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How did it end up like this?

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“How long is this going to take?”

“Just hold still!”

Chat Noir let out an overly dramatic sigh as Marinette circled around him. She held the end of her tape measure up to his shoulder and gently unfurled it—running her hand down the measure until reaching his waist.

“So—” Chat raised a brow, curiously following her movements and markings, “What are these measurements for, exactly?”

Marinette gave a soft hum before tossing the tape measure over her shoulder and gliding across the room, “Just a project I’m working on,” she replied nonchalantly, not even bothering with a second glance.

“Oh, it’s top-secret now?” he playfully commented, trailing her strides with his gaze. The question lingered in silence for a few moments. Evidently, the focus was not on him.

“Sure,” she replied, before sitting at her desk.

Chat rolled his eyes. Much to his dismay, Marinette had grown immune to his various attention-seeking methods. He still got a kick whenever he managed to get a rise out of her—but, unfortunately, it took more of an effort. On top of that, she had the tendency to tune the world out the moment a wave of inspiration struck.

Chat Noir sauntered across the room to Marinette’s work station.

Nevertheless, He enjoyed watching her mind at work. It was fascinating really—seeing her bring beautiful sketches to life. Every piece was incredibly unique in its own right, but maintained a distinct Marinette style.

Oddly enough, he learned more about her through his superhero persona than his civilian self. The nightly visits to her room began shortly after the akumatization of Glaciator. They were sporadic at first, occurring once every other week, but became more frequent as the pair grew closer. There was no particular reason for it, he simply enjoyed her company.

Being with her was preferable to the silence of his vast empty bedroom.

He quietly peered over the young designer’s shoulder. She was huddled over a notepad, silently sketching what appeared to be a men’s spring outfit using his measurements.

“Mhm, a little gift for me?” he asked cheekily, examining the sketch. “You’re too kind.”

Marinette paused, then turned to meet his gaze with an unimpressed expression. “No Chaton, not for you,” her brow furrowed slightly, “I said it’s just a project I’m working on.” she repeated, turning her attention back to the sketch.

“Shouldn’t I be compensated for all the hours of hard labor?” he grinned, despite himself.

Her pencil paused, “Hard labor? Please, you couldn’t hold still for two minutes,” she replied flatly before resuming again.

“Debatable.” he mused, pursing his lips. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to agree.

“Either way,” Chat casually leaned against the desk beside her, “You must admit, I’m an integral part of the creative process,” he insisted, poking her shoulder repeatedly, “You know you would be lost without me—”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“—and that has to count for something.” he went on, ignoring the statement.

“Touché.” she dismissed, not breaking once to make eye contact.

Chat gasped, “Princess, you can’t be serious. This—”

Marinette finally spun around in her chair to give him an exasperated look.

Now he was getting somewhere.

“—This is animal cruelty!” he feigned a shocked tone. Marinette let out an impatient huff, despite her clear amusement. The edges of her lips curled, threatening to break out a smile—and he was living for it.

She shook her head before flicking her eyes up to meet his, “God, you are so insufferable, Chat Noir.”

He bent over and leaned closer to meet her gaze, “Am I now?” he replied with a feigned air of innocence, “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”

Her enjoyment was growing increasingly apparent, which sparked a feeling of glee inside him. They quietly stared at one another in a calculating way—almost as if they were opponents in some sort of game, deliberating their next move. Marinette was the first to break the air of concentration and let out a snort. He grinned in response before she gently flicked his nose.

Chat let out a slight gasp and backed away, “Marinette!”

She smiled sweetly and raised a brow, “Yes?”

“Wow, ok,” Chat rubbed his nose, “You’ve now crossed the line into animal abuse. I have to get the authorities involved.” he tutted in disapproval with a head shake.

Marinette mouthed a silent ‘oh my god’ and rolled her eyes, “Alright, go ahead. You’ll waste everyone’s time, I’ll get my day in court, be proven innocent, and move on with my life.” she toed the floor, swaying her desk chair back and forth.

“Hm, maybe,” he conceded with a thoughtful nod, “But I don’t know if you’ll recover from the scandal and the bad press,” he sighed dramatically, crossing his arms, “What a tragic end to the career of a promising young star.”

Marinette narrowed her eyes, “In that case, I’ll file a defamation lawsuit and use the money to move to Monaco and retire early.” she mirrored him by crossing her arms and fixating with a pointed stare, “We both lose and you’ll be penniless.”

“Lucky for you, I’m a rich celebrity with cash to spare,” he joked, prompting an eye roll from Marinette. The ironic truth may have flown over her head, but it was certainly not lost on him.

“Fine, what if—” she clicked her tongue a moment later, “—I credit you for the inspiration? I think we both want to avoid a lengthy court battle.”

“Hmm…” Chat slowly nodded in agreement, “Well, I admit, that’s a very generous offer, Mademoiselle Dupain-Cheng, but—” he raised a finger to counter, “—labor requires compensation.”

