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little by little

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Adrien liked to think that he was productive in his time as Chat Noir; that he did his duty as one of Paris’ superheroes by devoting long, grueling hours to patrols that were often not worth the time but still necessary. 

Did he pause every now and again to watch a girl sketch on her balcony? Maybe. 

Did she always catch him staring and merely smile before watching him vault away in embarrassment? Perhaps. 

Was her name Marinette Dupain-Cheng and was she 100% onto his lack of enthusiasm to patrol alone? Quite possibly. 

One night, when the sun had just gone down and Adrien had had an especially exhausting day, he stopped and sat on the roof adjacent from Marinette’s, watching her sketch away as she always did at this time. The fairy lights lining her roof twinkled tauntingly at him, and he leaned forward in interest to see what she was drawing. 

Marinette’s gaze snapped up to meet his, and she drew her sketchbook to her chest, a smirk pulling at her lips. “A little nosey, aren’t we, Chat Noir?” she called up to him—the first time she’d attempted to make conversation since she’d caught him pausing by her roof two months prior. 

Chat swallowed his embarrassment and leaned against the chimney. “What can I say? They don’t call me Chat Noir for nothing.”

Her smirk widened. “Well,” she said, conspiratorially leaning in his direction, “I hear that curiosity killed the cat.” 

Chat withdrew with a surprised laugh. “Didn’t you know?” he asked, grinning. “Satisfaction brought it back.” He crossed the distance between the roofs and deftly landed on the shingles above her. “Evening, princess.” He bowed at the waist, amusement eating up the boredom he’d been choking on. 

Marinette smiled to herself. “Evening. What brings you out to my roof again?” 

He jumped down from the shingles, landing in a crouch on her balcony. He hoped he wasn’t intruding, but she didn’t look displeased by his presence. “Your lovely company, of course.” 

“Of course,” Marinette agreed with feigned solemnity, nodding. “There’s not anything else to occupy your time? Like a job you’re supposed to be doing?”

“I already did my laps,” Chat stated, waving her off. “I’m bored, not irresponsible.” 

Marinette looked satisfied with his answer. “I’m glad. Do you have somewhere else you need to be?” 

Chat leaned against her balcony railing, eyes momentarily drifting from her face to his feet. “Ah… no. Just wandering until it’s time to return home again.” 

Marinette pressed her pencil to her lower lip for a long moment before pulling it away. “Would you mind posing for me while you’re here? I need references, and you have the, uh… proper physique.” She motioned to him vaguely with the butt of her pencil, carefully avoiding eye contact. 

The shit-eating grin Chat adopted was no fault of his. “Are you going to paint me like one of your French girls, Marinette?” 

“Never mind, get lost,” Marinette stated, pursing her lips and waving him off while keeping her eyes trained to her paper. Her cheeks were tinged a light pink that was barely visible in the delicate glow of her fairy lights. 

Chat laughed and stooped forward. “Kidding! Only kidding. Where do you want me?” He wiggled his eyebrows and narrowly dodged an eraser. 

“Falling off the balcony, at my complete and utter mercy,” Marinette grumbled, throwing off the blanket she had wrapped around herself and getting to her feet. With an exasperated huff, she guided Chat into the position she wanted him in and stepped back to look at him. She nodded and returned to her seat. 

She sketched and listened while Chat chattered idly, offering a response every now and then, but putting most of her energy toward sketching. Marinette had always been someone he’d had an easy time talking to once she relaxed around him, but the process usually took a good hour or so when he was a civilian. 

Chat, Adrien had discovered, warranted a completely different response from Marinette than Adrien did. 

“Hey, Marinette?” he said after a long moment. “Can I ask you something?” 

Marinette looked up from her sketch. “Sure. What’s up?” 

“Why did you call out to me?” 

The pencil came up to touch her lip again. After some consideration, she simply said, “Because I wanted your company.” And then she returned to sketching. 

Chat’s mouth fell open, but he found that he didn’t know how to respond. 

Marinette glanced up at him with a small smile. “You’ll catch flies like that, you know.” 

His mouth snapped shut. 

Marinette stretched before closing her sketchbook and letting it rest in her lap. “It’s getting late. I should probably try and head inside before it gets too cold.” She pushed herself out of her chair and set her sketchbook aside to fold her blanket. 

Chat, after a moment of grappling with his words, nodded. “Yeah, I—I should go, too.” Why was he being so awkward? He shook his head; he hadn’t expected Marinette to behave so calmly around him, he supposed, and he was a little floored by her sudden wittiness. 

Marinette smiled, folded blanket in hand. “Thanks for posing for me, Chat. I really appreciate it.” 

“Any time,” Chat managed, trying to muster up some bravado. 

Just as she turned to leave, however, he stepped forward. “Marinette—”

She turned, her eyes pinning him to the spot. “Yes?” 

He’d always thought her eyes bordered on azure, but they looked cerulean in this lighting. “Can I come back?” 

He couldn’t tell if she saw right through him—if she could see that he was feeling lonely; that he desired a companion. Patrols without Ladybug were so terribly boring. 

Marinette met his gaze once more and sent him a small smile. “As long as I’m not sleeping, you’re welcome here, Chat Noir.” And then she was ducking into her room and disappearing from sight. 

Chat stood there for a while, thinking. He didn’t even know exactly what about, but he found that fifteen minutes had passed before he had the sense to grab his staff and vault back home.

Chapter Text

Adrien awoke from the dream he’d been having with a start. He was breathing hard as he sat up and blinked rapidly, searching his surroundings. He’d already forgotten most of the dream, but he remembered bits and pieces. 

Cerulean eyes, freckles, a taunting smile. 

Adrien rubbed his eyes. Plagg stared at him from his perch on a pillow. “You okay, kid?” 

Flabbergasted, Adrien ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “I guess so.” 

A brush of skin, a gentle laugh, murmured words. 

He rolled over to go back to sleep; he’d had another long day and was exhausted. 

However, after rolling around for what had to have been twenty minutes, he found that sleep would not come. Adrien’s eyes caught on the alarm clock perched on his bedside table, and he let out a long sigh.

The longer he laid there, awake, the more restless he got. His mind was racing, nipping at the edges of the dream he’d been having with a hungry curiosity. He had enjoyed it and wished to return to it, but it was just out of his reach. 

“Plagg?”

“You owe me.”

Chat Noir vaulted out into the night, a brazen grin on his face as he felt the wind rushing around him. The best way to tire himself out again was through physical exertion. 

He followed the natural path of his patrol route, allowing his adrenaline to take over as he raced around. It had been Ladybug’s night to patrol, but she was surely done by then. After all, it was—Chat checked his baton—midnight. 

After running his route, Chat skidded to a stop on the roof he normally paused on to watch Marinette curiously. To his surprise, she was out there, lounging in a chair. 

When he landed on her balcony, however, he realized that she was fast asleep.

He smiled fondly, picking her sketchbook up from the floor and setting it on the end of the chair she was spread out on. She was pretty deeply snuggled into the blanket she had thrown over herself, and upon closer inspection, Chat found that she was shivering. 

He exhaled into a quiet laugh and decided to try and help her. With a smile, he took a step closer, casting a shadow over her form; he’d need to switch the fairy lights off, too. 

“Hey,” he murmured, gently nudging her shoulder with his hand, “Marinette.”

She hummed and cringed away from his touch. “Mm… no…” 

Chat bit down a laugh. “Mari,” he repeated, shaking her shoulder a bit harder. 

She was unresponsive. 

Chat looked around for a moment, thinking. With a small sigh, he walked over to her trapdoor and pulled it open. He returned to Marinette’s side, and, biting down any embarrassment he felt, he stooped down and slowly scooped her into his arms, careful not to jostle her. 

Marinette hummed again and curled into him, her lips quirking up. Chat was so surprised that, for a moment, he just stared at her. She mumbled something he couldn’t discern before sighing and falling quiet once more. 

Chat blinked before shaking his head and making his way over to her open trapdoor. He knew Marinette a lot better than he had last year, but to this day, she still continued to surprise him. 

Maybe that was why she was such a mystery to him. 

Chat cringed when he had to dip her legs in first, but he managed to get her through and lower her to her mattress. 

Moonlight filtered in around him and settled on her face in evanescent tidepools. Her black hair appeared blue, and Chat paused to mentally catalogue her expression. 

