Adrien separate. They are stuck together unless she wants to risk calling on Tikki to help. (And who knows if that would even work. Chat Noir is the one with destructive powers.)

Adrien bites his lip, drawing attention to the peach-pink softness. It's a shame the goopy stuff didn't make their lips stick together.

Wait, no. Those are bad thoughts. Bad, bad thoughts. Right now she needs to focus on getting out of this mess, not think about what it would be like to kiss Adrien. (Even if his lips are right there and she can feel his breath on her skin, and his eyes looks so lovely and green in the sunshine, and—

"Let's hope Ladybug turns up soon," he says.

A strained smile. "Or Chat Noir. C-can't forget about him, right?"

"Yeah …"

They both look the other way.

She tries very hard not to flex her hand. (Not because she wants to feel his butt up more. She's just getting cramp in her fingers. Honest.)

Something vibrates between where their hips are pressed against each other. His eyes snap back to hers, and though he seems startled, his mouth soon quivers as if he's trying not to laugh.

"Um, Marinette, I think you're buzzing."

"It's my phone," she wails, squeezing her eyes shut so she won't have to face him. "Someone must be calling me. I can't help it!"

He laughs. "Sorry, sorry. I shouldn't tease."

She peeps at him through her lashes. The soft, reassuring smile he gives her turns her whole body to mush.

"Wait," he says, perking up and looking down at her with brightening eyes. "Marinette, your phone!"

"Huh?"

"I think I might be able to reach it. We can get help!"

"B-but how? It's stuck between us."

"I can still kind of move one of my arms, but, um …" He bites his lip again, cheeks flushing. "I, um, will have to touch you."

Her breathing stops. If her heart is still beating, she can't tell.

"Marinette?"

Everything boots to life and words are spilling out of her in a rush. "Adrien Agreste, you can touch me however you like."

He blinks.

"I m-mean for this. Of course you can much tea. I mean touch me. For the phone! Just to find the phone!"

He nods, still looking a bit lost. "Alright."

She swallows, heart thumping, as he carefully slides his hand down between them. Oh my gosh, her dazed, firework-exploding mind thinks, This is really happening. This is really, really happening.

"O-okay?" he asks, chancing a glance at her.

She nods frantically. "Fine. Totally fine."

His fingertips graze her skin where her shirt rode up. (Skin contact, oh my gosh!) He swallows audibly. There isn't much space thanks to all the hardened goopy stuff that has them plastered to the ground. (Not to mention each other.) He has to really dig between them, trying to get at her pocket where her phone is held. She dies in a mess of tingles and flutters at every touch.

"Got it," he breathes.

"G-great."

His brow furrows as he wiggles and tugs at the phone until he's holding it awkwardly near his shoulder. Both their faces are bright red. Then his eyes widen.

"Oh," he says. "You have a picture of me as your—"

"FASHION!"

He blinks.

"I-I mean it's because I like fashion. And you are a model. Fashion model."

His lips twitch. "Right, I remember now. You're a fan of my father's line."

"Yep! That's me! Big fan!" She laughs nervously, even as she internally screams.

Mercifully, he accepts the explanation and asks her for her passcode.

"Looks like Alya tried to call you," he says. "Let's call her back. She should be where Ladybug is, right?"

"Or Chat Noir."

"Right. Or Chat Noir."

He hits the button to call Alya and sets the phone to speaker.

"Girl!" Alya's voice comes through. "Where have you been? I've been trying to call. You need to get back here."

"I can't come back," Marinette says. "There's been an akuma attack."

"What!"

As if on cue, the akuma alert sirens go off to warn the citizens to get to safety. Alya gets very excited, claiming she just spotted the akuma and now she's gonna follow it so she can film it for her blog.

"No, Alya, wait! You need to—"

"I'll call you back, girl!"

"Alya!"

The line goes dead. Adrien and Marinette stare at each other.

"So, that failed," he observes.

Marinette groans. This is really turning into a mess.

Chapter Text

"Why did you do that?" Marinette exclaims, tucking her yoyo away and advancing on Chat with her hands clenched.

"Do what?"

"Don't give me that innocent face."

She wants to scream at him. How dare he act so calm! Just moments ago he'd been vanishing to nothing in her arms. He'd been dying. If it weren't for the miracle cure and the fact Hawkmoth wanted the cat miraculous so much that he'd called off the akuma, even allowed her to purify it, Chat Noir wouldn't exist right now. He'd be gone.

This stupid cat would be nothing but ether.

"I just did what was necessary," he says. "You're the only one who can—"

"That's what I'm talking about! You keep acting like you have to throw yourself in danger for me, but you don't!"

"Yes, I do."

She opens her mouth to retort, but he gets there before her.

"We're partners, but you're the one with the powers of creation. You're the one who can purify akumas and reset everything back to normal. Paris needs you."

"That doesn't mean you have to try get yourself killed!"

He has the nerve to soften his voice, trying to sooth her with his more reasonable tone. "Look, I love being alive and in one piece as much as the next cat. It's not like I want to take those risks, but—"

"No, you listen!" She closes the distance between them, poking him hard in the chest. "You don't get to talk right now!"

"Ladybug—"

"Shut up!"

He does, for once. Then again, maybe he only goes quiet because her eyes are hot and prickling. Maybe it's because her fingers curl into the leather of his suit and she presses her face to his chest, letting his heartbeat play against her cheek.

"I was scared," she admits.

Her voice is hushed and small, a vulnerable thing. He wraps his arms around her without hesitation. Solid, warm, secure. He feels so real, but even that can't stop her from shaking.

"I was really scared, Chat."

"I knew you'd bring me back."

"But what if I didn't? What if I'd failed?" She squeezes her eyes shut. "Have you ever wondered what would happen then?"

"You always figure out a way. There's no way you could fail."

"You don't know that!"

Suddenly, she's grabbing at his shoulders, fingers digging in as she tugs him down and meets his gaze with burning intensity. His eyes widen. Their faces are close now. Oh so close. It shocks her like lightning, splintering the fear and anxiety with something warmer. Something that reaches deep inside her and snatches the breath from her lungs, that makes her moisten her lips and swallow against her spiking pulse and the sudden dryness in her throat.

"You don't know that," she says softly.

Their breath intermingles as they stare into each other's eyes. His arms tighten around her waist. His face dips ever so slightly.

So close.

Too close.

"My lady," he whispers, "stop me if you don't want this."

She closes her eyes.

Their lips touch in a gossamer caress. It's so achingly light. She lingers a hairsbreadth away, eyes still shut, the first tears rolling free down her cheeks. Her heart pounds and pounds. Then she surges up again and kisses him. Kisses him harder, greedily. Kisses him like she's trying to memorise everything about his mouth—his taste, the yielding softness, all the sweetness and intensity she can get.

She doesn't want to stop, and he doesn't either. It's only the jarring beep from her earrings that makes them break apart.

Their eyes meet as they let go of each other. He's flushed and his chest is rising and falling too fast. Not that her breathing is any less ragged. She's never been kissed like that before.

"I …" She licks her lips, swallows hard. "I-I should probably go. The transformation will wear off soon."

He nods, but the moment she turns away, he yanks her back by her wrist and pulls her into a searing kiss. "Goodnight, my lady," he murmurs.

Her heart is still pounding when she gets home and lets her transformation drop.

Chapter Text

"Listen," Marinette says, grabbing Chat's arm.

"But the—"

"No, really listen." She grabs his face, smooshing his cheeks slightly. "I need you to kiss me."

His eyes go wide. "W-what?"

"Kiss me now, Chat!"

He does.

It's hardly a romantic kiss—just a clumsy smash of lips and a slight clinking of teeth. She keeps him in place, lips still mashed against his, and sneaks a glance out of the corner of her eye at the akuma. Sure enough, the man is so distracted that he has stopped his mass terrorising. He's also blushing furiously.

"How shameless!" he exclaims, covering his eyes. "Kissing in public!"

Marinette pulls her lips away with a grin. "All yours, Chat."

Chat blinks. "U-um. Right."

She doesn't wait around to see how her partner fares. Tikki should have recharged by now. Time to transform back to Ladybug and purify this akuma.

Chapter Text

"You are surprisingly good at this," Marinette observes.

Chat grins. They're both sitting on the floor in her bedroom, pillows, cushions and snacks dotted around them. Her foot rests on his knee as he applies pink nail polish to her toes. "I have many skills you don't know about," he says.

"Clearly."

He puts the last stroke of pink to her little toe with a flourish and moves onto her other foot. Soft music plays in the background, and he hums along during the chorus, his head nodding from side to side. It's cute. He is cute. It's a thought that hits her a lot these days. Of course she's always known he's attractive, but this is a different sort of cuteness—the kind that makes her want to squish his cheeks with her hands or snuggle him like he's a cuddly, cat-boy blanket.

"What?" he says, glancing up at her.

"I was just thinking that if you really want this to be an authentic sleepover, I should do your nails next."

(She wasn't thinking that, of course. She is a big, fat liar, but there is no way she's going to admit how cute she finds him.)

He snorts, head bowed as he continues to apply nail polish. "Much as I wouldn't mind, I'm not sure my kwa—I mean this suit and pink nail polish will go well together."

She bites the inside of her cheek so she won't smile. His kwami. Yes, Plagg probably would not be happy if she applied nail polish to the suit.

"And since I can't remove the suit without exposing my identity to you, which would not be good for you and would most definitely bring Ladybug's wrath upon me"—he places the brush back in the bottle of polish and wiggles his claws at her—"I think it's best we leave these black."

She smiles and stretches back on her palms. "Guess so."

He finishes applying the nail polish and sets the bottle down. "Alright, that's drying. What's next on the agenda?"

"You're really serious about this?"

"I'm a curious cat, and this curious cat would like to experience the mysteries of a girls' sleepover."

Now it's her turn to snort. "Fine. I suppose I can share some mysteries with you."

He flashes his trademark grin, toothy and playful.

"Let's see …" she says, tapping her finger to her chin. "Well, when Alya and I really want to pamper ourselves, we do face masks."