They exchanged looks in silence.

Marinette eventually stuck out her tongue and swiveled back to her desk in concession, “Whatever.”

A seemingly insignificant victory, but he felt triumphant nevertheless. “Good to know we’re on the same page,” he drummed his fingers on the desk, eager to receive further attention, “My going rate is fifty euros an hour, plus ten on top of—”

His voice suddenly trailed off.

Littered on the wall behind her workstation were dozens of pictures and magazine spreads.

Pictures of him.

Magazine covers. Photoshoots. Every possible angle of his well-chiseled face was plastered on her wall. It brought out mixed emotions—he felt odd, flattered, confused—somehow all at the same time. Not once did Marinette give any sort of impression that she a fan of his ‘work’.

Evidently, the silence must have been out of character for him, as it prompted Marinette to finally turn around.

“Chat, is everything ok…?” she slowly trailed his line of sight to the homemade shrine.

Another beat of silence passed.

“Nice collection.”

All color suddenly drained from Marinette’s face.

“IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS!”

She abruptly stood up and waved her arms rapidly in an attempt to block his view. The sudden outburst elicited a series of cackles from him. Despite her best efforts to usher him away from the wall, he easily dodged as a result of her small stature.

“Oh? What is this?” Chat stepped around her to get a better look. The display was truly something to behold, yet he still wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“I-it’s nothing—!” she squawked in response, tugging at his arm, “—nothing at all!”

“Damn Marinette, this boy is everywhere.” he remarked with a devilish grin, “But why so flustered?”

The comment seemed to strike a nerve. Marinette’s face transitioned through fifty different shades of red, “I-I’m not flustered!” she sputtered, still pulling at his arm to yank him away. He looked back, grinning wider, and lightly swatted in her direction.

“Are you sure about that?” he questioned playfully.

Yes!” she shot back defensively, an obvious lie, “Just drop it! Dress up is ov—”

“There sure are a lot of pictures up there,” he interrupted, resisting her tugs, “Is it some sort of wake?”

“Chat!” Marinette sputtered in disbelief.

“I wasn’t aware he passed away,” he snickered, pushing the envelope further, “Rest in pieces, you gorgeous son of a gun.”

Marinette dropped his arm and groaned painfully in response. Finally admitting defeat, she plopped down in her chair. Chat turned around and leaned against the desk to face her.

“A tragic loss, really.”

She shot him the iciest glare he had ever seen, “Chat Noir, I swear to god—you do not want to test my patience right now,” Marinette warned, rubbing her temples in a circular motion.

Being told not do something always had the exact opposite effect on him.

He peered back in silence for a moment.

“Well,” he clasped his hands together dramatically, “we’ve gathered here today to celebrate the life and light of pretty face—”

“His name is Adrien A—”

“—The life and light of Adrien Agreste, who was taken from this world far too soo—”

Marinette abruptly stood and covered his mouth, cutting his personal eulogy short.

“This is not funny.” she spoke sternly while pointing a finger at him, “It’s not a wake. And Adrien is very much alive and well. So stop.”

He had to disagree, the comedic levels of the situation were absolute gold. Oh, how blissfully unaware she was of all the irony.

Chat gently peeled her hand off and chuckled, “My bad, Princess,” he apologized, casually tacking on his unpopular nickname for her,  “….But if that’s the case…why do you have so many photos of Adrien Agreste?” The question was played off as a joke, but he was genuinely curious about the answer.

She fell silent. The question simply hung there, unanswered, which in turn only raised more.

Her eyes shifted to avert his, “I…” her voice trailed quietly, “I’m a fan…of Gabriel Agreste’s work. The pictures are…sort of like…inspiration.” she answered slowly, sounding somewhat sure of herself. It made sense. She was an aspiring designer—and his father was a notable figure in the industry. The fact was probably mentioned before.

“Oh.” he blinked. Marinette’s gaze shifted back to his and her shoulders relaxed, “Yeah, that makes sense.” 

It made sense, but he still wasn’t satisfied. Her answer still fell short.

“But…why just that kid? Gabriel uses more than one model.”

Silence. No rebuttal. Her jaw appeared to be wired shut.

“Unless…” he went on, thinking aloud, “…it’s not about the clothes.”

Chat scanned her features for some indication of an answer. Her expression remained neutral, but he detected a glimmer of panic in her eyes. He wasn’t sure what that implied, but he seemed to be wading in new territory.

“And?”

Evidently she did not want him there.

“Maybe I’m spitballing here…” he mused, shooting her a look, “But I’m going to take a wild guess and say there’s something about the boy.”

“And?”

Marinette was not budging in the slightest.

Chat crossed his arms, “I assume you two go to the same school? You’re friends right?”

“Sort of.”