Marinette was many things, but she was never at complete and utter peace around him. 

He shook his head once more and stood, quietly closing the trapdoor. With a start, he remembered that he needed to flip the lights off for her. After he finally found the switch, darkness descended upon the balcony, which had lost its warmth upon Marinette’s absence, anyway. He made his way toward the railing and looked back one more time before vaulting off into the night. 

And if Adrien overheard Marinette recalling a dream of a mysterious angel coming to her to take care of her in the dark of night, well. Far be it from him to dash her enchanting dreams with reality.

Chapter Text

“Hey, what’s on your mind?” Chat asked, watching Marinette’s attention wander as the conversation they’d been having fell into a lull. 

He was leaning against her balcony railing, talking to Marinette as he usually did at this time every other day. She’d shown amazing patience with him and even seemed to enjoy the company, but he could tell from the moment he’d touched down to her balcony that something was wrong. 

Marinette’s eyes drifted from her lap, where her hands had been playing with the hem of her shirt. “Huh?” she said absently. “Oh, nothing.” Her eyes were glazed as she stared past him, expression thoughtful. 

He wanted to prompt her to say something, but he knew it took a moment of silence to allow her to think before she spoke.

She stood suddenly and came to lean against the railing beside him, eyes trained on the horizon. 

“Have you ever wanted something so badly that you didn't know what to do with yourself?”

At this, Chat blinked at her, surprised. “What?”

Marinette made eye contact with him. Her eyes were brewing like a storm; her gaze like lightning, and the hard line of her mouth like thunder. “There’s this guy,” she blurted, her gaze trailing away from his as if she couldn’t bear to meet it. “He… I have a hard time talking to him.” 

Now Chat’s curiosity was piqued. “Why?”

Marinette eyes glanced off of his like flint on steel, quickly darting elsewhere. “It’s hard to look at the sun, Chat Noir,” she murmured, seemingly more to herself than to him. 

Chat frowned, crossing his arms over his chest and resting his hip against the railing. “What do you mean?”

“He’s so…,” Marinette sighed, but it didn’t seem exasperated in the slightest, “bright. He lights up the room with his laughter and his smile. And when he looks at me, I…” Her eyes gleamed, focused on something Chat Noir couldn’t see. Her tight-lipped smile morphed into a grimace as her gaze fell to the railing. 

The gears whirred in Chat’s mind; he’d known that Marinette had a crush on someone (at some point, it had been him, but he was pretty sure that she had gotten over that), but he didn’t know that she… 

That she felt like that

“It hurts,” she admitted quietly, voice quivering. Her bangs hid her face from view when she shifted, and Chat’s heart broke. “It hurts to look at him and know that he will never feel the same.” 

She was silent for a long while after that. Chat was afraid to invade her space, but he felt so useless standing there like an idiot. He took the risk and stepped toward her, a hand gently touching her arm. 

She flinched away, momentarily revealing her tear-streaked face. Hurriedly, she wiped at her eyes and laughed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” 

Chat’s heart ached, and he wordlessly opened his arms. Marinette spared him a small glance, sniffed, and stepped into his embrace. He squeezed her tightly, willing her pain away; she didn’t deserve to feel like this. 

Marinette gripped him back, burying her face into the crook of his shoulder and neck. She shook silently, and Chat took to gently stroking her back and murmuring things like “it’s okay, Mari” and “I’m right here” and, most devastating of all, “I understand.” 

After a few long minutes, her quaking dwindled to little jolts as she sniffled. When she finally pulled away, her eyes were ringed red, and her irises were the color of the night sky. 

She sniffed again, swiping at the trails of tears tracked down her cheeks as her eyes settled on the ground. “Um,” she croaked quietly. After clearing her throat, she tried again. “Th-thank you, Chat. I—I’m sorry you had to see that. That was pretty embarrassing.” As if on cue, her cheeks colored a gentle pink, and she brushed her bangs out of her eyes, avoiding eye contact. 

Chat settled a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t apologize, Marinette. I’m sorry you that you feel this way… There’s nothing wrong with letting your feelings out. You don’t have to pretend to be okay around me, all right? I care about you and want to support you in your times of need.” He searched her eyes in earnest when she finally dared to meet his gaze. 

Marinette, to his horror, was tearing up again. Before he could do anything to amend his mistake, though, she was launching herself at him and crushing him in a hug. 

“Thank you, Chat,” she murmured into his shoulder, tears wetting her voice. “You have no idea how much that means to me.” 

Chat found himself smiling as he hugged her back. 

Marinette was the moon, he decided. She was bright but not blinding; beautiful but not painful; and her crescent smile was decidedly prettier than any sliver of sun Adrien could ever remember seeing.

Besides, it didn’t seem like a stretch to say that Marinette could hang the stars.

Chapter Text

It was three in the morning, and Chat Noir was asleep on his feet as he and Marinette danced along the Trocadéro in the pouring rain. 

He wasn’t even entirely sure how they had ended up there, but Chat had an inkling that it had something to do with Marinette’s insistence that she find inspiration for a personal project. Being the amazing friend he is, he took her around Paris until it began to rain, and then they were soaked. 

Marinette kicked up water with her drenched shoes, laughing at the way Chat sputtered. “After all I do for you!” he called after her retreating figure, voice nearly drowned out by the thunder. “You repay me with treachery!” He made a show of wiping himself off, knowing full well that it was fruitless; it was still very much raining. 

“You say that like you’re not already wet,” she teased, peeling her bangs away from her eyes as she came to a rowdy stop in front of him. “Do you think we’ll get sick from this?”

Chat waved her off. “Suit protects me.” He shot her a look and pursed his lips. “But I suppose you can’t say the same.” He shrugged nonchalantly. 

Marinette rewarded him by splashing him again. “I’m immune,” she insisted with a scowl, sticking her tongue out. Plot twist: she wasn’t  immune, if the week-long cold she’d harbored for the entirety of the week prior had anything to say about it. 

Chat grabbed her tongue between his pointer finger and thumb. “Oh, look. Now you can’t whine to me about how sick you feel.” 

He tried very hard to suppress his laughter at the nasty glare she threw him, easily sliding her tongue out from between his wet fingers. “Har-har,” she grumbled. “I didn’t complain that  much.” 

Laughing, Chat took her hand and twirled her good-naturedly. “You’re right, you didn’t. I just like your pouty face.”

That earned him a wet smack over the head after she regained her balance from the sudden spin. “Mean kitty. Why do I tolerate you, again?”

Chat batted his eyes at her crossed arms and cocked hip. “Because I’m lovely and you’re lovely and we’re lovely together.” 

Marinette looked unconvinced. 

“...And you love me?” 

She seemed to consider for a moment. “Do I?”

The sound Chat made in response was somewhere between an offended huff and a muffled groan. “How dare you.”

Marinette giggled behind her hand, raindrops sticking to her long eyelashes like morning dew on grass. The rain has lightened up by then, and the mist dancing around them as an afterthought was a calm contrast. 

Chat and Marinette meandered over to the Trocadéro steps and sat down side-by-side. She had this curious glimmer in her eyes that he couldn’t explain, and for a moment, Chat considered asking her what she was thinking about. 

He immediately discarded the idea; it wasn’t his business to know every little thing that troubled her or gave her pause. 

She relinquished a long sigh as if the high of their trek had finally been pulled out from deep within her. Chat often found that he forgot what time it was when he was with Marinette, but he supposed it had to have been a while. 

Her head found his shoulder as she leaned into him. Lately, she’d become more comfortable casually touching him. The line of her body was cold and slick as he rested his glove-covered hand on her other side, but heat thrummed beneath her skin like a live wire. 

Sopping wet, Marinette fell asleep right there. Chat was surprised at the sudden dip into unconsciousness, but then he thought about it, and he realized it was reasonable for her to crash after running around for what was likely hours. 

Had it really been that long?

Maybe it was just him that fell victim to time when he spent it with her, odd as that sounded. She simply had this way about her—this pull, this energy, this smile—and Chat didn’t feel  like it was crazy to be addicted to someone the way he was addicted to Marinette Dupain-Cheng, but what did he know?

Her presence was simply something else entirely. 

Marinette’s lips parted as she breathed softly. When raindrops fell from her bangs, they landed like soft embraces on her nose, which scrunched in response to the sudden attention. 