His ears droop. "I don't think that'll work." He points at his black mask.

"Probably not."

His complexion is flawless anyway. (At least from what she can see that is not covered.) He does not need a face mask. Then again, that isn't really the point, not when it comes to sleepovers. It's just the experience of doing pampering activities with someone else. (And, now that she thinks about it, maybe that's why Chat is so intrigued by the whole thing. She pieced together long ago that his civilian life is a lonely one.)

"There must be other things we can do, right?" he says, all earnest and hopeful. "Things my suit and mask won't get in the way of. What else do you and Alya do?"

"Mmm, watch movies, tell each other secrets—"

"Secrets? I love secrets." He wiggles his eyebrows. "I bet you have some juicy ones as well, Miss Marinette Dupain-Cheng. They always say it's the nice ones you have to watch out for."

"I am not telling you my secrets."

"Oh, c'mon!" He leans forward, face suddenly inches from hers. "It'll be fun. I'll tell you mine, too."

She pushes him back with a finger to his nose. "Don't you have an identity to protect?"

"I won't say anything that'll compromise that. We can just share harmless ones, you know?" He sits back on his haunches like an eager kitty. "Look, I'll even start." He clears his throat, trying to amp up the drama. "Now I know this is going to seem hard to believe since you see me fighting akumas all the time and, you know, being all heroic and—"

"Get to the point, Chat."

"I'm a scaredy cat when it comes to horror movies."

She blinks. "Wait, really?"

"Yeah. They freak me out. I can't watch them alone at all, and it's too embarrassing to watch them with others since I, uh, get kind of clingy."

Her eyebrow rises. "Kind of?"

"Alright, fine. The last time I watched a horror movie with a friend, I ended up half on his lap and he said I clung to his arm so hard that I made it go numb."

She laughs and ruffles his hair. "Now that I would pay to see."

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up." His expression shifts back to playful. "Anyway, it's your turn. Hit me with a secret."

"Hmmm, I used to do ballet."

His eyes widen. "Really? You did?"

She folds her arms. "Why so surprised?"

"Well, I mean you're kind of … clumsy."

A sigh escapes her. "Yeah, I know. That's actually why I gave it up. Can't be a ballerina when you're a walking disaster."

"I don't think you're a walking disaster."

Aww.

"You just have, uh, stability challenges sometimes."

Her lips purse and she hits him lightly on the arm, even as his eyes spark and his mouth twitches.

"Keep that up and I'll cross hair playing off our sleepover agenda," she warns.

It's like dangling catnip in front of a kitten. He leans closer and paws at her hand. "We get to play with each other's hair?"

"Uh, yes?"

His gaze darts to her pigtails. "Can I play with yours now?"

She can't help but laugh at how delighted he seems, so she simply nods. The next moment he's scooched himself behind her and removes her hair ties. The black strands tumble free. His touch is gentle as he combs his clawed fingers through her hair. It feels heavenly.

"Tell me another secret," she says, eyes closing as he keeps up his soothing ministrations.

He goes quiet, and when he does speak his voice is hushed. "I miss this."

"Huh?"

"My mum … she used to let me play with her hair. It was really long, and she'd let me do whatever crazy styles I liked. I miss it. I …" He swallows audibly. "I miss her."

Without hesitation, Marinette twists around to face him and pulls him into a tight hug. "I'm so sorry, Chat," she whispers.

He holds her close before he pulls back, rubbing the base of his neck. "Sorry. Guess I kinda spoiled the mood there."

"You don't have to apologise for anything."

His expression softens and he touches a lock of her hair, his eyes meeting hers for a few heartbeats of thanks. Then his gaze shifts and his jaw drops. "Oh no!"

"What?"

"Your toes! The nail polish is all ruined!"

Marinette covers her face with her hands to stifle giggles as he continues to fret and bemoan the destruction of all his hard work. He really is such a dramatic kitty.

Chapter Text

Marinette makes a sleepy sound and wriggles closer to the source of warmth curled around her. Wait. Her body goes rigid from head to toe, heart pounding double-time. She opens one eye and glances down. Yep, that is definitely an arm wrapped around her waist. Also, she isn't wearing anything except a handmade mask. Also, this isn't her room.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.

This is real. She really got that drunk last night at the costume party. She really shoved her tongue down that Mister Bug's throat after they'd been grinding shamelessly against each other on the dancefloor for who knows how many songs. (Not to mention went upstairs with him to this room where they had discarded everything but their Mister Bug and Lady Noire masks—for the thrill of anonymity—and done a whole lot more.)

Her cheeks burn. Anonymity means nothing when you pass out together and wake up spooning.

This is bad. This is really, really bad.

She's never had a one-night stand before. Until last night, she'd never had sex either, yet here she is no longer a virgin and all too conscious of the fact that her first time was with a guy whose name and face she doesn't know. (And all because his dumb blond hair and bright green eyes had been a siren song to her hormones.)

She tries to slip free of his hold, desperate to escape or at least put some space between them. Too bad this just makes him hug her closer and nuzzle his face into her neck.

"Mmm, my lady," he murmurs into her skin.

Her eyes widen to saucers. No. No, no, no, no.

Suddenly, she's surging free of his arms and sitting up, hands fumbling for the sheet to cover her breasts. He blinks at her sleepily, red and black mask slightly askew but still covering most of the upper half of his face. His blond hair is messier than ever.

"Chat Noir!" she splutters.

He freezes.

"Oh my gosh!" she wails, pulling the sheet up over her head so she's completely hidden. "It is you!"

"N-no, I'm … uh …"

"I can't believe this!"

The mattress dips as he sits up. "Wait, Marinette?"

Eep.

"W-who's Marinette?"

"Really?" he says. "That's how you want to play this?"

Her blush spreads down her chest and up to the tip of her ears. (Not that he can see it.) "I have no idea yacht war talking about. I-I mean no idea what you're talking about. I don't know any Marinettes."

A sigh. "I know it's you."

Silence.

"Marinette, come on. Just admit it already."

"Alright, yes! I admit it! You were right! I'm Marinette. Happy?"

There's a slight pause.

"Are you really going to keep hiding under that sheet?"

She nods. (Even if she does probably look like a person trying to dress up as a ghost.)

More silence. A clock ticks from somewhere in the room.

"Is it that bad?" he asks, his voice small and fragile as glass. "Am I … am I that awful to you?"

"What? No!"

"Well, that's what it seems like when you won't even look at me."

She bites her lip. "I'm embarrassed, okay? I-I've never done this before. I don't know how to … I mean that was my first time last night, and it's you, and I just don't … I don't how to process all this. I'm sorry."

The mattress shifts again. It feels like he's moved closer. "If it makes you feel better, it was my first time as well."

"R-really?"

"Yeah."

"But you seem so calm."

"Oh, no. I'm freaking out. Trust me on that."

Her lips twitch into a tiny smile. It's a few more seconds before she emerges from the sheet, little flyaway hairs static all over her head. She tugs off the black Lady Noire mask and shyly meets his gaze.

"Hi," he says.

"Hi."

Pink dusts on both their cheeks. They stare and stare at each other.

Yeah, this has definitely screwed up their friendship.

Chapter Text

He finds Ladybug sitting near the top of the Eiffel Tower, legs dangling over the side. Her expression is pensive as she stares at the usual crowd of tourists milling below. Or maybe it's the sunset that has caught her attention? Streaks of orange and pink arc across the sky in intertwining threads and bathe the city in a rosy glow.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" he says. "Though of course it's not as beautiful as you, Bugaboo."

She stirs and glances up at him. "Oh. Hey, Chat."

His brow creases. Something is off. It's in the slight drooping of her shoulders, the dullness in her eyes despite her smile. She's like a sunflower starving for brightness.

"Everything okay?" he asks, taking a seat next to her.

"Why would you think it isn't?"

"Uh, because I called you beautiful and Bugaboo in one sentence and you didn't tell me off or roll your eyes."

"Maybe I'm just used to your flirting now."

"Or maybe you're trying to deflect the question."

She sighs and looks the other way.

"You can talk about it, you know," he says. "I'm all ears."

Silence.

"Come on, Bugaboo." He nudges her with his elbow, putting on an extra big grin. "Tell me what's bugging you."

"Right now it's you."

Or so she says. He still catches the way the corner of her lips twitch upwards.

"Ha!" he exclaims. "I made you smile!"

"You did not."

"Did too!"

A full smile forms and she lets out a dramatic sigh. "Fine. Your dumb pun made me smile. Happy?"

"I am, actually."

She laughs and shakes her head, and for a moment they just sit there together, feet swaying to the same rhythm.

"Seriously, though," he says. "You can talk to me, you know. We're partners, and I like to think we're friends as well."

"We are friends …"

"But?"

Her sigh is smaller this time but somehow so much heavier. "This problem is a little too personal, kitty. I don't think I can tell you without giving away too much."

"Right." He bites back his own sigh. "The identity thing."

They're both quiet. Her shoulders have slumped again and her mouth is starting to droop as well. This won't do. He hates seeing her sad, and it's even worse when there's nothing he can do to help.

Wait. Maybe there is one thing he can do, at least if she'll let him.

"How about a hug then?" he says.

Her eyes meet his. "You know what? I'd really like that."

He opens his arms and lets her crash into his chest. Then he simply holds her close. Her hair tickles his chin and her arms tighten around his waist. They stay that way for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

"Change is annoyingly difficult," Marinette mumbles.

Adrien blinks and looks up from his book, finger pressed to the page so he won't lose his place. "Sorry?"

The two of them, plus Nino and Alya, had gathered in the library to do a group project, though Nino and Alya had vanished off somewhere. Marinette had buried her head in her books and barely spoken a word to him since. (And though Adrien will never admit it, her obvious reluctance to talk to him bothers him a lot. Aren't they supposed to be friends?)

She frowns at her hands. "I keep coming up with all these plans, keep telling myself I'll change, but it always ends up like this."

He tilts his head. "Um …"

Would it be rude to say he's totally lost? Because he is.