Sort of? The response stung a bit. Granted they weren’t exactly close…but he still considered her to be a friend. Why wasn’t the feeling mutual? Their relationship had gotten off to a rocky start, but he had assumed they were both past it.

His brow furrowed quizzically, “So you’re ‘sort of’ friends, but he’s all over your wall?”

“I guess.”

It became clear that he wasn’t going to get more than two words out of her at a time. He needed to change tack.

“Hm,” Chat hummed thoughtfully, fixating his gaze on her, “Maybe, he’s not just a friend.”

A beat of silence passed.

“Maybe…” his eyes narrowed intently, “…maybe he’s more than just a friend.”

Another beat of silence.

Oh,” he whispered as a new idea struck, “You like him.”

A rosy blush dashed across her cheeks, “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A grin slowly stretched across his face in response to her reaction, “Oh, oh you definitely do.” In all honesty, he was just pulling her leg, as usual. There was no way she had any actual feelings for him. Just commonplace banter. “You like him. Like like him.”   

Marinette’s eyes snapped away from his. She swiveled around without another word.

“Ooooh, Marinette liiiiikes Adrien Agreste—” he teased further, eliciting no response. He started incessantly poking her shoulder like a small child seeking attention, “—Marinette has a little crush.”

“Nope.” she crossed her arms in denial.

“You liiiiiiike h—”

“Nope. Nope. Nope.” she repeated adamantly, still refusing to look at him.

Chat leaned over her, stretching to catch her gaze, “Come on, Princess.” he crooned, “I know it. You know it. There’s no denying it. It’s all over your face.”

Marinette muttered a few more ‘nopes’ before slouching down in her chair and covering her face. He smiled in response, giving her forehead a gentle tap, “You know I won’t stop until you admit it.”

She let out a muffled groan, followed by a few inaudible words.

“Oh? What was that?”

He was met with more intelligible muffling.

“I can’t hear you.”

“Fine!” Marinette’s hands snapped away from her face.

He blinked twice. “What?” he replied dumbly, peering down at her.

“I said fine.” she repeated, emphasizing every syllable. “I. Like. Adrien. Agreste.”

Record scratch.

He immediately stiffened at the unexpected confession. Hairs on the back of his neck rose.

There was no way.

“Happy?” she replied sarcastically, sitting up in her chair.

Chat Noir slowly backed away from her, still trying to wrap his brain around the revelation. Marinette’s eyes trailed him as he wordlessly walked around her chair and began to silently pace across the room

This new information came straight out of left field. He had no idea what to make of it. It felt so…unexpected? Marinette had never given any prior indication of her feelings. She treated him like any other classmate—they were just friends. Well, sort of, as she put it.

What changed?

Chat ran a gloved hand through his hair while lost in thought. An awkward silence swept over the room, carrying a sense of dread. The feeling was all too common in his civilian relationship with her.

He let out a long exhale.

Chat eventually turned to meet her gaze.

“Why didn’t you say anything, Marinette?”

Marinette straightened up, seemingly pulled out of a trance. She opened her mouth to speak, then paused, and closed it again. She blinked twice, still trying to register the question.

“What?”

Chat stopped and bit his tongue, “To—to him, I mean.” he quickly clarified, hoping she didn’t notice the slip. He received a funny look nonetheless.

“That’s…a weird question to ask,” Marinette noted while raising a brow, “Why…do you care?” she inquired suspiciously.

“I don’t know? Because.” he replied thoughtlessly. The conversation was treading into dangerous territory.

Her brow furrowed.

“Because…?”

“Just because.”

“Answer the question.”

“I care, what else do you need?”

She frowned, clearly unsatisfied with the answer. What exactly was he supposed to do? The identity roadblock was a nuisance, but there was no way around it—even if he wanted to tell the truth.

Marinette crossed her arms, “Chat, I’m done playing games. If you’re not interested in being honest with me, you can leave. Frankly, it’s none of your business either.” she finished curtly before turning back to her work.

Her tone finally struck a nerve.

“Ugh—why are you so defensive!?” he blurted aloud.

Marinette whirled around and stared him down.

Excuse me?

Fuck.

He was definitely coming off as rude now, which was the last thing anyone needed. Adrien mentally cursed Gabriel for his poor communication skills, “I—”

“Chat Noir,” Marinette cut him off abruptly, “The skylight is that way.” she finished with a gesture.

“But Ma—” he tried again.

“I really don’t want to hear it,” she warned, “You’ve overstayed your welcome.” Marinette turned away once more. It stung, but her reasoning was valid.

“Marinette—” in two strides he reached her desk and gently placed a hand on her shoulder, “—please.”

The gesture was not well received. Her eyes lingered on the hand until he received the memo and removed it from her shoulder. He stepped back, all while keeping her gaze.

Yet another uncomfortable silence filled the space.

