Actions

Work Header

Passionfruit

Chapter Text

It was a Friday night, which meant Marinette should’ve been baby-sitting for Madame Chamack. But Madame Chamack’s boyfriend had dumped her last week, which left Marinette coincidentally free on the night her parents had a big catering order.

There was something wrong with the world, Marinette tiredly reflected, when the only thing a thirteen-year-old girl had to do for fun on a Friday night was help her parents out at a party that she hadn’t even been invited to.

“I’m so glad you’re here to help, Marinette. Papa and I were worried about whether we’d have enough hands,” Sabine said, beaming at her daughter.

“Yeah… great,” Marinette mumbled, looking at the uniform in her hands.

“Go change! We’re leaving soon,” Sabine instructed.

Marinette sighed heavily and slumped back upstairs to her room. It wasn’t that she minded helping, but she’d been looking forward to the money she would’ve made tonight from baby-sitting Manon. She couldn’t move on with her newest design until she could buy more fabric. She eyed her naked dressform sadly and sighed again.

“Marinette! Hurry!” Sabine shouted.

“I’m hurrying!” Marinette yelled back, quickly stripping out of her jeans and sweatshirt. In the mirror, she caught a brief glimpse of the black words scrawled over the skin above her heart.

It’s okay, passionfruit is my favorite.

Those were the first words her soulmate was going to say to her. Marinette frowned, not for the first time, and wondered how that conversation was going to come around. Most people had something simple, like “good morning” or “thank you”. Like, her maman had “good evening” and her papa had “isn’t it?”, both of which made sense for relative strangers.

Her maman had described that initial moment of the bond clicking into place as magical. All that was needed was for two people to say each other’s words; it was like a permanent contract, a soul contract if you will, that meant you’d found your other half. Your reward was an eternal companion and their voice in your head, with your voice in theirs. Telepathy, in other words.

Like most teenagers, Marinette alternately thought that sounded cool or creepy depending on the day. She really hoped her soulmate was someone her age, and not some old weirdo. People like Rose and Juleka, who had found each other when they were six years ols, were so lucky.

Marinette!” Sabine’s voice sounded both closer and more annoyed.

“Coming!” Marinette yanked a slightly cleaner of jeans on, pulled on the pink uniform top, and topped it off with a white apron. Then she ran to the door and pulled it up.

Sabine stood at the bottom of the stairs, hands on her hips, frowning.

“Sorry,” Marinette said, clattering down the steps so fast she tripped. She squealed, but Sabine caught her before she could fall very far and righted her.

“Honestly, what are we going to do with you?” Sabine asked, shaking her head. She straightened out Marinette’s apron.

“I was fixing my hair!” Marinette said.

“Uh huh. Get downstairs. Your papa needs your help loading the truck,” Sabine said.

“Right. Going.” A little more carefully, Marinette hurried down to the bakery. Her papa was whistling as he loaded the back with boxes of fragrant goodies. When her stomach growled as she walked in, he winked and snuck her a macaron.

“Gonna be a good one, Mari. Maybe with this, Mama and I will be able to buy you a copy of Ultimate Mecha Strike II,” he said.

“Really?!” Marinette beamed and gulped the macaron down in four quick bites. Suddenly more motivated to help, she grabbed a box and set it in the back of the truck.

Before long, the truck was packed and Sabine joined them. The truck was quiet on the way to the party. Or at least, it was outwardly quiet. Marinette could tell by the way they were acting that her parents were conversing by way of telepathy. Even after so many years, they still forgot themselves sometimes and didn’t speak out loud. It was romantic, but also kind of lonely.

Not that she’d ever tell them that, of course. Having an open connection with your soulmate was an excellent sign. All the magazines said that a one way or two way block was a sure sign of a relationship in trouble. So, isolating or not, she was happy her parents were still so much in love.

“Okay, Marinette?” Sabine said as they pulled up in front of Le Grand Paris.

“What?” Marinette said.

“I said - oh, sorry.” Sabine blew out a frustrated exhale. “Papa will unload the truck. I’m going to be in the kitchen stocking the dessert tables. Once they’re out, I want you walking around keeping an eye on what needs to be restocked.”

“Should I have a tray with food?” Marinette asked, envisioning herself gracefully slipping between the party attendees.

“No!” Her parents exclaimed together.

Marinette pouted. “Fine.” Honestly, that was fair. She was too much of a klutz for that.

Plus… Marinette eyed the hotel warily. That was the other part of why she wasn’t thrilled to help today. Chloé Bourgeois was undoubtedly going to be at the party, and Chloé never missed an opportunity to make fun of Marinette in some way. If she was really lucky, maybe she’d be able to avoid Chloé…

But Marinette doubted it. Her luck sucked.

She helped her maman carry a few things into the kitchen. The party was already in full swing. Marinette hung back in the shadows, admiring all of the fancy, beautiful clothing that she could see. She couldn’t help gasping when she spotted a few celebrities, including Jagged Stone.

Her excitement soured a little when she also spotted Chloé, strutting around the floor arm-in-arm with a blond boy who looked vaguely familiar. Marinette narrowed her eyes as the boy laughed at something Chloé had said. She couldn’t place where she’d seen him before, but any friend of Chloé’s was no friend of hers.

The kitchen doors opened and the two dessert tables, ladened high with her parent’s work, were rolled out. Marinette puffed up as people murmured with appreciation. She waited until the initial rush was over, then wandered over to see what needed to be refilled. The macarons were pretty much gone, and so were the chocolate chip cookies.

She headed back into the kitchen and carefully picked up another platter of macarons. There was no sign of her maman - she was probably helping Tom with the last of the boxes - but Marinette didn’t want to wait. Sabine always said that an empty platter was a sign of hungry customers.

With the upmost care, Marinette backed out of the kitchen. She slowly walked towards the dessert table, squeaking when a couple of people who weren’t paying attention nearly walked into her. She dodged just in time to avoid dumping the whole platter onto the woman’s very fancy dress, but a couple macarons dislodged and went flying.

“Oh noooo,” Marinette breathed, feeling like she was watching a slow motion train wreck. Her horrified gaze followed the path of the wayward macarons until they splattered against the shirt and tie of the boy who’d been walking around with Chloé.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

“Marinette! This is utterly ridiculous! What is the matter with you?!” Chloé shouted.

Mortified - friend of Chloé’s or not, the boy was still a client - Marinette set the platter down, grabbed a napkin, and rushed over. She only felt worse once she got a close-up view of the spots and stains now covering the boy’s white shirt and silky green tie. The shirt, which she guessed was cotton, could be washed. The tie? Not so much.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry I ruined your tie!” she blurted out, already mentally calculating how much money was in her bank and how much a replacement tie would cost.

“It’s okay, passionfruit is my favorite,” the boy said easily.

Marinette froze as the words - her words - sank in, accompanied by an unmistakable burning sensation on her chest. She slowly looked up into the boy’s shocked green eyes. She wouldn’t have described it as magical, but there was a definite click-and-pull sensation that took her breath away, and something warm bloomed at the back of her mind.

And then, a thought that definitely wasn’t hers popped into her head.

‘Oh my god.’

“Oh my god,” Marinette gasped out loud again.

“Oh my god, you have got to be kidding me,” Chloé snapped, throwing her arms in the air. “Dupain-Cheng, Adrikins?! Really? I thought you had taste!”

“Shut up, Chloé,” the boy said, not looking away from Marinette. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Marinette breathed, still in shock. “I’m - I’m madly clumsy. Sorry.”

He smiled and gently grasped her hand to shake it. “Hi, Madly Clumsy. I’m Adrien.”

 

Chapter Text

When Adrien got up that morning, he actually wasn’t looking forward to Chloé’s party at all. Though it would be nice to have some time outside the house, and out from under Nathalie’s watchful eye, he didn’t relish the thought of spending several hours being dragged around by Chloé. It had been with a heavy heart that he got dressed in a suit and left.

Now, as he stared at the petite girl in front of him, he was stuck somewhere between shock and disbelief - but he could feel bubbles of elation starting to rise up in his chest as the truth sank in. He’d noticed the black-haired, blue-eyed slip of a girl in the uniform before, but Chloé had carefully steered him in another direction.

Oh my god I’m so sorry I ruined your tie

Part of Adrien had frozen as soon as she said those words - his words - out loud. Yet he’d responded automatically, and apparently said her words. The unfamiliar, but not unwelcome, feeling at the back of his mind was proof of that. He poked at it tentatively and the girl squeaked.

“U-um,” the girl - Marinette, if Chloé could be believed - stuttered. She looked like she was going to faint.

“Let’s go out on the balcony,” Adrien said. It didn’t seem like anyone had noticed what had happened besides Chloé. He wanted to keep it that way.

“What about me?” Chloé said, her bottom lip jutting out in a pout. Adrien knew her well enough to know that pout wasn’t entirely manufactured. In spite of the fact that he and Chloé were clearly not soulmates, he thought that Chloé had always harbored a hope that a miracle might happen.

“Maybe find someone to clean up the mess?” Adrien suggested. “That would be really helpful.”

Chloé’s pout deepened but she gave a reluctant nod. Marinette seemed frozen, so Adrien dropped a hand onto her shoulder and gently steered her through the crowd and out onto one of the smaller balconies. He closed the door behind them to give them some privacy, hoping his bodyguard wouldn’t come looking.

Then he turned to Marinette and said, “Marinette - that’s your name, right?”

She nodded slowly. “And you’re Adrien Agreste.”

He winced, immediately thinking that she was one of his fangirls, but Marinette plowed on without waiting for an answer.

“I admire your father’s work so much. I can’t believe his son is my soulmate!” Marinette exclaimed to herself. “I knew you looked familiar. I’ve seen you modeling his stuff.”

Adrien cocked his head, intrigued. “You’re a fan of my father’s work?”

“I like designing clothes,” Marinette explained. “I - oh shit. Please tell me that tie wasn’t a Gabriel original.” Her face went ashen.

“Uhh…” Adrien said. His instinct was to lie and say that it wasn’t, but this was his soulmate. There couldn’t be any lies between them now. She’d be able to pluck the truth right out of his head, and that was if she couldn’t just straight-up tell as he spoke.

“Oh my god!” Marinette moaned. “This is a disaster. Your father is gonna hate me!” She covered her face with her hands. “Then I’ll never be his intern and I’ll never get a place in the fashion world and I’ll have to settle for selling my clothes online!”

Adrien blinked at her. “I can just say I dropped something on my tie,” he said politely.

Marinette spread her fingers so she could peek up at him. “I don’t wanna get you in trouble.”

“It’s okay. Really, I…” Adrien trailed off. This was unorthodox, but he had to ask. “I would prefer if we didn’t tell anyone we were soulmates.”

Her eyes widened as her hands fell, and a jolt of hurt snapped out across the bond like a branch of lightning to stab Adrien in the heart. He recoiled like he’d been slapped and frantically shook his head, realizing she’d gotten the wrong idea.

“No! It’s not because of you! It’s - I mean -” Flailing, because he lacked the words necessary to adequately explain, he gathered up everything and just sort of… thrust all those emotions and memories at the new warmth in the back of his head.

Marinette flinched a bit, her cheeks flushing as the overload hit her. Adrien instantly regretted throwing all that on her without even asking first, but it was too late now. He stood quietly by, watching as she sorted through the bits and pieces that made up his reasoning.

Number one were the fangirls. Adrien’s career as a model had taken off when he was about seven, but in the last couple of years the scope of his work had changed. His target market was now pre-teens and teenagers, and it was working a little too well if you asked him. He’d been mobbed more than once, and the amount of fan mail he got was crazy. He was genuinely afraid for Marinette’s safety if some of those people found out who she was.

Number two was his father, who was a control freak if there ever was one. Everything about Adrien’s life was strictly controlled, from what he ate to what he wore to how he acted. All in the name of protecting the Gabriel brand. Adrien did not want his soulmate having to put up with that, and that’s exactly what Gabriel would demand.

Number three was also Gabriel, but in a different way. Ever since Adrien’s mother passed away, Gabriel’s attitude towards soulmates had drastically soured. He didn’t want anything to do with the concept, and worse he openly criticized everything about it. It wouldn’t be out of character for Gabriel to decide he didn’t want Adrien to have anything to do with Marinette and ban them from seeing each other.

He might even force Adrien to go to one of those places that could build artificial shields to keep contact between soulmates from happening. They were supposed to be for children who were too young when they found their soulmates, or for people who, for whatever reason, didn’t want that mental connection. But Gabriel wouldn’t care about that. He’d pay whatever money it took to keep Adrien’s mind locked up until Adrien was of age.

His body was already a prisoner. Adrien couldn’t bear the thought of his mind being held prisoner too. Like many people, he’d always dreamed of finding his soulmate. The thought of finding the one person out there who had been made just for him, and who he had been made for, had carried him through many long, lonely nights.

“Oh,” Marinette said softly when she was through. “Your father sucks.”

Adrien chuckled. “That’s an understatement. It’s not about you, really. It’s…”

“I get it. It’s okay,” Marinette said. “I don’t want that to happen either.” She smiled slightly. “I’m okay with keeping it a secret. My parents will freak out and be really overbearing. I bet they’ll try to go talk to your dad.”

He winced at the thought, but said, “Are you sure? I don’t wanna push you into anything you don’t want.”

“I’m sure. It can be like our little secret. We can exchange phone numbers and talk or video call,” Marinette said, clearly warming to the idea. “And talk mentally too.” She grinned.

“I would love that,” Adrien said, relieved to his core. He’d been a little afraid that Marinette would want to put shields of her own up, or expect him to do that. His parents always had shields between them.

“But… oh. Chloé knows,” Marinette said reluctantly.

“Is that a problem?” Adrien asked.

Marinette furrowed her eyebrows in concentration. He wasn’t sure what she was doing until suddenly a bunch of thoughts and feelings that didn’t belong to him flowed into his head. It was a weird feeling, though not necessarily a bad one.

He frowned to himself as he felt Marinette’s emotions towards Chloé. Contempt, frustration, even a bit of fear. And through Marinette’s eyes, he watched a couple of memories wherein Chloé truly acted like a spoiled brat. In one, she loudly taunted Marinette’s art project until Marinette ran away crying. In another, she picked a fight that ended up with Marinette in trouble and Chloé getting away scot-free after threatening to whine to her daddy.

“We’re not exactly best friends,” Marinette said quietly. “Chloé picks on me a lot.” She crossed her over her chest and looked away.

Adrien tried not to scowl. “Chloé was the only person my parents would let me spend time with when I was a little. Without her, I wouldn’t have had any friends. I know that she isn’t always nice to people, but I never thought… I’m sorry, Marinette.”

“It’s not your fault,” Marinette said.

“No, but I still feel awful. Unfortunately, Chloé’s known what my words were since we were kids. We compared words when we were six to see if we’d match.” They hadn’t, obviously. In retrospect, Adrien was suddenly very grateful for that.

“Oh.” Marinette was quiet for a moment, staring out over the balcony.

Their bond wasn’t developed enough for Adrien to know what she was thinking unless she directly pushed the thought at him. But he could feel that she was unsettled. Worried. Nervous. All things that he himself was feeling, so that it was magnified.

“I’ll talk to her,” he said firmly. “I’m Chloé’s friend. She knows what my dad is like. She’ll understand why we want to keep it secret.” And he would also be talking to her about the other thing. He wasn’t going stand by while someone bullied his soulmate!

“Okay,” Marinette said, not fully believing him but willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Should we exchange numbers, then?”

Adrien nodded eagerly and took out his phone. She took out hers and they swapped. He entered his information and snapped a selfie of himself; Marinette did the same before giving his phone back. She gave him a shy smile, twirling one of her pigtails.

“I should probably get back to work before my parents wonder where I am,” she said.

“Okay,” Adrien said. “So… talk later?”

Marinette giggled and thought, directly at him, ‘Of course’.

Adrien blushed and smiled sheepishly. ‘Until then,’ he thought back, and it wasn’t as hard as he’d expected. The thought just slipped easily between them.

She crinkled her fingers in a little wave and disappeared through the door. Adrien sighed and leaned against the railing, looking down at her contact information. She had saved herself as Mari, no last name. He touched the screen over her name, then traced her picture

Marinette. God he was lucky.

Chapter Text

“Okay, so that’s three macarons, one croissants, and half a dozen choux à la crème,” Marinette said breathlessly, popping back up above the counter. She dropped the box down for her maman to ring up and turned to the next customer with her best smile in place.

“Can I have one of those cakes?” the customer asked, gesturing to the wall above Marinette’s head.

“Sure!” Marinette chirped, grabbing another box. She carefully went up on her tiptoes and grabbed the cake the customer had pointed to.

‘How’s your day going?’

Two weeks ago, the sudden voice inside of Marinette’s head would’ve made her trip. The cake would’ve ended up all over the floor if she was lucky, and on her head if she wasn’t. Today, the blip was barely enough to make Marinette twitch. She concealed a proud smile as she set the cake inside the box. Slowly but surely, she was getting used to having a soulmate.

‘It’s okay,’ she answered mentally, pulling the lid down on the box. She slid it across the counter to the next customer.

‘Are you busy?’ Adrien asked tentatively.

‘I’m never too busy for you,’ Marinette replied inwardly, pasting on her customer-service smile. Out loud, she said, “What can I get you?”

“A dozen chocolate chip cookies,” the next customer said.

‘That line up would beg to differ,’ Adrien said, now sounding amused. Marinette glanced over her shoulder and sighed when she saw that he was right: the line still stretched out the door. The bakery hadn’t had a day this busy for a while. She hadn’t even noticed, yet Adrien had still commented on it, which could only mean…

‘You can see through my eyes now?’ she asked, intrigued.

‘Uh… kind of. I get little flashes, but only if I focus hard. And just getting that much gave me a headache,’ he admitted.

‘Cool! I haven’t tried that yet,’ Marinette said. ‘What’s up? You bored?’

‘No… Look up.’

Startled, she obeyed and nearly dropped the box of cookies when she saw Adrien crinkling his fingers at her from just inside the doorway. It was the first time she’d seen him in person since the party. They texted, spoke mentally, and video chatted every night, but Marinette still beamed when she spotted him and automatically waved back.

Adrien’s schedule was both busy and strict, so he didn’t have much spare time. Marinette understood: the bits and piece he’d already shared with her sounded kind of overwhelming, and she couldn’t imagine having literally her whole day, every day, scheduled. Adrien’s life sounded exhausting.

But even though she got it, the distance between them felt like a physical ache sometimes. Newly bonded soulmates were encouraged to spend as much time together as possible. Not just so that they could get to know each other, but also so that their bond wouldn’t be too stretched by physical distance before it had the chance to naturally grow.

She and Adrien were doing things backwards, Marinette knew. But short of telling everyone the truth, they didn’t have much choice. Adrien was adamant that he didn’t want to tell, and honestly Marinette was enjoying having her own little secret. Now when her parents were staring lovingly at each other and having private conversations, she didn’t have to stand awkwardly by: she could have her own mental conversation with her own soulmate.

“Is that a friend of yours?” Sabine asked, and Marinette startled.

“Uh, yeah. I met him at that party,” she said, deciding to go with a close approximation of the truth. “His name is Adrien.”

Sabine smiled. “You should go take a break,” she said.

“But Maman, it’s really busy!”

“It’ll be fine. You’ve been here all day helping me. Go on. And take some macarons,” Sabine added.

“Okay… thanks!” Marinette set the box of cookies on the counter and stepped away, putting three passionfruit macarons and three salted caramel macarons on one of the bakery’s plates. Then she took her apron off and walked out from behind the counter, making her way towards Adrien.

Rather than stay in the bakery, which was full to bursting and where they’d be under Sabine’s too watchful eye, Marinette led Adrien upstairs to the apartment. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief as Adrien shut the door behind them, and he looked over at her and smiled.

“Too loud?” he asked, probably already knowing the answer.

“I’m used to it, but it’s still a lot sometimes. So many people… so many eyes on you… but I guess you know all about that.” Marinette pointed him to the couch and went into the kitchen to get two glasses of milk.

“Yeah, I have to say I do,” Adrien said. “Mm.. passionfruit.”

Marinette giggled as she walked back into the living room. “Your favorite, right?”

“It tastes even better than it looks on clothes,” he teased, eyes twinkling, and she blushed and pouted at him as she sat down beside him on the couch.

“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?” she asked, resigned.

Adrien laughed and shoved the rest of the macaron in his mouth. Mentally, he said, ‘Probably not. It was cute.’

She blushed harder, grabbing a salted caramel macaron rather than respond. The way Adrien teased her caused butterflies in her stomach, but she wasn’t sure what to do about it. She hoped he didn’t know. It was hard to tell how many stray thoughts were slipping through their bond.

Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to have their bond fully formed and functional. To not even have to fully form a thought for Adrien to already know what was on her mind. To be able to look through his eyes as seamlessly as she looked through her own. To know what he was feeling at all times, without even having to concentrate hard on him.

The thought was both scary and exhilarating.

“So how did you get away today?” she asked, both because she was curious and because she desperately needed a subject change.

“My father thinks that I’m at Chloé’s,” Adrien said unapologetically.

Marinette looked around, half-expecting to see Chloé materialize out of thin air. She popped a bit of macaron in her mouth and sent a questioning nudge at Adrien.

“Chloé is at some spa,” he explained. “She agreed to say I was with her if my father asked her later. I just really wanted to see you, and I knew Nathalie wouldn’t move things around in my calendar just for that.”

“But they will for Chloé,” Marinette said, squelching a bit of jealousy.

Adrien made an apologetic face. “Honestly, he doesn’t have much choice. Mayor Bourgeois could make things pretty uncomfortable for my father if he wanted to, and Chloé’s got her dad wrapped around her little finger.”

“That’s for sure,” Marinette said. “So… you snuck out of the hotel and over here?”

“Yup. Ran the whole way.” Adrien grinned triumphantly and ate another passionfruit macaron. “My bodyguard won’t be back to pick me up until seven, so I’ve got almost two and a half hours free.”

He was so boyishly excited, the feelings flowing through their bond freely, that Marinette had to smile. As little free time as Adrien got, it was flattering to think he wanted to spend it here with her. She reached for another macaron and then paused when she saw that the third salted caramel macaron was missing… with only one culprit.

Her head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes at Adrien. “I thought passionfruit was your favorite.”

“It is, but it’s good to try new things,” he said innocently. “Your dad makes amazing macarons, by the way.”

“Yeah, he does,” Marinette said. She found it hard to be mad when Adrien was clearly getting so much enjoyment out of this. Thinking about it, she supposed that he didn’t get many sweets.

“I don’t,” Adrien said, answering her unspoken question. “I have a nutritionist who keeps me on a very regulated diet to make sure I don’t gain a spare pound. Have to keep in model shape, you know.” He poked at his belly, not that he had much of one.

Marinette frowned at that, staring thoughtfully at Adrien’s midsection and thinking about all the pictures she’d seen him in. She’d always paid a lot more attention to the clothing he wore, of course. But now she realized that he was pretty skinny. Too skinny, especially for a thirteen-year-old boy who was potentially due for a growth spurt any day now.

“I’m going to feed you pastries every time I see you,” she said decisively, picking up the last passionfruit macaron and thrusting it into his hands.

Adrien blinked, looking startled. “Uh… okay? That might be a problem, though.”

“Why?” Marinette demanded.

“Because when school starts up again in September, I want to go to Collège Françoise Dupont with you and Chloé,” Adrien said. “I’m sick of being homeschooled.”

“What? Really? Your father agreed to let you come to school?” Marinette said, overjoyed by the prospect. If Adrien started going to school, they’d be able to spend most of the day together! She’d be able to sneak him pastries every day then.

“Well… no,” Adrien admitted. “But I’m going to come anyway.” There was a determined glint in his eyes, and she could feel a strong sense of stubbornness radiating through the bond. He really and truly had his mind made up about this, she realized.

“I would love to see you come to school. If you need any help, let me know what I can do,” Marinette said.

Adrien smiled at her. “Thanks, Mari.”

His smile made those butterflies resurge. Marinette cleared her throat, embarrassed, and picked up the plate. But in her rush, she accidentally dropped it. She squealed in protest, already dreading the crumbs that would stain her maman’s lace coffee table cloth -

And Adrien’s hand snapped out, grabbing the plate just above the table. “Careful!”

“R-right,” Marinette said. “Thanks.”

His smile widened as he handed her the plate. “No problem.”

Wrong. This was a very big problem. Marinette took the plate and fled into the kitchen.

Chapter Text

“Okay, it’s all done,” Chloé announced with a victorious smile. “You are officially registered at Collège François Dupont.”

Adrien smiled with excitement. “Thanks. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you,” he said. It was the truth. There was no way Adrien was going to get Gabriel’s signature on the papers to allow him to transfer. Fortunately, Chloé had been able to neatly circumnavigate that little requirement.

She flopped down into the seat across from him and muttered, “Yeah whatever” with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

“Is something wrong?” Adrien asked, confused by her reaction. Normally Chloé basked in gratitude.

“I just - I don’t like the fact that the only reason you want to come to school now is Dupain-Cheng,” Chloé said, scowling down at her tea.

Adrien sighed, realizing that he should’ve expected this reaction. He knew it was time to have that chat with Chloé. She had already agreed to keep the information about him and Marinette being soulmates quiet, but only because that information getting out would’ve hurt Adrien more than Marinette. He steeled himself, thinking of Marinette’s beautiful blue eyes and kind smile.

She was preoccupied today; a quick brush against her mind told him that she was still buried in design. She had saved up enough money to buy the fabric for a new dress and had told him last night that she planned to dedicate all day to making it. Once Marinette got into a design, she wouldn’t surface for hours.

He loved that about her. She was so dedicated to her craft. He’d always thought design was boring, but it wasn’t when Marinette talked about it. She just… lit up. He was sure he’d hear all about her day tonight, and honestly he was looking forward to it. They kept in touch mentally and through text during the day, but it was no substitute for video chatting or, best of all, seeing her in person.

“Chloé, you’re my friend,” Adrien said quietly. His only friend for a really long time. The thought of losing Chloé’s companionship had always been terrifying. He was a little ashamed to admit that, now that he had Marinette, he wasn’t quite as afraid.

“And she’s your soulmate,” Chloé hissed. “I know how that goes.”

“I’m not gonna leave you,” Adrien told her. “You know that. It’s true that Marinette is my soulmate, but you were my first friend. My only friend for a long time.”

“But?” Chloé said, looking up at him.

“But you have to stop bullying people. It’s not fair to Marinette. It’s not her fault that your mom left, or that her parents care about her.”

There. It was out in the open. Chloé looked stricken. Adrien felt a bit guilty. He suspected that part of the reason Chloé could be so mean was that no one ever told her no, and that she was jealous of her fellow students who had good lives at home. Well, that and the fact that Audrey Bourgeois was even worse than her daughter and Chloé was trying to imitate her. In this case, imitation was not a form of flattery.

“I don’t - that has nothing to do with it!” Chloé sputtered finally. “I just don’t like Dupain-Cheng!”

“Why not?” Adrien asked reasonably.

Chloé’s mouth hung open for a moment. “Because… because she’s too nice!”

“Too nice?” Adrien echoed, pulling a face. “Come on, Chlo. You can do better than that!”

Her face darkened and he thought, for a split second, that he might’ve pushed it too far. He hastened to add:

“You know, I do the same thing. I want my dad to like me. Even an acknowledgement would be nice…” He looked down at the table, momentarily engulfed in wistful misery.

Marinette noticed, because of course she did, and sent a wordless inquiry his way. Adrien pushed a light-hearted reassurance back, not wanting her to pay too much attention to the conversation. Chloé would clam up if she thought Marinette could hear everything.

“But I don’t know if that’s ever gonna happen. Acting just like him, though, definitely wouldn’t change anything. He would probably just get mad that someone else is trying to act like a total control freak.”

Chloé narrowed her eyes and drummed her fingers on the brown table. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying…” Adrien paused, trying to get his thoughts together.

He and Chloé weren’t so different. Neither of their parents really loved them. Neither of them had a good home life. But where Adrien’s parents had always been more controlling, Chloé’s father just gave her whatever she wanted to try and make up for Audrey. It was a different kind of destruction, and had resulted in the hot-tempered, blunt girl sitting in front of him.

He sighed. “I’m saying you have to figure out how to be nice to Marinette. You don’t have to be friends with her, though if you were that would make me ridiculously happy. But you can’t bully her anymore. I mean it.”

Chloé said nothing.

Adrien looked at over her. “And like I said, you have to stop bullying other people too. It’s not right. You know that. I didn’t realize how bad it was before… but now that I know, I can’t be friends with a bully.”

She was very still and quiet, neither of which were ideal reactions. Adrien waited without speaking, wondering if this would be the end of their friendship. He wouldn’t leave her unless he had to, but he knew Chloé had ended other friends over way less. Maybe it was wrong of him to give Chloé an ultimatum. Maybe he shouldn’t have been trying to change her, or making her choose.

But Adrien was holding firm to this, and it was all because of Marinette. Knowing that she was in his corner and always would be made him feel more confident. Braver. Yes, that was word he was looking for. He still wanted Chloé to be his friend, but he didn’t feel like he’d be completely alone if she chose not to.

“Fine,” Chloé said eventually, scowling. “I’ll be… ugh, nice to people.” She looked like the mere prospect made her want to vomit.

Adrien tried not to laugh. “You don’t have to be super nice. Just… you know, not deliberately mean. And honestly, I would feel the same with or without Marinette.”

“Sure.” Chloé flipped her blond ponytail over her shoulder.

“I would! I mean… I like you. Not your mom’s attitude,” Adrien told her. “If your mom can’t see how great you are, that’s her problem.”

A reluctant smile crossed Chloé’s face. “Thanks, I think.”

“It’s true! Your mom never would’ve helped me get into school.” Adrien grinned just thinking about it.

“Have you thought about what you’re gonna say to your dad?” Chloé asked.

Adrien’s grin immediately faded. “No. He’s gonna be mad, I know. But I really want this. I want to be able to spend more time with you and Marinette.”

“Well, that’s why you just do it and beg forgiveness after,” Chloé said, shrugging.

“What, you think I should just sneak out and go?” Adrien said. He’d been thinking about presenting his father with the papers. But Chloé’s idea was appealing.

“Why not? What’s he gonna do, send the Gorilla and Nathalie to drag you home?” Chloé grabbed her cup and finished her tea. “Just do it, Adrikins. It’s not that hard. You obey him way too much.”

As opposed to Chloé, who basically set the rules for her encounters with her dad. Adrien considered that and found the idea more appealing by the moment. He was thirteen now, turning fourteen in just a few weeks. Why shouldn’t he be able to have a say in his future? And if his father didn’t want to give it to him, why shouldn’t he just take it?

“You’re right,” he said. “Thanks.”

Chloé waved a manicured hand. “Stop thanking me and - oh.”

He blinked at her, then followed her gaze. His bodyguard was standing at the door, looking at him. Adrien sighed, realizing that it was time for him to go, and reluctantly stood up. He hated having his time cut short. The start of the school year couldn’t come fast enough.

He said his good-byes to Chloé and wandered back towards his bodyguard. It had been a productive lunch, at least. He hoped Chloé stuck with her promise to stop bullying people. Marinette didn’t deserve that, and he was certain that his future classmates didn’t either. He even hoped that someday, Marinette and Chloé would find a way to be friends.

Well, maybe. He could dream.

Chapter Text

Marinette bounced on the tips of her toes as she entered the school. In spite of her disastrous run here, and the fact that only one macaron had survived, she couldn’t help thinking it was going to be a great day… because today was going to be Adrien’s first day of school.

‘I’m on my way,’ Adrien told her; the words came into Marinette’s mind accompanied by a flash of pure excitement that made Marinette smile.

‘I’m waiting for you!’ she replied, heading for Madame Bustier’s classroom.

She entered, looking around. Most of her classmates were familiar to her, though there was a new face seated in the front row. Madame Bustier was pointing Nino to a seat perpendicular to where Marinette always sat. She took her usual seat quietly, looking forward at the spot where Adrien would soon be.

Naturally, that was the moment when Chloé walked over and said, “I want to sit here.”

“This is my seat,” Marinette said patiently. Adrien had told her he’d talked to Chloé. This was the first time Marinette had encountered Chloé since the party. She clenched her hands nervously in her lap.

“Not anymore!” Sabrina said. “Chloé wants to sit there, so -”

“Sabrina, please!” Chloé barked without taking her eyes off of Marinette. In a strained voice, she added, “You can sit beside the new girl. I want to sit behind Adrien.”

Ah. Marinette should’ve figured this was going to happen. She was frankly a little surprised that Chloé hadn’t outright ordered her to move. She was considering how to reply without provoking Chloé into a huge fight when a new voice spoke up.

“Hey! Why don’t you sit there since she’s already sitting?” the new girl said, standing up and crossing her arms. “I’ll sit here.” She grabbed her backpack, stalked around the desks, and threw herself down beside Marinette with a challenging glare.

Chloé’s jaw twitched, eyes narrowing. Sabrina winced.

“Sitting across the aisle from Adrien is as good as sitting behind him. In fact, it’s even better. He won’t even be able to see me,” Marinette said quickly. “If you sit there, he’ll be able to see you and talk to you way more easily.” She gestured to Chloé’s usual spot.

“… Fine,” Chloé ground out, sounding anything but happy. She shot a glare at the new girl before spinning away.

“Wow, who was that?” the girl whispered to Marinette. “She sure has a bad attitude.”

“Actually, for Chloé, that was pretty good,” Marinette admitted. She was honestly surprised that Chloé hadn’t snapped and verbally flayed the new girl. Maybe Chloé really was trying. And all because Adrien had asked her to. He really was amazing.

“Seriously? She was downright nasty! I sure hope you weren’t planning to move.”

Marinette shook her head. “No. My friend is coming… it’s his first day. I want to sit behind him too.”

“First day, huh? I’m glad I won’t be the only newbie around. I’m Alya.” Alya thrust her hand out towards Marinette.

“Marinette,” Marinette said, shaking Alya’s hand.

‘Damn it!’ Adrien swore mentally.

‘What? What’s - oh no!’ Marinette groaned inwardly as she glimpsed Nathalie through Adrien’s eyes. She immediately knew what was happening.

‘I’m sorry, Mari,’ Adrien said mournfully. He sounded so crushed that her heart ached.

‘It’s not your fault. It’s your dumb father,’ Marinette replied, biting her lip. She’d hoped that for once, Adrien would get to indulge himself by getting what he wanted.

Adrien sighed. ‘I’ll try again at lunch.’

‘Okay. I’ll take good notes in the meantime,’ Marinette said, feeling bad for him. He’d been looking forward to this all summer!

She looked down at her lone surviving macaron. She’d lost the others pulling that elderly man out of the way of traffic. This one was chocolate, and she’d hoped to be able to give it to Adrien as a welcome-to-school gift. But she could always get more when she went home at lunch. She picked up the macaron, broke it in half, and handed it to Alya.

“Thanks girl!” Alya said, surprised but pleased.

“No problem,” Marinette said, biting into her own half. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Chloé look at Adrien’s empty seat with an impatient look, then turn around and stare at Marinette.

There was no harm in being honest. Marinette subtly shook her head. Chloé’s face visibly crumbled in disappointment for a few seconds before Chloé collected herself and turned away. It was probably the first time in Marinette’s life that she could honestly say she knew exactly how Chloé felt.