Her expression steels and she presses her hands flat to the table, pushing herself to her feet. "You know what, I'm going to do it. I'm just going to say it."

"Uh … great?"

She marches around the table, her hands balled into fists and her cheeks pink. His eyes widen. Suddenly, he can't budge at all. It's like his legs are frozen to the chair—frozen at the sight of this normally sweet girl who is now striding towards him like she's about to conquer him and the world with it. He swallows audibly, meeting her gaze.

"Adrien Agreste," she says.

"Y-yes?"

"I'm in lo—"

Sirens go off. Another akuma attack.

Marinette curses. (And that makes him blink as well. He has never heard her say a word like that.)

"Now?" she growls. "You have to do this now, Hawkmoth?"

Adrien tentatively raises his hand. "Uh, Marinette—"

Her gaze snaps back to him, all bluebell sparks and fire and … wow.

"We will talk later," she says.

His stomach flutters and something short-circuits in his brain. (Because that's the only explanation for why he salutes her like an idiot.) "Yes, ma'am."

She dashes off in a blur of black pigtails and pink. Adrien lets out a breath and slumps down on his chair. Wow. Just wow. He knows Marinette has a feisty side, but he's never seen her like that. Never seen her take charge so thoroughly or show such a striking resemblance to—

Wait, the akuma!

Adrien scrambles off the chair and runs for some decent cover so he can transform. He can't leave his lady waiting.

Chapter Text

Rain falls. Everyone else is hidden under umbrellas, but not her. She stands on the sidewalk: a splash of familiar black pigtails and a pink scarf wrapped around her throat. Kind but oh so forgetful Marinette.

Adrien closes his eyes, inhales deeply, but his feet don't move.

Hesitance curls around his ankles like chains. Sticks his feet. His heart is lodged in his throat and he wants to turn back, turn back, turn back, because he still doesn't know if this is the best decision. (Father has made it clear what his orders and expectations are, and Mother is still waiting in her glass coffin for a kiss of magic that will only come if Hawkmoth wins.)

Yet even now Adrien can't forget that night on the Eiffel Tower. He can't forget seeing his enemy take on the face of the woman he likes, nor the sight of her tears, nor the words she said to him in that small, bitter voice.

"My kwami told me it wasn't meant to be this way. She said you were meant to help me."

It hurt then. It still hurts now.

He's hated being Chat Noir from the first day Plagg came to him. Hated every time he's been forced to transform, hated every battle he's fought. Countless upon countless times, he's wondered what would have happened if he hadn't freaked out so much and shown his father the ring. If he had just listened to Plagg and kept his miraculous a secret.

Now, after hearing Ladybug's words, he thinks he knows.

A different life.

He could have had that. A life where maybe he didn't know his father was Hawkmoth. A life where he wasn't commanded to terrorise a city, didn't have to be the villain. A life where that gouging mantra of the end justifies the means didn't have to exist, because he would have been at her side.

She would have been at his.

Adrien curls his fingers tighter around the ring trapped in his hand—cool metal pressed against skin—and marches over to Marinette. Her gaze catches his as he stops and holds his umbrella over her, and just like that he's aware sheknows. It's in her widening eyes, the way her body stiffens, her clenched hands.

So, she figured him out. Or at least suspects he is Chat Noir.

"Adrien," she says, low and wary.

"I'm not here to fight."

Her gaze darts left and right and her body tenses even more. He's just showed all his cards, removed any doubts she might have had. It's obvious she doesn't understand why.

"I just came to give you this," he says, and holds up the cat miraculous ring.

"W-what?"

He grasps her hand—still slack from her shock—and presses the ring into her palm. "Maybe in another life I was meant to help you, but I think we can both agree in this one I messed up big time." He closes her fingers around the metal. "Take it. Give it to someone who actually deserves it."

Her lips part slightly and something that might be sorrow flickers in her eyes.

"Oh, and here," he says, pressing the umbrella into her free hand. "Try not to forget yours next time. I won't always be there to lend you mine."

"Adrien …"

He can't bear to look at her any longer, can't bear it when he thinks of all the could-have-beens, so he turns quickly.

Her hand tugs him back.

The umbrella is forgotten on the concrete, and rain slicks trails down both their faces. His heart pounds faster.

"Why?" she asks, an echo of her question that night. "Why did you side with him?"

His eyes prickle, hot and stinging, and his voice is the barest whisper when he speaks. "Because he's my father. Hawkmoth is my father."

"What? But—"

"I'm sorry, Marinette." Adrien slumps, bones suddenly aching with weakness. He wants to fall onto his knees at her feet and weep out all his shame and regret. "I'm so, so sorry. I just … he told me we could have a chance. We could wake up Mum if we used the wish, and I wanted that. I thought I could finally get my family back."

Marinette's grip tightens on his sleeve. "Your mum?" She sounds dazed. "Hawkmoth is trying to save your mum? That's what all this has been about?"

He nods. When he notices the tremor of pity in her expression, that tiny sliver that could whittle away at her sense of justice and rightness, it steels something deep within him. Ladybug is not allowed to look like that. Not for Hawkmoth, not even for him.

He grabs her arm and meets her gaze. "Hey, don't give that face. Just because my father's goal isn't to take over Paris doesn't excuse anything he or I have done. You know he's been hurting people for years—using them, manipulating them. He's made people terrified of their own emotions, and I helped him do that." He glares into her eyes, wanting her to see. "I was selfish, Marinette, and my father was selfish, and my mother made her choice long ago, and that's why you can't pity any of us. Just do your job. Stop him. Stop all this."

Her lips curve into a small, humourless smile. "Don't worry. I know what I have to do. I just … never expected this, I guess."

He lets go of her arm. "Well, now you know."

They stare at each other, rain falling all around. So many words are exchanged in the silence. It's an aching breath of understanding, of being so close yet still so far.

(This is what they could have been. This is what he lost when he chose selfishness over heroism.)

"Anyway, you don't have to worry about me," he says, turning to leave. "I won't fight you anymore."

"What will you do?"

He swallows, standing with this back to her. "Nothing can change the things I've done. When this is all over, I'll turn myself in and pay for my crimes. But for now … I guess it's goodbye to Paris."

Her fingers pluck at his jacket. "Wait."

His heart thumps and he slowly turns to face her. She holds the ring out to him on her palm.

"Why don't you help me?" she asks.

He recoils. "You can't be serious."

"I am."

"But I was your enemy."

"I know."

"I helped him hurt you. Helped him hurt so many others. I did all those awful, awful things."

"I know." She touches his cheek, her voice softening. "I know, Adrien. But that's why I'm asking you to be my partner. The guardian chose you to be the bearer of the cat miraculous for a reason, and though you lost your way for a while, I think you've found it now." She once more offers him the ring. "So, will you do it? Will you help me this time?"

A lump forms in his throat. It's choking and only gets bigger with every second that passes. Tears roll down his cheeks, mingling with the rain. (Because even if he has always hated being Chat Noir, there's something about the thought of fighting at her side that feels so right.)

"I don't know if I should," he whispers. "I … I messed up so bad, Marinette."

"Then trust me." She presses the ring into his hand. "Because I know Chat Noir can be more than a villain. He just needs to be given a second chance."

Adrien shakily closes his fingers around the ring, feeling its familiar metal kiss his skin. She smiles and pulls him into her arms.

For the first time, he feels like he's where he belongs.

Chapter Text

"You can't give more than yourself."

Marinette raises her head from her sketchbook to look at Chat. "Huh?"

"It's an inspirational quote."

Her brow creases. "Okay, and why are you sharing random inspirational quotes with me?"

"I didn't. Rose did. I simply read it aloud."

It's then she notices the phone in his hand. Her phone. A shriek escapes her and she scrabbles over, trying to snatch it from him. His dumb long arms easily keep it out of her reach.

"You nosy little—give me that!" she war cries.

His green eyes dance with mischief and he leans back, stretching his arm even more to keep the phone from her. "You should really remember to lock your phone, Marinette."

"Give it!"

"What's the magic word?"

Marinette responds by clambering on him and smushing her hand into his face, half pushing him to the floor as she reaches for the phone. He laughs and snags an arm around her waist. The next second she's underneath him and he's looking down at her, a lazy smile on his lips. Her heartbeat stutters. It's only because he wiggles the phone at her all McSmugface Smug that she's able to school her expression into pursed lips and narrowed eyes. (Even if her heartbeat continues to fumble.)

"You know, Marinette," he says. "You have a lot of pictures of Adrien Agreste on your phone."

Heat sweeps over her cheeks. "It's because I like fashion."

"So you've said before." His nose almost bumps hers as he leans closer. "But now I'm wondering if that's the only reason."

"W-why wouldn't it be?"

"Mmm, I dunno. Maybe because most of these pictures are head shots. Makes me wonder if you're admiring the fashion or the face."

The heat turns to fire. She must be as red as a tomato. "Th-that's not true. I just … um ..."

"Liar, liar. I caught you."

"Did not. Because I'm not lying, so there."

"Are too." The mischief sparkle is back in his eyes. "I think you liiiiiiike him."

Now the tips of her ears feel hot. "Shut up."

"Oohhh, you do."

She huffs and flops back against the floor. "Fine, I have a huge, embarrassing crush on Adrien. Happy? Can you get off me and give my phone back now?"

His smile does terrible things to her heart. (This stupid, attractive cat.) "Not yet," he says. "Cuddle time first."

His arms come around her, holding her extra close. She gives a token grumble but otherwise relaxes into his hug. A low purr hums from him.

"I'm still mad at you for snooping around in my phone, you know," she mutters.

"I know." He nuzzles into her hair. "But it was worth it. At least now you're paying attention to me."

She rolls her eyes even as a smile curves her lips. Sometimes he is such a needy little kitten.

Chapter Text

Adrien's heart thumps and thumps. It's not the first time he's made out with Ladybug in his bedroom, but her kisses are more demanding tonight, more daring. She straddles his lap on the sofa, fingers tangling in his hair and sliding under his loose t-shirt. His breath catches in his throat and his blood hums to her touch.