“I’m sorry…for being a jackass,” he began, shifting his eyes to his feet momentarily, then back up to meet hers. Marinette appeared receptive but remained quiet, waiting for him to continue, “I was just messing around…but it wasn’t ok. I don’t want you to be upset—”

“I’m not upset.” she cut him off, maintaining her neutral expression.

“…Right.” he nodded slowly, unsure how to interpret that, “But anyway, I still meant what I said—I do care.”

Her expression softened.

“I…do appreciate that Chaton…but…” her voice trailed off as the words escaped her.

“I know, I know,” his lips fell into a slight frown, “I really do want to be open about…stuff…but there are things I can’t talk about.” he admitted, “I can’t compromise my identity, Marinette. I don’t want to put you in danger.”

They exchanged glances. Her expression shifted to one of understanding, much to his relief.

“Yeah, you’re right.” she nodded solemnly, “I’m sorry. That’s way more important than all this—” she waved her hand, “—silly stuff.”

“Woah, hold on there,” Chat sat down cross-legged in front of her, “First of all, you have no reason to apologize.” he glanced up at her, “And….your…feelings I guess…aren’t silly.” he added awkwardly.

“You’re really not going to let this go, huh?”

Considering the implications it had on their relationship, probably not. Simultaneously, he didn’t want to push the matter if it made her uncomfortable.

“Uh—no—I mean—” he swallowed his incoherent words, “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

“It’s fine,” she let out a resigned sigh, “I just…don't do it often, I guess.”

Marinette stared back at him in silence. He pressed his lips into a thin, thoughtful line.

“So…” he murmured gently, keeping her gaze, “…when did it start?”

A faint blush warmed her cheeks, which was only natural, given the circumstances. The question of ethics drifted to the forefront of his mind. She was in effect confessing her feelings to him…willingly. Right?

“Well…” her voice trailed with uncertainty, “…awhile ago, I guess.”

On the other hand, she was unaware of his identity—which made this conversation somewhat wrong. If she had all the facts at hand, it probably wouldn’t be happening in the first place.

“Awhile ago?” he blinked in disbelief. If that was the case, he had achieved a stunning level of obliviousness.

“Yeah.”

“How long ago?”

“Hm,” she chewed her cheek thoughtfully, “I don’t know…it just…developed over time?” she replied with a shrug, seemingly unsure of herself, “It kind of started the day I met him, if we’re being honest.”

What?” his eyes widened, emphasizing the surprise, “That’s a bit fast? No?” His reaction seemed to displease her, which wasn’t the intention, “Don’t you thi—?”

“Hey—it’s not like I was head-over-heels on day one,” Marinette huffed defensively, “—n-not that I am now.” she quickly added, halting that train of thought in his mind. If he were also being honest, his feelings for Ladybug blossomed rather quickly as well. Passing any sort of judgment was hypocritical on his behalf.

“I mean…it wasn’t that fast? We started off on the wrong foot.” she elaborated further, “There was a bit of a misunderstanding involving gum and Chloé Bourgeois—”

“The mayor’s daughter?” he interjected.

“—Yeah. Her.” Marinette replied with a clear tone of disdain, “But that’s a long story,” she gestured dismissively, “Anyway, it was kind of my fault.”

Chat raised a brow quizzically, “Because of the gum?”

“No—no—” she shook her head, “That was definitely Chloé. What I mean is…I made a snap judgment of him…one he really didn’t deserve.” she confessed, flicking her gaze away.

“I was just, so, pissed at Chloé and her ridiculous antics—” her lips curled into a slight frown, “—and he kind of got the brunt of it. I feel bad…he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Oh…” The confirmation alleviated a few insecurities at least.

“Yeah…” Marinette tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, “It wasn’t my proudest moment, but,” her eyes shifted back to meet his, “despite the way I snapped at him…he’s always been so kind to me, so gentle.” she smiled sincerely.

The praise tugged his heartstrings. Compliments, genuine ones, almost sounded foreign to his ears. Open affection and validation were scarce resources in the Agreste household.

“He’s just a great person to be around,” her eyes brightened, “I don’t know, his optimism is weirdly contagious? Like, even on my worst days—but it never gets annoying or anything.” she exhaled gently, “Every time I see him I just…feel happier. And nervous. Nervous and happy. God, like ridiculously nervous. The amount of butterflies is just—”

She halted.

“Ugh, sorry…I’m blabbing.”

“Marinette…” he murmured, placing a hand on her knee. Her gaze trailed along it, eventually settling to meet his, “…you don’t need to apologize.”

Marinette opened her mouth to counter, then swallowed her words after a beat of silence.

“Right then,” he straightened up, pivoting back to his original question, “Why didn’t you tell him?”

“I did.” she huffed, rubbing her face in frustration.

That gave him pause. Did he miss something? Was he that bad? Surely he would have noticed had she said something.

He gently peeled her hands away to meet her gaze, “Are you sure about that?”