She had a tendency to murmur things in her sleep; Chat had realized as much a while ago—it had been a couple of weeks since he’d found her asleep on her balcony. 

“Gotta...homework,” she mumbled, cheek squished against Chat’s soldier as her eyebrows creased. 

It was a good thing it was Saturday night, otherwise they both would have been screwed for school. 

Chat moved slowly, gently hooking his arms beneath her legs as he turned. Marinette grumbled unhappily at the loss of contact—she was a touchy person in sleep—but quickly relaxed into his chest when Chat hoisted her up into his arms bridal-style. 

She murmured some more things to Chat as he, with aching caution so as not to jostle her, made his way back to her balcony. He’d discovered that he could find Marinette’s balcony from any place in the city now; when an akuma attacked, his eyes naturally flitted there just to ensure that she was safe. If he couldn’t see the balcony, he would find a vantage point where he could. More often than not, she wouldn’t be there, but he liked to think that she was safely tucked inside of her room. 

He liked to think he had control over whether she was safe or not. 

Obviously, the same could be said for every other citizen, but… 

Chat shook his head, feet touching down to Marinette’s balcony. 

Those were thoughts for another time.

Chapter Text

It was a rare time for Chat Noir to be distracted when fighting an akuma. He usually put all of his energy and effort into working in tandem with Ladybug and taking down the villain. 

But, of course, Marinette had never been in the line of fire before. 

“I saw you,” the akuma, Ivy, boomed, amber irises trained on Marinette. Thorns unfurled in her hands as she rode a wave of roots toward Marinette. Marinette was unceremoniously backing away, eyes wide. 

Chat fought harder against the thorned roots keeping him captive, desperately trying to wrench himself free. Ladybug had disappeared to recharge, and Chat hoped beyond all hope that she would be returning to the scene soon. 

Yellow roses bloomed along the bark crawling up Ivy’s form, twisting into a head of hair. Her skin was dark and cracked, giving off the appearance of being the stem of the fern that was slowly engulfing Paris. Twisted branches protruded from buildings, eating their way up until whole structures were consumed before collapsing to the ground. 

Another rumble shook the street, and Chat’s eyes were momentarily torn from Marinette’s fear-ridden expression as a building down the block succumbed to the roots. 

“I saw you with him,” Ivy hissed, rising above Marinette on a tidal wave of greenery. “What makes you so special? What makes you worthy of being with him?” 

“I don’t know who you’re talking about!” Marinette insisted over another body-quaking rumble, nearly losing her balance. 

Ivy screamed in outrage, and Marinette tripped and fell to the ground. A shadow cast over her as Ivy rose up higher and higher. “Why, Chat Noir, of course.” 

Time slowed around Chat. He watched Ivy begin to dip it what had to be a lethal dive toward Marinette, and something inside him snapped. 

Chat tore through his restraints with strength he wasn’t aware he had, and lept into a sprint. He needed to get there; he didn’t know what he’d do if he didn’t. 

Technically speaking, Ladybug’s Miraculous Ladybug would set everything right, Marinette included, but something in the back of his head was screaming at him to save Marinette right then. 

Twenty feet. 

Fifteen feet. 

Ten—

He threw himself, shouting a desperate, “Cataclysm!” 

The myriad of thorns, sharpened to a tip, pulsed against his hand as if traveling through it. Ash fell away, and Chat knew he didn’t have much time. 

He glanced back to see Marinette right behind him, poised as if ready to jump in and help him any second. After one final push against the roots, Chat grabbed Marinette and vaulted as far as he could. 

“Get out of here,” he panted before taking off once more, fruitlessly trying to get Ivy to ignore Marinette and pay attention to him. 

When he looked over his shoulder to see if she was still there, he found that she was gone. The tight squeeze in his chest relaxed, and he put all of his remaining energy into fighting Ivy off. 

Ladybug came barreling in moments later, silent as she helped him take the akuma down. She didn’t even say her customary “bye bye, little butterfly.” 

Chat was out of breath when he offered her his fist. 

Ladybug took one look at it before throwing herself at him, nearly choking him in a hug. 

“Whoa, hey,” Chat said, floored. “What’s wrong?” 

Ladybug pulled back, and to his horror, her eyes were glassy. “I wish you would be more careful,” was all she said in response before she turned, threw her yo-yo, and flew away. 

Chat watched her figure disappear behind a distant building, confusion swelling to the forefront of his mind. He didn’t dwell on it; he had other things to worry about. 

He’d almost forgotten about the akuma victim, who was still sprawled on the floor. He reluctantly went over to her and offered her a hand. “You okay?” 

She blinked up at him, gripping her head. “What happened?” 

His smile was grim. “You were akumatized.” 

Confusion flashed across her face before she perked up, an “oh” escaping her mouth. “I saw you with that girl,” she said, scrambling to her feet. An uncomfortable smile pulled at her lips. “Your girlfriend, right?” 

Chat opened his mouth before closing it. “It’s not really anyone’s business who I choose to be friends with. Marinette and I are… we’re not… we’re just—”

“I understand,” the girl said, her smile more genuine. “I won’t tell.” 

“I think you already might have,” Chat sighed, eyes scanning the scene for reporters. To his surprise, there were none in sight. 

If they weren’t here…

Chat cursed under his breath. “I’ve got to go. Do you need help getting home?”

The girl blushed. “N-no, I’m okay. Go find her.” 

With that, Chat shot into the air to gain a vantage point. As he’d thought, he spotted a swarm of reporters the next block over. They had someone cornered against a building—Marinette. 

Chat looked down at his ring and swore again. He had two minutes left, maybe less. Chat allowed himself to tip and fall toward the crowd, another sigh catching in his throat. 

He landed right beside Marinette, scaring a large portion of the reporters. “Sorry for the interruption, but I will be returning this random, innocent civilian home, if she will allow it.” He aimed a meaningful look at Marinette, who nodded. 

“That would be wonderful.” She turned back toward the crowd. “The only way I know Chat Noir is through his help with the city. That is all.” 

Chat knew she hated lying, but it was for the best. With a final salute, he took Marinette into his arms and flew off. 

The trip back to her balcony was mangled with awkward silence; Chat wanted to say something, but he was caught between so many different feelings that he didn’t know what would come out if he did. 

When they touched down to her balcony, Marinette took a small step away. She refused to make eye contact, and Chat began to wonder if he’d done something wrong. 

Finally, she said, “Thank you for saving me.” 

Chat touched her shoulder, trying to get her to meet his gaze. “Of course, Mari. I’ll always save you.” 

Her eyes glanced off of his before she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his torso in a fierce hug. Chat returned it, burying his face in her hair. 

“Please be more careful,” he murmured, eyes screwed shut. “That was scary.” 

Marinette nodded. “I will. Try not to give me a heart attack again, though, okay?” 

“Okay.”

Chat’s ring gave a final warning beep, and he knew he had to pull away. Marinette made the decision for him by relinquishing her grip on him. “You’d better go.” 

Chat bit his lip. “Yeah.” He nodded and turned away, readying himself to take off. 

“Chat?”

He craned his neck, mouth opening to respond, and felt a feather-light brush on his cheek. Marinette backed away, face darkening. “J-just a thank you, that’s all.” 

Chat stared at her, posture drooping and jaw slack. His ring beeped again, a reminder that he really needed to be going. 

He opened and closed his mouth like a gaping fish before blurting, “Okay, bye!” and chucking himself off the balcony. 

The memory of her thank you was seared into his cheek. Even as his transformation faded around him, he felt its presence, the way it lingered. 

He touched his cheek and realized that he was lost.

Chapter Text

 

“You remind me of a good friend,” Marinette blurted randomly, clutching her books to her chest as she and Adrien walked across campus to their next period. 

Adrien raised an eyebrow, unable to keep the smile off of his face. “That sounds promising.”

Marinette smiled, cheeks pink with happiness. They looked as if they were warm to the touch. “You’re a good friend, too! I just noticed that you two are actually pretty similar.” 

“How so?” Adrien asked, watching her expression closely. 

Marinette’s eyes flitted away, and she laughed. “You’re both… good.” 

Adrien poked her in the shoulder. “That’s hardly an uncommon feature.” 