It drives him crazy.

She is driving him crazy.

Her teeth tug lightly on his lower lip, and he groans into the kiss.

"Ladybug," he murmurs, pulling back.

She follows him, slanting her lips against his and teasing him with her tongue. Another groan escapes. He gets lost in a haze of her kisses, her touch. His pulse races and races, and his hands skim her sides and up her back, itching to feel more than just the textured material of her suit. That building desire should probably alarm him, but it's hard to think straight when his girlfriend is kissing him like she wants to steal his breath and memorise everything about his lips.

"Mm, Adrien," she breathes, pressing her hips even closer to his and trailing her lips down his jaw, his neck.

His eyes slide shut. It's impossible to resist. (He needs to resist.) She tugs his shirt off, ruffling his hair, and plants open-mouthed kisses on his shoulder and collarbone. He's unravelling like loose threads tugged by skilful fingers. He's in way over his head, and he wants, wants, wants.

"My lady," he says breathlessly.

Her fingers slide down his stomach, going lower and lower.

"W-woah." He grabs hold of her arms.

"What?" she asks.

He swallows, trying to catch his breath. "Just … just give me a moment."

She sits back on his lap, biting her kiss-bruised lower lip. Her cheeks are flushed and her hair mussed. He probably looks the same.

"Sorry," she says, lowering her gaze. "I guess I got a little carried away. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"Oh, believe me, you didn't make me uncomfortable."

"But you stopped me."

He huffs out a breathy laugh and cups her cheek with his hand. "Yeah, because as much as I would love to let you ravish me right now, it's no fun when I can't do the same to you."

Colour blooms on her cheeks. "Oh."

He lets his fingertips trail caressingly down her cheek, following the curve of her jaw and neck until he hits fabric. "I want to touch you," he whispers. "I want to feel your hands on my skin with no gloves in the way."

Her pupils widen like black moons and her hips once more inch closer to his. "You know we can't."

"You know I'm Chat Noir."

"That's different."

He doesn't argue. (Because there is still a mostly-functioning rational part of him that does understand why it's safer not to know her civilian identity, even if he does have his suspicions.) So he simply kisses her, deep and toe-curling. The moment she tries to wind her arms around him, he pulls back and meets her gaze with a teasing smile.

"Then I guess we'll both have to be patient," he says.

Her lips form a pout. "Patience … is not something I'm known for." Her hands sneak up along his stomach, fingertips tracing lazy patterns against his skin. "At least not when it comes to you."

He swallows, struggling to keep his composure. "I guess this will be a test of your patience then. Or a source of motivation. Neither of us will be getting any until Hawkmoth and Mayura are out of the picture."

"Mhmm." She kisses the hypersensitive skin near his ear. "Or we could just find a loophole now."

"L-loophole?"

She nibbles a little on his earlobe. "How do you feel about a blindfold?"

His heartbeat stutters, and whatever loose threads she'd been unravelling with her previous kisses and touches come apart in an instant. "I think I could be okay with that."

She smiles and kisses him on his lips. This time, he doesn't resist.

Chapter Text

She holds him close. So, so close. He's shaking in her arms, face burrowed into her chest, probably smearing tears and snot on her suit, but she doesn't care. She can't when Chat Noir—when Adrien—is hurting so much.

When he needs her.

"I-I don't"—he hiccups on a sob, clutches her tighter—"I don't know what to do. I don't … my father, he … he's …"

She closes her eyes and runs her hands through his hair, soothes along his back. "I'm sorry."

She doesn't know what else to say. Hawkmoth is his father. Nathalie is Mayura. Nothing can fix that. Nothing can change it.

"I don't know what to do," he whispers.

It's the vulnerability in his voice—that small, small cry of a lost child begging for an anchor—that makes her pull back and gently clasp his face. His eyes are red and puffy, tears still clinging to his lashes. His nose is running, and he gives a pitiful sniff. Nothing like the Adrien Agreste splashed all over the magazines and billboards.

"Come home with me," she says.

His eyes widen. "What?"

"Come home with me. Stay with me tonight."

"B-but your identity. I couldn't—"

She brushes her thumb against his damp cheek. "I think there's more important things to worry about right now." Her gaze shifts to Plagg, who hovers near them, watching his bearer with a sad expression. "Right?"

Plagg nods.

Her heart thumps faster as she looks into Adrien's eyes. This is not how she expected their reveal to happen, but the thought of leaving him like this would be akin to tearing off her own limb. He's in no condition to fight, and there's no way she's letting him go back to that monster of a father.

"Tikki," she whispers. "Detransform me."

The magic fades in sparkling light. Adrien's eyes widen before he lets out an odd little sob and crashes into her again, holding her close.

"I knew it," he says over and over. "I knew it was you."

She gives him a good, tight squeeze—the kind that whispers of comfort and love and so much more—before she pulls back. "Let's go home, okay?"

He nods and accepts the hand she offers him, interlacing their fingers in an almost greedy way, like he can't bear to miss out on any contact.

When they reach her house, her parents are surprised but accept the situation without demanding too many details. (Just as she hoped they would.) The truth about Hawkmoth, Ladybug and Chat Noir still has to be hidden for now, but the fact that Adrien is severely distressed and needs a place to stay for the night? Yeah, her parents can accept that.

Marinette takes him up to her room so he can rest, but he tugs on her wrist before she can leave.

"Can you … will you stay with me?" he asks.

She wordlessly climbs onto the bed with him and wraps her arms around him. They cuddle like that with their kwamis until he dozes off, too emotionally exhausted to do anything else.

"Do you think he'll be okay?" Tikki asks in a worried voice.

Plagg pets Adrien's hair with one tiny black paw. "He's tougher than he looks. Just give him some time to get over the shock."

Marinette hopes Plagg is right. She doesn't want to lose her partner, but she knows she could never ask him to fight his father either. This will have to be his decision.

She closes her eyes and nestles into him. If this is all she can give him for now, she'll gladly give it.

oOo

Adrien stirs with a soft little sound in her arms. Marinette smiles and meets his sleepy gaze, her face inches from his.

"Hey," she murmurs.

"Hi," he says shyly.

"You feeling any better?"

He shrugs, which she supposes is an understandable response. She'd be a total mess if she was the one in his situation.

"We'll figure this out, okay?" she says. "I already talked to my parents, and they said you can stay here as long as you like. Oh, and just let me know if there's anything you need or—"

His stomach gives a low growl. Spots of colour blooms on his cheeks. " Um … actually, I could really eat something."

A smile peeps out on the corner of her lips. "That I can arrange." She disentangles herself from him and stands up. "You wanna come with or stay here and I'll bring the food to you?"

He slides off the bed, still puffy-eyed and his hair sticking up everywhere. "I'll come. I, um … don't really want to be alone right now."

Her eyes soften and she interlaces her fingers with his. "Okay."

They were partners, after all. They'd fought countless akumas together. They could do this as well.

Chapter Text

Marinette flicks through a fashion magazine. Chat Noir is curled into her side, his legs tangled with hers and his head resting on her lap. The purr rumbling from him is low but happy. (He used to get embarrassed about his cat quirks and desire for cuddles, but he's long since stopped caring. In fact, the overgrown cat-boy doesn't even ask her if it's okay to cuddle with her now—just makes himself comfortable on top of her like she's his new home.)

"Hey." She taps him on the head with the flat end of her pencil. "Sleepy cat."

A leather ear twitches, but he otherwise offers no response.

"Don't ignore me."

One luminescent green eye peeps up at her. "I know what you're going to say."

"Then I shouldn't have to tell you."

He pouts and hugs her closer. "Just a bit longer."

"My leg is going dead."

A sigh escapes him and he slowly disentangles himself from her. "Well, I guess we can't have that."

"So nice to see you have my wellbeing at heart."

His lips twitch at her dry tone, but all he does is crawl towards her pillows and give a light poke to her shoulder. "Budge up."

"Huh?"

He grabs her hips and shuffles her forward.

"H-hey, what are you—"

He wriggles into the space he created and pulls her back against his chest, leaving his arms looped around her waist. "There," he says, sounding far too pleased with himself.

"Chat …"

"What? You said I was making your leg go dead, so I fixed it. I'll just be your pillow instead."

She can't stop the smile that curves her lips, not that he can see it. "Sometimes you're real clingy, you know that?"

He stiffens. It's a subtle thing, but she feels it anyway, close as they are. His arms fall away from her waist.

"Oh," he says, and something about his small, hushed tone makes her wince. "I … I thought you were okay with … I'll, um, I'll just …"

"No, Chat, wait." She grabs onto his wrists and pulls his arms back around her. "I didn't mean it like that."

He's still too stiff. The urge to smack her palm against her forehead is strong. Sometimes she forgets how sensitive he is under all that Chat Noir swagger, how easy it is to make him retreat like a snail curling back into a little shell.

"I was just teasing," she says, giving his forearms a small squeeze. "I really don't mind cuddling with you."

"You're not just saying that?"

"Of course not." She leans her head back against his chest. "Besides, you keep me warm. It's like having my own personal kitty heater."

Some of the tension seeps out of him. His body relaxes against hers and he nuzzles his face into her hair. "You keep me warm as well."

Her heart thumps at the soft confession. Coming from him, the words taken on a different meaning—too sincere, too deep to be referring to a simple joke about personal kitty heaters.

She bumps his head gently with hers, nuzzling him back. "Well, I guess it's a win-win then."

He hums in response, and his purr is soon rumbling through her in soothing vibrations. She smiles and returns to reading the magazine.

Chapter Text

"Uh, can you wait for me?" Marinette says into the phone, catching sight of a familiar masked face outside her window. "Something just came up."

"Sure, but—"

"Sorry, gotta go!"

Marinette hangs up and marches over to the window, pushing it open. "Chat," she says, raising her eyebrows. "What are you doing here? Did something happen?"

He perches on the windowsill and flashes his teeth in a grin. "I was in the neighbourhood. Figured I'd stop by and say hi."