“Yes.”

He raised his brows with a look.

“Ugh, I tried, ok?” she countered with a pout, “It was all really confusing—I didn’t want to make things awkward—and I thought I was getting somewhere? Like, he kept giving me mixed signals—”

“—Mixed signals?”

She bopped her head and fiddled with a loose strand of hair, “Like, one minute I feel completely invisible around him, and the next? He starts hanging around me more, asking me about fashion and my designs—”

“I mean you are a great desi—”

“Then he asks for my autograph, which was weird, and he was kind of nervous? Then he goes out of his way to help translate for my uncle—which was super sweet—but he spent the whole day with us? Which was kind of unnecessary if we’re being honest—and then he did the same thing when we were training for a video game competition—which was a ton of fun, until an akuma interrupted everything—then—”

“—Maybe he’s just an awkward kid,” Chat cut in the middle of her tangent, “—that hasn’t had many friends before, and kinda sucks at expressing his appreciation for a very platonic friend?” he offered, voice traveling up a few octaves.

“That’s…” Marinette slowly blinked, “…fair…” she paused, slowly processing the thought.

“But—”

“But?”

Her gaze drifted away, “He also asked me to dance at one of Chloé’s parties…not like casually…I think…I’m not sure. He pulled me in close—”

His mind flashed back to that night. A quiet moment of serenity. Holding her close. Her chest pressed to his. His arms wrapped around her delicate frame. Her head gently resting on his shoulder.

“—I felt like I was on cloud nine,” Marinette admitted softly, “Then he and Alya spent weeks planning a surprise birthday party for me, which again, was super sweet. He even made me a bracelet,” her tender eyes flicked down to meet his, “It matches the good luck charm I gave him during the video game competition…and he carries it everywhere with him apparently…”

A beat of silence passed.

“Hm.”

“Am I crazy?” she frowned, peering intently at him.

Another beat of silence passed before he let out a long exhale—releasing all of his internal frustration with himself.

“No, Marinette, you’re not crazy…I see why you felt confused. Definitely mixed signals.” Honestly, it was dickish on his part for not being clear.

Her shoulders slumped, “Well that’s good…I guess. I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. Maybe he’s just confused,” the note of sadness in her voice almost made him wince.

“Maybe I should’ve been more explicit,” she continued with a  resigned sigh, “Or…not.”

Chat tilted his head, slightly puzzled by the remark.

“Our friendship is also important to me.” she clarified, “I don’t want to mess it up…or make him uncomfortable…” her voice wavered off.

He frowned, “I don’t think he would ever be uncomfortable with you, Marinette.” the mere suggestion was outlandish.

Marinette scrunched her brow, giving him the same funny look as before, “And how would you know that?”

Well, do explain to Marinette Dupain-Cheng why on earth you would have any knowledge of the inner-workings of Adrien Agreste’s mind.

“I…”

She crossed her arms.

“Exactly.”

He paused before clearing his throat, “Ok, so maybe I don’t know the guy like you do, but, if I were him, I would personally be flattered.”

The comment elicited a snort from her, “Ok? Thanks for the moral support, bud. But, unfortunately, you’re not. He doesn’t like me. Why would he?”

His lips dropped into a frown, “Hey Mare, that’s not tr—”

“He will never like me.” she repeated, emphasizing every syllable—in a masochistic sort of way. Frankly, it hurt to see her continuously, repeatedly, tear herself down over him. 

The space between them fell silent.

“You don’t know that for sure,” he blurted out suddenly.

What the actual fuck was that?

His heart skipped two beats.

“What?”

“You…you don’t know how he feels…” he repeated a bit louder, catching her gaze, “Like you said, he might be confused—or whatever. Maybe he doesn’t know what he wants.”

But he did know. He was not interested in Marinette. Leading her to believe otherwise—giving her false hope—was a horrible thing to do. Encouraging her was the equivalent of bringing a lamb to slaughter. Whether he liked it or not, she would have to bear the brunt of rejection at some point.

Her gentle blue eyes held him in a silent trance. They twisted his insides into knots. He cared deeply for her—hurting her was the last thing he wanted to do.

Chat slowly inhaled through his nose.

“Marinette…” he began softly, “You’re an amazing person,” she opened her mouth to say something, but he pushed on, “I’m serious. You’re so talented. And nice. And smart. You go out of your way to make people happy and feel better—which isn’t always great for you,”  he waved a hand dismissively, “but that’s not the point—”

Her cheeks were clearly flushed at this point, but it didn’t halt him in the slightest, “—and if Adrien doesn’t see that, he’s blind. And frankly an idiot, but what can you do—” he shrugged, “Models aren’t hired for their brainpower,”

“Chaton!—” she clasped a hand over her mouth, trying to suppress a stream of giggles, “—we’ll agree to disagree on that last point.”