Marinette stopped walking and put a hand on his arm to stop him as well, eyes glittering in amusement. “What I mean is… you’re both just so kind and polite and have the best intentions. You’re good .” And as if nothing had happened and she hadn’t just speared him through the chest, Marinette removed her hand and made a move to open the classroom door. 

When Adrien didn’t follow her, she paused at the door, which was pushed halfway open. “Are you coming?” 

He blinked at her, his head buzzing with warmth. “Ah, yeah.” 

Their hands brushed as she passed the weight of the door onto him, and Adrien’s knees shook until he collapsed into his seat.

That night, he stared up at his ceiling, dipping into the song that had been playing in the back of his head all day. 

Adrien pushed off of his mattress and made his way over to the piano. It was only 6 PM—too early to patrol, and too late to go anywhere as a civilian. It was in this two hour gap (6 to 8) that he felt most trapped, most consumed in homework, most thoughtful. 

His fingers hovered over the keys of his grand piano as he mentally submerged himself in the song. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 - “Path é tique” flowed from beneath his fingers. 

The notes cut into him, such contrasts to the lightness of her laugh, to the brilliant gleam in her eyes, to the soft warmth of her fingers. They traced paths across the planes of his chest, reaching inside of him and brushing his heart with gentle caresses and tickles. 

He could feel it rising in him—the resistance. Biting, clawing, masking as it often did these days. Who was he to fight it? 

Adrien succumbed to the resistance and tore his mind from her. He wasn’t a fool, was he? 

The piano music kept him company, taunting his internal agony. It spoke of unsaid things, actions he refused to take; it rooted itself deeply in his chest until the lines were so blurred that he couldn’t tell the notes from one another—they felt the same. 

Adrien stopped playing, head bent over the piano as if chained to it. He could feel Plagg watching him, but he didn’t have the energy to look up and meet the knowing gaze of his kwami. 

“Plagg, claws out.” 

Chat Noir sprinted until the notes were echoing in his ears like the roaring of blood. They crashed into him from every side, and he fought harder to outrun them. 

He tripped and skidded to a stop on a long rooftop, gravity pulling at his limbs. His feet found purchase, and he pushed himself up. What was wrong with him? He was being ridiculous. Overthinking things would get him nowhere. He knew who he was and what he wanted, and that was that. 

Newly restored to peace of mind (and quite out of breath), the music carried Chat through his patrol route. He tried to ignore it, but gave in after it lingered for longer than half an hour. 

It was just a song, he reminded himself. Not a metaphor. 

When he landed on the roof adjacent to the bakery, Marinette was leaning on her balcony railing, chin in her hand. A blanket was hugging her shoulders, and she’d traded her pajama top for a sweater. Her hair, to his surprise, was in a bun—he’d never seen her hair in anything but twin-tails before. 

Her shoulders relaxed into a low arch, and her slight smile spoke of spring sunshine only seen in fairytales. 

Unmistakably, Beethoven’s tortured melody fled his head, replaced by Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90 - Poco Allegretto. He felt as if he was being pulled in two directions, but he crept closer anyway. 

The mystical notes danced at the edges of his mind, and he forgot himself for a moment as he simply stared at her. 

As if drawn to him, her eyes found his form. He was crouched beside a chimney, but now that she was looking directly at him, he felt as if he needed to sit down. 

She waved him over, pulling the blanket tighter around herself. 

Chat, embarrassed, wordlessly leapt down to her balcony. 

When he straightened, she was smirking, eyes glittering. “Enjoy the view, peeping tomcat?”

Chat’s skin burned as if he was running a fever. “I wasn’t—I got—! I! Was! Distracted!” Lord, end him. 

Marinette fondly giggled into her hand. “I was only kidding, Chaton.”

Lips pursed, Chat nodded mutely, shuffling his feet awkwardly. He had no idea what he was doing. 

“Hey,” Marinette was suddenly much too close, her hand coming up to touch his cheek, “are you okay? You feel hot.”

“Hot for you,” he wanted to joke, but the words stayed lodged in his throat. He didn’t want to accidentally sound like he meant it. 

“I’m fine,” he managed, the heat in his cheeks starting to blister. “Just a bit of a cough, maybe.” It was a lie, but he didn’t want to try and explain why he was blushing to the roots of his hair. 

Marinette pulled back, and to Chat’s horror, he instantly missed her warmth. “I can go down and make soup really fast?”

Chat waved her off, haphazardly settling down on the other lawn chair she’d gotten out on the balcony for him. Her expression was concerned, eyes curiously searching his. 

His heart pittered pathetically in his chest. 

Maybe he was a fool.

Chapter Text

Chat looked up from fiddling with his staff when Marinette began swearing under her breath. 

“What?” he asked, nonplussed. 

Irritation etched itself into the curve of her brow. “I was supposed to go to the Louvre before it closed to do an analysis on some paintings for Literature.” 

Chat cocked his head, a smile blooming on his face. “Mari, who am I?”

She met his gaze with a deadpan stare. “An idiot about to suggest an idiotic idea that would top all other attempts at idiocy.” 

Chat’s smile grew as he slid his staff screen shut. “Up.” 

Marinette sunk into her chair. 

He stood and reached for her hands. “Get up.” 

“Chat,” Marinette whined when he tried to pull her to her feet, “you’re a superhero! You’re not supposed to do illegal things!”

Chat scowled when Marinette refused to stand on her own. “It’s not illegal if I’m a superhero.” 

“This is an abuse of power,” Marinette huffed, planting her butt on the balcony floor after Chat had hefted her up from her chair. “I should tell your superior.” 

“Who says I have a superior?” Chat winked, trying to get Marinette to budge from the floor. 

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Ladybug? What would she sa—HEY!” 

Cut off by her own exclamation, Marinette was scooped up around the middle and thrown over Chat’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. 

Chat comically pretended to scan the horizon as Marinette kicked and struggled. “I don’t see Ladybug… so I guess we’re good to go!” And then he took off in the direction of the Louvre. 

“Chat!” Marinette shouted over the howling wind. “This is considered kidnapping!” 

“Can’t hear you over the sound of your homework getting done!” 

Marinette groaned, sagging in defeat. Chat beamed victoriously as he vaulted his way across Paris, the Louvre in his sights. He loved getting the opportunity to venture from Marinette’s balcony with her and explore. It wasn’t a common thing (seeing as how they’d get attacked by the press if it was), but Chat always found that the times they did change it up were the most memorable. 

He silently landed in front of the Louvre. The two guards standing outside startled at his sudden appearance, shoving their phones into their pockets before straightening. 

“Chat Noir,” the burlier of the two guards said, stepping forward, “is something wrong?” 

Chat set Marinette down, who, upon a single glance, looked like she’d rather be anywhere else. “Not a thing,” Chat replied, smiling easily. “But I do need to get into the Louvre.” 

The guards exchanged looks before shrugging and unlocking one of the doors. When Chat glanced down, Marinette looked gobsmacked. 

Upon the weight of his gaze on her face, though, her mouth snapped shut and twisted. “This is still wrong,” she muttered, avoiding eye contact. 

Chat snickered and took her hand. “No illegalities here.” He nodded at the guards as they passed through. He could feel their curious stares following and hoped nothing would come of them. 

Marinette, after initial entry, began pulling him along in a speedy walk. “I don’t want to be here for too long,” she claimed, but Chat knew better when she slowed every time she saw something she deemed worthy of closer inspection. 

When they finally found the row of paintings Marinette was looking for, Chat got the flabbergasted guards to lift the metal bars and let them through. 

“Official business,” Chat stated solemnly. “We won’t be here for long.” 

“This is insane,” Marinette hissed to him, her shoulder brushing his. “Why are they letting us through?” 

Chat grinned. “Probably because I’m a celebrity.” 

That earned him a hard elbow to the gut. 

“I’m only going to take a few quick notes on my phone,” Marinette declared stubbornly. “I can find everything else I need online.” 

Tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth, she typed away as she walked down the row of paintings. Chat stood back and watched her fondly, arms crossed over his chest. Really, she was so funny. 

Only a few minutes had gone by when Marinette walked past him, phone clutched in hand. “Done!” she called over her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here.” 

Chat chuckled and shook his head. It was like she was worried the guards would change their minds and arrest them. 

Marinette finally allowed herself to relax once they were outside of the Louvre. “That was stressful,” she lamented, shooting him a tired look. “I appreciate it, though, so thank you.” 