She rolls her eyes. "You were hoping for free cookies, weren't you?"

"Of course not. I simply hoped you would grant me the pleasure of your company on this fine evening."

"Well, you're out of luck."

He looks her up and down, taking in her cute blue dress and light makeup. "Ah, I see." He leans forward, wiggling his eyebrows. "Got plans tonight?"

"Actually, I do. A date."

Chat makes an odd, choked sound and almost loses his grip on the windowsill. "A date?"

"Yes, a date. You don't need to sound so surprise."

"I-I'm not. I just … with who?"

Her face warms. "Luka."

"Luka?"

"What's wrong with Luka?"

"Nothing, nothing!" He smiles, though it twitches at the edges. "That's … that's great. Luka is great. Real nice guy."

"Yeah, he is."

She's not sure why she's getting so defensive, only that Chat's behaviour is making her feel all ruffled and like she's done something wrong by accepting to go out on a date with Luka. (Which is ridiculous. She and Chat aren't dating. He's just a silly cat-boy who invites himself over when he pleases, eats all her cookies—much to Tikki's displeasure—and sometimes likes to sprawl himself on her in his quest for cuddles.)

"Well," Chat says, forcing his smile to widen. (It still twitches.) "I hope you have fun with Luka tonight."

"I will."

"Great."

"Great."

There's an awkward moment where they just stare at each other. Chat puffs his cheeks out, looking off to the side. Marinette taps her finger against the windowpane.

"Okay, I'm gonna go," he says a bit rapidly. "Got things to do. Lots and lots of things. People to see as well because, you know, I know … people."

"Okay …"

"You have fun with Luka."

"You, uh, already said that."

"So I did." He laughs, too strained. It peters off with all the grace of an unexpected sneeze. He clears his throat and once more looks off to the side. "So I did …"

Her brow creases. "Er, Chat, are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Totally fine. Why wouldn't I be fine? It's not like I'm upset you're going out on a date with Luka or anything." He gives that forced laugh again. "I mean that would be really"—his expression turns rigid, like he's just seen the ghost of a long-lost aunt—"that would be really … weird."

Her eyebrows creep closer to her hairline.

The twitchy smile clicks back into place. "Plus, I have all those important things to do, so it's actually a good thing you're going out with Luka and can't distract me."

"Right …"

"Right."

Another awkward stare.

"Anyway, I'm just gonna"—he jerks his thumb behind him—"I'm just gonna go now. See you 'round, Marinette. "

"Bye, Chat."

She frowns as he vaults away. Was he ... jealous?

Chapter Text

"They look really good," Adrien says.

Tikki licks her lips. "Did she put extra chocolate chips in?"

"Looks like it."

They both stare at the plate of cookies on the bench. The warm, chunky, chocolate chip cookies that would be so sweet and gooey and just melt in the mouth. Ugggh, he wants one so bad. Too bad Marinette has forbidden him or Tikki from having any. (The cookies are supposed to be a gift for Nadia and Manon.)

Tikki clears her throat. "Maybe …"

His gaze flicks to her.

She shakes her head, turning the other way. "No, no, forget it. We couldn't."

His brow creases. "What?"

"I just … I just wondered if maybe we could share one."

"Tikki," he gasps with exaggerated shock. "Are you suggesting we go against Marinette and steal a cookie?"

The rosy colour of her cheeks deepens. "Well, the cookies are right there! And they're still warm, and she didn't make us our own batch this time, and she put extra chocolate chips in!"

He tries very hard not to laugh. Tikki is normally such a stickler for the rules, but her sweet tooth has always been her downfall. (Plagg, no doubt, would have many things to say about Tikki's desire to become a cookie thief had the cat kwami not been sleeping off a camembert-induced coma in the bedroom.)

"Okay," Adrien whispers, putting his face closer to Tikki's and covering one side of his mouth like a true conspirator. "We take one. I'm sure Marinette won't notice."

Tikki nods grimly, though she stops him with a red paw when he reaches for one of the cookies. "Don't tell Stinky Sock."

"Wouldn't dream of it." He mimes sealing his lips.

Knowing that his girlfriend could come back into the kitchen at any moment, he breaks one of the cookies in half and gives Tikki a piece. They greedily eat their treasure, crumbs spilling in their haste, and sharing small grins. The cookie is just as good as imagined. So much chocolatey gooeyness.

Tikki licks her lips when she's finished, and her big eyes shift back to the plate. "Hey, Adrien …"

"Mm?"

"Don't you think it looks a bit out of balance now?"

He frowns at the plate. "You're right. It's obvious one is missing."

"Maybe …"

Their eyes meet and their lips form identical grins.

"Just one more to balance it?" he suggests.

"Exactly what I was thinking."

oOo

"They're all gone," Tikki says in wide-eyed horror as they both stare at the empty plate in his hands. "Adrien, what have we done?"

He swallows. "You can't use your powers to bring them back, can you?"

"You know it doesn't work that way!"

Marinette's voice drifts to them, calling Adrien's name. He and Tikki share a panicked glance. Oh no. The door handle to the kitchen rattles, and then Marinette is standing in the doorway. Her gaze zeroes in on the crumb-littered plate.

"It was her idea," Adrien blurts at the same time Tikki claims he stole the first cookie.

"Hey!" they cry, giving outraged looks at each other.

"You were the one who suggested we share one!" he accuses.

"Well, you kept going back for more!"

His jaw drops. "That was you! You were like a cookie-thieving gremlin! And here I thought Plagg was the only one who vacuums up his food!"

"What? If anyone was vacuuming up those cookies, it was you!" Tikki says, poking him in the forehead. "And you—"

"Enough!" Marinette cries.

"But—"

"I think I heard enough to know you're both at fault here," Marinette says, planting her hands on her hips.

Adrien and Tikki hang their heads.

"I can't believe you two! I told you those cookies were for Nadia and Manon."

"Sorry," Adrien says, shoulders slumping.

Tikki lets out a huge burp, then squeaks and clamps her hands over her mouth. Adrien's eyes widen. He shoots her a horrified look, as if to ask if she wants to get them in further trouble. (Everyone knows you don't burp in front of the person you stole food from.) Tikki winces.

A soft, snorty sound draws their attention back to Marinette. She bites her lips. Her cheeks puff out and redden, and then she's suddenly hunching over and laughter is spilling free of her lips.

Adrien blinks. "Uh …"

"Y-you should see your f-faces!" Marinette says, still giggling.

Tikki and Adrien share a confused glance.

"Then … you're not mad?" Tikki asks.

"Oh no, I'm mad. Should have known better than to leave you two sweet tooths alone with the cookies."

"We really are sorry," Adrien offers, rubbing the base of his neck. "We only meant to share one, but they were just so good."

"So good," Tikki agrees dreamily, and then pulls herself together with a snap. "Though of course it was very wrong what we did."

Marinette shakes her head with a smile. "Yeah, yeah. Just help me bake a new batch, and this time don't steal any."

Chapter Text

Lila plants her hand against the wall, very close to Adrien's face, and effectively boxes him in with her body. His eyes widen and he shoots a side-glance at her hand. A smile curves her lips. They're so close now it's like he's breathing in her nauseating, violet perfume.

Remember the Agreste image, he mentally chants. You can't shove her away no matter how much you want to. Just smile and play dumb.

"I'm doing this for you," Lila says. "You deserve to know the truth about Marinette Dupain Cheng."

"Oh?"

"And also …" She lowers her gaze, fluttering her lashes in what she probably thinks is a come-hither way but just makes it seem like she has something stuck in her eye. "You did agree to help me with my studies, so maybe we could—"

A red and black hand wrenches Lila away, and then Ladybug is pulling him to her side. (Not roughly, but just enough so she is between him and Lila.)

"Sorry I'm late, Adrien," Ladybug says, and then throws him a brilliant smile. "Ready for our date?"

"D-date?" Lila splutters.

Adrien can only blush. He also does not know anything about a date.

Ladybug winks at him.

Oh.

Oh.

"Right," he says, smiling and turning to Lila. "I can't help you tonight. I have a date with Ladybug."

Lila is not happy with this turn of events but can't very well argue when Adrien refuses to budge on the matter. Eventually, she leaves and Adrien is left blushing and shooting looks at Ladybug from under his lashes.

"Thanks for helping me," he says, rubbing the base of his neck.

"No problem. It looked like you were in need of a rescue."

His blush darkens and he looks the other way. "You could say that. Dealing with Lila is … tricky sometimes."

Ladybug makes a humming sound, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

"Anyway," he says, "I'm sure you have more important things to do than deal with my problems, so I won't keep you."

"Actually, I've got some free time now."

He blinks.

She offers her hand, a smile on her lips (and faint pink dusting her cheek). "If you want to go on that date, that is."

"A r-real date? With you?"

The pink on cheeks spills into red. "I-I mean only if you want to."

"Yes!" He coughs, conscious of how eager he sounds. "I mean that sounds nice."

She grins a bit nervously and takes his hand. Adrien internally screams. This must be a dream come true.


BONUS


"I'm doing this for you," Lila says, boxing Adrien in against the wall.

He gulps. "O-oh?"

"That's right, because I—"

"Ladybug kick!"

The war cry comes from somewhere above. Then a red and black blur shoots down and sends Lila flying. Adrien blinks. Somewhere in the background, tiny people sing a song about the witch being dead.

"Th-thanks," Adrien says.

Ladybug strikes a pose and flexes her arms, spotted cape flying in the wind. "Anytime, hot stuff."

Then she vanishes again.

Adrien lets out a dreamy sigh, foot popping as he clasps his hands to his cheek. Ladybug is so cool.

Chapter Text

"Chat, I dunno if I can do it," Marinette says, burying her face in her hands in despair. "It's too much."

"I'm with you." He places his hand on her shoulder. "You know that."

She peeps through the gaps in her fingers to see his smile. Warm, reassuring. It gives her confidence, gives her the courage she needs to lower her hands.

"That's my girl," he says.