“Mhm, alright,” he flashed a goofy grin.

“…Still. I’m not sure if confessing to him is a good idea,” she admitted, biting her lip, “I keep ping-ponging back and forth. Alya keeps pushing me to get it over with…”

Chat inhaled, following each word intently.

“…but I’m worried.” her voice trailed on. The pair exchanged glances again.

“What about?”

“Well—” Marinette took a breath, “There are three issues. One, I don’t want to ruin our friendship—”

“—The ‘sort of’ friendship.” he interjected.

“Two—” she rolled her eyes dismissively and went on, “It might make him uncomfortable—which I really don’t want to happen—and three, rejection…hurts.” she finished, listing each point with a digit.

Her inadvertent confession was honestly a relief. Had he been blindsided with this information later, things would have unfolded rather awkwardly. Obviously, he disagreed with the conclusion that it would negatively impact their friendship. Something so trivial wasn’t going to change how he felt about her.

“Hm.” Chat extended his arms and stretched, “Yeah, no—one and two are invalid.”

She stared back in suspicion.

“Yep.” he nodded, tactfully avoiding further elaboration, “But, rejection does suck.”

Marinette leaned back into her chair, sighing in agreement. He scooched forward, folding his arms atop her lap to rest his chin. She gazed down at him with a soft smile in appreciation of the gesture.

“Isn’t it worse than not knowing though?” he cocked his head to the side, “I mean, rejection hurts…but it gets better after a while. Not knowing would give me a lot of anxiety.”

It was true—he experienced the very fact after Glaciator’s attack. Confessing his feelings to Ladybug was the hardest thing he had ever done. They weren’t mutual, much to no one’s surprise, but the confirmation nevertheless crushed him. The pain eventually dissipated—and knowing where they both stood came with a sense of relief. 

Marinette hummed thoughtfully in agreement, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Plus, who knows,” he added thoughtlessly, “Maybe he’ll surprise you.”

As soon as the thought left his lips, Chat mentally kicked himself, again, for giving her false hope. The statements were practically uncontrollable—constantly flying out of his mouth on a whim.

“…Who knows…” she repeated. A spark of joy flashed across her eyes, boosting his own spirits in turn.

“Hm…” his gaze drifted back to the collage of his face on the wall, “The longer you wait, the harder it’ll get. The real deal would probably be better than making out with a poster.”

“What!?”

A few seconds passed before the implication finally clicked in Marinette’s head. “I-I—” she sputtered in disbelief, cheeks flaring up yet again, “I absolutely do not make out with posters.”

He grinned despite himself, “Mhm, ok, whatever you say, Princess. I think kiss marks tell a different story.”

No,” Marinette held up a finger defensively as she stared intently at him, “Absolutely not.”

Chat stared back in turn, waggling his brows suggestively. Marinette fought hard to suppress the smile threatening to break out—but eventually lost she battle as they both succumbed to a burst of snickers.

“I’ll have you know,” Marinette interjected, regaining some composure, “That contrary to popular belief, I’ve never kissed anyone. Poster or person.”

That was another surprise. He was under the impression that boys fawned left and right over her.

“Oh.”

Admittedly, for good reason.

“Yup.” she crossed her arms, “It’s a little embarrassing, but that’s the gospel truth.”

Chat snorted in response, “If that’s all you’re embarrassed about, I think you’re ok. Plenty of people haven’t—well, not me of course.”

“Oh yes, of course, silly me—” she agreed, contradicting the tone of disapproval, “—The ladies can’t keep their hands off of you. Poor kitty.”

He nodded, “It’s tragic, really. So many broken hearts. But don’t worry—I’m willing to take on charity work, if you need me to.” he finished with a wink.

“Oh really now?” she replied with an incredulous look, “That’s so generous of you.”

“I know, you would be so lost without me.”

“Without a doubt,” she flicked his nose teasingly, “You’d be willing to help out a poor girl like me?”

“I mean,” he shrugged, “How else are you going to woo the Agreste kid?”

Her eyes widened at the cheeky statement, mouth agape, frankly left speechless. She flicked his nose yet again, eliciting another grin from him.

“You’ve got some nerve, kitty.”

“You know what they say,” he countered with another eyebrow waggle,  “Practice makes perfect.”

Marinette opened her mouth, seemingly ready with a comeback, before closing it again.  She paused momentarily, then stood up, placing her hands on her hips.

“Alright, if you say so. Let’s go for it.”

Chat stared up at her wordlessly, seemingly unable to register what was just said.

“Huh?”

“You heard me. Like you said, practice makes perfect.”

It took a few seconds before the gears in his head resumed again.

Oh.

He most definitely did not expect her to take up the offer. It was a bold move. As per usual, his initial intention was to simply stir the pot and tease her. Typical banter. Now, she was besting him at his own game.

Marinette wheeled her chair back to its proper place, then made her way back to him and plopped down on the ground.