Chat wound his arm around her waist, bracing her for the trip they were about to take into the air. “Anytime, Mari. Whatever you need.” And maybe his smile was a tad too genuine, because she looked away, ears red. 

They were quiet the whole way back to the bakery; Chat was too afraid to breach the silence and incriminate himself, and Marinette seemed oddly interested in the roofs passing below them. 

Their goodbye was an awkward handshake-turned-hug that left Chat cursing under his breath. 

After they exchanged their final farewells, Chat admittedly stayed hidden in the shadows of a nearby building and watched Marinette pace back and forth for a few long minutes. 

(He was not a stalker! He was curious! And! Confused!)

It was late, but he was almost afraid to leave; it would feel as if he was turning his back on the beginnings of a meek flame, and he found that he didn’t want to look away for fear of it flickering out.

Chapter Text

Maybe he was desperate.

He wanted her to look at him, give him her attention, talk to him. 

Or maybe he was still confused. 

He did stupid things to get her to laugh at him, to smile at him, to talk to him. 

Or, if he was honest…

He constantly gravitated toward her, asked her questions about herself, drank in details. 

Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. 

He made excuses to be around her, to invite her places, to see her. 

And maybe he didn’t want to stop. 

“Marinette,” Adrien said for maybe the hundredth time that day, sidling up to her with a stupid grin, “how do you think you did on the test?” 

Marinette curled in on herself with a small whimper. “I have no idea,” she admitted, sighing and loosening the grip she had on her textbooks. “I studied for it, but you know how I am with chemistry.” 

Adrien barely managed to bite back the “I know we have plenty of chemistry” comment that jumped to the tip of his tongue. Really, it was much too Chat Noir of him. 

Instead, Adrien settled a hand on her shoulder with a comforting smile. “I’m sure you did great. After all, we spent almost seven hours studying on Saturday.”

Marinette cracked a smile. “Alya was going stir-crazy within five minutes.” 

“I think she whooped when she got a notification for an akuma attack.”

Marinette laughed at that—full, and loud, and beautiful, and blindingly bright. “Any excuse to escape studying too hard, and she’s on it. I can’t really blame her, though.” She sent him a devastating grin. “I welcomed the distraction, too.” 

If Adrien tripped over thin air, Marinette didn’t notice or was too nice to say anything about it. 

He followed her into the classroom and took his seat behind her; it was the one class where he could stare at her without having to crane his neck. 

To his surprise, she turned and settled her arms on his desk. “How do you think you did?” It was rare for her to pursue further conversation if he didn’t initiate it, so the heat that rose to his cheeks came unbidden and unexpected. 

“Um,” he floundered, wishing he could slip out from under the weight of her blue gaze, “I mean, I think I did well. Some of it was newer content, but I was already taught a good portion of the material.” 

Marinette nodded. “Yeah, you seemed to know what you were doing.” She smiled teasingly. “You probably didn’t even need that study session on Saturday.” 

Busted. “Well, I—”

Luckily, their history professor walked in and saved him from having to come up with something convincing to say. 

There were moments throughout the day that Adrien caught himself. Where guilt rose up in him like a tidal wave and overtook him. What was he thinking? What was he doing? And, most frequently, why was he doing it?  

Marinette was just the type of person you wanted to look at you , he reasoned after a fifteen minute mental debate. Her gaze was simply magical because she was sunshine. Yes. That was it. 

It was weird to feel like he had to vie for her regard; when he was Chat Noir, he had her undivided attention (outside of when she had her sketchbook out). In school, though, he had to work to get her to give him a second glance. And that was with him being one of her closer friends (with Alya and Nino, of course)!

But he had moments of consciousness where he wondered if maybe all he was doing was unjustified; that his competition against others was really just him thinking he had to fight for her. Did he? Why? 

Then these questions melted into the fog of distraction that school and, ironically, Marinette provided. 

His momentary guilt hit him hardest when he caught a glimpse of Ladybug later that night. He ducked behind a chimney before she could see him, clutching his chest. It speared him with shocking clarity that she’d rarely made an appearance in his daydreams all day; she usually occupied and controlled the forefront of his mind. 

The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he’d been thinking about her less and less. The occasional thought or lingering sensation of her tickled him in a warm spot, but it usually drifted away shortly after and failed to make a reappearance. 

He shook his head. No, he’d made a commitment, and failing to follow through would make him look like the fickle cat Ladybug already teased that he was. There was no way the feelings he had for her had faded! Not when he’d been feeling the brunt of them for the better part of two years. 

It was a ridiculous thought. 

Chat nearly missed his next jump when Ladybug called out to him. 

“Chat!” she shouted from eight rooftops away, yo-yo gripped in one hand. “I’ve been looking for you!” 

She has?

“You have?” he repeated aloud, watching her soar toward him. 

She landed in a perfect dismount as if it was nothing. When she straightened, she was smiling at him. “Yeah! I’ve been meaning to ask you about something.” 

Chat’s mind immediately went to Marinette, and he could feel his face heating. 

No, you moron! Act natural!

Chat nodded with a pained smile. “Yes—mm sure. What is up?” 

Well. 

Ladybug’s smile turned into a frown. “Are you okay?” 

Chat nodded again, lips pursed shut. 

“I just wanted to know about your patrol route, was all...” 

Chat heaved a sigh of relief. 

“And Marinette, of course. How is she?” 

It would be an understatement to say that Chat choked. He bent at the waist, hacking coughs wracking his body as he planted his hands on his knees for support. 

When he craned his neck up at Ladybug, she looked less concerned and more amused. His expression flattened. “You did that on purpose,” he accused under his breath, straightening and turning away from her with his hands crossed over his chest. “Does your cruelty know no bounds, Bugaboo?” 

Ladybug danced around him, a grin lighting up her face. “What’s the matter, kitty-cat? Nothing to say?” 

He sent her a glare before turning away again. 

“Cat got your tongue?” 

He startled at that and whirled on her. “No cat puns!” he begged, falling to his knees with unmatched dramatic flair. “Have mercy!”

Ladybug rolled her eyes. “Ha-ha. I say one cat pun—” 

Chat, glad to have dragged the topic away from Marinette, took the opportunity to challenge Ladybug to a race to the Eiffel Tower. 

By the time patrol was over and they were saying their goodbyes, Chat realized that the butterflies in his chest hadn’t stirred nearly as much as they should have in such close quarters with his spotted partner. Instead, they rested inside of him, dormant, and twitching when his mind touched on stray thoughts of a girl on a balcony. 

He wondered if she could see them dancing through the night, and with immense guilt, he wished he’d been dancing with her.

Chapter Text

Marinette wasn’t on her balcony when Chat came bounding over. He landed on the roof and slid down, hoping she would come up if she heard him. To his surprise, she didn’t surface. 

Chat couldn’t remember her saying she wouldn’t be there, and she knew it was his patrol night. So where was she? 

He collapsed into his designated lawn chair, which knocked a sigh out of him. He’d managed to convince Marinette (as Adrien, of course) to start coming to fencing practices again. She’d shown up and performed surprisingly well against Kagami, who had taken to training her in stride.

Adrien had been admittedly jealous of Kagami; she’d been in relatively close quarters with Marinette the entire time—talking, laughing, touching. 

“I can be jealous without having feelings, right?” Chat asked the potted plant resting on the railing beside his head. “Yeah. Friendship jealousy. That’s a thing.” He nodded. “Thank you for your input.” 

“Sure, Chat, feel free to talk to my plants.” 

Chat jumped, head snapping up to see Marinette leaning out of her trapdoor, smile amused. 

“Princess,” he greeted, voice strained, “how long have you been there?” 

She pulled herself up onto the floor of her balcony before straightening. Her damp hair suggested that she’d just gotten out of the shower; droplets of water traced smooth paths across her creamy skin where her tank-top did not curb them. 

Chat felt an odd jolt in his stomach; a swooping sensation that sent a startling shudder through the core of his chest to the tips of his fingers. He was almost certain that goosebumps were rising on his arms, though he couldn’t see them. Nervous energy crackled in the back of his throat like electricity, shooting sharp jabs down his spine. Everything was warm and pleasant, then, all too suddenly, Chat felt as if he was overheating, burning, melting. 