Together, expressions grim, they face the monstrosity of a parfait that sits in front of them: piles upon piles of ice cream, fruit, cream and sauce.

He bumps her shoulder with his. "Ready to show this parfait who's boss?"

She clinks her spoon against his. "Let's do this."


BONUS


"Chaaaaaaat," Marinette groans, lying on her back. "Chaaaaaat, you still with me?"

He gives a feeble little sound from where he's sprawled like a starfish not far from her on the floor. Even just getting back to her place had been a mission.

"Chaaaaaaat."

"Can't … talk." Another feeble sound. "Hurts … too … much."

She clutches her stomach and closes her eyes. They conquered the parfait, but at what cost? One wrong move and she knows she's gonna hurl.

"Marinette …"

"Yeah?"

"Let's … let's not … eat … parfait … again."

"Agreed."

Chapter Text

Marinette does not like scary things. Not horror movies, not ghost stories. None of that at all, thank you very much. But today is Halloween and Nino and Alya decide it will be great to visit a haunted house attraction after school. Even Adrien is going to be there.

So, with her heart in her throat and bemoaning the stupid things love makes her do, Marinette joins the others and reluctantly pays for her ticket. They move like ants in the line. Her palms slicken with sweat and her heart thumps faster with every step that draws her closer to the creepy doors that separate nightmare from safe space. The only good thing is that she finds herself standing next to Adrien.

"You scared?" he asks.

"Scared? Me?" She lets out a loud, fake laugh—the kind that bursts and fizzes like a disappointing firework. Her shoulders slump. "Yeah, I am. I hate these things."

"I thought I remembered you saying you weren't into scary stuff. Why'd you come?"

"Oh, you know …" I'm madly in love with you. I would trek through pits of snakes and reanimated zombies if it meant I got to listen to your voice and see your smile. "I didn't have anything else to do, and Alya wanted me to come."

"You shouldn't have to make yourself uncomfortable for us."

She shakes her head. "It's okay. I wouldn't have come if I really couldn't handle it."

"If you're sure …"

"I am."

A smile curves his lips. "Well, I am glad for the extra company. Just being with Alya and Nino can be a bit …"

They glance at their friends and then back at each other.

"Awkward," they agree with small smiles.

No one, after all, likes to be the third wheel.

"What about you?" Marinette asks. "Do you like haunted houses?"

He rubs the base of his neck. "I've actually never been to one. Guess I'll find out soon."

oOo

They get separated from Alya and Nino almost immediately. (Marinette wonders if this is intentional.) Adrien is rather stiff and quiet as they make their way through the first few passages and rooms, but Marinette can't help but be a hunched-shouldered, shrieking mess. The way the lights flicker, the scraping sounds and moans, the sudden movements from things in the shadows—it terrifies her. Still, it's Adrien who grips her hand very tightly when an unexpected ghost pops out at them. He also does not let go. (This is both heavenly and serves to increase her anxiety since her palms are like icky sauna walls of dampness. Or maybe that's his sweat. She can't tell.)

The next time he gets a fright, he wraps both arms around her from behind, hugging her to him like a security blanket. Marinette reaches a new level of heaven. (But also not, because she is just as terrified of the creepy sounds and blood-covered things, and they can only move at a shuffle when plastered together like this unless they want to fall over.)

"Are we near the exit?" he breathes in her ear.

"I don't—"

Something big with fangs jumps out at them. A bloodcurdling scream escapes her. Adrien, however, lifts her right up off the floor and sprints with her.

At least he didn't leave her behind.

They dash through the rest of the rooms (him still carrying her) until they finally make it outside. Marinette's heart thumps and thumps and thumps. (Whether that's from lingering fear or the fact he's still holding her, she doesn't know.)

"Y-you okay?" he asks.

She manages a small sound of confirmation.

He slowly lowers her back to her feet and unwraps himself from her. One more, he rubs the base of his neck in that shy little gesture of his. "Um, so … I don't think I like haunted houses."

She can't help but laugh. He soon joins in with her, and they both slump against each other, exhausted but relieved to have made it out. Safe to say neither of them will be doing a repeat experience next year.

Chapter Text

Her hand rests next to his on the balcony. It looks so small, and he can't help but lift it up so he can press their palms together, bare skin against black leather. Her fingers don't even come close to his claw-tipped fingertips.

"What are you doing?" she says, raising her eyebrow.

"Your hands are tiny."

"Rude."

He laughs and curls his fingers down before she can pull her hand away, keeping their palms pressed together. "I never said it's a bad thing. It's actually kinda cute. You've got the hand-equivalent of fun size chocolate bars."

Her nose scrunches in that adorable way that reminds him of a disgruntled rabbit. "Can you not?"

"What? It's a compliment."

"Calling my hands fun size is not a compliment."

Another laugh escapes him, and he shifts his grip on her hand so he's holding it loosely, almost cradling it. Such a little thing. Her hand is practically hidden within his, but somehow it feels like a puzzle piece slotting into place. A perfect fit.

He gently raises her hand and brushes his lips against her knuckles. "Well, either way, you have to admit your hand fits very nicely in mine."

Pink dusts her cheeks, though her lips purse. "Are you trying to flirt with me, Chat Noir?"

"I am simply admiring your teeny-tiny hands." He looks her up and down. "In fact, all of you is on the teeny side. Maybe I should call you Itty Bitty instead."

"Don't you dare."

"Maritiny?"

Her eyes narrow.

"Ohh, I know. Shortinette."

"Chat!"

He laughs and dodges the token swipe she takes at his arm. It's too fun to tease her. Still, as they relax back into conversation and admire the stars together, he finds he has to resist the urge to keep touching and playing with her hands. They really do fit so well together.

Chapter Text

"You okay?" Adrien says.

Marinette opens and closes her mouth, her face a vibrant pink. He's so close. One of his hands cradles her face and the other grips her shoulder in a steadying way. Probably a good thing. She still feels a bit woozy after hitting her head.

Panic flares in his eyes. "Oh no."

"What?"

"You're bleeding."

"I am?" She touches the tender spot on her forehead and her fingers come away red.

He scoops her up into his arms so he's holding her bridal-style. A startled squeak escapes her and she almost whacks him in the chin with her elbow.

"Sorry," he says, eyes widening. "I probably should have asked your permission first."

"N-nokay. I mean it's okay!"

He blinks at the loudness of her voice.

Ah, her face is so hot. Eggs could be fried on that mess.

"Y-you just startled me," she says more quietly.

Most people don't tend to go straight for the bridal carry. (It's not like she hurt her legs or feet, and the cut is the barest nothing.) Also, this is Adrien. Adrien who is holding her in his arms, and he's so, so close and—

And there is still blood trickling down her face. Right.

"We should get you bandaged and cleaned up," he says, brow creased in worry.

She manages a shy nod. (After all, If he wants to carry her like she's his wife-to-be and fulfil a few fantasies, who is she to deny him?)

oOo

"There," Adrien says, gently smoothing the bandage on her forehead. "All done."

She smiles and ducks her head, not quite able to meet his gaze. "Thanks."

"Just one more thing."

He leans down and brushes his lips against the bandage.

Her heart stops.

Her brain stops.

Marinette Dupain-Cheng has stopped working.

A smile warms his eyes. "Now it'll heal faster."

"Th-thanks," she squeaks, her face burning so badly it feels like she might become a whistling kettle any second.

She is never going to recover from this.

Chapter Text

It's a dream come true. Ladybug is in love with him. Ladybug wants to marry him.

But Ladybug is not in her right mind.

Adrien (or, as he appears to her, Chat Noir) edges his face back before her lips can meet his. "Ladybug, come on," he says, gripping her shoulder to hold her off. "You need to snap out of this. We have to deal with the akuma."

"I don't care about the akuma." She smiles dreamily. "I only care about you. I love you, Chat Noir."

She puckers up her lips and tries to lean in again.

Oh hell.

This akuma might as well be called Tormentor instead of Lady Love. This is so unfair. How can he enjoy Ladybug's affection when it's the result of an akuma's power? (Though thank goodness she did see him first after getting hit, because it had almost been the mayor.)

"Alright," he says, hoisting her up so he's carrying her in his arms. "Let's get you somewhere safe so we can break this charm."

oOo

She keeps trying to pounce on him.

"Why won't you let me kiss you?" she asks with a pout. "Don't you love me, Chat?"

"I do. You know I do, but—"

"Then let me love youuuuuu!"

He yelps as she flings herself at him, sending them both tumbling. His heart stutters and thumps. There's an awkward scramble (and some sloppy cheek kisses) before he manages to get her in a bear hug on his lap. Now she can't wriggle free or get at his face.

"You are not making this easy for me," he grumbles.

"You're the one not making it easy! I don't understand you. If you love me, why can't we be together and express our love?"

He sighs, resting his chin on her head. "I would never do that to you, my lady."

"Do what?"

"Take advantage of this. Take advantage of you. I love you too much."

She goes still in his arms. "Oh."

He closes his eyes and keeps his arms tight around her. She nuzzles into him like a sleepy cat, content to hold off on the kiss attacks for now. He really hopes the charm will wear off soon.

oOo

In the end, she doesn't remember anything of the time she spent under the love spell. He informs her about what happened and how he didn't do anything. (Or let her do anything.) It's the least he can do, especially since he knows what it's like to lose control and memories to an akuma.

She presses her hands to her vibrantly pink cheeks. "I'm so embarrassed."

"It wasn't your fault," he says. "Don't worry about it."

Her expression warms and she steps forward, wrapping her arms around him. "Thanks for taking care of me, kitty. I don't know what I would have done without you."

"You know I'll always be there for you, my lady." A small grin. "Even if that means helping you to keep your lips and hands off me."

She snorts and gives him a half-hearted shove. They linger like that, neither quite ready to break away from the hug. Maybe it's not a grand declaration of love on her part, but it feels way more real than any of her behaviour while under the charm.

He grins and pulls back so he can hold out his fist. "Pound it?"

Her smile is soft and the look in her eyes even softer. She bumps her fist to his. "Pound it."