“Backing out so soon, kitty cat?”

“Uh—” he swallowed, seemingly out of his element, “—Psh. Of course not.”

They quietly eyed each other, seemingly unsure how to proceed.

“Are you sure?” she spoke up, cutting through the silence.

“Are you?”

“Yep.”

“Seriously?”

Marinette flashed him a funny look, “Seriously.”

Evidently, neither wanted to fold and lose their little game.

“Uh…well…in that case..” he mumbled, slightly nerve-wracked, “Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Well…alright then.” Marinette edged closer toward him.

“So…” his voice trailed in hesitation, “…we’re really doing this.”

“Looks like it.”

The reality of their predicament suddenly sunk in. What was he doing? How did they get here? There were multiple levels of wrong to the situation. She had no idea who he was, the fact that he was her crush—that she was about to kiss—and that his feelings weren’t mutual.

Right?

And yet, he couldn’t ignore the sensation of butterflies bubbling up inside him. Some magnetic force drew him to her. He didn’t understand it. He didn’t understand its source. He wasn’t sure why it was happening now.

Marinette moved even closer to him. He now felt the warmth of her skin—and the sweet scent of her perfume permeated the air around him—pulling him in further with a sort of addictive quality.

She gently pushed the messy blonde locks away from his face and cupped his cheek.

“Ready?”

He was at a loss for words.

But…

He undoubtedly wanted to kiss Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Right now.

“Y-yes” he mustered out eventually.

Her bright blue eyes fixated on him intently.

“Are you sure?

“Ma—”

Before he could finish the thought, Marinette quickly pressed her lips to his—yanking away moments later.

Chat Noir blinked. 

“H-how was that?” she stuttered, shifting her gaze away.

“Uh—” he cleared his throat, “Well…”

It had happened so quickly, he hadn’t really processed it.

“It was terrible, wasn’t it?” Marinette groaned while pulling her knees to her chest, “Ugh—sorry, I knew this was a bad idea—I’m so sorry Chat,” she buried her face like a turtle receding into its shell.

He blinked twice, slightly thrown off by the sudden shift in her demeanor.

“Hey, hey, Mari—” his voice softened. Chat reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “It’s ok—you’re ok. Don’t be silly, it was not terrible.” Obviously. Perhaps a bit rushed and awkward, but far from bad. Simply the result of nerves and inexperience (not that he had much to compare to).

Marinette lifted her face with skepticism.

“Uh huh. Sure.” she remarked dryly.

He snorted in disbelief, “Seriously—”

“You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

“I’m not.” he insisted, “This is supposed to be practice, remember? I’ll definitely point out anything you do wrong.” he added with a cheeky grin.

“Gee, thanks coach.” her face soured slightly, making it all the more difficult to hide his amusement.

“You don’t have to worry, I’m not—”

A sudden thought gave him pause.

“…Am I…making you uncomfortable, Marinette?” he asked hesitantly, catching her gaze, “Because, if that’s the case you really don’t—you know—have to—if you don’t want—ugh,” Chat clumsily tripped over his words. Navigating the situation proved to be difficult. Under no circumstances did he want her to feel any sort of pressure. Had he misinterpreted her nonverbal cues?

“What?” her eyes widened, “Oh god no, Chat, that’s not—” Marinette shook her head in earnest, “Of course I want to kiss y—

They both fell silent. Marinette’s cheeks pinked as she cleared her throat.

“What I mean is…” her voice went down an octave, “…you don’t make me uncomfortable…like not at all,” her eyes darted away for a moment, “I’m frankly touched you want to…help…I guess?” she admitted, meeting his gaze once more.

“Y-you don’t have to though. I mean, I don’t want you to if it feels like some sort of chore—” she added hesitantly.

Chat rolled his eyes again, “Ah yes, because kissing a pretty girl is such a chore for me. I’m a real saint out here doing the lord’s work.” the comment only intensified her blush, which somehow made her even cuter.

“Alright, alright, calm down catsanova,” Marinette smirked before lightly flicking his nose. He grinned shamelessly and pawed her arm away in response.

She leaned back and the pair exchanged silent glances.

“Um…” Chat sucked in a breath, “…so…”

Marinette raised a brow.

He scanned her features in an attempt to gauge her mood, “…Wanna give it another go?” her guarded expression left little to go on. He didn’t want to come on too strong, but he didn’t want to perpetuate the impression of disinterest either.

“Here—” Chat extended his arm to her, “—coming closer, might make it more comfortable,” he offered. With a nod, Marinette took hold of his hand and scooched forward. She halted and shifted her gaze between him and his lap.

He let out a slight huff, “Seriously—no sweat, Marinette. It’s just me, you don’t have to worry. I just want you to be comfortable.”

She pursed her lips and conceded a few moments later.