Madame Bustier took roll call and then dismissed their class to their next period. Marinette was vaguely aware of Ivan and Kim having an argument with each other, but she didn’t pay them too much attention. Alya wasn’t sure of the way to the library. Marinette grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder, leading Alya out of the classroom.

“So tell me, have you found your soulmate yet?” Alya asked eagerly.

Marinette tripped and would’ve gone down on her hands and knees had Alya not grabbed her arm. Alya steadied her and laughed lightly. Marinette flushed with embarrassment, straightening her shirt and pretending that she was fascinated by a poster on the wal.

“Sorry about that. I’m really clumsy,” she said.

“It’s okay. Have you, though?” Alya asked.

“No, I haven’t,” Marinette lied, feeling a tiny twinge of guilt. She didn’t like starting off a new friendship with a lie, but what choice did she have? Besides, she’d spent all summer lying to her parents so what was one more person?

“Too bad. I haven’t met mine either,” Alya said. “I was kinda hoping I’d find them at this school.” She peered around like she was expecting her soulmate to leap out of a closet.

“Rose and Juleka are soulmates,” Marinette volunteered. When Alya looked blank, she added, “Short girl, short blonde hair wearing a pink dress, and the tall girl with the long black hair wearing purple.”

“Oh!” Alya said. “That’s so cool! How did they find out?”

“It was a long time ago. Back when we were kids,” Marinette told her, finally walking again. “I’m sure Rose would tell you all about it if you asked her someday.”

“I might do that. I find soulmates fascinating,” Alya confided, easily keeping pace with Marinette. “My words are ‘Dude, you okay?’.”

“Romantic,” Marinette said with a giggle. “Mine are no better though. It says, um, ‘It’s okay, passionfruit is my favorite.”.” She flushed, remembering how embarrassing that moment had been. Thank goodness Adrien had such a kind heart. If he’d been more like Chloé, who knows what Marinette would’ve had written on her chest!

Probably some variation on the word ‘ridiculous’.

Alya scrunched her nose. “Mysterious words suck. Though I guess at least it means you’ll know your soulmate immediately, right?” She pushed open the door to the library. Marinette started to follow her in.

A sudden sharp wave of grief and frustration made her pause, because those feelings definitely did not belong to Marinette. She froze, startled, and nearly got smacked in the face with the door as a reward. She got her hand up to stop it just in time, though still got jolted in the shoulder.

“Shit, sorry!” Alya exclaimed. “You okay?”

“I, uh, bathroom!” Marinette said quickly, backing away. She hurried out before Alya could ask or try to come with her, running back towards the girl’s washroom.

Marinette barged inside, checking quickly to make sure it was empty. There was no one else there, so she whipped her phone out and hit the button to video call Adrien. Something else had happened and she would bet good money it had everything to do with Adrien’s asshole father.

The call clicked through, showing her Adrien’s miserable face. Marinette leaned against the wall and reached out for their bond, sending a wordless surge of comfort and affection pulsing through it. If Adrien were here in person, she would happily give him a hug.

“Thanks Mari,” Adrien croaked, wiping his face. “I could use one of your hugs.”

“What happened?” Marinette asked gently.

“Just my father being his typical self.” Adrien sniffed. “He said that the word is too dangerous and I have to stay inside because it’s safer. He says I’m not like everyone else.” His lower lip trembled. “I hate this! I’m not special! I just want to be a kid!”

“I know. I’m sorry,” Marinette said, wishing she had something better to tell him. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live with someone as controlling as Gabriel.

Her parents were a little flakey sometimes, and they didn’t always have as much time for her as she would have wished, but there was never any doubt in Marinette’s mind that they loved her. They would love Adrien too. For the first time, she doubted whether their plan to keep things secret was really the right choice.

“He was really mad,” Adrien went on. “He told me I was never going to school. What are you even supposed to say to that?!” He flung his arms wide, giving Marinette a dizzying flash of his room.

“I don’t know,” she said softly.

“He’s going to keep me locked up here forever! I’ll be a prisoner until the day I die!” Adrien exclaimed dramatically. He fell back on his bed and finally brought the phone back around to his face.

“Well, maybe not until you die. But it certainly sounds like he plans to keep you locked up until you’re eighteen,” Marinette said with a sigh. “Maybe -”

She cut herself off with a squeak as the floor shook, tremors running through the school. Marinette fell to her knees, nearly losing her grip on her phone, and felt Adrien’s alarm even as he cried out her name. In the distance, she heard a familiar voice.

KIM!”

“Mari? What’s going on?! Are you okay?!” Adrien said frantically.

“Um… I don’t know,” Marinette said, unsteadily getting back to her feet. “That sounded like Ivan…”

“Your classmate?” Adrien said.

“Our classmate,” she corrected automatically. “Adrien, I gotta go. I need to see what’s going on.”

“Be careful,” he told her worriedly, and she managed a smile before she ended the call.

Marinette burst out of the bathroom and ran right into Alix, who excitedly told her all about the monster that was terrorizing the school. Marinette stared at her in shocked debelief. A monster who could pick up cars? It sounded like something out of a comic book!

“They’re sending us home,” Alix added. “We better go.”

“Oh, but what about Alya?” Marinette cried, looking back at the library. She felt guilty now for leaving Alya alone.

“The new girl? She said something about superheroes and super villains and ran off after the monster,” Alix replied.

Ran after the monster? Alya was officially crazy! Marinette shook her head and moved to follow Alix, mentally filling Adrien in on what was going on. He was as shocked by the prospect of a monster roaming the streets of Paris as Marinette was.

She joined the students leaving the school and quickly rushed across the street to the bakery. Both of her parents were preoccupied with customers. Marinette waved at her maman and hurried over to the stairs. She burst into the apartment and immediately headed upstairs to her room.

“Don’t be bemused! It’s just the news! Paris is being attacked by a super villain!” Nadja Chamack stood in front of the camera. Behind her, the police were waging war on a big stone creature. Marinette gasped at the sight of it.

‘Wow, this is crazy!’ Adrien said through the bond.

‘I can’t believe it. A super villain here?’ Marinette said. She clutched her favorite plushie to her chest and sank back in her computer chair.

‘The police will take care of it,’ Adrien said, but he didn’t sound or feel very confident.

‘I hope so,’ Marinette said, worried. ‘Hey, you feeling any better?’

‘Kind of. This is definitely a distraction but - oh. Hey, what’s this?’ Curiosity pulsed through Adrien’s mental voice.

Marinette was about to ask him what was up, or maybe even peek through his eyes, when she caught sight of a strange box sitting on her chaise. Baffled, because she didn’t remember having anything like that around, she reached out and picked it up. The smooth edges fit comfortably in the palm of her hand. She opened it up.

Chapter Text

Adrien stared at the little black creature with open fascination, trying to take it all in. In the back of his mind, he could feel the buzz of Marinette’s confusion and wonder and fright. He tried to reach back with reassurance, while also focusing the majority of his attention on Plagg and the frankly ridiculous things Plagg was saying.

‘What the hell is this?!’ Marinette thought, loudly enough that Adrien winced. She pushed an image of a little red creature with black spots and blue eyes at him so violently that Adrien gasped.

“I know, I’m amazing right?” the creature - no, Plagg, said smugly. “Now listen to me, kid. You’ve been chosen.”

“Chosen. Right,” Adrien said skeptically. He focused hard on the green eyes, black cat ears, and black tail and pushed an image of Plagg back to Marinette.

‘Oh my god, you have one too!’ Marinette thought hysterically. And then, with a pout, she added, ‘No fair. Yours is way cuter.’

“Don’t be so skeptical,” Plagg said.

“I don’t know if you know this, but I am literally trapped in my room right now,” Adrien told him. “I can’t leave even if I wanted to, not without a bodyguard following me step for step. What good is a superhero who can’t even leave the house when there’s a problem?”

Plagg grinned. “You’re not thinking outside the box.”

‘This is crazy!’ Adrien thought. What did that even mean?

‘I can’t be a superhero!’ Marinette thought back. She had not calmed down. If anything, she was panicking even more as she listened to the explanations her creature was giving. Adrien caught a half-formed thought about a charm before Plagg spoke again. 

“I am a kwami and you can transform using my powers,” Plagg declared, immediately drawing Adrien’s attention back to him. “While you’re transformed, your power is called Cataclysm. It will destroy anything you touch, so be very careful not to touch something you don’t intend to destroy.” Those eerie green eyes bored into Adrien. 

“Right. Careful,” Adrien said dazedly. Between trying to wrap his head around all this and the pending breakdown Marinette was threatening to have, his head was spinning.

He sank down onto his bed and just looked at Plagg for a moment, taking it all in. A superhero. Him, Adrien Agreste. He couldn’t deny that it was a very appealing thought. He’d always wanted to do something on his own merit. To help people. To be more than just a pretty face. To be more than just Gabriel Agreste’s son.

“You’ll have a partner,” Plagg added. “Her kwami is probably talking to her right now.”

Adrien opened his mouth and then closed it, swallowing a laugh. “Uh, right. This partner…”

“You can’t know who she is. And it’s very important that you don’t tell anyone your identity,” Plagg said, shooting up towards Adrien’s face. Adrien recoiled automatically.

‘That… might be a problem,’ Marinette thought.

‘You think?’ Adrien thought back. ‘Obviously they don’t know that we’re soulmates…’

‘Should we tell them?’ Marinette asked.

Adrien hesitated and looked at Plagg. “So… hypothetically, what would happen if someone found out who I was?”

“That depends on who it was, but it could end up with your miraculous being taken away,” Plagg replied.

‘Nope, not telling!’ Adrien thought immediately.

‘Adrien! We can’t just keep this a secret!’ Marinette hissed mentally.

‘We’ve kept it a secret from everyone else, so we can do this too,’ Adrien told her.

‘I - no. I can’t do this. I’m no superhero,’ Marinette thought. ‘I can’t.’

‘Hey,’ Adrien thought, pushing as much comfort and confidence through the bond as he could. ‘Marinette, you’re amazing. You’re smart and kind and really sweet, and you handle things way better than you give yourself credit for. Don’t underestimate yourself and how strong you are, okay?’

‘Adrien…’ Marinette whispered, the thought so faint that Adrien had to focus on it.

‘I don’t want to do this without you. If I have a partner, I want it to be you,’ Adrien thought at her. ‘But if you’re not comfortable with that, I won’t push you into it. I’ll close the box up and… I dunno, we can figure out someone else to give them to.’

He did his best to hide his reluctance, hoping that she wouldn’t know how much he really didn’t want to do that. It would hurt to give away such an awesome opportunity, especially if he then had to sit by and watch someone else rescue Paris. 

But he couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone other than Marinette at his side. If she really didn’t want to do it, or didn’t think that she could, he would rather give it up than try with someone else.

Marinette was quiet for a long time. It wasn’t that she wasn’t thinking, no. Her mind was such a blur of conflicting, racing thoughts that Adrien could barely pick one out. So he just sat there and watched Plagg wander around his room, chattering away about how transforming would give Adrien increased strength and speed, better reflexes, improved vision and hearing, and greater jumping ability.

‘Okay,’ Marinette thought finally. ‘Let’s do it.’

“Yes!” Adrien exclaimed.

Plagg turned to him. “Yes?”

“Uh… yes, I’ll do it,” Adrien said with a big smile. “How do I do this?” He plucked the ring out of the box and slid it onto his finger. It fit comfortably.

‘This is so weird,’ Marinette thought. ‘Good thing I have pierced ears!’

“You say claws out, but -” Plagg begun.

“Plagg, claws out!”

“Waaaaaait!” Plagg squealed as he was sucked across the room and into the ring. Adrien looked on in gobsmacked silence as a green light burst out of the ring and ran over his body, changing his jeans and cotton shirt to a material that was not unlike black leather.

‘Oh my god!’ Adrien thought, looking at himself in the mirror. The black suit covered him from toe to neck and included black boots, sharp black claws, a black mask and a belt tail… plus two black cat ears atop his head.

‘Oh my god!’ Marinette thought a second later. ‘I can’t believe this! What even is this material?!’

‘Magic?’ Adrien suggested, experimentally rubbing his sleeve against his check to better feel it. Not black leather, but not spandex either. Something in between. Definitely magic.

A giddy thrill rushed through him and he grinned, striding over to the window and throwing it open. He hesitated for only a moment before shrugging and jumping out the window, Marinette’s mental shriek of his name echoing through his head. Part of him fully expected to end up a wreck on the pavement.

Instead, his jump took him seamlessly over the gate and to the building next door. Adrien paused there, looking back in amazement. He’d just jumped a good twelve feet with very little effort. Another grin crossed his face and he reached for the baton he’d noticed at his back. When he hit the button, he discovered it could expand.

‘Are you crazy?! You could’ve killed yourself!’ Marinette screamed mentally, sounding panicked.

‘But I didn’t! Plagg was right! This is so cool, Mari. You gotta come join me!’ Adrien thought gleefully.

‘Ugh, I can’t believe you got us into this.’

Adrien decided to take that as an agreement that she was coming and jumped several more buildings, until he was a few blocks from the mansion. Experimentally, he stretched his baton between two buildings and leaped up on top of it. His sense of balance was truly incredible, he noticed instantly. He had no problem standing on the thin baton.

A mental scream and a jolt of shock filled his head a moment later; it took Adrien way too long to notice that the scream was filling his physical ears too. He looked up literally in time for a red-suited Marinette to fall out of the sky. Instinctively, he held out his arms and she fell right into them. The force drove them both off the baton, though a string tangled around them as they fell so that they didn’t hit the ground.

“Hey there,” Adrien said, grinning.

“Shut up,” Marinette growled. “This thing is - gah!” She yelped as the string suddenly unwound, dumping them both on the pavement. When Adrien rolled over to look at her curiously, he saw that she was clutching a yoyo.

“So, you must be the partner my kwami told me about,” he said loudly. He had no idea if Plagg could hear what was going on, but figured it was better to err on the side of caution.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Marinette said sourly, clutching the opposite end of the yoyo and giving it a gentle tug. He watched in amazement as the string magically rewound in a split second.

“I’m… Chat Noir,” Adrien said, realizing at the last moment that he needed a superhero name. Chat Noir made sense, considering the black cat ears and tail. He looked at Marinette expectantly.

She stood there like a gaping fish, eyes wide and mouth open. “Um… uh… I’m… uh…”

‘Just pick a name,’ Chat thought to her.

‘It’s not that easy,’ she whined mentally.

‘Mari, we gotta at least try to pretend this is our first time meeting. Just… pick a name,’ he thought. 

Out loud, he said, “It’s nice to meet you, Miss…” He trailed off.

She looked him up and down, looked down at her own red, black-spotted outfit, and shrugged. “Ladybug?”

“Ladybug,” Chat said, smiling. “First time out, huh?” He winked at her.

“I have so many regrets right now,” Ladybug said.

“Hey! That’s not nice.”

“Your face isn’t nice,” she muttered.

“Rude,” Chat said with a sniff, retrieving his baton from where it had hit the ground. 

She opened her mouth to respond, but paused when they both saw a car go flying by. They looked at each other. Then, in the distance, Chat saw a building implode. His humor drained away, replaced by a sense of seriousness. Right. As cool as this was, it wasn’t just play; he and Ladybug actually had a job to do. He gripped his baton, held it vertically, and hit the button.

As he’d thought it might, one end of the baton smacked the ground. Holding onto the other end propelled Chat into the air and up onto the roof of the nearest building. When he turned around, Ladybug was standing there staring up at him.

‘Where are you going?’ she thought.

“To save Paris!” Chat answered out loud. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Right. I can - right.” Ladybug looked doubtfully at her yoyo, then started to swing it. “Right behind you… Chat.”

Chapter Text

“We did it,” Ladybug said, dazed. “We… we actually did it.”

“Hell yeah we did!” Chat said from behind her; she swung around to look at him. He was beaming at her, a look of excitement and pride in his eyes that was contagious. Ladybug found herself smiling back as he walked over and held his hand up for a fist bump.

“Bien joué!” they chorused, bumping their fists together, and then Ladybug broke into giggles. Chat’s grin widened, then fell as his ring beeped. They both looked down at it in time to see another glowing green pad disappear.

“Guess that’s my cue,” Chat said. “See you around, My Lady.”

He winked and she flushed, swatting half-heartedly at him. Chat laughed and danced back out of reach, using his baton to propel himself into the air again. Ladybug watched him go, shaking her head fondly. Her own earrings beeped and she realized that she needed to go too, but there was just one thing she needed to do first.

She spoke quickly to Ivan, comforting him as best she could, before she got ready to leave. But no sooner had she swung her yoyo a couple times than Alya was there, phone shoved up into Ladybug’s face. Ladybug squeaked and leaned back in surprise, caught off guard by Alya’s reaction.

“You were so cool! I’ve never seen a superhero in real life!” Alya gushed. “How old are you? Did you get powers from being bitten by a radioactive ladybug? Can Paris depend on you from now on? Are you and Chat Noir soulmates?!”

“Uhh, sorry. I have to go,” Ladybug said quickly, her stomach flipping at how close to the truth Alya had gotten with that last one. 

“Wait! At least tell me your name,” Alya begged.

“It’s Ladybug!” Ladybug said before using her yoyo to get herself to the same roof Chat had jumped onto. She took a quick look around, but she didn’t see Adrien anywhere.

Then again, no matter how much she wanted to see him right now, they wouldn’t exactly be able to talk freely. Their lives had gotten a lot more complicated now that this had happened. So long as Plagg and Tikki were around, they were going to have to be a lot more selective in what they said out loud.

‘It’s worth it,’ Adrien thought.

‘We’ll see,’ Ladybug thought back, heading home. It was amazing how quickly she got there when she could go straight over the roofs. In minutes, she was standing on her balcony.

‘I know it,’ Adrien said confidently. ‘I - huh.’

‘What is it?’ Ladybug asked, immediately worried.

‘Nothing, just… it seems like I’m picking up on a lot more thoughts from you than before. I heard your whole conversation with Alya without even trying,’ Adrien said.

Ladybug blinked at the Parisian skyline. ‘Really? That’s weird… hold on a second, let me trying something.’

She focused on the spot that was Adrien in the back of her mind. Normally she had to concentrate hard to get anywhere. Now, she barely grazed that spot - which felt bigger and warmer than usual - before she was suddenly looking at a black cat kwami and hearing a nasally voice whine about being starved. A dull, throbbing headache eventually forced her to snap her out of it.

‘Holy shit!’ she thought. ‘Adrien, I just saw through your eyes for at least ten seconds. And I could hear what Plagg was saying no problem! It barely took me any effort at all. I still got a headache but nothing like it was before. What happened?’

‘I don’t know. Do you think the miraculous had something to do with it?’ Adrien asked.

‘Maybe…’ Ladybug thought, right before a weird tingling sensation ran through her. The red, black-spotted suit dissolved into red light, which coalesced into Tikki and left Marinette standing there in her pink capris, blouse and blazer.

“Good job, Marinette! I knew you could do it!” Tikki chirped.

“Thanks Tikki,” Marinette said with a small, distracted smile. She’d expected their bond to go back to normal now that she was back to normal, but it hadn’t. She felt so much more aware of Adrien now.

‘Me too,’ Adrien thought. ‘I can loosely feel your emotions… you don’t have to push things at me anymore. I mean you sort of do, but in general I can feel what you’re feeling even if you’re not feeling something strong or feeling something atme. Does that make sense?’

‘Yeah, it does,’ Marinette thought back. It was like their bond had obtained a year’s worth of growth in the span of three hours.

She narrowed her eyes at Tikki, who was looking around Marinette’s balcony with an expression of great interest. Obviously she couldn’t come right out and ask, but maybe she’d be able to find out some information if she sort of… danced around the subject?

‘Just be careful,’ Adrien thought with amusement. ‘You suck at lying.’

‘I do not!’ Marinette thought, outraged. She could feel more than hear his laughter in response, and in spite of her annoyance his emotions brought a smile to her lips.

This was weird, sure, but it wasn’t necessarily bad

“I’m hungry,” Tikki said, looking at Marinette. “Do you have any food?”

“Oh! Sure. Uh, what do you eat?” Marinette asked, walking over and opening the window. She slid inside and held the window open for Tikki.

“I like sweet things. I’d take some cookies if you have them,” Tikki said.

“Cookies? Wait here.” Marinette slipped out of her room and ran down the steps to the kitchen. Both of her parents were still preoccupied down in the bakery, but she found a container of reject cookies, the ones her papa thought weren’t good enough to sell, on the counter. She grabbed three of them and hurried back upstairs to Tikki.

Tikki’s face lit up when she saw the cookies. “Thanks!”

“No problem,” Marinette said, setting the cookies on her desk and watching in fascination as Tikki took one and bit into it. She turned the news on to cover their voices, just in case her maman or papa came up the steps. 

“Mm, yummy!” Tikki exclaimed.

Marinette smiled. “So, Tikki. I have some questions.”

Tikki smiled. “Ask away!”

“Okay. Um… So you said Chat and I would detransform five minutes after using our powers, which we did. But how do I detransform if I don’t use my power?” Marinette asked.

“Oh! Sorry about that. You say ‘spots off’ to detransform,” Tikki told her.

Spots on, spots off. Made sense. Marinette nodded, catching a fleeting thought from Adrien that his phrases were claws out and claws in. Simple but effective. She would just have to remember that she couldn’t talk about spots anymore! She could easily see herself designing a polka dot dress and telling her maman about it and saying ‘spots on’ accidentally.

“And my Lucky Charm, will it always be different?” Marinette said.

“Yes. Your power is a little more complex than Chat Noir’s. The Lucky Charm will always give you a clue as to what you need to do, but you are the one who has to figure out how to use it,” Tikki said. “Good thing you’re so creative!” She cast a pointed look at Marinette’s dressforms, the stacks of fabric and sewing supplies, and the original sketches on her desk.

“Sure,” Marinette murmured, thinking. “But Chat’s Cataclysm… that’s always the same?”

“Right.” Tikki polished off the first cookie and reached for the second. “You should get into the habit of carrying cookies with you. I’ll need to eat after you use your power. Otherwise, I’ll be too tired to transform you.”

‘Oh man, you’re so lucky,’ Adrien moaned mentally. ‘Plagg wants cheese. Stinky, gross, Camembert cheese.’

Marinette bit her lip to contain a giggle. ‘Sorry, Chaton,’ she thought back. ‘Guess that’s what you get for having the cuter kwami!’

‘Ugh, I’m gonna smell all the time,’ Adrien thought grumpily.

‘I promise to still hang around with you,’ Marinette thought, unable to stop a grin.

‘Your sympathy is overwhelming,’ he thought.

Marinette snickered, though she quickly sobered when she noticed Tikki looking at her oddly. She smiled instead, hoping that Tikki would take her unusual behavior as giddiness over the win. After all, it wasn’t every day that a girl became a superhero!

“So,” Marinette said, leaning forward. “I know I can’t tell anyone who I am. But what happens if I find my soulmate?”

“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” Tikki said, which really wasn’t much of an answer at all. Marinette tried not to sigh, which was hard when Adrien was feeling frustrated too; he was listening hard to their conversation.

“That’s not helpful,” Marinette said.

“I can’t really tell you, Marinette. It would depend on a lot of different factors,” Tikki explained, though it didn’t escape Marinette’s or Adrien’s notice that Tikki didn’t explain what those factors were.

‘Is she being deliberately obtuse?’ Adrien thought.

Marinette shrugged mentally and, out loud, said, “Okay. Well, what about Chat Noir? Are he and Ladybug usually soulmates?”

“Sometimes they are, but not all the time. Ladybug and Chat Noir are always two halves of a whole, but that doesn’t always mean they’re soulmates. We’ve had Ladybugs and Chat Noirs were very good friends, or siblings, or even parent and child. It depends on what kind of people are best suited for the job,” Tikki explained, moving on to her third cookie. “But don’t worry about that. You won’t know if Chat Noir is your soulmate for a long time.”

Marinette frowned at that, putting a hand instinctively over her chest. “I know that he’s not. He didn’t say my words,” she lied.

God, she couldn’t imagine transforming for the first time, going out to meet Chat Noir, and finding out that he was her soulmate all at once. That would definitely be enough to give Marinette a panic attack, if not a full scale breakdown. Tikki gave her a knowing look, like she knew exactly what was going through Marinette’s head.

“Even if he had, nothing would’ve happened. Let’s say your words were ‘Hi, nice to meet you’. If Chat said those words to you, the miraculous magic would block your connection. Neither of you would feel anything, even if you said his words back to him,” Tikki said.

Marinette froze. In her mind, Adrien went very still.

“It’s a safety feature,” Tikki went on. “It’s designed to protect your identities. If you and Chat Noir were soulmates, and you gained your telepathic connection, you’d immediately know who the other was!” She laughed as she finished her last cookie.

“Right, haha,” Marinette said, forcing a weak laugh. “That would be… so awful…”

“You’d have to meet him as a civilian, when neither of you are transformed, and say each other’s words then for your bond to take hold. And you will meet him one day!” Tikki smiled widely. “Once your jobs are done.”

“Right,” Marinette said again, for lack of anything better to say. She didn’t know how to feel about that.

Adrien, on the other hand, was angry. ‘They have no right to block our connection!’ he thought furiously.

‘Relax,’ Marinette thought back. ‘I don’t think they can. Not when our bond is already formed.’

“It might sound weird, but it’s for the best,” Tikki said, patting her belly.

Marinette wasn’t so sure about that, and she still hadn’t figured out how to ask Tikki if a miraculous could increase the bond between soulmates without being too obvious, but she never got the chance to put her thoughts into words. Because at that moment, Nadja came on screen and started talking about how civilians were being transformed into stone monsters… and she and Adrien realized they’d made an awful mistake.

Chapter Text

‘I screwed up,’ Marinette thought, paralyzed. 

‘Hey,’ Adrien thought back. ‘This isn’t your fault.’

“It’ll be okay, Marinette,” Tikki said soothingly, hovering right in front of Marinette’s face. “I should’ve been more explicit with my instructions. All you have to do is capture the akuma and cast your cure. We can fix this.”

Marinette shook her head. She felt so sick that she hadn’t even been able to eat her dinner. Her parents had asked her what was wrong, but she couldn’t bring herself to answer. She stared numbly at the screen, a growing sense of shame welling up inside of her. She was the one who was supposed to capture akuma. That was her responsibility. And now all those people were suffering…

‘Marinette, it wasn’t just your fault,’ Adrien thought, more insistently this time. ‘Tikki messed up. I messed up. Plagg messed up. We all have some responsibility with this, okay?’

“I shouldn’t be Ladybug,” Marinette said, not acknowledging him. “Chat Noir would be better off without me.”

‘What?!’ Adrien thought, and the surge of fury from him was so sharp that Marinette gasped. 

“That’s not true, Marinette. You’re going to go back and capture the akuma. You can do it!” Tikki said at the same time. 

“I’ll just mess up again!” Marinette cried. “I knew I wasn’t cut out for this.” She started to reach up and take off her earrings. “You should choose someone else to be Ladybug. Someone who isn’t such a failure.”

‘I’m sorry, Adrien,’ she thought sadly.

‘Stop it!’ Adrien thought forcefully. ‘Marinette, I want you to transform and meet me at the Eiffel Tower.’ 

She paused before she took her earrings off, hesitating, and thought, ‘But…’

‘No buts. Just do it! I’ll be there waiting. You wouldn’t leave me to wait alone all night, right?’ he thought back.

Marinette hesitated. Because she knew that Adrien would. He wouldn’t care how long he had to wait, or how certain she was that she wasn’t coming, he would stay there for hours. The thought tugged at her heart in spite of everything, just as Adrien had known that it would. 

She sighed and hung her head. “Okay. Tikki, spots on!”

“Whaaaaa -” Tikki’s startled shriek was cut off as she was sucked into an earring. Red light flashed through the room.

Ladybug awkwardly clambered up onto her balcony and grabbed her yo-yo. The Eiffel Tower rose up in the distance, though she knew Chat hadn’t made it there yet. She clumsily made her way towards her destination, her certainty that she shouldn’t be Ladybug building with every fumbled landing. 

She arrived first, landing on a beam a little too high up for the average person to see her. Paris’s skyline was beautiful at night, she had to admit that much. The lights illuminated the darkness, twinkling brightly. She was glad she was getting the chance to see it before she gave the miraculous away.

“None of that,” Chat declared as he landed on the beam. He stumbled, a little too exuberant in his landing. Ladybug grabbed his arm instinctively to steady him.

Chat straightened up, took hold of her other arm, and pulled her into a hug. Ladybug fell into him with a gasp. He wrapped both arms around her, resting his head atop hers. She could’ve pulled away… but as his tail loosely coiled around her waist, she knew she didn’t want to. 

Tears rushed to her eyes. “I told you I couldn’t do it!”

“Shh,” Chat whispered.

“But I -”

“No. We’re just learning. This was literally our first time on the field. You can’t give up because of one mistake,” Chat said. 

“I’ll just mess up again!” Ladybug said. She could picture it now. She was a messy, clumsy disaster. She had no business pretending to be a superhero!

“Stop thinking that way about my partner,” Chat said. 

“I shouldn’t be your partner. You’d be better off with someone else,” she said.

“I disagree. You know why?” Chat said.

Ladybug hesitated, but curiosity got the better of her. “Why?”

He pulled back and cupped her cheek, eyes glittering. “Because my partner is the cleverest person I know. She got a really weird Lucky Charm that would’ve completely baffled most people and figured out how to use it in like thirty seconds. Not only that, but her plan worked flawlessly and she saved the day.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but Chat’s hand was there covering her lips before she could speak. 

“She saved Kim’s life. Stoneheart wasn’t going to stop going after Kim until he got revenge. And on top of that she also saved Alya, who I think we can both agree was too close to the action for comfort. And she saved me, because I had no sweet clue what I was supposed to be doing. She saved all of us and Paris.”

His tone gentled, but he was still brimming with confidence as he added, “She did all of that on her own and it was really amazing. Now, things might have fallen apart a bit after but that doesn’t negate the fact that she still did all of that stuff… stuff which no one else, including Alya, would’ve been able to do.”

A few tears ran down Ladybug’s cheeks, and she sniffed. Of course he’d plucked Alya’s name out of her brain. That was exactly who she had been thinking of giving the earrings to. Alya was strong and confident and loved superheroes. She was clearly the right choice…

But Chat was shaking his head. “I disagree. You don’t really know Alya. She probably has her own set of fears and issues,” he pointed out. 

“Alya wouldn’t have forgotten to capture the akuma,” Ladybug argued weakly. 

“You don’t know that for sure,” Chat said. “Besides, I messed up too. Or did you forget that I wasted my Cataclysm?” He raised an eyebrow at her. 

Ladybug paused. “I… I did forget about that,” she admitted. “Still… that wasn’t nearly as big of a screw up as what I did.” 

“Live and learn,” Chat said. “Look, from what Plagg told me, you have a miraculous cure that can set everything right.” He took her hands in his. “It’ll be like nothing ever happened. Sure we messed up, but don’t you want the chance to be able to fix it?”

“I guess,” she said slowly. “But… what if I screw up again? I’m so -”

Chat’s hand was immediately over her mouth again. “Nope. No badmouthing my partner,” he declared. “If you mess up again, we’ll figure out how to fix it. Together, okay?”

“I just don’t know,” Ladybug said, pushing his hand away.

“I’m being selfish here,” Chat confessed. “What I said before still stands. I don’t want to do this without you. You’re my soulmate. That obviously gives an edge… but more than that, I want you to be my partner. Fighting alongside you was the most fun I’ve had in forever.”

In spite of herself, she had to smile. “I had fun too,” she said, wiping her tears away. “When it was going well at the end… it felt good.”

Chat nodded encouragingly. “One of my favorite things about you is the way you keep trying,” he told her softly. “Like… when you’re struggling with a design. You might walk away, you might take a break, but you never stop until you’ve got it just right.” 

“Some people would call that being stubborn,” she said. 

“Those people are dumb and don’t recognize how cute it is,” Chat retorted. Then he froze and blushed. 

Ladybug blushed too, her heart fluttering. “S-so… you really think I shouldn’t give up?” she stammered. 

“Not at all,” Chat said.

She looked away from him for a moment, gathering her thoughts. She still wasn’t sure that she was the right fit to be Ladybug, but Chat had made her feel a little better. Maybe he was right. She’d made a mistake, but she had the chance to fix it. They were both new at this, after all. Chat was stumbling too. 

And he was going to be right there beside her helping. That thought bolstered her a little. She couldn’t imagine doing this alone, without Adrien at her side. 

“I’ll always be here,” Chat said, taking her hand again and lacing their fingers together. “Bugaboo.”

Ladybug made a face. “What? Seriously?”

“What?” he said innocently.

“Bugaboo? You need to work on your nicknames big time,” she said. 

Chat grinned. “So does that mean you’re gonna be around for that to happen?”

He probably already knew the answer, but it was obvious he wanted her to say it out loud. Ladybug sighed. She was certain that she was going to mess up again, that she would make terrible mistakes and more damage would be done - but it was hard to turn her back on Chat’s faith. 

“I’ll try,” she said. “If we can capture the akuma and set everything right again, I’ll be Ladybug.”

“We can do it,” Chat said immediately, radiating determination, and she softened as she turned to him. 

“You know, you’re amazing too,” she said. 

“What do you mean?” Chat said, confused.

“You’ve thrown yourself into this, even though it’s huge. Something of this magnitude… most people would think twice. I sure did. But you didn’t hesitate,” Ladybug said. 

Chat shrugged. “That’s not special. I love anime. Of course I want to be a superhero.”

“Adrien,” she said softly.

He sighed. “I want to be special. As me, not just as my father’s son. I feel like this is my chance.” He squeezed her hand. “Plus, it means my father can’t control me as closely. I left the house tonight and he didn’t even know about it. I can spend more time with you, too.”

“And the thought of messing up doesn’t scare you?” she asked curiously. 

“I mean… it does a little, but not really. I’m not perfect. I figured that out a long time ago,” he said with bitter smile and a surge of old hurt. “If I’m gonna screw up, I might as well do it in a cat suit. At least I’ll be disappointing someone other than my dad for once.”

Her heart ached for him. It was Ladybug’s turn to hug him. “You’re perfect for me, Chaton,” she whispered. 

“Thanks, My Lady.” He hugged her back, and they stood there together for a long time just watching Paris.

Chapter Text

Chat landed lightly on the windowsill of his room and perched there for a moment, listening. Part of him had half-expected to find the firing squad waiting for him when he returned, but everything remained quiet and he realized that his father and Nathalie must still have been sleeping. Breathing a sigh of relief, he set his boots down on the floor and straightened up.

‘I’m home,’ he thought, even though he was certain that Marinette already knew that.

‘Me too,’ she thought back, sounding tired. ‘I’m in bed.’

‘Sleep well, My Lady,’ Chat thought, sending waves of comfort and reassurance in her direction. Words couldn’t accurately express how grateful he was that she was willing to give things another shot.

“Plagg, claws in,” he said out loud. Green light briefly lit the room as a very grumpy kwami appeared.

“What the hell was that?” Plagg complained. “One moment I’m sleeping and the next moment you suck me into the ring like there’s an akuma around, even though there’s not!”

Adrien froze. “Wait. Can you hear what’s going on when I’m transformed?” he asked, heart sinking. He hadn’t contemplated that possibility, but if that was the case he and Marinette were sunk before they’d even really begun. He had called Ladybug his soulmate, and she had called him by his real name.

Plagg scoffed. “Why, afraid that we might overhear you and Ladybug doing something?” he asked.