“Not long,” she said, plopping down into the lawn chair opposite him. “My friend convinced me to rejoin his fencing academy, and today was my first practice.” She stretched, incognizant of the way she bared herself to him. Chat suddenly understood what drowning felt like. “I forgot how sweaty fencing made me, but I also forgot how much I genuinely enjoyed doing it. The first time, I only did it to be around—”

She stopped rather suddenly, her mouth snapping shut in a comical way. Her face also began changing color; it was understandable for Chat to lean forward curiously. 

“To be around?” he encouraged, watching Marinette’s face turn an awkward red-purple color with growing interest. 

“Nothing,” she managed with her mouth mostly clamped shut. “It was, um, a good practice.” 

“Mari,” Chat groaned, sitting up fully and prodding her leg, “now I want to know.” He leaned forward further, wiggling his eyebrows and nearly falling off of his chair. “Who were you trying to be around?” 

Marinette’s quick hand movements and fidgeting seemed to triple in speed. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, voice jumping a few octaves. “It’s in the past, and I am a changed”—her voice cracked, and she winced—“woman.” 

Chat blinked. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her so on edge. Maybe a year or two ago, at best, but not so much recently. 

Marinette’s hands found her face, and she groaned. “Ignore me,” she grumbled into her hands. Her ears were tinged red. 

With a start, Chat realized that she was probably talking about the boy she was in love with. 

He’d… he’d forgotten about that. 

A painful weight settled in his chest, pulling his heart down into his stomach. A sudden, inexplicable ache wrung out within him, echoing inside his body like the resounding clang of a gong. 

His mind caught up with his dizzying emotions. “He fences?” Chat blurted, filter forgotten. 

Marinette peered up at him through her hands. “What?” 

Chat felt as if something had been firmly lodged in his throat. “The guy. The one you…” He gestured vaguely, a bitter taste clinging to his tongue.

Marinette’s face recolored. “Ah,” she murmured, looking elsewhere. “Yeah. He does. But, um—I… I don’t know.” 

Without his consent, hope swelled up in his chest like warm honey. He shivered and sat up a little straighter. “You don’t know?”

“He’s my friend,” Marinette explained, twiddling her thumbs. “Not that we weren’t already friends, but he’s a good  friend of mine now.” She peered up at him nervously, and his heart did a funny flip. “I don’t know how I feel about him anymore.” The words were a murmur barely leaving her lips. 

Marinette shuddered as the silence prolonged. “I forgot how cold it was in the evenings. I’m gonna bring up some blankets.” 

Before Chat could say anything, she was disappearing beneath her trapdoor hatch. His mouth snapped shut, but he wanted to open it again to let out a flood of noises—to vent, to emote, to shout like a madman. 

He was going crazy, wasn’t he?

He looked over at the potted plant, which seemed to wilt under his speculative gaze. “I’m not crazy am I?” 

Its leaves held no answer for him, so instead, he looked to the sky. There weren’t many stars out yet, as most of Paris was still awake, but the few that dotted the blanket of night winked at him as if they knew something that he didn’t. 

The sigh he released felt like it was being pulled from deep inside him. 

Marinette re-emerged, hair up in a bun and hoodie-clad. She tossed him a blanket; he didn’t really need it because of his suit, but he took it anyway. 

They talked for an hour or so. The boy in their fencing program didn’t come up again, but Chat wanted to ask about it more than he was willing to admit. 

“I’m wiped,” Marinette confessed, smile sleepy. “It was really nice talking to you, Chat, but I think I’m gonna head to bed.” 

Chat nodded, getting to his feet. “I was just about to send you off, so good timing.” He sent her a crooked smile, and maybe it was a bit too adoring; Chat was pretty sure that his filter was crumbling.

Marinette slid through the trapdoor part-way before stopping. Her eyes glinted, reflecting the fairy lights overhead. “You know you can tell me anything, right?” 

Chat, floored by the question, merely stared at her for a moment. “Huh?” 

She tilted her head, lips quirking up. “I know that you’ve been distracted lately. If you want to talk about something, I’m all ears.” 

Mutely, Chat nodded. Words sprung to his tongue only to stick to the roof of his mouth. Marinette flipped the fairy lights off and disappeared beneath her trapdoor, smiling. 

Chat stood there, rooted to the spot, for a long moment. Finally, he shook his head and looked down at the potted plant. “If only I could put it into words.”

Chapter Text

It was raining that day. 

Drenched, Chat Noir ran along the ridges of the Parisian rooftops. He couldn’t stand to be still for even a second; his mind had a habit of running away from him when he gave it time to ruminate. 

But even as he pumped his legs and heaved his chest, his thoughts escaped from his firm grasp. 

No,  he insisted internally, squeezing his eyes shut. I don’t want to think about it.

Would it really be so bad?  a voice in the back of his head queried. I see no downsides.

It would be so complicated if he gave in. How could it even work? She wasn’t interested in him—especially not Adrien. Maybe, he’d thought a while ago, he could have foreseen her being able to like him. If he’d approached her fast enough and swept her up—she was in high demand. 

But no, he was too late. He’d overheard Alya and Marinette talking behind him in hushed whispers earlier that day. 

"You what?” Alya yelped, sounding aghast. 

Marinette shushed her. “Stop! I don’t want the entirety of Paris to know!” 

“You’re giving up on him? The boy you’ve been in love with for, what, two years?”

“It’s not like I’m doing it willingly,” Marinette whined. “It’s against my better judgement, really.” 

Marinette suddenly squeaked, closely followed by the sound of her knees making contact with her desk. “Alya!”

“So who is it?” Alya asked, smirk clear in her voice. 

Adrien’s heart sank.

“Why do you immediately assume that I like someone else? Maybe I’m just an independent woman. Ouch! Alya!”

“Go sell your bull elsewhere, Mar.”

Marinette huffed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Alya hummed. “Ah, so you’re in denial, then. Is it someone bad?”

“Of course not! He’s amazing, really, but it would never work. We just… we’re from two different worlds.” There was a poignant pause. “It would be too complicated.”

“But if it could work… would you want it to?”

Adrien turned and and momentarily glanced over his shoulder to see Marinette’s expression. She was staring at her folded hands, though it didn’t appear as if she was really looking at them. A dejected smile curved her lips. 

She looked at Alya then, eyes dull. “Yeah,” she confessed softly, flushing. “Yeah, I would.”

It was ironic in a tragic way; he knew exactly how she felt. 

“Chat Noir!”

Chat almost fell flat on his face. His eyes were clouded with rain water as he cast around for the source of the voice. When he finally saw her, his chest tightened.

Marinette was standing in the street below, clothes soaked through and twin-tails drooping heavily. Her backpack was in one hand, dripping water, and her other hand was shielding her eyes from the downpour.

“What are you doing out here?” Chat asked after landing beside her. He could see now that she was shaking violently; she must be freezing. 

“I c-could ask you the s-same thing,” she managed through shudders, a meek smile stretching her lips. 

“Where are you headed? I’ll give you a lift.” He was already stepping closer to her, arms wrapping around her waist. 

She threw herself into his warmth, quivering harder than before. “T-to my high sc-school. I left my wallet in my l-locker, so I couldn’t p-pay for my sewing materials at the st-store.” 

Chat nodded before taking her fully into his arms. She curled into him, teeth chattering loudly and clothes squelching against the leather-like material of his suit. He gripped her tightly, desperately wishing he could be a better source of warmth for her; with the suit on, it was unlikely that he was giving off enough heat to do much. 

By the time they were landing in front of their high school, Marinette’s shudders had pittered off into mere occasional jolts. She seemed loathe to step away from his body heat, but did so anyway. Her body left an imprint of warmth on him, but he still felt cold without her. 

“Thank you, Chat,” she said, wringing her shirt out with her hands. They were tucked into the overhang of the school’s entrance, barely out of reach of the rain. “You didn’t have to go out of your way.” She gestured lamely—awkwardly—and Chat burned with a sudden curiosity to know what was going through her head at that moment. 

“And leave a damsel in distress? I could never,” he preened, defaulting to the easy flirtatious manner he harbored around her. It wouldn’t do to dwell and let himself give anything away. He had leaned into her personal space, lips pulled into an easy smirk. 

Marinette always had this way of surprising him—of doing something unexpected or catching him off guard. 

When she stretched onto her toes and kissed his cheek, he watched her do it with striking clarity. Her breath fanned his cheek and neck, and an electric shot of adrenaline crashed through him, causing him to jump.