His stomach tumbled into somersaults once she straddled his lap. Their newfound close proximity jumped to the forefront of his mind. The inherent intimacy of the position couldn’t be more obvious. Another warm, tingling sensation made its way up to his chest—all the way to his nose and ears. Marinette was a mere ten centimeters away from him and…

Oh boy.

The sight was…something to behold. Little freckles were sprinkled across her cheeks…thick dark lashes perfectly framed her mesmerizing eyes…and her supple peach lips practically called out to him.

He swallowed hard.

“Cat got your tongue?”

The unexpected pun broke his trance. Chat snorted with an eye roll, “Listen—”

Marinette leaned forward, pressing herself flush against him and wrapping her arms around his neck. The warm embrace caused any remaining tension to dissipate. His arms dropped and his hands rested comfortably on her hips.

Two beats of silence passed.

“This is awkward.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“We’re both hot messes, huh?” she joked, leaning her head against his.

“Mhm, definitely,” he agreed, “I serve up the hot and you’re the mess,” Marinette leaned back with an amused look and gently booped his nose.

“You’re insufferable—you know that, right?”

His grin widened, “So I’ve been told.”

“A true alley cat.”

“The mangiest stray,” he nodded.

“So hard to put up with,” she went on, “Why do I even do it…?”

Marinette started leaning closer.

His heartbeat quickened.

“Why do you even…?”

He was caught by surprise yet again when Marinette cupped his face gently pressed her lips to his. They melted together, along with any qualms or confused feelings that bounced around his mind. Everything was rendered irrelevant in a single moment. The soft sensation of her lips sent an electric buzz through him. No words could do the experience justice. Marinette felt wonderful—Marinette smelled wonderful—every part of her was wonderful and no amount would ever be enough to satiate his newfound hunger. 

Chat drew her in closer—slinking his arms around her and kissing more fervently. His heartbeat raced as adrenaline coursed through him. She replied by pressing her chest against his and running her fingers through his hair.

They there sat, intertwined in each other’s embrace. Every minute of their shared kisses left him in a state of bliss. The touches and closeness simply felt right with every fiber of his being. He wanted to indulge in the moment forever. To keep holding and never let go. He needed her to be as close as possible.

Marinette was the first to break contact, sending his blissful high crashing down. She quietly pulled away and met his gaze. He stared back absentmindedly, still trying to process everything that had just happened. A rude awakening thanks to a cold bucket of ice water.

“How was that?”

He blinked.

Marinette tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear, “How did I do? Was it ok?”

Ok.

Ok?

Lukewarm soup was ok. Practicing Mandarin was ok. Dinners with his father were ok.

Kissing her…he frankly lacked the vocabulary to adequately capture the wondrous high it elicited.

“Amazing.” he breathed, sucking in air.

“Really?”

Chat leaned forward and tenderly kissed her cheek. Then her nose. Then her jaw. Then her neck—appreciating each and every part of her he had taken for granted for so long.

He eventually made his way back to her lips and pulled her back into his embrace. They remained like that for a while. Comfortably enjoying each other’s presence in silence.

Chat let out a long sigh after a while and pulled back to meet her gaze. Despite the calm, despite the bliss, something felt off. An underlying feeling of guilt persisted inside of him. The lack of transparency on his part was still not sitting well. He had inadvertently taken advantage of the situation—and even though it was unintentional, it was nevertheless wrong and dishonest. 

“Marinette?”

She was seemingly content—but it rested on a foundation of false pretenses.

“Hm?”

“I…” he paused, mulling over his words carefully for once, “…I can tell you anything, right?”

The subject had to be addressed. He could not continue in good conscience until it was.

“Um,” she knitted her brows, slightly puzzled, “Yeah, I guess so? What’s up?”

Oh god. He had no idea how to broach the subject.

“Cool. Cool.” he nodded, wracking his brain for the right words, “So…like…”

He placed two hands on her shoulders. Marinette stared at him expectantly, “Alright, first, please don’t be mad—” Not an ideal way to start out. Her expression only reinforced that. “—I mean, completely understandable if you are—but, um yeah—”

“Chaton..?” she frowned, evidently wary of where the conversation was headed.

“Second, please don’t panic.” A seemingly common occurrence for Marinette. “And third—”

He reached down for her hand and gently guided it towards his lips. He planted a gentle kiss on her knuckle before peering up to meet her eyes.

“Remember,” he smiled softly, “I stand by everything I said.”

An important reminder to quash any lingering self-doubt inside her.

Chat stood up, stretching a little as he did. He glanced down at Marinette, who had a seemingly bewildered look on her face. Slowly but surely, everything began to fall into place as she followed his train of thought to its seemingly obvious destination. As if on cue, her expression shifted from one of confusion to one of panic, as previously predicted.

“Chat, don’t do a—”

Fingers crossed Ladybug would understand. Eventually.

 

“Plagg, claws in!”