“Wh-what? No! That’s not - we’re not -” Adrien sputtered, embarrassed. He was relieved that Marinette was already asleep and thus unaware of Plagg’s insinuation.

“Sure,” Plagg said, rolling his eyes. “To answer your question, no, I can’t. I’m aware of what’s going on in so far as I can feel you using your power. I can feel your emotions somewhat, and I know when you’re around Ladybug because I sense her kwami… but I can’t hear anything beyond that. Why, did something happen tonight? I know you saw Ladybug.”

Thank god. Adrien calmed himself and gave a model smile. “I did see Ladybug. I needed some fresh air and it turned out she was feeling the same way,” he lied. “She was upset about all those people being turned to stone. She wanted to give up her miraculous.”

“Eh, the akuma will rise again and she can fix it. It’s only a matter of time,” Plagg said, growing disinterested. “I want cheese.”

“Sure,” Adrien said, completely willing to feed Plagg all the cheese he had out of sheer relief that Plagg hadn’t overheard their conversation. He opened up his fridge and took out all the Camembert he’d pilfered from the main kitchen, setting it on his desk. He’d have to get away tomorrow to buy more.

“Yessss!” Plagg hissed, dive bombing the cheese.

Adrien left him to it and went to bed. It didn’t seem like he’d been asleep for long when his alarm went off. He got up, dressed, grabbed his backpack and Plagg, and tiptoed out of his room. He didn’t mind going without breakfast if it meant that he could actually get to school for once.

‘No breakfast? I’ll bring you something,’ Marinette thought. Even her mental voice felt incredibly sleepy. Adrien smiled fondly as he let himself out the gate and started running towards school.

‘That would be much appreciated. My stomach is growling already,’ he thought. Or maybe that was Marinette’s stomach; he knew she hadn’t eaten much for dinner last night.

‘I’m on my way. I’ll meet you there,’ Marinette thought back.

‘Can’t wait,’ Adrien thought warmly. His excitement carring him to the front door… where he saw Nathalie waiting for him.

He slowed to a stop as Nathalie crossed her arms over her chest. She was wearing a disappointed look, which didn’t affect Adrien nearly as much as it used to. Maybe if he were a little younger, he’d see Nathalie as a surrogate mother… but as it was, she was nothing more than his father’s employee. On his less charitable days, he thought of her as his father’s spy.

“Adrien…” Nathalie said.

“I’m going in,” Adrien said. “Just tell him you got here too late. Please.” He rushed past her before she could speak, sprinting up the stairs. Right up until the door swung shut behind him, he thought he’d feel his bodyguard’s hand on his shoulder to stop him.

But he didn’t, and then he saw Marinette. She was leaning against a row of lockers, covering her mouth to hide a yawn. But then she swung around to face him and her eyes lit up. She took a few steps towards him, her face splitting into an enormous smile. Adrien grinned and rushed forward, unable to resist scooping her up into a big hug.

“I made it!” he exclaimed.

Marinette giggled. “I’m so happy for you!”

Her joy bounced against his and washed back, like a feedback loop that left Adrien with a silly, broad grin. He squeezed her tightly, then pulled back and looked around. A few students were looking at them weirdly, but Adrien was unfazed. He was way more interested in seeing what the inside of Collège Françoise Dupont looked like for the first time.

“This is so cool,” he said, a little awed.

“I have to run to the locker room, but I’ll meet up with you in class,” Marinette said. Before he could protest, she added, “With pastries.”

“Done,” Adrien said, squeezing her hand before letting go. She laughed at him and disappeared into the crowd, quickly swallowed up by other students.

Adrien slowly made his way to the classroom, using the directions he gleaned from Marinette’s mind. He could tell she was talking to someone - to Ivan, he realized, the boy who had become the akuma yesterday. Marinette was telling him to write a song for the girl that he liked.

“Adrikins!”

That was the only warning Adrien got before Chloé slammed into him. He let out a faint huff, grabbing her shoulders before she could knock him over completely. Chloé grabbed his arm and towed him into the classroom just in time for Adrien to hear the tail-end of a conversation.

“That was really rude, Kim,” one girl was saying.

“What?” A boy who must’ve been Kim looked uncomfortable. “I just said the truth. He really was trying to crush me!”

“You didn’t have to rub it in.” The girl put her hands on her hips and sighed loudly. “Someone should go talk to Ivan.”

“Uh, I think Marinette is talking to him,” Adrien volunteered. “I, uh, saw them in the locker room?”

Several pairs of eyes swung in his direction. The girl lit up, marching over to him and saying, “You must be the other new student! Marinette told me that you were coming.”

“You must be Alya,” Adrien said, taking the proffered hand and shaking it.

“Adrikins, I saved you a seat right here,” Chloé declared, dragging Adrien over to a seat. “Right next to me!”

“Thanks Chloé,” Adrien said awkwardly. He took his bag off and set it down. There was a boy already sitting at the desk, looking up at Adrien curiously. Adrien sat down, feeling nervous.

‘It’s okay,’ Marinette thought. ‘That’s Nino. He’s very friendly.’

“Hi,” Nino said at the same time. “You’re friends with Chloé?” He didn’t exactly say Chloé’s name in a nice way.

“Yeah…” Adrien said, uncertain. He now knew from Marinette that Chloé wasn’t a very nice person at school. And it was only the second day, so Chloé wouldn’t really have had time to show that she’d changed.

Nino frowned. “But you know Marinette.”

“She’s my best friend,” Adrien said, figuring it was the closest approximation that he could offer right now.

“Huh.” Nino’s eyes narrowed for a moment, then he shrugged. “Alright. I’m leery of anyone who is friends with Chloé, but Marinette is so nice that I can’t imagine her best friend being a bad person. Nino.” He stuck out his hand.

“Adrien,” Adrien said, shaking it.

“How did you and Marinette meet?” Alya asked, taking a seat behind Nino and leaning towards Adrien with interest.

“At one of Chloé’s parties. Marinette was helping her parents to cater it,” Adrien explained, feeling a little more comfortable now that he was seated. “I was there as a guest. She dropped macarons on me.” He smiled.

‘Adrien!’ Marinette wailed mentally. She appeared in the doorway a moment later, flushed.

Nino laughed. “Oh yeah, that sounds like Marinette,” he said fondly.

“What sounds like me?” Marinette said, walking closer. She narrowed her eyes at Adrien.

“Did you really drop macarons on him?” Alya asked her.

“Ugh, maybe,” Marinette grumbled. “I can’t believe you told them that. No pastries for you!”

“But Maaaariiiiii…” Adrien whined. “I’m starving!”

She rolled her eyes at him but dug into her bag, producing a paper bag which she dropped into his hands. Adrien quickly opened it and discovered two still-warm croissants. He fell on them like a ravenous beast, scarfing both croissants down in a matter of minutes while Alya and Nino looked on in horror.

“Dude,” Nino said.

Suddenly the ground rumbled beneath their feet. Adrien had just enough time to lock eyes with Marinette before the wall crumbled and Stoneheart burst into the room with an angry roar that made several of their classmates scream. Alya and Marinette were both thrown to the floor with the force of Stoneheart’s entrance.

“Marinette!” Adrien jumped up and rushed to Marinette’s side, even though he knew she wasn’t hurt. Stoneheart escaped out the door with a screaming Mylène and Kim clutched in his hands.

“Dude, you okay?” Nino asked, leaning over Alya.

“I’m totally fine now that I get to see Ladybug again!” Alya exclaimed. Then she froze. So did Nino. They stared at each other.

“Oh,” Marinette said softly, watching them.

“Huh,” Adrien said. He wondered if he and Marinette had looked like that when their bond was snapping into place. Alya and Nino were looking at each other like they were the only people in the world. It was incredibly cool to watch, but at the same time it left Adrien feeling like he was intruding on something private.

“Adrien, we have to go,” Marinette said with a meaningful look, tugging at his arm.

“Right! Let’s.” Adrien glanced around, but no one was paying them any attention. He and Marinette rushed out of the classroom.

Chapter Text

“We’re clear to attack!” Raincomprix shouted, gesturing at Stoneheart. Ladybug froze, her heart skipping a beat. Didn’t he care that Kim and Mylène were still up there?!

She rushed over to the officer. “Wait! You can’t attack them. It’ll only make it worse. And besides, our class - ah, there are innocent people up there! You might hit them!”

“Look, that creature is destroying the whole city!” Raincomprix snapped, shoving his baton into Ladybug’s face. “Something needs to be done to stop it, understood? I have a new plan, unlike you two!” He gestured rudely to her and Chat. “Move aside and let the pros do their thing. You’ve already failed once. How do we know you’re not going to make it worse?”

Chat bristled, a prickly sensation in the back of Ladybug’s mind, as Raincomprix stormed over to a group of officers. Ladybug bit her lip and grabbed his hand to stop Chat from following; she knew he wouldn’t hesitate to give Raincomprix a piece of his mind, and that wasn’t what they needed right now.

“Don’t. He’s not wrong,” she whispered.

“With all due respect, My Lady, you know that’s not true. Everything I told you last night is still true. Don’t forget that.” Chat took her hand, lacing their fingers together. “We can do this. I’m right here with you, remember? Without us, they won’t get anywhere. You know that. We’re going to prove to them that that we can do this! Okay?”

His sincerity warmed her heart. She didn’t know why or how Chat had come to believe in her so much, but his conviction made her want to strive to be someone who was deserving of that. She smiled up at him.

“Okay,” she said, nodding.

Suddenly, Stoneheart made a loud, coughing noise. Ladybug looked up automatically, just in time to see a bunch of butterflies being spit out of the akuma’s mouth. Her stomach twisted in on itself at the sight of all those akumas. She knew Tikki had told her that she could purify one, but was it possible to purify them all? How was she supposed to do that? What if they infected people all over Paris and made multiple akumas and -

“People of Paris, I am Hawkmoth,” a voice intoned as the butterflies made the rough shape of a face.

“Hawkmoth?” Chat repeated.

“Ladybug, Chat Noir, give me the ladybug earrings and cat ring now. You have done enough damage to these innocent people! Save the people of Paris from any more heartbreak and destruction.”

‘Why that…’ Chat thought furiously.

'How dare he?!’ Ladybug thought, equally angry. She glanced around at the people surrounding them, realizing that many of them were now looking at her and Chat doubtfully. If they didn’t act fast, everyone in Paris was going to think that she and Chat were the bad guys here.

She stepped forward, forcing a cocky laugh. “Nice try, Hawkmoth. But everyone knows that you’re the one responsible for all of this. You’re the one who turned all those innocent people into villains! No matter how long it takes, Chat and I will find you!” She took a running leap, yanking her yoyo out. Just as Tikki had taught her, she shouted, “I free you from evil!” and threw her yoyo repeatedly. Butterfly after butterfly disappeared into her yoyo, until finally, exhausted but full of adrenaline, Ladybug landed on a beam on the tower - the same beam where she and Chat had stood last night, as a matter of fact.

Chat believed in her already. She held that thought close to her heart as she turned to the crowd below and called out, “Chat and I swear that no matter who wants to harm Paris, we will do everything in our power to keep you safe. Ladybug and Chat Noir are the protectors of Paris!” She held her yoyo up and allowed all the butterflies to fly back out, realizing that they had changed from dark purple to white.

So that was what Tikki meant by purified!

'Bugaboo, you’re incredible,’ Chat thought, sounding shocked, and it was accompanied by a powerful surge of warm affection that made Ladybug’s knees weak and took her breath away.

Stoneheart roared loudly and she snapped out of it. Now wasn’t the time. She jumped down to join Chat and they conferred quickly, deciding on the right plan to take. Ladybug called out for her Lucky Charm, which came to her in the form of a parachute. She scanned the surrounding areas, brain working furiously to figure out how to use it, and gave a victorious smile when she realized what they had to do.

Her plan worked; she rescued Mylène and Kim while Chat took care of Ivan. When all three of their classmates were standing safely back on the ground, Ladybug turned back to the escaping butterfly. It was very satisfying to throw her yoyo out and catch the akuma that had been causing so many problems. Ladybug caught her yoyo, holding it in the palm of her hand, and sighed in relief. Finally, she would be able to fix things.

“Bye-bye, little butterfly. Don’t cause any more damage, okay?” she whispered, drawing her finger over the back of her yoyo. The white butterfly fluttered out, gliding away into the sky.

“Here you go, My Lady,” Chat said, walking over to her. He handed her the Lucky Charm. Ladybug took it, hesitating, until Chat caught her eye and winked. She smiled back.

“Miraculous Ladybug!” she shouted, throwing it into the sky.

Both gasped in awe as the Lucky Charm exploded into several streams of red ladybugs that raced around the city, repairing damage before their very eyes. Even the Eiffel Tower returned to normal. The red ladybugs swirled over her and Chat, and Ladybug felt the ache of bruises, scrapes and strains miraculously disappear. Chat’s eyes were wide with wonder as he patted his stomach, where he’d received a blow from one of Stoneheart’s minions. The spot, Ladybug could tell, no longer hurt at all.

“That was… holy shit!” Chat exclaimed.

“I can’t believe it. Tikki was right.” Ladybug could’ve cried with relief. “I fixed it!”

He grinned at her. “I knew you could do it.”

“Chat…” She gazed into his eyes… until she noticed that Kim, Ivan, and Mylène were still standing nearby. Oops.

“You know, Ivan couldn’t help what happened to him,” Chat said to Kim.

Kim winced. “Yeah, uh, I’m starting to get that. I’m sorry for teasing you,” he said awkwardly to Ivan. “For, uh, both times.” He glanced at Mylène.

“I think you two have some talking to do,” Ladybug said. “Maybe you can read the lyrics to the note Ivan wrote for you.” She gave the page to Mylène, who teared up as she read it. Ladybug couldn’t help smiling as Mylène hugged Ivan, who looked like he had died and gone to heaven.

Ladybug’s miraculous beeped, and she raised a hand to her earring as she remembered what Tikki had said. The beeping meant that she had to leave. Chat’s ring started to beep at the same moment. They shared a look and, by mutual agreement, jumped away from the fight. It was just in time, too. The police were converging in on Kim, Ivan and Mylène. Ladybug landed on a nearby building and watched as Officer Raincomprix started asking Ivan questions. She really hoped that he wouldn’t give Ivan too hard of a time.

“We did a great job,” Chat said from behind her.

“We really did,” Ladybug agreed, holding her fist up.

Bien joué!” they chorused, bumping knuckles.

“I have to go,” Chat said regretfully, letting his hand fall. “Father’s gonna be pissed off enough as it is.”

“Oh, okay. I was hoping we could talk,” Ladybug said shyly.

He blushed slightly, because of course he knew what she wanted to talk about. “How about after school tomorrow? I suspect Father is going to really keep me under wraps tonight. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to video chat, much less sneak out.”

“Tomorrow,” she agreed. “Bye… Adrien.”

“Bye, Marinette,” he whispered, holding eye contact with her until the last possible moment.

Ladybug went home, celebrated their win with Tikki over chocolate chip cookies, and got to spend supper with her parents while listening to them praise the efforts of Ladybug and Chat Noir. She went to bed feeling excited and proud and woke up content in the realization that she and Chat could actually do this.

Adrien joined them in school that morning with the permission of his father. Marinette couldn’t believe it, and neither could Adrien. The glow of his happiness carried them both through the morning. Even the fact that Adrien had to go right home at lunch, and couldn’t stick around to eat with her and Alya, couldn’t put a dent in how happy he was. But it wasn’t until after school that they got the chance to talk.

Marinette was waiting for him out on the front steps. It was raining, so she stood beneath the shelter of the school. Adrien came out after a minute, holding his umbrella. He opened it up and held it over her head, even though they were both protected from the rain where they stood. The symbolism of that wasn’t lost on Marinette. Her heart was beating so loudly she could hear it. She wondered if Adrien could hear it too.

He laughed quietly and thought, 'I can hear something… but I think it’s my heart, not yours. This has been a crazy couple of days.’

'It really has,’ Marinette thought, wishing they could speak out loud - but their kwamis were nearby. 'Hey, Adrien? Thank you for all your encouragement. Without you, I never would’ve been able to do what I did yesterday.’

'Nah,’ Adrien thought. 'Marinette, you’re incredible. You always have been. I have no doubt that you would’ve been able to kick Hawkmoth’s butt even if you were all by yourself.’

'You’re wrong. I needed you. Ladybug will always need her Chat Noir,“ Marinette thought back. She turned to face him at last, feeling both nervous and hopeful. When you were soulmates, and your bond was completely open like theirs was, there was really no such thing as secrets. She knew how Adrien was feeling. It matched the way she was feeling. And she knew that he knew it too.

The only question was, what did they want to do about it?

Adrien met her gaze and thought, 'Well, Chat Noir will be happy to stay with Ladybug for as long as it takes.’

"And Adrien?” Marinette said out loud.

“Adrien… ha.” Adrien smiled. “Adrien thinks that he’s standing next to a really amazing girl. You’re my best friend, Mari. You’ve made this the best summer of my life.”

Her heart fluttered. She blushed. “It was the best summer for me too,” she whispered.

Adrien bit his lip. Then, slowly, he said, “Marinette? I think… I think I like you.”

It was the same feeling from yesterday. Marinette breathed out shakily, smiled, and whispered, “I like you too.”

His smile stretched from ear to ear and made his whole face light up, green eyes sparkling. The tender affection flowing between them washed back and forth and made Marinette feel like she was floating on air. How wonderful it was to have a soulmate, a partner, who was strong and courageous and sweet, and who looked at her as though she was the sum of his whole world.

“That’s because you are,” Adrien said, flushing as he held his umbrella out. He didn’t want her to get wet on her walk home, whereas his bodyguard was waiting for him a few feet. The explanation slipped effortlessly between them.

She wrapped her fingers around his but didn’t take the umbrella just yet, blushing harder. “Flatterer.”

“You know it.” He winked at her. “Video chat tonight?”

“Absolutely.” Marinette finally took the umbrella but didn’t move away. She stepped closer and slowly went up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. Adrien sucked in a startled breath.

The umbrella snapped shut over their heads.

Adrien burst out laughing. Marinette couldn’t help but laugh too. She carefully pushed it open again and Adrien ducked out from underneath it, crinkling his fingers in a fond wave. She waved back and watched as he walked over to his bodyguard’s car. Was it her imagination that a little blur of black popped out next to Adrien’s shoulder as he went? She didn’t think so.

“Who was that?” Tikki demanded, bursting out of Marinette’s purse.

“That’s Adrien,” Marinette said with a dreamy sigh. “He’s my friend…”

“You mean your boyfriend?” Tikki said with a little giggle.

Marinette blushed harder than she had all day. “Uh - that is - I don’t - maybe?” she squeaked.

'Yes,’ Adrien said in her mind, shy but sure.

“Maybe?” Tikki repeated mischievously.

“Yes,” Marinette corrected, and smiled.

Chapter Text

“I still can’t believe I thought Chloé was Ladybug,” Alya said glumly.

Adrien tried not to visibly wince as he turned around just in time to see the look on Marinette’s face. She didn’t say anything, but her face - and her thoughts - spoke volumes. Alya being akumatized had been interesting, to say the least. In her determination to prove that Chloé was Ladybug, Hawkmoth had reached out to Alya to give her the power to try and figure Ladybug’s identity out. Lady WiFi had come too close for comfort.

“Someone like Chloé could never be Ladybug,” Adrien said, trying to send calming waves towards Marinette.

“Yeah, Ladybug is way too sweet and kind for that,” Nino said.

Marinette flushed, but some of her ire drained away to the point where she playfully nudged Alya in the ribs. “Besides, I think if Chloé were Ladybug, that’s a secret you’re best left keeping quiet about.”

“Right? Especially after that stunt she pulled with Juleka,” Alya huffed.

Adrien frowned at that. Yeah, that hadn’t been Chloé’s best moment. She’d gotten completely caught up in herself and what she wanted… which was pretty par for the course for Chloé, but Adrien was still disappointed in her because she’d been doing pretty good for the past couple of weeks. He hadn’t spoken to her since Juleka had been akumatized; Chloé knew damn well he was waiting for her to apologize to Juleka.

“We have more important things to talk about than Chloé,” Nino declared.

“Like what?” Marinette asked.

“Like my man’s birthday!” Nino said excitedly, hugging Adrien around the shoulders. “And the raging party we’re gonna have!”

“Nino, don’t get carried away. My dad didn’t say yes, and it’s unlikely that he will,” Adrien said. The bell rang and he got up, already thinking about his busy afternoon: he had fencing practice, then piano practice, dinner, and a late photo shoot. He said his good-byes and headed for the door.

“Make sure you ask!” Nino called after him as Adrien left the classroom.

‘Do you think there’s any chance your dad will say yes?’ Marinette thought as Adrien walked to the locker room to change.

‘Nope,’ Adrien thought with a quiet, bitter laugh. ‘I’ve never had a birthday party before. I wish I could’ve seen what Nino had planned… but I know my dad. He’s fundamentally incapable of doing anything fun.’

‘Your father sucks so hard,’ Marinette thought.

‘Tell me about,’ Adrien thought, sighing.

His prediction turned out to be accurate. Adrien was completely exhausted by the time he made it home to the mansion that night. The only bright, shining spot in the whole afternoon had been Marinette’s comforting presence. Tedious photo shoots were always made better when her soothing voice was in his head. Sometimes she’d read to him, or share funny things she found online, or they’d hash out the night’s homework together. She was always a welcome distraction.

He collapsed into bed and fell asleep pretty much immediately. Morning came far too early, and Adrien groaned as his alarm went off and he rolled over to half-heartedly swat at it. He stared at the ceiling for a moment. He could tell that Marinette was still sleeping; her presence was a low hum in the back of his mind, heavy with the kind of contentment that comes from an exhausted teenager finally getting to rest.

“Happy birthday, Adrien!” Plagg exclaimed, suddenly appearing over Adrien’s face.

“Thanks, Plagg,” Adrien said with a tired smile. “I wish I could say it was going to be a good one.”

“I have something that will make it better,” Plagg said.

Adrien eyed him warily. “It’s not cheese, is it?”

“Well, of course cheese makes everything better, but I’ve come to realize you humans don’t appreciate such delicacies the way you should,” Plagg said. “So no. It’s something else!”

He rose up in the air and started waving his paws around. Adrien sat up and watched him in puzzlement, eyebrows furrowed. He was completely unprepared for Plagg to suddenly rear back and hawk something right into Adrien’s lap. The whatever it was landed in a soggy green pool of spit. Adrien stared at it in dumbstruck horror.

“Miraculous birthday,” Plagg declared, looking at Adrien expectantly.

“Uhhhhh….” Adrien said. Years of decorum training prevented him from reacting the way he wanted to, which was a horrified shriek and a vault into the bathroom to shower. He sat there in silence, mouth open uselessly.

Plagg sighed explosively. “It’s a kwagatama,” he said, like Adrien was the one who was being weird. “It’s a symbol of friendship between kwami and their holders.”

“Friendship?” Adrien repeated, softening. The green saliva was magically vanishing, revealing what looked like the black half of a yin and yang symbol. When he gingerly touched it, he realized that it was soft and smooth to the touch. Like a polished stone.

“Making one is a lot of work. You should give me cheese as a thank you,” Plagg said.

“I will. Lots of cheese.” Adrien clasped the kwagatama in his hands and smiled. “Thank you, Plagg. I love it.”

“Whatever,” Plagg muttered, but it didn’t escape Adrien’s notice that Plagg looked incredibly pleased.

He didn’t have any cord, so he sent a text to Marinette and then got up to get dressed while Plagg devoured half a wheel of Camembert. He put the kwagatama in his pocket for now as he left his room, backpack slung over his shoulder. He headed down to an empty dining room to eat breakfast alone, as per usual. Of course, it was too much to ask that his father join him for his birthday breakfast.

Nathalie entered just as he was beginning and said, “Your schedule today.”

“Thanks. Say, did my father get back to you about my party?” Adrien asked, taking the tablet. He read the answer in Nathalie’s face before she even opened her mouth.

“He doesn’t think it would be a good idea,” Nathalie said. “Happy Birthday, Adrien.” She nodded at him and left.

Adrien sighed, hanging his head, and pushed his plate away. Suddenly, he lacked an appetite. He stood and wandered out to the car, where his bodyguard drove him to school. His stomach twisted when he saw that Nino was standing right there at the front gates, waiting for him. The thought of disappointing his friend hurt.

‘Happy birthday, Chaton!’ Marinette thought suddenly.

‘Thanks, My Lady. Just woke up, huh?’ Adrien thought, a small smile coming to his face.

‘Yup. Saw your text. What’s a kwagatama?’ she thought.

Rather than answer, Adrien pushed the memory of what had happened that morning towards her as he got out of the car. Nino rushed over to him, eyes lit up - only for his face to fall when Adrien glumly shook his head.

“Dude, seriously? Your dad sucks,” Nino said, disappointed.

“Tell me about it,” Adrien said, slamming the car door. They walked through the gates together.

“Can’t you like… insist?” Nino suggested. “Tell him he needs to be fair?”

Adrien scoffed. “Honestly, I’m not sure my dad even knows what fair means,” he replied.

‘Oh my god,’ Marinette thought at the same time. She was laughing. ‘Oh, Adrien. That’s disgusting.’

‘It was so gross,’ Adrien thought back.

“At least you can smile, I guess,” Nino said, looking at Adrien.

“Uh, sure,” Adrien said. He was smiling because of Marinette, but of course Nino didn’t know that.

Nino sighed and took a bottle of bubble solution out of his back. Adrien watched curiously as he twisted off the top and started blowing bubbles. He’d seen people blow bubbles before, of course, but it was never something he’d had the chance to do himself. Nino was so good at it, creating a perfect bubble with every try.

“What?” Nino asked, eventually noticing the attention.

“Could I try?” Adrien asked.

“Sure,” Nino said, surrendering the wand.

“Like this?” Adrien pursed his lips and blew, splattering the bubble solution all over the place. Nino laughed.

“Gently, Dude. Not so hard,” he said.

Adrien obeyed and beamed as a bubble formed on the end of the wand, slowly breaking off. He watched it float through the air until it finally landed on the ground and burst. But that was okay, because he could just blow another one. He did so, dipping the wand back in the solution and then carefully blowing several more.

“So what’s up with you and Alya?” he asked finally.

Nino reddened. “No clue what you mean.”

“Well, you’re soulmates,” Adrien said. “So…” He already knew from Marinette that Nino and Alya were keeping their bond firmly closed for the time being. He couldn’t imagine what that would be like. Having Marinette as a part of him was the best thing thing that had ever happened to Adrien.

‘You sweetheart,’ Marinette thought fondly.

“I dunno. It’s… weird,” Nino said, not quite looking at Adrien. “I don’t even know her.”

“Maybe you should try spending time with her. Alya’s pretty cool,” Adrien said.

Nino frowned. “Since when do you know Alya?”

“Just what Marinette’s told me,” Adrien said quickly. He knew Alya because Marinette knew Alya, and Adrien knew what Marinette did - but of course, he couldn’t tell Nino that.

“Maybe,” Nino muttered, shrugging and toying with his headphones. “She hasn’t exactly acted like she wants to spend time with me, so…”

‘Alya says the same thing about Nino,’ Marinette thought.

“I bet Alya feels the same way,” Adrien said.

Nino just shrugged again, and Adrien took the hint. Luckily, he had the perfect distraction. Marinette ran through the gates at that moment. He handed the bubble solution and wand back to Nino and hurried over to meet her. She threw her arms around him in an exuberant hug.

“Happy birthday, Adrien!” she cried.

“Thanks,” Adrien said.

“Here.” Marinette untangled herself and reached into her bag, producing a box. “This is for you.”

Adrien’s eyes widened. “You got me a present?!”

She grinned. “Of course!”

‘I’ve been working on it at night while you were asleep,’ she added mentally, her eyes twinkling. ‘And it’s been taking sooooo much effort not to think about it when you were awake.’

“Marinette…” Adrien was so touched he could barely speak.

“Open it,” she said, laying a hand on his arm.

He obeyed, pulling the wrapping off and opening the box. His eyes widened when he saw the handmade, knitted blue scarf carefully arranged inside. It was made of a material so soft that Adrien immediately wanted to buy several bolts of it just so that he could curl up and sleep on it. Marinette giggled at that and picked the scarf up, gently draping it around his neck.

‘Happy birthday, mon minou,’ she thought, and kissed his cheek.

So overwhelmed that he couldn’t speak, much less form thoughts, all Adrien could do was pull her into another hug. He gathered all of his feelings and pushed them at her, gratitude, affection, shock and bittersweet pain all wrapped into one. Marinette instantly wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him as tightly as she could.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe Nino got akumatized because of me,” Chat said softly.

They stood on the roof of a nearby building, looking down at the boy in question. Nino was still rubbing his head and looking around in confusion; like everyone else, he had no idea what had happened while he was akumatized and so was left feeling worried and embarrassed over what he might have done under Hawkmoth’s influence. Ladybug and Chat hadn’t had much time to talk to him. But…

She rested a comforting hand on Chat’s shoulder. “Nino’s your friend. He cares about you a lot. It makes total sense for him to get mad over how unfair your dad is,” she said. “I think Adrien should go talk to him.”

“You think?” Chat looked nervous.

“Yeah. Go on. No one is watching but me, so you’re clear.” She gave him a gentle nudge.

He visibly gulped but leaped down off the building. A green flash of light signified his detransformation. Moments later, Adrien jogged out from between the two buildings and went over to Nino. Ladybug wished she could stay on the roof to watch, but her transformation was mere seconds from giving out. She jumped down into the same alley as Chat.

“Spots off!” Ladybug said.

“Good job, Mari - what are you doing?” Tikki asked.

“Sssh!” Marinette hissed, moving to the edge of the alley. She thrust a couple of cookies at Tikki, then peeked out and watched intently as Adrien spoke to Nino. Through their bond, she could hear everything that they were saying.

“Are you okay?” Adrien was asking. “I’m so sorry, Nino.”

“Sorry for what?” Nino said. “I’m the one who ruined your birthday by getting akumatized.”

“Ruined?!” Adrien exclaimed. “No way! You cared so much about my birthday that you got akumatized because my father was being awful. That means a lot to me.”

Nino was quiet for a moment. “Well… that’s not the only reason I got akumatized. It was the tipping point, but…”

“Are you sure you should be spying?” Tikki said into Marinette’s ear, distracting Marinette from the two boys. “It looks like Nino and Adrien are having a private conversation, and you can’t hear them from here anyway.”

“I just wanted to make sure they were okay,” Marinette lied. Truth be told, there wasn’t really any privacy when you had a soulmate. She’d lost several hours of sleep to knitting Adrien’s birthday gift because she had to wait until he was asleep, and unaware of what she was doing, to do it.

The result had been completely worth it, of course. She wrapped her arms around herself and smiled, thinking about Adrien’s reaction. It was a little painful - no one should be that surprised by a gift - but it also meant a lot to know how much he adored her gift. Even now, he wore the blue scarf around his neck.

‘Whoa! Did you hear that?’ Adrien thought.

‘What? I was distracted by Tikki. What happened?’ Marinette thought back, cursing her kwami. She hadn’t yet mastered the skill of holding a conversation mentally with Adrien while also talking outwardly to someone else. It was too hard to split her focus.

Hearing through Adrien’s ears and even seeing through his eyes was easier than ever, and of course their thoughts streamed through their bond like water through a sieve, but that didn’t mean Marinette was any better at having her attention divided. She frowned, realizing that she had missed something major.

‘Nino has a crush on you,’ Adrien thought.

WHAT?!’ Marinette thought at full volume, just barely keeping herself from screaming the word out loud. As it was, she clapped her hand over her mouth and a strangled squeak escaped her.

“Marinette? What’s wrong?” Tikki exclaimed.

Marinette hastily cleared her throat. “Nothing! I just remembered I have an assignment due tomorrow. I should get home fast. Any chance you’re good to go?”

Tikki looked at her suspiciously. “You’re not planning to go talk to Adrien as Ladybug, as you?”

“No, of course not,” Marinette said, startled.

“Are you sure?” Tikki said, narrowing her eyes.

“Why would I talk to Adrien as Ladybug? He’s my boyfriend. I can talk to him as me anytime I want,” Marinette said.

Tikki didn’t look entirely convinced, which only served to make Marinette’s nerves worsen. Apparently they hadn’t been as sneaky as she had hoped. She pasted on her most innocent smile and resolved to be a lot more careful in the future. Adrien’s amusement at the whole situation wasn’t really helping. She sent a pulse of annoyance back at him.

“Okay,” Tikki said finally.

“Great, thanks. Spots on!” Marinette whispered. She breathed a sigh of relief once she was transformed - no more kwami literally hovering over her shoulder.

‘Good?’ Adrien thought, smiling like the little shit that he was.

‘Nino has a crush on me?!’ Ladybug thought back incredulously. ‘No way!’ She peeked back around the corner and saw that Nino and Adrien were walking away, heading back towards the school.

‘Way,’ Adren thought. ‘He saw you kiss my cheek this morning and it made him a little upset and my dad pushed him over the edge. I didn’t know what to tell him… I didn’t want to lie. So I told him the truth and said we’re dating. Is that okay?’

‘This is crazy! I can’t believe this,’ Ladybug thought, pacing back and forth. She and Nino had been going to the same school since they were little kids. Hell, they’d been in the same class for the past four years. They were friends, but she wouldn’t have called them close. And she definitelywouldn’t have guessed that Nino felt that way about her!

Oh god, what would’ve happened if he’d asked her out before she met Adrien? She might actually have said yes. Nino was a great guy. He was obsessed with music, sure, but no more so than Marinette was with designing. She cringed as she realized how convoluted things could have become, with Nino’s best guy friend being his girlfriend’s soulmate, and Marinette’s best girl friend being her boyfriend’s soulmate.

Alya. Ladybug stopped dead as realization struck her. So far, Alya and Nino had been keeping their soulmate bond blocked. They had figured out how to construct rudimentary shields of their own rather than pay someone else to do it for them; Alya said it was because she was nervous, and wanted to get to know Nino on her own terms before bringing the whole soulmate thing into the equation.

‘I couldn’t date Alya’s soulmate! She would kill me!’ Ladybug thought frantically.

Adrien laughed. ‘My Lady, calm down,’ he thought. ‘You’re dating me, remember? Your kitty?’

‘Right. Of course.’ Ladybug shook her head. She was catastrophizing again. She took a deep breath, trying to get her pulse under control. Adrien sent her a slew of soothing feelings, which helped.

‘So is it okay I told Nino we’re dating? He kinda figured that was the case already,’ Adrien thought.

‘Yes. Yeah. That was good thinking,’ Ladybug thought, hoping that meant Nino would never bring up his crush again. She would have to figure out some way to make Alya and Nino spend time together. They would be so good together if the two of them could just get past their initial nerves!

‘I’ll leave that plotting to you,’ Adrien thought back. ‘I told Nino I’d walk him back to the school.’

‘Then can you meet me at the Eiffel Tower?’ Ladybug thought.

‘Sure,’ Adrien thought. He was distracted now because Nino was talking to him. Perfect.

Ladybug used her yoyo to make her way home, deliberately keeping her thoughts on Nino and Alya. They’d come close to a disaster - how awkward would it have been if Nino had actually asked her out? - and now she had to assess all the variables to figure out how to make things out work the way they were supposed to.

And also, she would have to tell Alya she and Adrien were dating before Nino let it slip. Alya wouldn’t be happy to have been kept out of the loop like that. She and Adrien had tentatively agreed to keep things low key for now, mostly for the same reasons they were keeping their soulmate status secret, but it didn’t have to be a complete secret.