She quickly backed away, face contorting into a pained smile as her face flushed crimson. “Ha! Ah, thank you again! You’re very kind… um! I’ll see you later? To-tomorrow?” Her hands fluttered about uncertainly before finally coming to rest on her cheeks. She chanced a look up at him, and he couldn’t help but stare. 

Marinette was easily one of the prettiest girls he’d ever seen—with her porcelain skin and her radiant eyes, it wasn’t hard to understand why she had so many admirers. But it went farther than that, he knew, for her lips were delicately beautiful on their own, but more so when they were pinched in irritation or drawn out into a genuine smile. Her eyes were unbelievably bright, but they also crinkled at the corners when she laughed and held that spark of amusement when she narrowed them accusingly. 

Again, he circled back to feeling as if he was staring at the moon; the night sky framed her face in black waves that curled in their damp state, but she glowed as if lit from the inside. 

He had been quiet for too long now, he knew, for she was shrinking into herself and beginning to backtrack. 

Chat wanted to open his mouth and derail the conversation back into territory they were familiar with (it wasn’t too late to do so), but his mouth remained firmly sealed shut—lips glued together in rebellion. 

He had her attention at that point. She’d stopped rambling and was meeting his gaze with curiosity. He wondered if she was trying to read his mind as he was trying to read hers. 

Honestly, he really should say something. He mentally cast around, trying to remember where the conversation had been going; he’d already forgotten. His heart was pounding heavily, fluctuating the longer he maintained eye contact with her. Resisting the urge to reach up and grip his chest, he finally smiled. 

“Tomorrow. Yeah.” Tomorrow wasn’t his patrol night, but she didn’t know that; he’d come anyway. “Stay out of the rain.” 

His legs moved without his consent, and with great effort, he vaulted away. He found that he couldn’t go far, though, so he landed behind a nearby chimney and peeked out of the damp darkness it offered. 

Marinette stood where he’d left her, eyes wide and face pink. Her hands had come up and curled against her collar, twined together. She released a long sigh, her body crumbling in on itself as if relieved, and her hands fell to her sides. A smile curved her lips. 

If he was a bit farther away, he might not have caught the murmured: “Next time, I’ll bring us an umbrella to walk under.”

Chapter Text

It was during lunch break that an akuma attacked. 

Adrien knew that Marinette spent most of her lunch breaks at the bakery, helping her parents out during the lunch rush hour. He probably should have been paying closer attention to what was going on around him, but he often found himself swept up in other preoccupations during class. 

He hadn’t known that Nathaniel was still harboring a massive crush on Marinette, and he certainly hadn’t predicted that Nathaniel would somehow spot Marinette and Chat Noir’s exchange outside of the high school the previous night. 

So when the school had flooded with water while Adrien was at home, he hadn’t known right away. He hadn’t even been cognizant of an attack until water had begun seeping into his own house. 

Upon transforming and vaulting away, he aimed to find the source of the water. Unsurprisingly, all of the streets of Paris were flooding, slowly rising inch by inch. Citizens were clustered together on random rooftops, quivering and shouting for help. 

Chat Noir searched the area, thinking that it was coming from the school, before he noticed a figure standing on a solid metal plate positioned just outside of Tom and Sabine’s bakery. The figure was stiff and stock-still, though it fit the profile of an akuma: brilliant red hair, snake-like eyes, and scales obscuring half of his face and stretching down the length of his body. He was wearing a metal suit, which beamed gold under the bright sunlight. 

Suddenly, the figure’s eyes snapped to Chat, who was crouching on top of a chimney. 

A tongue slithered out between his lips, snake-like and long. “Chat Noir,” he addressed, and even his voice somehow sounded reptilian, “I’ve been waiting for you.” 

Chat stood tall, staff at the ready. “I apologize for the wait; hopefully, it won’t come back to bite me.” He motioned to the akuma with a smirk, and the villain bared his sharp fangs with a growl. 

“You think you’re funny now, but the joke you should be laughing at is the idea of the knight getting the princess. Have you ever heard of something more ridiculous?” 

Chat’s blood ran cold. He was pretty sure he flinched, but he was spiraling into the depths of his complex feelings so quickly that he couldn’t be positive. Was he talking about Marinette? The blow admittedly hurt; with snake-boy making the connection between him and who could only be Marinette in front of Hawk Moth, it was possible that Marinette was in even more danger now than she was before. 

And it was all his fault. 

(But these would have been the repercussions if he'd pursued her anyway, right? These would be the consequences. She would be in constant danger if she were with him, and as much as his heart ached at the thought, he knew that he couldn’t sacrifice her safety.)

“Have you ever heard of a knuckle sandwich?” Chat growled, frost-like fury biting its way up the back of his throat. 

The akuma only smirked. “I take it I hit a nerve?”

Chat didn’t want to talk anymore. He charged the akuma, staff raised with a blow meant to knock him into the neighboring universe. The villain barely managed to dodge; he obviously hadn’t been expecting Chat to go on the offensive so soon. 

“You don’t want to fight me, Chat Noir,” the akuma sang, parrying his blows with the golden plates on his arms. “A dragon will do whatever he has to to protect his princess.” 

Chat’s hackles raised at the term. His princess. As if anyone owned her. As if she was property. As if she was something to be claimed. 

White hot fury burned through Chat Noir. How dare he talk about Marinette that way. It was one thing to steal Chat’s nickname for her; it was something else entirely for the akuma to claim her as his.

Seeming to sense Chat’s mounting rage, the akuma bristled and was suddenly tripling in size. The golden armor he wore crumpled like a plastic wrapper as the akuma’s body elongated. Red scales swept over his growing form like a wave, and suddenly, Chat Noir was staring up at what had to be at least a 50-foot dragon. 

At that exact moment, Marinette came racing within view, hands braced on her balcony railing. She was clad in a soft pink gown that plead out into multiple layers, forming a teacup shape around her. Her sloping collar bones were exposed, and her suddenly endless planes of creamy skin dipped down into the sweetheart neckline of the gown, out of sight. Her hair was pulled back into a neat, low bun that curled and spiralled as if done professionally. 

The frightened look on her face contrasted with the wholesome beauty of her profile, though, and it raised the hairs on the back of Chat’s neck. 

“Chat Noir!” she shouted, eyes widening in fear.

Chat whirled in time to throw himself out of the way. The akuma-turned-dragon had reduced the buildings around them to rubble and was swooping its long tail through the spot Chat had just been standing in.

He was submerged in water now, and as much as he hated it, he knew he needed the space to think. Chat held his breath for as long as he could, trying to devise a plan of action. Hopefully Ladybug would show up soon—it would be concerning if she didn’t notice the city flooding with water. 

Chat’s head breached the surface, and he gasped for air. He whirled around quickly, but didn’t see the dragon anywhere in the sky. 

Brain clouded, Chat extended his staff until he was shooting out of the water and up to Marinette’s balcony. The layout looked much different than usual; everything was made of stone and covered in ivy, and all possible exits were sealed off. 

Marinette was pacing the cobblestones of her newly decorated balcony, long pink skirts whipping and trailing behind her. She looked stunning, but she was clearly anxious. 

She finally noticed him with a start. 

“Chat!” she gasped, approaching him and crushing him in a hug despite the fact that he was soaked. When she pulled away, her mouth was moving a mile a minute. “The akuma! He’s a classmate of mine, Nathaniel—he was in love with me a couple years ago, but I thought he’d gotten over it. He came to me claiming that he saw you and I in front of the high school last night, and now he thinks he’s protecting me from you or something, and I—”

Chat, against his better judgement, pressed a finger to her lips to halt the waterfall of information. “Thanks for catching me up, but right now, I need to focus on the akuma, not the backstory.” It sounded harsh to his own ears, and he grimaced. “Nathaniel, huh?” he muttered to himself. “Figures.”

He couldn’t believe he’d let this happen. 

His hand fell to his side as he scanned the skyline. Where was Ladybug? And—more pressingly—where was the akuma?

Marinette crossed her arms over her chest with a scowl. “Any and all information is of value,” she said pointedly. After a short pause where she simply stared at him, she concluded, “You’re angry.”

Chat met her gaze and looked away, gritting his teeth as his eyes swept the area. 