Chapter Text

Marinette blinks at the light spreading in orange and rosy hues over the sky. She doesn't see sunrises very often (more by accident when she stays up all night, like now), but this time she's not in her room with only a snoozing Tikki for company. Nino and Alya are not far away, giggling as they flirt and try to ride one of the carousel horses. Then there's the reason Marinette is still sitting stiff like a mannequin on the bench: an expensively dressed, very snuggly weight has taken residence against her side.

An Agreste-sized weight.

Her heart thumps and she moistens her lips, sneaking a glance at Adrien. His face is burrowed into the nook between her neck and shoulder so that all she can see is a crown of soft gold. His breath caresses her skin in warm little puffs. It's intimate. Pulse-tinglingly so. One of his arms sneaks around her waist, half hugging her to him, and he nuzzles more into her neck.

Her eyes widen. Her body stiffens even more. Moving is absolutely out of the question. Heck, she'd make breathing prohibited if she could. (Not just because he has dozed off on her, but because she suddenly feels like she's fourteen again and she's not sure she'll be able to get anything coherent out if she has to speak to him. It's kind of frustrating. She thought she was over this.)

A gentle breeze ruffles his hair, tickling her cheek. She bites her lip. He smells so good. Even after all the dancing and drinks in the club, his cologne is warm and musky, teasing her senses with hints of orange and sage. It is heaven and torture all in one. She wants to lean closer, maybe dare to touch his hair, but there's no way she can do that.

They're not together. Not even after these four years.

Nino lets out a yelp, which has Alya quickly dissolve into laughter. Marinette doesn't check what happened. She's too busy staring into a pair of sleepy green eyes.

"You fell asleep," Marinette blurts.

And immediately wants to slap her palm to her forehead. As if it isn't obvious that he fell asleep.

His lips twitch and he eases himself off her, stretching his arms above his head. (She definitely does not look at the way his shirt rides up and exposes a glimpse of his toned abdomen. Nope. Not at all.)

"Sorry for using you as a pillow," he says. "You should have just pushed me off."

"N-no, it's fine." Ugh, teenage stutter, get thee hence! "I mean you seemed really tired. I didn't want to wake you."

He smiles, soft and lazy. It's the kind of unguarded smile that can only be pulled out of someone when they're still in the process of fully waking up. "Thanks."

"Anytime."

Silence settles. She looks back towards the sky, posture stiff and her heart thumping. He seems much more relaxed, reclining in a comfortable, loose-limbed way, though his hand often rises to smother yawns. It's cute. He is unbearably cute when he's sleepy. Even the way his hair now sticks up on one side in floofy little tufts is adorable.

"Pretty," he says.

"Huh?"

"The sunrise."

"O-oh. Right."

Of course he wasn't talking about her. How silly.

They watch the sky get lighter.

"Hey, Marinette?"

"Yeah?"

His eyes meet hers. "You wanna get breakfast later?"

"S-sure. Nino and Alya will probably want to come as w—"

"No. I mean just you and me."

Her heart thumps in one jolting, resounding beat. She stares and stares, not sure she heard him correctly. "You mean like a d-date?"

"Yeah. Like a date."

Warmth blooms on her cheeks. "I … I'd like that."

He gives her that warm, unguarded smile again and reaches for her hand. She tries very hard not to melt into a gooey puddle.

This is officially the best sunrise ever.

Chapter Text

Rain falls in fat droplets, sudden and fast. Marinette squeaks. Adrien is just as shocked. Neither of them have an umbrella. Then a smile curves his lips and his hand closes around hers. He tugs her into a run. Her legs are much shorter and it's a stumbling start, startled laughter spilling from her lips.

"A-Adrien, what are you doing?"

"I can see shelter up ahead."

The shelter is a tiny bit of overhang. They have to stand close, huddling to fit within the sliver of dry ground. His damp sleeve presses into her arm. It's such a little thing, yet her heart thuds and thuds. Droplets of rain splatter on her shoulder, her leg.

"Here," he says.

His arm slips around her waist and pulls her fully against him. Her heart pounds faster. The smell of rain clings to them both, earthy and edged with ozone. She moistens her lips as she dares to look up. His hair is plastered to his skin, wet trails sliding down his cheeks and dripping from the ends of each darkened strand of gold. His smile snatches her breath. It's wide and reaches his eyes, a thing of pure sunshine despite the grey clouds that shroud Paris like a veil.

"Better?" he asks.

Pink blooms on her cheeks. "I-I, um …" She swallows, visibly forcing herself to calm down. "Thanks."

He beams and settles his arm more comfortably around her. Just like that, her blush burns hotter and she goes rigid in a mixture of surprise and full-bodied ecstasy.

This is a dream.

This has to be a dream.

"I've never waited out a rainstorm with someone before," he admits.

Her gaze darts to his. "N-never?"

"Nope." He rubs the base of his neck with his free hand. "I know it seems kind of silly, but I always wanted to do this."

She almost laughs, because he's right. It is silly. Who wants to get stuck in such horrible, heavy rain? But then she thinks of how isolated his childhood was and how overprotective his father still is. Adrien has missed out on so many simple experiences.

"What do you think?" she asks. "Is it everything you hoped?"

"Well, it's wet."

She laughs.

His eyes crinkle even more and his arm tightens around her waist. "It's also pretty fun, but I think that might just be because of the girl I get to share it with."

Her heart stumbles like a clumsily played drum.

There are words in that fumbling rhythm, a whisper that this is the time to tell him how she feels. It's just the two of them. They're close—so much so that a rain drop falls from his fringe and lands on her nose. His eyes are warm, summer grass, and his smile is like a caress.

It has to mean something, right?

Her heart thrums, fluttering faster and faster like a nervous bird. "Adrien …"

Something buzzes in his pocket.

"Sorry," he mumbles. "I should probably check that."

She bites her lip, not sure if she's relieved or disappointed. "Of course."

He pulls out his phone and his brow furrows as he scans the words on the screen. "Oh," he says in a heavy tone.

"What?"

"Last minute photoshoot. My driver is waiting at the front gates to pick me up."

It's like a bubble has been popped. The world comes back into focus, along with all the restraining bands of her inhibitions.

She steps back and glances off to the side. The rain slows to a scattering of light drops. "Looks like the weather is on your side. You should go now before it gets heavy again."

He takes her hand in his, making her gaze whip back to him.

"I'll see you later, Marinette," he murmurs, and presses a light kiss to the back of her hand.

Fresh waves of heat bloom on her cheeks. Her heart skips and stutters. "B-bye."

He gives her one last smile and heads for the school gates. She presses her hand to her pounding heart and closes her eyes, sinking back against the wall. It's a long time before the giddy rhythm returns to normal.

Chapter Text

Her breath shudders as Chat Noir's lips find hers again, drawing her deeper into the kiss. Into him. There's fire in her blood, a song in her heart. It's dizzying and intoxicating. For so long she's been denying this attraction. This unspoken thing. So she surrenders to the heat, to the thundering rhythm that shakes her bones and the very core of her being. She drags her fingers through his hair, tugging him closer, closer, closer. Her body trembles when he does the same.

"My lady," he breathes.

They kiss again and again, bodies pressed impossibly close. The texture of his glove grazes her exposed skin, and for the first time she wishes the suits didn't cover so much. This isn't enough. It's never going to be enough. She's tasted him now, knows what it feels like to drown in all the pulse-jumping blaze of his proximity, and she wants more.

Wants to collide and connect with him in the most intrinsic, unfettered of ways.

That scares her.

She pulls back and meets his eyes, black pools of heat in a sea of green. His lips are swollen, his hair mussed. No doubt she looks much the same.

"I should go," she whispers.

He nods, swallowing hard. "I know."

Neither moves.

As if in trance, she runs her thumb along the edges of his mask, his cheek, then over to trace his kiss-bruised lower lip. His breathing hitches.

"Ladybug," he says, soft and husky.

It sounds like a plea. To stop? To continue?

There's vulnerability in his eyes, but so much yearning as well.

She kisses him before she can change her mind. Like the surging of a wave smashing into shore, his fingers slip back into her hair and he groans into her mouth. They fall back against the rooftop, limbs tangling. No more resistance. She doesn't have the strength.

There's fire in her blood, a song in her heart, and it tells her she loves him.

Chapter Text

She laughs in breathy anticipation as Chat Noir pulls her into the shadowed alcove with him. Voices hum from all around, though thankfully no footsteps approach. (Then again, she can't deny there's something thrilling about hiding here with him, knowing that any moment they could be exposed.)

"What are you doing, you silly cat?" she asks.

His hands go for her hips. "What does it look like I'm doing?"

"Trying to kidnap me from my studies. Do you want me to fail my exam?"

He dips his head and places a feather-light kiss by her ear. "I can always help you study later."

She swallows. His breath is a shiver-inducing whisper on her skin and the way his lips just barely graze her most hypersensitive spots is as distracting as it is tantalising. "I don't know if I trust you," she says, breath hitching as he places an open-mouthed kiss on her stuttering pulse. "You'd just be a distracting nuisance."

"Oh?" Mischief dances in his eyes as he pulls back to meet her gaze. "Am I being a distracting nuisance now?"

Ugh, she wants to hit that smug smile right off his face. Of course he knows what he's doing to her—how he makes her knees wobble and her body hum in needy pleasure for his touch. How her lips yearn to taste and taste until she's satiated.

She yanks him down by his bell and kisses him hard. He grins against her lips, guiding her backwards by her hips until her back hits the wall.

Needless to say, she doesn't get much work done during that study period.

Chapter Text

Snow falls like petals, catching on Marinette's hair to form a crown of speckled white. She walks beside him, chatting animatedly about the birthday party she's planning for Alya, her hands darting about as if she's some conjurer casting a spell. So full of life. So …

"Beautiful," he murmurs.

Marinette stills, tilting her head. "Huh?"

Heat crawls up his face. "Oh. I, um …"

No words come to help him salvage the moment. Or maybe it's that he doesn't want to take it back. There's a dizzying drumbeat in his chest, and all he can do is stare at this girl with her bluebell eyes and snow-petal crown. This girl who is so kind, lovely and funny.