She entered her room, gathered what she need, and headed back out again. The Eiffel Tower was back to normal after their battle. She landed on their favorite beam and sat down to look at the city. It was late in the afternoon, but at least there were no bubbles full of helpless adults floating up towards the sky.

‘On my way,’ Chat thought to her.

‘Do you think your dad got you anything for your birthday?’ she thought.

‘If he did, it was nothing more than a pen. That’s what he‘s given me for the last two… no, three years,’ Chat thought back. ‘Before my mom died, she was always the one who planned something special for my birthday.’

Ladybug shook her head. ‘Again, your dad -’

‘Sucks, I know,’ Chat thought. His boots touched down on the beam behind her. Ladybug turned to see him. He smiled at her, and she smiled back.

“Hello, Chaton,” she said.

“Bugaboo. Not that I mind spending time with you, but what’s this about?” He walked closer.

“I know Adrien already got his gift from Marinette,” she began. “But Ladybug wanted Chat to have his birthday gift, too.”

His lips parted in surprise, eyes rounding. “Wh-what? Seriously?!”

“Seriously. Here.” She patted the beam beside her.

Chat sank down, staring at her. “You didn’t have to give me two presents.”

“I know I didn’t have to. I wanted to,” she said, setting the box on his lap. “Go on! Open it.”

He let out a soft laugh. “You’re impatient.”

“I’m sleep deprived. I get cranky,” Ladybug said, wiggling. “So stop torturing me!”

Chat shook his head - he didn’t like the thought of her sacrificing sleep time just for him, which Ladybug naturally brushed off - and unwrapped the box. He opened it up to reveal a beret made from the same soft blue material as his scarf.

“Maybe for Christmas, I’ll make you the matching gloves - oof!” Ladybug yelped as he tackled her, knocking her over in his haste to wrap her up in a huge hug. Staring up at the sky as Chat cried into her shoulder, Ladybug wrapped her arms around him and gently stroked his hair.

Merci, Marinette,’ he thought, the mental words so weighted with gratitude and love that her breath caught.

Bon anniversaire, Adrien,’ she thought back, this time pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

That night, Adrien received a hastily wrapped pen as a gift from his father by way of Nathalie. For once, he didn’t even care. He threw the pen on his desk and fell asleep clutching the scarf and beret to his chest. Marinette stayed up late to start work on a pair of gloves.

Chapter Text

Adrien lay on his bed, hands tucked behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. The only other sound in the room was that of Plagg’s noisy breathing; his kwami had just finished scarfing down a full wheel of Camembert and was trying to sleep it off. Unfortunately, Plagg’s stinky breath was making it hard for Adrien to think.

He rolled over onto his side, propping himself up with an elbow, and gently nudged Plagg in the side with a finger. “Plagg, wake up.”

“N’ugh, go ‘way,” Plagg moaned, drool running down the side of his face. Adrien rolled his eyes. That Camembert should’ve lasted Plagg for three days, not three minutes.

“I have some questions,” Adrien said, nudging him again.

“Nooooo…” Plagg whined.

“Yes. Answer my questions and I’ll buy you more cheese tomorrow,” Adrien coaxed.

A green eye opened. “The creamy kind?”

“Sure,” Adrien said. There went his allowance for the week, but it would be worth it. He hoped.

Plagg yawned loudly. “I suppose I could answer a question or two if I have to,” he said grumpily. “What do you want to know?”

“What would happen if Ladybug and I were soulmates?” Adrien asked.

“Why do you care? I thought you were dating Pigtails,” Plagg said, rubbing his eyes. “You woke me up for this?”

“I’m just curious,” Adrien said. “I mean, I thought Ladybug and I were supposed to be two halves of a whole. How can that be the case if we weren’t soulmates? And we can’t be, because she didn’t say my words…” He looked at Plagg expectantly.

“Don’t take the two halves of a whole thing so literally. Soulmates are a different ball game and besides, miraculous glamour extends to soulmate connections,” Plagg said. He burped. “It’s a safety feature.”

“The miraculous… glamour?” Adrien echoed, eyebrows furrowed. He wished Marinette were awake to hear this, but she needed her sleep.

“Yeah. God, kid, your face is plastered all over this city. You really think it’s a coincidence no one has put two and two together and realized you look an awful lot like a certain cat-themed superhero?” Plagg scoffed at him. “Come on. The miraculous glamour prevents people from realizing who you are unless they’re presented with irrefutable proof, like… I dunno, you transformed right in front of them.”

“So… what does that mean for the soulmate connection?” Adrien prodded. Marinette had already heard this from Tikki, but Adrien found himself wanting to hear Plagg say it. He wrapped his hand around the kwagatama, which was strung around his neck on cord courtesy of Marinette, and stared intently at his kwami.

“It means that even if you and Ladybug were soulmates, and she had said your words and you said hers when you first met, so long as one of you was transformed the magic would block your connection,” Plagg replied, shrugging.

“That’s horrible,” Adrien said flatly.

Plagg gave a grim chuckle. “Oh, you think so? You know what’s even more horrible? Having an untrustworthy Ladybug or Chat Noir that goes over to the dark side and gets their partner killed because, as soulmates, they know each other’s identities.”

“Wait… you mean that happened?” Adrien said, shocked.

“Unfortunately. And it’s not the only situation that went sideways because Ladybug and Chat Noir found out they were soulmates too early. Believe me, it’s for your own safety,” Plagg said, sounding more alert. “You have no idea who is behind Ladybug’s mask.”

That wasn’t exactly true, though Adrien couldn’t say as much. He thought for a moment, then said, “So… let’s say Ladybug and I met as civilians and we found out we were soulmates, and we got our connection so we knew who each other was. What happens then?”

“It depends,” Plagg said with a shrug.

“On what?” Adrien pressed.

Plagg sighed. “On whether you’re good at your jobs, whether you’re both trustworthy, whether you can still fight together without getting distracted, whether the enemy knows and can use it against you, whether the the soulmate connection is a good thing as opposed to a bad thing… it’s not always a benefit to relationships, you know.”

“I know,” Adrien said quietly.

“There are a lot of different factors, and in the end it’s not mine and Tikki’s decision anyway,” Plagg went on.

“Then whose decision is it?” Adrien asked.

Plagg froze, eyes widening. “Uh…”

“Plagg?” Adrien said, narrowing his eyes. “Whose decision is it?”

“Sorry, can’t talk. Too full.” Plagg flopped over and started dramatically fake snoring.

“Plaaaaagg,” Adrien said, leaning in until his nose was mere inches from the kwami. He poked at Plagg again until Plagg groaned.

“I can’t tell you,” Plagg said reluctantly.

“Why not?” Adrien asked.

“Because I can’t. Not until you’re ready,” Plagg said. “I know you probably think it’s dumb. And I realize that soulmate connections are really important to you humans. But there’s a reason you and Ladybug are masked, Adrien.“

“Right,” Adrien said, troubled and realizing he wasn’t going to get anything more out of Plagg. He’d learned a few things, but not nearly as much as he’d hoped. Who was this mysterious person that had control over who Ladybug and Chat Noir were?

And it seemed so wrong for Tikki and Plagg to block a soulmate connection, though they clearly thought they had their reasons. Plagg seemed just as at ease about it as Tikki had. Only he and Marinette had known who the other was from day one, and they hadn’t run into any problems so far.

Had they? He leaned back, considering the question. He felt like the ability to talk telepathically gave them an edge during battle, because he and Ladybug could develop plans that an akuma didn’t know about. But there had definitely been moments when Ladybug put herself in danger that had practically paralyzed him, and he knew the same went for her.

Then there was the effect that losing your soulmate could have on the one left behind. Adrien had seen first-hand the potential impact of that. His father had dramatically changed after Émilie Agreste passed away. Gabriel had never been a warm or loving parent, but now Adrien could honestly say that he wasn’t even sure his father loved him anymore. It was like Gabriel’s ability to love had been stripped away with Émilie’s death.

He wrapped his arms around himself, wondering how he or Ladybug would function if the worst happened. He couldn’t say for sure about his partner, but losing Marinette would absolutely devastate Adrien. He didn’t know if he’d be able to go on. In the span of about six months, she had become everything to him. If Hawkmoth took one of them down, he’d at least incapacitate, if not outright cripple or destroy, the other.

Maybe Plagg and Tikki weren’t so wrong about blocking the soulmate connection after all.

Adrien dwelled on those thoughts for most of the night; he didn’t sleep well, and was awake long before his alarm went off. When Marinette woke up at last, he immediately shared everything he’d learned with her and the potential implications. As much as he hated to share it, she would learn it anyway just by virtue of the fact that Adrien couldn’t stop thinking about it.

‘I never thought of it like that,’ Marinette thought after a long pause. She was upset and troubled by what he’d learned.

‘Me either,’ Adrien thought back, staring unenthusiastically at his meager breakfast.

‘Do you think…’ Marinette hesitated. ‘Do you think we should tell them?’

Adrien poked at his oatmeal. ‘I dunno. What if whoever Plagg wouldn’t tell me about takes our miraculous away? I don’t want to lose Plagg. And I don’t want to stop being Chat Noir.’

‘I feel the same way about Tikki and being Ladybug,’ Marinette thought. ‘But… losing you is the worst thing I can think of.’ The thought was shot through with genuine grief that made Adrien shiver. He knew neither of them wanted to give up, even though the risks suddenly seemed a lot heavier.

‘Really, what could they do if we did tell them?’ he thought instead. ‘I wouldn’t work anyone else, and neither would you. Do you think they… or whoever… would chose new holders?’

Marinette finished her hair. ‘I… maybe? But how could they be sure that those new holders wouldn’t have soulmates?’ she reasoned. ‘It must be a risk they have to take. We can’t be the only Ladybug and Chat Noir who were soulmates beforehand.’

‘No, but we might be the only ones facing an enemy who gets into people’s heads,’ Adrien thought reluctantly.

‘I know. I thought of that too,’ Marinette thought. ‘It’s too late now. We can’t change what we’ve already done. But maybe… maybe we should think about saying something. Even if it’s just to cover our butts.’

“Adrien?” Nathalie said.

Adrien started and jerked his head up. “Sorry, what?”

Nathalie frowned at him. “If you’re finished, you’re going to be late.”

“Oh, uh, right.” Adrien stood up, leaving his untouched bowl behind, and felt Marinette grimace.

‘We can finish our conversation on patrol tonight,’ she thought. ‘I’ll bring you something way better for breakfast.’

‘You’re the absolute best,’ Adrien thought, walking out to the car.

He was running late this morning, so Marinette met him at the gate. As promised, she had two freshly baked muffins with her. She handed him one practically as soon as he’d gotten out of the car. Adrien thought she’d eat the other, but instead Marinette leaned into the car, cast Adrien’s bodyguard a sweet smile, and set the bag down on the passenger front seat.

“Have a good day, Monsieur,” she said politely. The Gorilla grunted in response.

“You’re so kind,” Adrien said once his bodyguard had driven away.

This time, her smile was sly as she linked their arms together. “Can’t hurt to try and get on his good side!”

“Did I mention you’re also brilliant?” he asked as they walked through the gates, the material of her shirt rubbing pleasantly against his arm. He loved being so closed to her.

Marinette giggled. “You didn’t, but please go on. I love hearing you compliment me,” she said, a twinkle in her eyes.

“Gladly. You’re also clever and kind and -” Adrien began.

“Oh my god, it’s like listening to an anime,” Alya said as she walked over to join them. “Cool it, Sunshine, you’re making the rest of us look bad with all your romantic notions.”

Adrien pouted at her. “I am not.”

“You totally are,” Alya said with a grin. “Maybe you can give Kim some tips.”

“Kim? What do you mean?” Marinette asked, curiosity radiating off of her.

“I heard Kim is going to ask someone out. He won’t say who it is, but he bought a present for her and everything,” Alya whispered loudly and, as one, all three of them turned to look in Kim’s direction. He was standing in the corner of the yard with Max. Both their heads were bent over a small box. Even to Adrien’s inexperienced eye, Kim looked incredibly nervous.

“That’s so cute! Is he doing it now?” Marinette said.

“Nope. He’s waiting until after school. I tried to get him to tell me who it is, but he refused.” Alya sighed and put her hands on her hips.

“Maybe he’s afraid you’ll ruin the surprise,” Adrien said.

Alya adopted a wounded look. “I would never!”

Adrien gave her a skeptical look. “Really.”

“Your doubt hurts, Sunshine, it really does,” Alya said, dramatically clasping her chest.

“Do you think it’s Alix?” Marinette wondered, ignoring their antics.

“I doubt it,” Alya said. “Alix and Kim don’t really have that vibe, you know? It’s not like you two.”

“Uh… what do you mean?” Adrien said warily.

Alya gestured at them. “Just look at you. Anyone who pays attention can tell you’re head over heels for each other.”

“Does that mean you don’t pay attention since you had no idea until I told you?” Marinette asked innocently.

“Rude!” Alya threw her hands up. “I get zero respect!”

Adrien laughed. “She’s got a point.”

“I can’t help it if you two are sneaky as heck!” Alya said, wagging her finger playfully at them. “I’ll tell you one thing, though. I won’t rest until I know who Kim is going to ask out!”

“Oh, Alya. I’m sure it’ll be all over the place before we know it,” Marinette said. “I hope that whoever it is, they say yes.” She hugged Adrien’s arm.

“I guess we’ll know as soon as school is out,” Alya said. “Now, can I get an escort into class or is this a Marinette-only thing?”

“I think I can escort two beautiful ladies just once,” Adrien said, offering his arm to Alya. She giggled and the three of them walked into school together.

 

Chapter Text

“Come on, Marinette, hurry!” Alya hissed over her shoulder.

“I’m hurrying!” Marinette gulped, pushing her legs to move faster. It wasn’t fair: Alya had much longer legs than she did. She was breathing hard by the time Alya finally stopped running.

“There he is!” Alya exclaimed, pointing directly ahead. Marinette craned her neck to see and gasped quietly as she spotted Kim standing on the Pont des Arts. Alya immediately whipped out her phone, held it up, and started recording.

“Alya, seriously?” Marinette said, giving her friend a look.

“It’s for posterity. Someday, Kim and this mystery girl’s kids might want to see this,” Alya said. 

Marinette sighed. “That better not be livestreaming.”

“Of course not. Wait, look!” Alya said, jabbing Marinette painfully in the ribs. “He’s straightening up and turning to face - oh my god. Please tell me that Kim isn’t walking towards who I think he’s walking towards.”

“Oh nooooo,” Marinette whispered, putting her hands over her eyes. Yet she couldn’t helping peeking through her fingers at the train wreck that was about to happen.

‘What’s wrong?’ Adrien thought immediately. Even though he was at a photoshoot, he was ready to come to her aid if she needed him. Marinette would’ve smiled had she not been cringing so hard.

‘Look,’ she thought.

‘What - oh no,’ Adrien thought as he peered through her eyes. ‘Not Chloé. Please, Kim. Don’t!’

But Kim couldn’t hear them. He stopped right in front of Chloé, who nearly walked into him because she was distracted by talking on the phone. Chloé looked at him with an expression of incredulity, but, before she could say a word, Kim dramatically dropped to one knee and held out the box. Both Marinette and Alya winced as they realized Kim had inadvertently knelt in a puddle.

“Chloé, I - would you - would you be my Valentine?” Kim asked, his hand visibly shaking.

“Nooo…” Marinette whispered again.

‘Oh god,’ Adrien thought.

“Shit,” Alya breathed.

Before Choé could respond, a passing bicyclist went zooming by and splashed water all over Kim’s face. At the same time a chip bag, caught in the wind, blew by and slapped Kim in the face. Chloé visibly cringed and took a hasty step back as some of the water droplets splattered in her direction. She wrinkled her nose, drew her shoulders up, and opened her mouth.

“No.”

“Wh-what?” Kim said.

“No. I can’t be your Valentine,” Chloé said, hanging up the phone and crossing her arms over her chest.

Marinette’s mouth dropped open in shock. For Chloé, that was a downright kind reaction. She had been fully expecting Chloé to do something really horrible, like take a picture of Kim’s misery and send it to everyone in the class. Instead, Chloé had merely been straightforward. Perhaps a bit too much so, but still.

“But… But I brought you a gift!” Kim cried.

Chloé skirted him and walked away without looking back. Kim stayed where he was, kneeling in the dirty water, and started to cry. Alya grimaced and hit the end button on her phone. She pulled her phone down and locked it. The clicking sound made Kim look up. His eyes widened when he saw the two of them standing there.

“Kim!” Marinette called, but it was too late. Kim jumped up and ran away.

“Oof, that was harsh,” Alya said with a grimace. “Do you think we should go after him?”

‘I wouldn’t,’ Adrien thought. ‘If it were me, I’d want some time alone.’

“I don’t think so,” Marinette said, feeling awful. “We shouldn’t have spied on them, Alya. I bet Kim feels horrible.”

“Yeah. I really didn’t think it would be Chloé, of all people.” Alya sighed and held up her phone. She deleted the video, shaking her head. “What do you think he sees in her?”

“Uh… I don’t know,” Marinette said. “Maybe he thinks she’s pretty? Chloé does have nice hair.”

Alya looked unconvinced. She was opening her mouth, no doubt to dispute what Marinette had said, when something struck her in the chest. Marinette jumped back in surprise, narrowly avoiding what turned out to be another arrow. It hit the ground harmlessly and dissolved. By the time Marinette looked back at Alya, Alya’s lips had turned black and her eyes were narrowed.

“You’re right, Chloé is a thousand times prettier than you,” she said in a nasty voice. “If you’re not careful, she’ll steal Adrien right out from under your nose. That’s what you’d deserve!”

“Alya!” Marinette exclaimed, stung. Alya just laughed and turned, running away. A shadow passed over them and Marinette looked up to see an akuma with black wings flying overhead. Her heart sank. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who had that most likely was.

‘Uh oh,’ Adrien thought. ‘I’m on my way.’

‘Hurry,’ Marinette thought back.

She took a quick look around before ducking into the shadows of the bridge. “Tikki, spots on!”

Ladybug emerged and threw out her yoyo, using it to get to the top of the nearest building. She quickly spotted the akuma and raced after it. Her eyes widened as the akuma set another arrow to its bow and pulled the string back, aiming at an oblivious Chloé. She launched herself forward and hurtled her yoyo at the arrow, knock it off course.

“Stop it, Kim!” she yelled. Luckily, Chloé turned to walk into a shop and that meant she was out of their line of sight.

“I’m not Kim, I’m Dark Cupid! And if I can’t have love, no one will!” Dark Cupid bellowed.

“Okay, okay. Dark Cupid.” Ladybug held up her hands. “I get that you got turned down, and that sucks, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it out on all of Paris!”

“Oh yes I do! I won’t stop until everyone’s heart is crushed, and they all feel my pain! Starting with your loved ones, Ladybug!” Dark Cupid began rapidly shooting arrows at her. Ladybug dodged them all, but he was incredibly fast. She gasped in panic as she slipped and fell.

She caught herself with her yoyo, dangling from the edge of the roof, until a familiar arm slung itself around her waist. She exhaled and relaxed into Chat’s hold, letting him take the brunt of her weight. A quick flick of her wrist unwound her yoyo from where it had caught on the roof, snapping it back into her hand.

“Boy, he’s in a claw-ful mood,” Chat said, looking up.

“He’s not the only one,” Ladybug said, gingerly balancing on Chat’s staff. “We’ve gotta figure this one out quickly, or he’s going to turn all of Paris against each other.”

“Maybe a Lucky Charm would give us a hint?” Chat suggested.

“Good idea.” Ladybug opened her mouth, but nothing came out but a breathless squeak.

Because Chat’s arm had tightened painfully, and he suddenly jerked her off the staff; they tumbled several feet to the ground, though Chat twisted them in mid-air so that he hit took the brunt of the impact. A dozen arrows hit the ground around them seconds later. Ladybug pushed herself up, realizing that Chat had saved them from being hit by Dark Cupid.

Then something cold hit her mind, dimming Chat’s connection to her. Ladybug recoiled, caught off guard, and gasped as Chat’s lips turned back just like Alya’s had. His eyes snapped open. Instead of being filled with affection like usual, they were narrowed and set with hatred. Her heart sank.

“Ch-Chat?” she stammered, hoping against hope that he wasn’t about to -

“I hate you, Ladybug!” he snarled, bringing his claws back. His other arm remained incredibly tight around her waist.

She lashed out automatically, hitting him in the stomach. Chat yelped and let her go. Ladybug scrambled off of him, reeling slightly. Chat was still there in her mind, but it was like there was a net draped over him: none of his thoughts were coming through, and she couldn’t send anything back to him.

But she could still feel him, and unfortunately what she felt was pure, blinding hatred. It made her sick to her stomach and she staggered backwards as he advanced. Even in her nightmares, she had never pictured Chat Noir looking at her like that.

“You’re nothing to me,” he hissed.

“Shut up!” Ladybug yelled, launching her yoyo overhead. It wrapped around the edge of his staff, still stuck in the building. She pulled sharply and the staff fell straight onto Chat’s head. He let out another yelp and she took the opportunity to run.

Ladybug made her way to an alley, where she leaned against the wall and tried to regain her bearings. Her hands were shaking around her yo-yo and she felt as clumsy and scattered as she had that first day on the job. What was she supposed to do now?

‘Chat? Adrien, can you hear me?’ she thought, but it was like throwing something at a brick wall. He couldn’t hear her. He was too far under Dark Cupid’s spell.

She scrubbed her hands over her face in frustration. The emotion radiating through their bond was horrible. It was the complete opposite of her sweet, kind, gentle boyfriend. Part of her wanted to sit down and cry.

But she couldn’t. She had to focus. Their bond wasn’t going to help her right now, so she had to figure out some other way of getting through to him. She was the only one who could save Chat now.

“Ladybug!” Chat shouted overhead, and Ladybug squealed as she threw herself to the side. Chat’s claws raked down the wall where she’d been standing.

“I don’t want to fight you, Chat. Please stop this!” Ladybug cried.

“Ugh, you’re so sanctimonious. It’s disgusting,” Chat hissed, stalking towards her with both hands held up to show his claws. “Don’t you understand that hate is so much better than love? Hate will always win!”

“You’re wrong. Hate doesn’t win. Love does,” Ladybug shot back. Then she remembered what their earlier class that morning had been about. In fairy tales, love always won. And what better way to signify love than with a kiss?

She looked speculatively at Chat. In a fair fight, she was pretty sure that she and Chat would be evenly matched and she would have a rough time beating him. But he wasn’t operating under his own control right now and it showed. His movements were jerky and sloppy, giving her plenty of openings. She just had to use them properly.

“Love is useless,” Chat snapped. “It’s revolting. What has love ever done for anyone?” He lunged towards her.

Ladybug dodged, dropping to the ground and snapping her foot out. He tripped with a surprised cry. Immediately, she swung herself on top of him and grabbed his wrists. Chat fought like a wild thing, growling and baring his teeth. He looked feral in that moment, so unlike her beloved kitty that Ladybug was a little scared. She steeled herself, trying her best to pin his wrists to the ground. But he was stronger than she’d anticipated.

“Chat, just stop!” she yelled in frustration. The close proximity was making her ache. Everything felt so wrong.

“Never! Cataclysm!” he shouted. “I’ll kill you, Ladybug!”

“Shit,” Ladybug hissed. Okay, time to end this now. She whipped out her yoyo, wrapping it around his right wrist and a nearby lamppost. The hand glowing with Cataclysm was dragged away from her. She grabbed his other hand, slammed it to the ground and pinning it there with her knee, then roughly took hold of his face and kissed him.

She could feel the moment it worked, the tension flowing out of him as he regained control of himself. The net over their bond vanished, letting Chat’s emotions - confusion, pleasure, awe, affection - flood through her again. Ladybug breathed a sigh of relief, gentling the kiss into something much sweeter as Chat grasped what was going on and began to kiss her back. She let their lips move together for a few precious seconds, savoring the feel of him both mentally, emotionally and physically, before she pulled back to look at him.

This was not how she had imagined their first kiss happening.

“L-Ladybug?” he stammered in confusion. His eyes were huge. But it was him again, fully under control, and Ladybug couldn’t help tearing up in relief. She released his wrist and cupped his cheek.

“You were under Dark Cupid’s control,” she explained. “I had to kiss you to make you snap out of it.”

Thank god there was a kernel of truth to fairy tales after all. She would have to do something special for Madame Bustier and Rose later to thank them. Ladybug had no idea what she would’ve done otherwise.

‘Oh shit. What did I do?’ Chat thought, panicking and going tense underneath her.

“It’s okay,” Ladybug said gently, looking down at him. She could feel him scrabbling for her memories and, as much as she hated to, freely shared them. There was no point in even trying to hide them. She’d never be able to shield anything from him at this point; she didn’t even know how to construct a shield even if she wanted to.

And she didn’t want to. Even though this would tear Chat up inside, he deserved to know. She waited anxiously as Chat parsed through the fifteen or so minutes that he had been under Dark Cupid’s control. Fear, anger and self-loathing rolled through their bond as he fully understood what had happened.

Chat flinched. “That’s - I don’t - I -”

“Shh,” she soothed, setting a finger over his lips. “Let’s talk about it later, okay? We have to stop Dark Cupid… if you’re up for it.” She watched him worriedly.

He took a shuddering breath, working hard to gather himself, and slowly nodded. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

Chat lifted his head, watching as Ladybug’s Lucky Charm flew into the air and exploded into thousands of miniature ladybugs. The red light rushed over Paris, reversing the damage that had been done. His gut clenched with renewed guilt as he watched the red light envelop Ladybug, healing her too.

Healing from damage he had put there. The knowledge made him feel like throwing up. Now that there was no akuma to focus on, he couldn’t ignore the truth of it any longer. He couldn’t even bring himself to look at his lady, instead crossing his arms over his chest and stared fixedly at the ground.

He could feel her concern; as sweet as it was, he knew he didn’t deserve it and it only made him feel worse. She should’ve been furious with him for what he’d done to her. He’d told her that he hated her. He’d attacked her with his claws. He’d told her that he wanted to kill her.

And then he’d called upon his Cataclysm with every intention of using it.

Ladybug approached him slowly. “Hey,” she said, offering her fist.

Chat didn’t even want to touch her - couldn’t bear to think of what his Cataclysm would’ve done if her reactions were just a little slower - but she was looking at him so expectantly that letting her down again wasn’t an option either. Slowly, he lifted his left fist and gingerly bumped it against hers.

“Bien joué,” they chorused, but his was markedly less enthusiastic than hers.

It startled him when she opened her hand and gripped his fist before he could pull away. He looked up at her instinctively, and the look on her face made his heart hurt. She looked so worried, and now their bond was overflowing with genuine concern. Chat was drowning in it.

‘Meet me on the tower?’ she thought.

Chat shook his head. ‘I’m just gonna go home,’ he thought back.

“Chat!” she said, but he turned and vaulted away before she could continue.

‘It wasn’t your fault,’ she thought to him anyway.

“Ladybug?” Kim said at the same time, which distracted her.

Thank god for akuma victims who needed reassurance from Ladybug. Chat really did want to go right home, but his miraculous was down to one pad - he’d used Cataclysm earlier than she had her Charm. The reminder made him gag and he landed in a nearby alley.

“Claws in,” he rasped, leaning against the wall for support.

Plagg appeared, looking worried. “Kid, you okay?”

“I’m… I’m fine,” Adrien lied. Ladybug was still talking to Kim, he could tell, and hopefully she couldn’t feel how awful he felt.

He clenched his fist. She was too good. To sweet. She deserved better. He awkwardly pushed himself up and stumbled forward on weakened legs. Plagg disappeared into his overshirt and began quickly munching on cheese as Adrien left the alley.

“Adrikins!” a familiar voice called out.

Damn it. Adrien tried to keep going as though he hadn’t heard, but Chloé was not someone who was easily deterred. She caught up to him and grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop. He turned reluctantly to face her, feeling the start of a rush of anger. If only Chloé hadn’t gotten Kim akumatized -

But, looking at her familiar face, he realized no, that wasn’t fair. Chloé hadn’t been mean to Kim at all. She’d been blunt, yes, but that was just how Chloé was. And Marinette and Alya being there to witness it all had probably exacerbated Kim’s feelings. Plus, it wasn’t her fault that Hawkmoth had decided to act upon a natural consequence of someone getting turned down for a date.

“Are you okay?” Chloé asked, and Adrien looked at her in shock.

“What?” he said, dumbfounded.

“You’re really pale,” Chloé said, frowning. “Wait - did you get caught in the akuma attack? I saw it all happen from the store back there. Ladybug was amazing, as per usual.” She reached for Adrien’s right hand.

He wrenched his hand away. “Don’t!”

“Adrien?” Chloé’s smile vanished.

‘Adrien,’ Marinette thought at the same time. ‘Please. None of this was your fault.’ She had detransformed and waiting for Tikki to finish eating, which meant all of her attention was on him.

He shook his head at both of them. “It was my fault,” he whispered, head aching and heart heavy. Anger and disappointment and shame coursed through him. Chat Noir was supposed to be his chance to be better, and he’d almost - he’d nearly -

‘No! It wasn’t! It was Hawkmoth!’ Marinette thought.

‘It was me! Hawkmoth didn’t almost kill you!’ Adrien thought back. Just thinking it made him shudder in revulsion.

“What was your fault?” Chloé said, sounding confused. Adrien had nearly forgotten she was standing there.

‘You weren’t in control!’ Marinette thought fiercely. ‘You don’t blame akuma victims for what happened to them, do you?’

‘That’s different!’ Adrien thought. It was. Akuma victims were civilians. They didn’t know better. He was a miraculous holder. There was a world of difference!

“Adrien?” Chloé said, confusion edging into fright when he didn’t respond.

‘It’s not different at all!’ Marinette thought. She was pouring affection and concern and fear for him, not of him, into the bond and it was overwhelming.

“It would’ve been my hands that Cataclysmed you!” he screamed.

Chloé jolted back. “What?!”

Adrien stared at her. In his mind, Marinette went dead silent. Slowly, it occurred to Adrien that he’d shouted last bit out loud. Not mentally.

It was too much to hope that Chloé wouldn’t put two and two together. Chloé Bourgeois was a lot of things, but stupid was not one of them. Her eyes widened as realization crossed her face and her mouth fell open. She made a couple of shocked, sputtery sounds as she pointed at him.

“You…” she said with a gasp.

“I - Chloé -” Adrien didn’t know whether he wanted to tear his hair out or cry.

And then it got worse. Chloé straightened up, shock settling over her. “Mari-”

Adrien jumped forward and slammed his hand over her mouth before she could utter more than those two syllables. Face mere inches away from Chloé’s, he stared desperately into her eyes and begged her not to say it out loud. Not because he thought someone else might overhear - the street was otherwise empty, since only Chloé was brave enough, or perhaps naive enough, to trust in Ladybug to the point where she’d leave the safety of a store the instant the miraculous cure went out - but because Plagg would surely hear.

They couldn’t communicate telepathically, of course, but he and Chloé had been friends for a long time. He searched her eyes and prayed she would understand, that she could read it on his face, that he couldn’t handle this right now.

Softly, he whispered, “I’ll come see you tonight. Okay?”

She nodded, an unnatural stillness settling over her. Adrien exhaled and slowly took his hand away, still looking at her intently. She met his gaze, her eyebrows furrowed like she was searching for something. He let her look, too tired to hide anything anymore.

“You should go home,” Chloé said finally. “You look tired.” She gave him a meaningful look. She’d watched the attack. Had she seen him attack Ladybug? He was afraid to ask.

“Right. Home,” Adrien said, gulping. Right then and there, he was so grateful to Chloé for not pressing the issue that he would happily be her friend forever.

“Do you…” Chloé trailed off, wrinkling her nose. Kindness didn’t come easily to her. “The hotel is closer?”

Adrien considered and shook his head. “My house isn’t far. Thanks.”

“Okay,” Chloé said, somewhat doubtfully, but she trusted him at his word. She gave him one last look but turned to walk away.

‘Adrien,’ Marinette - no, Ladybug thought, worried for a different reason now. He’d missed the tingle through their bond that meant she was transforming. Tikki must have finished while he was talking to Chloé, Adrien realized belatedly, and Ladybug was entirely prepared to swing down and stop Chloé if necessary.

‘I fucked up. I’m sorry,’ Adrien thought back, agonized. He just couldn’t stop messing up today, it seemed.

‘I’m above you. Come join me,’ was all she thought.

“Claws out,” Adrien said dully, and obeyed.

As promised, Ladybug was right above him. Chat landed on the rooftop, shame and disappointment now combining to make a heavy weigh in the pit of his belly. Not only had he attacked her, he’d given his - their - secret away to the one person who was capable of putting two and two together. He didn’t deserve to be Chat Noir.

Ladybug jerked forward with a gasp. “No! Adrien, no.” She darted towards him, throwing her arms around him before he could duck away.

“This is all my fault,” he choked out, not even sure what he was talking about at this point.

“Oh, Chaton. It wasn’t your fault. You were trying to protect me,” she whispered. “That’s why you got hit. I should’ve been paying attention to Dark Cupid.”

He shook his head, standing tense in her arms. “I attacked you. I tried to Cataclysm you.” His voice broke.

“But you didn’t,” Ladybug said gently. “And that wasn’t you. It was Dark Cupid and Hawkmoth.”

He could feel her emotions towards Hawkmoth bubbling up. Her anger that he was daring to do this to innocent people. Her frustration that so many people had to suffer because of one person. Her agony at knowing that she couldn’t do anything about it. In spite of himself, he leaned into her embrace. Her arms immediately tightened in response.

“It would’ve been my hands that killed you,” Chat whispered.

Ladybug couldn’t really argue that and they both knew it. She kissed his cheek and rested her head on his shoulder, until finally his arms came up and wrapped around her. Chat clutched her desperately, half-afraid that she would turn to dust in his arms.

He flinched as she acknowledged that thought, and she knew he expected her to push him away. She didn’t. Instead, she maneuvered around until one arm was wrapped around his waist. The other hand held her yo-yo. She threw her yo-yo out and let it yank them both into the air.

She swung them both back to the mansion, aiming right for his conveniently open window. The instant their feet touched down on Chat’s carpet, she tugged him over to the bed, pushed him down, and crawled in beside him. She snuggled up behind him, sliding her arms around his ribs and her legs around his thighs.

“There,” she said in his ear. “You can’t hurt me if I’m holding you down.”

“You’re a ladybug, not a koala bear,” Chat said. It was a bland, weak joke at best, but she smiled and kissed the back of his head.

“I’ll be whatever you need me to be,” she declared. “I don’t blame you, Adrien. Not even a little bit. And I’m not afraid of you, either. You would never hurt me. You’re my partner, my soulmate, and I care too much about you to let Hawkmoth get between us!” She poured all of her affection for him into their bond.

His breath caught at the onslaught. It wasn’t too much this time. It was exactly enough. His hands came up, intending to cover hers, but he hesitated before he touched her with his right hand. Ladybug made the decision for him, grabbing both his hands and lacing their fingers together.

Tears stung his eyes. He whispered hoarsely, “Thank you, Marinette.”

“I’m here. I’ll always be here,” she told him, and she meant those words with everything that she was.

And in that respect, their bond was a major boon. He didn’t have to worry about whether she was lying to make him feel better, or wonder if she was really scared of him after all. Chat could tell that she meant it. His shoulders slowly relaxed, some of the tension bleeding away in the wake of her hug.