“Minou,” Marinette sighed, and it was so rare a time that she used that nickname that she instantly had his attention again, “don’t let anything Nathaniel says get to you. People do and say a lot of things under an akuma’s influence.”

“I know,” Chat said on an exhale. “My priority right now is to find Ladybug and then  beat his ass.” He threw her a wink in for good measure. Nothing said “joking but actually not” like poorly timed flirting.

“Ha-ha,” Marinette muttered, rolling her eyes. “It would be great if you could lead him away when he realizes that you’re up here. I’d hate to be in your way.”

Amusement glimmered in her eyes, and Chat had moments to marvel at her curiously before a forceful wind blew past him. “He’s coming,” Chat stated, sparing Marinette one last glance. “Be careful when climbing down the ivy.”

“I know, I know,” Marinette said, ushering him toward the edge of her balcony. “Go do your hero thing, worry-wart.” 

“Doing his hero thing” turned out to be a lot harder than he’d predicted it would be. He’d lead Nathaniel-turned-dragon away as asked, but now that he could no longer see her balcony, anxiety was clawing at his chest with an iron grip. 

It was all he could do to avoid getting singed by curls of fire; nevermind finding the akumatized object and going on the offensive. 

To his immense relief, he recognized the whiz-crack of Ladybug’s yo-yo before he saw her zipping around a building. Albeit, she was fifteen minutes late, but the assistance was helpful nonetheless. 

“Sorry,” she panted when their paths crossed. “I got held up by the flooding.” 

Chat only grunted. “I haven’t been able to gather much other than the fact that this one is a hot-head .” He threw a roguish grin at the dragon, who huffed a line of brilliant amber flames at the duo in response. 

“Sure, Chat,” Ladybug snarked, swinging around him to gain a better vantage point. “Let’s antagonize the dragon .”

“No need to get all fired up! ” Chat called loudly, winking at Ladybug. “There’s plenty of dashing knight to go around.”

Ladybug’s distant “ugh” only further emphasized the akuma’s apparent frustration at Chat’s antics, which drew the villain’s attention away from Ladybug as planned. 

One Lucky Charm and Cataclysm later found the duo fist-bumping, breathless, as Paris was swarmed with red ladybugs. 

“You were on fire  today, my lady,” Chat grinned, ring beeping. “But I’m afraid I can’t take the heat for much longer.” 

Ladybug waved him off. “Kitties and their wussy temperature thresholds.” A wink. “I think I’ll manage on my own.” 

With a final salute, Chat was off to some secluded rooftop to recharge before returning to class. Nathalie had likely tried to call him during the attack, but Adrien figured she’d have to deal; he couldn’t have come home for lunch, anyway.

“So,” Plagg drawled as he choked down his Camembert, floating in front of Adrien’s face, “you and baker girl are officially public.”

Adrien couldn’t help the inherent flush that marred his cheeks. “Shut up, Plagg.” 

Plagg cackled. “You wanna be her lover ,” he sang, floating in taunting circles around Adrien’s head. He suddenly stopped mid-air, his face scrunching up. “Ew. I’m encouraging human reproduction.” 

Adrien’s blush deepened. “Plagg!” he groaned, hiding his head in his hands. “Claws out.” 

And for the rest of the day, when Adrien’s eyes caught on Marinette, the first word that came to mind was “lover.”

The second was “shit.”

Chapter Text

Adrien awoke on Saturday morning with dread bubbling in his stomach. His heart squeezed as he got ready for the long day of photoshoots ahead. When Nathalie had informed him that he would be spending the weekend working, he’d been pretty upset. But, he supposed, that was how the spring and summer season shoots always went. 

He’d been waiting for a reply from Gabriel on whether he could bring Marinette or not; his reasoning was that she was an up and coming fashion designer and would kill to see everything fall into place. Gabriel, who had never been supportive of having Adrien distracted during shoots, would probably say no, but Adrien figured it was worth a try.

(Marinette’s presence made everything more bearable.)

“Hey, Nathalie,” Adrien greeted as he walked into the dining room, glancing down at his measly breakfast of granola and wheat sitting on the table. “Has father responded to my request yet?”

Nathalie adjusted her glasses and glanced down at her tablet. “Your father is a busy man,” Nathalie reminded Adrien. “He has not had the opportunity to get back to you.”

Adrien frowned. “Can I bring her, then?”

A sigh pushed its way out of Nathalie. “I would advise against it. I don’t want you getting distracted by a girl.” 

Heat touched Adrien’s cheeks. “I’m going to be around girls all day, though. Models , no less.”

Nathalie quirked an eyebrow, and if her resting expression wasn’t so monotonous, Adrien would say that she was slightly amused. “Yes, but these models  hold no appeal to you.” Her eyes returned to her tablet before flicking up sharply once more. "This Dupain-Cheng girl does.” 

“Wh— no ,” Adrien wheezed, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the table. “Says who?” 

“You’re not doing a great job of convincing me, Adrien.”

Adrien perked up. “Does that mean I can get you to change your mind if I emphasize much of a”—he swallowed—“ friend  Marinette is?” 

Nathalie eyed him before letting out a long sigh. “If anyone asks, I know nothing of this.” 

“Thank you, Nathalie!” He rushed her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’re the best.”

*  *  *

The day was hell. Everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong

One of the models tripped and tore the centerpiece dress; another model fainted from severe dehydration and was rushed to the hospital; one of the assistants bumped into the photographer and ended up breaking a $2,000 camera, and the memory card came out completely wiped; the lights the staff was using were so bright that the curtains the models were posing in front of caught fire, and the building had to be evacuated.

The only thing missing was an akuma attack, and Adrien feared that wasn’t far off.

By the time Adrien was clambering into his limo, Marinette timidly trailing behind him, he was wiped. 

He collapsed into the closest seat, swallowing the loud groan trying to force its way out of his throat. Somehow, he knew, his father was going to blame him for what happened. 

“Are you okay?” Marinette asked quietly, shutting the car door behind herself and sitting beside him. “That was… very chaotic.”

Adrien laughed, though the sound held no humor. “You're telling me.” He lifted his head to look at her. “I’m sorry today was such a mess; this doesn’t usually happen.” Part of him wondered if it had to do with Plagg and the bad luck that tended to cling to him, or if it was all just a coincidence. 

Marinette tilted her head and smiled. “Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. You were the only one who seemed to be able to keep their head attached to their body.” She giggled into her hand, and Adrien’s heart turned over painfully. 

“Maybe,” he said lamely, cataloguing the different shades of blue residing in her irises. “But a large part of that had to do with you being there.” 

Marinette blinked, her face flushing a pretty pink. 

He really hadn’t meant to say that aloud. 

“You’re a very calming presence,” Adrien amended, cringing internally. “I felt at peace.” Better, but still a little weird.

“Thank you,” Marinette said, a smile blooming on her face. “That means a lot coming from you.”

Adrien’s heart squeezed, and heat rose to his cheeks. She probably meant nothing by it, but the warmth that covered his chest like a blanket didn’t seem to care. “Coming from me?” he dared to ask. 

“Well, yeah,” Marinette fidgeted. “You’re a good friend of mine, Adrien. Your opinion is very important to me.”

Adrien smiled wryly. “Right back at you.”

They spent the remainder of the car ride talking idly about class and their personal lives. Adrien, who often had to leave out details of his life when talking to Marinette, enjoyed relearning small things about her and actually being able to give her small tidbits of information in return. 

“Thank you so much for inviting me,” Marinette said softly, reaching for the car door handle. “I had a lot of fun.”

Adrien thought “fun” was generous, but he supposed that was to be expected from Marinette, who was a literal ray of sunshine.

“I’d invite you to every shoot if I could,” he admitted, following her out of the car. Wow, he really didn’t  have a filter anymore, did he? 

“I would be excited to go to anything you could invite me to,” Marinette replied, beaming at him. “Are you still going to join the group call later for the homework session?”

Adrien tilted his head and returned her smile, pleased by the attention. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

They said their goodbyes, and Adrien briefly peeked through the door to wave to Tom and Sabine. When he settled back into the limo, he was alone with his thoughts.

He was torturing himself. He knew he was—knew he was going to continue to. In another world, at another time, if he were someone else… His thoughts never strayed too far from the musings that sat temptingly close to the forefront of his mind. 

In another place, he could see himself admitting that he was completely and utterly in love with Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

The thought brought tears to his eyes.