This girl who calls to him like a song on the wind, achingly familiar and dear.

He steps closer. "You," he says softly. "You're beautiful, Marinette."

Her mouth forms a small O, and the rosy bloom on her cheeks darkens and spreads.

The drumbeat of his heart gets louder. It thrums in his ears, in his bones. Almost helplessly, he closes the distance between them until the tips of their shoes are nearly touching. Her chest rises and falls too fast. Her eyes are wide. But she doesn't pull back, doesn't recoil when he dips his head, letting their misty breath intermingle.

They linger like that.

"May I?" he whispers.

She closes her eyes for answer and leans up on her tiptoes. Their lips brush in a gossamer caress, so light and fleeting, but even then it's like finding home. Like he's just found a piece he didn't even know he's been missing. His gaze meets hers for a heartbeat, and then his lips are on hers again and her arms are winding around his neck. They kiss and kiss, hungrily, deeply, sharing breath and trying to memorise the shape of each other's mouth.

They kiss until his lips are bruised and he's panting for breath.

"Wow," she says, eyelashes fluttering open. She looks half-dazed and her fingers curl into the front of his jacket as if seeking an anchor to steady her balance. "Th-that was …"

"Yeah," he agrees. "That was something."

Pink dusts her cheeks. They share a shy smile and he enfolds her back in his arms, content to linger in this moment.

Chapter Text

He's sprawled on the chaise on his back, eating strawberries dipped in chocolate sauce with far too much relish. She knows Chat likes food and sometimes forgets his surroundings, especially when enjoying sweet things, but come on. He does not need to lick at the sauce like it's some delicate thing that must be savoured, let alone make those noises. It's … it's indecent.

"This is so good," he says happily, and proceeds to suck and lap at a new strawberry.

Something simmers in the pit of her belly. It's needy and hot and is absolutely sick of watching Chat Noir put his mouth all over those damn fruit.

She stands up and marches over. His eyes are still shut in bliss when she snatches the plate of strawberries off him.

"Hey," he complains. "I was still eating those."

Heart hammering like thunder, she grabs him by his bell and yanks him up. His eyes widen. Traces of sauce are smeared on his lips. Taunting.

"Marinette?"

As if in trance, she runs her tongue over his lower lip, licking the sauce right off. Chocolate explodes on her tongue, rich and sweet. A shudder passes through him and his pupils dilate.

"Um," he says intelligently.

She licks her lips. They stare at each other before she dives in again, this time capturing his lips in a kiss. The half-eaten strawberry drops from his hand and he winds his fingers into her hair, mouth slanting over hers and drawing her in deeper, deeper, deeper.

It's a kiss of chocolate and heat and pulse-stuttering sparks.

It's also completely addictive.

He pulls back, his cheeks flushed like rosy apples. "Not that I'm complaining, but can I ask why you're—"

"Shut up and kiss me."

Needless to say, he is happy to oblige.

Chapter Text

She hopes he can't feel the thudding of her heart, the skittering of her pulse. It's not every day she gets to be this close to Adrien. His chest is pressed to hers and he's wrapped his legs around her waist so his feet don't trip them up when she has to land. (Downside of being short. Sure, she has the strength to carry him with no trouble, but the suit can't give her extra inches, and he's got a lot taller over the past year.)

"Just a bit farther," she says.

He shifts against her, strands of gold hair tickling her cheek. "Sorry about this."

"It's no problem. Saving people from akumas is my job."

Plus, he smells heavenly. She wants to drink in his cologne forever and would totally sniff him like a creeper if she could get away with it. (Though there is a faint mustiness clinging to him, almost like … cheese? Huh, maybe he had some for lunch.)

She swings onto the hotel rooftop. "Here should be good."

He uncurls himself from her, rubbing the back of his neck as he straightens to his full height. Pink dusts his cheeks. With his wind-ruffled hair and the way he shoots her a shy yet earnest glance from under his lashes, he looks adorable. Then he leans down swiftly and brushes his lips against her cheek.

Her heart stutters to a halt.

"Thanks for saving me," he murmurs.

She blinks. Then she blinks again. Then heat explodes on her face and her legs turn to wobbly goo, threatening to give out on her. "You're wonderful." Her eyes bulge in panic. "I-I mean lelcome. Ah, welcome! You're welcome!"

His head tilts slightly, brow creasing.

Oh, no, he's giving her the look he always gives when she tangles her words up around him as her civilian self. Abort, abort!

"I have to go akuma the stop now," she blurts in a rush. "Stay safe. Bye!"

Then she swings off, her face burning as red as her suit.

Chapter Text

"Oh," Marinette says, shoulders slumping.

Adrien glances up from the television, frowning as he watches her talk on the phone. Aside from the way she's speaking, which is about as lively as a hollowed out stone, her whole posture droops like a wilting flower. Did something go wrong?

"Yeah, sure," she says. "Thanks anyway."

She ends the call. Her shoulders slump more.

"What happened?" he asks. "Are Nino and Alya still coming over?"

"Yeah, they'll be here soon, but the chocolate I wanted was out of stock. Alya had to get me something else."

His lips twitch. "Wait, that's what you're so upset about?"

"It's not funny."

"You're right, you're right. I'm sorry."

This does not appease her. She folds her arms and pouts, looking like a grumpy kitten dressed in pink. He bites the inside of his cheek to stop from smiling again. Much as she looks cute, she won't appreciate the sentiment right now. (Plus, he already feels like a jerk for making her feel like he wasn't taking her disappointment seriously. That is not good boyfriend behaviour.)

"Hey," he says gently.

More pouting. It's too adorable. Maybe that's why he leans in and kisses her, soft and sweet. The tension in her shoulders eases and her lips relax against his. They kiss again, indulging in lazy pecks and caresses until they both pull back to nuzzle foreheads, meeting each other's eyes.

"I really am sorry," he murmurs. "I shouldn't have teased you."

A sigh slips out of her, and she rests her head on his shoulder. "I guess it is kind of silly. I just … I really wanted that chocolate. I've been craving it all day."

"I know." He wraps his arms around her, giving her a small squeeze. "Want me to scour the city to find you some?"

A giggle. "That won't be necessary, but thank you."

"You sure? The offer is there. Just say the word."

She shifts to face him, a soft smile curling her lips. "How about a hug instead?"

"That's an easy request."

He wraps his arms around her. She hums in pleasure and snuggles more into his chest. They stay like that for a long time.

Chapter Text

It's the gum that does it. A stupid prank he tries to fix. A stupid misunderstanding he's too slow to correct. All his apologies go unaccepted, all his attempts to befriend Marinette are rebuffed. She thinks him a two-faced brat. She thinks he's just like Chloe. Yet for all that she turns her nose up at him, he's inexplicably drawn to her. Has been from day one when their eyes met and he felt … something.

A sense of calm amid the storm of the new and unknown.

A sense of familiarity.

It's just too bad she doesn't feel the same.

Sometimes, he catches her shooting him glances under her eyelashes, contemplative rather than narrowed. Sometimes her breath catches when they brush arms by accident. She's aware of him, visibly so, and there is something strangely flattering about that. But he doesn't know what it means. Not when any attempt to talk to her is met with pursed lips and words that might as well be ice walls.

So when he saves her from an akuma, cradling her head to lessen the impact as they fall, he's surprised when she doesn't shove him off or pull some kind of disgusted face. This is the closest they've ever been. Close enough for him to count the tiny freckles on her cheeks.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

Her face blooms with pink. "I'm fine."

There's a crash from up ahead. The akuma. Right, he really needs to go transform.

He gets off her and holds out his hand to help her stand. Her gaze darts to his hand, hesitating.

"I don't bite, you know," he says.

Her blush darkens. "I know."

When she grasps his hand, it's like lightning to his blood. The shock of familiarity, the shock of rightness. It whispers through his heart, intertwining itself to the beat. It buries itself deep in his soul.

She wrenches her hand away, eyes wide and her face crimson-red. "I-I have to go."

His heart thrums and thrums as he watches her dash off.

What the heck was that?

oOo

Things change after that. More sidelong glances. More fumbling moments of accidental touches and pink-dusted cheeks. There's less bite to their encounters, but not less intensity. The lightning is still in his blood, endlessly whispering. (Secretly, he wonders if it's in hers now too.)

When they next end up entwined with each other, she's the one who saves him. Her thighs straddle his hips. Her hand cradles the back of his head much in the way he had done for her, while her other hand is on his waist, fingers digging into his shirt. Their faces are close. Too close. Her breath is a shivering caress on his lips. It's intimate and pulse-stirring and makes it hard to remember things like the akuma he should be stopping.

It doesn't help she makes no effort to get off him.

He swallows, heart beating faster. There's heat in her bluebell eyes, but it's not the fire of anger. It's warm and simmering and teases flutters in his belly. Makes his blood hum in his ears. Her fingers release their grip on his shirt so she can touch his cheek, gentle and almost as if in trance. His pulse spikes.

"Is it true?" she whispers. "Is it true you were just trying to remove the gum that day?"

He nods.

"And all that stuff Chloe said? You really don't agree with her?"

"Of course not. I would never—I've only ever wanted to be your friend."

And more.

That truth is clearer to him now when their bodies are pressed intimately against each other and her scent wraps itself around him like silk, soft but tantalising. Everything about her tugs and tugs at him like she's got him hooked on a string. Fortunately, she seems to understand what he wants.

She dips her head, lips almost touching his. "Kiss me," she breathes.

He does. It's gentle but lingering, the kind of kiss that promises more if she's willing. (He soon learns that she definitely is.)

A scream tears them apart.

"Akuma," she says, eyes wide as if she's just remembered how they ended up on the ground.

He shoots to his feet, helping her up as he does. "Will you be okay here?" he asks. "Sorry, I just remembered I have to, uh, grab something from my locker."

"Yeah, sure. We can, um, talk later."

"Great."

Awkward, red-faced, they go their separate ways.