“And Chloé?” he said uncertainly.

“That’s… well, you know her better than I do. I’ll take your word for it. Can she keep a secret?” Ladybug asked.

No one at their school knew what Chloé’s mother was really like. Nor did any of his classmates know what Gabriel was like beyond what little Adrien had shared. No one knew Adrien and Marinette were soulmates. Chloé could’ve spilled that information, but she hadn’t. Chat nodded with confidence. He knew that Chloé wouldn’t say anything before he spoke to her, and that she would keep it a secret if he and Ladybug impressed the seriousness of it on her.

“Okay,” Ladybug said. She still had her doubts, he could tell. He couldn’t blame her.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I know,” Ladybug said. “I don’t blame you. It was bad timing. I should’ve shut up when I saw Chloé. You were trying to hold two conversations at once. I know how hard that is when you’re not freaking out, never mind when you are.” She nuzzled his neck.

He could’ve said he wasn’t freaking out, but that would’ve been a lie and they both knew it. So he just said, “I don’t know if Plagg knows that Chloé knows.”

“I guess we’ll find out when you detransform,” she said quietly. “Let’s talk to Chloé first. At least then, if Plagg does know, you can tell Plagg that we’re… well, that you are on top of things. I think you stopped Chloé in time, so he wouldn’t know Chloé knows about me at least.”

Chat nodded, closing his eyes, and thought, ‘I’m so tired.’

‘Sleep, mon minou,’ she thought. ‘I’m right here. When you wake up, we’ll go talk to Chloé. It’ll be okay.’

She was panicking and trying to hide it, but Chat was too exhausted to call her on it right now. He let his head roll back against her shoulder. Images of his hands Cataclysming her danced through his mind, but were quickly chased away by Ladybug’s warmth and the affection she continually pushed through their bond. In minutes, he was asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Ladybug thought she did a good job of holding it together until Chat finally fell asleep. Only then did she allow herself to really, truly start panicking. She pressed her face into the back of his neck, her breathing rapidly speeding up. Of all the people to find out about them, it would have to be Chloé. The one person capable of knowing that if Adrien was Chat, that meant Marinette had to be Ladybug.

Maybe Chat was right. Maybe Chloé would keep it secret… but maybe she wouldn’t. There was a world of difference between Adrien and Marinette being soulmates, and Adrien and Marinette being Chat Noir and Ladybug. One of those secrets would get Chloé tons of attention, and if there was one thing Chloé Bourgeois loved, it was attention.

She closed her eyes, her grip on Chat so tight that he surely would have protested had he been awake. He blamed himself, not only for what had happened with Dark Cupid but also for Chloé finding out, but it wasn’t solely his fault. Ladybug should’ve known better. She should’ve shut up. She should’ve given him the chance to speak to Chloé and then talked to him afterwards when he was alone.

What if Plagg tried to take Chat’s miraculous away? What if Chloé knowing was over the line? Ladybug’s breath rattled in and out of her. She wouldn’t let that happen, she decided. She’d fight whoever came for the Ladybug or Black Cat miraculous. And if Plagg and Tikki didn’t want to work with them anymore, well. She’d fight them too.

Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. Maybe Plagg hadn’t heard. Maybe Chloé had changed enough to understand the importance of keeping this a secret. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Ladybug muffled a screech against Chat’s back and allowed herself the luxury of a full thirty minutes of letting her anxiety take over catastrophizing.

She was exhausted by the time her brain stopped running in panicked circles, but she didn’t dare fall asleep. It was too risky. If Gabriel or Nathalie walked in on them, they were fucked. She rested her chin on Chat’s shoulder and thought wistfully about being able to lay in bed with him as Marinette, without having to hide from their kwamis.

If Plagg took the Chloé thing well… perhaps she and Adrien could revisit the idea of telling their kwamis the truth. Life would be easier and a little less stressful. Even now, Ladybug wished she could detransform and talk things through with Tikki. She was certain that Tikki’s wisdom and ability to offer advice would be invaluable right now. But that wasn’t an option as things stood. Ladybug sighed.

Chat stirred. She froze.

“Mari, you’re freaking out,” he mumbled.

“Well, I figured it was my turn,” Ladybug whispered. She wasn’t sure what had woken him up, but guiltily figured it was probably the influx of emotions. She’d certainly run the full gamut in the past hour or so.

Chat squirmed around until her grip on him had loosened to the point that he could roll over and look at her. What was coming through the bond was muted by weariness, but she could make out concern mingled with curiosity. It was a relief to know that his earlier self-loathing had, at least for the time being, lessened.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, touching her cheek.

“I think so too. I just, you know, needed a moment,” Ladybug said.

He opened his mouth to apologize for falling asleep. She put a finger to his lips to silence him, but of course that didn’t work so well when you had a telepathic bond. Chat wrinkled his nose at her.

‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone to sleep like that,’ he thought.

Ladybug sighed. “Stop apologizing for things that aren’t your fault, you dumb cat,” she said crossly. “You needed that nap.”

“But you needed me,” he said, lips moving against her finger.

“And you were right here. With me. Doing exactly what I needed. Acting like my teddy bear,” Ladybug told him. “Sometimes a girl just needs time to freak out.” And have some potentially unkind thoughts about Chloé that Chat wouldn’t have to overhear.

His lips quirked up into a faint smile. “So I’m your teddy bear now?”

“More like a teddy kitty, I guess,” she said.

“I guess I can live with that,” Chat murmured. “I don’t really know what to do now.”

“We’re kind of a mess, aren’t we?” Ladybug said.

“Little bit,” he agreed.

She grabbed his right hand and laced their fingers together again. “You know I’m not scared of you, right? You get that?”

He nodded.

“Good. Because I’ll say it as much as I need to that it wasn’t your fault. But…” she trailed off.

“But?” Chat prompted, knowing that she had something she needed to say.

“I hope you’ll be more careful about trying to protect me,” she said bluntly. “Yeah, I know I’m the only who can purify the akuma blah blah blah. But what happens to you affects me too, okay? Focus less on protecting me and more on getting us bothout of the way.”

“I’ll still protect you if I can,” Chat said. “But yeah, okay, that seems like a fair compromise.”

She smiled then. Their heads were close together since they were sharing a pillow. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind that she would really like to know what kissing Chat felt like when she wasn’t trying to free him from being brainwashed, than Chat’s eyes had widened and he lifted his head to move towards her.

“Adrien? Are you in there?” Nathalie’s voice came through the door at the same time that she rapped sharply on it.

Ladybug practically levitated out of the bed in her panic. Chat’s eyes were bulging and frantic as he grabbed her arm and they sprinted towards the window. There was literally no time to swing away without being seen. They scrambled out onto the narrow ledge below Chat’s window and plastered themselves to the wall.

“Adrien?” Nathalie called again, this time opening the door.

She held her breath. Chat’s grip on her arm was so tight that his claws were pricking uncomfortably. Neither of them dared to move an inch. If Nathalie spotted them, they were screwed. There was no easy explanation for why Ladybug and Chat Noir were hanging out in Adrien Agreste’s bedroom. She crossed her fingers and toes for good measure and prayed that her ladybug luck would kick in.

There was a long, tense silence from above them. Then Nathalie said, “No sir, I thought I heard something but he’s not here. Perhaps he went to his fencing lesson after all. I’ll send -” Her voice cut off as she walked out and closed the bedroom door behind her.

‘Thank fuck,’ Chat thought shakily.

‘That was too close for comfort,’ Ladybug thought back. ‘Do you think she’s gone?’

Chat tipped his head back to listen. His hearing was superior to hers. ‘I think so,’ he thought. ‘But she might come back. We should go.’

Ladybug sidled closer and wrapped her arms around Chat’s neck. He gripped his baton in his left hand and sprang off the ledge, sending them both soaring over the fence. He didn’t stop, turning in the direction of Le Grand Paris. She wound her legs around his waist and held on.

Chloé was clearly waiting for them, because her balcony door were open. Chat’s baton touched down first; he lowered them slowly to the ground and let her slip down. She lingered, enjoying the close contact between them. Their faces were mere inches apart, almost close enough to -

“It’s about time!” Chloé exclaimed.

“Hi Chloé,” Chat said, resigned.

Ladybug slowly turned her head. “Hi Chloé.”

“I thought you’d changed your minds,” Chloé said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Of course not,” Chat said. He walked over to the door and into Chloé’s bedroom, as casual as though he did it all the time. Then again, Ladybug reflected, he probably did. Adrien and Chloé had spent a lot of time together.

She followed, pulling the balcony doors shut behind her. Chloé’s room was enormous. It was easily the same size of Adrien’s room, though more sparsely decorated. Ladybug didn’t see any video games or books, just a huge make-up country, a desk, and a walk-in closet. She caught a glimpse of clothes that made her fingers itch just to touch them.

“I want to see,” Chloé said abruptly, looking back and forth between them.

“We can’t,” Chat said immediately. “We can’t be seen.”

Chloé’s jaw tightened. Her arms slipped down to her waist, like she was hugging herself, and she said, “You think I’d record you?”

She was hurt by the unintentional implication,Ladybug realized, and found herself rushing to explain. “No, of course not, Chloé. It’s part of the magic that lets us be superheroes. If we detransform, someone else will know that we know each other’s identities and that you know. That wouldn’t be good.”

Chloé’s eyebrows furrowed. “Wait. You’re not supposed to know about each other?”

“Sadly, no. For safety reasons, it’s supposed to be a secret,” Chat told her. Anticipating her next question, he added, “They don’t know we’re soulmates.”

“I see,” Chloé said, somewhat mollified. “That sounds stupid.”

Ladybug gave a small grin. “I think there’s some reasoning behind it, but I also don’t disagree. Chat and I trying to hide from each other as well as everyone else would be needlessly complicated.”

“We’ll show you someday. As soon as we can,” Chat said. “But Chloé… in return…”

“I know. I can’t tell anyone,” Chloé interrupted with a wave of her hand.

“And you’re okay with that?” Ladybug asked before she could stop herself.

Chloé scoffed. “What, do you want Adrien to stop being your partner?” she asked sarcastically, putting a hand on her hip. “Because that’s what will happen if his dad finds out. He’ll freak.”

“Freak is an understatement. I’d be lucky if all he did was forbid me from doing this,” Chat muttered. Ladybug touched his arm instinctively, grounding him in the midst of a swell of bitter memories.

“Besides, it wouldn’t do me any good. Who would believe that klutzy Marinette Dupain-Cheng is Ladybug?” Chloé went on. “I’d be laughed off the streets.” She cocked an eyebrow at Ladybug challengingly. “Right?”

“Can’t argue with that,” Ladybug said mildly. After all, Chloé wasn’t actually wrong.

“I suppose I could even help with distractions when you two have to leave class to fight akumas,” Chloé went on. “For a small fee.”

“And what would that fee be?” Chat asked. He was deeply amused by this whole thing, which made Ladybug feel more comfortable.

At least, until Chloé glanced up at them and smirked. “Not much,” she said airily. “But it’ll be totally worth your while. Your excuses suck. Right now everyone thinks you skip class to go make out in the locker room.”

Forget comfortable. Ladybug promptly choked on her own saliva and burst into coughs. Beside her, Chat went bright red from the collar of his suit to his hairline. Chloe’s smirk broadened into an amused grin.

“I kinda figured that wasn’t the case, but you know. You can never be sure,” she said.

“We weren’t making out!” Ladybug squeaked between coughs, probably a little too loudly.

“Duh,” Chloé said.

“What do you want?” Chat asked, trying desperately to regain his composure. He deliberately avoided looking at Ladybug.

Chloé pulled her phone out of her pocket and held it up. “Fix your hair, Chat. Ladybug, touch up your lipgloss. It’s selfie time.”

Chapter Text

“A selfie,” Ladybug repeated in disbelief. “You’re serious.”

“Completely.” Chloé wiggled her phone.

“Okay,” Chat said with a shrug.

‘Seriously?’ Ladybug thought at him.

‘What can it hurt, Bugaboo?’ he thought back. ‘Frankly, if all Chloé wants is a couple of selfies in exchange for keeping our secret, we’re getting off lucky.’

‘But she could post them online!’ Ladybug thought.

‘So what if she does? Lots of people want selfies with us. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything special,’ Chat thought. ‘Come on. Please? This would mean a lot to Chloé.’ He batted his eyes, knowing that she was weak to the puppy - or rather, kitty eyes.

Ladybug groaned. “Okay, okay, fine. Give me your phone.” She held her hand out to Chloé.

“What? Whyeeeeek!” Chloé let out a startled shriek as Chat scooped her right off her feet.

Chat laughed. “Cat got your tongue, Chlo?” he asked, grinning into her shocked face. It wasn’t very often he got the chance to hold someone other than Ladybug outside of battle. Chloé felt absurdly light in his arms. He could’ve carried her for hours.

“You dumb alley cat,” Chloé said, disgruntled. “I hope Ladybug pulls your tail later.”

“Rude,” Chat said with a smirk. “Now put your arm around my neck and smile for the camera if you want your photo.”

Chloé grumbled something unflattering under her breath and spent several seconds fussing around with her hair and clothing, probably more out of spite than anything. Then she wrapped an arm around his shoulders and wiggled until she was propped up against him, then critically spent a few moments fussing around with his hair.

“It’s not a professional photo shoot!” Chat burst out finally.

“So you’re comfortable with your hair looking like you just got electrocuted? Okay then,” Chloé said, taking her hands away.

Chat frowned and looked at Ladybug. “Does it look that bad?”

“It looks… fine,” Ladybug said.

Chloé looked at her. “I sure hope you’re a better liar outside the costume than you are inside the costume, or your secret identity isn’t gonna last long.”

“Hey, give me some credit,” Ladybug said half-heartedly.

“Fine, keep going,” Chat said. He submitted to Chloé’s primping until both girls deemed him presentable.

“Alright, smile!” Ladybug said, holding up her phone.

Automatically, Chat smiled. It lasted all of two seconds before Chloé jabbed him in the ribs and Ladybug lowered the phone. Both girls were frowning at him.

“What now?” he asked.

“I don’t want your model smile, Adrikins,” Chloé said crossly. “I want your real smile.”

“My what?” Chat said, lost.

“You know. That smile you make in all your photoshoots. It’s totally fake and makes you look like you’re dying on the inside,” Chloé said.

“It never reaches your eyes,” Ladybug chimed in. “You can do way better than that.”

Chat looked from Chloé to Ladybug and back again before slowly realizing that he was screwed. In his quest to make Marinette and Chloé, if not friends, at least capable of standing in the same room without screaming at each other, he had unwittingly created a beast. There was no way the two of them together was going to end well for him.

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Ladybug said, shaking her head. “Smile, Chaton. It’s me and Chloé. You don’t need to hide from us, right Chloé?”

“Absolutely,” Chloé said. “I want a real smile. Don’t make me do this.” She pinched his cheeks and pulled, dragging his face into a huge, fake smile. Ladybug cracked up and Chat heard the click of the phone.

“Did you just take a picture?” he demanded, whipping his head around to face Ladybug.

“Yup,” she said, not even bothering to lie.

“My reputation is going to be ruined,” Chat lamented.

“What reputation? Everyone knows you’re a silly cat who is totally hung up on Ladybug,” Chloé said, and for the first time Chat didn’t detect any hurt or bitterness in her voice when she said that. He hoped that meant Chloé had move on.

He decided to play along, dramatically shaking his head. “And here I thought I’d managed to fool Paris into thinking I was cool.”

“You’ll never be that good of an actor,” Ladybug said, her eyes twinkling. “Now. Smile!”

This time, Chat reached past the automatic model smile and summoned up a real smile. Chloé smiled too. Ladybug’s face softened and she held up the phone again, taking a couple more pictures. Then she paused so that Chat could set Chloé down and wrap an arm around her waist. For the last picture, he extended his baton and did a cool pose while Chloé looked on with a raised eyebrow.

“There you go,” Chat said after the last picture was done, and Ladybug held the phone out to Chloé.

“Uh, no?” Chloé said. “I want selfies with Ladybug too. And at least one picture with both of you!”

Ladybug couldn’t contain her surprise. “Wait, you still want a selfie with me even though you know I’m Marinette?”

Chloé shrugged. “Other people don’t know that.”

Knowing that Ladybug wasn’t really sure how to respond to that, Chat gently took the phone. “I’ll take this. Go ahead. Pose.”

Ladybug and Chloé looked at each other like they were deers in headlights.

Chat coughed to cover up a laugh. “How about you show Chloé a yoyo trick, My Lady?” he suggested.

“Uh… okay,” Ladybug said slowly. She took her yoyo off her hip and gently threw it out with a flick of her wrist. The string formed the rough shape of a cat. Chloé’s mouth fell open. Chat quickly snapped a picture of the expression of absolute awe on Chloé’s face, then texted it to himself.

“What else can you do?” Chloé blurted out.

“You really wanna see?” Ladybug said, looking pleased. She did a couple more tricks. Chat took pictures of every one.

“Could I…” Chloé trailed off, her eyes fixed on Ladybug’s yoyo.

“Oh… sure.” Ladybug handed over the yoyo. Chloé held it like it was something precious, reverently running her fingers over the top of it just like Ladybug did when she was setting a purified butterfly free.

‘See? Chloé isn’t all bad,’ Chat thought. ‘She really admires Ladybug, you know.’

‘I didn’t know,’ Ladybug thought. Her emotions were conflicted, a mixture of awe, surprise, bitterness, and uncertainty, tempered by a thoughtfulness that ran deep and which Chat quickly lost track of.

“One last picture?” he said out loud.

“Good idea.” Ladybug stepped closer to Chloé and linked their arms together. “Ready?”

Chloé’s surprised expression melted into a pleased one. “Sure.”

They smiled at the camera. Chat snapped three photos and then joined them. He and Ladybug squeezed Chloé between them, making silly faces at the phone which Chat held up with his hand. Chloé tried to keep her expression straight, but she couldn’t help giggling when Chat stuck his tongue out and crossed his eyes.

The last photo, the one with all three of them dissolving into laughter, was definitely Chat’s favorite.

“Okay, okay, my parents are going to be wondering where I am,” Ladybug said, pulling away.

“Can I talk to you for a moment before you go?” Chloé said. She still held the yoyo, and she stared down at it intently.

“Sure,” Ladybug said.

“Alone,” Chloé said pointedly, eyeing Chat.

“You do remember we’re soulmates and I can hear everything,” Chat said.

“Chat,” Ladybug said, rolling her eyes. “Get out.”

“No respect for hardworking kitties,” Chat muttered, pretending to be more annoyed than he really was. He slunk out onto the balcony, pushing the door shut behind him. Then he sank down into the comfortable patio chair Chloé kept out there and turned all his attention onto the conversation happening inside.

“Is there something you wanted to ask me?” Ladybug was asking.

“Not really,” Chloé said. “I wanted… I should… I don’t…” She trailed off, and Chat took a quick peek through his lady’s eyes. Frustration was written all over Chloé’s face.

“Chloé?” Ladybug said uncertainly.

“I’msorryokay?” Chloé blurted out.

“You’re… what?” Ladybug said, flabbergasted.

“You heard me. I’m not saying it again,” Chloé said, crossing her arms over her chest.

Ladybug was full of shock and disbelief, which is probably why she said, “You’re only sorry because I’m Ladybug.”

“So?” Chloé said.

Ladybug opened and closed her mouth wordlessly. ‘She should be sorry for all the time she spent bullying me because it’s the right thing to do, not because I have magical earrings that turn me into a superhero!’ she thought.

Chat leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. ‘Take what you can get with Chloé,’ he thought. ‘This is way more than I expected out of her, honestly. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve heard Chloé apologize. Maybe someday Chloé will get to the point where she can be a good person just because it’s the right thing to do… but if you turn her down now, or make her feel bad, that won’t happen.’

‘Sometimes being a superhero sucks,’ Ladybug thought.

‘You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I know Chloé spent many years being terrible to you. You would be will within your rights to not want anything to do with her,’ Chat thought. ‘Don’t do it just for me, either.’ He didn’t want Ladybug pushing herself to be friendly towards Chloé.

Ladybug sighed and said, “I accept your apology, though I can’t say I’m entirely ready to forgive you yet. You’re a real bitch sometimes, Chloé.”

“I know,” Chloé said quietly, unrepentant.

“And it’s like Adrien said,” Ladybug went on. “I need to see you being nicer to everyone. Not just me, because I’m Ladybug. No more stunts like what you pulled with Juleka. You don’t have to be a saint, but you do have to recognize that there are other people in the world and that what you want isn’t always the most important thing.”

Chloé’s face did something complicated, but all she said was, “I’ll think about it. In the meantime, I have a request for you.”

“And what would that be?” Ladybug said warily.

“Keep Adrien safe,” Chloé said, holding the yoyo out.

Chat tensed in surprise.

“I know what he’s like. Unlike me, Adrien neverthinks about himself. He’s always putting other people first and he totally forgets about himself in the process. You’re the only one who can keep him safe out there,” Chloé finished, dropping the yoyo into Ladybug’s hand.

“I will,” Ladybug said softly. “Goodbye, Chloé.”

Ladybug joined him a moment later. Her emotions were running high, but Chat was having difficulty interpreting her feelings. He couldn’t tell if leaving her alone to talk to Chloé had been a good thing or not, and he was a little afraid that it hadn’t been - but then she smiled at him and held out a hand.

“My Lady?” he asked, taking her hand.

“Come along, mon minou. It’s time we went home,” she said.

Bemused, Chat let her pull him up. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ladybug said, still with that odd little smile. “Just one last thing.” She grabbed his shoulders, leaned in, and planted a full kiss on his mouth. Chat barely got the chance to kiss her back before she pulled away, her cheeks pink, shouted a good-bye and jumped off the balcony.

Chapter Text

‘So you’re telling me Plagg hasn’t said anything to you?’ Marinette thought. She snuck a quick glance over at Tikki and tried to imagine Tikki staying quiet if she had been the one to witness Adrien and Chloé. She couldn’t.

‘Nope. I’ve been waiting for him to bring it up, but it’s been four days and he hasn’t said a word,’ Adrien thought back. ‘I mean… he was eating cheese at the time. Sometimes I think the house could burn down and Plagg wouldn’t notice if he was eating cheese.’

Marinette giggled, then hastily bit her lip. Luckily, she’d had the forethought to prop her phone on her knees and open up tumblr before she and Adrien started chatting mentally. Tikki didn’t even bother to look up from where she was dozing in a pile of scrap fabrics. Still, Marinette ducked her shoulders and straightened out her expression.

‘I guess we got lucky. We’ll have to be more careful in the future,’ she thought. ‘At least until we figure out what we’re gonna do.’

‘I know. I’m -’

‘Don’t,’ Marinette thought, exasperated. ‘I warned you if you apologized one more time I’d steal your belt tail and hide it, and I meant it.’

Adrien chuckled. ‘I remember, but you wouldn’t leave this poor tomcat without a tail, would you?’

‘Keep pushing me and see,’ Marinette thought teasingly as her phone buzzed. She glanced at the screen and saw that it was Alya.

‘Uh oh,’ Adrien thought.

‘What? What’s wrong?’ Marinette thought, confused. She made the mistake of hitting the call button before she could figure out what was on Adrien’s mind. Unintelligible shrieking blasted out of the phone’s speakers. Marinette recoiled so fast she hit her head against the wall; Tikki jumped about a foot off the desk with an alarmed squeak.

“What the - Alya, is that you? What’s wrong?” Marinette cried over the shrieking, wincing.

The shrieking stopped. There was a beat of silence before Alya hissed, “What’s wrong? WHAT’S WRONG? Have you looked at Chloé’s Instagram lately?!”

“Uhhh….” Marinette said, watching as a very annoyed Tikki picked herself up off the desk and flew over to Marinette.

‘Chloé posted the pictures we took,’ Adrien thought. ‘I just got the notification about thirty seconds ago.’

Ah. Marinette sighed and brought up Chloé’s Instagram to see for herself. A small smile tugged at her lips as she saw the photos again. At Adrien’s request, Chloé had sent them all to Adrien and Adrien had sent them all to Marinette. But Marinette couldn’t really look at them when Tikki or anyone else was around, so this was her first chance to really see them.

They looked good if she did say so herself. Chloé had only posted seven of the pictures. Two were of Chloé and Chat, two of Ladybug and Chloé, two of the three of them together, and one -

“Oh my god!” Marinette screamed.

‘Oh shit,’ Adrien thought.

“I can’t believe that bitch got a picture of Ladybug and Chat Noir kissing before I did!” Alya bellowed into the phone.

Speechless, Marinette stared at the screen in absolute horror. Obviously, Chloé had followed Ladybug out onto the balcony and witnessed the quick kiss between her and Chat. Mercifully, the picture wasn’t of their actual kiss. But Ladybug was pretty damn close to Chat Noir in the picture, and their expressions made it blatantly obvious what they’d been up to.

“I - they aren’t actually kissing,” Marinette said weakly, not daring to look over at Tikki.

“It’s close enough! They even took selfies with her, Marinette! Selfies!” Alya was furious. “Why would they take selfies with her when they could take them with me? Why would they give her such a huge scoop?!”

‘Figure out a way to call Chloé right now and ask her what the hell she was thinking,’ Marinette thought to Adrien.

‘On it,’ he thought back. ‘I’ll tell Plagg I’m taking a shower. He hates water.’

“Alya, I’m sure Ladybug and Chat Noir had their reasons,” Marinette said as calmly as she could. “Maybe Chloé helped them out with an akuma or something like that.”

“You think Chloé helped them?” Alya said in tones of great disbelief.

“It could happen,” Marinette said. She looked at the pictures again and realized that she probably should’ve seen something like this coming.

Chloé had promised to keep quiet about the fact that Adrien and Marinette were soulmates, and about their identities, but they hadn’t thought to ask her to not say anything about…. well, about anything else. Marinette put a hand to her forehead, feeling a headache forming. In all fairness, Chloé probably hadn’t thought it was a big deal because no one else knew who they were. What difference did it make if Paris found out that Ladybug and Chat Noir might be dating?

But one person, or rather, one kwami definitely didknow. Said kwami also knew that Marinette and Adrien were dating right now. Said kwami was currently burning a hole in the side of Marinette’s face. She pretended not to notice, locking her phone and lifting it to her ear.

“I don’t believe it,” Alya declared. “I bet she blackmailed them.”

“Alya,” Marinette said. “I really don’t think that’s the case.”

“It’s the only explanation that makes sense! You just wait until the next akuma battle. I am going to get an even bigger scoop than Chloé,” Alya vowed. “I won’t let the Ladyblog fall behind her!”

Marinette felt a chill of foreboding run down her spine. “What do you mean? Please don’t do anything stupid! Alya? Alya!” She pulled her phone away from her ear and groaned when she saw that Alya had hung up.

“So,” Tikki said. “Chat Noir and Ladybug, huh?”

“Ugh, Tikki! Please,” Marinette moaned, falling backwards on the bed and covering her face. Her mind raced, searching for a suitable explanation. Adrien wasn’t any help. He was as frantic as she was.

“Marinette, what’s going on?” Tikki said severely.

There was only one thing she could say. “I can’t figure out if I’m in love with Adrien or Chat Noir,” she blurted out. “But I didn’t kiss Chat, I swear. I wouldn’t do that to Adrien.”

Tikki was quiet for several seconds, to the point where Marinette got nervous and rolled onto her side to see what Tikki was doing. She realized that Tikki was staring at her with an intense, scrutinizing expression. Marinette did her best not to crack under the pressure, meeting Tikki’s stare even though she couldn’t figure out what Tikki was thinking.

Technically, it wasn’t completely a lie. She had kissed Chat, but it was with Adrien’s full knowledge and approval.

Finally, Tikki sighed. “Oh, Marinette. You are tangling yourself in a very complicated web,” she said at last.

“I know,” Marinette said guiltily. Adrien, quiet in the back of her mind, winced.

“I won’t pretend that I understand where you’re coming from,” Tikki said, crossing her paws over her chest. “But you should know that it would be dangerous if Hawkmoth knew you were dating Chat Noir. He would try to use you two against each other. You are safer with Adrien.”

“You make a good point,” Marinette said quickly, nodding.

‘You hear that?’ she thought to Adrien. ‘No more kissing in the suit, I guess. At least, not where sneaky blondes can see us.’

‘I heard,’ Adrien thought. ‘Chloé didn’t pick up, but she texted me to say she didn’t see what the big deal was.’

‘Yeah, I figured that’s where she was coming from,’ Marinette thought. She avoided Tikki’s gaze and rolled back over, unlocking her phone again. She scrolled slowly through the pictures.

‘It really is a good picture,’ Adrien thought.

Marinette smiled slightly. He wasn’t wrong. In the photo, Ladybug had her hands on Chat’s shoulders and was partially up on the tips of her toes. Chat’s eyes were wide in surprise, while Ladybug had a small smile on her face. The way they were looking at each other made Marinette feel all tingly. No wonder Alya had jumped to the (correct) conclusion that they had just kissed.

‘Looks like Ladybug was really rocking Chat’s world,’ she thought back.

Adrien flushed. ‘Well, to me it looks like Ladybug jumped Chat when he wasn’t expecting it.’

‘I didn’t jump you,’ Marinette objected. ‘I was just… frustrated. People kept interrupting us! First Nathalie, then Chloé… you can’t be mad at a girl for that.’

‘Mad? It was the very opposite, My Lady. You can jump me anytime,’ Adrien thought. He was laughing.

‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ Marinette thought, biting her lip to hold back her smile. She set her phone down and sighed, carefully directing her attention away when she sensed Adrien getting into the shower for real. It was times like this that soulmate connections could get awkward.

“Marinette?” Tikki said.

Marinette rolled onto her back. “Yeah?”

Tikki flew over and settled onto Marinette’s chest. “You’re a really good Ladybug. I hope you know that. I know that it’s not always easy for you, and that having to hide your secret identity is difficult. If you really love Chat, and you want to be with him, then maybe that can happen someday. I’m just trying to keep you safe in the meantime.”

Marinette softened. “I know you are, Tikki. Thank you.” She craned her neck until she could kiss the top of Tikki’s head. “It’s just a crush, that’s all. I’ll try to be more careful, and I’ll work harder on keeping things professional between me and Chat.”

“I really think that would be best,” Tikki said. “Especially since you have Adrien. He’s such a nice boy.”

“Yeah, he is,” Marinette said quietly, her guilt deepening. She hated keeping secrets from Tikki, and she knew Adrien hated keeping secrets from Plagg just as much. If they could just get a straight answer about what would happen if they knew who the other was!

But no matter how often they asked, neither Plagg nor Tikki would tell them what they wanted to hear. Marinette forced a smile and grabbed her phone again, closing out of Instagram in favor of opening up Netflix. She put on a mindless show to distract both Tikki and herself, but it didn’t work very well.

“Hey, look,” Tikki said, pulling Marinette’s wandering attention back to the screen. “You got a notification about a new panther exhibit at the zoo. You and Adrien should go!”

“The zoo?” Marinette said, tapping on the notification. She scanned the page. “Like as a date?”

Tikki nodded. “You two don’t get much time together, and his father can’t argue because the zoo is such an educatonal place. But it’ll be a great chance for you two to spend some time alone!”

A brilliant thought struck Marinette and she grinned. “Actually, Tikki, I don’t think Adrien and I need time alone. I think we need a double date.”

Chapter Text

Adrien swallowed as the car pulled up out in front of the school’s gates. Marinette’s expectation was a heavy weight. His stomach fluttered with nerves when he saw that Nino was standing there as per usual, waiting for him. Nino grinned at him as Adrien climbed out of the car.

“Hey Dude!”

“I think we should go to the zoo after school!” Adrien blurted out. He was pretty sure he heard the Gorilla snort. He frowned and shut the door, watching as the car sped away. Okay, that hadn’t exactly been smooth, but at least he’d asked.

Mon minou, that was the very opposite of smooth,’ Marinette thought dryly.

‘Shut up,’ Adrien thought back, pouting.

“You want to go to the zoo?” Nino repeated, looking a little baffled.

Adrien nodded. “They have a new panther exhibit. I already asked my dad and he said yes.”

“Your dad said yes?” Nino seemed more amazed by this than anything. “Seriously?”

“I told him how educational it would be for me to see animals in person. I’ve never been,” Adrien confessed. “My Chinese language got canceled tonight because my instructor is sick, so the alternative was me going home to watch anime. It was pretty funny how quickly he cracked and said yes.”

“Niiiiiiice,” Nino said. “But wouldn’t you rather go with Mari?”

“She’s coming too! So is Alya,” Adrien said, aiming hard for nonchalant.

Nino narrowed his eyes. “Alya too, huh?”

‘He’s onto you! Act innocent!” Marinette thought, a little panicked. Adrien calmed her, smiling at Nino.

“Well, yeah. Alya is my friend. Or at least, I think she is,” he said, realizing that he’d never actually clarified that with Alya.

“Of course she is,” Nino said quickly. “I just thought you and Marinette might want some time alone, that’s all. It’ll be awkward with me and Alya tagging along.”

“Mari and I get lots of time alone. I want to spend time with all my friends,” Adrien said. “But if you don’t want to come, I understand.” He sighed, looking downcast.

“No! No, I can make it. Who knows? I might even learn something.” Nino chuckled and nudged Adrien in the ribs. “Right after school, you said? Tell me you’re planning to pig out on junk food for dinner.”

“You know it,” Adrien said with a grin.

‘Mission accomplished,’ he thought to Marinette.

‘Great job!’ she thought happily. ‘Alya and I are walking to school together. I’ll ask her on my way.’

‘Good luck,’ Adrien thought. He didn’t envy Marinette. Alya was way more suspicious than Nino was and would have way more questions.

He followed Nino into the school, blatantly eavesdropping on the girl’s conversation. Naturally, Alya was incredibly curious to know why she and Nino were being invited along on Adrien’s and Marinette’s date. Marinette demurred as much as she could, but Alya wasn’t easily swayed by the thought that Adrien and Marinette got plenty of time alone. Everyone knew how busy Adrien’s schedule was.

‘Help!’ Marinette thought as she and Alya approached the school. ‘She won’t stop quizzing me. This is never going to work if we can’t get Alya to come. She totally knows what we’re trying to do.’

‘We’re in the classroom,’ Adrien thought, which of course Marinette already knew. He could feel them approaching and geared himself up.

The door slid open and Alya walked in, followed by Marinette. Even without their soul bond, Adrien would’ve been able to tell how badly Marinette was struggling. Her eyes were practically screaming for an interference, not that Adrien could blame her. Alya was in full journalist mode. He almost hated to speak up and bring the full force of her curiosity onto him.

But, faithful to the end, he put himself in the line of fire for his lady.

“Hey Alya, are you coming to the zoo with us after school?” he asked.

Alya’s head snapped around to him. “You sure you want me to? Seems kinda weird you’d want Nino and me around cramping your style.”

Adrien cocked his head with his best innocent expression. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. I just wanted to spend an afternoon with all of my friends, but I get that the zoo isn’t that interesting to everyone. I mean, I’ve never been before. It would be my first time and everything.” He sighed loudly. “But it’s okay if you don’t wanna.”

“Oh,” Alya said, visibly softening. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. The four of us never get to hang out!” Adrien said. He could see Marinette trying not to laugh over Alya’s shoulder.

‘Kitty, you are a fantastic manipulator,’ she thought.

“Well… okay,” Alya said, walking around Nino’s desk to go up to her own desk. It didn’t escape Adrien’s notice that Nino and Alya barely looked at each other, but that was possibly because Nino was turning to stare at him.

“Dude,” Nino said. “You totally played both me and Alya, didn’t you? What are you up to?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Adrien said breezily, turning back to his work. He heard Marinette giggle as she passed his desk and grinned down at his notebook. He was pretty sure that both Alya and Nino suspected what was going on, but he also knew that both of them would show up anyway. Nino because he was a good friend, and Alya because, if nothing else, her sense of curiosity would drive her crazy otherwise.

The school day dragged by. Adrien really was excited about spending time with his friends, and when the bell finally rang he leaped out of his seat. Nino, Alya and Marinette all laughed at him as he grabbed his gear and rushed over to the door. They followed him outside; the zoo was only about a fifteen minute walk away so they had all agreed upon walking.

Adrien fell into step beside Nino, while Marinette and Alya walked ahead of them. He shoved his hands in his pockets and smiled happily as he listened to Nino talk about music. Sensing his emotion, Marinette peeked over her shoulder at him and winked. Adrien grinned back at her.

‘I sure hope you’ve got a plan,’ he thought.

‘Of course! We can walk around for a little while together, but then we’re going into one of the movies. We can slip away from Alya and Nino in there,’ Marinette thought.

‘And how do you know the two of them will stay get together?’ Adrien thought.

Marinette frowned. ‘Uh… shoot. I didn’t think about that. It would be just like Alya to ditch Nino out of pure stubbornness. This might be harder than I thought.’

‘I’m sure you’ll think of something,’ Adrien thought reassuringly. Marinette’s plans were always the best.

When they got to the zoo, they each paid the small fee and walked inside. Adrien picked up the booklet that had a map of the zoo on it and slowly flipped through, growing intrigued as he saw all of the animal exhibits that were available. There were so many of them! He would’ve said he didn’t know where to start, but -

“The panther first, right?” Alya said. She jabbed her finger at the map. “It says we have to walk towards the center.”

“For someone who didn’t want to come, you’re awfully excited,” Marinette said slyly.

“Panthers are cool,” Alya said, hitching her backpack higher. She took the lead this time. Adrien reached over and took Marinette’s hand, which earned him a shy smile and a squeeze.

He was literally just starting to relax and think that it was going to be a great afternoon when Adrien heard the sound of someone screaming. He tensed up immediately, eyes darting around. Marinette had a similar reaction. Nino chuckled at them and pointed over to where a little girl was screaming with excitement over seeing a bunch of monkeys.

“Paranoid much?” Nino said.

“It’s Paris. You can never be -”

Marinette was cut off when someone else screamed. And this time it was not the happy kind of screaming. Adrien just barely managed to yank her to the side to avoid both of them getting trampled as several people raced by them. Following closely behind the group was a - Adrien blinked, just barely stopping himself from rubbing his eyes.

“Was that a wolf?” Marinette gasped.

“Akuma!” Alya exclaimed, lighting up. “Yes! That means Ladybug and Chat Noir here! I can get my pictures!” She took off in the direction the people had come from.

“Alya, wait!” Nino shouted, running after her.

‘Guess that’s our cue,’ Marinette thought glumly.

Right. Adrien cleared his throat. “I’ll, uh, go find a place to hide.”

“Me too,” Marinette said awkwardly.

They looked at each other for a moment, then parted ways. Adrien ran towards a small stand that sold ice cream. The seller had abandoned it. He ducked behind it and opened up his jacket. Plagg emerged, yawning loudly.

“Do we have to?” he whined.

“Yeah, we do. Claws out!” Adrien whispered. Chat popped back up and raced towards the direction the screaming was coming from. He was swiftly joined by Ladybug.

“Hi Chaton,” she said, as though they hadn’t just seen each other literally moments ago.

“My Lady. Funny meeting you here,” Chat said brightly.

“Yeah, imagine that,” Ladybug said, rolling her eyes. “Let’s get this over with quickly, okay? My boyfriend and I have plans that do not involve an akuma.”

Chat was tempted to ask her about those plans, but then they caught sight of the akuma. It was a black panther with glowing purple eyes, and it had Max and Kim cornered. He hit the ground and aimed his baton, knocking the akuma away from their classmates. Ladybug rushed over to them and he knew she was getting them to safety, but he was more concerned with the panther.

“I’m afraid Paris is only big enough for one black cat,” Chat said, scooping his baton off the ground.

The akuma snarled. “Guess that means I’ll have to destroy you.”

It leaped at Chat and he squeaked, flinging himself out of the way. Razor sharp claws came within an inch of raking across the back of his suit. He caught his balance and swung around, just barely bringing his baton up in time. The akuma was fasttoo, to the point where Chat was breathing hard as he dodged and tried to get in a few blows of his own.

Ladybug’s yoyo appeared suddenly, wrapping the akuma up from head to toe. Chat had exactly enough time to feel a spark of victory before the akuma shimmered bright purple and morphed into an eagle. The akuma cawed loudly before taking to the sky. Chat watched it go with an open mouth.

“Okay, that is so not fair,” Ladybug said. “Chat, run!” She grabbed his arm and pulled as a bunch of animals staring charging at them.

‘This is not good,’ Chat thought as he ran. ‘What do we do?’

‘You find Kim and Max. I’ll deal with Nino and Alya, then meet you,’ Ladybug thought back.

Nino and Alya? He followed her gaze and saw their friends being chased by a gorilla. Ladybug changed direction, leaving the herd to follow Chat; there was no time or space for him to find Kim without leading the herd straight there. So he leaped straight up, landing atop a tree, and watched in amusement as Ladybug scooped up Alya and Nino and dropped them in the gorilla enclosure. She then slammed the door on them, ignoring Alya’s completely outraged expression.

‘You know, you can never tell Alya that you’re Ladybug now. She’ll kill you,’ Chat thought. He looked around, but the animals had run right past the tree and was now charging down one of the paths in the distance.

‘Focus, Kitty! Now come on. We gotta find Kim!’ Ladybug thought back, but not even her stern words could hide her delight.

‘At least one of your plans worked today,’ Chat thought, jumping down to join her.

Ladybug grinned breathlessly. ‘All of my plans are gonna work, just wait and see.’

Chapter Text

“Okay, I’m at the point in my life where I think Hawmoth is cheating and I don’t like it,” Ladybug said, crossing her arms over her chest. “A T-Rex? Seriously? That’s not fair.”

Chat landed behind her. “I think we should wrap this up before Animan gets any other clever ideas,” he said. “Got any ideas?”

“Just one. Lucky Charm!” Ladybug called out, throwing her yoyo in the air. She blinked in confusion as a red, black-spotted car jack landed in her hands. She and Chat exchanged baffled looks, and then Chat shrugged. Ladybug sighed and started looking around, but she couldn’t see anything that made sense to her. It wasn’t like there were any vehicles in the area.

“Okay, well, let’s try again while you’re figuring it out,” Chat suggested. “I’ll distract him and you grab the bracelet?”

“Works for me,” Ladybug said, tucking the car jack beneath her arm. Someday, she was going to have to have a chat with Tikki about the increasingly bizarre nature of the Lucky Charms she was getting. There was bound to be a battle where trying to figure out how to use her Charm cost them precious time.

It took some effort, but Chat managed to get the bracelet away from the akuma. But no sooner had he crowed in victory and, since he was closer, leaped down to grab it than Animan lurched forward. Chat just barely missed being chopped in half by Animan’s sizeable teeth. Ladybug’s heart stopped as her partner stumbled and rolled away, looking shaken.

In a flash, she realized that she knew what to do. Those teeth were a huge problem, so she had to take them out of the equation and the car jack was the perfect way to do it. Without hesitating, she threw herself at the akuma. Animan snarled and opened up its mouth to attack - which was exactly what she wanted. The teeth closed around her.

“Ladybug!” Chat screamed; it was as much a mental cry as it was physical, and the combination of pure fear and anguish that hit Ladybug seconds later made her light-headed.

‘I’m okay!’ she thought, pushing the thought at Chat as hard as she could. She rolled onto her back, trying not to dwell on the fact that she was essentially laying on a ginormous, slimy tongue, and jammed the car jack into the bottom of Animan’s jaw. She cranked it up, forcing Animan’s mouth open.

The akuma snarled in frustration and fury as Ladybug rolled out of its mouth. The first thing she saw was Chat’s horrified expression. She wanted to rush over and hug him comfortingly, but first things first. She grabbed the bracelet from the ground and easily broke the charm. The purple akuma fluttered up past her face.

“Oh no you don’t,” she said under her breath. “I free you from evil! Gotcha! Bye bye, little butterfly.” She seized her Charm and threw it up in the air, adding, “Miraculous Ladybug!”

Red light spiralled off in all directions, repairing the damage and returning the animals back to where they’d come from. Ladybug was shocked to see the akuma turn back into Otis Cèsaire, Alya’s father. Now she was more glad than ever that she had decided to lock Nino and Alya up in that cage. Alya would’ve been right there in the thick of things if she’d known that the akuma was her own father.

“Ladybug…” Chat whispered behind her. The next thing she knew, his arms were around her and he was hugging her desperately.

“I’m fine, Chaton,” Ladybug said gently, patting his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I thought…” Chat couldn’t bring himself to finish, instead squeezing her harder. “I mean, I knew you weren’t because I could still feel you, but I still -”

“I know,” she murmured. His miraculous beeped, followed shortly by hers. She glanced at his ring and saw that he only had two pads left.

“I have to go,” Chat said, but he didn’t let her go.

‘Go,’ she thought. ‘We can meet up again as soon as we both detransform, I promise.’

He didn’t want to go, but he knew he had to. Chat reluctantly released her, keeping his eyes on her until the very last second. Ladybug pushed as much comfort and reassurance through the bond as she could, keeping up the constant stream of emotion even as she turned to face Otis. Like most akumatized victims, the man looked dazed.

“What happened to me?” he asked.

“You got akumatized, but everything is okay now. You should get back to the zoo to make sure your animals are alright too,” Ladybug told him. She threw her yoyo out and zipped away without waiting for him to respond; normally she would spend a few more minutes with him, but Chat needed her.

She made her way back to the zoo and dropped down into a safe place just in time for her transformation to run out. Tikki appeared next to her. Marinette smiled at her kwami and opened up her purse, showing off the chocolate chip cookies inside. Tikki beamed and dove into her purse. Marinette clasped it shut and stood up, making her way out of the bushes.

“Marinette!” That was the only warning she got before Adrien raced over and threw himself on her.

“Adrien!” she said, hugging him back.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” he whispered, sounding like he was going to cry.

“I was hiding in the bushes. I don’t think the akuma even knew I was there,” Marinette said for Tikki’s benefit. He didn’t even bother to answer her out loud, but instead held her tighter.

‘You scared me to death,’ he thought.

‘Sorry, Kitty. It was the only way to get the job done,’ Marinette thought back. Though, if she was being honest with herself, she was glad that for once she had been the one to risk it all instead of Chat. She could only stand back and watch her boyfriend sacrifice himself so many times before it got old.

‘If this is how you feel when I do it, then I’m sorry,’ Adrien thought.

Marinette smiled and kissed his cheek. ‘Don’t be sorry. I’d just prefer if you didn’t do it anymore,’ she thought.

She held him for several minutes, just enjoying the feeling of being close to her soulmate, until Adrien finally pulled away. His eyes were a little glassy, but he was able to smile back at her. She took his hand, lacing their fingers together, and gave it a squeeze.

“Come on. We better go find Alya and Nino. I bet they’re worried about us,” she said.

“Oh my gosh, Alya and Nino. I completely forgot about them!” Adrien exclaimed. “Where should we look first?”

“I think we lost them around the gorilla cage,” Marinette said, trying to keep a straight face. “I’ll send Alya a text to meet us there.”

She did just that, and then she and Adrien cut through the zoo towards the gorilla cage. Marinette glanced around as they went and was relieved to see that all the animals were back in their cages where they belonged, including the gorillas. She wouldn’t have envied the zookeepers if the miraculous cure hadn’t accomplished that.

“Marinette! Adrien!” Alya called.

“Hey Dudes!” Nino shouted.

“Alya! Are you guys okay?” Marinette said, hugging Alya when she approached.

“I’m fine,” Alya said, hugging Marinette back. “Where did you guys go? I turned around and you were gone!”

“I think I got separated from you in the mayhem. I hid in some bushes,” Marinette told them.

Adrien shrugged. “Ladybug saved me,” he lied. “She put me somewhere safe while the animals were running around.”

“She did the same thing to us,” Nino said.

“Which means I didn’t get my pictures!” Alya said, stomping her foot in frustration. “I didn’t get anything. She locked Nino and I up in the gorilla cage together.”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll get lots of pictures next time,” Marinette said comfortingly, patting Alya on the shoulder. Trust Alya to be more mad about the lack of pictures over anything else.

“I don’t suppose either of you got any footage?” Alya said hopefully.

Marinette and Adrien exchanged a look before Marinette shook her head. “Sorry. I’m not like you; I was too busy trying not to draw attention to myself.”

“Same,” Adrien said.

“Shoot!” Alya sighed loudly and shoved her phone into her pocket. “What a waste of an akuma.”

“But not a wasted afternoon,” Nino said with a smirk, and, much to Marinette’s amazement, Alya actually blushed.

‘Whoa, did you see that?’ she thought to Adrien.

‘Something obviously happened,’ he thought back.

‘I need details! Distract Nino!’ she thought.

“Hey, I’m starving after all that. Wanna grab some food?” Adrien said to Nino.

“Sure! This is your chance to eat whatever you want,” Nino said. “Want anything?” He looked at Alya.

“I’ll take an ice cream,” Alya said.

“Adrien knows what I want,” Marinette said absently.

“Be right back,” Adrien said. The boys walked away. Marinette immediately grabbed Alya’s shoulders.

“Not a wasted afternoon?! What does that mean?” she demanded.

Alya laughed a little, looking embarrassed. “Um, well… when Ladybug locked us up together, we got to talking. I mean, we were locked up for over three hours. It turns out Nino and I have a lot more in common than I ever realized.”

“Really?” Marinette said, delighted. “So does that mean…?”

“Mean what? That we’re taking down our shields?” Alya shook her head. “No way. I need to know Nino way better than I do right now before I even thinkabout letting him into my head.”

“That’s fair, I guess,” Marinette said. “But you aregoing to get to know him better?”

Alya nodded. “I think so. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with him, maybe even going on a few dates. We talked and agreed that we’d proceed as though we were friends who didn’t have a soulmate bond. If things go well, then maybe I’d consider taking down a few shields.”

“I’m so excited for you!” Marinette squealed, pulling Alya into another hug.

“Thanks,” Alya said, giggling. “I guess I have Ladybug to thank… and you too.”

“Me? Why me?” Marinette said, startled.

“Oh, please. Don’t even try to pretend like you and Adrien didn’t lure me and Nino here with the intention of sneaking off on your own, leaving me and Nino to spend time together,” Alya said.

“I would never do that,” Marinette lied.

“Sure you wouldn’t. I was planning to stick to you like glue just to make sure you couldn’t do that. So I guess you should thank Ladybug too,” Alya said. “She played right into your plan without even knowing it!”

“Guess we’re all lucky that way,” Marinette said, relieved that Alya wasn’t annoyed. If anything, her friend looked happier than Marinette had seen her for a long time. She crossed her fingers, hoping that this was just the beginning of Nino and Alya eventually developing an amazing connection just like the one that she and Adrien shared.

“Now come on. I may not have been able to get pictures of Ladybug and Chat Noir, but I can at least get some of the animals here!” Alya said, grabbing Marinette’s arm. Marinette laughed and let her friend drag her away.

Chapter Text

Adrien glanced at his bedroom door, listening carefully. He couldn’t hear anything from the hallway, but that didn’t always mean much. Nathalie could be pretty sneaky when she wanted to be. Still, after a couple minutes went by with no changes, he cracked the door and peeked out. There was no one in the hallway and he still couldn’t hear anything.

“Okay, Plagg, I think we’re good to go,” he said softly, easing the door shut. Last week he’d recorded himself practicing the piano for a solid three hours. That gave him plenty of time to get to Trocadéro, watch Alix and Kim have their race, hang out with his friends for a little while, and then make it back home before anyone realized he was gone. He locked his door and switched the music on.

“You know, you could also choose to stay home and sleep for the afternoon,” Plagg hinted.

“Don’t be lazy. I’m not even going out to fight an akuma. I’ll be detransforming as soon as I hit the ground,” Adrien said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll even give you a chunk of cheese for the effort.”

Plagg visibly perked up. “By cheese, do you happen to mean that expensive Swiss cheese you bought?”

“Sure,” Adrien said. That cheese had cost him a fortune, but he’d purchased it for occasions just such as this - when he needed to bribe his kwami to cooperate with what Adrien wanted to do. He walked over to the fridge and pulled the bag out. He’d asked the clerk at the shop to cut it up into smaller, kwami-sized pieces. Adrien took two from the bag and waved it around.

“I guess I could be persuaded to transform for a little while,” Plagg said, his eyes glued to the cheese.

“I figured you’d see it my way. Plagg, claws out!” Adrien called out. Green light swirled over him.

Chat strode over to the window and propped it open, letting a rush of cool air into the air. He hopped up on the edge and thrust his baton against the floor, pushing the button to extend it at the same time. The momentum propelled him forward over the fence that surrounded the Agreste mansion and onto the building next door.

‘Shit, you’re leaving? I am running so late,’ Marinette thought.

‘You haven’t left yet?’ Chat thought back, even though he knew she hadn’t. ‘Want me to swing by and pick you up?’

‘I wish you could, believe me. It would be way faster,’ Marinette thought. ‘I totally forgot my parents are going out for their anniversary. I’ve only got like thirty minutes before Nadja Chamack comes to pick up a cake.’

He dropped down into an alley a few blocks away from his house, but didn’t detransform just yet. Instead, he thought, ‘Why not drop the cake off to Madame Chamack on your way to the race? Wouldn’t that be easier?’

‘I… didn’t think of that,’ Marinette thought. ‘But that’s actually a really good idea. I can swing by the tv station, detransform, give her the cake, then keep going. It won’t even take me out of my way. Thank you, Chaton!’

‘Admit it, you just keep me around for my good ideas,’ he thought with a grin.

‘Well, you have to earn your keep somehow,’ she teased.

Chat snorted. “Plagg, claws in.”

“Where’s my cheese?” Plagg demanded the instant he was free.

“Here you go, as promised.” Adrien handed over the cheese, feeling the distinct tingle in the back of his head that meant Marinette was transforming. He estimated that she’d probably be a few minutes late, depending on how easy it was for her to find Nadja.

“Oh, that’s heaven.” Plagg moaned exaggeratedly as he tossed one of the chunks into his mouth and chewed loudly.

“Just hurry and hide. I have to go,” Adrien said, stepping towards the mouth of the alley. Plagg scarfed down the second piece and flew over to him, disappearing into Adrien’s overshirt.

He walked to Trocadéro, humming quietly under his breath, and met up with Juleka and Rose on the way there. Adrien walked the rest of the way with them, listening to their chatter. Alya, Nino, Kim, Max, and Nathaniel were already there, waiting on everyone else to arrive. Adrien joined Alya and Nino, who were ignoring Kim’s boasting and talking.

“I don’t know. I texted her but she hasn’t answered,” Alya was saying.

“Texted who?” Adrien asked.

“Marinette. She was supposed to bring that banner for Alix, remember?” Alya said.

Adrien remembered the banner only by virtue of his soulmate bond with Marinette, and the fact that Marinette had spent several hours agonizing over getting the banner just right. He nodded at Alya and said, “I talked to Marinette already. She had to do a quick delivery for her parents and then she was coming right over.”

“Oh good. I was worried she might have forgotten,” Alya said. “But that’s okay. Alix isn’t here yet either.”

‘I’m getting close!’ Ladybug thought. ‘Just dropped the cake off and I’m heading your way.’

“I’m sure they’ll both be here soon. No way would Alix miss this race,” Adrien said. He watched as the rest of their classmates, minus Marinette and Alix, joined them. Even Sabrina and Chloé were there.

Nino snorted. “It’s like the only thing she’s been talking about for the past week. It doesn’t really matter who wins. We’re never going to hear the end of it.”

“You’ll survive,” Alya said dryly.

“Thanks Babe,” Nino said, rolling his eyes, and Adrien almost choked. That was new.

Marinette and Alix came running up at the same time. Adrien held an arm out and steadied Marinette as she leaned against him, gasping. Alix immediately sat down and started pulling on her roller skates. As she stood up with Max’s help, she pulled something out of her pocket and thrust it into Alya’s hands.

“Hold onto this for me, okay?” she said.

“Wait, Alix, I want to film the race!” Alya said.

“It’s a family heirloom, so guard it with your life!” Alix called, ignoring Alya as she skated over to where Max and Kim were waiting. Max counted them down and then jumped out of the way as Alix and Kim took off.

Alya made a sound of frustration as the two competitors started. She held her phone up, but Adrien could tell that holding it with just one hand wasn’t giving her the stability she needed. Looking annoyed, Alya turned to Marinette.

“Here, Marinette, hold this,” she said, dropping the object into Marinette’s hands.

“But the banner!” Marinette said, trying to juggle both the banner and whatever she was holding. Panic flooded through her when naturally, she dropped one of them.

Adrien’s hand shot out and he grabbed what turned out to be a pocket watch seconds before it would’ve hit the ground. He looked down at it, curious as to what was so important about a pocket watch, and that turned out to be a mistake. On their last lap, Kim and Alix came much closer to the spectators. Sabrina squealed and jumped out of the way. She jostled Chloé, who stumbled into Adrien, who crashed into Marinette. The watch went flying and they all watched in horror as Alix accidentally skated right over it.

“My watch!” Alix cried out in horror, stopping short. “What happened?”

Alya gulped. “I - I had to videotape the race… so I gave it to Marinette. But she had to hold the banner, so Adrien took it… and then Chloé banged into him so he dropped it…” She trailed off.

“My old man gave me that! It’s a family heirloom!” Alix cried. “I can’t believe you did this!”

“Alix, it was an accident!” Marinette exclaimed. Her guilty weighed heavily on Adrien’s shoulders. He spoke up quickly.

“We didn’t mean to,” he said.

“This is all your fault!” Alix yelled at them.

“Alix, wait!” Alya called as Alix started skating away.

“Well, that was a disaster,” Nino said.

“Maybe we can fix it,” Adrien reasoned, walking over to the watch. A frown crossed his face as he got a better look at the damage that had been done to it. He didn’t know anything about watches, but it was in pretty bad shape.

“Ugh, I feel awful,” Marinette said, coming up behind him.

“It wasn’t your fault, Mari. It was an accident,” Nino said.

“No, it was my fault. Alix trusted me with the watch.” Alya groaned. “I wonder how much it would cost to get it fixed?”

“More than you can afford, most likely,” Adrien told her. He gathered the pieces regardless, standing up and putting them in his pocket.

“No! Kim!” Rose shrieked, and he, Nino, Marinette and Alya spun around.

“Akuma!” Alya exclaimed, whipping her phone out.

“Is that Alix?” Marinette gasped. “Oh my god, Alix, stop!”

“The name is Timebreaker, no thanks you dumb punks. I’m gonna go back in time to save my watch.” Timebreaker smirked at them as Kim faded away.

“What did you do to him?” Marinette yelled.

“I needed his energy to go back in time,” Timebreaker said, shrugging. “I got five seconds from him. So now I need all of your energy too!” She began skating towards them. Their group scattered.

Adrien lost track of Marinette as he raced towards a tree, but the tingle in the back of his mind told him that she had hidden and that Ladybug had arrived on scene. He ducked behind a tree, took a split second to make sure no one was looking in his direction, and hastily transformed. Then Chat leaped out from behind the tree and raced back towards the akuma just as Timebreaker touched Mylène and Nathaniel.

“You won’t be able to stop me, Ladybug!” Timebreaker taunted as their two classmates faded away. “I’m up to fifteen seconds! Soon I’ll have enough energy to do what I want!”

“Don’t let her touch you!” Ladybug yelled, flinging her yoyo out. Timebreaker cackled and easily jumped over it, lunging towards Alya.

“No!” Chat yelled, extending his baton. Timebreaker had to veer to the right or risk running into his baton. Alya, displaying a sense of self preservation for once, turned and ran.

“How are we going to stop her if we can’t touch her?” Ladybug hissed, moving up beside Chat.

“Try your yoyo again,” he suggested. “I bet she can’t affect us through weapons. If you can wrap her up, we can figure out where the akuma is and I can use my Cataclysm.”

“Good idea,” Ladybug said, eyes brightening. “Ivan! Look out!” She wound up and threw her yoyo. This time, Timebreaker didn’t see it coming. Chat crowed in triumph as Timebreaker was jerked to a sudden stop. Ivan continued running away, leaving the area otherwise empty.

“Damn you, Ladybug,” Timebreaker hissed, getting to her feet. She grabbed the yoyo’s string and pulled hard on it.

“My Lady!” Chat shouted as Ladybug was yanked off her feet. Ladybug squealed as she was violently pulled towards Timebreaker, landing hard on her stomach right in front of the akuma. Hawkmoth’s mask flashed briefly over Timebreaker’s face. A familiar, cruel smile followed, and Timebreaker started to lean down. Ladybug froze.

‘Marinette, run!’ Chat thought desperately, but it was no use. He recklessly threw himself forward; there was no time to push Ladybug out of the way, not with how fast Timebreaker was, so -

Ladybug’s scream was cut off as Timebreaker’s hand made impact with his shoulder. Chat literally froze… and knew nothing else.

Chapter Text

There were no words to describe how it felt when Timebreak’s hand landed on Chat, other than that it was like being ripped in half.

Ladybug could feel the way their bond froze. Everything that was Chat Noir just… stopped. There was no emotion, no thought, no heartbeat. She pulled back to stare at his face. His eyes were open, but they weren’t focused. He didn’t know she was there. He didn’t know anything.

“No, no, no, Chat, no,” Ladybug begged, cupping his face with her trembling hands.

A strangled scream was wrenched out of her when he started to fade away, and their bond started to vanish with him. Ladybug frantically clutched at every bit of him, throwing her arms around his neck and clinging to what was left of him physically, mentally and emotionally. But it was no use: the very essence of her soulmate slipped through her fingers like grains of sand.

NO!” she screamed as he disappeared entirely.

She was alone.

“God, all I got for that mangy cat was an extra thirty seconds? I thought he’d be worth way more than that,” Timebreaker said with annoyance. “Oh well. I guess I’ll have to take you too to make this whole thing worth my while. But I’ll take your earrings first to make Hawkmoth happy.” She started to step towards Ladybug again.

And Ladybug… Ladybug couldn’t move. As surely as though Timebreaker had frozen her already, she was incapable of reacting. The sheer emptiness echoing through her, after months of being filled up with Adrien’s presence, was unfathomable. She merely knelt there and stared, broken, at the place where her partner had been moments before.

“Get away from her!” Alya shrieked. A backpack flew across the pavement and slammed into Timebreaker’s head.

“Ow, what the hell?” Timebreaker staggered to the side just as a purse was thrown at her. She dodged the purse, but more objects followed.

“Ladybug, come on!” Chloé was there suddenly, dragging Ladybug to her feet. Ladybug could barely move, numb to her core. Chloé swore under her breath as she struggled to lift Ladybug’s dead weight.

But then Nino was rushing over to them, grabbing Ladybug and lifting her off the ground with a grunt, holding her bridal style. He turned, Chloé on his heels, and sprinted away. Alya came running after them a moment later. leaving Timebreaker behind. The akuma shrieked in rage, though they were out of sight within moments.

“Is she coming after us?” Nino panted.

“I don’t think so. She’s back there ranting and raving about a grudge and a plan to get the miraculouses. I don’t know how she can do that if she made Chat disappear,” Alya said.

“Ugh, good. I don’t think I can carry her anymore.” Nino came to a stop and slowly lowered Ladybug to the ground.

“Ladybug? Can you hear me?” Alya knelt down, putting her hands on Ladybug’s shoulders. Her mouth pinched in worry when Ladybug didn’t respond, just stared forward vacantly.

Nino frowned. “What’s the matter with her? Did Timebreaker do something?” He bent over, catching his breath and peering at Ladybug In concern.

“She’s in shock,” Chloé said.

“Shock? What do you mean?” Nino said.

Chloé hestitated. “I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”

“Chloé! This is serious. Chat Noir is gone and Ladybug is catatonic!” Alya said, gesturing to Ladybug. “Whatever you know, you’ve got to tell us!”

Ladybug wanted to speak up and tell them that she wasn’t catatonic, thank you very much. She wanted to tell all of them that she was perfectly capable of handling this with or without Chat Noir, and that all three of them should get themselves far away from here before Timebreaker decided to come over and finish the job.

But she couldn’t. Everything inside of her was terribly, painfully, numb.

“Fine, but if Ladybug gets mad at me it’s your fault,” Chloé said shrilly. “Ladybug and Chat Noir are soulmates.”

Alya squealed. “Oh my god, they are?! I knew it. All of my theories were right!” She clapped her hands and wiggled in place.

“Wait,” Nino said with dawning horror. “If they’re soulmates… and Chat Noir is dead… that means Ladybug…”

They all looked down at their heroine.

“Fuck,” Alya said, neatly summing up the situation with one eloquent word. “You’re right, Chloé. It’s bond shock. My mom told me about this once. She says it happens a lot to soulmates who are left behind when their partners dies. It can take days or even weeks for people to snap out of it, and some people never do.”

“I heard some people are never the same. They can’t function without their soulmate,” Nino sad quietly, troubled. He and Alya exchanged worried looks. “The stronger the bond, the worse it is… and I bet Ladybug and Chat Noir have a reallystrong bond.”

“Screw that. Ladybug, you have to snap out of it!” Chloé knelt down and grabbed Ladybug’s shoulders, shaking her. “You’re the only one who can stop the akuma and get Chat back!”

“Wait, why do you even care about him?” Alya said, staring at Chloé in surprise. “You’ve always been a Ladybug fan.”

“I like Chat Noir too,” Chloé insisted.

Alya put her hands on her hips. “Two weeks ago, you called Chat Noir a mangy cat who always gets in Ladybug’s way. Why the sudden change of heart?”

“None of your business,” Chloé snapped. “I just know that we have to get Ladybug to function. She has to catch that akuma and use her cure so that we can get Chat back!”

Get Chat back. Those words resonated deeply within Ladybug. Because Chat was gone, of course. Tears rushed to her eyes and spilled over, running down her cheeks. He was gone. She was never going to see him again. She was never going to feel him again. The emptiness inside of her soul left her breathless, and hurt unbearably.

“Spots off,” she choked out.

“Ladybug! What are you doing?!” Chloé shrieked.

“Oh my god. Marinette?” Alya said at the same time, dumbfounded.

“Oh, Marinette.” Tikki’s voice was full of sorrow as she appeared, looking up at Marinette with sad blue eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me that Chat was your soulmate?”

Marinette shook her head, unable to speak. At least the terrible emptiness was a little less poignant when she wasn’t transformed: being Ladybug had always amplified the bond between her and Adrien. She couldn’t even bring herself to care that she had just revealed herself to Alya and Nino, and that Tikki now knew what she and Adrien had struggled to hide for so long.

“Shit,” Nino whispered. “It’s Adrien, isn’t it? Adrien is Chat Noir.”

“What?” Alya’s head snapped around to face him, and she gasped with horror. “Please tell me that’s not true.”

“It’s true,” Chloé whispered.

“That’s -” Alya covered her mouth. They were all staring down at Marinette and the attention, on top of everything else, was unbearable.

Marinette reached up to take her earrings off.

“What are you doing?!” Tikki demanded at once. “Marinette, don’t!”

“I told Adrien I wasn’t a good Ladybug,” Marinette said hollowly. “I told him -” Her voice broke and she sobbed once.

If it weren’t for her, Adrien would still be here. She was the one who had foolishly held onto her yoyo when Timebreaker jerked on it, instead of letting go like any normal, sane person would’ve. She was the one who had frozen when Timebreaker came towards her. She was the one who Chat had died protecting, but he was a stupid cat who thought that was his job.

“Don’t you dare,” Chloé said in a low, menacing voice. She grabbed Marinette’s hand and squeezed it so hard that Marinette gasped.

“Chloé!” Nino said.

Chloé ignored him, taking hold of Marinette’s shirt with her other free hand. “Listen to me, Dupain-Cheng. You’re not the only one who cares about Adrien, got it?” Her voice sounded ragged now a tears glimmered in her eyes. “But you are the onlyperson who can get him back. You think if Césaire or I take those earrings, we’re going to be able to get anywhere against that akuma?”

“Much as I hated to admit it again, she’s right,” Alya said. “Marinette, I’d fight for you in a heartbeat. But we have no experience.”

Nino nodded grimly. “All that would happen is that Timebreaker gets the Ladybug miraculous and then no one would be able to save Adrien.” He exhaled shakily, biting his lip to hold back tears.

“You have to do this,” Chloé said, punctuating each word with a squeeze to Marinette’s hand. “Okay?”

“I can’t,” Marinette whispered. “It hurts too much.”

“Marinette,” Tikki said, flying up in front of Marinette’s face. “They’re right. I know it hurts. I know it feels like you’re suffocating and drowning all at the same time. I know that just breathing is taking everything that you have. But you’re Ladybug. The only Ladybug. It’s up to you.”

“Come on, Girl,” Alya said, kneeling down. She took Marinette’s other hand, holding it much more gently than Chloé. “You just have to pull yourself together for a little while.”

Marinette wordlessly shook her head.

“Yeah, Mari. Adrien would tell you that you can do it if he were here,” Nino added, crouching down and resting his hands on Marinette’s shoulders. “He believed in you until the end, and so do we.”

“But… but how?” Marinette said, her lower lip quivering.

“That’s easy. Timebreaker is obsessed with that stupid watch. Once she collects enough energy, she’s going to go back in time,” Chloé said. “You just need to grab her and go along for the ride.”

“Exactly! Once you’re in the past, you won’t be alone. You’ll have past Ladybug and Chat Noir to help you!” Alya said.

“And then you can cast your cure and everything will be back to normal,” Nino said.

Marinette looked amongst the three of them, then at Tikki. Tikki nodded.

“Okay,” Marinette said finally, because she knew she didn’t have any other choice. The thought of staying here, in this life, without Chat was unbearable, and there was no way she was going to be able to defeat Timebreaker alone. She needed help, more help than her friends, however wonderful they were, could give.

It occurred to her, somewhat belatedly, that if she returned to the past and cast her cure, then Nino, Alya and Chloé wouldn’t remember this. She didn’t know about Tikki, if the miraculous cure would affect a kwami or not - especially since Tikki would be traveling through time with her. If Tikki did remember, then Marinette would deal with that after she got Chat back.

She struggled to her feet with Nino’s help., then took a deep breath and said, “Spots on.”

“That is so cool,” Alya blurted out. “I know this is a super serious situation but seriously, this is the coolest moment of my life.”

Ladybug would’ve smiled if she could’ve, but she couldn’t remember how. She settled for hugging Alya, Nino and even Chloé. The embraces left her just as numb as everything else she did, but her three friends looked bolstered and she told herself that was what mattered.

“Let’s find Timebreaker before she goes back in time without me,” Ladybug said. This had to work. It had to. She didn’t know what she would do if it didn’t, but she couldn’t live like this.

No matter what, she had to get her kitty back.

Chapter Text

“Okay, how are we going to find out where Timebreaker went?” Nino asked.

“I bet people are posting to the Ladyblog,” Alya said, whipping her phone out. She opened up her browser and quickly navigated to the latest comment section, but disappointingly there was nothing. She thought for a split second and then smirked, making a new post that asked her readers share Timebreaker’s location. They wouldn’t fail her.

“Anything?” Ladybug asked.

“Not yet, but I’m sure there will be something soon,” Alya said, crossing her arms over her chest. It was really weird to look at Ladybug now that she knew who was lurking behind the mask.

Honestly, Alya felt kind of stupid for not having realized it before. The pigtails, the blue eyes, the freckles, the smile,the petite stature… and it wasn’t just that. Ladybug was clever and courageous and creative, all traits that Alya had come to admire in Marinette. Then there was all the missed classes, the weird and often lame excuses, the unexplained absences… it all made so much sense.

It also made sense to think that Marinette and Adrien were soulmates. Of course they were. There had been an unnatural closeness between the two of them from the day that Alya met them, but she’d never thought to question them about it too closely because she’d never known any differently. Now she realized that closeness stemmed from their bond. Clearly the two of them had it at least partway open.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was why Marinette hadn’t told her. Alya drummed her fingers on her arm, wondering if it would be rude to ask. It probably would be. But then again, who knew what would happen once Ladybug used her miraculous cure? If this was Alya’s only chance to know, she wanted to take it.

“While we’re waiting, can I talk to you for a moment?” Alya asked Ladybug.

“Alya,” Nino said, giving her a warning look.

Alya ignored him, staring intently at her best friend/the heroine of Paris, and finally Ladybug nodded. They moved away from Nino and Chloé, until Alya thought that they were at enough of a distance where they could speak privately. This wasn’t really a conversation they wanted anyone eavesdropping on.

“What do you want to know?” Ladybug said quietly.

“Honestly? I want to know why you didn’t tell me,” Alya said, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice.

Ladybug sighed. “Alya, I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell anyone.”

“You told Chloé,” Alya pointed out, which was perhaps the thing that hurt most of all. Marinette and Chloé weren’t friends by any stretch of the imagation. They tolerated each other because of Adrien, but that was about it as far as Alya could tell.

“No, I didn’t. Chloé found out Adrien was Chat Noir, and she put two and two together on her own. She knew we were soulmates,” Ladybug explained. “No one is supposed to know who we are. It’s too dangerous.”

“Then you told Chloé you were soulmates,” Alya pressed.

Again, Ladybug denied that. “Chloé was there when Adrien and I first met. She knew what Adrien’s words were and she heard me say them. She witnessed our bond forming. There was no way we could’ve convinced her that it was anything other than what it was. Believe me, if I thought there was even a chance I could have, I would’ve.”

Alya frowned. “But… why did you keep it a secret?”

“I just told you no one is supposed to know our identities,” Ladybug said, exasperated.

“No! I meant about you and Adrien being soulmates. The day we met, you lied to me and said you hadn’t met your soulmate yet. And you were there when Nino and I got our bond, and -”

“Alya!” Ladybug broke in sharply. “Look, it’s nothing personal, okay? Adrien and I decided to keep our bond a secret for several reasons. It had nothing to do with you. I couldn’t tell you the day we met because it’s not just my secret to share, and we didn’t know if we could trust you.”

“But now I’m your best friend!” Alya exclaimed. “Doesn’t that mean anything?”

Ladybug sighed. “Of course it does. But we’ve only known each other for a few months,” she said, her voice gentling. “And there are parts of my life that are bigger than you.”

That stung more than Alya wanted to admit. Quietly, she said, “So you were never going to tell me? Ever?”

“I don’t know,” Ladybug admitted. “Probably, one day, when Adrien and I had the chance to talk about it. Keeping a secret about a bond… it’s hard. Pretending that I don’t know the things going through Adrien’s head, that I don’t hear his and Nino’s conversations, it sucks.”

“Wait,” Alya said, holding up a hand. “You hear his conversations? Just how developed is your bond?” She knew it was strong because of Ladybug’s reaction to Chat’s death, but this was more than she’d anticipated.

“I don’t know exactly. We’ve never been in for tests, obviously. But…” Ladybug shrugged. “Adrien and I have no shields or blocks between us.”

Alya’s jaw dropped. “Seriously?” she exclaimed. “You don’t have any shields at all?” She could understand why they didn’t have blocks, as though were constructed by an outside source - usually a paid professional. But anyone could create their own shields to keep some privacy in their own minds. She didn’t think she’d ever heard of anyone who didn’t have any shields.

Ladybug shook her head. “No. I’m not even sure how to make a shield, to be honest.”

“That’s…” Alya trailed off, dumbfounded. As much as she’d looked forward to finding her own soulmate, finding Nino had kind of freaked her out. Slamming up shields had been an instinctive reaction on both their parts. She couldn’t fathom meeting a perfect stranger and giving them complete access to her mind!

“What? Is that weird?” Ladybug said, looking uncomfortable.

“It’s… well, it’s not normal,” Alya said, shaking her head. “I mean… you do you, I guess. I just…”

She looked, really looked this time, at Ladybug, taking in the pallor of Ladybug’s face aside from her flushed cheeks. Ladybug’s eyes were too-bright, seemingly glistening with tears at all moments. Sweat beaded across her forehead. The usual charismatic energy that surrounded her was sorely lacking, replaced by a dull emptiness. She didn’t feel like Ladybug anymore.

“I know I’ve been keeping secrets and I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” Ladybug said quietly.

All at once, Alya felt extremely guilty. This was the very last thing Ladybug needed right now when she had just lost her soulmate, and Alya was being a horrible friend. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her best friend, pulling Ladybug into a tight hug. Ladybug tensed in surprise.

“Don’t apologize, Mari. It’s like you said, you had your reasons. I’m sorry Chat is gone,” Alya whispered.

All at once, Ladybug melted against her and gave a choked sob. “I miss him so much, Alya. I feel so… so empty. I - I can’t even put it into words, but I don’t know how much longer I can bear it.”

“You won’t have to, because you’re going to get him back,” Alya promised, hugging Ladybug tighter. The thought of losing Adrien was awful, but the thought of losing Marinette was too terrible for Alya to contemplate. And if they didn’t get Adrien back, there was a good chance that’s exactly what would happen.

Alya was not going to let that happen.

She turned her head, looking over at Nino and Chloé. Chloé was sitting on a bench, and - Alya blinked in surprise - she was pretty sure that Chloé was crying. Nino, on the other hand, was watching Alya and Ladybug. He caught her eye and raised a questioning eyebrow, and the shields between them were still raised and impassable but Alya still hoped he’d pick up on her desire for him to check the Ladyblog post she’d made.

And maybe it was just good fortune, maybe Nino was just that smart, or maybe they were growing ever closer to being on the same wavelength, but Nino’s confusion cleared and he pulled out his phone. He spent a moment with his head bowed, fingers moving over the screen, while Alya rubbed Ladybug’s back and tried to keep her friend from falling apart completely.

Then Nino shouted, “There’s a response! Someone said Timebreaker is only four blocks from here, heading towards Ponts des Arts!”

“Alright, then what are you waiting for?” Chloé demanded, surging to her feet and wiping at her cheeks.

“Right.” Ladybug pulled away from Alya. Her face was streaked with tears, but she reached for the yoyo at her side.

Alya stopped her. “Hang on.”

“Alya -” Ladybug began.

“I just wanted to say that I’m really proud of you,” Alya said quickly. “I should’ve said that first, not interrogated you. I’m sorry. You do so much for this city and I was being selfish.” She took Ladybug’s hands in hers. “You and Chat are incredible, Marinette. For all that you do, and everything that you’ve been through, thank you.”

“Yeah, Dude,” Nino said, smiling at Ladybug. “You guys are awesome. Would you - would tell Adrien that I’m proud of him?” His voice cracked a little when he spoke Adrien’s name.

“I will,” Ladybug whispered, blinking as fresh tears spilled down her cheeks.

“Okay, okay, can we get on with it?” Chloé said.

“Honestly, Chloé,” Alya said, but Ladybug snorted and shook her head.

“No, Chloé is right. I’ve dawdled long enough. Thanks for your help, you guys. I appreciate it.” She gave them all a very tiny smile and then took her yoyo in hand.

Alya watched in amazement as Ladybug threw that yoyo out; it wrapped around a distant point and easily pulled Ladybug off her feet and into the air. The sheer grace with which she moved was awe-inspiring to watch, particularly now that Alya knew the clumsy Marinette was behind that mask. Her heart filled with pride: she had the coolest best friend.

“Well, don’t just stand there!” Chloé said, storming by.

“Wh-what?” Alya stammered, shocked. Nino looked equally confused.

“Come on! Ladybug might need our help,” Chloé snapped, breaking into a run.

“Sometimes I think I’ve got Chloé all figured out, and then she goes and does stuff like this,” Nino said, scratching his forehead.

Alya merely shook her head. “She’s not wrong. Let’s go!”

 

Chapter Text

Focus. She had to focus. That sentence ran repeatedly through Ladybug’s mind as she used her yoyo to get uptown. Her heart thudded in her ears, helping to mitigate the unusual silence filling her mind. She’d never faced an akuma without Chat’s lighthearted puns or kind encouragement bouncing around her head, and it was proving more difficult than she’d expected to concentrate.

Luckily Timebreaker wasn’t difficult to find once Ladybug drew close. The akuma was walking up and down the empty streets, peering into shops to look for unsuspecting victims. Ladybug swallowed as she landed on the street just in time to see a couple of civilians fade away. How many people had Timebreaker killed already?

“Come on, come on! I only need a couple more!” Timebreaker shouted, kicking in the glass window of a store.

Ladybug flinched, clencing her hands into fists. Her immediate instinct was to try to stop Timebreaker, but in order to go back in time she had to let Timebreaker get a couple more victims. It went against everything she stood for as Ladybug… but she didn’t think she could do this alone. The stakes were too high.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of Alya, Nino and Chloé approaching. Ladybug waved frantically at them, motioning for them to get out of sight. She didn’t think she could handle seeing anyone else that she cared about die today. Fortunately, her friends took the hint - or at least Nino did. He dragged Alya and Chloé off the street and into an alley.

Someone screamed. Ladybug’s head snapped around as Timebreaker let out a satisfied cry. Two teenagers fell to the ground at Timebreaker’s feet, not that Timebreaker cared. She bent down and looked at the mechanism at her ankle. Even from where she was standing, Ladybug saw that it was now fully lit up.

Now. Her body moved of its own accord, drawing her yoyo and whipping it out. TImebreaker had no idea that Ladybug was there, so she had no chance to dodge. The yoyo wrapped around Timebreaker’s upper body several times just as Timebreaker launched herself forward. Once again, Ladybug was unceremoniously yanked off her feet.

This time, she didn’t even get a chance to yelp. Bright yellow light formed and swallowed her and Timebreaker up. Ladybug had the weird feeling that she was drastically accelerating without moving at the same time, and then the yellow light disappeared and her yoyo was jerked out of her hands; she tripped, hitting the ground with a groan.

“Damn you, Ladybug!” Timebreaker seethed from somewhere up ahead. “I won’t let you interfere with my plans!”

“I’ve had it with your plans,” Ladybug snapped, getting up on her knees. She opened her mouth to say something else and paused when she heard cheering. Above the rest of her classmates, one voice in particular made her heart skip a beat.

Adrien.

She scrambled to the edge of the roof, looking down. There he was, her soulmate and partner, standing beside past-Marinette and cheering as past-Alix and past-Kim began their race. Ladybug stared, feeling like the world was tilting beneath her feet. He was there, but she couldn’t feel him. It was quite possibly the cruelest trick fate could have played.

Soulmate bonds only went two ways, and past-Adrien was already bonded to past-Marinette. There was no room for her here, not unless she could cast a miraculous cure. God she hoped the miraculous cure could fix this. If it couldn’t… Tears welled up in her eyes and she pressed a shaking hand to her mouth to keep herself from sobbing out loud.

“My watch!” Timebreaker shrieked.

All of the students below jumped. The watch in past-Marinette’s hand went flying. It broke upon impact with the ground this time. Through her tears, Ladybug watched as past-Adrien and past-Marinette both looked up. An identical expression of confused amazement flashed across both their faces, and Ladybug choked on a giggly sob.

“Ladybug?” Past-Adrien shouted.

“It’s an akuma!” Past-Alya cried at the same time, whipping out her phone.

“Nooo!” Timebreaker screamed.

“My watch!” Past-Alix howled.

Ladybug had heard that before and knew what came next. She leaped to her feet, looking around for her yoyo, and finally spotted it a few feet away to her right. She scrambled over and grabbed it, looking around frantically for the akuma that was sure to be coming. But she was too late. In the time that it had taken her to get her yoyo, an akuma had landed on past-Alix.

Now there were two Timebreakers and Ladybug honestly felt faint because this was too much.

“Everyone run! Don’t let them touch you!” she yelled, launching herself off the roof. She landed on the ground, her heart racing as she faced off against the two akumas.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw past-Marinette and past-Adrien running away. The two Timebreakers were holding a whispered conversation, and Ladybug knew she should really interrupt - yet she stalled, trying not to look too obviously at the place where her past self and past-Adrien had gone. Relief swept through her when she saw a flash of red light and a burst of green light.

“What on earth is going on?” Past-Chat exclaimed as he bounded over.

“I’m Ladybug from about fifteen minutes from now,” Ladybug said. She hadn’t counted on how badly it would rattle her to see past-Chat and have no connection with him. It didn’t feel like he was really here. She longed to break down in his arms and have him comfort her, but there wasn’t time.

“You’re me?” Past-Ladybug said, sounding bewildered as she joined them. “But -”

“We don’t have time. We have to stop them before they go back in time. But whatever you do, do not let them touch you. Especially you, Chat. Promise me that you won’t let them touch you,” she begged.

Past-Chat blinked, uncertain. “Uh - well -” He glanced over at past-Ladybug.

Promise me!” Ladybug cried out, her voice too shrill, breath tight.

“I promise,” Past-Chat said immediately, his expression rapidly becoming concerned.

“Good,” Ladybug said, gulping for air. “The akuma - it’s in her rollerblades. Their rollerblades.” She glanced around for Timebreaker and saw them speeding after their classmates. Her stomach churned as Nathaniel was caught again.

“So if we can’t touch them, how do you plan to do this?” Past-Ladybug asked.

“Just one.” Ladybug held up her yoyo and prayed that this time, she would get a relatively simple Lucky Charm. Her brain was so scrambled right now that she didn’t have the energy to come up with an overly convoluted plan.

“A little luck can go a long way,” past-Ladybug said with a grin.

“Lucky Charm!” they shouted together, throwing their yoyos into the air.

Ladybug caught a bicycle lock. Past-Ladybug caught a traffic cone. They both looked down at their Charms, then at each other with equally baffled expressions.

“Huh, well, I’ll try to buy us some time while you two figure it out,” past-Chat said.

Instantly, Ladybug forgot all about her Charm. She watched, terrified, as past-Chat ran towards the two akumas. At any moment, she knew that one of the two Timebreakers could dart towards him and try to steal his energy. One Chat was worth, after all, six of a normal person. That made him a viable target. She held her breath, clutching her Charm with trembling hands.

But past-Chat kept his word and didn’t confront the two akumas directly. Instead, he darted behind a pillar. Moments later, said pillar collapsed and blocked the path. Past-Timebreaker and Timebreaker both banked hard when they saw wreckage, turning around and skating back towards the two Ladybugs.

“I have a plan,” past-Ladybug said, laying her hand on Ladybug’s shoulder.

Tempting though it was to track past-Chat’s every move, Ladybug tried to concentrate. “Okay. Let’s hear it.”

Past-Ladybug frowned, but leaned in and quickly whispered in Ladybug’s ear. Ladybug nodded. As always, the plan was a little ridiculous but it sounded like it would work. She moved forward, directly into the path of the two Timebreakers, knowing she would have to time this perfectly. She had to drag her eyes away from past-Chat.

Three… two… one… she leaped forward, keeping her body low, and snapped the bicycle lock around past-Timebreaker’s and Timebreaker’s ankles. She hit the ground and rolled to a stop, coming up just in time to see the two akumas fully airborne. Ladybug grabbed her yoyo, aimed and threw. It wrapped around Timebreaker’s skate and yanked it off. She caught the skate and, at the same time as past-Ladybug, broke it.

“I free you from evil,” Ladybug said, hearing her words echoed by her past self - though Ladybug sounded noticably shakier. “Bye bye, little butterfly…” She watched the butterfly soar up into the sky, then glanced at past-Ladybug.

“Ready when you are!” past-Ladybug said, holding her Charm up.

Ladybug retrieved her Charm, took a deep breath, and threw it into the sky with a cry of, “Miraculous Ladybug!”

The two Charms burst apart into a stream of red light. Ladybug wrapped her arms around herself as the pillar was restored, their classmates returned, the two Alix’s merged back together… and then the red light came for her, scooping her and past-Ladybug up. Ladybug squeezed her eyes shut, silently pleading to anyone who was listening…

And then the connection slammed back into her as she and past-Ladybug merged. Ladybug sank to her knees, overcome, as two sets of memories bounced around in her head, but even that was nothing compared to the bond - it was everything. Chat’s presence in her mind was both comforting and overwhelming. She put her face in her hands and began to sob.

“My Lady!” Chat exclaimed, rushing over to her. He fell to his knees and pulled her into a hug. “What happened?”

“Chat - oh god, Chat,” she wept, throwing her arms around his neck and clinging to him desperately.

Chat’s confusion rampaged through her mind; he didn’t understand, not fully, and the two sets of memories were confusing him further. But he knew enough to know that both of them were working on limited time. He gathered Ladybug into his arms bridal style and stood up, holding her securely against his chest. All Ladybug could do was cling to him and cry.

Passionfruit-24

“Chat?” Alix asked. She stood nearby, holding her pocket watch. “Is - Is Ladybug okay? Did I -” She looked scared.

“It’s okay,” Chat said, even though it wasn’t. “Everything’s fine. I’m glad you got your watch back, Alix. Be more careful with it next time, okay?”

Alix swallowed, shaken. “I - I will. I shouldn’t have asked anyone else to look after it. It was my responsibility.” She scuffed her skate on the ground. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Chat told her kindly. Then he turned and jumped away, taking his lady with him.

 

Chapter Text

A couple blocks away from the Trocadéro, Chat stopped on a rooftop and just stood there for a moment, torn by indecision. Ladybug was still sobbing into his shoulder, her arms wrapped around him so tightly that he didn’t think he could pry her off even if he wanted to - not that he did. Leaving her alone right now clearly wasn’t even an option.

But that presented a problem,because his miraculous was down to three pads and Ladybug’s was down to four. He only had three minutes to figure out what he was going to do, and that wasn’t easy when Ladybug’s state was affecting him so badly. He didn’t even know what had happened and he kind of felt like crying just from the strength of her emotions.

Knowing she was in no frame of mind to make a choice, Chat had to make it himself. And really, it wasn’t like he had a ton of options open to him: he couldn’t leave Ladybug, and they were about to de-transform, so that meant Tikki and Plagg were going to find out that they were soulmates. There was no getting around that right now.

“Just hold on, Bugaboo,” Chat whispered, tightening his grip on his partner. He ran towards the edge of the roof and jumped, sailing over the gap. He could’ve taken Ladybug back to the mansion, but he thought that she might feel better in her own space.

It took him a good two and a half minutes to make it back to the bakery, and that was when Chat was going at full speed. He landed on Marinette’s balcony seconds before his miraculous gave one last, feeble beep. Green light flashed around Adrien and formed into Plagg; Adrien sank back against the railing, breathing hard and clutching Ladybug to his chest.

“I’m hung - what the hell are you doing?!” Plagg squawked. “Adrien! She might see you!”

“That’s kind of the point, Plagg,” Adrien said with a sigh. He was exhausted after everything, and he knew it was going to get worse before it got better. Ignoring Plagg’s sputtering, he lurched across the balcony and sat down on the pink lounge chair that Marinette often used when she had a burst of inspiration.

Red light hummed beneath his fingertips as Ladybug turned back into Marinette. Tikki appeared and blinked at Adrien. Adrien blinked back, his arms wrapped protectively around Marinette: he was certain that they were both in trouble, but he wasn’t about to let anyone yell at Marinette right now. So he was shocked when Tikki merely sighed.

“Plagg, stop it,” Tikki said wearily. “They already know. They’re soulmates.”

Plagg stopped ranting midway through a sentence and just hung there, speechless.

“You… you know?” Adrien said. “Wait, how long have you -”

“Not for long,” Tikki said, crossing her paws over her chest. “We has our suspicions, but Chat Noir leapt in front of Ladybug to protect her and got hit by Timebreaker.”

“Oh shit, kid, you didn’t,” Plagg said with a groan.

“I -” Adrien had no excuse, since he didn’t remember that happening - but the echo of Ladybug’s memories ran through him, and he realized that yes, he had.

“Ladybug was completely devastated by the loss of her soulmate,” Tikki went on. “Thank goodness for Alya, Nino and Chloé. They got her out of the way of Timebreaker. Unfortunately, she detransfromed in front of them because she couldn’t handle being Ladybug when you were dead. That’s how I found out for sure.” She leveled Adrien with a stern look.

“So what, you and the bug came back in time?” Plagg asked, quicker on the draw than the overwhelmed Adrien.

Tikki nodded. “Ladybug couldn’t handle things by herself. She needed the help of past-Ladybug and past-Chat Noir. Thankfully, the miraculous cure put everything back to normal and restored your bond.”

Adrien swallowed, moving his hand up to cup the back of Marinette’s head. With the context of Tikki’s explanation, he now understood the weird duel memories. One set of memories were those that belonged to past-Ladybug, but the others… He closed his eyes to better sort through them.

For the first time, Marinette responded by trying to stop him from seeing the memories with a whispered, “No, please don’t.”

“My Lady,” Adrien said. “I need to see them.”

“I don’t want you to.” Her voice broke. “You’re back. Isn’t that enough?”

‘Is it?’ Adrien thought, and felt her shudder. ‘Is it enough when I can’t comfort you because I don’t know what happened? Mari, please. Let me help you.’

She started crying again as she thought, ‘It was just so horrible. I don’t want you to have to live through that.’

‘I’m your partner. Your pain is my pain,’ Adrien thought as steadily as he could. She was really scaring him. He would respect her wishes if that was what she really wanted, but in the long run there was no way to stop the memories from eventually leaching through unless she built shields around them.

“No,” Marinette choked out. “I won’t do that. I -” She buried her face in his neck and mentally pushed the memories at him.

Adrien forgot all about Tikki and Plagg as the full entirety of what had happened hit him. His breath left him with a sickened gasp as he experienced what Ladybug had felt when the bond was destroyed; her agony seeped into him, filling him with a cold emptiness. His eyes filled with tears as he realized she had tried to give the Ladybug earrings to Alya again.

By the time he witnessed Alya saying how proud she was of Ladybug, and Nino chiming in with how proud he was of Adrien, and the fact that Chloé was crying because Adrien was dead - Adrien was crying too. Silent tears rolled down his face, dampening the shoulder of Marinette’s shirt. He remained quiet until the end, when Ladybug got dragged back to the past.

He knew what happened from there.

Marinette pulled back to look at him, her face streaked with tears. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Sorry?! Mari, why on earth are you apologizing?” Adrien said incredulously, cupping her face. He wiped a few of her tears away with his thumbs.

“I tried to give my miraculous away. I couldn’t be Ladybug without you,” she sobbed. “I gave up.”

Adrien shook his head. “You were in shock. You weren’t thinking straight and you were trying to protect the city,” he said. “I should be the one apologizing for leaving you alone.”

Yet he would make the same choice if he had to. He knew that he would. There had been no time to get Ladybug out of the way. Even putting aside the very important fact that she was the only one who could purify akumas, she was his partner. His soulmate. Adrien would gladly sacrfice himself for her every time…

“No!” Marinette cried, throwing her arms around him again. Her breath came too fast, almost a wheeze. “You can’t leave me again!”

“I won’t. Hey, I won’t,” Adrien said, running his hands up and down her back as she broke down again. He pushed as much soothing affection through their bond as he could. Marinette soaked it up greedily, scrabbling at their bond like she wanted to curl up in it.

“But you will,” she wept. “The next time you think I’m in danger, you’ll do the same thing!”

Adrien couldn’t deny that. She knew as well as he did that she was right. There had never been any lies between them in the past, and there wouldn’t be any now. Alya’s shock that there were no shields between them ran through his mind for a second time. Certainly, shields might have made a situation like this easier on Marinette. The deeper the bond, the deeper the loss.

But Marinette was already shaking her head, thinking, ‘I don’t want shields, Chaton. I never have. I like things between us the way they are. I like that you can see all of me, and I like seeing all of you.’ Her beautiful blue eyes swam with fresh tears when she looked at him.

“I like it too,” Adrien said. “Mari, I - I promise that I’ll do whatever I can to keep from sacrificing myself again, okay? If I can avoid it, I will. I’d never want to put you through pain like this.” He took her cold hand and kissed the back of her knuckles.

It was a paltry comfort, he knew that. Their jobs were dangerous. Sometimes a sacrifice would be necessary. Of the two of them, that sacrifice had to be Chat Noir. All he could do was try to minimize that as much as possible. Marinette sobbed once and hugged him again, her grip so fierce that it actually hurt. But Adrien didn’t care, for he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back just as tightly.

‘I love you,’ she thought.

Adrien jolted in shock, lips parting. ‘Marinette, I… I love you too,’ he thought back, shocked.

That emotion had swirled between them for some time now, but it was the first time either of them had vocalized it. And in spite of the seriousness of the situation, and Marinette’s genuine grief and fear, Adrien couldn’t help feeling a small thrill of awed excitement. Someone loved him again. He reveled in that knowledge.

“Silly,” Marinette whispered. “Nino, Alya and Chloé love you too, remember?” This time, she was the one who brushed a few tears from his face.

Then she leaned forward and softly kissed him, brushing her lips against his. It was as much another declaration of love as it was an affirmation that Adrien was alive and safe, and Marinette kissed him a second time before hugging him. Adrien rested his cheek atop her hair and rocked her back and forth, letting her cry quietly into his shirt.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Tikki and Plagg sitting on the little table a few feet away. The kwamis appeared to be having a discussion of their own, for their heads were bent close and they were furiously whispering to each other. Adrien eyed them, then turned away and closed his eyes to better focus on Marinette.

All too soon, he was sure that Tikki and Plagg would be demanding answers. For the moment, he focused on the feeling of Marinette in his arms and on pouring every ounce of love that he could through their bond and absorbing what she pushed back. Their bond felt stronger than ever and he was determined to keep it that way.

 

Chapter Text

Hidden as she was in Adrien’s warm embrace, it took Marinette longer than it should have to realize that her phone was ringing. No sooner did it stop than it started again, buzzing insistently against her hip. Sniffing, she pulled back from Adrien and reached down to take her phone out of her pocket. Naturally, the caller was Alya.

“You should answer it. She won’t stop until you do,” Adrien pointed out.

Knowing that he was right, Marinette sighed and wiped her face, hitting the answer button. “Hello?”

“Marinette! Oh my god, I’ve been calling you forever. Are you okay?” Alya demanded.

“I’m fine,” Marinette said hoarsely, hoping Alya wouldn’t pick up on the fact that she’d been crying. She didn’t feel like coming up with an excuse for why she’d spent the past half hour bawling on her boyfriend’s shoulder, and Alya would press until she got a satisfactory answer.

“You couldn’t have texted me? I was worried. You just disappeared after Timebreaker showed up,” Alya said.

Well, that answered that question. Alya didn’t remember what had happened, which meant that neither would Nino or Chloé. Marinette wasn’t surprised: Tikki had actually traveled back in time with her, which explained why Tikki remembered and the others didn’t. But she had to admit that she was a little disappointed.

Having the comfort and support of her friends had been nice. Really nice. Even Chloé had shown a different, stronger side to her than Marinette had ever expected to see. For that one moment, Ladybug and Chat Noir had not been alone. She bit her lip, struggling with her emotions, and Adrien leaned forward to press their foreheads together.

‘It’s okay, Bugaboo. Maybe we can tell them again someday soon,’ he thought to her. ‘It seemed like they handled it okay.’

‘They really did,’ Marinette thought back, giving him a tiny smile.

Alya seemed unperturbed by Marinette’s silence, adding, “Girl, you should’ve stuck around. There were two Ladybug’s! Two!” Her glee was palpable. “Although I’m not really sure what was wrong with one of them. I’ve never seen Ladybug that messed up before.”

Marinette winced. “Maybe the akuma did something you don’t know about,” she said, a bit tearfully. Adrien kissed her temple.

“Maybe,” Alya agreed. “At any rate, I got the coolest footage. I can’t wait to post it up on the Ladyblog. People are going to freak out when they see it. The views are going to be through the roof!”

“That’s great, Al,” Marinette whispered.

“Right? I’m so glad Alix got akumatized,” Alya said.

“Alya!” Adrien reprimanded, unable to keep silent.

“Oops. Hey Sunshine. I didn’t mean that literally,” Alya said guiltily. “I just meant… she was a cool akuma, that’s all. And she got me some really good footage.”

‘Is Alya for real?’ Adrien thought, exasperated. His memory of Alix, and how stricken she’d been by Ladybug’s condition, flashed through their bond. Adrien felt terrible for her. Not to mention, how much Timebreaker had affected Marinette. Hecertainly wasn’t glad Alix had been akumatized.

Marinette shook her head at him. “Just remember, Alya, there are real people behind akumas. It’s nice that you got good footage, but not so good that it came at Alix’s expense. I’m sure she’s feeling awful right now.”

“Yeah.” Alya sighed. “Maybe I’ll text her when I get home and make sure she’s doing okay.”

“Alix would probably like that,” Marinette said.

“What are you two doing for the rest of the day?” Alya asked.

“Just hanging out,” Adrien said, exchanging a glance with Marinette.

“I’ll text you later. Maman and Papa have a late lunch on the table,” Marinette lied, hoping that Alya wouldn’t remember that Tom and Sabine had gone out for an anniversary lunch.

“Sounds good. Later!”

Marinette ended the call and sighed, immediately sinking into Adrien’s arms. She thought, ‘Same old Alya.’

“She’ll probably never change,” Adrien said out loud, resting his head atop her hair. “At least she has no idea why Ladybug was so upset. If she puts two and two together and figures out Ladybug and Chat Noir are soulmates…”

“Alya already thinks that’s a possibility. Haven’t you seen all the theory posts she makes about it?” Marinette said.

“But it could lead someone to figuring out your identities,” Tikki said.

Both Adrien and Marinette jumped.

“What?” Adrien said, startled. He’d been so involved with Marinette that he had nearly forgotten that their kwamis were nearby.

“I don’t think that’s the case, Tikki,” Marinette said, recovering quickly. She shifted around until her back was pressed to Adrien’s front, facing Tikki. “Like I said, Alya already suspects Ladybug and Chat Noir are soulmates. But she doesn’t know Adrien and I are soulmates. And even if she did, we’re not the only fourteen-year-olds in Paris who have found their soulmates.”

“Besides,” Adrien added, “Alya doesn’t even know for sure that Ladybug and Chat Noir are fourteen. She’s guessed that we’re teenagers, but even that is just a guess. I’ve seen a ton of theories that we’re adults flying around.”

“They’ve got a point,” Plagg said, flying over to Tikki. “Adrien, I want my cheese now.”

“Oh! Right.” Adrien dug into a pocket and produced a slightly smushed wedge of Camembert, shocked that Plagg had waited as long as he had to ask for it. He handed it over, quickly drawing his fingers back when Plagg literally pounced on the cheese and greedily shoved it into his mouth.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Tikki asked.

“Because you said that maybe we couldn’t be Ladybug and Chat Noir if we were soulmates,” Marinette replied. “I asked you… and Adrien asked Plagg… and neither of us could get a straight answer. You just kept saying that it depended.”

Tikki sighed. “I thought it might be something like that. Do either of you realize how dangerous that was?”

Her disapproving stare made Marinette wince. “I… we just didn’t want to have to give up our miraculous,” she said quietly.

“It wasn’t a big deal until now. Being soulmates made us better at our job, not worse,” Adrien added, wrapping his arms around Marinette’s waist.

“How did you meet?” Plagg asked, cocking his head.

“Marinette dropped macarons on me,” Adrien said.

“Adrien!” Marinette squeaked, elbowing him. Tikki and Plagg both laughed.

“What? You did!” Adrien said mischievously.

She scowled over her shoulder. ‘Do you have to tell everyone that story?’

‘Yup.’ He kissed her cheek before she could pull away and she mock-scowled in response.

“Wait, how long did you know you were soulmates before you got your miraculous?” Tikki asked.

“Adrien and I met in May,” Marinette replied.

“Oh my…” Tikki said. Then, startling both Adrien and Marinette, she snickered.

“What’s so funny?” Adrien asked.

“Master really messed up,” Plagg said, smirking. “He figured that you were soulmates, but he had no idea that you were already soulmates. Ooh, I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he realized what’s been brewing right under his nose.”

“Master?” Marinette repeated. “Who’s that?”

Plagg and Tikki looked at each other. Then Tikki said, “There are other miraculous besides the Ladybug and Black Cat. There is also a guardian who looks after them. His name is Master Fu. He is the one who chose both of you.”

‘That must be the ‘someone else’ that Tikki and Plagg were always alluding to,’ Marinette thought.

Adrien frowned and hugged her tighter. “And he’s the one who can take our miraculous away?”

“Yes,” Plagg said, his amusement fading. “He won’t be happy to know that Chloé knows who you are.”

“What?!” Tikki squeaked.

“Wait, you were listening that day?” Adrien exclaimed.

“Kid, I’m not deaf and you were yelling pretty loud,” Plagg said boredly. “I knew Chloé knew who you were. I was less certain about whether or not she knew who Ladybug was, but I’m guessing she does?” He looked at them expectantly.

Marinette nodded slowly. They might as well get it all out there. “She knows. Chloé was there when Adrien and I met, so she knows we’re soulmates. It wasn’t a huge stretch for her to get from Adrien to me.”

“Oh dear,” Tikki said fretfully. “What if she tells someone?”

“Well, she hasn’t yet,” Adrien pointed out. “And she’s known for a while. If anything, Chloé knowing is a good thing. She can make excuses for us when we’re not around. That will stop other people from getting suspicious.” He was pleading and he knew it. “And she was really helpful in the future, right? She was trying to get Ladybug away from the akuma.”

“Exactly!” Marinette said, nodding faster now. “She also kept us from getting off track.”

“That is true,” Tikki said, looking more thoughtful now. “Chloé wouldn’t be my first choice… but I can think of worse people.” She narrowed her eyes at Plagg. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this.”

Plagg just shrugged.

“Tikki, I know I should’ve told you. But Adrien and I love being Chat Noir and Ladybug so much,” Marinette said. “We were afraid that you wouldn’t want us anymore if you found out we were soulmates.”

Tikki softened. “Oh, Marinette. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re one of the best Ladybug’s I’ve ever had.”

“Really?” Marinette said, touched.

“Of course!” Tikki flew closer and nuzzled Marinette’s cheek. “I’ll definitely be telling Master Fu that I want to keep you as Ladybug.”

“Thanks Tikki,” Marinette whispered in a wobbly voice, putting her hands over Tikki.

Adrien looked at Plagg. “And you?” he asked nervously.

Plagg scoffed at him. “Kid, you’re mine for life. I thought you understood that by now.”

“It’s just nice to hear,” Adrien said, swallowing hard. He lifted his hand up and made a fist. Plagg immediately flew closer and gently bumped Adrien’s fist with his paw.

“Do you think… do you think Master Fu will take our miraculous away?” Marinette asked.

“I hope not,” Tikki said. “But… I don’t know. Master Fu always does what he feels is best for the safety of the miraculous.” She exchanged a troubled look with Plagg. “I’m not sure if he meant for you to find out that you’re soulmates before Hawkmoth was defeated. It adds a level of danger if either of you were to be akumatized, not to mention what happens to one of you if the other is killed.”

“But if Marinette and I are okay with those dangers…” Adrien said.

“We’ll just have to go see him,” Tikki decided.

“See him?” Marinette echoed, gulping.

Tikki nodded. “I’m sorry, Marinette. Plagg and I can’t keep something like this a secret from the guardian. It wouldn’t be right. He needs to have all the information in case something goes wrong.”

“And, um, when do we have to go see him?” Adrien asked.

“Tomorrow,” Tikki said with a sigh. “Tomorrow morning would be best.”

Tomorrow morning. Marinette’s shaking hand found Adrien’s, and she laced their fingers together. Come tomorrow morning, they might not be Ladybug or Chat Noir anymore. The thought made her feel sick, as it did Adrien. The grim look on Tikki’s and Plagg’s faces didn’t fill her with confidence, either. The count down was on.

Chapter Text

Much as he hated to leave Marinette, Adrien had no choice. Pretending that he was practicing the piano usually only bought him so much time, and he’d pushed that about as far as he could - he didn’t want Nathalie to get wise to his trick. Regretfully, he kissed Marinette goodbye, transformed, and headed back to the mansion.

Chat landed lightly on the windowsill and listened before peeking into the room. His music player had long since stopped, but, since Nathalie wasn’t waiting for him in his room with crossed arms, he figured he’d gotten away with it this time. He detransformed as he walked over to his computer.

“I want more cheese,” Plagg said.

“You know where it is,” Adrien said absently, motioning towards the fridge. Normally he rationed Plagg’s cheese, but he was too wound up for that. He sat down at his desk.

‘Really? Homework?’ Marinette thought.

‘I have to do something until Nathalie calls me for supper,’ Adrien thought back. ‘Once she sees me sit down at the table, she won’t care. My father has some kind of thing tonight, so I’ll be able to meet you if you want.’

Yes,’ Marinette thought immediately, so fiercely that a small smile tugged at Adrien’s lips.

“Huh,” Plagg said, and Adrien recoiled when his kwami appeared about two inches away from his face. The stinky cheese breath was revolting.

“Ew, Plagg. Get back,” Adrien said, pushing Plagg away. “What are you doing?”

Plagg shrugged. “I should’ve guessed that dopey look on your face meant you were talking to Ladybug.”

“I do not get a dopey look on my face,” Adrien said, offended.

“That’s what you think,” Plagg said with a snigger.

Adrien stuck his tongue out and then turned away with a huff, booting up his computer. He and Marinette spent forty-five minutes struggling through three pages of mathematics problems - and since Marinette was completely exhausted, that meant Adrien tried to figure out the problems and coaxed Marinette into writing them down - before Adrien was called down for supper.

As he expected, Nathalie barely stuck around long enough to see him pick up his fork before she was scuttling out the door after Gabriel. Adrien sort of wondered where they were going, because it was extremely rare for his father to leave the house, but in the end he didn’t really care: he no longer had to spend lonely dinners in quiet misery and that was all that mattered. The second they were gone, he dropped his fork, jumped up, and raced upstairs.

‘Meet you at the tower?’ he thought, heading for the window.

‘On my way,’ Marinette thought eagerly; that familiar tingle ran through him, telling him that she had transformed.

“Plagg, claws out!” Adrien called.

Green light shimmered around him, and Chat jumped out the window and struck out for the tower. He made it there before Ladybug for once and sat down on their favorite beam to look at the city. Ladybug joined him less than two minutes later, sinking down into his lap like she belonged there and pressing a shaky kiss to his cheek.

“That was awful,” she said, cuddling into him. “And I could still feel you the whole time. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose you and then get you back, only for you to have to leave because we didn’t know each other’s identities.”

“Yeah, not knowing each other’s identities seems like it would make things needlessly complicated,” Chat said, hugging her. She smelled like vanilla and cinnamon and he hummed in contentment, pushing his nose into her hair.

“Chat, stop! That tickles,” Ladybug complained, giggling.

“I can’t help it. You smell like cookies, My Lady,” he said.

“If you want cookies, here.” Ladybug grabbed the box she had set down beside them and pulled the top up. “I brought you some of the rejects since you didn’t eat supper.”

“You didn’t either,” Chat pointed out, helping himself to a chocolate chip cookie. His stomach rumbled happily as he chewed and swallowed. Sabine may have considered these cookies not good enough to sell, but he thought they looked and tasted amazing.

Ladybug took a cookie, this one cinnamon with a vanilla frosting, and bite into it without comment. She leaned her head against his shoulder as they ate. It was quiet and peaceful and, Chat thought, exactly what they needed for what was possibly their last night as Ladybug and Chat Noir.

“Ugh, you had to think it,” Ladybug said, wrinkling her nose.

“Sorry, Bugaboo. I can’t help it,” Chat said apologetically. His stomach churned with anxiety whenever he dwelled on tomorrow morning for too long.

“You’re nervous,” she acknowledged quietly.

“Aren’t you?” Chat asked, before realizing with some surprise that she wasn’t. Ladybug’s emotions were somewhere between resignation and determination, tempered with a lack of remorse.

“No, I’m not,” she confirmed. “If I could go back in time, I would do the same thing. I don’t regret finding out that we were soulmates. I’m so gladthat we met before we got our miraculous.” She turned to him with a sad smile. “Thinking of all those years we might have wasted not knowing if we were each other’s soulmates makes me ache.”

Chat swallowed, his mouth dry. “I feel the same way.”

“I know you do. And I also don’t regret keeping the Ladybug miraculous. Today was probaby the worst day of my life, but our miraculous also gave us moments like this.” Ladybug spread her arm to indicate the city below them and automatically, Chat’s eyes followed her hand.

Paris seemed particularly beautiful tonight beneath a clear sky with no clouds. He and Ladybug were high up on a beam that no tourist and few civilians would ever get to see from. In a way, it felt like the breathtaking sight was reserved solely for them. Even Ladybug was prettier than ever, her eyes reflecting the sparkle of the Parisian lights and the wind bringing a red flush to her cheeks.

That red blush deepened as Ladybug lightly swatted his arm. “Stop that!”

“Stop what?” Chat asked innocently.

“Stop thinking about how pretty I am! It’s distracting and I’m trying to be serious,” she scolded.

“I can’t help it. Stop being pretty, then,” Chat said.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Anyway, I guess what I was trying to say before someone interrupted me is that I’m really happy you convinced me to keep the Ladybug miraculous. I would have given it up if it weren’t for you, and I would have missed out on so much.”

“I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without you,” Chat said immediately. “I still wouldn’t. I would never be the Chat Noir to any other Ladybug. I…” He had to swallow again. “This is… I mean…” He trailed off, frustrated that he couldn’t put his feelings into words like she could.

“I know,” Ladybug said gently, and she did know. She could feel everything swirling through him.

Grateful, Chat kissed her. Now she tasted like cinnamon and vanilla and he couldn’t help smiling into the kiss. She smiled too, until finally she started giggling and Chat broke off the kiss with a snort to grab the last cookie. He broke it in half and handed her part of it, then tossed the other half into his mouth.

“You know what we should do?” Chat said.

Ladybug ate her piece of the cookie and nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. It would be the kind thing to do, wouldn’t it?”

She got up and tucked the box behind another beam where she could retrieve it later, then took out her yoyo. Chat wrapped both arms around her waist and jumped off the tower with her. A rush of excitement flooded through him as the wind whipped past them. The ground rapidly approached. Only at the last moment did Ladybug throw her yoyo out.

By way of yoyo, it only took about ten minutes to make it to their destination. Ladybug landed on the windowsill, holding them steady while Chat tried the window. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was unlocked. He pushed it open and let her go in first before he followed, hearing a shocked squeal before his boots even hit the ground.

“L-Ladybug?! Chat Noir?!” Alix exclaimed.

“Hi Alix,” Ladybug said politely.

Chat took a quick glance around Alix’s room. The dark blue walls were covered in pictures of female athletes. There was lots of clutter everywhere - clothes, sporting equipment, school books - but he easily spotted Alix’s pocket watch. It had a place of honor on her desk. He was glad to see that it was safe.

“Um… not that I’m mad you’re here or anything, but what are you doing here?” Alix asked, baffled.

“I just wanted to check and make sure that you were okay. I didn’t get to talk to you after the battle today,” Ladybug explained.

“Oh. Yeah, I’m fine,” Alix said, her smile fading. “Ladybug… what happened today… I’m really sorry.”

“Sorry?” Ladybug said, surprised. “Why?”

“For hurting you. And Chat Noir.” Alix’s guilty look took Chat in too. “I don’t know what I did when I was akumatized… but it must have been really bad.”

“Alix, that wasn’t -” Ladybug began.

“Yes, it was,” Alix interrupted. “So I’m sorry.” She clasped her hands in front of her, nervously bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Ladybug said gently. “The blame lies with Hawkmoth, not you. He’s the one who is akumatizing innocent people. You were upset because you watch broke and Hawkmoth took advantage of that.”

“But it was my fault my watch broke,” Alix was quick to point out. “I should’ve been more responsible and taken care of it myself. Then I got mad at my friends.”

“It was just an accident. It happens,” Chat said, speaking up for the first time. “The good thing is, Ladybug was able to fix your watch.”

Alix brightened. “I was really glad about that. My dad would’ve been devastated to know that it got broken. I didn’t get the chance to thank you for that, Ladybug.”

Ladybug smiled. “No thanks necessary. We really just wanted to make sure that you were doing okay.”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Alix said. “I hope you’re okay too.”

“I have my kitty to take care of me,” Ladybug said, shooting Chat a smile. “I’ll always be okay.”

“Then…” Alix looked at them hopefully. “Could you take a picture with me? Everyone in my class would think it’s the coolest.”

Chat grinned, his spark of amusement echoed by his lady, and nodded. “I think that can be arranged.”

Chapter Text

Normally Sunday mornings were Marinette’s favorite. Her parents opened the bakery a couple of hours later on Sunday, so she never had to worry about them waking her up early to help like they sometimes did on Saturday. Sunday mornings were for sleeping in, followed by slow, luxurious awakenings that involved a good extra hour in bed.

Not today.

“Do I look okay, Tikki?” Marinette asked anxiously, smoothing down the red blouse she was wearing.

“You look fine,” Tikki said patiently, just as she had for the last three outfits.

“I have to look better than fine. I need to convince the guardian that I’m cool and capable of being Ladybug!” Marinette said. In spite of her feelings last night, Adrien’s nerves had been catching. Her stomach fluttered as she looked into the mirror, wondering if she should forego her usual pigtails in favor of a more grown-up hairstyle.

‘Mari, you look lovely,’ Adrien thought, sneaking a quick peek through her eyes. ‘I like that blouse.’

‘Thanks, Chaton,’ Marinette thought. She stopped plucking at her blouse and instead smiled at the mirror. Paired with dark blue jeans and her favorite brown boots, she supposed the blouse looked pretty decent. It would have to do at any rate. She picked up a purse and looped it over her shoulder, motioning to Tikki.

‘I’m downstairs,’ Adrien thought.

Moments later, Sabine called out, “Marinette, Adrien’s here!”

“Coming,” Marinette shouted, swallowing as she clasped her purse shut on Tikki’s reassuring smile. She clattered down the steps and into the bakery, where Tom was stuffing a pastry into Adrien’s hand.

“ - my new recipe,” Tom was saying. “Citrus and raspberry with white chocolate. Give it a try and let me know what you think.”

“Sure,” Adrien said, biting into the pastry. His face lit up. “This is wonderful, Monsieur Dupain!”

Tom beamed. “Call me Tom, son.” He patted Adrien’s shoulder. “I hope you two plan to come back here afterwards. I’m working on a new hot chocolate flavored pastry and I’d love for you to be the first to try it.”

“Of course,” Marinette said, unable to resist Adrien’s hopeful look. “It shouldn’t take us very long, Papa.” She linked arms with Adrien and gently drew her boyfriend away from her papa. If she didn’t, Tom would squirrel Adrien away to the kitchen and she wouldn’t see Adrien for the rest of the day.

Which was fine, in theory. Adrien didn’t eat enough for a teenaged model, never mind as a superhero who regularly parkoured around Paris. There was a reason that Marinette regularly smuggled him food: he could definitely do with some fattening up. But they had to go see Master Fu and there was no way Marinette was doing that alone.

“I wouldn’t let you,” Adrien said around another mouthful of pastry as they walked up the street. It was a good thing they were soulmates, because those words came out so garbled Marinette never would’ve understood him otherwise. She shot him a fond smile and shook her head.

“I know. Papa really would steal you away though,” she said. “He loves having a captive audience when it comes to tasting stuff.”

Adrien swallowed and gave her a grin. “Believe me, My Lady, I am perfectly willing to be his cat-ptive audience anytime.”

“Silly kitty,” Marinette said, rolling her eyes at him, and took his hand so that she could lace their fingers together.

Tikki had told them that Master Fu lived in another arrondissement, one that was filled with smaller shops and boutiques. Marinette looked around with some interest, noticing a few stores that she wouldn’t mind coming back to see - but she couldn’t focus enough to browse through them now. Her stomach churned and Adrien’s hand grew clammy as they approached.

“Is that it?” Adrien asked finally, pointing with his free hand.

Marinette glanced up and saw that he was gesturing to a shop about a dozen feet ahead of them. The name, though she probably wouldn’t have been able to pronounce it, simply read ‘Astounding’ in Mandarin. As they walked up, she saw that the store’s windows were filled with what appeared to be various medications and herbal supplements.

“Umm… I’m not sure,” Marinette said, furrowing her brow.

“That’s it,” Plagg said, covertly poking his head out of Adrien’s pocket.

‘Seriously?’ Adrien thought skeptically.

She shrugged. ‘I guess he’s really good at blending in?’ she thought, reaching for the door. It gave easily under her hand and they stepped inside.

The proprietor was the very definition of a little old man. He was speaking to another customer, giving Marinette and Adrien the chance to gather in a corner while feigning interest in a salve. Marinette snuck peeks at him, taking in the grey hair, slightly hunched back, and tacky Hawaiian shirt. She knew him… but from where?

Suddenly, Adrien gasped. ‘I know him too! He’s the guy who I stopped to help that first day I wanted to come to school!’ He pushed a memory at her, and Marinette suddenly saw Adrien running away from Nathalie to go help an elderly man with a cane who had stumbled and fallen.

That made her remember where she had seen the man before. She grabbed Adrien’s arm, pushing a memory back at him. That very same morning, she had wanted to bring macarons for her whole class. But she’d ended up dropping most of them after an elderly man had stepped off the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

‘It was the same guy!’ Marinette thought, her eyes wide.

Adrien stared back at her. ‘I can’t believe we both saw him on the same day. That can’t be a coincidence.’

‘No way,’ Marinette thought. ‘So what… was he like, testing us?’

‘Wait, you don’t seriously think he picked us because we both stopped to help,’ Adrien thought incredulously. ‘What if you had been hurt stepping in front of that car? What if my dad had locked me up in the house for the rest of the year?’

His justified anger stirred up Marinette. She had to take a deep breath in the hopes of calming both herself and her partner down. Adrien was right, though. If that was what Master Fu had been doing, it was pretty short-sighted of him. Even the nastiest of people could have a change of heart once in a while, and even the best of people could have moments where they just didn’t have time to stop to help.

“Thank you and come again,” the proprietor called as the customer departed. “What can I -” He stopped abruptly as he turned to Marinette and Adrien, his jaw dropping. He definitely recognized them, and so Marinette knew for sure that this had to be Master Fu.

“Hello, Master!” Tikki said, bursting out of Marinette’s purse.

“T-Tikki?” Fu stuttered, eyes wide and face pale. “What on earth is going on here?!”

“We ran into a little problem,” Plagg said, flying out of Adrien’s pocket. “Tikki insisted that we come tell you about it to see if you could solve it. Not that it really needs solving if you ask me,” he mumbled under his breath.

“It was the right thing to do and you know it,” Tikki said in a long-suffering tone. “Believe me, we’re not here because I want to be.”

Fu recovered quickly, a deep frown crossing his face. “Wait, what’s the problem? Why are Ladybug and Chat Noir here together? In their civilian forms, no less?”

“That’s the problem. They’re soulmates,” Plagg said.

If possible, Fu paled even more. “You’re soulmates?” he said, staring at Adrien and Marinette like he had never seen them before.

Marinette licked her lips and nodded. “Yes, we are,” she said, hoping that she sounded more confident than she felt. Adrien squeezed her hand.

‘You sound fine,’ he thought encouragingly.

“They met before they became Ladybug and Chat Noir,” Tikki explained to Fu. “But they’ve been keeping it a secret.”

Fu blinked at that. “A secret? Why?”

“None of your business,” Adrien said. If he had been transformed, his ears and tail would’ve been bristling. Marinette couldn’t blame him. That was a pretty personal question, even if Fu didn’t realize that. If she were Adrien, she wouldn’t want to go into detail about her asshole father either.

“Master.” A little green kwami emerged from the collar of Fu’s shirt. Marinette gasped with delight when she saw him. This kwami looked like a little turtle and was almost as cute as Plagg and Tikki.

‘Probably a match for his bracelet,’ Adrien thought. Marinette dropped her gaze, taking a better look at Fu’s wrist. The greyish green charm looked, upon closer inspection, roughly like a turtle.

“Don’t you think it would be best to move this into the back room? Someone could walk in on us,” the kwami said.

Fu shook his head. “Of course, Wayzz. You’re right. I’ll lock the door.” He walked over to the door and locked it, then flipped the sign hanging there from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’.

“Hi Wayzz!” Tikki chirped.

“Tikki, Plagg.” Wayzz smiled and flew over to Tikki and Plagg.

“Come this way,” Fu said to Marinette and Adrien. Perhaps sensing the tension, his voice was friendlier when he added, “I’ll make us some tea and we can sit down and talk.”

That sounded strangely ominous. Marinette had to make herself take a step forward, only to be drawn up by Adrien. Their hands were still clasped and he hadn’t moved, and was in fact digging his heels in. His eyes darted to the door and she knew that he wanted to make a break for it. To be honest, the thought didn’t sound all that bad.

But it wouldn’t be right.

Mon minou, let’s go,” Marinette said quietly. “We can’t delay the inevitable.” No matter how much she wanted to.

Adrien bit his lip before finally nodding and thinking, ‘Okay.’

Chapter Text

While Fu made tea, Adrien and Marinette settled themselves at a low table. The only sound in the room was that of Tikki, Plagg and Wayzz whispering; both of them remained quiet as Fu brought a teapot and three cups over, setting the tray gentle on the table before kneeling down himself. He poured the tea, placing a cup in front of first Marinette and then Adrien.

“Now,” he said heavily. “When did you two find out you were soulmates?”

“Back in May,” Marinette said. She didn’t touch her cup of tea and neither did Adrien. He was too focused on watching Fu closely as the bit of information sank in. As Plagg had predicted, Fu didn’t look too happy.

“Why didn’t you tell Tikki and Plagg?” he asked.

“Because they were very insistent that we needed to keep our identities secret and that no one could know,” Marinette said. “Especially our partner.” She glanced at Adrien. “But… it’s pretty hard to keep things a secret from your soulmate.”

And even if they had kept it a secret, Adrien wanted to add even though he refrained, he would’ve known who Ladybug was the instant that he saw her. The way Ladybug moved, the way she smiled, the sound of her laugh, her innate kindness and courage - it was all so thoroughly Marinette that there would’ve been no mistaking it.

‘Flatterer,’ Marinette thought, blushing slightly.

Fu’s lips pursed in disapproval. He was quiet for a moment. Then he steepled his fingers together and said, “Ladybug and Chat Noir are not supposed to know each other’s identities at first. The masks give them the opportunity to bond and learn to work as a team without any preconcieved notions.”

“We have bonded,” Adrien pointed out. “We’re soulmates.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Fu sighed. “Having you two too focused on each other could ruin the balance of the team.”

“What team? We are the team,” Adrien said. He noticed Tikki and Plagg exchanging looks. Clearly there was something he and Marinette were missing. But Fu glossed over that, continuing as though Adrien hadn’t spoken.

“At any rate, you two knowing each other’s identities is dangerous when you have an enemy like Hawkmoth. If he akumatized one of you, the akuma would know right where to go to target the other.”

“That wouldn’t happen,” Marinette said weakly.

“You don’t know that,” Fu said. “Besides, have you considered what would happen if one of you died?”

Marinette flinched and Adrien reached out to wordlessly take her hand.

“That already happened during Timebreaker,” Tikki spoke up, flying over to pat Marinette’s free hand comfortingly.

“And what happened?” Fu asked grimly.

Tikki hesitated. Marinette cleared her throat. “I defeated the akuma and brought my partner back,” she said with forced calm.

Fu looked at her skeptically. “And?”

‘You don’t have to tell him,’ Adrien thought.

‘Yes I do. I think it’ll be worse if we don’t,’ Marinette thought back.

Adrien had no response to that, because she was right, but he didn’t like it.

“A couple of my friends found out who I was and Tikki discovered Adrien and I are soulmates. But it doesn’t matter. I fixed everything with the cure. None of my friends remember that I’m Ladybug,” Marinette said.

“But what if Timebreaker hadn’t been a time traveling akuma?” Fu said, shaking his head. He sat back on his heels. “You could have exposed yourself to people who would never forget.”

“It was a mistake. I know what to expect from now on. We’ll be prepared for it next time if it ever happens again,” Marinette argued.

“How are your shields?” Fu inquired suddenly. “Are they in good shape? Didn’t they help?”

“We don’t have any,” Adrien said reluctantly, and the look on Fu’s face would’ve been comical under any other circumstances. As it was, Marinette bit her lip and Adrien squirmed.

“You don’t have any shields?” Fu said incredulously. “At all?”

“No,” Marinette said. Then, pre-empting the inevitable question, she added, “We don’t want any.”

Fu’s frown deepened. He went again, eyes flicking back and forth between the two of them. Adrien wanted to say something in their defence, but he wasn’t sure what that something should be. He didn’t think that the fact that they were soulmates was as big of a deal as Fu was making it out to be. They’d gotten along fine until now, hadn’t they?

‘I don’t know. Maybe he’s right,’ Marinette thought. ‘Maybe it is dangerous… like he said, if Hawkmoth akumatized one of us…’

‘No, Mari. He’s not right. He’s wrong. I don’t care how dangerous it is. We’re damn good at what we do,’ Adrien thought, squeezing her hand. ‘Us knowing each other’s identities means we can give each other support. I would feel so lonely and confused if I couldn’t lean on you.’

Her expression softened. ‘You’re right. It would be awful. I can’t imagine what that kind of pressure would be like. It would probably make us more susceptible to being akumatized, not less.’

“Is there anything else I need to know?” Fu said at last.

‘Should I mention Chloé?’ Adrien thought, and Marinette sighed.

“One of our friends still knows who we are,” she said wearily. “She knew before Timebreaker.”

“Someone already knows?” Fu sounded completely scandalized at that. “You said Tikki and Plagg impressed upon you the importance of keeping your secret!”

“It was an accident,” Adrien said hotly, ashamed. He knew that one was completely his fault no matter how much Marinette told him that it wasn’t.

“They did!” Marinette cried at the same time. “That’s why we didn’t tell them, because they said our miraculous might get taken away!”

“I see,” Fu said.

“Master Fu, Marinette is a fantastic Ladybug,” Tikki said, seemingly recognizing that this conversation was not going well. “And Adrien is a great Chat Noir, right Plagg?”

“I want to keep him,” Plagg said simply.

“There are ways to mitigate the fact that they’re soulmates,” Tikki continued. “I know they don’t want shields, but -”

“I’ve heard enough,” Fu interrupted. “Marinette, Adrien. I chose you two suspecting that you were soulmates, but had I known that you’d already discovered your connection I wouldn’t have given you the miraculous for exactly these reasons.”

Marinette tensed and went ashen.

Adrien’s heart started racing.

“Based on everything you’ve told me, I have no choice but to ask for your miraculous back,” Fu concluded.

“Master!” Tikki exclaimed.

“You can’t -” Plagg started furiously.

“My decision is final,” Fu said, shooting the two kwami a firm look.

“That’s not fair,” Adrien said shakily. Their worst nightmare was coming true. “You heard Plagg and Tikki. We’re good at what we do. Chloé hasn’t said anything. She won’t. I know she won’t. And Mari and I, being soulmates makes us better at being Ladybug and Chat Noir, not worse.”

“Please, Master.” Marinette’s voice cracked. “Please give us a chance. We can do this.”

Fu shook his head. “I’m sorry.” He wordlessly held out a hand.

Marinette’s face crumbled. The surge of raw grief and disappointing rolling off of her curdled in Adrien’s chest, making him feel nauseous. He couldn’t find the words to speak, to explain. He and Marinette could do this. They were born to do this.

But sitting there, looking at Fu’s face, he realized that nothing they said would make a difference. Fu had already made up his mind. For whatever reason, he didn’t want a Ladybug and Chat Noir who were unshielded soulmates - and maybe not even shields would be enough.

Plagg flew up to hover in front of Adrien’s face. “Kid…”

“Goodbye, Plagg,” Adrien whispered, choked. He quickly drew off the ring, unwilling or unable to draw the conversation out. Plagg vanished in a flash of green light.

Beside him, Marinette sobbed as Tikki nuzzled her cheek. There were tears in Tikki’s eyes as Marinette removed the earrings. Tikki turned into a swirl of red light. Marinette’s hand trembled as she reached out and dropped the earrings into Fu’s hand. Adrien clenched his jaw, willing back his own tears as he gently set his ring into Fu’s palm too.

Then he turned to Marinette, gathering her up into a hug as she fell apart. It was a struggle to hold himself together, but he wasn’t willing to cry in front of Fu. Instead, he just watched as Fu slid the Ladybug and Black Cat miraculous into his pocket. Wayzz flew over to him, hovering over Fu’s shoulder with a somber expression.

“I really am sorry,” Fu said, very quietly. “I recognize how difficult this is. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t feel that this was for the best. I have to think of the safety of the miraculous and of Paris.” He looked up at them. “I ask that you never tell anyone else that you were Ladybug and Chat Noir, or it could paint a target on your backs.”

Were. That word cut deeply. Adrien’s chin trembled. “We won’t.”

“And you must never tell anyone about me or what you have seen here today,” Fu continued. “During the next akuma attack, you have to keep your distance. No matter how much you want to help, don’t.”

“Fine,” Adrien whispered. Marinette was crying too hard to speak.

“Then you may go,” Fu said, inclining his head.

That was it, then. Adrien wanted to scream and rage, but instead he stood up and took Marinette with him. They made their way back out through the shop and emerged into the bright sunlight. Though it was warm, Adrien felt numb down to his core. Plagg had always been light, a barely noticeable weight, but right then Adrien felt as unbalanced as though he were missing a limb.

‘I can’t believe this,’ Marinette thought, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. ‘I can’t believe he took them away.’

‘He shouldn’t have. We were good,’ Adrien thought. ‘We were good.’

“Oh, Adrien,” Marinette whispered, lifting her head to look at him.

His eyes grew hot and blurry with tears. “What are we going to do?”

Marinette reached up to wrap her arms around his neck. “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.”

She was trying to be confident, but Adrien could feel her uncertainty. She was as lost as he was now. They had only been Ladybug and Chat Noir for a few months, but it had become such a huge part of them. He didn’t know if he could handle standing by and watching someone else take up that mantle, but then it wasn’t like they had a choice. They were civilians now. Useless civilians.

He put his head down on Marinette’s shoulder and wept.

Chapter Text

“Marinette? Are you up yet?”

Marinette grunted into her pillow by way of response, pulling the covers over her head. She was exhausted and it was much too early to be up, in spite of the fact that she could hear Adrien humming away, wide awake, in the back of her head. Unfortunately, they did little to block the sound of her maman’s voice.

“Marinette! You better be awake. You’re going to be late!”

No way. Marinette stuck a hand out from under her warm covers and groped around blindly for her phone. When she finally found it, she drew her phone beneath the covers and pried open one gummy eyelid to stare blearily at the screen. It took a few seconds for her eye to focus against the brightness, and then for the time to register.

“Oh my god, I’m so late!” Marinette shrieked, throwing her covers off and lunging towards her ladder. “Tikki! Why didn’t you wake me up?!”

Her feet hit the ground as an expectant silence filled the room. Usually this was the time when a scowling Tikki poked her head up to say that she had tried to wake Marinette, thank you very much. Or a grumpy Tikki would point out that she was not a secondary alarm clock and that it wasn’t her fault Marinette had ignored her phone’s alarms. Either reaction was common.

‘Mari,’ Adrien thought, very gently and painfully, and reality slapped Marinette across the face with such stunning clarity that her knees buckled and she had to grab her ladder for support.

Right. Tikki wasn’t here anymore. The realization made her feel cold. No wonder she was so tired: she’d had a terrible time falling asleep last night. Her room had felt so empty without the reassuring sound of Tikki’s soft breathing. Marinette had lain awake for hours, alternately crying and being soothed by Adrien, and then soothing him while he cried.

Because as empty as her room was, at least she knew her parents were just down the hall. A single word and Marinette could have all the companionship she wanted, even if it wasn’t the creature she wanted. Adrien had it much worse. Neither of them had ever stopped to consider just how much space a tiny kwami could take up, but now they were seeing the effects of that first hand and it was horrible.

‘I can’t believe I forgot,’ she thought, appalled at herself. Yet how could she get used to this new normal that quickly? It hadn’t even been twenty-four hours yet…

‘I wish I could forget for even a few minutes,’ Adrien thought morosely. ‘I ended up leaving the house early this morning. I couldn’t stay there.’

Marinette bit her lip, clenching her hands into fists. Of course he couldn’t. Being able to turn into Chat Noir had changed Adrien’s life dramatically. For a few brief, shining months, Adrien had gotten a taste of what freedom was like. Whether that was parkouring around Paris at 3am or spending all evening getting cuddles and cookies from Ladybug, just knowing that he had that opportunity meant everything.

And Fu had cruelly wrenched that away without sparing a thought to either of them. The sheer lack of consideration made Marinette angrier than she could accurately put into words. Adrien was right: this wasn’t fair.

‘I’m coming,’ she thought, knowing that was little comfort. Adrien loved her, but she was no replacement for Plagg. She couldn’t help him escape, not in the ways that really mattered.

She tiredly pushed herself up off of her ladder and walked over to her closet. Her eyes stung and a lump rose in her throat as she looked at her clothing. Tikki loved helping Marinette pick out what she was going to wear. She had taken such pride in her clever, creative holder, often praising the workmanship or details of Marinette’s work. In a lot of ways, Tikki really had been her biggest fan.

Blinking back tears, Marinette pushed aside every scrap of fabric that was red, black or green. She settled on a jean skirt with a blue blouse that had some fine purple detailing. Then, for the first time in a long time, she took her hair out of its beloved pigtails and instead scraped her hair into a messy bun. She was just pulling on sneakers when her maman called out again.

“Marinette!” The trap door wobbled and opened, and Sabine stuck her head up, scowling.

“I’m ready!” Marinette said quickly. “Just gotta brush my teeth.”

Sabine shook her head. “What you gotta do is learn to get up in time! You cannot keep being late, young lady. You’re out of options here. Do you understand me? One more tardy and your papa is gonna start making sure you’re up when he gets up.”

The thought of being woken up at 3am made Marinette cringe. “I swear, I’ll get better! I’m coming right now.” She hurried over to the door.

“Wait, where’s your purse?” Sabine said. “I don’t want you getting to school and then having to come back for it.”

Marinette’s heart twisted. In her mind, Adrien ached. She forced a smile. “I don’t need it today.”

She quickly slipped into the bathroom and did what she needed to do before she ran downstairs. Her papa met her in the kitchen with a wink, a hug and a warm paper bag. Marinette kissed his cheek in thanks and raced out the door.

Just as the bell was ringing, she flew into Madame Bustier’s classroom. Luckily, Madame Bustier wasn’t there yet. Marinette turned towards her seat and blinked when she saw Alya seated beside Nino, but realized in the next beat that Adrien had asked Alya to switch. He was looking at her from above Alya and Nino, puffy eyes sad.

‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he thought.

‘I never mind,’ Marinette thought back, sliding onto the bench beside him. She put her hand over his and leaned in, nuzzling his cheek the way he liked it. Too late she realized that was a total kitty move, and that it probably didn’t bring him comfort like it had before.

‘It’s okay,’ Adrien thought. ‘I figure it’ll take a bit to fade.’ It wasn’t okay, but he was trying hard to pretend.

Marinette took a deep breath and, upon peeking into the bag, pulled out a croissant. If she was chewing, she couldn’t be crying. Adrien took a croissant too, and the two of them are in morose silence. She was pretty sure that in the history of the Dupain-Cheng bakery, no one had ever eaten their pastries with such a sad expression.

Alya turned around to look at them. “What’s going on? You two look like someone died.”

“It’s nothing,” Marinette said. “Croissant?”

“Thanks!” Alya said happily, thoroughly distracted by the treat.

“Thanks Dude,” Nino said, taking a croissant.

“We are so lucky your parents don’t mass produce these,” Alya said between bites. “Otherwise the Ladyblog would be out of a job. No one would ever get akumatized if all of Paris could just eat these all the time!”

Adrien flinched and Marinette choked on her mouthful. Luckily, neither Alya nor Nino seemed to notice. Alya had finished her croissant and was trying to steal a piece of Nino’s, who was valiantly defending his croissant.

‘Wonder when the next akuma will come,’ Adrien thought. They no longer needed to be on edge. There was no more need for tardiness or missing class or bizarre excuses. Because even if an akuma did come, they couldn’t do anything about it.

Marinette’s croissant suddenly tasted like dirt. ‘I don’t know. I wonder who Fu will choose.’ She wondered if anyone would even notice the new holders, or if the glamor would prevent anyone from realizing.

‘You think…’ Adrien didn’t look at her. Shame, guilt, longing, pain: he was oozing with it. ‘You think they’ll buy Plagg the Camembert he likes?’

‘Tikki loved Papa’s cookies more than anything,’ Marinette thought. Her lower lip was quivering. She covered her mouth with her hand.

“Okay class, settle down,” Madame Bustier called as she walked in.

“Can I have another croissant?” Alya asked Marinette. Silently, Marinette shoved them whole bag at her. Alya’s eyes lit up and she eagerly took the bag to split between her and Nino.

“Attention everyone,” Madame Bustier said, clapping her hands. “I have an announcement.”

‘Focus. Just focus,’ Marinette thought, not even sure if she was talking to herself or Adrien. ‘Just hold it together.’ Yet even as she thought the words, Adrien made a sound not unlike a choked sob. She grabbed his hand and made herself face forward, hoping that the announcement was good news. They could use it.

Madame Bustier circled around in front of her desk and smiled as she beckoned to the open door. “We have a new student joining us. I hope you’ll make her feel welcome. Please welcome Lila Rossi.”